Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Broken Shoestring

I broke a shoestring this morning while I was putting on my everyday shoes. I don't suppose that will make the headlines in the papers or become the latest in viral videos. I can see it now, me sitting on the chest, picking up my shoe, putting it on my foot, pulling the shoestrings tight and then, "BAM, CRACK!" there it goes, The shoestring breaks off in my hand. My foot flies one way, the string flies another and I go rolling off onto the floor. Video shows the aftermath of the event and everyone watching, those millions of viewers, all say, "What? I wasted my time on this?" No, actually it broke. I looked at it in my hand, got up and got the new shoestrings out of the drawer. Then I took the old laces out and put the new ones in. Boring! Yep. Most mundane events like that are just that - boring.

But it got me thinking. Shoestrings. We rely on them daily. We tie and untie them countless times. We put our shoes on, tie them and off we go. Most of the time we don't even think about it. It just happens. That is the way it goes.

Then I started thinking (dangerous, I know, but it happens) about two things: 1) life and 2) faith. Life is much like the shoestring. It seems so sure and certain. It appears that life will go on and on without any problems. Oh, it might get frayed a little. It might look rough after a while, but it still continue. Shoestrings just keep going. They are used day after day without much thought. Life just keeps going. It goes day after day without much thought. And then "CRACK!" something happens. The shoestring breaks. Life suddenly becomes fragile.

Sickness. Weakness. Doctor visits. Tests. More tests. Unknown problems. Hospital stays. Surgeries. Treatments. More doctor visits. And it goes on. Or perhaps it is much more of a "CRACK!" than that. Perhaps it is that one moment you are there, the next you aren't. Death comes quickly. Broken shoestring, broken life, shoestring meant to be thrown away, a life ended in a casket, visitation, funeral. When it happens you cannot stop it. I can will that the shoestring didn't break but it still did. I cannot put it back together. It is broken. Throw it away. I can will that the life didn't become filled with illness or death, but I cannot change it. I cannot make it better. I cannot make the death go away. It is final, complete, unchangeable.

That is where the second thought comes in - faith. Faith is that which we take for granted as well. It is there in our hearts, our minds and our lives. We hold onto it, think about it occasionally. Even let it guide us at times, but much like our shoestrings, we don't really let it be a part of our daily lives that we even think about. We get up, say our prayers, read our Bible and go about our day, just like putting on shoes and socks - tieing the laces and not even letting it make a difference for our lives.

Until - life breaks. Then we suddenly realize how much we need our faith. Someone gets ill. We pray and call upon the name of the Lord. Someone is in surgery, we lift them up to the Lord. Someone dies, and we realize how important that faith truly is for our lives. We cling to our Lord. We trust in our Lord. We follow our Lord. We rely upon our Lord. Faith is at the heart and center of our daily lives as we go through that time of trial, tribulation and struggles. Broken laces, broken lives - faith binds them together and gets us through the moment.

And then we put in the new laces, think about them for a time or two and off we go with our lives. We forget about them again for a while. So it goes with our lives. The brokenness fades into the background. The pain subsides. And we go on with our lives.  We have to. We have no choice. But the one thing that remains - Faith. Faith in Christ Jesus. Faith in the One who brings us through each and every struggle and pain. Faith in our Lord that has given Himself for us. Faith in the One that leads us through our days, binding up our wounds, healing our hearts, giving us life, putting the smile back on our faces and telling us, "I am with you always."

A broken shoestring and a lesson in life and faith - it has been a good morning.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Model to Follow

Today is the day of the Church Year in which we remember St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor. (Today is January 26.) A prayer offered today states: "Lord Jesus, help us to witness to You by our words and in our lives. Amen." (Portals of Prayer, Jan. 26, 2012) I was sitting here thinking about that simple little prayer. The more I thought about it the more I realized it might simple in words but it is terribly difficult to put into practice - which may well be the way of many aspects of our lives of faith. It is easy to proclaim, difficult to do. Why? We are sinners. (This doesn't justify our living out a sinful life but it does help us to understand our difficulty.) We are sinners which means that we are going to struggle with following the way of the Lord in our lives.

