Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Of grass, flowers, decorations, plans and the Word

I as thinking about and meditating on Isaiah 40:6-11, which was part of the Old Testament reading for this last Sunday. I know that I should be looking ahead at the readings for tomorrow evening's service and this next weekend readings in order to be ready to preach on them, but I find myself reflecting about life in general. The idea is that we are all like grass and our acts are like flowers in the fields. The grass withers and the flowers fade. The grass doesn't stay green and luscious nor do the flowers bloom forever. As I look out on the grass (which I will do as soon as the sun is up this morning), I see that it isn't the beautiful looking yard that it was last spring. Why? Because it is December and we have had the cold weather that causes grass to go dormant for a while. The flowers don't look so beautiful. In fact, they look downright sick. The cold air has nipped them pretty good. I should probably just pull them up but I want to hang on to the thought of summer, or at least fall, as long as possible.

Do you feel like that? Like withered grass? Or maybe you feel like the flowers that have been nipped by the deep cold. Or maybe it is the cut flower that looks beautiful in the vase only to fade as it has been removed from the plant itself. Perhaps you feel that way because at this time of the year there is so much to do and so little time to get it done. Presents to buy, decorations to put up, cookies to bake, parties to attend, cards to write, friends to call, family to visit and all in this coming week! Ugh! Just thinking about it wears you out. I think about it as I look at the "to do" list for this week (actually just for today!). Service to write, sermon to accompany, tests to grade, services for the next 3 weeks to plan (the organist is calling and wanting the hymns a day or two ago, not tomorrow), paper on patience to write (how ironic), calls to make, meetings to prepare for, all the while keeping the joy of Christmas in front of myself and the members of the congregation. Add to that trying to keep up on what is going on in the family, shopping, planning and interacting with one another. And I feel like the cut flower, the withered grass, the shriveled begonia that the cold has made look pretty sick. Toss in physical problem once again (a new one, as the others have been or are being taken care of), and yes, I am worn out.

Grass withers and flowers fade - BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER! That is the best news I have heard up to this moment. The Word of the Lord never changes or fades. It is so true and wonderful. It touches my heart with wonder each time that i go into it. On these busy days, it is so tempting to set aside personal devotions in order to accomplish those things that NEED to be done. But I can't do that. (Neither should you.) It is right there in the Word that I am given new life. The withered soul is watered with the Lord's Word and greens back up and becomes wonderful again. The soul that feels cut off because of all that needs to be done, finds new life when it is connected to the vine once again - connected through the daily use and study of God's Word.

I needed that Word this morning. I needed to be reassured that while my works fade (as they always will), the Word endures forever. So what I bring to people, what I give to others, is not myself. It is the Lord's Word. Each of us need the Lord. That is the message of this season - the Lord has come to us.Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. Ransom me from the bondage to the things that I feel need to be done. Oh come and be God with ME!

He has come for you too. He has come to give you strength, comfort and guidance through this time of the year. He has come to save you from yourself and the traps of life that have been set for you, traps that are meant to rob you of the true joy and peace. He has come to save you from yourself. Rejoice! Rejoice! Join with us and sing. that is what the "Carols of Christmas" is all about - singing the praise of Him who came into this world for me, for you, for all mankind! Christ Jesus is born! Christ Jesus comes to us each day in the Word! Christ Jesus is coming again.

Thanks Lord, I needed to hear that this morning. I needed You to remind me of that which gives me the ability to accomplish all that needs to get done. I am now focused on what matters - the grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Singing in Advent

Last night, Nov. 30th, St. Paul's had their first Wednesday evening Advent service. The Wednesday evenings are following the theme "The Carols of Christmas." What we are doing is spending time in the songs, hymns and spiritual songs of the season. While it talks of the "Carols of Christmas," we found ourselves in the songs of Advent last night. "On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry" and "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" were the main focus. We closed the service with "Savior of the Nations Come." We didn't actually spend any time learning about the last song. We also visited the song "O Christmas Tree" and learned the Christian emphasis that Martin Luther applied to the Christmas tree.

Our theme verse is Psalm 95:1-2 "O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise." (ESV) As I prepared for this series, I studied through the Scriptures on songs and singing and was amazed at how important it is through the pages of Scripture for the praise of the Lord to ascend in forms of songs, hymns and spiritual songs. Even just this morning, as I was reading in the Psalms, I ran across the verse, "Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous." (Ps. 118:15 ESV)

Singing is an important aspect of our lives of worship. We sing because of the joy that lies in our hearts over what God has done for us. Our songs of praise rise to heaven because the Lord has filled our hearts with His Word. That Word is not what we make it to be but it is the very Son of God Himself - the Word become flesh. Too often, we try to make worship our act which God accepts because we are so faithful. It isn't. It is where we meet God in His Word, where He fills our hearts and lives with the power of the message of both Law and Gospel and where we are lifted up in His hands. He comes to us and we respond in song and in prayer. He strengthens us and we rejoice at the wondrous gift He gives to us.

And so we sing! that is one way that we respond the to the wonders of what God has done for us. We lift up our voices in songs of praise. And in the words of the songs we sing, there is such depth of meaning. Just take a look at "On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry" and you will see how it weaves together the wonders of the Old Testament prophecy and the fulfillment in Christ Jesus. You begin to understand the power of the words to touch the heart with strength and comfort, hearts that are in bondage to sin, death and the devil yet freed from that bondage by the very One that we long for, who comes to us in His Advent!  Wonder of wonders - the hymnody of the Church touches our hearts and lives with the powerful message of life.

The Lutheran Church has been called "The Singing Church." It is for good reason that this is said. Singing is an important part of our response to what the Lord has done and continues to do for us in worship. O come, let us sing unto the Lord!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The King Shall Come

The Church Year has come to a close. Yesterday was the Last Sunday of the Church Year. For many people, that means absolutely nothing. I must admit that when I first began in the ministry, I followed the Church Year out of obligation. It was what I was to do as a pastor in the Lutheran Church. After all, the LC-MS is a liturgical church that follows the Church Year faithfully. I felt that I must do it out of obligation. But as I have walked through the Church Year again and again I have found more and more meaning to following it. So when I find myself ending one year and beginning another, it is almost more important to me than when the calendar year changes. The years will march on and in reality, there is not much change that happens other than having to learn to write a new date.

I hope that isn't the way you feel about the Church Year - that it marches on again and again without much changing. Amazing things happen during this year. Advent - with the emphasis on the coming of the Lord. Christmas - the celebration of the birth of the Christ-child. Epiphany - focusing us Christ for the nations, true God, true man, Savior of all. Transfiguration Sunday - a powerful glimpse of the glory of Jesus as He prepares for His death. Lent - somber yet touching, upsetting yet uplifting. Easter - He is risen! Alleluia! So too shall we rise! Ascension - all but forgotten yet setting the stage for the return of Christ, as He sits down at the right hand of the Father. Pentecost - the coming of the Spirit, the birth of the Church, the fire of faith burning brightly. Trinity - a God beyond all other gods, Triune, eternal. Pentecost season - long, green, growth, like the raising of a field of corn, seed planted, sprouting, growing, greening, maturing, bearing fruit. Last Sunday of the Church Year - the harvest!

That is right, the harvest! That Sunday shows us what our lives is to be all about - leading us to that one point when the King shall come and all eyes will see Him. Never again will there be any doubt who is God. He is the immortal, invisible (then made visible) God who is the eternal Judge. We will know at that moment when all eyes see Him coming on the clouds that there is one Savior, Jesus Christ. This world that tries to convince us that all religions are the same will know at that moment that they are not all the same. As the sheep are separated from the goats, as the believers are separated from the unbelievers, there will be great rejoicing and great mourning. That is the harvest. The Lord will send His angels to the four corners of the world to gather the elect and they will brought into the barn while the chaff, the unbelievers will be cast into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. A great and wonderful harvest!

It will also be terrifying - for those who do not believe. Which leads us to the point that we must face - we are called to share the Gospel message in our lives. People are dying and going to hell! I know that we are not to say that in today's world. Family members will be upset. Friends will be shocked. I will be told that I am unloving and uncaring to say that. But it is the truth. Why would do I say it? Because if I don't, then I am not being faithful to my Lord Jesus Christ. I cannot give His glory to anyone else. I cannot say that someone who does not believe in Him will receive His righteousness because it would be a lie and would be taking the words of my Lord and twisting them just like the devil does. I will not! I can not! Why? Because I love my Lord Jesus Christ and will not give up His word for the political correctness of this age.

