Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Year End Ramblings from the Chief of Ramblers

Good morning (or afternoon or evening, whenever you read this-it was written in the morning) to you all. 2015 as a year is coming to a close. We have only a day and half before we begin a brand new year. Have you looked back over 2015 yet? Have you spend any time in reflection? I have to say, I just started doing that today. One thing I do like is that on Facebook, there is the app that lets you see what you posted in the years prior. That has been kind of fun to do. I am amazed at all the things I learned that I did in the past years. Next year, I will be looking back over 2015 and saying, "Oh yeah, we did that. I forgot all about that."

There are things that you would like to forget about the year, and yet, having said that, I cannot say that 2015 was a year that I am happy to see go. Even with all the sickness during the year, I do not find that 2015 was a disappointing or challenging year. I think back on some of the tough years - 1987/88, 1999 - and I would say they were difficult. But 2015 was really an all right year.

Having said that, I know that I faced challenges. I had months of chest pain that went unchecked. After 2 heart caths and 1 additional stint, the pain continued. Most people didn't know that for the months of February - April and July - August, I struggle with pain that just wouldn't end. During the summer months, I should have taken stock out in the nitro because of how much I was taking just to make it through the days. I give thanks that one of the mothers of a child in Penny's preschool class works in the heart office at Washington University hospital and she got me an appointment for the next week. Dr. Vader checked me out, suggested a change in medication, and after changing the dosage a month later, by September, I was pain free! Since then, I have not had to take the nitro. I rejoice at that. I feel good and even while Penny asks me, "How is the chest," I find that I can say, "Good. No pain." That is true even after the great flood of December 2015. All the vacuuming and furniture moving and still the heart did well. I give all glory to God that He has given us doctors who know what they are doing and medicine that is able to do the job.

I realize that you might not be pain free. I pray for you. I pray for relief for you even as I prayed for myself day after day. I pray that the Lord will give you relief and if that is not the answer to your prayer, I pray that He gives you the strength to be able to face each day. Not every prayer we offer to the Lord comes back the way we want. But it is answered in the way that He knows is best for us. Hard to remember that when you hurt or don't feel well yet that is where faith comes into play. We live by faith. The Lord has never said that we will get a "yes" to every answer. He does promise to be with us in all we face and in all our struggles. I prayed for my mother to get better in 1999, and that happened. She passed away and went to heaven. She got LOTS better, just not in the way that I wanted to have happen. What do you do in those moments, you ask the Lord to give you the faith and the strength to accept His direction. I had to do that back in 1988. I would never have dreamed that the mess that happened that year would turn out to make me the pastor I am today. Yet, through all that terrible time, He worked in Penny and my lives in ways we could not understand, taking us to places we never dreamed. From that time we moved to Harvel, Ferrin and Altamont, each of which were a blessing in themselves and then finally brought us here to Troy. I keep praying, "Lord, let me retire here at Troy." And boy do I hope that that the answer to that prayer is a resounding "yes." Only another 13-15 years before that is possible. It has already been 7 years, very quick years, and so we will see.

These are ramblings, aren't they? I am still working on the Doctor of Ministry. I do feel that it has already helped me to be a better preacher, which was my goal. I hope you think that as well. Each sermon I preach I pray that the Spirit would guide my thoughts, words and heart to present the message of the Gospel to the congregation in a way that will lift them and help them to grow in faith and trust in their Lord. I think I have had some good sermons and I know that I have had some klunkers. The real joy of preaching is that even when the sermon itself stinks, the Holy Spirit can use it to help someone to grow in faith in their Lord Jesus Christ. That always amazes me. The Spirit is powerful and works in ways that are overwhelming. All praise and glory be to God!

All right, enough rambling for the day. Maybe more tomorrow, we will see. Looking back over the year, I can say, "Yes, Lord, it has been a year that You have been lifted up and that You have blessed. You have strengthened and forgiven. You have loved and You have guided. 2015 was the Lord's year in which I was privileged to live. Thank You Lord."