"Help us to witness to You by out words and in our lives." Do you really mean that? I mean, deep down inside, where you live at in your heart of hearts - do you really mean that you want to live as a witness to Christ? The easy answer is "yes." Then do it. Like Titus, be a model for others to follow. Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and praise your Father in heaven.

The question that I had to ask myself (and the the one that you should be asking yourself) is this, "Do I really want someone to model their life after the way I talk and act?" Now, before you jump on me and say that we are to model our lives after Christ alone and not after some sinful person, let me say this. I agree wholeheartedly with that. Our lives are to follow after Christ. As Luther said, we are to be little Christs in the world. When people look at us, they should Christ, not us.

Having said that, people look at those around them for guidance on how to act. Children look to their parents and other caregivers for guidance on how to act. Students look to their teachers for someone to model their life after. Parishioners look to their pastor to have someone to model their life after. Young adults look to their parents for models of how to live. People look to sports stars for a model of life. So while we are to model Christ for others to see, people are looking to you as a model on how to live their life.

So do you want people to use you as a model? Titus was encouraged by Paul to be a model for others to look to  on how to live. Read the letter of Paul to this young pastor named Titus. You will find that in your Bible. Just look for the book called "Titus." Gives some great advice on how to go about being a model for others.

You are a Christian. Therefore you are a model. You are a witness. You are the one that someone is looking at right now for guidance on how to live their life. Are you a model to follow? Is your life a model of Christian living? Or is it a model of hypocrisy? I am not talking about the hypocrisy that is the person who is honestly trying to live their Christian life but continue to struggle with temptation and sin. That is all of us. I am talking about the hypocrisy that is found in the person who says that marriage should be kept pure between a man and a woman and then has an affair, looks at pornography or lusts after the person in the office next to them. The hypocrisy that says to the son, "Don't look at pornography," and then watches the movie that has nudity and sexual activity as the base of the activity. The hypocrisy that says that a person is supposed to support and speak well of the fellow person and then spends time talking about and sharing things about that very person to others (known as gossip!). Are you living a "do as I say not as I do" life? Is that the type of model you want others to follow?

I am not going to offer the 6 Steps to Changing Your Life here today. I was just thinking about this as I prayed that little prayer this morning. Lord Jesus, help us to witness to You by our words and in our lives. And I changed it to say, "Lord Jesus, help ME to witness to You by MY words and in MY life. Amen. Help me to be one that is a model for others to follow - a model of faith, a little Christ for someone else to see. And as they see me today, may they be drawn closer to You. Amen."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why Follow Christ?

The Christian always is on the short end of the stick. All right, that is probably a false statement. It might be better to say that the Christians SEEMS to be on the short end of the stick. You might have found this to be the case. At work, you do what you are supposed to do. You are faithful in your work. You are on time day after day. You get most things done on time and very seldom seem to cause any problems for the company. Your work is exemplary. And when it comes time for advancement and/or raises, the person who is a "crummy" worker gets the position, gets the raise, gets the accolades from the upper management - and it isn't fair!

Or you are single. You are a good person. You know how God wants you to treat the person of the opposite sex. You are a gentleman or a lady. You don't get involved in the sexual side of things. You know that the Lord wants you to keep that for marriage (you remember your days in confirmation and know that the 6th commandment means that the sexual relationship is meant only for a husband and wife). And time after time, after a date or two, you are dumped (sometimes nicely "You are a nice guy but..." or sometimes it is cruelly). You watch and the person goes for the "bad boy" or the "loose girl." And you think, "What's up with that? Why is it that I end up single and alone and that loser, bum, no good person who treats people so poorly ends up with the dates and the girls/guys?"

