Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Shine Wears Off

On Monday, I wrote about shining my shoes. They looked good. They weren't like new but they also no longer looked like they were fit only for use in the garden. This morning, Thursday, as I was putting my shoes on, I thought to myself, "They are looking pretty rough again. They almost look like they could stand another polishing." With a shrug, I pulled them on, tied them and began to go about my day. Yet my thoughts kept returning to those shoes and the lesson that they were teaching me.

Shoes and worship - they are very similar. Like the shoes, we are used and abused by life. There are times when we are scuffed up pretty bad by what we are going through - sickness, disappointments, frustrations, misuse by those around us at work, school or home, anger, bitterness, death. There are some real reasons for our hearts and lives to show the wear and tear that we have gone through. Like my shoes, we begin to look pretty beaten and battered. Or maybe we aren't being "scuffed" up by anything in particular. Maybe just daily life scuffs us up - work, school, play, household chores, daily stuff that needs to be done or that we go through regularly. Nothing "major." No major crises. No real reason to be battered and beaten but just normal, daily, mundane events that cause us to show our wear and tear.Like my shoes, just going through each day.

In the end, we look at ourselves and see how beat up we look. (OK, maybe not physically like my shoes, but spiritually.) So what do we do? We attend worship. We go to church on Sunday morning. We hear the Word of God. We are assured that our sins are forgiven. We receive the Lord's Supper. And the Lord "polishes" us up. He cleans us up. He removes the dirt, the grim and the scuffs of sin. He makes us look new again. "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life." (Romans 6:4 ESV) "...and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds." (Ephesians 4:23 ESV) Made new, each and every time we come into the presence of God in worship, we are "polished," cleaned, made new. (I know that the analogy is imperfect and that you might be able to argue that we aren't just "polished" but are actually made new each time, but bear with me.)

We leave worship and go out into our daily lives. We go through much during the week. The wonder of worship fades into the background as we head to work or school and face the challenges of daily life. We are "scuffed" up by trials and tribulations. We are abused by temptation and torn up by sin. Even though we just attended worship, were just fed from Word and Sacrament, (made new, polished up, given that glorious shine of God) we begin to look worse for wear. Perhaps it is only a day or two and it looks like were weren't even "polished" up and made new. We look at ourselves and wonder, "What happened?"

That is why we return to worship week after week. It isn't because we have anything to offer to God. In fact, we come all beat up, broken, "unpolished" after the week of temptation, sin and tribulation that we have faced. We don't look new. We have been through "hell" in whatever we faced. And we look like. We act like it. We come because we need what God gives us in worship - His Word and Sacrament. He takes us lovingly in His hands and makes us new once again. He forgives our sins, feeds us from the Word, returns us to the waters of our Baptism and strengthens us through the Lord's Supper. He makes us new again.

And the cycle continues, week after week, month after month, year after year - for our entire life. Why do I go to worship? All I need to do is look at my shoes and it tells me why - I need what God has to offer there. I need His healing and forgiveness. I need all He is offering to me. Am I too beaten up? Has it been too long since I was there last? That doesn't matter to God. He will take me into His loving hands, wash me again in the waters of Baptism, clean me in the words of forgiveness, feed me from the Word and strengthen me with the Sacrament. Yes, I need what He does for me each week.

The shine is wearing off my shoes. They need to be polished again and again and again. So do I. I need to be made new in Christ. God invited me to worship. He invites you to worship. He invites us in order to make us new in Christ. How will you respond?

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Bit of Polish

It was time. I had put it off long enough. I knew it had to be done but I just didn't want to take the time that was needed to do it. And because of that, it began to look really bad. Perhaps it was even beyond any hope of recovery. In case you are wondering, I am talking about polishing my every day shoes.

I had put it off for too long. It is one of those tasks that you know needs to be done but you keep putting it off. When I would put my shoes on, I would think, "I need to polish those." But then I would figure I would do it later. I would look down at them through the day and think, "I really need to polish my shoes." Then i would go on about my day and not get the job done.

And they really began to look rough. The black was wearing off. They were scuffed. And the toes didn't even look like they had any polish left. Abused, neglected, forgotten, and yet still expected to get me from place to place. Those poor shoes needed polishing.

This morning, I polished them. As I sat there applying the black shoe polish, I wondered to myself if that is how we often treat our spiritual lives. We go through the days, knowing that we need to take time to "polish" our faith but we just figure we can do it later. How would we "polish" our faith? Through God's Word and Sacraments. Each day we should recall our Baptism, the very day when god made us His own and promised us that He would empower us and strengthen us as we go through our days. We need to be regularly in His Word, reading, studying, growing in the message of life and hope that it brings to us. We are to receive the Lord's Supper "often" rather than infrequently. Notice that it is actually God who is "polishing" us through these Means of Grace.

