Thursday, May 30, 2013

Summer Instruments

Summer is upon us. School is out. Vacations abound. Families will be traveling here and there, hither and yon. Perhaps you are getting ready to leave on vacation right now. Or maybe you are just looking for something to do today. Go to the zoo. Enjoy the day with the family. Grill some burgers. Take a walk. Sit on the porch. Do whatever causes you great enjoyment.

That last line is one that raises my eyebrows. "Do whatever causes you great enjoyment." That sounds so nice on the surface but when you think about it, the statement needs to be tempered a little. It needs to be clarified. "Do that which causes you great enjoyment" - that is according to the will of God! There are many things that might bring enjoyment (of a form) and yet are not according to the will of God. I was readying in Romans this morning and it caused me to think: "Let not sin therefore reign in our mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members as instruments for unrighteousness but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members as instruments for righteousness." (Romans 6:12-13 ESV) There are many things in this world that do not lead us closer in our walk with the Lord. In fact, they lead us further away from Him.

What are some of the temptations in your life that might cause you to offer your members, you body or your mind, as instruments of unrighteousness? What are some of the areas of your life where you allow sin to take over? Is it your thoughts? Your time in front of the computer? Your desires for another person? Your sinful coveting of some things? Your tongue? Your eating? Your drinking? What temptations are you facing today that if you were to give in to it would find that you are "offering your members as instruments of unrighteousness"?

This is the challenge of living the life of a Christian. The good we know we should do, we struggle to do. The evil/sin that we know we should avoid, that is what we find ourselves doing all over again. Like Paul writes, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24 ESV) The harder I try, the less good I do! At least it seems that way to me.

Who will help me? The Holy Spirit will help me. He works in me each and every day. He is with me day in and day out. How do I know the Spirit in my life? He comes to me through Word and Sacrament. In the Word, He daily and richly helps me to overcome the temptations to sin. As I recall the day of my Baptism, the day when He claimed me, gave me faith, I find that I repent of my sins and receive the wonderful gift of forgiveness. As I regularly receive the Lord's Supper, I am strengthened in the daily walk. All of this is through the power of the Holy Spirit working in me! It is as we are told: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 7:25 ESV)

So I come back to the thing that has been running through my mind since I read this section of Romans: Whose instrument will you be today? Will you  be a instrument of righteousness or an instrument of unrighteousness? Summer is here - may your life, whether at home, work or play, be an instrument of righteousness.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How Great Thou Art!

This morning there is word of the death toll in Oklahoma from the devastating tornadoes that ripped through that area. Lord have mercy! I say that not as a way of cursing or being shocked but I am asking that the Lord have mercy upon us all. It is a terrible thing to have happen. No one should have to go through such terrible and total devastation that comes from such a mean storm.

Really? No one should go through such a thing? There but for the grace of God go I! That actually should be me facing that kind of terror. What I want to face is blue skies and sunny weather and smooth sailing. The desire of my heart is to not have to face such terror (and I pray that don't ever have to face such a terror!) I pray that none of you have to face such devastation. But the reality is that we face that every single day. "We face death all day long. We are like sheep lead to the shearers." (Romans 3)

This is the terrible world that we live in. Because of sin, because of what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden those 6,000 years ago, this world is tearing itself apart. It is man against nature, nature against man. Man against man. Man against himself. Suffering, pain, rejection, sickness, devastation, and the whole gamut of things are our lot in life. We should face those situations each and every day. There, but for the grace of God...

This is where the message of the Gospel comes into play in our lives and in our world. The Almighty, who should have nothing to do with sinners like you and me, steps into this world, into our pain of our lives, the pain of the devastation in Oklahoma, the suffering in our illnesses, the grief of our loss, and He carries us (and it). He comes to our lives and brings hope in the midst of hopelessness, peace in the midst of suffering, joy in the midst of grief, love in the midst of loveless situations. He comes for us!