It happens. Over and over again it happens. And it tempts you to give in to the ways of the world. Why would I think of this? Am I being tempted to give in to the ways of the world around me? Not at this time. I can't say that it has never happened. But at this time in my life (today at least!) this is not the problem. Why? Not because I am so strong but because the Lord has been leading me in the way that I should go. I thought of these things as I read Psalm 73 this morning. If you haven't read it lately, I would encourage you to do so. If you know someone who is struggling with giving in to the ways of the world instead of following the way of the Lord in their lives, encourage them to read Psalm 73.

It reads at times, "For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." (vs. 3) "Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches." (vs. 12) "All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning." (vs. 14-15)

"But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end." (vs. 16-17) "My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (vs. 26) And finally, "For behold, those who are far from you shall perish, you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of your works." (vs. 27-28)

In the midst of the temptations to give in to sin, to evil, to the ways of the world, this gives encouragement for the Christian to stand firm in the faith in Christ Jesus. Follow Christ - for the outcome, not for the moment. We live for the moment when we should be living for the outcome. What is the outcome? Life with Christ eternally. The pleasure of the moment is fleeting. The pleasure of life with Christ is for an eternity. The moment or eternity? That becomes the challenge. Perhaps I am just showing my age by saying that I think about eternity more than the moment. But more than that - I think it is because I have finally begun to mature in my life of faith. I look at the life in Christ rather than the life in the world.

Why follow Christ? It is the true life! It is the life that lasts. It is the life that has eternal joy. I don't do it to get things. I follow Christ because I love Him. He is my Lord, my Savior, my all in all. What more do I need? Nothing! Nothing at all. So when the wicked get ahead, I realize that it will happen. the Christian gets ahead in life too. Why do we just focus on the wicked? Christ guides all of us! He guides our lives. He gives us life. Follow Him - in the face of the powerful temptations of this world.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Snow, rain, hail, wind, sun, warmth - where is winter?

Where is winter? Winter is right here. OK, what I mean is where is the winter weather? Winter has been here since December 21, 2011. We are practically a month into winter. And it seems like we have had more spring weather than winter weather. You might point to a few times when the snows came - Dec. 27 (which we missed since we were in the Cincinnati area) and January 12 (which caused major commuting headaches and numerous car accidents). But those are not really anything major. In fact, they didn't last that long. We have had record or near record warm temperatures this summer. Just yesterday it reached 68 degrees! Imagine, January 16th and it is 68 degrees. The record in 1990 was 71! That is mighty close to the record.

So where is the winter weather? It hasn't arrived yet. And maybe it won't arrive. Only the Lord knows. It is for sure that the weathermen don't have a clue what is happening. The one that did make his winter weather predictions missed it by a long shot. Will we still get major snows? Will the cold settle in and last for several weeks?

At this point in the winter, I would have to predict (and this is just me rambling so if I am wrong, so be it) that we are not going to have the type of weather that is going to become a major factor for us. We might have cold snaps of a day or two, but there will be no long-term, 2 week below freezing cold. We are pushing towards the end of January, when we usually get that type of cold, and so when it gets cold, it will last only a couple days before it moderates again, even getting warmer than usual.

We might get a major snow in January but I think that we will get one big snow in February, one that cripples the area for a day or two and then begins to melt off. We might have a sloppy wet snow of 7 inches in March, when we least want it but that is just the way it is. So overall, I predict that we will stay mild like it is now.

What does this mean? (Good Lutheran question.) It means lots of sickness. There will be lots of the flu (especially respiratory flu) and lots of sick days. We haven't had enough bitter cold temps to kill off these bugs and we will pay the price. So while there will be almost no "snow days" from school or work, there will be many "sick days" from both. Get ready for it. Stock up now on cold medicines and tissues. You are going to need them.

Last night as it stormed (lightning, hail, heavy rain, thunder, wind, more lightning, more rain, more hail), I lay in bed thinking - why is it that we don't like winter weather? I don't have an answer to that. But I do know that I would love to have had an old fashioned snow storm last night rather than the hail storm. I wondered how many cars were dinged up and how many roofs got beat up. I thought about windows that might have been cracked by the hail. Then I thought, "But this is January. We should have that in March and April." What will those months bring if we have that weather now? Sigh. I guess we will wait and see.