But we so often don't have time for any of them. Our weekend is the only time we have for ourselves so we don't attend worship where we hear God's Word and receive the Sacrament. We are busy each day so we don't have time to read and study that Word of life. We have too much to do so we don't think about the importance of Baptism for our lives.

And, like my poor everyday shoes, we begin to look pretty rough. The days beat us up. The struggles of life abuse us. Our faith life is neglected and forgotten. Then, one day, we look at ourselves and wonder, "What happened to me? Where is God in the middle of my struggles? Why doesn't He do something to help me out?" We blame God for all the problems when in reality, we are the ones who have turned away from the very Means He has given to us to help us and strengthen us as we go through those hard times. We look worse for wear, almost not fit for anything any longer.

I polished the shoes this morning. As rough as they looked when I began, they look pretty good now. I am amazed what some shoe polish and some attention can do to such a beat up looking pair of shoes. It is also amazing what God's Word and Sacrament can do to "polish" one's life when it is looking beaten up and broken. "Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," our Lord says to us. Beaten up by life, abused by sin, we hear the Lord's voice, we are drawn in by the Holy Spirit, and we are given what we need - forgiveness of sins, strength to face another day, joy and peace for the walk we are on, love that touches our hearts and lives in a very significant way and the promise that our Lord will never leave or forsake us.

Like the polish does for my shoes, so God does for my soul. He makes me new. He strengthens me. He gives me hope. He carries me through the day. All that comes to me through His Word and Sacraments. Why do I need to worship? Why do I need to receive the Lord's Supper? Why do I need to be in His Word? Because I am a sinner who needs all that my loving Father gives to me.

Don't neglect the Word. Don't refuse the Lord's Supper. Don't forget your Baptism. In these blessed Means, the Lord gives you all you need to face today. Made new in Christ, I go off to face whatever today brings. My soul is refreshed. And my shoes are shining.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Stewardship thoughts

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." (Psalm 20:7 ESV) I continue to return to Psalm 20. It continues to touch my heart in new and various ways. I will think to myself that I have mined it for all it is worth and then it opens up anew. I sit in awe of the Word of God. I am amazed at the power of this simple word, written so many years ago, in a different setting than I find myself today and yet, wonder of all wonders, it seems as though it could have been written today for times such as these.

As I read this verse again, I thought about our daily lives and I wondered to myself, "What do you trust in?" My first answer was simply, "God." I patted myself on the back and thought, "My how good of a Christian you really are." Sitting back with a sigh, a smile and puffed up ego, I continued to meditate on this Word of God. And slowly the smile left my face, the ego began to deflate and I began to ask, "Really? Do you really trust in the name of the Lord our God? Or do you trust in your own way of thinking? Do you think that you have it all figured out and know what needs to be done at every moment? My shoulders sagged a little and I had to admit, "I may not trust in chariots or horses, but the way that I live my life shows that I trust in myself, my strength, and my thoughts. And I then say to my Lord, "I am sorry. Help me to trust in You alone."

What about you? Do you trust in something of this world or do you trust in the name of the Lord? As I sat in our Voters' Meeting this last Sunday, I heard many things. I heard us giving lip service to God and following Him. But I came to realize that in reality, we trust in our money and assets. We look to them for security rather than looking to God. "But," the argument would go, "I can believe in God but I must make the plans that show that everything will work out just right. We will have enough in the bank account for day to day operations and still have all our assets in place to give us security should something happen and we need it." Really? Can you really be sure that you have worked things out so that you don't have to worry? I think of the parable that Jesus told: "The land of a rich man produced plentifully and he thought to himself, 'what shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops.' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:16-21 ESV)

As I look at this parable, I often think of the way that many of us act in the church. We look at our assets and we trust in them. We must have many assets and then we will feel comfortable and sit back and take our ease. But is that really the way that the Lord tells us to live. Is that really good, Christian "stewardship." The Lord doesn't tell the church to lay up assets for a rainy day or a tough time. Yes, He may well give the church those assets but He doesn't do it so that we can fall down on our life of stewardship. All too often, what happens, is as a people, we trust in our assets and what our plans are for the way the local congregation should go rather than to trust in God. We look to the bank account and figure that if it is big enough, we are all right. And then we forget about our daily stewardship life. We forget that we are called to be Christ-like in how we use what God has given to us. We become stingy, left-over givers. We give out of what we think we can spare rather than being first-fruit givers that trust in God and say, "Lord, You have given all to me. Out of my heart, out of faith in You, I support the work of Your congregation to this level." And then give no matter how much or how little it seems the church may or may not have. Christian stewardship is not giving to a budget. It is giving as the Lord has given to you. Does the church need it? That isn't the question. Does your faith need to act in that way? That is the real question. How does your faith act? If your giving is done only when you feel there is a need, then you are not living in faith. You are living in response to needs. Faith trust in all things and acts. Stewardship is such that it is done no matter what. If you decide that you are giving 10% then you give that amount. If you decide to only give 1%, then you give that amount. If you decide to give 20%, then you give that amount. How you act is meant to reflect your life of faith and your trust in God not to be a response to a budget.

