Friday, November 30, 2012

Only 21 days!

Can you believe it? We have only 21 days! That's it? Only 21 shopping days, 21 working days, 21 days of fun and frivolity.

Wait a minute...don't you mean 25 days? It is 25 days till Christmas. That is true. Today is Nov. 30th which means tomorrow we begin December with 25 days till Christmas. But I was talked about 21 days till the end of the world. According to the Mayan calendar, the world ends on Dec. 21, 2012. (Unless you take into account leap years and then the world would have already ended but that is another story.)

So I have a question. If the world is going to end on Dec. 21st, why should I go to work today? Why should I pay my bills? Why should I obey the law? Why should I live a moral life? Why should I worry about any of the things that guide me through my days? There are only 21 more days until the world ends and I might as well live it up. I might as well quit taking my heart medicine. And the really big one - I might as well not buy any Christmas presents.

Why? Because the world will not end on Dec. 21st (unless the Lord decides for it to end then and then, we won't have any warning!). We are told in this last Sunday's Gospel (were you there to hear it?), "But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Mark 13:32 ESV) That means the Mayans didn't know either.

What does this mean? (A good Lutheran question.) It means that we live each day as the Lord would have us live it - going about the things as life, all in service to Him. At the same time, we watch and wait, longing for Him to return but going about our days as though He isn't coming back at the moment. We plant the tree. We buy the Christmas presents. We go to work. We take the medicine. We live the moral life. Why? Because that is how the Lord would have us live each day. We live for Christ each and every day, living as He would have us live. And when He comes (surprise!), He will take us to be with Him in heaven. Why will He take us? Not because of the way we are living but because of the condition of our hearts. Salvation comes through faith in Him alone! The life we live is a reflection, the fruit, of that faith.

So live today - for Christ! Live as though it is your last day on earth while at the same time live as though you have another day ahead of you. That is the tension of being a Christian. We long for Christ to return. We long to enter into heaven to spend eternity with Him. Yet we live each day as a faithful Christian, caring for the environment, for our fellow man, for our families and for ourselves.

21 days till the end of the world? Your guess is as good as mine. As for me and my house, during these next 21 days (and beyond), we will follow and serve the Lord.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Darkness and Light

It's that time of the year - when it starts to get dark earlier and stay dark later. I know that there is a logical explanation for it. It is the winter season and the sun is sinking lower in the southern sky. We have set the clocks back one hour to standard time. All of that is part of this time of the year. Knowing that doesn't make it any easier to take. When I go to teach confirmation on Wednesdays, it is already getting dark as the class begins. It wasn't that long ago that the class was getting out and it was still light outside. Saturday night worship begins in the dark. Wasn't long ago it ended and it was still light out.

This is a dark time of the year. November will soon give way to December in which the days will continue to get shorter (until the day when the world ends or winter solstice comes - I am betting on winter solstice). Then the days will begin to lengthen once again. And we move towards a time of more daylight (it might go slowly but at least we know we are going in the "right" direction).

That doesn't change the fact that it is dark at this time of the year. It is dark. have I said that enough? But that is exactly my point. It is dark. I think about that in spiritual terms and know that it is always dark. Sin is always there. Satan is always trying to find someone to devour. Temptation is always going to be at the door, seeking to have us. It is dark spiritually. The world in darkness lay. The world, the people of the world, all creation is lost in the darkness of sin and death. What is the color of "death"? Black. People would think you had stripped a gear if you wore a bright white or light blue outfit to a funeral. You are supposed to be in black because funerals are dark, sad events. You don't sit around and laugh and joke at the funeral of a young man. You are filled with sadness and darkness.

"Thanks Pastor, " I can hear you say. "You have just brought darkness in my day. I was hoping for a good, bright day but you bring all this talk of 'dark' into it and now I find myself down and depressed because life is so dark." You are welcome. Why would I say that?

Because it is precisely at this time of the year, when it is getting so dark and staying so dark that we do something amazing. We bring out the lights! The Christmas lights! We take the dark yard and put lights all around it and suddenly, into that darkness, comes light! Bright light! Colorful light! It is glorious. It is the time of the year when every night you go somewhere (or come from somewhere), you see more lights. The dark landscape is transformed into a the colorful, fun, bright world of Christmas.

Hurrah! The light has come, or should I say, the Light has come! That is precisely the meaning behind Christmas. Into this dark world the Light of lights has come. The Son of God is incarnate and light and life comes into the world. As the Christmas lights brighten the night around us, the Jesus light brightens the darkness of our world of sins and death. We rejoice that true Light, a Light that cannot be put out, has come to us.

