Monday, September 30, 2013

It Comes to an End.

September is over. Today is the 30th which means that comes midnight, October will be upon us. This is not all that amazing. It happens month after month, year after year. But for some reason, September coming to a close today struck me as, I don't know, different, amazing...I can't find the word to describe how it struck me. I just can't believe that today is the last day of September But here it is.

Time marches on. We can't stop the progression of time. We might want to stay in a moment, but unlike what Captain Picard of Star Trek fame did in one of the movies, you can't slow time or stop time. This moment is gone in a moment. Very philosophical yet very practical.

Did you make the most of September? Did you do all the things that you wanted to do? Did you take advantage of the daily opportunities that were presented to you? Or did you let them slip away? Are you at the end of the month, wishing you had the month back because there were too many things that you didn't get done.?

But let's change that a moment. Instead of looking back with regret over something that we can't change, no matter how much we want to, why not look forward to the new month with a renewed sense of living. we have a 31 day month before us. Let's make the most of this coming month. Spend some time with family. take a few moments each day with those you love. Talk to them on the phone (remember the phone? It is what we used for  communication before texts, tweets and email.). Sit down with them and see how they are doing. Go outside for a few moments and enjoy the fall-like conditions, the changing leaves, the crisp air, the smell of fall. Take time to worship your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Listen to His voice as He speaks to you from His Word. Let that Word surround your days. Spend an extra 2 minutes a day in prayer - talking with your Father about all that is in your life. Walk daily with Him, as you walk daily with one another.

I look forward to October. September was a great month (I turned 52 this last month). But I look to October to be an even better month. In case you don't know, I look back on each month with joy, and look forward to the new month with expectation. I know that God has great plans for me and my life. I pray that my sinful nature will not stand in the way of God's will for my life. I pray also for you, that you will also follow your Lord this month, that you will be filled be true joy that comes from a relationship with Him, that your days will be filled with a sense of wonder at the hand of God leading you as you go to work or school, as you drive down the road, as you sit in your house, as you lounge in your chair or on your couch and as you share His love with those around you.

October is going to be amazing. Do I have big plans? No. But God does!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I have often wondered...

There are many things I wonder about but I won't go into them here as I don't have time or space. There is one thing that I have wondered about (this came on because of today's devotion in Portals of Prayer) - did Joseph always keep a sunny disposition throughout all that he faced. The Joseph I am talking about is the son of Jacob, the one sold into slavery by his brothers. Was he always upbeat, knowing that the Lord would continue to bless his life and make all the rotten things come out all right? Or did he ever get discouraged?

When I read about Joseph, I find myself a little frustrated. Why? Because I see all the struggles he goes through and I get the impression that he sits around saying, "It is all right. God has a plan for my life and I know that things will work out all right." He is attacked by his brothers, striped of his robe of many colors, thrown into a well and Joseph says, "It's all right. God has a plan for my life and it will work out all right." He listens to his brothers argue about whether or not to kill him and he says, "This is good. God will make everything work all right." He is pulled out of the well and sold to the Midianites who take him off to Egypt and sell him to Potiphar, and Joseph says, "This is from the hand of God and all things are going to work out. I will be all right because God is with me." Did he feel that way after winding up in prison because of Potiphar's wife falsely accusing him of attempted rape? Did he feel that way after the interpreting the dreams of the baker and the cup bearer of Pharaoh and then having them forget him for 2 years? Think about it! Two years he was in prison and heard nothing from the 2 men who promised they would talk to Pharaoh about him and his situation. Did he say the whole time, "This is good. God has a plan. This is part of the plan and it will be all right"? These are things I have wondered.

What is the answer I have come up with? I would have to say that Joseph was probably the ultimate "Pollyanna." He seemed to always see the bright side of every situation - with his brothers, with Potiphar and his wife, with his time in prison and with his role in Egypt. Did he have moments of doubt? Probably. There were probably times when he laid in his cell wondering what God's plan might truly be, but through it all, he never lost faith that God was in control. There might have been times he felt lost and afraid but through those times he still trusted in the Lord to do what was best. There may have been days when he wondered if he would ever see his family again, even when he was 2nd in command in all the land of Egypt, but he knew that whatever God's plan was would be best.

