Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving 2

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!" (Psalm 100:4 ESV) I plan to do just that with this blog. I am entering into the courts of the Lord Almighty with songs of praise over all He has done. I give thanks to Him for the many blessings He has given to me.

As I continue my Thanksgiving thoughts I want to clarify one thing - today I am giving thanks for "temporal" things. I said yesterday I would talk about the material today and that isn't quite true. I am talking of temporal - those things that are not eternal, things that are temporary, no matter how long we might have them. The first of those temporal things is life itself. After all, we are only here a short time. None of us knows how long that shall be but we do know one thing, unless the Lord returns first, we shall all die. So this is a temporal life. But I thank God for each year He gives to me. I am fast approaching the 50 year mark. To some, that isn't that old while to others it is ancient. I must say, to me, it is what it is. I have never lived this long before so it is a new experience. So I thank God for the years I have lived and I look forward to praising Him through out however many years He gives me.

I am thankful for my family - all my family, even those that I don't have much contact with. They are still family and have been a part of my life. They are a part of who I am today. I thank God especially for my wife, Penny. I wouldn't be the person I am without her. She is a rock in my sometimes sand-filled life. When other things begin to slip away from me, she remains solid. I thank God for her faith. She has a faith that is tremendous. Generally, when she gets upset over something it is because she is looking at it through the lens of faith and sees how the incident doesn't fit with the way that God would have His people living. She has taught me much about living in Christ. She has taught me about love - unconditional love. To love me is a challenge, has been through out our 31 years together. She has taught me how to forgive. I give thanks to God for a wife, friend, lover, companion and helper.

I thank God for my children. I have two of the best kids in the world. They aren't perfect - just take a look at their rooms! But I am so proud to be able to call them my daughter and son. Rachael and Matthew have both grown into fine young people. They both have strong faiths and a good head on their shoulders. We did not have difficult times during their teen years, of which I am very thankful. It is fun to have them around. I enjoy going places with them, doing things with them and being a part of their lives. I thank God for them.

And I could go through the list of those in my family. I am thankful for them. Some I am very close to to - like Penny's mom. Others I don't have strong relationship with - like my brothers. But I am still thankful for them. I pray for them daily and ask the Lord to watch over them and to awaken in them that faith in Jesus Christ as their only Lord and Savior.

I am thankful for the opportunities that I have had to be involved in many people's lives through the ministry the Lord has given me. Each parish I have served has blessed me in some way. There have been good people in all of them. They each have presented their own challenges. And each one of them have helped to make me the pastor I am today. I thank God that I am allowed to be a pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. I rejoice that I am privileged to present the message of Jesus Christ week after week. I get to do what I enjoy - helping people through the Lord Jesus - and I get paid for it! How much better can it get than that? I am thankful for the congregation here at St. Paul's Lutheran, Troy, IL. They are a people who have been challenged in their walk of faith. They are a blessing to me and my family and I am thankful for each of them. The Lord has brought us together and we can rejoice in His leading and guiding to get both myself and the congregation together to work together in His kingdom.

For the moment, that is enough to be thankful for. I plan on bringing more that I am thankful for in part 3. There are so many temporal things to give thanks for - shoestrings, washing machines, a warm bed, the sound of rain on the roof, the flash of lightning at night, and the pant of a dog that wants to go outside. All blessings from God. Continue to think about what you are thankful for - and give thanks to God for those things.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving 1

It is Thanksgiving week! Most people have purchased their turkeys. The plans for the family gathering have been made. Some will stay put and family will come to them. Others will have to travel hours - by car, bus, train or plane. Still others will have very small gatherings while others will have large, boisterous gatherings. And then there will be those who have nobody to get together with. They will heat up their TV dinner or their Weight Watchers meal and will stare out the window, wishing that they had someone to share their beef stroganoff with at this time of the year.