As you look around at the Christmas lights, think about how the meaning of Christmas is really so important. Jesus, the Light of the world, is come! He comes to save. He comes to lighten the darkness of our lives of sin and death. He comes to bring us light and life, hope and peace, forgiveness and salvation. Celebrate! Your Light has come!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanks Thoughts

"Mister Turkey, Mister Turkey, Run away! Run away! If you don't be careful, you will be a mouthful, run away! Run away!" Rachael came home from preschool (years ago by the way) with that song. I have sang it every year (either out loud for all to suffer through or to myself when others have gotten tired of hearing me). It is almost time for Thanksgiving Day with all the food - the turkey and so on. The turkey that we will eat did not run away. It will be on the table for all the family to eat.

I share a picture from yesterday, Monday, Nov. 20th. It shows a turkey who was not going to run away.
I was on the Troy-Scott Road when traffic was brought to a stand still by this turkey who refused to run away! He would stand in front of each car and dare them to hit him. You could honk all you wanted and he wouldn't move. I found it terribly ironic and wonderfully funny that this took place. There is no real point to this thought, but I just found it funny.

Another thought that I have is that we are to give thanks to God with a grateful heart for all the blessings he has given to us. He has blessed us beyond our wildest dreams. We live in a country of great affluence. We have more "stuff" than we can imagine. And the "stuff" that we have costs a pretty penny to purchase. Take a look around your house and tell me that God hasn't blessed you.

Then go and read Malachi 3 and then let's talk about how we all are as Christian stewards of the blessings that God has given us. He says to us, "Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me." And like Israel, we say, "How are we robbing God? How is it that He could say such a thing to us?" And the Lord responds to us, "In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house." (Malachi 3:8-9 ESV) Look at yourself. Look at your giving. Look at how you use the gifts that God has given to you. Are you a faithful Christian steward? Or are you a fearful Christian steward - afraid that if you were to actually give to God of your time, your talents and your treasure - that you would run out?

The Lord says to you, "Put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down a blessing until there is no more need." (Malachi 3:10 ESV) Is this why our nation is struggling so much? We have lost sight of trusting in the Lord with our whole heart? We are a nation that has been setting God aside, not following Him, not serving Him, not being good stewards of all that He has given to us, not supporting the work that He has given to our local congregations to do (the sharing of the full gospel of Jesus Christ, not tearing it apart and doubting that His Word is true and right). Why would He continue to bless us when we rob Him - of His glory and in our giving?

Give thanks. While you do that, revisit your own personal stewardship life. Ask yourself if you are truly being a good, faithful, Christian steward. And know this, you can fool yourself. You can fool others. You can be dishonest in your assessment of yourself and your stewardship life. But you cannot fool God. He knows the heart. He knows the truth. (Thank God He sent His Son to pay for our sins! As we face these questions, we see our failure. We confess our sins. And we know that He HAS forgiven us for Jesus' sake! Hurrah! Thank You God!)

Have a great Thanksgiving Day. I plan on following the phrase: Gobble till you wobble. Enjoy your family. Enjoy your feast. Enjoy your football. Enjoy the shopping. Enjoy yourself! God does want you to enjoy life to the fullest. As you do so, be a thankful steward.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thanksgiving is Fast Approaching

Soon and very soon, we are going to see the turkey! I can't wait for Thanksgiving Day to arrive. There will be family sitting around the table, enjoying one each other, celebrating the life they have together and eating the wondrous Thanksgiving meal - turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, rolls, veggies (lots of different types), cranberry sauce and (wait for it) PIE! Of course there will be pie. Pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Blackberry pie. And the ever present cheesecake (made from Aunt Emily's recipe of course). It doesn't get much better than that.

There is one thing missing - spending time with the family in worship. Getting together with them, gathering around God's Word, receiving the Sacrament and celebrating the life that God has given to us. I long to spend time with family in worship.

That is one thing that I would encourage you to do this year (even if you haven't in the years gone by). Start a new tradition. Invite your family to join you in attending worship so that you have the opportunity to give thanks to God for His love shown in sending His only-begotten Son to be the Savior, to suffer and die upon the cross for your sins and the sins of all people. To thank Him for the blessings of family that you love - family that might drive you crazy at times but they are still a blessing to you and are a gift to you from the Almighty. To thank Him for the place you live in, the country you are blessed with, the leaders who are over us, the friends you are surrounded by and the job that you have.