I guess what I am saying is that Joseph was a young man (who grew into manhood) that trusted in the Lord with his whole heart. All he did was a reflection of that faith. He would see the situation of life through the eyes of faith. He would call out to God in times of trouble and know that the Lord would deliver him.

What do I learn from Joseph? I learn that God has a plan for my life (and your life) and that we are called to trust int he Lord. I learn that bad things will happen in our lives, things that are unexplainable and terrible, things that will threaten to crush us, things that are absolutely not what we plan or want in our lives, but through it all, God is still there. He will guide us through those times. He will be the Rock we can rely upon and trust in. We will be challenged in our lives. We will be tempted to turn from our Lord. We will be lead by the situations of life to curse God and turn our backs upon Him. We will feel justified by our indignation and our frustration to curse God and go about our lives as though He doesn't matter or as though we are furious with Him and refuse to be comforted by anyone. We will feel as though what has happened to us is the absolutely worst thing in the world and there is no way that God could be a part of what is taking place. We will feel all those things and more.

At those moments and times in our lives, I would encourage us to return to Joseph. You might say, "Yes, but he knew that God would work it out for him. Look at how it turned out!" Do you think that when he sat at the bottom of the well, wondering what was going to happen to him, that he honestly thought, "This is going to lead to my becoming the 2nd most important person in the land of Egypt." I doubt it. Do you think he sat in prison for 2 years and thought, "When Pharaoh has his dream, I will get out of here." I doubt it. But one thing he did think, "God is with me. I will trust in God with all my heart and life." When we are tempted by the situation of our lives to think God has no plan or that God has deserted us, look at Joseph's faith and realize that isn't the case. No matter how bleak, how sad, how overwhelming, there is one promise that God has made us that overrides everything (and it isn't that we won't have to suffer or be sad or frustrated or hurt or sick or whatever else you and I want in life). That promise is that He will never leave us. He will never forsake us. Jesus says to you, "I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19) And He means it. He showed that in Joseph's life. He has shown that in countless other lives through out the years. What makes you and me think that our lives are any different?

God is with us - in the well, in the prison, in the hospital, at the funeral home, in the house, at school, in the car driving to work, in the terror that comes at night, in the fear that our spouse will leave us, in the time when we have to say good bye to someone dear to us, in the moment when time seems to stand still and not a sound is made as we process the terrible news given by a voice on the other end of the phone or the family member/friend gives face to face. Joseph turns to God in all situations. So can we. He is our God. Other might mean things for evil but God will work it out for our good - in time, sometimes a short time, sometimes a long time.

I guess I don't really wonder about Joseph, other than in my mind. I already know the answer. Yes, he trusted in God in all those situations, even when he might have those moments when he cried out, "Why!? Where are You God?!" Even then, he never lost sight that God was still with him. May you never lose that sight either.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Life revisited

Strange title - Life Revisited. I guess it is because I have one thing on my mind this morning. (There is more than one but for this writing, there is one.) That one thing is the death of a long time member of St. Paul's.

Last Friday Roger Tegmeyer died. I am told that he was on his way to the dining room when he had to sit down for a moment and then he passed away. I haven't heard if it was his heart or a stroke or what it was that took him. It really doesn't matter (except for the sake of curiosity) because the end result was the same. He left this life for the next. Roger was a saved man. I can say that because he openly and willingly professed his faith in Jesus as his Savior. He did not rely upon his deeds, which were many. Instead he relied upon Jesus alone for his salvation. Even with the issues he was dealing with, he still knew his Savior even when he didn't know me. He still hungered for the Lord's Supper even when he didn't know what was for supper. He still lived on the Word even while his mind was leaving him on a daily basis. We can rejoice that another saint of God has entered into eternal life with his Savior.