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our Lord." What do you trust in? Do your actions match what your lips say? I know that I need to look into my heart and life and ask that question. What about you?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Guidance for Christian Living from Ephesians

In our Sunday morning Bible class we have been working through the epistles of the New Testament. This is an overview of each of the letters. We spend some time in the historical setting of the epistle and then look at a few of the key verses. This has not been an in depth study of each epistle. We are currently looking at the "prison letters" of Paul - Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians.

In writing to the Ephesians, Paul spends time talking about Christian relationships and how to go about living each day with one another. He writes, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:1-3 ESV). These are some powerful words for us to listen to in our lives - and powerful words for us put into practice in our lives.

Walk in the manner worthy of the called wot which you have been called - live each day, in the relationships that you have been given by the Lord in way of Christ, not in the way of the world. That is a huge challenge for each of us. It is so easy to walk in the way of the world instead of in the way of the Christ. After all, our natural inclination is to look out for the "self" and when we do that, we are tempted to put down, tear apart and destroy the other people in our lives. Why? Because that is our nature to do so - the sinful nature wants to show itself. Think of how easy it is to speak evil about someone rather than speaking good about them. Think about how easy it is to find fault and how hard it is to build up. Think of how you might have spoken words of gossip about a situation when you really weren't sure if what you have heard through the grapevine or from another person was even true. That is not walking in the way worthy of the calling you have received.

Instead we are called to live in humility and gentleness, being patient with one another. That is a challenge for us as well. To be humble - wow! So often humility is the last thing on our mind. We think to ourselves that we are better than others (where is the humility in that?) and look down upon others. Being patient is so difficult. We ask for people to be patient with us, giving us time to grow and learn in the situation, but how often are we patient with others? Guided by the Spirit, we are called to humility and gentleness.

As we continue reading in Ephesians, we learn about the life of faith that we are to live each day. One verse that I think we overlook goes like this: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." (Eph. 4:29 ESV) I would like to challenge each of us to make this verse a guide for how we talk to one another and about one another. I do believe it would do three things: 1) change how we talk to and about one another (it would get rid of idle gossip and help to eliminate hurt feelings and angry situations) and 2) would build up the body of Christ, and 3) would make for a stronger witness to those outside of the body of Christ.

Why am I writing about this? Is this in response to what someone has said or done? No it isn't and yes it is. No it isn't in response to any one person or one thing that has been said. Yes it is in the sense that so often it is this very thing that causes people to not want to listen to the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As someone listens to how one Christian speaks about another Christian, the one listening says to himself, "If that is how they treat one another, why would I want anything to do with Jesus Christ?" The words we say and the way we say them truly does affect the message we are proclaiming.

Speak only that which is good for building up - that it may give grace to those who hear. We find some wonderful words of God in this letter to the church in Ephesus. Now the challenge. How will I talk today?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Running the Race

A new week has begun. Yesterday was the 1st day of the week, a day when we had the opportunity to join with our fellow Christians in worship. I hope that you took advantage of that opportunity for you will not get that again until next weekend. That time of worship has prepared you for this week with all that will take place in your life. Through Word and Sacrament, the Spirit has strengthened your faith, lifted you up and encouraged you in your walk of faith.

You will be facing many things in your life this week. Some will be filled with joy at the wondrous events that take place. There will be people who get interviewed for a new position, invited to go to an event that they have been wanting to do for a while, have a night out with someone that they have longed to be with for some time, healing will come to someone who has been ill, joy will come to someone who has been filled with sorrow, excitement will take place in the life of some, first games of school will happen in volleyball or baseball and a whole host of other great things will take place For others this will be a sad or difficult week for they will face disappointments, frustrations, events that will bring sorrow to their hearts, difficulty at work or school, weakness of body or mind, disappointment from actions of friends, mistreatment at the hands of some, abuse by others, lies spoken, and relationships broken. And then there will be those who won't have any highs or lows. It will be a "normal" week, with work, school and play being whatever it turns out to be, nothing major, no extremes taking place at all.