I do not want anyone to be damned to hell. So I continue to proclaim the message of Christ. I proclaim the message that there is only one Savior, Jesus Christ. Believe in Him and you will be saved. You, yes you! are called to share that message in your life. You are called to share it with your family this Thanksgiving weekend. You are called to live it each day in your office or classroom. There is no other name in heaven or on earth or under the earth whereby we must be saved.

The King shall come. The harvest will be complete. The Last Sunday of the Church Year has passed (and unless the King comes before this next weekend, the new Church Year will begin with Advent once again).

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fruit of the Spirit - Peace

Fruit of the Spirit
Galatians 5:22-23

 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, PEACE, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (ESV)

 The theme verse for the 2011-2012 academic school year at St. Paul’s is a familiar verse for many of us. We have heard often of the “Fruit of the Spirit.” These “fruit” will be what is used to find our “Student of the Month.” Each month we will be looking at one of the “fruit” and will be considering the student that best fits that “fruit.” In order for us to be prepared to make this decision, it would be good for us to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest these words for ourselves.

November – “PEACE”

 As we continue with the fruit of the Spirit we come to the one that seems hard to pin down when you try to apply it into a student’s life. Why is that? Is it because we are trying to find the one student who is so “peaceful” in all that he/she does? Perhaps we can find the one that always works to keep arguments or fights from breaking out. But that doesn’t seem to work either. As I struggled to get my mind around “peace” for the Student of the Month, I found myself turning back to the Word of God and trying to understand what is meant by “peace.”

 I asked myself, “What is this peace we are talking about?” The answer that I found began in John 14:27 where Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” (ESV) So the peace we are looking at is not what the nations try to find as they struggle with war day after day. Nor is it the peace that we try to come up with as Occupy Whatever comes in and tries to get its way even as the cities struggle to uphold some sort of worldly peace in their community. This peace is the deepest peace that comes to the heart of the believer, not by their own desire, but by the power of the Spirit that works through the faith given to each person. This peace must begin in the heart of God.

 And it does. We are fast approaching the Christmas season. That season brings the true sense of peace into our hearts and lives. It is a challenge to find that peace as we hurry and scurry about trying to accomplish our list of things which need to be done before the day of Christmas breaks upon us and we can breathe a sigh of relief that it is over once again. The peace is found in the manger, in the song of the angels, in the visit of the shepherds and in the stillness of the night. The angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is please!” (Luke 2:14 ESV) Peace on earth! There it is – beginning in the heart of God that brings peace into a world that tears itself apart day after day, a world that has its very fabric torn apart as Adam and Eve eat fruit from a forbidden tree. Hiding from God, they know no peace. In the Christ-child, there is no hiding from God. There we know true peace.

 For this peace is the eternal peace that is brought from the heart of God to the believer. We find this as the 3rd of the fruit of the Spirit that Paul lists. There is no mistake there. You cannot have peace until the love of Christ fills your heart and life and the joy of salvation touches you in that special way that changes how you face each day. With love and joy giving you new glasses through which to see the world, peace comes rushing into the heart and life and guides the believer into a true sense of peace that begins in the relationship with God and carries over into every aspect of life itself. This peace looks upon the cross and sighs contentedly because it knows that right there, in the midst of that terrible, cruel instrument of torture and death, Christ brings peace in a way that is completely different from the world. The world would say, “Come down from the cross and show us how to live our lives.” The heart of faith rejoices to see Him remain on the cross and bring peace with the heavenly Father once again, a peace that had been lost since the Garden.

 That is the peace that is the fruit of the Spirit. After we see that it is that which we have from God as our relationship with Him is changed from Sovereign Judge to Loving Father, we begin to know what Paul writes, “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 ESV) This peace gives peace of mind. As we look for the student of the month, we look for one that exhibits this peace of mind in his/her relationship with God.

This peace of mind then leads to peace in relationships. We can see this in Hebrews 12:14, “Strive for peace with everyone…” (ESV) and 1 Peter 3:11 “…let him seek peace and pursue it.” (ESV) The believer that knows the peace of God then makes it his/her goal to be at peace with those around him/her. He doesn’t try to create problems but instead “…puts the best construction on everything” (as we learn from Luther’s explanation of the 8th commandment). We follow the direction, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.” (Colossians 3:15 ESV) This peace of Christ rules the heart of the student that exhibits this fruit of the Spirit.

 So what do we look for as we look at the fruit of the Spirit? We look for a student that knows the peace of God in his/her heart and that allows that peace to touch the lives of the students around him/her. It is a student that faces the challenges of the day (from school to home to heart) and still shows that he/she is filled with that wonderful, life giving peace that passes all human understanding.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pressing On

Spending a little time in Philippians this morning caused me to think (as God's Word generally does). It is a familiar verse for many people. "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own." (Phil. 3:12 ESV) Now I know that you may have heard this expounded on before. I know I have. But it caused me to ask this question, "Do you really press on to take hold of the goal to which Christ has called you?"
You might be asking, "What is that goal?" Paul writes, "...that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." (Phil. 3:11 ESV) The goal is not a happy life, a big bank account, a fine house, a good looking spouse, well behaved children, etc. All those things are great to have. In fact they are truly blessings given to us by God Himself for our daily life. But they are not the goal in life. Too many of us have made that our goal. And consequent, we have found that we are never content in life. When I have a new car, it grows old and I desire another new car. When I have a good looking spouse, they grow old and I begin to think that I need a younger, better looking spouse. (I want to say right now that I do not feel that way! Penny is all I need, want or desire in a spouse. I am content!) But when the goal of life is more of the same, then you will never attain that goal.

The goal of life is to attain the resurrection from the dead. The goal is that life eternal with the Father in heaven. The goal is to leave this life and enter into the next. Is that your goal? You don't have to be a downer about this. It isn't that a Christian walks around saying, "I am ready to die. Let me die. I want to die." No, that isn't the way to live life either.

The goal is to press on in Christ. The goal is to strain towards what is coming - through in Christ Jesus. It means that I live each day, not for the things of the world but for the things of Christ. It means that the focus of my heart and life, the desires of my heart, are that which comes from my Lord Jesus Christ. I press on to make it my own. I press on in faith. I look to Christ. I keep my eyes focused on the goal of life - to reach that eternal life with my Lord in heaven.

All the rest of the things I do in life, reflect that goal. As I go about my day, I do it to bring glory to God with the realization that each day is a gift from His hand. Each day I have here on earth is to be lived for Christ. Each day is to be a day of preparation - of my soul for the day He comes for me - and preparation for others - sharing the message of life and love with those I come in contact with so that they too will know the joy and life that comes from Christ Jesus.

I press on today. I have the goal in sight - it is there. When will I reach it? Don't know that. But I do know one thing, "I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own!"

Monday, October 31, 2011

Reformation Day thoughts

October 31st is Halloween for most of America. For those of us who are Lutheran, it is also Reformation Day. I know that for some of the other Protestant denominations, there may be the remembrance of Reformation Day but for the most part, I feel that many churches have forgotten about the events of this day. In fact, many churches and many Christians, have no idea what Reformation Day is all about. Some think it is a time for the Lutherans to worship Martin Luther. Wrong! No worship of the man here. Nor it is a time to remember how great it is that the Lutheran Church broke from the Catholic Church. Wrong again!

What makes today so important is that it begins a return to the central teaching of Scripture - justification by grace through faith. This is an extremely important doctrine (teaching) of the Bible. Without a good understanding of justification by grace through faith, all the other doctrines get messed up. What does it mean? It means that God saves us. We don't save ourselves. God does it all. We don't do any of it. It means that God is the giver and we are the recipients. We are like the children that will trick or treat this evening. They come with their hands open, hoping to receive something from each one that they come to. And they will receive candy from you - not because they have the best costume or are the cutest thing this side of paradise but because YOU want to give them the candy. It comes because of the desire in your heart to give the children candy. They do not get it because they deserve to receive from you. In fact, you might not even know the children that knock on your door. But you still give them candy. (Now the analogy will break down if you push it too far, so please don't.)