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas

"So this is Christmas," croons John Lennon. As I listen to that song, I find myself somewhat melancholy. As I look at the Christmas tree and the decorations, as I listen to the commercials and see the lines at the stores, I often find myself singing that opening line from the song. (I am not a fan of John Lennon's music but this line runs through my head.) So this is Christmas, as I watch people with carts full of stuff for gifts to people who probably won't care what they received only that they have a stack of stuff to look at and then shove off into a corner.

Kinda sound like I am cynical when it comes to Christmas. I am not. Actually, I love Christmas and all the things that surround it - the decorations, the songs, the gifts,the gaiety, and all the other things that are a part of Christmas. I have been watching the sappy Hallmark Christmas movies (that all have the same story line, just different characters and settings). I sing "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" and drive my family crazy by whistling Christmas songs even when it isn't Christmas.

But as I think about Christmas in the world, I think "so this is Christmas?" Then I think about it from the point of view that I have no right to think about - from God's perspective. I am not God nor do I try to speak for Him. But I wonder what He would think about the way that the world approaches Christmas. Gifts and debts. "I want, I want, I want." You owe it me. I deserve it. I need it. I, I, I. The focus becomes me, what I want and how you have do everything you can to give it to me. If you don't, I will be upset and throw a fit, become angry, never talk to you again.

Why would the Son of God step down from His throne in heaven and become a child in a world that doesn't want Him or care about Him? Why would God become incarnate, become human? We humans are unkind, terrible people. Oh, it is true, there are those brief moments in which someone will do something wonderful. A person will drop a gold coin in the Salvation Army kettle and it will make news (though they begin to expect it to happen and are disappointed when a kind person doesn't do what they expect). Someone might pull together a group of folks to help out a poor family who has lost everything to a nasty person who has taken all they had in their house. We give thanks for that person or persons who help out in those situations. But we forget about the nasty, terrible people who rob, steal, mame, brutalize and kill day after day all because they are lost in their self, their drug habit, their gang culture, their self-centered life that says "I have the right to take from you what is yours because I want it and am stronger and more ruthless than you."  Over and over again we hear about the rottenness of this world. People live in squalor all year long and society does nothing for them until Christmas time and then they are forgotten for another year. Children are abused and neglected and society is too self-centered to really do anything to help them. (Yes, there are some who work year round to help out but those are few and far between.) Families are torn apart because of self-centered desires that say, "I no longer love you but now I love this other person. Good bye." And the description of the woes of society could go on and on.

Why would God come into this world of sin and death? It is for that very reason, because the world is full of sin and death. "We all like sheep have gone astray." Even the most "nice" of us people (and I would like to think I am one of those nice people, who avoids helping others through out the year because I have my own things to face, oops, I guess maybe I am not that nice after all) are not that nice really. We focus on ourselves, our desires and leave others to fend for themselves.

THAT is exactly why He comes into the world. We cannot help ourselves. We are lost in our sins and we need Him. He is born for us, for our forgiveness and salvation. He comes into an imperfect world as the perfect sacrifice. The Son of God comes because He loves us so much He doesn't want us to be lost in the muck and mire of sin but to have life, love and salvation.

Christmas is all about the coming of our Savior. It is about the greatest gift of all. It is about the love of God for a world that doesn't love Him. "So this is Christmas" is really saying that there is one thing about Christmas that is glorious - the birth of the Christ-child. Christmas is a wonder, a wonder that God could love a world so much that He became a human in order to save the world. When I get melancholy about Christmas, I stop and remember what God has really done and then I feel the joy once again. He has loved me. He has saved me. He has given me a family to love and to be loved by, He has placed me in a congregation of people that I love and care for and that love and care for me and my family, He has given me what I truly need - the gift of a Savior.

Merry Christmas! Christ is born! Gloria! Enjoy the time with family. Help out the less fortunate. Sing the songs, eat the candy and celebrate the wonder of the season. Yes, this is Christmas!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Christmas Cup vs. Coffee Cup

It amazes me at times, the controversies that develop. One recent one centers around Starbucks and their red Christmas season cup.

