Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lessons from the Road

Last week and this week (January 10-31) I find myself driving back and forth to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. I have been taking classes these two weeks as part of my studies for the Doctor of Ministry degree. (I will talk about those studies and degree another time.) Each day I have the pleasure and the pain of driving into the city. Many of you do this day after day. You get up in the morning, get the family ready, either take them to daycare or make sure they are ready to get on the bus and then off you go, into the great expanse we know as "the CITY." I am sure that you have seen all there is to see as you make that commute morning after morning and evening after evening. I will not claim to know all that much about the commuting experience as, on the whole, it has been a good and easy experience. I thank the Lord for that fact.

But you do observe a lot while you are making the commute. I am going to sharing some of those observations for whatever they are worth.

People don't observe the law. Not a surprise to you, nor was it a surprise to me. But the fact remains, people do not observe the law. What is the speed limit? Whatever I want to go. What happens if there is a policeman "clocking" me? I slow down only to speed up after I am past him. People don't use their directional signals unless they feel like it. People talk on the cell phone, holding it to their ear here in Illinois though we are told that is now against the law. People text while driving. People don't wear their seat belts. People don't have their children in car seats. In a nutshell, they do what they want despite what the law says. The lawmakers can make all the laws they want, but the people of Illinois and Missouri (and other states) are going to do what they want, when they want, how they want.

People get upset when they get caught breaking the law. I know, that is a duh statement. Who doesn't get upset when they look in their rear view mirror and see those flashing lights? Who doesn't get upset when they are asked, "Do you know how fast you were going?" Of course I know how fast I was going, why do you ask? I was in a hurry and for you to stop me to ask me that question is just ridiculous, you think to yourself. And people get upset when the policeman pulls them over, when they get a ticket, when they are inconvenienced by this experience.

People don't think they deserve a ticket. "Everyone else was driving that fast." How often that is said to the police officer, I can't imagine. No one deserves the ticket they received. What is a few miles over the speed limit? Why do I have wear my seat belt? Why? Why? WHY? That officer had no right giving me a ticket. (Now I am talking rhetorically here. I haven't received a ticket.)

People are also impatient. They do not want to wait for the person ahead of them or next to them. Each person feels that they are in a bigger hurry than anyone else or they are more important that any of the other drivers, or that their life is of greater worth than anyone else's. Therefore it doesn't matter how they drive, as long as "they" get to their destination quicker and more efficiently that the others on the road. "Get out of my way! I'm coming through!" seems to be the mantra that most drivers follow.

What have I learned? We are a selfish, self-centered people who think of themselves more than anyone else. (There are exceptions to the rule but for the most part, I believe it is true.) We are a people who feel that we are above rules and regulations, a people who deserve to have things go our way in the way we want it to go in the time we want it to happen. We don't like anyone telling us what to do or how to do it.

In the end, I have learned what I already knew - we are sinners. Do you doubt it? Just take a drive to St. Louis, and you will find yourself as a sinner in the midst of sinners doing what comes natural - sinning.

And it is for this reason that we have a Savior.

Monday, January 27, 2014

January 2014

This morning it is cold once again, perhaps not as cold as it cold have been, but it is cold nonetheless. When it gets down into the teens and has a wind chill that takes you to zero or below, that is cold! We have really had the cold weather this January. I wasn't expecting to have below zero temperatures but we have had them. I don't remember a winter this cold for quite some time.