On this Reformation Day, we remember that Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. That action started the series of events that ultimately would reform the Christian Church (leading to another split in Christendom). We remember today because of the wonder of the power of God, working through Holy Scripture, to change the heart of a little known monk in Germany so that he would begin the work that would bring the Church back to the central teaching of justification by grace through faith. Celebrate today. (Here at St. Paul's, we celebrated that event all weekend.) Rejoice in the grace and mercy of God shown to us in Christ's death and resurrection. We give thanks to God for His Word and for those servants who have given of themselves so that we could hold firm to this central teaching of Scripture.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Joy - Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit
Galatians 5:22-23

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (ESV)

The theme verse for the 2011-2012 academic school year at St. Paul’s is a familiar verse for many of us. We have heard often of the “Fruit of the Spirit.” These “fruit” will be what is used to find our “Student of the Month.” Each month we will be looking at one of the “fruit” and will be considering the student that best fits that “fruit.” In order for us to be prepared to make this decision, it would be good for us to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest these words for ourselves.

October – “JOY”

The Love of Christ has filled our hearts and lives through the month of September. Like grapes hanging on the vine, the fruit of the Spirit has been growing and maturing and we have picked the fruit called love. We now turn to the next fruit that we will cultivate and seek to harvest over the next month. (Yes, I know that it is the Holy Spirit who brings these fruit into the lives of the faithful but as teachers at St. Paul’s, we are given the task of cultivating the spiritual lives of the children with which we have contact. Each day we are called to continue to share the Word, knowing that the Holy Spirit works through that Word to bring the fruit of the Spirit to maturity.)

“Joy” is an often misunderstood fruit. It closely corresponds to happiness in the secular world. While these seem to be related and sometimes even seen as the same, they are not. The difference between “happiness” and “joy” is simple. Happiness depends upon the circumstances of life while joy does not. Joy is that fruit that comes from deep within the believers heart while happiness is that surface emotion that changes quickly with whatever direction the winds of the day blow. You can go from happy to sad to melancholy in a matter of moments. Joy continues no matter the situation of life.

Why? It is simple. Happiness is an emotion while joy is a state of being. Happiness is that which any may have in their life. Joy is that which comes from the relationship one has with their Lord Jesus Christ. Happiness puts a smile on the face while joy puts the smile in the heart. King David talks of this in Psalm 30: “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12 ESV) David is able to say this, not because his life was so good and he never faced sadness again, but because the joy of the Lord filled his heart and changed his life.

What does fill the heart of the believer? It is the joy that comes from being in a relationship with their savior Jesus Christ. Joy comes even in the face of sorrow and sadness. It does not hinge on the circumstances of life as does happiness. Take for example the life of Christ. The disciples were filled with happiness when they were with the Lord. But they were filled with sadness when He spoke of His coming death and resurrection. They could find no joy in the words of the Lord. Peter would take the Lord to the side and rebuke Him and tells Him, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22 ESV) He could not fathom that the Lord would die. He would have the Lord continue to live so that his life would be filled with happiness (not joy). The Lord says, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22 ESV) As you look at the Easter accounts, you see this very thing happening. Sorrow was in the hearts of the disciples because Jesus was dead and “someone had stolen Him.” When they came face-to-face with the resurrected Lord, their hearts were filled with joy, that inexpressible joy that lead them into a whole different way of life. In Acts 5 we read, “And when they (the Jewish council) had called the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.” (Acts 5:40 ESV) It would have been easy at that time for the apostles to be filled with sorrow and sadness for they had been arrested and beaten. But we are told, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41 ESV) Joy filled their hearts, a deep joy that not even physical suffering could remove from them for they were in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is this joy that many Christians display today. The cancer victim who rejoices each day for they have the wondrous gift of life in Christ. The prisoner whose chains have been loosed (even while he is still in prison serving his time) spends his days filled with a deep joy, for he has been set free by Christ Jesus. Why? The joy of Christ fills the heart and life. As our Lord says, “You will be sorrowful but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a human being has been born into the world.” (John 16:20-21 ESV)

Does having the fruit of the Spirit mean that you will not be sad? No it doesn’t. There will still be sadness in this life. The joy of the Lord does not mean that the emotions will not be there. A Christian still has all the emotions that God has given to him/her. Those emotions do not change the joy that lies within the heart. There will be sorrow at the time of death, even while there is joy at the death of a Christian. There will be sadness when the news is not good yet the joy of Christ will still be in the heart of the Christian.

As we go through October, we will be looking for the student that exhibits the joy of Christ in his/her life. We will be looking for the student that has the joy of Christ leading them through the days. Indeed, we will all be saying with Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always; against I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4 ESV)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Psalm of the Day

All right, I know that I don't write every day and to call this the Psalm of the Day makes it sound like I will write about a Psalm each day. I won't. I know that full well. but I do read a Psalm each and every day. I am currently reading through Psalm 119, you know, that really, really long one that goes on forever. It is a pretty interesting Psalm. But I am not writing about that Psalm. Instead, I am writing about Psalm 141, which I also read this morning.

"O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you!" (Psalm 141:1 ESV) Like us, the Psalmist (who happens to be King David) would like for the Lord to listen to him when he calls out in prayer. Was he praying with his head bowed and his hands folded, eyes closed, whispering to himself? Probably not. I can imagine David standing in his chamber, arms spread wide, hands open, palms facing upward, eyes turned to heaven and calling out to the Lord, "Hasten to me! Give ear to my voice!" I can see David, heart open, mind given over to the Lord, begging the Lord to hear him.

Been there, done that. Many times have I cried to the Lord for myself, a family member, a member of the flock that I am serving, asking God to hear my voice, to hear my cry. Have you been there? Maybe not standing in the middle of the kitchen calling out to God, but in your heart you are doing just that. "Hear me Lord! Listen to my voice!"

And He does! I want you to hear that again. HE DOES! He listens to your voice. He hears you cry. He has said to you, "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you and you will honor me." He invites you to call to Him. He wants you to pour out all that is in your heart to Him. He wants you to bring your burdens, your cares, you concerns, your everything to Him. Are you upset? Take it to the Lord in prayer. Are you angry? Take it to the Lord! Are you scared? Are you unsure? Are you facing something that is overwhelming in your life and you just don't know what to do or where to turn? Cry out to the Lord.

Will He answer? Yes! Again I say, "YES!" Now here comes the hard part - the answer may not be the one you want. That is the part that we don't like. When we call upon the Lord, we want an answer and generally speaking, the only answer we want is the one we have asked for in our prayer. Do it this way, Lord. That is often the way we think. But it doesn't work that way. He does it His own way, the way that is best. How do we know it is the best way? Because He is omniscient (all-knowing). He knows what is best for us. Remember the show, "Father Knows Best"? The fact is that our heavenly Father does know best.

The challenge of faith is to trust the Lord when He brings forth His answer (in His own time!). Faith trusts the Lord. It says, "Father, I know what lies in my heart and what I want, but I trust what lies in Your heart. Help me to hold firm to You and Your will. Help me to not just say but to believe the words: Thy will be done."

That is just thoughts on the opening verse. I actually wanted to spend time on verses 3-4. Read it for yourself. Think about what they are saying to you. "Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds."  (Psalm 141:4 ESV) That would be a good prayer to take with you are you go out the door this morning. Do not let my heart incline to any evil. Instead, let my heart be inclined to that which comes from You, O Lord. Let me look to You for guidance of my mouth, my actions, my hands, my heart and my mind.

"But my eyes are toward you, O God, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless." (Psalm 141:8 ESV) You are my refuge in the face of great temptation, for today, I will be tempted. I will want to give in to that temptation. Do not leave me defenseless in the face of such evil. Instead, O Lord, help me. I seek refuge from the terrors of sin. (Do you ever think of your sin that way? As terrors? You should!) Help me today, O Lord. My eyes are not towards what is evil but towards You! Be with me today. (And for those of you reading this, may the Lord be with you today, being your refuge.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Who would have thought from Nahum?

In our Sunday morning Adult Bible class we have been doing an overview of the Minor Prophets. These are the ones that most people spend very little time with, let alone know much about. Who reads Habakkuk or Obadiah? Who spends any time with Nahum or Malachi? We might know Jonah. There is a chance we spent time with Micah or Amos but Haggai? It has been an enjoyable time for me as a pastor and for me as a Christian. It has helped me to see the wonders of God's Word once again. I am generally amazed at how wonderful the Word of God is for my life. I pray that you find that for your life too.

A gem from the book of Nahum. "The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him." (Nahum 1:7 ESV) This verse comes to the people who are terrified at the prospect of the nation of Assyria coming to take over their lands. The Northern Kingdom of Israel has already been carried into captivity by Assyria. The armies are knocking on the door, exacting tribute and threatening destruction. Nothing worldly can stop those powerful armies. With deep fear for their future, the prophet Nahum brings a word of comfort. The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble...a stronghold in the face of insurmountable adversaries. That was comfort for the people of Judah.