As you can see, it is a plain red cup with nothing else on it except the Starbucks symbol. Why is this a problem, you ask? Thanks for asking. Christians have become upset that there is no mention of Christmas, no Holy Family, no "Merry Christmas" or any other symbol of Christmas on this cup. The problem with this is that this means that Starbucks is attacking Christians and trying to remove Christmas and by virtue of that action means that they are trying to remove Christ from Christmas. We can't have that!

I have read arguments put forward. I have watched a video where a man (and to be honest, I have no recollection as to who he is) advocated telling the staff when they ask for a name to put on the cup, to say your name is "Merry Christmas." The reason? So that Merry Christmas will be on the Starbucks cup.

Is this really an issue worth all the time and press? Is it really worth Dunkin' Donuts weighing in with their Christmas cup?
As you can see, Dunkin' Donuts holiday cup is blatantly Christmasy and therefore means they support Christ and Christmas and everyone should buy their coffee from Dunkin' Donuts this year.

Really? I mean, really? Is this really an issue? Is this an attack on Christianity and on Christmas? Or is it a secular company meeting the needs of the people who buy their overpriced coffee at this time of the year? I don't think Dunkin' Donuts cup is any more Christmasy than Starbucks. It has a donut as a "wreath" and it has green and red "JOY." Is that Christmas? A donut as a wreath is Christmas? Or is it the word "joy" that makes it Christmasy? If you ask me, there is no difference between Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts. Both are secular companies selling coffee to people during the Christmas season.

Can we, as Christians, dictate to Starbucks what their cups should look like at Christmas? If we can demand that, can't the Muslim demand that they make cups to reflect their feelings at Christmas, which is that they want nothing to do with Christmas at all. So remove the cups! But wait, what about Hanukkah? And Kwanzaa? What about the atheist? What could they demand to be put on the cup? Merrry Un-Christmas?

Folks, get a grip! Starbucks is not a Christian Church, selling coffee to Christians in order to make a confession of faith which states that they believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God incarnate. Starbucks is a company out to sell you coffee at some ridiculous price in order to make money. What color their cup is, what is on their cup, is no reflection on anything. If they were to make their cups with snowflakes on it, would that make you happy? Or would that not be Christian enough?

How about this? Instead of getting upset with Starbucks, why not avoid buying that coffee and taking the money that you save and put it to use helping out the local food pantry in buying food for families that have none? Or maybe, instead of hanging out at Starbucks on Sunday morning, why not go to your house of worship, spend time worshiping the Christ of Christmas and studying His Word? We have coffee at our Bible study. It doesn't cost you anything and is served in, gasp, a plain white cup. Oh no! Now the Lutheran Church is attacking Christ by not having anything Christian on the cups. Really? That is the same silly argument that is made against Starbucks, and the Lutheran Church IS Christian. Why don't we have "Merry Christmas" on our cups? Why is not the Holy Family on what we serve our coffee in?

Let me ask you this: Can you expect a non-Christian company to profess Christ? Of course not. Can you expect a Christian to profess Christ? Yes indeed. So are you confessing your faith in Christ? When you complain about the cup, are you telling the person you are complaining to, "Jesus is my Lord and Savior. He loves me so much that He came into the world as a child, born at the time we celebrate as Christmas. I love Him so much that I spend every day in His Word and talking to Him in prayer. I worship Him every week as I attend worship at (here place the name of your church, that is, if you can remember where you worship). I would like to invite you to come to know Jesus as your Lord and Savior." When was the last time you did that? If not, then perhaps the problem isn't the fact that Starbucks is using a plain red cup, but the problem is that you, as a Christian, are waning a secular company to tell people about Jesus so that you don't have to. It isn't their job. They are in it for the money. It is your "job" as a Christian to be telling others about Christ. Are you?

Let's quit arguing about the cups used by companies that are out to get our money and let's start living, talking and acting like the Christians we are called to be.