(Here the picture goes fuzzy and another time comes into focus, a time when I was much younger, had much redder hair and a moustache that was deep red.) In the winter of 83, I can remember driving from St. Louis to Decatur in my Olds Delta 88, light green with a vinyl top, after spending a weekend in St. Louis with Penny and two of our friends. It was the week before Christmas. I was attending classes as a student studying for the pastoral ministry at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Penny and our two friends came down to Christmas shop and to enjoy the food that St. Louis gives. We were driving back to St. Louis in the dark. It had snowed sometime before that so it was white outside, clear as could be. (I would say the full moon was high in the sky lighting up things so that with the snow on the ground, you could see a mouse running wildly from the owl that was out to have a feast - but I don't remember if that was the case so I won't.) That old car, a 69, had a big old engine that always heated the car nicely, except that night it was cold in the car. I can remember Penny trying to stay warm as we drove along. Now remember, this was the time before you had the car telling you what the temp outside was or a Iphone that would tell you what the temp of the town was, so we didn't know how could it was. We decided to take 55 to 72 instead of driving up highway 48 through Taylorville (which would one day become the road we would  drive because I would be pastor at Harvel, IL). As we got close to Springfield, there was a bank with the time/temp sign. As we drove past, the sign said -18! Really! It was that cold. At that moment, we realized why the old Green Lizard (the name of the car) wasn't keeping us warm. Boy was it cold! It makes me shiver just thinking about it.

(Fade from that scene to another scene.) It is Christmas 1985 and we are living rural Osage, IA. I was vicar at St. John's Lutheran Church, a dear congregation that holds such fond memories for both of us. There was snow on the ground, had been since the 1st Friday in November when we had 9 inches of snow in the first snow of the season. We were learning what it was like to live in the rural area of Iowa. Christmas Eve came and we had the late service. It was cold, really cold. I can't tell you how cold because this was pre-internet and pre-cell phone and being a vicar, we didn't have thermometer to tell us what the temp was. I do know that it was below zero and there was snow on the ground. The skies were clear as crystal. The stars were shining brightly in the sky as we came out of church that night. Our breath would form a cloud of vapor in the cold air. As you breathed in that air, you realized how cold it really was. Looking up at the stars, I felt that it was the perfect Christmas Eve. In my mind, I could see the stable, the manger, the animals and a man named Joseph kneeling next to the manger, holding in his arms a bundle of cloths in which there was a newborn baby. There was the Child's mother, having just given birth (which I really had no clue what that was like as I was only married for under a year and half and we had no children nor were any children soon to be born to us). I felt like singing "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger." And right there, the stars in the sky looked down where He lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay." I knew then what I know now, my Savior was born (not on such a bitter cold night but that bitter cold, still night air, just made for the picture perfect, memory making Christmas Eve). 

(Fade back to present day) And having those memories makes me shiver again. It is cold out there, no doubt. Perhaps not as cold as it cold be, but cold enough for me. I am glad that we are getting this cold weather now, in the month of January. I am hoping and praying that when March gets here, the cold will be a thing of the past and Spring will come with its warm temps and beautiful days. I long for them as I pull on my sweater, knowing that I need layers to stay warm today. Will my hands ever warm up I wonder as I walk out the door going over to St Paul's Ministry Center to say good morning to our teachers.

Be safe. Stay warm. And revisit those wonderful memories of colder times that you might have, and long for those warm days sitting on the beach, listening to the waves wash up on the shore while the seagull cries overhead.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Life Today

Forty one years and 55 million deaths later, we are still facing a crisis in our nation. It was forty one years ago that the Supreme Court struck down the laws that made abortion illegal in our country. In the Roe v. Wade decision on January 22, 1973 abortion became a very real option for women who found themselves pregnant with a child they did not want.

I can't imagine that last statement - pregnant with a child they did not want. How can you not want a child? I don't say that flippantly or without sensitivity to the challenge that a crisis pregnancy brings to the life of a woman or girl. The child might not be "planned" by the couple. The child might be an inconvenience to the life of the couple. The child will change the life of the couple (their lives are already changed by the fact that they have been engaged in a sexual relationship, generally one that is outside the realm of marriage). The mother and the father will never again be the same - whether or not they end the life of the baby.

I have never been in a crisis pregnancy situation. I have never had to face what life would be like having a child that wasn't planned. I do know what it is like to lose a child, as our first child died through a miscarriage. That really caused me to go into an emotional tailspin that only the Lord was able to correct. I also know what it is like to not be raised by my birth parents, to be raised by someone else other than the ones that gave me life. Was I "unwanted"? Would I have been aborted if they had not wanted me because they were having too much trouble in their relationship (I was only 3 when they divorced). I don't have answers to those questions.

