Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Second Step

"The journey of a thousand steps begins with the first one," or something like that. I don't remember who said it or what the actual quote might be but that is basically what is said. No matter how long the journey, you can't make it to the end without taking the first step. And there is truth in that statement. Sometimes we are crippled in our lives because we are afraid to take the first step. We know we must take that step and get started but it is difficult for us to take that first step. Fear cripples us. It stops us from moving forward.

Then I thought to myself this morning, perhaps it isn't the first step that cripples us. It is the second step that really causes us the most problems.The second step, it is much more difficult than the first one.

 I thought of that this morning as I helped Blackie, our 14 year old dog, wake up and come up the stairs. The journey of 13 steps begins with the first one. But then again, it isn't the first step that causes him problems. He puts his front paws on the first step, and then stops. He took the first step. He made it up the first one. It was the second step, continuing to walk up the steps, that caused him so much trouble.

That is the way that it is for us. The journey may begin with the first step but it the second one that really cripples us. As the New Year begins, we will make our resolutions. We will take the first step and move towards our goal, but we don't continue to move that direction. Like Blackie, we stand on that first step and don't continue the journey. We don't take the second step to continue towards our goal. And we fail in our resolution.

In our spiritual life it is much the same way. We take the first step but it the second one that messes us up. We are brought to faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior We confess with our lips and believe in our hearts that Jesus is our Savior - first step. (Now don't turn on me at this point. I am merely using an analogy at this point. I know that the Holy Spirit, working through the Means of Grace - Word and Sacraments - is the One who helps us and guides us in our lives of faith. I am talking about our part, our life, the way we go through our days in that faith.) We go to church that one time. We pick up the Bible that one time. We say we follow our Lord that one time.

Then the second step comes. We have to continue in that life of faith. Perhaps there are other things vying for our attention and our time, and as we look at those steps of faith (living each day in Christ), we don't take that second step. We stay on the first one, believing - yes, but not moving past that first step. We don't open the Bible the second time. We don't attend worship the second time. We don't live out our faith the second time. We say, "Well, at least I believe. At least I am on the first step." And we think we have made the journey.

We must continue on to the second step, then the third, fourth, fifth and so on until that last step is taken, the step that takes us into heaven. Like Blackie, we will never make it to the top of the stairs without taking the second step. We are told that this is a journey of faith, daily, each step, each day, without stopping. We continue day after day, step after step, not stopping, not turning back.

Blackie will stand with his front paws on the first step and then whine. He might even give that annoying bark that goes right through you. He stands there and complains. He doesn't want to go up those 13 stairs. He took the first step. Why must he take the rest of the stairs. I stand next to him, encouraging him. He backs off. Does it again with the same result. We will do that 3-4 times. Each time I encourage him. I talk to him. I even tell him, "Blackie, I can carry you up the stairs but you don't like that either. He complain the whole time. It is easier on you to walk up the stairs." And he gives me that "you have to be kidding" look and does it all over again.

How often are we like him? We take the first step and figure that things much get easier from here on. But we don't take the second step. We don't want to move from the first one. It is enough. We whine. We complain - all at God. We get angry with God. We don't like how things have gone in our lives, so we stand on the first step, refusing to take the second step, letting the things or events of our lives cripple us as we stand on the first step and complain to God that things aren't fair, that He acted wrongly, that we can't believe His love, yadda, yadda, yadda. (Mind you, I am not making light of those things that you feel or say. They are very real. They are your feelings and your thoughts. But they cripple you if you remain on that step and refuse to take the next one.) 

Blackie doesn't make it to the top till he takes the second step. And I walk with him up the stairs, step after step, encouraging him, talking with him, being his Barnabas. That is what the Spirit does for us. We gives us all that we need to continue to the second step and beyond. He helps us. He encourages us. He strengths us. But we must move our spiritual feet and take the next step. Each step, day after day, no matter how difficult or how challenging those steps are, we are to take them.