Pray His blessing and guidance for those who don't have work, whose homes have been wrecked or destroyed by recent disasters. Pray for strength for those who lives have been destroyed by abuse, drugs and other addiction. Pray that He would show His presence to the lonely, the sick, and the suffering. Pray for those you know who need to know of His mighty presence and then pray for those you don't know that need His mighty presence as well.

And pray for the message of the Gospel to be proclaimed to all people. Without the wondrous Gospel, the word that tells us that Jesus is the one and only Savior and that there is no way to enter into eternal life except by faith in Him, there is no hope. So pray that the Gospel will be proclaimed clearly and faithfully. Pray that the Holy Spirit will use you to share the message of life and hope. And then do it. Share it. Live it. Proclaim it. Make that powerful message of salvation the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving celebration.

Go now. Purchase your turkey. Get it thawing. Prepare all the dishes. And give thanks!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election day

Vote for....I am not going to tell you who to vote for. That isn't my position in life. We have heard enough of that over the past year, getting especially overwhelmed with such advertising over the past couple weeks. We have had enough mud and muck slung around to make a pig happy for a lifetime. It doesn't matter which party you support, that party was just as bad as the other one. very few candidates actually avoided such muck-slinging. It seems that we are working to reach an all time low in how we run campaigns.

So if I am not telling you how to vote on this election day, what am I writing about? May God's will be done. That, my friends, is a tough thing to say. May God's will be done. When you have two main candidates for president of the USA and neither of them are Christians (Romney is Mormon which isn't Christian and Obama is nothing unless it suits to get him votes), how can we say "May God's will be done"?

The Lord has worked through out the years without Christian leaders. He has been lead the history of this world without people acknowledging Him or following Him. Look at the Assyrians, whom He used to discipline the people of Israel. Or take a look at the Babylonians or the Persians, whom He used in the course of history. What about the Romans? And you can look at the history of the world and see that while there are many that do not love or follow the Lord, He still guided the course of history.

And He still guides it. His will shall be done. Do we know what that will is? No we do not. Will we understand it after the election is over? Probably not. But as we trust in the Lord and let Him be the One who holds the course of history in His hands, we learn the true meaning of the 3rd petition of the Lord's Prayer: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also. How is God's will done? God's will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God's name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will." (Luther's Small Catechism)

So we pray that the Lord's will is done. Who do I want to see elected? That, my friends, is what I will let be known when I go to the voting booth and place my vote. I will do so, praying that I am doing the Lord's will by voting for the man that I believe God wants leading our country.

Lord, may Your will be done!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Saints Day

"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV) That, my friends, is All Saints Day. We look not to ourselves and what we feel. We don't try to figure things out and wonder how does all this work. We look to the throne of God and the Lamb, the One who saves, and we rejoice!

Sing praise! Christ Jesus saves! Sing praise! The grave is not victorious! Sing praise! Satan scowls fierce as he will, he can harm us none, he's judged, the deed is done; on little word can fell him! That word! Christ! CHRIST! Satan trembles with fear at that word. The grave gives up its dead at that word! Salvation comes in that word! Jesus Christ is the Lord of all, the Messiah, the Promised One, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Great I AM!

And all those who believed in Jesus as their Lord and Savior in this life, all who died believing in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, are in that great, countless (for us but not for God) throng who stand before the throne and sing those wondrous praises! There is your loved one, your father, mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandfather, grandmother, son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, cousin, friend, neighbor, classmate - all who believed in Jesus and have passed from life to death to life, those are the ones from every language, peoples, tribes and nations.

With great rejoicing we sing praise today! Life is given through faith in Jesus Christ! Believe in His name, believe in Him as your Lord and Savior, hold fast to that faith through the power of the Spirit resting upon you, and this wondrous gift of eternal life is yours!

Why celebrate All Saints Day? 3 reasons: 1) It gives all glory to God for salvation given through Christ Jesus; 2) It gives comfort to the heart that is touched with grief over the loss of a loved one (who is a believer in Christ); and 3) It gives courage to those of us who are still alive, so that we will face the struggles of these days with assurance that this sinful, painful world that is wracked with death and destruction, is not all there is but there is more, much more found in Jesus Christ.

"For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who Thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy name O Jesus, be forever blest! Alleluia! Alleluia!" Sing praise! Jesus is the Savior and He gives life to all who believe in Him. All Saints Day is a grand and glorious celebration - taking place feebly here on earth but roaring with life in heaven!