We do have a crisis in our nation today. It is a crisis that has led to the death of over 55 million children. The crisis is that we do not follow the Lord in our lives. Abortion is just the end result of not following the Lord. What leads to abortion is a desire to fulfill the desires of the heart - the desires that lead to making the self and self-fulfillment our god. The crisis is truly a spiritual crisis that leads to premarital and extramarital sexual relations which leads to "unwanted" pregnancy and ultimately to the crisis of abortion. It isn't just about the 55 million babies who have been murdered but about the 55 million women who have had their lives affected by a sexual relationship with a man they either did or did not "love" but they did desire (a very small percentage of abortions are done for reason of a pregnancy by rape or incest) at the moment but didn't desire to have a child by him. 55 million men have been affected by an ungodly sexual relationship with a woman who was not their wife and then to have the knowledge (or maybe they didn't even know) that their child has been killed, either with their support or without their support.

The crisis is a spiritual crisis because we are not living our lives in accord with the will of our heavenly Father. We are not following the way He would have us live our lives. That is the real crisis. The death of over 55 million children is only the result of our selfish, self-centered lives that make sex and sexual fulfillment and sexual activity our god.

Today, as thousands of voices speak out for the unborn against the atrocity of abortion, they should also be speaking words of love from God for those who suffer with the aftermath of abortion or those who are struggling with their current situation of life. The love God reaches to all people - the forgiveness of Christ is for all, no matter their sin. We need to proclaim the wonder of the gospel and the new life that it brings to those who are hurting. We cannot forget the 55 million children that are gone. But we MUST also remember the 55 million women and the 55 million men who need to know the love of Christ in their lives.

Will our country ever overturn the legalization of abortion? Probably not. Yet we don't need the government to legislate the truth about the life of the unborn. We, Christians, need to speak the truth in love and proclaim to a world around us that the only God that will fill the void of our empty lives is the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sin no more?

"Sin no more." When you read that, I wonder if you are like me, and think about what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery. "Go and sin no more." If so, just to let you know up front, that isn't what I was actually thinking when I came up with that title for this post.

"Sin no more." In today's culture, we do not see things as sin. There is "no more" sin. There is just personal choice and personal preference. You might not like something but just because it is not your preference doesn't mean it is wrong. We have made "sin" a relative thing and therefore, because we have come to that point in our culture, we can say "Sin no more." There is no more sin.

This is shown in many ways and in many places. "I personally don't think abortion is correct, but if someone wants to have one, who am I to say it is wrong?" "Homosexuality is not wrong, it is just another way of expressing your sexuality." "Why do you need to be married to live together, after all, marriage is just a piece of paper." "If God made marijuana, He must have wanted us to use it." And perhaps you can add some other statements that you have heard - or perhaps that you have even said or thought.

Sin is relative. Just because someone else doesn't like what you are doing doesn't make it wrong. It is just a personal preference. Sin no more.

The thing that is wrong with this thinking is that it takes God out of the equation. Morality is no longer set by God but by man. Right and wrong are no longer guided by a Higher Authority but by personal feelings and desires. We have removed God from the morality of our nation and because of that, sin has disappeared. We no longer call sin, sin. Instead it is preference.

This didn't just happen with the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. Nor did this just begin with the current debate about same sex marriage. It didn't start with Roe v. Wade in 1973 nor did it begin with the free sex movement in the 60's. It didn't happen because of the stringent rules of morality in the 40's and 50's or come about because of the Roaring 20's. We have to go back much further than that.

