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.