Merry Christmas! I know, it is early, but you are already getting your red cup from Starbucks and your white "JOY" cup from Dunkin' Donuts so I figure you want to hear that greeting already. (By the way, I got so busy writing this blog that I forgot to drink my tea, the tea I made, which I am drinking in a non-Christian cup that has a picture of a train on it. Gasp! Don't worry, I still believe in Jesus.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Turning the World Upside Down

I have read this before. This isn't the first time that I have spent time reading the book of Acts. Don't ask me why I returned to it this time but I have. Every time that I read one of the books of the Bible, I run across something that really strikes me, something that I have read before but didn't take notice. This time I did.

I was reading in Acts 17, about Paul and Silas in Thessalonica. Something was said about them (though they couldn't find Paul and Silas and had Jason dragged before the magistrate instead) there in Thessalonica which had also been said in Philippi. They said, "These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also..." (Acts 17:6 ESV).

They have turned the world upside down. That is exactly what the Gospel does. It turns the world upside down. It is confusing to the world, to the unbeliever because it takes and changes everything. In Christ, a person is given forgiveness. This seems so wrong. It is undeserved and unmerited, and yet it is given to you. Forgiveness is given not because you have earned it, nor have you deserved it. It is given entirely and completely by the grace of God. It is a free gift, given through Jesus' blood and merit.

More than that, faith in Jesus is a free gift, given by the Holy Spirit. It is only when the Spirit moves in your heart and brings you into that relationship with Jesus Christ that you can say, "Jesus is Lord." This makes no sense. It turns our world upside down. "I should be able to bring myself to faith," we think to ourselves. But we can't. The Spirit must change our hearts and lives.

He does this (and this really turns our world upside down) through His Means of Grace - Word and Sacraments (Baptism/Lord's Supper). He works through these means to bring us to faith and keep us in the faith. Now that really turns our world upside down. The Spirit works through means, through word, through water & word, through bread and wine? Impossible! But that is exactly how He works.

And there we are, facing the same thing as the people in Philippi and Thessalonica. Our world is turned upside down by the message of the Gospel. How do we respond? It through them into a frenzy, facing something they couldn't comprehend or accept. You? Me? What does it do to us?

It turns my world upside down. And I am glad for it. I praise God that my salvation does not rely upon me and my actions. I give all glory to Jesus Christ for saving me. I lift up the Holy Spirit as the One who has worked in my heart and life, and continues to work in my life.

A world turned upside down. That is truly what we need today.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Weeding the Garden

It is that time of the summer when the weeds begin to grow in earnest. It isn't that they haven't been growing up till now. They have. It is is just that at this point in the growing season, there are several things that have happened that make the weeds more prevalent.

Early in the growing season, it was easy to hoe the ground to keep the weeds from taking hold. The plants that are part of the garden were small. It was easy to get between the rows. So hoeing was easy and readily done. The ground was also not quite so hard. The heat of the summer hadn't dried out the ground. Nor had the rains come and packed down the earth. So hoeing was not difficult. IT could be accomplished in a short time and with little effort.

But now, the ground is different. There has been heat (not as much as usual but it has still happened) so the top has hardened. The rains have come - boy have they come! June was one of the wettest on record here in the Troy and metro area. And then there was the time away. First the vacation and then the LWML convention - both in the month of June.

So what happened to the garden. After the early June hoeing, it stopped. I didn't have time to hoe while VBS was going. Then I left for the LWML convention in late June. The plants had grown to where there green beans made it hard to find the rows and the zucchini and summer squash had grown large enough that it is difficult to see the ground underneath the leaves. And I just didn't get out and do the work that needed to be done.

So this morning, as I looked at the garden, I thought to myself, "Boy, those weeds have really begun to grow and take over the open ground. The egg plant was surrounded by grass and weeds. The tomatoes were overcome by the Bermuda grass with it's tendrils reaching out from the yard into the garden area. The grass has grown tall under the blackberry bushes. And overall, it looks like I have my work cut out for me if I am going to keep my garden weed free. Perhaps I can talk Penny into...well, maybe she and I can both work in the garden.