What makes me think about that? I was reading in 1 Peter this morning and it started me thinking about what some may be facing this week. Peter writes, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as thought something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you." (1 Peter 4:12-14 ESV) As I read that section and others as well, I came to realize that our lives are going to be challenges. Satan is not going to want us to live the Christian life so he is going to work to cause us to become frustrated, upset, angry, and discouraged because of the events that go on this week. One person will face hard times and will look at the one who is facing good times and become upset. "Why can't that be me? Why can't my life be filled with that joy instead of this terror or pain?"

At those moments, I would encourage you to fix your eyes upon your Savior Jesus Christ, the very one who has gone before you on the path that you are upon. As you go through this week, and whatever it brings to you, "Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary and fainthearted." (Hebrews 12:3 ESV)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

St. Paul's School, day 2

The first day is in the history books! Things went very well here at St. Paul's as we began the 2013-2014 school year. The students seemed to be happy to return to school. I am sure that some were happy to be back in school to learn and grow while others were happy to see their friends once again. Summer can be long when you don't see your friends everyday.

So that brings us to day #2. Don't worry, I am not going to count each day that we have school. But day 2 is an important day because the "new" of the 1st day has departed and the reality of being back in school sets in. There is still the excitement of the new school year, but there is no longer the nervous butterflies of wondering about a new classroom, a new teacher or new students. You can sense a more "settled" feel among all who are here today. They know that it will be a good year. There will be many blessings and some frustrations. There will be good times and bad times.

Basically, things at school will be like things in our daily lives. Up and down, good and bad, honorable and dishonorable, mentionable and unmentionable. As you look at the days of your life, you probably see that to be the case. There are some days you excel at living the Christian life, while there are other days that people looking at you or listening to you might wonder if you even know that there is a God above.

It is for all our days that our Lord came into the world. He is the heart and center of our lives. He is to be the One that guides our thoughts, words and actions. We pray that the  Holy Spirit will lead each of our students, teachers and families to lives according to the will of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When we fail, we will ask the Lord to forgive us and help us do better the next time around.

Yes, it is going to be a good year. Day 2 is rolling along. Students are learning. Teachers are teaching. Relationships are growing. Christ is being proclaimed. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

1st Day of School 2013

Ready or not, here it comes! The 1st day of school is today. At 7:45 a.m. St. Paul's Lutheran School opens its doors again. We rejoice that we are able to offer solid Christians, Lutheran education here in the Troy community. We have the opportunity to reach out into our community with the message of the gospel. It truly is a blessing.

Some children are ready. Some are not. Some are anxious to get back into the classroom with their friends and others are dragging their heals. That is the way it is in every school across the nation as they begin the new school year. I can remember the wonder of a new school year - new pencils and pens, new crayons, new folders, new paper - all of this was a joy for me. Then there was the new classes, with many of the same old friends and some new ones. I can still see the faces of many of them as we went to school year after year. I was blessed to have been given the opportunity to attend a Lutheran school through the 8th grade. I give thanks to God and my parents for making that possible.

Here are St. Paul's, we can rejoice that we have a solid staff that will be teaching our children. Many of our staff are returning again this year. Mrs. Ida Doyle still serves as our principal and 5/6 grade teacher. Mrs. Lauren McLaughlin is our 3/4 grade teacher and our athletic director. Mrs. Laura Thomas is our kindergarten teacher. Mrs. Penny Schuessler is our preschool 3's teacher. Mrs. Rachael Beckemeyer returns as our art teacher. Mrs. Connie Liter continues as the cook. Ms. Linda Craig is the anchor to all that is done as she is our school secretary.

The new staff members come to us with many great qualifications. Dr. Bruce McLaughlin is our 7/8 grade teacher and will work with our technology. Mrs. Mindy Fischer is our called 1/2 grade teacher. Mrs. Amanda Daniels will be teaching our preschool 4's. Mr. Andy Navarro will be teacher music to our children.

Each member of our staff brings their God-given talents and qualifications to our school. We thank the Lord for leading us to have this highly talented staff. We look forward to having them teaching our children through out this coming year.

One last thought before I close. I give thanks that God has lead the parents to send their children to St. Paul's school. I know that it is a challenge to pay the tuition. I can remember my mother working to make ends meet when she sent the 4 of us boys to the Lutheran School Association in Decatur after Pop died. It was a huge challenge. I am sure that it is that way for the families of our school. Is it worth it? Yes it is. It is worth it for our children, to help them to grow in their faith and knowledge of their Savior Jesus Christ. May the Lord bless you as you send your child/children to school this year. Know that we will do everything we can to keep your children safe, to help them to feel loved and to learn about their Savior.

A hymn verse from "Oh, Blest the House:"
Oh, blest the parents who give heed
Unto their children's foremost need
And weary not of care or cost.
May none to them and heav'n be lost! (LSB #862 vs. 3)