That leads me to think - what are you thankful for? I know that we should be thankful all year long but at Thanksgiving time it just seems right to think about life and be thankful. So what are you thankful for? I labeled this blog "Thanksgiving 1" because I really think that I will be writing more than one blog about being thankful. So I will start.

What am I thankful for? The first and foremost thing I am thankful for is my Lord Jesus Christ. Without Him and all that He did for me, I could not be thankful at all. How can you be thankful when you have no future? Jesus gives me life - true, full, happy life. That means that I am blessed beyond what I could ever imagine. It means that when I am filled with joy at the way things are playing out, I can be thankful for how the Lord is blessing me. It also means that when life is really bad, terrible, rotten, dark, depressing, etc., I can still be thankful. I can be thankful that my Lord Jesus Christ has walked through those bad, terrible, rotten, dark and depressing times for me. He knows what I am facing and how I am feeling. And He tells me, "Come to me" with your burdens, your fears, you depression, with all that you have that disgusts you, and I will give you relief. "You don't have to carry it yourself," He says to me.

WOW! That is a powerful thought. I don't have to carry all that stuff myself. Why? Because He has already carried my burden. And He continues to carry it. It isn't just that He carried it many years ago, it is the fact that He is carrying it right now. Am I willing to give up my burdens and let Him carry it? Most of the time the answer would be, "No." For some reason, it seems I always want to carry my own burden. He understands and gently leads me to that place where I am willing to give it up to Him. Like the child that wants to prove himself, I want to prove myself to God and the world around me. I am strong. I am self-sufficient. I am able to handle all of my life myself.

But I can't. I need Him to carry me. And I am thankful that He does. He doesn't get tired of my childish actions. He doesn't get tired of forgiving me for my foolish, sinful ways. He doesn't get tired of my whining or my frustrating ways. He doesn't get tired of seeking me out when I get lost in the briers of sin. He never tires of binding up my broken heart or life. He is always there for me in whatever happens in my life - even when I mess things up royally.

And in the end, He saves me. Even if He did none of these other things, even if He left me alone to fend for myself, it would be enough that He saved me. I am not going to hell. I will not be damned for an eternity. Heaven is mine - now. He has saved me from death and sin and the devil. He has given me true life. That is why I am first and foremost thankful for the life of faith that has been given to my.

Next up...the material things that I am thankful for this year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What do you believe?

It is the end of the Church Year. This coming Sunday is November 21 - the Last Sunday of the Church Year. The focus of the service will be on the return of the Lord. What do you believe about that?

I ask that question because what we believe will happen on the Last Day affects how we live today. Will there actually be a "Last Day" when Christ comes? Or will the world go on until we finally destroy it - through war or through abuse of nature itself? If there is a Last Day, what will happen on it? Will Jesus really come upon the clouds as the angels told the disciples on the mount outside of Jerusalem 40 days after the day when Jesus rose from the dead? (Acts 1) When He comes, will He really separate people - believers from unbelievers - as He says in Matthew 25:31ff? Does that mean that only those who believe will go to heaven? And those who don't believe in Him will go to hell for eternity, to the place of eternal suffering and pain, a place where they will never again know the love and the presence of the Almighty?

The way you answer those questions is important. Scripture tells us that Christ will return on the Last Day. On that day, all who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the one and only Savior, will enter into eternal life with Him forever. (All right, so that is a redundant saying, but it is what Scripture means.) Scripture also tells us that all who do not believe that Jesus is the one and only Savior of mankind will be cast into hell, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, where there is torment and suffering that never ends and where Satan and all the demonic horde will be for all eternity. Scripture points out these very things. Do you believe that?

I do. And having said that, it changes how I look at life. Life is not meant JUST for my pleasure. Oh, the Lord does come that we may have life and have it abundantly. He does give us much joy and pleasure in this life. He does intend for us enjoy the wonders and bounties of His creation. So don't go thinking that Scripture tells us that we are to grumpy, sad people who have no sense of joy. Just the opposite is taught in God's Word. He tells us that we will "leap like calves from the stall." (Malachi 4:2) He tells us that we will enjoy the fruits of this earth, the pleasure of marriage and the joys of family. Christians actually can enjoy life more than non-Christians, because they know the real meaning and direction of life - given to them by faith in Jesus Christ. For those who think that Christianity is meant to be boring, sad and unmoving, they have missed how God wishes us to live.