Blackie makes it to the top each time. We go through this several times a day. I never stop my part. He never stops his part. I often wonder if that is the way it is for our Lord. Day after day, moment after moment, He must continue to support us, love us, encourage us, help us and lead us. Does He ever get frustrated and quit? I know I think about not doing it for Blackie (but I still do because I love the old guy). God never, Never, NEVER gets frustrated or stops helping us. He is with us, day after day, even when we push Him away. He walks with us day after day, loving, caring, supporting and saving us.

What is stopping you from that second step? Ask the Lord to help you to break out of your fear, anger, frustration, grief, whatever it might be that is stopping you. And then, with His help, take the second step.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Reflection on storms and the Day of the Lord

We find ourselves at the end of the Church Year. That means that this last Sunday and this coming Sunday focuses our attention on the Day of the Lord. The readings for yesterday morning, 26th Sunday after Pentecost did just that, speaking of the Day of the Lord (Malachi 4) and the return of Christ upon the clouds (Luke 21). We spent time hearing about the Lord's return and the judgment that is a part of that return. That judgment is both law and gospel, death and life. For those who don't believe in Christ as their Lord and Savior it is law, condemning to an eternity in hell, separated from the Lord for eternity. For those believing in Christ as their only Savior it is gospel, pronouncing the wonder of salvation, an eternity with the Lord in heaven.

As I reflect back upon those readings and look towards the readings for this Sunday, the Last Sunday of the Church Year (or Christ the King Sunday), I also think about yesterday's storms. We here in Troy faced winds and rain but the storms were nothing compared to other places around the state (and throughout the Midwest). I am drawn to two storms that went through two communities. One community, in Washington County, suffered tremendous damage and even the death of a couple people. The town of New Minden, IL was devastated with a tornado that went through, tearing the rood off of St. John's Lutheran Church, and destroying several homes across the highway from the church. These things happen in many communities at many different times, but this one hit close to home as we are friends with Pastor Tim & Dawn Mueller of St. John's and have spent numerous times in St. John's church building. Also we have friends Rey and Eunice Hausler whose house was destroyed by the tornado. Destruction in their lives, and I wonder, "Did they recall the words of the Lord in Luke 21 and think that perhaps it was the Day of the Lord?"  It most certainly could have been if the storm had hit a hour earlier when the church was filled with worshipers or if Rey & Eunice did not make it to their basement before the tornado hit their house.

And I also think about the community of Washington, IL who received even more destruction. Once again, we have our friends Pastor Tom & Trudy Heren of Our Savior's Lutheran Church in that community. The town was devastated with the destruction of the storm. Perhaps you have seen the images on the news. Terrible destruction, beyond what I can even imagine. Pastor Tom & Trudy have told us that the church was damaged and their parsonage was also damaged. Seven of the church families have been displaced either from damage or complete destruction of the house, the Heren's being one of those displaced families. And once again, if that storm would have hit an hour earlier, the church would have been filled with worshipers and they would have know what the Day of the Lord was like as it would have been that day for them.

Destruction, death, terror, terrible things going on in an instant, no chance to think, just to act - and it makes me think about the Day of the Lord. That is the way it will be. People think, "I will have the chance to change my mind and believe in Jesus when He comes," but they won't. There won't be the chance to think. It will be in a moment, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye. The Lord will come and it will be judgment - believe or don't believe, but a that moment, much like in a tornado that hits in a moment and is gone, it will be what it will be.

The point of this rambling? Now is the day of salvation. Now is the day to believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Now is the time to have the heart turned from stone to life. There may be no tomorrow for you to consider Jesus as the only-begotten Son of God, the Savior of the world, your personal Savior.

I pray for those affected by the storms of November 17, 2013. There was much destruction and some death. There will be months of rebuilding ahead for numerous communities - such as Washington, IL and New Minden, IL. We will have opportunity to assist these communities and show the love of Christ that is our hearts by the help and support that we can give to them.