He takes our burdens, our sorrows, our griefs, our pains and our loss and replaces them with hope, life, a future and His love. How great He is! I thought of that hymn this morning as I read about the destruction. Why? Because He is the only One who can bring to the people of Oklahoma any sort of consolation. It is that message that you and I need to proclaim loudly and clearly in the face of such destruction. It is that which we should lay before those who are struggling in their lives because of whatever situation they are facing.

We have nothing more than the hope given in Christ Jesus. We NEED nothing more than the hope given in Christ Jesus. Let us not forget to share the gospel hope with one another and with those in need: "How Great Thou Art!"

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What world do you live in?

I sit here this morning listening to the birds sing away, feeling the warm morning breeze blow through the windows, look at the clear blue sky and wonder, what world do I live in? Is it the same one that you live in? Of course it is, you might say. We live in the same world, with the same birds, the same warm breeze and the same blue sky. We hear the same cars go by as people are on their way to work, school, the store or Dunkin' Donuts. This is the world we live in. Peaceful, tranquil, just a plain nice place to live.

But that isn't the way it always is, is it? This world isn't tranquil. It isn't peaceful. It isn't all sunny skies and thornless blackberries. This world is a mean place to live. We like to think that living in the world today means that everything is all right and occasionally something terrible breaks into the tranquility. But the opposite is actually true. Ever since the Fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden, tranquility is not the way of the world. This world is filled with pain, suffering, heartache, fear, anger, bitterness, frustration, sickness, and death. Each day shows that to us. Open the news on your I-phone and you will read about the terrors and atrocities that we do to one another. Stop by the hospital and see the pain and illness that isn't being cured. Look into the eyes of someone who has faced the death of a loved one and you will see what I am talking about. That is the reality of the world. Sitting on the porch and feeling the peace of the world is a brief respite. It isn't reality.

What a "downer" way to think. Perhaps you should just go curl up into a ball and hide from this world, withdrawing into the corners of your mind. No, that isn't what needs to happen. What needs to happen has already happened. Into this world and the terribleness of daily life, stepped the Son of God. God became man and dwelt among us (John 1:14) He came not because we merely needed a little help to go in the right direction. He came because we are totally and completely helpless in the face of all that we are going through. You and I cannot stop the progression of an illness in a loved one. We cannot immediately make the heart stronger or the effects of the stoke go away. We cannot turn the heart of a loved one from the bitter path of destruction. We cannot stop the abortion doctor from performing a procedure that will kill another baby. We cannot take the pain from the heart of the neighbor that is struggling with the situation of life.

But there is One who has already - that One is Jesus Christ. He tells us, "In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) If He has overcome the world, why do I still suffer? Why do I still hurt? Why is my loved one still sick? Why does that person have to die? Why? Because we are still in the world. The mistake we make in our thinking is that we believe that because of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, because we believe in Him, we will never have to face another problem in our lives. We will never again have to see a loved one suffer. We will never again have to have a parent, a spouse, a child, a neighbor, or a fried die. Jesus has overcome that means those things aren't going to happen.

Wrong. They will still happen. There will still be unexplained events, illnesses and deaths. There will still be fear and sorrow. Jesus tells us that those things are not the ultimate outcome. Even death is not the ultimate outcome. Why? Because He has faced death and the grave and has risen victorious. He died and came back to life, to overcome death and the grave. The loved one may go to the grave, your heart might be broken, you might be struggling with grief and sorrow, but there is One that is there to carry that burden for you. "Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest, " Jesus says to you. The rest He gives is the rest in His loving arms where He allows you to cry, while drying your tears. He allows you to rant and rave and while listening and loving. He allows you to become angry and never loses His cool with you. He soothes you feverish brow and holds you.