But life is not JUST about me. It is about others. If I truly believe that only those who have faith in Jesus Christ are going to heaven, AND that Jesus can come at any moment, then I am living my life for others. Life becomes a life of witnessing to Christ Jesus. And not waiting till tomorrow, but witnessing about Him today! Now is the day of salvation, now is the day when I need to tell you that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who came to save you from eternal damnation. I will want to shout it from the mountaintop - Hey world! There is one Savior and it isn't Allah, Buddha, Krishna, Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. The only Savior is Jesus Christ - the One shown only in what is called the Holy Bible. Any other god or savior or path of religious/spiritual enlightenment is wrong. It will lead you to hell - whether you believe that or not. You might not accept there is only one God, but there is. And my life, my being, all that I do and say, is meant to reflect that.

Why? Because I believe what Scripture says. It states that Jesus will come again. When He does, all bets are off. You either believe in Him or you don't. And I want everyone to believe in Him. I want what God wants - all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

So what do you believe? Will Christ come soon? If so, why are you sitting on the message of life and hope and not sharing and living it? "He who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming soon.' Amen. Come Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20 ESV)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is sin still a sin?

I was reading in Isaiah this morning and ran across this verse: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20 ESV) it kind of struck me this morning (as it has before as well) that we are a nation that does that very thing - just like Judah did in Isaiah's time. We like to say it is our "freedom" or "right" to act the way we do. We also like to say that we cannot tell someone else how to live or what to do. That is up to them.

And in a fashion, that is true. We cannot live someone else's life. They must do it. But we can tell them what is right and wrong. They might not listen. They may not even want to hear it. They might call us "unloving" or "arrogant" or something else. They might say that we have no right to judge them. They might even become irate with us - turning around and attacking us because of what we have said. But if we are speaking from God, speaking from His Word, then we are not the ones "judging" them. God is. When He speaks, then we must listen. To not listen is foolishness on our part and it has an eternal effect on our lives. To blatantly say "I do not want to listen to God," puts us at odds with God.

Yet it is said, "I don't believe that God really says that." And then we do what Americans are good at doing, we put our own twist on God's Word. We interpret it for ourselves. It doesn't matter what generations before us have said about the text, we figure we know better. We approach Scripture from the aspect that every person must interpret it for themselves. And is so doing, we finally have to ask, "Is there anything in Scripture that is true or is it something that we can twist and bend to fit our lives, to justify what we want, and turn God away from our actions?"

In the end, we have to either say, "Thus says the Lord," or "Thus says me." What you say betrays what you are wanting in your life - God or you. I though about how we are with so many things. We say, "Abortion is not murder. It isn't a living, human." God says, "Abortion is murder. It is a living child." We say, "Living together is just a way of life that is to be accepted." God says, "Living together without marriage is wrong." We say, "Sex outside of marriage - before or after - is just an expression of our desire and love that shouldn't be stopped." God says, "All sex outside of marriage is wrong." We say, "Homosexuality is an alternative way of life." God says, "Homosexuality is an abomination." Need I go on? What we do on TV, in shows, on the computer, etc. is seen as a "right" and is open to all we want, no matter what it might be. God tells us to focus on what is good and right. We focus on sick and evil.

And God says, "Woe to you..." We should listen. We should take to heart. We should turn from our sinful, selfish, self-centered ways and follow the way of the Lord. Will we? As a nation? No. As individuals, I pray that we will. As for me, "Lord help me to do, think and say that which is according to Your will."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thinking of the Saints

"O when the saints, go marching in, O when the saints go marching in, O how I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in!" (I don't know if that is exactly how the song goes but if you know me, you would know that it really doesn't matter. I will sing it anyway.) This last Sunday was the celebration of All Saints' Day, which is actually November 1st. I love the reading from Revelation 7. It reminds me of those who have gone before - those who no longer live among us but live forever with the Lord.