And it is comfort for you today. You are not alone in facing whatever enemy you are facing at this time. Addiction? Fear? Abandonment? Financial ruin? Personal crises? Family issues? Work problems? Self worth issues? The Lord is good. He is your stronghold in this day of trouble. He is the One that you can turn to for strength and hope when the world around you and within you offers no hope or comfort. You can take refuge in Him today and every day. You can be comforted in Him.

How can I be sure? Because of the cross and the empty tomb. The Lord knows what you are going through. He knows the struggles you are facing. He knows the pains of your heart. He knows the frailty of your body, the weakness of your resolve, the fragility of mind. He has been here. He has faced it. He has overcome it. He has defeated your enemies, the ones that you struggle with right now. He knows you! He knows your needs. He is your stronghold in the face of an overwhelming enemy that threatens to overwhelm you at every turn.

He knows those who take refuge in Him. Don't rely upon yourself at this moment. Turn to Him. Trust in Him. Take refuge in Him. Today His mercy calls you! You can find strength and hope in the most hopeless of situations.

The question will be asked: "If I turn to Him, will my enemies (problems) go away?" The answer is, "I don't know." Judah struggles with that. Assyria was knocking on their door. They were terrified. Assyria didn't seem like they would ever go away. Nahum is writing in the mid 7th century B.C. when Assyria was the greatest world power that no one thought would ever go away. By 613 B.C. Assyria had fallen as was no longer a threat. Did the Lord take away Assyria immediately? No. He did give Judah strength. He did care for them. And He did free them from their oppressor in His time.

He will do the same for you. It calls for faith - worked in your heart by the Holy Spirit. It calls for trust - in the One who has already defeated your enemies and is able to help you face them. It calls for you to trust not in yourself or your powers but in Him and His powers. "The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him." A gem from the pen of Nahum, from the guidance of the Holy Spirit, from the heart of the One who loves and cares for you.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sermon Thoughts for 9/11

For the members of St. Paul's Lutheran, Troy, IL, here is the sermon that was presented as Sermon "B" instead of Sermon "A." God's blessings as you read it.

Psalm 18 – The Rock
September 11, 2011

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 – a time of remembrance and mourning for the tragedy our nation suffered at the hands of terrorists, people who hate America and all it stands for and will what they can to hurt, harm and destroy the way of life.

We remember the shock of the day as we watched as not one but two hijacked planes plowed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
  • We couldn’t believe it as we heard of the 3rd plane crashing into the Pentagon.
  • We remember the horror we felt as first one and then the tower collapsed with a roar and a huge cloud of dust and ash.

We remember the numbness we felt as the day came to a close. How could this happen? How was it possible? How could…and we couldn’t think any more after a day that started so beautiful and clear and ended with such uncertainty, fear and death. Nothing seemed safe. Nothing seemed sure. There was no place that we could turn for comfort.

But wait, that wasn’t true. Suddenly a nation that was too busy for God, found time to worship. A people that refused to allow prayer in our schools found itself on its knees, praying to God for so many different things – hope, peace, comfort, assurance, healing.

Yes it was a tragedy but it also was a wake up call to all of us – not just to be more vigilant, to be aware that there are those who hate America and will attack us, but to be more vigilant in our faith lives. To trust in the Lord – at all times!

We found God, who is the Rock. Psalm 18:2, “The Lord is my Rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” We saw in God the hope that we needed. Indeed as a people we did as Psalm 18:6 says, “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help.” And He was there!

He brought comfort.
  • He brought peace.
  • He brought hope, to our lives and to our nation as we reeled from a day that presented such surreal images that we could not have even imagined.

Only in movies were there such images. Only in pretend or on the back lots of the production studios could such images have been created. But they weren’t there. Those dreadful images were right in front us – surreal, impossible.

And yet, is not that how we feel at other times of our lives? At the doctor’s report of cancer. At the request for a divorce. At the finding out the company is closing and jobs are lost. As the spouse admits adultery. As the child is arrested for drug use. As the police call with word of a death due to an accident.

We are filled with shock, disbelief, terror, numbness. The nation felt it on 9/11. We feel it day after day, in situation after situation. And we cry out! We cry to God! And He hears us! We need a Rock. And He is that Rock!

But…how soon we begin to forget. How soon the numbness wears off. The world continues on. And we forget the pain.

Oh, it is still there, hurting, tearing at our lives, but it soon begins to fade. Those families who lost loved ones at 9/11 live with the pain (much as each of us live with it as we face the death of a loved one) but for the rest of us – real life comes back. We have to go on with life.

So…the planes fly again.
…the people go back to work or school.

…lives begin to return to “normal.”

…and we begin to forget or drift.

What? How could we forget? How could this happen? The Rock, the Fortress, the One who pulled us through the crisis of our times is soon forgotten. We let Him slip to the background again, waiting for another time when we need to use Him in our lives.

My friends, it should not be so. God is not meant to be relegated to the one who is needed only in times of trouble. He is to be at the center of our lives, the One who guides us each day, who leads us through the mundane events of our daily lives.

Our Rock is our Rock each day. He is what protects us as we grow through our days, our shield that wards off the flaming arrows of the evil one that attacks us even on the calm days when no calamity befalls our nation or befuddles our minds.

America needs to remember this day that it is not our might (army, navy, air force, marines) that gives us true security. For the enemy of the nation showed us that on 9/11. No, true security is found as we live in the palm of His hand

  • True peace is with God through Christ.
  • True hope is found not at Ground Zero but at the Empty Tomb.
  • True life is given not at the price of the ones who perished on Flight 93 or in the collapse of the towers but at the price of the One who died upon the cross.

America, proclaim your pride. Proclaim how we will not forget that day 10 years ago. But as you proclaim that pride and that memory, put your words in to real time – found in Jesus Christ not in a mere man who will let you down.

9/11 was a wake-up call to America. Not to be more vigilant or more prepared for an act of terrorism (though that is true too!). It is to be more vigilant in our faith life, to be prepared in Christ for that which will happen in our lives.

Will a terrorist attack America again? They will try – and perhaps they will achieve that goal.

Will men and women die on the battlefields of the world protecting the freedoms of the U.S. and other nations? Yes they will.

Will it ever end? Will sickness end?

                                    Will turmoil end?

                                                Will pain end?

                                                            Will frustration end?

                                                                        Will death end?

YES! But not through the ways that we think. It is not going to come in this world, as governments work together.

Instead it is the future that we hold firmly to – a future found in Christ, in His return. While in this world there will be struggles and pain, there will be tragedy and death. But fear not, Christ has overcome this world! He is the Lord of all. As He saw us through the tragedy of 9/11, as He sees us through the tragedies of our lives, He does so with victory firmly in hand, a victory won upon the cross, sealed in the Resurrection.

We will be free one day – when Christ shall come again. Until that day, we stand firm on the Rock of our salvation – Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the One who was there in times of trouble, who is here with us today and who will be with us until the final day when he shall come again and bring all this suffering to an end.

America, Jesus is your Rock.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why I support Lutheran education!

I have been reading in 2 Kings and the Psalms lately. Am amazed once again as to how relevant the Word of God is to our lives today. Josiah is working to rebuild the Temple which was in said shape due ot the fact that Mannaseh was a king that chased after all the false gods and let the Temple fall apart. He led the people of Israel into a very bad place - which would finally lead to the destruction of Judah at the hand sof the Babylonians. If you forgot that, then you need to read it again. (And if you have never read it, then perhaps you should read on because that is where my thoughts are falling today.)

We don't know God's Word. There are exceptions. There are members of St. Paul's who know the Word better than I do (which may not be too hard as I find that the more I read the Bible the less I really know). But for the most part, I think that families are much like they were in the days of Josiah, they don't know what God's Word says to them. Why? Because they don't have much to do with Him and His Word.

Confirmation started up again. And as I am each year, I am amazed at how little some of the students know. We don't know the Bible. We don't know the basics of our faith. I feel kinda like Luther before he wrote the Small and Large Catechisms in 1529. He was appalled at how little people knew of their faith. I talked of the Law last night, and one of the students commented that she didn't know how she could have broken the Law because she didn't know what it was. When asked if she knew any of the commandments, she replied that she didn't.