Then He reminds you, "All will face death. All will face the grave. It is never at the 'right' time or when you are ready. It might be an elderly person or a young child. It might be your wife or your son or daughter. It might be your best friend from childhood or a casual friend from work. But know this one thing: Believing in Me, that death is not the ultimate end. Life is the ultimate end. You will grieve for him/her but he/she will no longer be suffering or causing you suffering, for they are living with Me forever in paradise. This world is not the ultimate end or the place you will stay forever. Heaven is your home."

In the midst of our struggles, we don't want to hear that. We want the pain to go away. The only One who can take the pain away is our Lord Jesus Christ. The only place we will be free from any struggles is in heaven. The only way that we will get there from here is - through the grave. But know this, Christ has overcome the grave. Remember Easter? Remember their grief? Remember the sorrow when they saw the empty tomb? Al that changed in a moment - when they encountered the risen Christ.

He has overcome the pains of this world. There is tranquility, even in this world that is tearing apart. That tranquility is found in the risen, living and ascended Lord. In this world - pain. In Christ - peace. Don't let the pain overcome the peace that He brings.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sunday's Introit

At St. Paul's we use the 3 year lectionary. It is a great tool of the church to assist congregations in their times of worship. As I listened to the Introit Sunday (our field worker, Glen Emery served as liturgist for that part of the service) and then read the Introit at the Fountains in Troy on Sunday afternoon, I found myself reflecting on it's words.

"Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. But I call to God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan; and he hears my voice. He redeems my soul in safety from the battle I wage, for many are arrayed against me." (Lutheran Service Book)

Several thoughts, and I am sure that I will forget some of them that ran through my mind and some new ones will pop up! "Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you." How many times does Scripture tell us to do this very thing? To not only take our burdens to the Lord but to cast them upon Him. Don't try to hold onto your burdens by yourself. They are too great for you. They will weigh you down. They will cause your back to bend and will cause your spirits to sag. Cast them from you to the Lord. He will be the One to sustain you. "Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," our Lord says to us. Cast them upon Him.

"He will never permit the righteous to be moved." My first thought when I heard this, and the one that runs through my mind even as I read it now, is for those who are struggling in their lives. As I read it at the Fountains, I looked at the residents and thought, "How about them? Do He permit them to be moved?" I looked at their frailties and wondered. Then the Spirit reminded me of something important. This is not saying that they won't be frail. It isn't saying that we won't be ill. This isn't saying that we won't be frustrated by the weakness, sickness and even death of the body. It is saying, "He will never permit the righteous to be moved." This is the spiritual life of the person. Casting all your burdens on the Lord, including the physical, emotional and mental issues that you might have, you are acting in faith, trusting not in yourself or your ways, but trusting fully and completely in the Lord. In Him you are righteous and that is shown, not in how healthy you are or how emotionally sound you are. It is shown in the condition of your soul. Trusting in Him, relying on Him, casting all your burdens on Him, you know one important thing - He will sustain you, guide you and help you in your life. His righteousness is given to you (not because you have cast your burdens on Him but because He has already given you His righteousness in the waters of Baptism, in the power of the Word and in the elements of the Sacrament.

"My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fall upon me." How often have you been overwhelmed by the events of your life? How often has the reality and terror of death touched your life?  What do you do at that moment? Where can you turn? Who is able to help you? "But I call to God, and the Lord will save me." Amen! What else can be said? The Lord will save me. The Lord will sustain me. The Lord will guide me through the valley of the shadow. He has already been there. He has walked where I am at this moment. He is my Good Shepherd, leading me through each day. I call to Him and He saves me. Oh the comfort and strength this gives in the face of the terrors of death! Oh the wonder that fills my heart as I think about what the Lord has done in His sinless life, righteous death and powerful resurrection. All too often we focus upon ourselves and our desires. This is taking us from ourselves back to the only place of refuge - the Lord.

I could say more but I feel I have written enough for the day. Go back and reread the Introit. Those are some powerful words. I am blown away by them. They seem to come from the depth of the soul. And they show where we receive strength and comfort from in our lives. Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus, can my heartfelt longings still." (TLH) How true! How wonderful! How comforting.