Monday, February 25, 2013

The Answer to Prayer

Prayer - how does God answer it? As you read that question, you might be thinking to yourself that you would love to know how God is going to answer the prayer request you have just sent to Him. Or perhaps you aer thinking about the problem that you have been dealing with for the last week, month or year. Maybe you are asking yourself how the Lord answers the prayer that you offer, the prayer that comes from the deepest recesses of your heart, as you are filled with great anguish over the situation that has developed in your life. And you are thinking, "He is going to give me the answer to my prayer!"

I thought about those very things as I read a Psalm this morning. One verse in particular struck me. "But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness." (Psalm 69:13 ESV) I found this verse by David so amazing. David is struggling with so many different situations in his life. He is offering prayers to God for deliverance from those struggles. He could say at that moment, "Answer me now! You have promised to answer when I call. Well, Lord, I am calling. Now answer me!" (Isn't that how we approach God at times? Not always. But there are those times when we are under great distress or great stress and we feel like we need to "force" God's hand. "Act now!" we say.)

But just when you thing that David is going to try to force God to act, He says, "At an acceptable time..." Not in "my" time, but at an "acceptable" time. The question you might ask (or that I ask) is "What is the 'acceptable' time?" Is it my time or God's time?

David says, "At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness." It is in God's time. It is when He sees that it is time to answer the prayer that I have offered up. To pray this verse (which is a good thing for us to do) calls for us to trust God. To trust God means to accept that He knows what is best for me and my situation and that He will answer the request of my heart in His time and in His way.

Trust - that is a powerful word. "I am trusting Thee Lord, Jesus, trusting only Thee," we sing. To trust in Jesus is wonderful, powerful and difficult. Why so difficult? Because my heart, my life, my situation is before me and is demanding action. "At an acceptable time" answer my prayer, dear Lord. When the time is right (and I beg that this is the acceptable time), answer my prayer. In You and You alone I trust. I think I know what the right answer is, but in reality, You alone know the right answer. I think I know the right time. You alone know when it is truly the right time to answer this prayer.

As you offer up your prayers today, contemplate this verse. "At an acceptable time, O god, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness." Trust in the Lord. Wait for His time. And as you wait, rejoice that you have a God who has not turned His back upon you, even as you wait. Know that He cares for you in His steadfast love. He watches over you day and night, at work or play, at school or home, wherever you find yourself. He is with you, hearing you, caring for you, answering you, in an acceptable time - His time.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Marriage Rally in Springfield

Today, Feb. 20th, there will be a rally in Springfield, IL, the capital of Illinois. What is the rally about? It is in support of traditional marriage. Last week the Illinois Senate voted to approve same-sex marriage, making it legal for couples of the same sex to be legally married. In our society today, that sounds like a logical step. But for a Christian, it is an abomination.

At creation, the Lord made a man and a woman (Adam and Eve). This is a basic statement that many people deny. In order to accept same sex relationships, you have to deny the creation of one man and one women, the start of all humanity. God made man and woman to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it." (Genesis 1:28) Can we deny this fact of creation? Jesus didn't. He fully accepted creation as He said, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female..." (Matthew 19:4) God made man and woman for each other - to be joined together as one flesh: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." (Genesis 2:24) Marriage is meant for one man and one woman, not for those of the same sex.

The nation is working to redefine marriage to accept the sinful relationship of same sex relationship. Yes, same sex relationships are sinful. God did not make man for man nor woman for woman. That type of relationship comes from the sinful nature that desires that which is not God-pleasing but is pleasing to the sinful nature. There are many who find great pleasure in the sexual relationship with those of the same sex. Does that make it right? No it doesn't. It is still sinful. In the same way that a man can find great pleasure in the sexual relationship with a woman, but if they are not married, it is sinful. There is no such thing as a God-pleasing sexual relationship outside of the marriage relationship (that is something that the world, and some Christian churches, are trying to convince us of as well). The sexual relationship is meant for one man and one woman inside the bonds of the relationship as husband and wife.

Is homosexuality a sin? Yes. First, the Lord condemns it. "And you shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." (Lev. 18:22) Many will say, "that is old law. We live in the new law of love." The old law also says we shouldn't steal. Should we be allowed to take what is not ours just because we live in the new law of love? Of course not. It also says we should not murder. Should we allow life to be taken just because we live in the new law of love? Of course not.