Was I upset? Yes. Not with her. It wasn't her fault. It was the fault of her parents. They don't bring her to church and Sunday School. When she was baptized they said they would be certain to raise her in the faith, teaching it to her in her life - but they haven't. How many parents are there like that? How many families don't know what God's Word says? How many "despise preaching and His word"? (Hopefully you know where that comes from. If not, get out your catechism and look up the 3rd Commandment and its meaning.) But we don't despise the Word of God, we just don't have anything to do with it.

This generation of children are being robbed of their faith. And who is it that is robbing them of that faith? Their parents. That's right, their parents are robbing their children of the faith that they were given in the waters of their baptism. Their parents are not teaching them God's Word. They are not bringing them to worship. Why? Because they themselves don't see the importance of it. Why do we need the Word? We have a job. We have money. We have a house. We have a good life. Everything is going well for us. We don't need God and His Word to mess things up for us. So we just avoid it.

And in the process, we steal eternal life from our children. We wonder why our children get in trouble. We are amazed when they show a lack of respect. We are overwhelmed with how terrible the world has become. We wonder why the Church doesn't do more to help people. And then we avoid the Church. We avoid worship. We despise the Word of God by not wanting it to be a part of my life. (Have you ever looked at your Bible? Yes, when I moved it from one place to another. Have you opened it? No. Do you know that there are 66 books in the Bible? How can there be that many books in this one? Actual conversation with a student.)

I read in Psalm 102:12, "But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations." And I asked myself, "Really? Is that really the way it is?" Yes the Lord is enthroned forever. But is He remember throughout the generations. Has my generation taught our children the Word of God? Have we taught them the wonders of the Lord? Is the next generation teaching about the wonders of the Lord?

And you wonder why I support the Lutheran school? At least for the 11 years that we have children in our school (yes 11! Count them, 2 years of preschool, kindergarten and 8 years of numbered classes = 11) we have the opportunity to tell our children of teh wonders of the Lord. We have the chance to open their eyes to that which Satan would have us avoid tell them. We can help them to know and remember our Lord, His law, His Good News and the wonders of what it means to be a Child of God.

The next time you feel like complaining about the cost of Lutheran education, stop and think about the souls that would be lost to damnation if we did not have the doors of our school open. Think about how little our children and grandchildren would know of the Lord without it. Can families teach the same things at home? Of course.

But will they?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fruits of the Spirit - introduction

The following was an introductory paper given to the St. Paul's Lutheran School teachers as we began the 2011-12 school year. The theme verse is Galatians 5:22-23, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." This was meant to help the teachers get a grasp on these verses. Each month we will select a student of the month that exhibits the fruit of that month. I will also begin to post those monthly papers about each fruit as they become available through out the year.

Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22-23


 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (ESV)

 The theme verse for the 2011-2012 academic school year at St. Paul’s is a familiar verse for many of us. We have heard often of the “Fruit of the Spirit.” These “fruit” will be what is used to find our “Student of the Month.” Each month we will be looking at one of the “fruit” and will be considering the student that best fits that “fruit.” In order for us to be prepared to make this decision, it would be good for us to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest these words for ourselves.

 For us to have a good understanding of the fruit of the Spirit, we need to look beyond just these two verses to see the context of what Paul writes. We will be looking at Galatians 5:16-26. Listen as we read these verses:

Through out this section, we see the contrast between life in the Spirit and life in the flesh. It begins with: “But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV)

 Paul gives us this contrast in other letters. In Romans 8:9 we read, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (ESV) Again in Ephesians 2:5, “…even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ.” (ESV)

The old (also known as the Old Adam, the old man) = the sinful nature that is opposed to God and the life one has in Christ.

The new (also known as the new man) = the life that is filled with Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit.

 This beginning verses from Galatians 5:16-17 are a challenge to the Christian life. To walk by the Spirit is a challenge. The desire of the heart is to walk according to the sinful flesh. The reason is because of the original sin within each of us. Born sinful, our very nature is sinful. To walk by the Spirit means to not follow the depth of the depravity of our souls.

 This is not something that we do on our own. To say to the children, you must try harder to bear the fruit of the Spirit is not what we need to be saying to them. Once again, it comes down to the very fact that we are sinful by nature and cannot by our own power walk by the Spirit. We recall the explanation to the 3rd Article of the Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” (Small Catechism, 3rd Article) It is only as we are made new by the Spirit that we walk by the Spirit. He leads us. He guides us. He is the One that empowers us to follow the way of the Lord. This is important to remember because it is so easy to say to one another, “Try harder. Be a better Christian. You must really work hard to bear the fruit of the Spirit.” That puts the pressure on us, which means that we will only fail the test. In and of ourselves we will not and cannot walk by the Spirit.

So how does this happen? How is it that we walk by the Spirit? It is as we are guided by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace. He empowers us in the very way that He has told us that He will work – through the Word of God, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Calling us by the Gospel – in the waters of Baptism and through the Word as it is read and proclaimed. Each of our children has been called by the Gospel. The reason that we celebrate the Baptism birthdays of each of the children is because of the importance of their Baptism. It isn’t just a “nice” thing to do. We recall our Baptismal birthdays in order to remind us of the importance of this day when we have been called by the Gospel. We continue to study the Word as He enlightens us daily – leading our children in devotions, religion class and in various other ways that we bring that Word into our lessons.

 Back to Galatians. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” (Galatians 5:19-20 ESV)  Paul gives us the works of the flesh which is not comprehensive. It isn’t that we look at this list and say, “Those are not things that I do so I am all right.” We can find ourselves in this list at some point in time. In fact, as we look at the fullness of the Law, we see that we are definitely struggling with the works of the flesh. That is something that we are led to help our children to understand about themselves.

 The works of the flesh are against the commandments of the Lord. We teach these to the children, even having them memorize them through the yeas. The works are evident – other things take the place of the Lord in the heart and life, language is not as the Lord would have it to be (in the classroom as there is disrespectful language against one another, on the playground when no teacher is around, at home), the heart is not worshiping the Lord in the classroom, at home or in the church, respect is not given to parents, teachers or others in authority, etc. Yes, it is evident to see the works of the flesh. It is a struggle between walking by the Spirit and walking in the flesh.

Our task as teachers is to guide the children from the works of the flesh to the life in the Spirit. As we do that, we find that we must first be guided by the Spirit in our lives. It is easy for us to focus on the children and forget that we must begin in our own hearts and lives in order to then be able to guide the children in their lives.

 Turning to the Fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” The fruit that is born by the Christian is the fruit that comes from being connected to Christ. Jesus tells us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he is it that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 ESV) Connected to Christ in Word and Sacrament, we grow in our lives of faith and in growing, we bear much fruit. It is much like the crops planted in the field. We cannot enjoy sweet corn without it first being planted, nurtured, watered and harvested. The ear does not come by itself. It cannot grow on the ground without any connection to the corn stalk. Nor can it grow without being watered by rain or irrigation. So the Christian cannot bear fruit without being connected to Christ Himself (the very word “Christian” shows us that Christ is the center of who we are and without whom we would not be “Christian”). Nor can we bear such fruit without being watered by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace. Connected to Christ, we are to bear fruit.

Is it an option, this bearing fruit? No it isn’t. We will bear fruit one way or another. Paul writes, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to one another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”  (Romans 7:4 ESV) Bearing fruit for God, bearing fruit in our lives, is what we are to do. We do not believe and that is the end of it for our lives here on earth. No, we are called to bear fruit. What type of fruit we bear shows where our heart and life is as Jesus says, “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit…Thus you will recognize them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:17-18, 20 ESV) Bearing good fruit is what we as Christians are to be about.

And what is the fruit? It is what the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and lives. It is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Each month we will be emphasizing one of these fruit. At the same time, we will need to remind our students that it isn’t just for that month that we are to bear the fruit of the Spirit. It is to be that which we do day after day, week after week, month after month, long after we have finished the 2011-12 school year, the fruit of the Spirit is still to be part of our daily lives.

We can divide these fruit up into 3 categories (for our benefit): Love, joy and peace are inner qualities that reflect our Christian relationship with God. Patience, kindness and goodness show themselves in our attitude and actions toward one another. Faithfulness, gentleness and self-control reflect how the new man conducts himself in view of the duties, opportunities and obligations that come to him because of his Christian calling.

For our students, we will begin by looking at those fruit that reflect their life in Christ and their relationship with their heavenly Father. Love is that which begins in God’s heart and is poured into ours as we love one another as Christ has loved us (which includes the attitude of forgiveness towards one another). Love is the foundation of all else that comes in our lives. If we do not love God, we cannot love one another. It is as John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know god, because God is love…Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:7-8,11 ESV) So we begin our year with love – love for God and love for one another.