The family decided to have a private service for Roger. Many have been put off by that for they wanted, perhaps even needed, to have time to say their thank you and good bye to Roger. We know that the visitation and the funeral is for the living, for the dead have already entered into their eternal rest or their eternal damnation (depending on faith or lack of faith in Jesus). Roger had helped many people. He had showed his faith through his kind acts of support for many of the people in our community. And people wanted to show their respect for Roger and have the chance to honor his memory. Without a public visitation or service, that became impossible. I understand the frustration that comes from that situation. At the same time, we must honor and respect the wishes of the family. In your heart you can honor Roger. In your talk about him over the next days and through the discussion that will happen whenever someone mentions Roger in conversation, you can thank God for him. You may not understand the "why" things were done like there were, but you can still remember and honor the memory of Roger and all he did for you and for his community.

Why did he do so much? It was because of his faith in Jesus. He knew that God was the One who blessed him and gave him the resources of his life. He knew that God had given him the talents and skills he had and used those same talents and abilities to the glory of God. Roger knew one thing - he was a child of God. So he lived in that faith. He didn't trust in himself or his deeds for salvation but he trusted in Jesus alone. He loved people of the community because God had first loved him. His life was not meant to lift up "Roger" but it was meant to lift up Christ Jesus.

So when you think of Roger, think of his faith. When you talk of what Roger did, talk about what Jesus did for Roger. And give thanks to God that you had the opportunity to know Roger. And then live each day in the way that Roger did - trusting not in yourself or in someone/thing else in this world. Live each day trusting in and living for Christ Jesus. Share your faith in word and action. Then you will be honoring, not Roger, but the Savior who saved him.

Monday, September 9, 2013

But He Lingered

Those are interesting words to read. I don't think I had ever really noticed them before. This morning I was reading Genesis 19, the story of Lot and the angels in Sodom. As I read, I noticed 3 little words that are often overlooked (I know I have overlooked them), "But he lingered." They don't seem like much, until you put them into their context. After all, I like to linger over a cup of hot tea, just sitting and enjoying the moment, the relaxation and the peace that I find sitting on my front porch. I might linger over a good book. I might even linger with a friend while we are visiting, not wanting the moment to end.

That really is why we linger, isn't it? We don't want the moment to end. A boy and a girl might linger just an extra few minutes so that the evening date doesn't quite come to an end just yet. I can remember lingering on the telephone when Penny and I were dating, not wanting to say good bye because I wanted to at least hear her voice for a few more moments. We linger to keep something, such as a feeling or a situation, alive and in the moment.

But I was reading Genesis 19, as the angels have told Lot that he and his family need to leave the city because the Lord was going to destroy, and those 3 words just stood out to me. "But he lingered." He had tried to keep the 2 men safe from the perversion of the men of Sodom. It was only the power of the angels blinding the men outside Lot's door and their pulling him into his own house that saved Lot from being abused by the other men. The angels told him to get his family, sons-in-law, sons, wife, daughters, whoever was important, to leave the city before it was too late. Time was ticking. Destruction was imminent. "But he lingered."

Lot just couldn't bring himself to let go of Sodom. True, it was wicked. The men had tried to rape the visitors to Lot's house. They had tried to abuse Lot. The Lord had decided that the wickedness of Sodom was so great that He was going to rain destruction from heaven. But Lot lingered. He held onto the city for a little longer. He couldn't let it go. The angels had to forcibly make him get moving. "So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city." (Genesis 19:16 ESV) He wouldn't let go of the moment, the feeling, the desire to be a part of the people of Sodom. He lingered.

How often do we do that very thing? How often can it be said of us, "But they lingered." Think about your life, the situations you have found yourself in. Have you ever lingered just a moment too long, when you knew that it wasn't good for you to linger. The man who lingers in the presence of a woman other than his wife because she makes him feel "alive" in ways that is meant only for his wife. The person at the party that lingers just for one more drink, even though he or she has already had enough to drink, because this makes him or her feel good in a time when they are struggling. How often do we linger around sin?