This got me thinking (does that surprise you?). This last week the Supreme Court brought the full force of the federal government into the issue of same-sex marriage. It is now legal for same sex couples to get married. This is an attack on the God-given gift of marriage of one man and one woman in marriage. Many people have responded to this decision. There have been cries of anguish from the many Christians as they realize that the Christian Church will be forced to perform same sex marriages. (There will be a whole host of penalties forced upon the Church when it doesn't perform these ceremonies, all of which are intended to either force the Church to leave behind the God-given direction on marriage found in the Word or to close their doors. Satan rejoices!) There were cries of joy from those who support same-sex marriage. People changed their profile pictures on Facebook to be rainbow colored in support of the decision. (I am still not sure how the symbol of God's promise became a symbol of man's sin. Once gain, Satan giggles with glee).

So how did the garden get me thinking about same-sex marriage? This is like the weeds in the garden. This last week was like me this morning looking and realizing the weeds were taking over. I will have a lot of hard work to try to get rid of the weeds. And in reality, the weeds will continue to be a part of the garden until the growing season is finished. Then the weeds will continue after the plants have been pulled up. In the end, After I have removed all the plants in the fall, I will need to spray the garden with weed killer in order to finally get rid of the weeds.

Same-sex marriage didn't just happen last week. Same-sex relationships didn't just start last week. The attack on the God-given plan of marriage didn't begin last week. Like the weeds, this has been going for quite some time. Christians have often turned a blind eye, been too busy and just didn't care what was going on. The attack on marriage began when we said it was all right for heterosexual couples to engage in sex outside of marriage. When the 60's brought the free sex culture into the mainstream, the attack was begun. When Christians sat back and didn't say anything when couples began living together outside of marriage, the attack became more intense. As it became acceptable for divorce to take place, no fault and easy divorces, it was being said that marriage was not sacred (I know there are many reasons that people have been divorced, but remember, that is not what God intended!). All of this was by heterosexual people, not same-sex couples, that this attack on marriage was taking place. We were saying, "Marriage is sacred, just not that sacred. It is only a piece of paper after all. Why do we need to be married to engage in sex, to live together, to separate from each other." And the sacredness of marriage was being taken apart. The weeds were growing and taking over.

Then the Supreme Court said it was legal to have same-sex marriage. And Christians cried "Foul!" But wait, this is just the result of the Christian Church not weeding the garden all along. These weeds were there but we sat back and did nothing. We actually accepted the dismantling of marriage by heterosexual people but then are upset when homosexual people take marriage apart even further.

So where do we go? We return to the Word of God. We begin to work to clean up the understanding of marriage in Church and society. Will it be possible to return to a Biblical understanding of marriage? Honestly? No. (Are you surprised by that?) Why? Because when people taste the forbidden fruit they do not want to return to the way of the Lord. This will only be cleared up when the Lord returns on the Last Day and separates the sheep from the goats. And know this, it will not be based on how you were in marriage but how your heart is in relationship to Jesus Christ.

There will be heterosexuals in heaven and in hell. There will be homosexuals in heaven and in hell. What is the determining factor? It isn't did you hold to the sanctity of marriage? It will be, "Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior." Salvation is still based in Christ and not in our actions.

More thoughts to come.

Monday, May 25, 2015


Yes that says "morality" and not "mortality." It is easy to get to the two confused. One talks about the way we live and the other talks about the fact that we might not live at all. I would like to address the former and not the latter. But in the end, the one leads to the other according to our Lord or perhaps it would be better to say a lack of the former leads to the latter. Let me explain.

I was reading about the recent vote in Ireland to may same-sex marriage legal. It was an overwhelming vote of 2-1 to legal same sex marriage. I was reading the BBC report on what took place and this sentence struck me: "In Ireland debates about morality tend to be rooted in religion. The discussion about same sex marriage was no exception." I would have to agree with most of this statement. The part that threw me was when in said "debates about morality tend to be rooted in religion." I would have to say that discussion about morality "should" be rooted in religion but in reality they "tend" to be rooted in emotionalism.