Each month, I will bring forward at the staff meeting the next fruit so that we will have a fresh look at what each fruit means for us and for our students.

August/September – Love

October – Joy

November – Peace

December – Patience

January – Kindness

February – Goodness

March – Faithfulness

April – Gentleness

May – Self-control

May the Lord bless our school year as we, as teachers, bear the fruit of the Spirit in our classrooms and lives and as our children bear the fruit of the Spirit each day.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Further thoughts part 2

There are few more things I want to comment on from Romans 12:9-21, this last Sunday's epistle reading. Then I will let it go and move on. I was reading Psalm 90 today and felt like there was much to be said from it but I need to finish these thoughts before moving on to something else.

"If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." (Romans 12:18) I am not sure that we adhere to this in our lives. Just the opposite is true. If we think we have been wronged or we don't like someone or we just don't want to get along with someone, we don't. We figure it is there problem if they don't like it. Wrong! It is our problem.

We are told as much as it is possible, live at peace with one another. You cannot change how a person thinks or acts. That isn't your job. Nor is it your job to sit around and wait for the other person to change to try to live at peace with one another. The fact is, you are to do everything in your power, to live at peace with those around you. You are not to hold onto to grudges. You are not to say, "I don't like that person, therefore I am going to make life tough for him." I heard the other day that someone said the church is the place where we go to get along with those people that we don't like. When that was quoted to a church member, the response was, "If I don't like them, I won't have anything to do with them. I won't talk to them. Etc." What? How is that a Christian attitude? In as much as in your lies, as much as it is in your power, live peaceably with others.

But I don't want to! I don't want to be kind and compassionate to the person that I don't like. I shouldn't have to! After all, I don't like them and I have my reasons. But are they really valid reasons/ Or are they selfish, sinful reasons that you hold onto and keep in front of you so that you don't have to get along with at person?

Putting it another way, are you really that good of a person that people would want to get along with you? Or are you one of those people that others avoid because of your attitude and actions? In as much as in you lies - change yourself! That's right, you are the problem, not them. Your attitude is the one that makes you the person that you are - not theirs. You chose to act the way you act. You chose to be the person you are. You don't have to be angry or bitter or mean or nasty or self-centered. That is not the way that Christ would have you live. Did you ever see that in His life? Of course not. Why not? Because it is sinful.

As much as in you lies - live peaceably with others. That means that today, you begin to pray to the Spirit to change your heart and mind. It means that you begin to let the life of Christ guide you instead of the life of sin. Is it easy? Of course not. There is no way to do that by yourself. And even as the Spirit is transforming you and your mind, you will fight it. Your sinful nature will not want you to change.

That, my blog reading friends, is the challenge of living the life of a Christian.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Further thoughts on Romans 12:9-21

Sunday I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon (you would know what I said if you were there) that i didn't have enough time to address all the things that Paul writes in Romans 12. That epistle reading was packed full of powerful guidance for the life of a Christian. The Holy Spirit is showing us how we are to treat one another - in light of the fact that we offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices. We give ourselves, not to our own actions and our own desires, but to the Lord's actions and desires. The old sinful nature in us is put to death over and over again as we live in spiritual worship to our Lord Jesus Christ.

I feel compelled to talk about the verses beginning at verse 14. "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them."  That is a challenge isn't it? To bless those who curse you. This is truly following the example of Luther's 8th commandment explanation. Bless - speak well of and put the best construction on all that is done by those who persecute you. That is so contrary to the way we want to act. When you push me, I am going to react by pushing you back. You say something bad about me, I will think of something worse to say about you. You hurt my reputation and I will do all i can to destroy your reputation. That is the way of the sinful, natural heart of each one of us. That is what we must sacrifice. To follow that way of thinking is to be conformed to the way of the world instead of being transformed by the renewing of the Holy Spirit. We are not only told to do this, but our Lord Jesus Christ has given us that example as He suffered at the hands of those who wished to have Him put to death. Instead of hurling insults back at them, He took their mockery and asked His Father to forgive them. Instead of attacking the pharisees, He dealt with them in a righteous and holy manner. We are called to do the opposite of what we want to do - bless and not curse our persecutors.

"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." (vs. 15) This is something we are able to do with those that we like. If they are our friends or someone that we want to impress, we will be there for them. We will party with those who party. We will cry with those who cry. When someone has a child, we rejoice. When they have a death, we weep. Or do we? What about when that family that you cannot stand has a joyous event happen? Do you rejoice with them? Do you call them up and tell them how happy you are for them? Do you stop by their house with a plate of cookies and tell them how wonderful it is that things have gone well for them? Or do you grumble about the fact that they don't deserve to win the lottery or to have a healthy child or to have the son who is on the honor roll at college? When something bad happens to them, do you feel sorry for them? Or do actually feel like, "They got theirs!"? This is tough when you are talking about all people - especially those who persecute you in your life. To rejoice with them makes us want to puke. To weep with them would mean you would have to be a hypocrite because you really want that person to suffer. Think about it. Which way are we called to live? Not conformed to the world in it's thoughts but transformed by the Spirit.

"Live in harmony with one another." What? Live in harmony with one another? What does that mean for us? The harmony is that which is found in Christ Jesus, given by the Spirit. Jesus prays that we might be one as He and the Father are one. Live at harmony doesn't mean that we wait for the other person to become like we want them to become. No, it means that we are asking the Spirit to transform "ME" to be like Jesus so that I can live in harmony with all people. It is easy to be at harmony with those that we like. But those that we don't like (and you know that the church has people in it that you don't like), that is much more difficult. That is the direction of the Spirit - live in harmony with one another. All too often in a church family, we sound more like an orchestra where everyone is out of tune and doing their own thing. There is no beautiful music being made. Instead it is a terrible, awful sound that drives the mice and bats out of the building. How can we expect to share the love of Christ in that situation? How can we expect the love of our Lord to come through when it is like that? It can't! Harmony - like an orchestra made up of a lot of different instruments that come out sounding beautiful - as each follows the conductor (our Lord) and follow the sheet music (the Word). The next time you think to yourself that it is too tough to live at harmony with THAT person, stop and think how tough it is to live in harmony with YOU! Ask the Spirit to change your lack of love and harmony and to make you in you a joyful noise that is found in the life of faith in your Savior.

OK, I am going to stop at this point for now. Why? If I make the blog posting too long, you will stop reading. Come back later for a little more on Romans 12. For now, pray that the Spirit would transform you so you don't conform to the world in your relationship with your fellow member of the church.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It sounds familiar to me!

I was reading this morning in the book of Zephaniah (not a book that most of us spend too much time in). The third chapter has some interesting things to say to us as a people. Let me read that for you and then I will make a few comments:

"Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city! She listens to no voice; she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord; she does not draw near to her God. Her officials within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves that leave nothing till the morning. Her prophets are fickle, treacherous men; her priests profane what is holy; they do violence to the law. The Lord within her is righteous; he does no injustice; every morning he shows forth is justice; each dawn he does not fail; but the unjust knows no shame." (Zephaniah 3:1-5 ESV)

As I read this section of the prophecy of Zephaniah, I thought about our nation. I felt that Zephaniah was writing about the USA today. How much have we defiled the way of the Lord? How often have we turned from His way to the sinful, idolatrous ways of the world? Our officials and judges are not seeking the way of the Lord. (I am not talking "party" here. I am talking that it seems from my point of view that they are seeking what they want and couching it in terms of that make it sound like they are following the will of the people. Like lions they devour. Like wolves they destroy. All without any fear of God.) Even our prophets and priests (our pastors and church leaders) are not seeking the way of the Lord. We call evil good and good evil. We do not proclaim the fullness of the Word of God but merely speak what will get the most people into our churches so we can say we are the latest and greatest thing, in order to get our name out there for others to follow. What ever happened to faithfulness to the Lord? Whatever became of seeking to receive the word from our Lord, "Well done, my good and faithful servant?" Instead we seek praise from man and accolades from the press. We want our names splashed around on the sign boards and the books - not the name of the Lord.

And all I can do is hang my head in shame. For I have not been the man of God that I should be. I do not speak as boldly as God would have me speak. While it may seem I am casting stones at others, I know that the stones should be cast at me.