When I think of All Saints' Day, I tend to think of the loved ones being in heaven. I fear that I might not focus enough on the resurrection at that time. As we learned at the SID Pastor's Conference this last fall, we need to remember the importance and power of the resurrection. Yet at the same time, we do still need to know that our loved ones are in heaven right now - spiritually, their souls. While we wait for the resurrection, we are not in some "soul sleep" or some ambiguous "never never land" from which we will emerge on the Last Day. It is as Jesus said to the thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Today! Not some distance time that we wait to arrive.

That gives me lots of comfort - knowing that my mom and pop (and step dads) and father-in-law and aunts and a whole host of others are in heaven now, enjoying the wonders and the pleasures of being in the presence of the Lord.

What will it be like? We don't have an answer for that question. In 1 John we read, "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he (Jesus0 appears, we shall be like him (Jesus)." (1 John 3:2 ESV) We do not know what we will be like. We do know this one reality, it will be better than life here on earth. Why? Two reason: 1) We will be in the presence of God Himself. 2) We will be perfect, holy, sinless, free of temptation, trials and tribulations. Those both cause us to rejoice!

All Saints' Day brings all that to my mind. It causes me to rejoice in the life that I have been given in Jesus Christ. It reminds me of those who have already entered into that wonderful, heavenly relationship with God. And it puts my heart at peace. Death is never fun. Death is never wonderful. But we know that Christ has overcome death and has given life. In that we rejoice.

I know it is late (today is Dec. 8th) but "Happy All Saints' Day to you." Celebrate the eternal life you have been given in Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Psalm 78 - telling the next generation

Take a few minutes today to read Psalm 78. It is a great Psalm. There are a few verses that struck me today. "We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders he has done." (Ps. 78:4 ESV) The writer then goes on to tell of the wonders in the lives of the Israelites - the plagues, the time in the wilderness, the feeding of manna and quail, the water from the rock - all amazing events in the lives of the people. Look at them. Tell the next generation of those events. Stand in wonder of what this great God does in the lives of His people.

If only...He did those things today. People would believe. They wouldn't get involved in sin. They would focus their attention on the Lord instead of themselves - the instant gratification and selfish actions that so many desire. If only...but that isn't true. Even with the events in front of them, the people of Israel strayed from the way of the Lord. We read, "In spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe..." (Ps. 78:32 ESV) What does it take? What does it take to remain on the path that the Lord puts before us? What does it take to even "get on" the path? If the people couldn't do it even after they saw the mighty works, how can we?

Through the working of the Holy Spirit! That is how! He works in our lives the same was every day - through the Means of Grace. The Word opens to us the wonders of what God has done. Most especially does it open the reality of the greatest event in history - the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. There in the Word He shows us the greatest of all His deeds - greater than manna and water from the rock. He also does wonders with water and bread today. Water - baptism, saving the soul, giving faith, bestowing forgiveness, life! Bread - Lord's Supper, simple wafer on the tongue, the body broken on the cross, united in the Supper by the word of Christ, given to the sinner for the forgiveness of sins. Powerful stuff!

Tell it to the next generation! Tell them about the love of Christ. Tell them of the wonders that the Son of God has done and continues to do your life. That is what we are about. Sunday school, religion classes, confirmation - all ways to tell the next generation. Day school - 7 hours of telling the wonders of God to the next generation. What an opportunity! What a privilege we are given.