What I mean by this is that when one discusses such moral issues as same-sex marriage, abortion, safe sex, race, etc. it is the emotions that tend to guide the discussion. When talking about abortion, the question is asked, "Do you think that an unwanted fetus should be brought into this world only to be abused or neglected by the person who has no time to have a child in her life? Don't you think the woman has the right to do with her body what she wants? Are you trying to tell her how to live her life and what to do with her life?" In the discussion on sex outside of marriage the question is asked, "When two people love each other they should be able to express that love fully and completely in any way that they desire. Who are we to tell someone that they cannot make love with the one they love. Would you want someone telling you that you can't make love to your husband/wife? Why should you tell someone that they cannot make love to the one they love?" That same argument can go with same-sex relationships. "Don't you think that a couple that loves each other should be able to show that great expression of love by being able to marry?"

In the end, the question that trumps all other questions is, "Don't you love that person? Don't you want what is best for them? Then why would you refuse to allow him/her to (fill in the blank)?" It is no longer about what is morally right or wrong but about how you feel about the situation. If you feel it is right, it is right. But you better not feel that it is wrong, for then you unloving, uncaring and a radical right wing person who doesn't care about the other person.

Notice what is missing from the discussion - what does God say? While it says in the article that discussion on morality in Ireland "tend" to involve religion, I would have to say that discussions about morality in the USA "avoid" involving religion. No longer is it asked, "What does God say about this issue?" Even when the question is raised, the answer is given, "How can we know for sure?"

Indeed, how can we know for sure? Through His Word. That is how we know for sure. But can't it be interpreted differently? Sure it can. The reason it is interpreted differently is because we twist and turn the Word of God to fit our situation and when it disagrees with our situation, we ignore it and deny it all together. The people who are in support of same sex marriage accuse Paul of being homophobic (which takes everything he writes out of the discussion) and state that the words of the Old Testament are truncated and no longer applicable to today's world. At that moment, the Word of God is thrown out the window and the discussion returns to emotionalism. It goes back to how you feel about the situation and the only accepted way to feel about it is to accept it. To deny abortion, same-sex marriage, living together outside of marriage, and a whole host of other moral issues means that you are (once again) unloving, uncaring and a right wing radical who doesn't care about the other person.

No longer does the words "Thus says the Lord" carry any weight. No longer is the Word brought forward unless it can be twisted to fit the current moral situation. No longer is morality decided by the words, "I am the Lord" (spoken by God in His Word). Now it is decided by majority vote and by highly emotional discussions. It is legal and right for a same-sex couple to be married because we voted and it is right. No longer does what God say matter.

Morality - leads to mortality. Or perhaps I should say that sinful morality leads to mortality. Because of sin, we are mortal. Because Adam and Eve ate the fruit, we are mortal. Because our lives are guided by sin, we are mortal. We die because of sin. "The wages of sin is death." Why do our loved ones die? Because sin has corrupted our very being and leads to death. That sin leads to warped morality that leads to mortality.

Thanks be to God that He has sent His Son to be our Savior, to pay the price of our sins, to set right our foolishness and to give us forgiveness, life and salvation. Discussions on morality should involve religion but in our world today, they don't. Welcome to the 21st century.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

It Makes Me Think

This last weekend was the 7th Sunday of Easter. With this, the Easter season comes to a close. This coming weekend we celebrate the wonder of Pentecost. For most Easter has already faded into the background of life. It isn't an intentional thing that people do. I don't think there are very many Christians who consciously say, "I don't want to celebrate Easter any longer. It happened. It is over. Let's move on." I would imagine that if asked, most people would say that they hadn't even given it much thought at all. When they come to worship and hear the announcement: "The first reading for this, the 7th (or 2nd or 3rd or 5th) Sunday of Easter is..." they probably think to themselves, "Oh yeah, it is still the Easter season." So why do we forget about Easter so easily?