What can be done? We can repent of our sins. We can turn from our sinful behavior and actions. We can pray to the Lord that He would help us to mend our sinful lives and follow His will once again. If we do not, are we any better than the nations before us that turned from His way? Where are they today? They are a few pages in the history books. They are sites for the vacationer to visit, take a few pictures and walk away wondering whatever happened to cause this great civilization to collapse in ruins. That could be the USA if we continue to turn our backs upon the Lord.

Thanks Zephaniah! Thanks for speaking the word of the Lord to me today.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thursday evening

Thursday evening - the first week of school draws to a close for me. I know that there is still Friday for students and teachers. But for me, today is my Friday. For the first time in years, more than I can count, I will actually have a real day off (I mean during the school year, when school is in session. Here at St. Paul's, I have had my Fridays off during the summer. But this feels really good to know that I actually have a day off from teaching and other work). From the time I was in my last years are Ferrin to this year, I have not had a real day off during the week, not without taking a vacation day. Not a day that I could count on week after week to not have to get up and go to the office, to teach class or do something else that was needed in the church that I was serving.

That is, till now. Tomorrow, I will not be getting up to teach class or to lead staff devotions. I will not have to go into the office to make sure that the bulletin is correct or that everything is running smoothly. Instead, if I get up in the morning, it will be because I want to get up and do some reading, to spend time in the Word, to be able to sit peaceably without having to head over to the office.

It means a lot to me to not have to get going. So tonight, when I go to bed, I will go to bed knowing that tomorrow is a day given over to my rest, rest with Penny, rest from my labors. It is my Sabbath rest. And I give thanks to God and to St. Paul's congregation and school for it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reflections on Day Number 1

It is in the books - the first day of school at St. Paul's. I know that that there are other schools who will be having first days today or tomorrow or whenever. That's all right. It is good that they have first days. But for me, yesterday (Monday, August 15th) was the first day of school.

It was good to have the children back in the building. It has been empty all summer, save for the week of Vacation Bible School in the middle of June and for Sunday school each Sunday morning for an hour. But a school building devoid of students is an empty place.

Mr. Monroe has been working all summer to prepare the building for the children. He has refinished the floors in the classrooms so that they shine, a nice deep shine that makes it possible to walk into the classroom and enjoy the way it looks.

The teachers came back at the beginning of the month and began to prepare their classrooms, preparing for this day to arrive. Looking around the school you see how all things are ready.

Mrs. Thomas has made the kindergarten room a welcoming place for the seven new kindergarten students who are all smiles and yet have that nervous look on their face. "I am in kindergarten, woohoo! But wait, I am in kindergarten, I am scared of what that means. Help me! I am about to cry." And up steps Mrs. Thomas with her smile and her kind way and the nervousness soon melts back into excitement.

The 1st and 2nd grade come in feeling that they have somehow arrived at the promised land and Mrs. Dehne is there to help them with that feeling. The classroom has a new look, a new feel. Mrs. Dehne has made it her classroom this year. It looks like her and the students see that. There are the six 1st graders who are fresh out of kindergarten, knowing that they have advanced to the place of learning. The six 2nd graders are the big ones in the classroom now. They remember how the 2nd graders acted last year and they try to be that same way, all grown up in the way that only 2nd graders can be. And with 12 children in the classroom, Mrs. Dehne work efficiently and lovingly to help each one of them feel special.

Next door there are 8 children looking to Mrs. McLaughlin for guidance as they enter the realm of the 3rd and 4th grade. The 3rd grade has only 2 students - 1 boy and 1 girl. The girl misses her classmate from last year but will quickly adjust to her new classmate this year. Oh how she wishes she had both classmates but Mrs. McLaughlin helps her to adjust to the new world of 3rd grade. Excitement as one of the six 4th grade students tries to get his big red notebook into his desk only to see that it is too wide. With the flair of only a 4th grade student, he continues to try as he hopes for all his classmates to notice that he has a big red notebook that won't fit into the desk. each student has their way of trying to the attention of the other students as they try to unpack their bags and get it all into one little desk. Chaos? Not really, not for Mrs. McLaughlin who smiles happily to see her students back in her classroom.

Let's move up the hallway to the real action is, where the older students will reside for the next 9 months. Here is the 5th and 6th grade classroom with the 7 students. Mrs. Doyle welcomes them in with her caring smile and her sharp eye. She sees what each is bringing in and knows what they need and don't need. The 5th grade students are, what is that I see in their eyes, nervous, a little scared? But no, they won't let anyone know that about them. They are confident in only the way a 5th grade student can be. Looking around there is the 4 sixth grade students confidently setting the boundaries for the 5th grade to live within - who is going to be the class leader this year? Who will be the one that everyone looks for to know if they should laugh or if they should just do their work? There she is, Mrs. Doyle, sitting in her chair, smiling at them, showing them the way that they should be as they face this year. No fears, Mrs. Doyle is here. Will she be as mean as others have said? She chuckles to herself. Let them think she is mean, tough or whatever. Loving them in Christ, she will be the teacher they need to go through this year.

Then we come to where they really have "arrived" - the 7th and 8th grade class. Confident, sure of themselves, a swagger in their step - all of which hides the real person inside who is trying to figure out who he or she truly is. This year is a chance to shape and mold their persona. And yet, there is the unknown with that - Mr. Cluck, a new teacher, a MAN teacher, someone that no one here has had before. Who is he? What is he? Will he be nice? Will he be tough? More questions in the minds of students who are already filled with questions. the 5 seventh grade students look to the 7 8th grade students for guidance in how to act. All right Mr. Cluck, you are their guide this year, their teacher, their mentor.

Then there is the place of great confusion - the preschool. Moms and Dads bring their little ones into the classrooms. Students everywhere. Pictures taken. Tears shed. The confident little girl suddenly bursts into tears and doesn't want to stay. The shy little boy marches in and takes control of the little truck and starts talking with the boy next to him. Nothing is at it seems. Nothing is as it will be tomorrow (which by the way is today!). Miss Darla and Miss Tanya welcome the 4's into the classroom as Miss Michelle works to help the 3's feel comfortable in this completely new way of life. They are setting the table for the years to come.

And it is complete. Things are as they should be once again. The students are back. The teachers are teaching. The building is humming. And over it all, the Holy Spirit is filling hearts, minds and souls with the wonder of the love of the Savior. How do I fit into this picture? That is the question that will be answered through out the year. May the Lord bless this new school year.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Of wings and chirps

Sitting on the porch this morning, as I do most mornings during the summer months, I encountered something I hadn't encountered before. It was a beautiful morning. Facing the south, the clouds on the horizon were just starting to glow pink and orange with the rising sun in the east. The humidity of the past days had dispersed and the temperature was comfortable. Has it really only been 2 days since the air was so heavy and hot that it took your breath away when you walked out the door? Has it really only been since Sunday that your glasses would steam up when you entered the sweat box we called outdoors? Sitting there, I listened to crickets chirping away. It is a relaxing sound. It set the stage for the devotions that would take place there on the front porch.

Surrounded by the flowers and vines that Penny had planted, I enjoyed the slight breeze that touched the flowers. Slightly waving in the breeze,  their colors added to the pallet of the morning. The soft reds and yellows, purples and pinks all came to life as the sun was just peeking over the horizon. What a glorious morning to be alive! What a joy to be able to welcome the new day that the Lord had brought forth once again. "This is the day that the Lord hath made" ran through my mind as I enjoyed the wonders of the morning.

Turning my attention to the devotions and readings of the morning, I listened to the sounds of the morning. The crickets, the birds, the cars zipping past taking people to work as close as the building next door or off into the city of St. Louis for a time in the cubicles of life that we call the office. As I sat there, I heard another sound, a slight chirping. It was so soft that it didn't register at first. But as the chirping continued I looked up from the book that I was reading to see where this soft, new sound was coming from.

At first, I could not figure it out. It continue as I sat there silently, watching, waiting for the noise maker to show himself. What would it be? I could hear it behind the pillar of the porch, the one cover in vines with soft purple flowers blooming all around. The I caught a glimpse of movement. Anticipation built in my heart as I waited and wondered. Then from around the corner, tasting the lovely nectar of the flowers flit a small bird - a hummingbird! What? Was this maker of the small, soft chirping that had brought me out of the pages of the book that had captured my attention?