We see the importance of telling the next generation but are we willing to support that work? Are we willing to give sacrificially to support the ministry to reach out to the next generation? Churches that have schools struggle with that question. They look at the costs of a school and wonder - can we do it? But that is the wrong question. Instead we should ask, "Why are we not doing it?" How can we not do all we can, not just in word but in deed (which includes financially), support the work of the schools of our churches? There, you and I have the golden opportunity to make a difference in the life of our children. We can do as the Psalmist writes, "We will not hide them from our children..."

Read the Psalm. Pray about it. Ask the Lord how He can use you to reach the next generation.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Profile Picture

I was looking at my profile picture. That is Penny and myself. We took it ourself in Chicago Union Station, when we were in line to board the Amtrak long distance train "The Empire Builder" on Monday, June 22, 2009. We were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary with a 9 day, 5200 mile trip on 3 different long distance trains. We started with the train from St. Louis to Chicago early in the morning. The kids dropped us at St. Louis. We took the 2 day Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle, WA. Spent a night in Seattle. Took the Coast Starlight for a day to Sacramento, CA. Spend 2 days in Sacramento. Then boarded the California Zephyr for a 2 day trip back home.

Long? Yes. Tiring? No. We enjoyed the relaxing trip. We would do it again if we were given the chance. And we probably will do it again.

The picture was standing in line, after they called our train. I was excited! Penny was happy to be getting away. We enjoyed our days together, just us, relaxing, enjoying one another's company and watching the country go by. Try it some time. You will enjoy it.

All Saints' Day

Happy All Saint's Day! That's right, today is November 1st, which in the church year is All Saints' Day. It is a day in which we can think of 2 different things: 1) those who have died in Christ, and 2) those who still live as yet by faith. The first group is made up of all those who are truly saints. The second group is made up of those who are truly saints and yet, at the same time, are truly sinners.

We rejoice to think of those who lived in Christ and died in Christ. It might sadden us to think of a loved one - a father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, uncle, aunt or friend - who has died. Death is that one last terrible enemy that we must face. Death is always hunting us down. We fear death. We don't want to die. We hang onto life until the last possible moment. And then we finally succumb to death. It grabs us. It yanks us from this world of life. It comes screaming our direction and pulls apart our world.

And yet, for the Christian, death is a toothless enemy. It appears strong, powerful, and overwhelming. But it is a toothless hound whose bark is worse than his bite. Why? Because of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died upon the cross, was laid in the tomb and then (ready for this?) ROSE from the dead! He broke the bounds of death. He kicked the teeth out of that enemy. He defeated not only sin and the devil, He crushed the power of death over us! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

It is because of Jesus' resurrection that we celebrate All Saints' Day. Those who have gone before us, those who lived in faith in Christ Jesus, those who died in faith in Christ Jesus, have received victory over death. They have passed from death to life. It is as Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who believes in me shall never die." (John 11:26-26 ESV) Life from death, victory over death, saint from sinner - All Saints' Day. Those who have died in Christ are saints now. They live in Christ. They sin no more. They are sin no more. All sin has been removed from them. No longer do they have that terrible, wretched sinful nature to struggle with. They are totally and completely saints. Free! Truly free! Christ has set them free!

We who are alive face the struggle. We are at the same time truly saint and truly sinner. We are made saints in Christ by virtue of our Baptism. He made us saints. He made us new. He gave us a new life in Him that we live by faith each day. But we still struggle with that terrible, wretched sinful nature that is truly us. We are sin. We face temptation and we give in. We sin regularly and mightily. It is for that reason that we crawl back to the waters of our Baptism and say, "God be merciful to me, a sinner." And there, in the place that our new life began, we are made new again. Forgiveness is bestowed. New life is given. And we are made saints once again. The cycle goes like that daily.

Lest we give up hope, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 11). We look at the saints of God and realize that empowered by the Holy Spirit, strengthened through Word and Sacrament, we fix our eyes on Christ Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

That, my friends, is All Saints' Day. That is why we remember it. We celebrate the life eternal God has given to those who have died in Christ. And we celebrate the life eternal to those of us who live in Christ. Happy All Saints' Day to you, my fellow saint.