We actually need to return to a garden, a tree, a serpent and two people - Adam and Eve. "Did God really say..." Satan asked Eve. "Did God really say that you shouldn't eat from this tree?" Did God really set the rules of right and wrong? Did He really fence you in and make it to where you cannot express yourself or live to the fullest capacity that you desire? Are you really going to allow God to set the morality of your life? And at that moment, when Eve took from that tree and ate the fruit, when she gave it to Adam and he ate, right there, when sin entered in the world, mankind was saying, "Sin no more." Sin was not a sin, it was just a personal choice to be made. And while God might have said that eating the fruit of that tree was a sin, Adam and Eve did not. They saw it as an opportunity to live life to the fullest, to live life like they wanted to live it, without any restraints, rules or guidelines. No one was going to tell them what was good for them. They would decide that themselves.

And so we find ourselves following in our parents footsteps. Abortion is not seen as a sin but a choice. Homosexuality is not an abomination but a way of life. Open sexual actions in a mall dressing room is not wrong but an expression of love between teens. Living together outside of marriage is accepted because it is much better than getting married. Cursing is not wrong but an expression of self. Hatred is not wrong but is just a way of expressing oneself. (I thought I would slip that one in to see if you were paying attention.) You would say hatred is wrong but what if it is my way expressing myself about my dislike of another person - how can you condemn me? It is my new morality to be able to hate someone and you can't say it s wrong. Really? Yep, because if we can't call sin a sin, then you can't tell me that I wrong to hate someone. That is just your opinion and while you might tell me that I must love that person, I don't have to. My choice, not yours.

I disagree with that last statement, but that, my friends, is where we are at. Why can we call one thing that God says is wrong a sin and not another? Either God sets the morality in all issues or He doesn't. Sexuality, life issues, race relations, personal feelings about others, how we talk, how we act, all that we do - God has already told us right and wrong. We really shouldn't pick and chose at which ones we want to follow.

Sin is still a sin no matter what society says. It is still wrong to kill unborn. It is still wrong to have sex with someone of the same sex. It is still wrong to have sex outside of marriage. It is still wrong to hate someone else. It is still wrong to abuse someone. It is still wrong to...why? Because God said so in His Word.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Thoughts, thoughts and more thoughts - not all at once.

As I have been preparing for the next round of residential work in pursuit of the D.Min., I have been amazed at the reading that I have had to do - not the amount of it but the insight of it. Much of what I have read I would never have touched in the work of regular parish ministry. There is too much going on in daily congregation life to spend much time on reading some of the books and articles in preparation for the residential work. After all, weekly sermons need preparation (not just thrown together at the last minute), services need worked out (so they are uplifting for those who attend worship), Bible studies need to be prepared (with the supporting study and work), visitations need to be made, classes need to be taught, children need to be shown the wonder of the life in Christ (as they world around them tells them that living in Christ isn't worth it), meetings need to be prepared for and attended, follow up needs to be done, hospitals and nursing homes need to be visited, phone calls need to be made, and so on. Who has time to read about the "Global South" or "The Domestication of Transcendence"? Ugh. I wouldn't do it on a normal day. So I was challenged to do in preparation for next week.

And in doing so, I have been challenged, refocused, overturned and frustrated. All of those feelings and more run through me as I prepare for the two classes I will be taking. I am glad that I am being challenged because it makes me rethink and rework what it means to be a Christian and a pastor. It leads me to wonder about the state of Christianity today. It frustrates me in the I see much of what is being said as being true and not being able to make the changes needed in our churches today. I can understand what is being said and yet I can also see that there is no way that we, modern Christians in North America, will listen to what is being said. We are content in the type of Christianity that we have developed. It is very self-centered, me oriented and when it doesn't go our way (in health, work, finances, personal life, sex, play, life and death) we turn on God, try to remake Him, challenge Him and even "damn" Him. He is not "God" to us. He is not the One that we turn to in life and death. He is no longer seen as the One who truly knows what is important. Nor is Christian faith seen as the ultimate goal - life in heaven through death and resurrection. It is all about now, what I want, and when I want it.

How do you change that thinking? When I look at the Global South (Africa, Asia, Latin America), I am amazed at  how they view the Word, God and faith. We "moderns" would say they are backwards and behind the times. But are they? Are we not leaving behind the faith when we discard the Word, when we make religion in our image and when we bring God down to us (refusing to let Him remain God).