Still chirping, with little wings a blur, he went from flower to flower, drinking the wonders of that flower, talking to himself. It was as though he was giving thanks to God for each and every flower that he came to. Chirp and the long thin beak pressed into the flower. Withdrawing, he continued to hover in the air only to chirp and go to the next flower. The beautiful little bird, the bird whose wings moved so quickly and wonderfully that they were hard to see, the bird whose body was so small and fragile and yet delicate and beautiful, seemed to be praising the Almighty for the flowers that were feeding him yet again this morning. The chirping continued as he continued to feed. Flitting to the zinnias around the bird bath, the little bearing of the wonders of creation continued to flit from flower to flower, thanking God for the coolness of the morning, the wonders of the day and the nectar of the flowers. Disappearing as quickly as he came, he left me with the crickets and the sparrows, the cars and the drivers, the author of the book and my thoughts.

Yes, the little bird drew my attention and left me a lesson. Give thanks to God for the day, for the moment, for the joys and for the sorrows, for the family and the friends, for the members of the congregation, for job that is to be done and the job that has been completed, for the car in which you can travel to the place of work, for the wonders of the morning and the colors of the sunrise. With each turn of the page as I returned to the book I was reading, I felt like chirping. Like the hummingbird, I felt that I should give thanks to the Lord for the words I could read, for the pages I could turn, for the things I was learning.

This is the day which the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it. Thank you Mr. Hummingbird for calling my attention to that which I might have missed - the wonders of today.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Wheat and Weeds thoughts

Last Sunday the sermon was on the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds. I mentioned that there were further thoughts that I had on this parable. So here they are.

We often look at Jesus' response on not pulling up the weeds for fear of hurting the wheat as a guide for our lives in the church. We think that he is telling us that we are to leave well enough alone and let the Lord handle the separating of those who are wheat and those who are weeds. The problem with this thought is that it will cripple the church as it attempts to proclaim the full message of Christ. We must proclaim both Law and Gospel. To avoid proclaiming the Law because it might "pull up" the wrong person in causing them pain (thinking they are weeds) while they are really God's child (wheat). Even a  person who is "wheat" must hear the Law, since they still face the temptation and challenges of sin. Their heart is still sinful, desiring to do that which is not pleasing to the Lord. To not proclaim Law, pointing out their sin for fear of pulling up the wheat with the weeds is a misuse of this parable.

We are to proclaim the Word to all - Christian and non-Christian. We are not to judge the faith of a person (which is what we want to do. This person is a true Christian because...that person is not a true Christian because...) We are to avoid that type of judgment. This takes us into the realm of the Visible and Invisible Church. Do you remember what these are?

The Visible Church is made up of all those who say that they are a Christian. The Visible Church is made of true believers and hypocrites (in the true sense of the word and not in the sense that we often use when we want to find fault with either the church or the people in it). The hypocrite is the person who is a part of the church but not truly believing in Christ as their Savior.

The Invisible Church is made up of only true believers. There are no hypocrites in the Invisible Church. Can you tell the difference between the two? No you cannot. The only One who is able to make the distinction is God Himself. He alone can say who is a believer and who is not a believer. That is why at the end of the Parable of the Wheat, it is the Lord who sends the angels as reapers to do His will by separating the wheat from the weeds. You and I do not do it. We are not to do it here on earth nor will we do it at the end of time. That is not our position or call in life. Jesus warns us against doing such a thing.

But we cannot misuse this parable to open the kingdom of heaven to everyone, despite what their life is like. (Sounds like I am contradicting myself, but stay with me.) If I claim faith in Christ, but live my life completely without Christ, then I better look at my profession again. God is not fooled. We can fool one another, and even ourselves, but God knows our hearts. Remember that Jesus knew what was in the heart of the Pharisees who came to trap Him, even though they used kind words.

So does that mean that as a pastor I should do the funeral of anyone when I am asked? No it doesn't. The first question to ask is still, "Did the person believe in Christ?" The answer to that is critical. Did they believe? If they professed faith in Christ, who am I to say they didn't go to heaven?  If they did not profess faith in Christ, how can I preach them into heaven?

The struggle that we have is when it comes to living the life of faith. We like to look at the actions of a person and say, "He is a weed!" or "He is wheat!" That isn't how the judgment is made. Yes, as a Christian, we should bear the fruit of the Spirit not the fruit of sin (see Galatians 5) and yet, at the same time, there is no perfect Christian. I would like to say that I follow the Lord all the time, that I bear the fruit of the Spirit day in and day out, but I don't. I can't. Why? I am still struggling with sin, with myself. Everyone does.

I was asked at a recent funeral if the person really was saved. The answer that I gave is this: He proclaimed that he still trusted in the Lord as His Savior. His life might not have reflected that at all times, but it isn't his actions and deeds that saved him. It was Christ's actions and deeds upon the cross that made the difference for the person who we laid to rest. It isn't different for any one of us. You might have lived a life that was filled with the wonders of the fruit of the Spirit, and you are stilled saved only by Christ's sacrifice upon the cross, not by your deeds.

So the wheat grows in Christ. The weeds are a part of this world as well. They grow together. It isn't for us to try to distinguish between the two. Instead we continue to proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the salvation of all mankind. We are not the ones who decide who is wheat and who is weeds. Christ does that.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A day at Six Flags

Yesterday, Monday, July 18th, we went to Six Flags. It was hot. Maybe that was an understatement. it was extremely hot. Penny and I spent the day floating on the Lazy River or whatever it is called at Six Flags. it was a great day. We had 19 people go from St. Paul's - 15 youth and 4 adults. Thanks to Jim Walls, Pam Brannon and Penny Schuessler for going as our adults. It was great to have them there.

The crowds were small. I think it must have been because of it being a Monday, when the crowds are down. And it was also because of the heat. Many people stayed away because it was so hot. To that end, the lines really weren't that long. That is so nice because I have been at Six Flags when it has taken over an hour to get on a single ride - especially when it was so hot. Yesterday it took only 5 minutes to get on Thunder River. Really! Only 5 minutes. I can remember when an hour was a short wait on a day like yesterday when it was so hot. So we really did pick a great day to go to Six Flags.

What are my thoughts on going to Six Flags? It was a good time. What made it a good time? The time that we spent with the youth. It was great to get to know some of the youth. It gave us time to spend with them in order to know what they like and don't like. Time spent with the young people is time well spent. It is something that I need to do more of. It opens my mind to what St. Paul's could begin to do to reach out to the youth - at school, outside of school, with the young and old youth. I don't think that we at church do enough to reach out with the message of the Gospel, not because the youth are the future of the church but because the youth need the Lord Jesus Christ in their lives. The focus of the church is to be sharing the message of the Gospel in such a way that it touches the hearts and lives of all people - young and old, male and female, etc.

So now, I look to see what we will do. bear with me. We will be doing more in the months to come. Pray for St. Paul's as it moves forward in the Gospel - making it the heart and center of everything we do.

Monday, July 11, 2011

It's Hot Outside

Thinking about the heat brings to mind two things: Law and Gospel. "What?" you ask, "You think of Law and Gospel when you are in the heat? Are you nuts?" Well, maybe I am nuts but that isn't part of the equation. But I do see both of these great teachings of the Bible at work in our daily lives.

LAW: It is hot outside. But not as hot as it will be in hell. To live apart from Christ, to not believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, means that you will be condemned to hell. If you think that 101 degrees with a heat index even higher is hot, you ain't seen nothin' yet. We are told that hell is the place where the fire never goes out, and thirst is never quenched. When you take that long cool drink of water on this hot day, think about the fact that without faith in Christ, you will spend eternity in hell where you will never know the pleasure of such a cool drink. That is the Law at its strongest. Heat here - nothing compared to the heat of hell. Suffering when you walk outside, nothing compared to the suffering that will take place for an eternity in hell, for you will spend eternity without the pleasure of being God's presence ever again. Hot here - hotter there. Law speaking to you in the heat.

GOSPEL: Air Conditioning. When you walk into the AC after being in the heat, and you say, "AH!" think of the Gospel. When that coolness washes over you and refreshes you after being over heated by the walk from the car to work, from work to the car, from the car into the home, from sitting on the porch, sitting at the ballgame, etc., think about the refreshing freshness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The message of life washes over the soul that is lost in sin and brings relief in the form of forgiveness earned by Christ on the cross. As you sit comfortably in that air conditioned house or car, think of how wondrous it is to sit comfortably in the arms of your Lord who has given Himself for you. You are given the refreshing Gospel day after day. Walk in your house, turn on the AC, stand and be cooled down, and say one word, "Grace!"

Summer heat - Law and Gospel.