And I pray that the Holy Spirit will bring to faith those who don't believe in Jesus as their Savior. I pray that He will use each of us to share that message of the Gospel with those we come in contact with each day. I also pray for the Lord to come in all His glory, praying "Come, Lord Jesus." Yes, there is much to be said about the Day of the Lord and the storms that rolled through.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cold Weather and Faithful Hearts

It is a cold November morning. This is merely the first of many cold mornings that we have ahead of us as the winter season is just beginning. While this morning is cold, tomorrow morning is going to be even colder. The shock of the cold is upon us because of the rapid change of temperature. As I sat and watched the cold front come through yesterday afternoon, it was 66. By the time I went to bed it was 36. Put with that the warmth of this last weekend, and this really does feel cold. Welcome to winter. Put on a sweater, be sure to wear your socks, pull on a warm coat and, of course, wear a hat.

As you do all of those things remember that there are people in our community who don't have nearly what you and I have in our lives. This is a great opportunity to remember to support the work of Ministries Unlimited here in Troy. They do some wonderful things to help the less fortunate in our community. Through the food pantry and the Christmas gifts as well as support for those who need help as they travel and those who need help with housing in our community, Ministries Unlimited shows the face of God to those in need. If you have the chance to help out, please do so. This is the time when their resources will begin to be stretched a little thin.

I read some interesting passages this morning. As I read Psalm 108, King David was talking about the victory that God had given to Israel over Moab, Edom and Philistia. Then I was reading in 2 Chronicles 28 and King Ahaz of Judah was defeated by Moab, Edom and Philistia. What was the difference? Why was David victorious while Ahaz wasn't? The difference came in who they trusted and how they lived. David followed God with his whole heart. He wasn't a perfect man or king but he was a faithful man and a faithful king. Ahaz wasn't a perfect man or a perfect king AND he was a faithless man and king. He did not follow the way of the Lord. He paid lip service to it but he did not live it. He made metal images for the Baals, offered up his sons as sacrifices and followed the ways of those nations around him. He was called to serve the Lord with his heart and life and instead he served himself with his heart and life. Because of his sinfulness, God gave the nation of Judah over to the peoples around them.

Faithless towards God. Can that be said about you? We could look at the nation, our country and the way it lives and we might say that we are faithless. We can point to the sins of the people and the lack of faith that is shown. And we would be right. It is that and perhaps more.

But I don't want to do that. Instead I would challenge you to look at yourself. Are you faithful to God or faithless to God? Do you worship Him with your heart and life or do you worship the gods of this age with your heart and life? How often do you read or hear the Word? How often do you worship God, not just with you lips but with your hearts as well?

We are called to be faithful to God. He gives us the power to live according to His will. He gives us the Means of Grace to strengthen our faith and help us in our lives. He touches our hearts and lives with the power of His Word, the wonder of Baptism and the strength of His Body and Blood in the Supper. He is with us day after day. He upholds us in all we do. He never turns His back upon us. He walks with us, talks with us, blesses us and leads us.

How do you and I respond? How do we live our lives? I would like to challenge you to reflect upon your life. And my prayer is that you will be found faithful in the Lord, empowered to live that way through the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Not With A Whole Heart

It was an interesting verse that I ran across this morning. I was reading in 2 Chronicles about Amaziah the king of Judah. You might not know much about him. I would like to say that I know all about the kinds of Israel and Judah but I don't. I find myself back in 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles as a way of refreshing myself on this part of the history of Israel and Judah. It also gives me more spiritual guidance for my life. So I was reading in 2 Chronicles about Amaziah. It said, "And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord..." (2 Chr. 25:2a) I thought, "Good deal, another good king of Judah." Then it continued, "...yet not with a whole heart." (2 Chr. 25:2b) And there you have it. The "rest of the story."

Amaziah served God to a point. He was faithful to God in some areas but his whole heart was not in it. That is the difference between David and Amaziah. You could say of David, "He served God with his whole heart." That couldn't be said of Amaziah.

What about you? What can be said about you and your life? Do you serve God with your whole heart? Or do you find that you are "halfheartedly" serving God? This caused me to reflect. I know that I am a pastor and my life is given over to serving God, but do I do it with my whole heart? Or do I have some parts of my life where it is all about me and what I want? Are there areas that I say to God, "You can't have this part of my life"? And I would have to be honest enough to acknowledge that there are those areas that i feel should be mine and not God's.