Just saying. Just wondering. Just challenged in my own personal life of faith. Just challenged as a pastor. Thanks Lord, for the challenge.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

One more time

Hello again. One more time I am saying that we will not school on Wednesday, Jan. 8th due to the poor condition of the roads in the Troy area. Be safe out there. Watch out when you do get out because it will be a mess on the sidewalks and in the parking lots.

I plan on being in the office in the morning. Catching up on the things I put off during the holidays. Oh how I am ready to get back to a regular routine. School will return on Thursday. We will see you all then.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Another Snow Day

Hello all! School will be closed again on Tuesday, January 7th. It is still cold, snowy. They are working to get our walks cleared and the parking lot open. John Stille is plowing our parking lots. Thanks John! Todd Moore and Curtis Moore will be cleaning the walks this evening. Thanks guys!

Be warm, watch out when you get out, because I know that you will. School will be open on Wednesday, January 8th. Chapel will be at 9:00 a.m. And we will hit the ground running. I am sure that our teachers are preparing an exciting and uplifting time for all our students. They are getting ready to teach our students in the 2nd half of the year. So parents, let's get our kiddos ready and face the rest of this school year.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Snowy Sunday

Just to let you know, the worship services and SS/Bible class has been cancelled on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014 due to inclement weather. God be with all of you.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Welcome 2014

A new year has begun! I know that isn't news to you as you have already been through one day of 2014, but it is exciting to enter into a new year. What will this year hold? What will happen? Will all the things that I have planned come to fruition? What things will fail? Will this be a healthy year? Will there be sickness?

Within the congregation of St. Paul's, we can ask those very same questions. There have been goals set by the Planning Council. What will happen to those goals? Will we meet them? What will need to be adjusted due to situations that we couldn't foresee? Then comes the question of health - who will be healthy this year and who won't? What children will be born this year? Who will pass away? When the year comes to a close, what changes will have taken place?

That is one of the things that concerns us when it comes to the start of a new year, or even the start of a new venture - the unknown. We can make all the plans we want but we do not know how they will play out. IT is like today, we have been planning on taking Penny's mother to Bloomington to meet the sister from Chicago. She will then go on to Chicago with the sister. It is a good plan, except that it snowed overnight. There are several inches of snow here in Troy and more to the north. Wasn't counting on that! It won't stop us but it will make it to where we will have to take it much easier traveling to the north. You just don't know what will happen to your plans.

In cases like this, as in everyday life, I find it best to say with the words of Scripture, "Lord willing, we will do..." "Lord willing I will see you tomorrow." Lord willing I will drive to Bloomington today." I know that for many people, they do not see how the omniscient, omnipotent God could get involved in the trivial affairs of mankind. Does He really care about what I do on a day to day basis? Or does He leave some of that up to the whims and the foibles of fate? The answer is that as hard as it is to understand (or explain), God is involved in our day-to-day life. He does not withdraw His hand from our lives. At the same time, He has given us free will to chose what we are going to do. That really gets overwhelming to figure out. I just spend time reading a book that dealt with this very issue and let me tell you, theologians, philosophers and many others have spent years trying to give an answer to how this might be and in the end, it comes down to faith - trusting the Word of the Lord and letting God be God. So I do say, "Lord willing, I will..." And I know that the Lord is with me in whatever happens - whether I get to do the specific thing or not.

Sorry for waxing so philosophical this morning. That is just where my mind went. Know this, the Lord is with you this year, just like He was with you last year. I have some thoughts on that too. Perhaps I will share those tomorrow.

Have yourself a great 2014. Know that the Lord is with you in whatever happens. The epistle reading from New Year's Eve worship is so wonderful. Romans 8:31-39. In all things you are more than conquerors. As Christ Jesus has overcome, so in Him, you too will overcome. Neither height nor depth, the present nor the future, neither life nor death is able to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. If you believe in Jesus, then you are His and He is with you in whatever happens. Never forget that!

A blessed and wonderful 2014 to you. I look forward to whatever this year brings.