But lest you think that it is only an Old Testament prohibition: "Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, not idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves...will inherit the kingdom of heaven." (1 Cor. 6:9-1) Then no one can be saved! You are right. By our actions, we cannot be saved. It is only by the grace of God that we are saved. And when we believe in Jesus as our Savior, we are also saying that we will turn from our sinful behavior to follow him. So the adulterer will stop committing adultery. The thief wills top stealing. And the homosexual will stop having sexual relationships with those of the same sex. It is pretty plain and straightforward.

So I come back to the rally in Springfield. I will not be there because of responsibilities here. But I fully support the rally. I am in full support of traditional marriage. As a Christian, I can do nothing less.

Now I know there will be Christians who will stand opposed to this rally and stand opposed to the position that homosexuality is a sin. I will be accused of being a homophobe. If by that you mean that I find it an abomination, then you would be correct. If you mean that I am afraid of homosexuality, have an innate draw to it, or whatever, then you are wrong. It is so easy to throw that out there and say, "He is a homophobe" just to discredit the person who speaks against the sin of homosexuality. That is wrong but it is the way things are done today. Label someone and that means that their view is wrong too. Sorry folks, that doesn't work in God's eyes. Right is right and wrong is wrong.

Why is it that homosexuality is such a big thing now? I think it might have something to do with what God says in Romans 1: "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason god gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, committing shameless acts with men..." (Romans 1:24-27)

I hope and pray that the leaders in Springfield will listen to the voice of the Christian church as it proclaims the sanctity of traditional marriage.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday

"Dear brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ, on this day the Church begins a holy season of prayerful and penitential reflection." Those who are in worship tonight, Ash Wednesday, will begin with these words. Thus begins the penitential and reflective season of Lent. It is an opportunity for each of us to reflect upon our sinful nature and the inability to save ourselves from eternal damnation. It gives us the opportunity to prayerful reflect upon the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made for our sins. Lent is a powerful season that sets the plate for the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord. We look forward with longing eyes to the resurrection of all flesh.

On Ash Wednesday, the question of the imposition of ashes often is brought forward. Some churches do it and some don't. Why? The answer is "because we are Lutheran." What? How is that an answer? The imposition of ashes is an adiaphora - something that is truly not spoken of in Scripture as necessary for our salvation or even necessary for our worship. It is like using an organ, a piano, a guitar or no instrument at all. We are not required to do the imposition of ashes nor are we forbidden from doing it. It is up to the congregation (or more truthfully, the pastor).

Here at St. Paul's, we don't do the imposition of ashes. Personally, I have never felt the need to do it. I grew up Missouri Synod and it was never a part of the time of worship (in the years prior to my going to Seminary, in the years at Seminary or at any congregation since). Why wasn't it done? Probably because it felt and looked too "Catholic." Anything that smelled of Catholicism was suspect and growing up Lutheran, no one wanted to be accused of being a "closet Catholic." So it was never done.

Therefore I have never felt the need. I have been in services where it was done, and have not gone forward to receive the ashes. In my heart, I felt it went against the Ash Wednesday gospel of Matthew 6 which speaks of disfiguring your face. I have always felt that this passage ("And when you fact, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others...but when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 6:16-18) tells us to do the opposite of putting ashes on our heads. So I don't do it. Neither do I lead my flock that direction.

Is it wrong to use ashes? No it isn't. Is it wrong not to use ashes? No it isn't. That is the joy of being Lutheran! When Scripture doesn't speak, we don't make a law. The use of ashes is much like the way we use our hands in prayer: folded with heads bowed; kneeling, hands folded and heads bowed; hands lifted up to heaven, head lifted up; it doesn't matter. Scripture shows us all of these and they all are appropriate. Each of us in more comfortable with one or the other. Joy of being Lutheran is that none of them are wrong.

So today, when you go to worship here at St. Paul's, there will be no ashes. The repentance that begins in this season is in the heart and not worn on the forehead. In another church, the ashes will be used. Praise be to God that both churches are worshiping the Lord and going into the season of Lent. No amount of pious action or lack of pious action changes what is in the heart.

Go to worship tonight and begin this 40 days journey to the empty grave and let no one judge another for his lack of ashes or his ashes. Each is walking to the cemetery in the same way - eyes fixed on a risen Lord.

Friday, February 8, 2013

St. Paul's Open House

Last night, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, St. Paul's Lutheran School hosted their Open House. It was an opportunity for people of the community come into our school to see if it would be a fit for their child or children. We were pleased with the number of people who came in last night. Many of them that came in did sign their children up for next year. We rejoice!

But it really begs the question: Why Lutheran education? Why attend a parochial school instead of a public school? Why spend the extra money on education when your tax dollars already go to support the education of your child? What difference does it make?