Life. Life gets in the way. Unless you are one of us preacher types (I mean that in the kindest way, speaking of pastors and other church professionals who spend our days leading people in the way of the Lord), you have a life outside of the church building. I imagine that you enjoy worship (I hope you are attending worship where you do enjoy the time you have in worship, whether it is traditional Lutheran, high church Lutheran or contemporary church Lutheran). Worship is that time when you can join with your fellow Christians in praising the Lord with words of songs, hymns and spiritual songs. It is a time when you can be fed from Word and Sacrament. It is a time when the pastor can proclaim the Law and Gospel in a powerful, uplifting sermon. It is a place where you can join your heart with other believers in words of prayer. Worship is that time that takes us away from the pressures of the common life.

But life gets in the way the rest of the time. You have to get up and go to work. The kids need to go to school and because it is the end of the school year, there are field trips, game days, special lunches and a whole host of other events that demand your time and attention. (Believe it or not, that is what happens in a pastor's household too!) Then there is the yard that needs attention - grass to mow, weeds to pull, ground to till, garden to plant, flowers to end and a whole host of other outdoor things that need to be done as spring turns to summer and the days get longer and warmer. Don't forget to wash the windows, clean the house and take care of the general needs of the family that never seem to stop.You know what I am talking about - life.

Life continues on it seems so hard to remember that it was the 7th Sunday of Easter. The celebration continues on, even now, 40+ days after Easter. How can you celebrate when you have all those other things going on?

And I think, that is exactly why our Lord came into this world as a man, taking on that which we face each day. He faced it. He had the pressures of day-to-day living. Moving from place to place, town to town, situation to situation, Jesus understands exactly what you are going through. This one is sick. This one is suffering. Don't forget the leper who is dying and the woman caught in adultery.Plus the pharisees who wanted to trap Him and the chief priests who wanted to stop Him from teaching and preaching. Then there was...the list could go on. Jesus understands the life you live. That, my friend, is why He came. He knows your struggles. He knows your weaknesses. He knows your (gasp) sin.

That is what makes Easter so absolutely wonderful. Even if we get busy with life and forget that we are still in the Easter season, the outcome of all Jesus did still is the same. Your remembering or your forgetting because of life, doesn't change what He did for you. He lived, died, and rose again for you, for your salvation, to give you what you need - forgiveness, life and salvation. Even if you forget because you are busy, that doesn't mean you have lost those gifts He has given you. It just reminds you that is why we go back to worship week after week - because we do have lives that cause us to let this great news slip from the front part of our thoughts. We return to worship to be reminded that our Lord loves us and hasn't forgotten us in the midst of our lives.

Yes, it is still Easter. It will be Easter even when Pentecost arrives. It will still be Easter through the long green season that is coming. It is Easter everyday for Christ is alive. He lives for us. (And to think, I had plans to write a whole different thing. Yep, Easter has a way of changing what our plans might be.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fiddling while Rome burns

All right, maybe Rome isn't burning but Baltimore sure did last night. Once again, sin has reared it's ugly head and destroyed lives. There was rioting in Baltimore last night. Why? It was following the funeral of Freddie Brown who died from injuries sustained in police custody. What happened to Freddie? I don't know. Did the police cause the injuries? I don't know. But I do know one thing, I will let the proper people figure it out. If there was wrong doing, it should be punished. That is the way it is meant to be.

So why riot and burn Baltimore? There is no reason. Just as there was no reason for the riots in Ferguson. To attack police is wrong. To burn other people's property is wrong. Are the people frustrated? Maybe there are some. I would venture to guess that the majority of the rioters really could care less about Freddie Brown just as the majority of the rioters could care less about Michael Brown. They just used this as an opportunity to go crazy, to burn some things, to attack those in authority, to hurt some people and to, well, let their sinful nature control their lives.