This is a part of our lives of stewardship. (How did that get in there?) It doesn't have anything to do with my money or my giving. It has everything to do with my daily life. You see, stewardship is using all of life and life's resources for the glory of God and the good of His kingdom. It is not living halfheartedly for the Lord but living with your whole heart.

How do we live halfheartedly? There are many ways. Amaziah's problem was that he was prideful and felt that because of the victory that the Lord gave to Judah that he was more important and more powerful than he was. For each of us, it is different. Perhaps you hold onto some sinful action that you just don't want to give up - over drinking, gossiping, lusting, looking at improper websites, excessive worrying, and so on. Or maybe it is something a little more personal - not wanting to let go of a grudge or a bitter feeling that you have concerning someone else, not allowing the Lord to lead you through your time of grief, thinking unkind thoughts about other people. Or  it could be in worship - only worshiping when you "feel" like you need it, making worship an option in your life, giving God only a portion of who you are while giving work or pleasure your whole attention.

I would challenge you to read that verse and reflect on your life as you read it. "And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not with his whole heart." What can be said about you and your life?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cold rain, dead battery and changed plans.

It is a cold, wet November morning. Here this morning, there is a cold rain coming down. They say it won't last long. That is a good thing, though we need the rain. Rain again tonight (Tuesday) and tomorrow. Could be substantial amounts of rain. I don't want it to rain and yet I know that we need the rain. I don't mind if it rains during the night but when it rains during the day, when we need to be out and about, I don't like it quite so well. That is the way we are isn't it? We want something but we don't like to be inconvenienced by it. We pray to the Lord for something and then grumble when it comes in a way we don't like. "Lord we need rain," we pray. "Lord, why did You have it rain when I needed to go outside?" we lament. Fickle people that we are, it is amazing that the Lord puts up with us.

Put up with us? Yes He does. His love for us leads Him to care for us in many and various ways, even when we grumble and mumble against Him. We turn our backs upon Him and do what we want, and then complain when things don't go the way that we want things to go. Lord, how do You put up with us? Thank You for Your love and care each day. We don't deserve it but You sure give it. You are an amazing God. I rejoice that I can call You Father, that Your Son is my Savior and that the Holy Spirit is the One who leads me day after day.

Yesterday was a day when I was sure that I had the day planned. I taught confirmation class and then headed for the Board of Spiritual Care down at the District office. Things were going well. Without a thought, I was sure that I knew how the day was going to go. Stopping for a soda (Circle K always has the super huge soda for 79 cents, one that would last all morning), I walked out to the van, put the key in the ignition, turned it, ready to roll on the next couple miles to get where I needed to get. I was on time. Everything was going according to plan. And...nothing. That's right, nothing. The van wouldn't start. Really? This can't be true. Try, try, try again but with the same results. Nothing. Sigh, the shoulders sage with the realization that the battery is dead. Now what? The day changes that is what.

I won't bore you with the details for how it turned out. Just know that it turned out all right. Figuring that the Lord knew best, I followed Him. Upset? Not really? Why? Because there is no reason to be upset with something that I couldn't change. All I could think of was, "OK, Lord, what do you have in store? What is the reason this isn't working?" Someone said, "Perhaps the Lord kept something from happening." And I thought about that. Maybe? How many times does the Lord stop something bad, awful or terrible from happening to us? And we don't know it! Why? Because it never happened! Thanks be to God for that knowledge.

I never did make the meeting. The battery is replaced. We have a van ready for a drive to Seward, NE at the end of this week. It didn't break down when we stopped for gas somewhere in Iowa. I rejoice that the Lord is good and gracious no matter what happens to me in my life. We look at our lives and expect all sunshine and flowers. And we forget that in order to have that sunshine or those flowers, we need rain. And we are back to this morning, with the cold November rain falling. All right Lord. You do know what You are doing. rain, dead battery and plans changed. That too is a blessing for me in my life. All I can say as I begin this day is, "Lord, lead me, guide me, show me what You desire for me to do to Your glory today. I am Your servant. I am Yours. WooHoo! Thanks for that!"

Now to go about today, in a cold rain, with a dark sky and the wonder of His love on my lips, I go about this day. How are you going to live it?