And that is what struck me this morning. We linger around sin. We are told that we are to flee from sin and the devil, to not stay around them, for they will lead us to our destruction. But we linger. How could staying around a sinful situation just a few more moments really hurt us that badly? How can it affect us to linger for just a little longer? It can't be that bad.

But look at how being in Sodom affected the daughters of Lot. They didn't think twice about getting their father drunk in order to have an incestuous relationship with him, just so they can have a child. Each daughter got pregnant by their father and were proud of it. He lingered and sin takes a solid hold in his family.

Do you linger around sinful situations? Do you believe that it won't affect you? Are you feeling that it is all right to remain a little longer when it is wrong? I pray that the Lord will seize your hand and drag you away from that sinful, destructive situation. I pray that the Spirit would send an angel to protect you and take you to safety before it is too late. And when He does give you that escape from the sinful situation, don't look back in longing over what "might have been." Don't "regret" having to give up that sinful behavior or action. Instead, rejoice that the Lord has brought you safely through temptation and has given you an escape before you got so caught up in the situation that things go from bad to worse.

"But he lingered." I hope that isn't said about you in sinful situations of your life. May the Lord grant you wisdom and give you guidance in whatever situation you are facing at this time. Perhaps He will even seize your hand, and force you away from that which will destroy you.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Overcoming in Life.

"Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved." (Philippians 4:1 ESV) Reading in Philippians this morning, this verse caught my eye. Perhaps it caught my eye because I had also read Psalm 13. That Psalm starts with the words, "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must i take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?" (Ps. 13:1-2a ESV) And I thought of those who carry a tremendous burden on their heart, those who face a crisis like no other crisis, those who struggle each day to face the rising sun because the night has brought them terror or sorrow and the day will only cause their hearts to ache even more. I thought of you.

Like Paul, my heart aches for those who are struggling in their lives. I love each of my people deeply. Who are "my people"? Those whom God has given to me to serve and shepherd. Through these 26 years of ministry, the Lord has brought me to love and care for many people of many congregations. Currently, He has brought me to the saints of St. Paul's, Troy. They are the ones that are near and dear to my heart, even as the Lord has given me others who continue to be near to me or are becoming that way. The love of Christ touches lives in the parish and outside the parish. Like Paul, I can say, "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy..." (Philippians 1:3-4 ESV)

One of our members brought up the thought of those who are going through tragic incidents in their lives have the choice of facing those times as victims or survivors. She was looking at it from the clinical point of view, which is very valid and very important. But what she said is so very true. You will either survive the crisis, the tragedy or whatever you are facing or you will be a victim and tormented by it day after day. Those are the choices. To be a survivor does not mean that you forget or are instantly "healed" from the pain or suffering of the moment. You still face all those emotions, pains and sorrows. The difference becomes in whether you are going to overcome or are you going to be overcome. The answer is not easy. Nor does it come from a resolve that lies deep in our heart. We cannot look inside and find the strength that we need to face the crisis of life.

Instead, we must look outside of ourselves, much like David shows in Psalm 13. "How long?" he cries. "How long?" you cry. At that moment you wonder if David is a victim or a survivor. But things turn in the Psalm. They turn from the focus being upon David alone to his relationship with the Lord. He writes, "But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me." (Psalm 13:5-6 ESV) The situation of his life hasn't changed. What changed was David. He changed from focusing upon being overcome by the situation to turning to the One who gives strength to overcome - the Lord.

In another Psalm, David writes, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord, our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright." (Psalm 20:7-8 ESV) Only in the Lord is strength to be found. Only in the Lord is there power to overcome the crisis of the moment or the challenge of life. He gives strength. He gives power. He gives all that is needed to face whatever you are facing at this time. He can and will help you through the pain, the suffering, the heart break, and whatever else is encompassing you.

Back to where we began: "Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved." (Philippians 4:1 ESV) Stand firm in the Lord - today. Trust in Him. Let His love encompass you. For in the end, it is only the power of the Lord that will help you to survive and overcome whatever you are facing at this moment. He has overcome for you. Through faith in Him, you can also overcome.