It makes an eternal difference. Can that be measured? Can a price tag be put on the eternal impact that education makes upon your child? I do not believe that it can. I know that there are many people who don't feel that it is necessary to have a Lutheran school - not only here in Troy but anywhere. Many of the public school districts are good at educating the children. Triad school district is one of them. Because of that, many people feel that it is a waste of time and money to have a Lutheran school.

I would agree if all we are talking about is the educating of your child. Many public school teachers are as good or better educators than the teachers in the Lutheran schools. (St. Paul's is the exception! Our teachers are the best!) If all we are doing is teaching your children to read or to write or to do math, then that can be done in any school.

In a Lutheran School, we have the opportunity to impact the eternal life of your children. They are taught about Jesus Christ as their only Lord and Savior. They are taught the morals of the Ten Commandments and the way of life that God would have them live. They are given the wonderful message of the Gospel, which proclaims to them that their sins are forgiven through Jesus' death and resurrection. They are shown the love of Christ no matter who they are or what they have done. When they are scared, the Comforter is brought to them to calm their troubled hearts. When they do something wrong, they learn how Christ is the One they can turn to for forgiveness and for strength to live a life that includes not returning to that sinful, spiritually hurtful behavior. They are taught the love of Jesus in all that is done. They are embraced in the wonder of the Word of God and guided in their spiritual formation. Within the walls of St. Paul's school (and church) the foundation of life and faith is built, day by day, brick by brick, moment by moment. They are taught the importance of holding onto Christ Jesus in all that they face in this life.

Ask yourself: Is it important that my child know that they are saved today and forever/ Is it important for my child to grow in faith each day, in school as well as at home? That is what takes place each day at St. Paul's.

I support Lutheran education. I believe that it is of the utmost importance for the daily life of the families and it is absolutely essential for the spiritual formation of the children that attend. With so much riding on the education of your child (the eternal life of your child), isn't it nice to know that there someplace that you can go to have your child taught the wonder of the Word of God, the joy of the love of God and the strength that the Lord gives to each person who believes in Jesus as their Savior?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

DARE Graduation at St. Paul's

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the DARE Graduation here at St. Paul's in Troy.
Our 5th & 6th grade students participated in the drug awareness program that is sponsored by the Troy Police Department. I want to thank the Troy Police for doing this program in our local schools. It is an important program - for the drug problem in our community is terrible.

Many people don't even know what Troy has a drug problem. I don't think that Troy is unique in this. Most communities don't think they have a drug problem. Perhaps they have a few of the "bad" kids that will get involved in the use of drugs but it isn't really a problem. Oh, maybe there are some of the teens that will be involved in underage drinking, but then again, that has been the problem for generations. We laugh it off as a typical rite of passage among the young. And we don't see a problem at all.

Yes, alcohol is a drug and there is a problem with it. Young are drinking when they shouldn't. Adults are drinking far too much. We make alcohol the focus of our times together. If we can't drink, we don't want to be a part of it. Take a look at your own family or friends gatherings. Do you think you could have those gatherings without everyone drinking? Would the friends come to the Super Bowl party if you served only soft drinks? Why do we think we have to drink to have fun? I am not a teetotaller by any stretch of the imagination. But I do get frustrated when alcohol is the center piece of what we do.

While alcohol might be a problem, a bigger problem is other drugs - especially the drug of the day, heroin. Talking with someone a while back they didn't think that heroin was a problem in Troy. If I would have had false teeth, I would have dropped them. This person is a "worldly" person and didn't think there was a problem in our community. I was amazed. I know that I don't travel in the drug circles (I thank God for that) but I am aware that there are drugs in our community and that there are many people using them. This drug, heroin, is destroying lives and killing our people. It is a terribly addicting drug that steals the joy of the youth, the life of the person, the future and finally the physical life of the user. It is a terrible scourge upon our society.

DARE is a program meant to help our young people to stay drug free. Will it work? Will these kids who graduated stay drug free. I pray that they will. They will need the support of their family. But more than that, they need the support of their church. You and me, people who sit in the pews at St. Paul's, need to encourage and support our families and our young people. We need to encourage them to avoid the traps that Satan sets for them. Drugs are just one of the traps. We need to encourage them not to get sucked into the use of illegal drugs as well as legal drugs (like cigarettes and alcohol). We need to support our families, helping them to stand firm in the face of the pressures of today to "enjoy" life through the use of drugs.

I am proud of our young men and women who graduated last night. I pray for them. And I ask God to help them, guide them and lead them in the paths of righteousness all the days of their lives.