That's right. It is all about letting their sinful nature run amok. Our Lord tells us to love our enemies and do good to those who hurt us. That is the way of the Christian. We forgive. We uphold. We follow the way of the Lord. There was not a person in the rioting last night that was following the Lord. Were there Christians among the rioters? Probably. And they were sinning. The Lord would tell them to repent of their sins and not return to that sinful action.

This latest round of rioting in our country shows us one major problem - we are leaving behind the Lord. To act in such a way is to turn your back upon Him. You cannot do that and still say, "But I love Jesus." Read 1 John. Study it. Learn from it. We act as the Lord acts. When we fail, we confess our sins. As we confess our sins, we also ask that the Holy Spirit would work in our hearts and change us so that we don't do those things again.

What Baltimore needs is to return to the Lord. What Ferguson needs is to return to the Lord. What St. Louis needs is to return to the Lord. What Troy, IL needs is to return to the Lord. What we all need to do is return to the Lord. Daily we return to (wait for it) the waters of our Baptism. Daily the old sinful man must be drowned in those waters. Daily we need the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and lives. Until that happens, we will see riots in Baltimore and Ferguson and other places. Satan is hard at work.

Christians need to get to work, to share the Word, to proclaim Law and Gospel. Let's get busy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Confirmation: What does it mean for you?

This coming weekend, April 25/26, 2015, St. Paul's Lutheran Church will celebrate the confirmation of 7 young men and women. What is confirmation? It is a public rite of the church preceded by a period of instruction. It is a "rite," that which the church has formed for a specific purpose. The purpose of confirmation is that it is a public proclamation of the faith of those who are confirmed, giving them the opportunity to confess Christ before man. It is also a time when the young people are making the vow, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and after the time of instruction, that they will remain faithful to the confession that they are making. They ask the Lord to empower them to continue to remain faithful to Christ in word and deed.

The period of instruction that is spoken of in the definition that we had in the opening paragraph is the class in which we study Luther's Small Catechism, going in depth through the 6 chief parts. Do you remember those 6 chief parts? They are...wait, I will not tell you right at this moment in order to give you the chance to try to recall that which you learned when you went through confirmation.

What does confirmation mean for you, a person who has already been confirmed in the Lutheran Church? It gives you the opportunity to recall what it is you confess in your life as a member of the Lutheran Church. In the time of public questioning, as the seven are asked the variety of questions, you can take the time to remember and say, "Oh yeah, that is what I believe and confess." As they take their vows on Sunday morning, you can recall those very vows that you took.

Then it gives you the opportunity to ask the Holy Spirit to help you to live in those very vows. You vowed to faithfully worship and receive the Lord's Supper regularly. Do you? You vowed to support the work of the church with your time, talents and treasure. Do you? You vowed to be faithful and not leave this confession of faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Are you faithful to that confession?

What does confirmation mean for you, a person who has been confirmed in the faith? It means that you are asking the Lord to guide you as you continue to grow in that very faith. It means that if you have failed in living out that faith each day, if you have been avoiding worship, if you have not receive the Supper regularly and frequently, that you confess your sins and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to change your sinful life.

Confirmation is a rite of the church that gives each of us the opportunity to review what we believe, confess our sins in failing to be faithful to the vows we made and be regenerated by the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.

See you this weekend at worship.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Broiled fish and Easter

In yesterday's Gospel reading, there is a great little line that struck me as I read it. In Luke 24, Jesus had appeared to the men on the road to Emmaus. Then He went to the disciples and others in house back in Jerusalem. He gives them the wonderful greeting of "Peace be with you." Oh how they needed that peace. Their lives were in great turmoil. Death does that to our lives - turmoil. We need peace in the midst of death and it is often impossible to find. It is only when the living Lord comes into our lives that we receive any peace at all. But that isn't the line that struck me.

Jesus shows them His hands and His feet, the place of the nail marks. That is a way of showing that it truly was Him, the One who had been crucified. Those nail marks are a mark of honor, having paid for the sins of each and every person as He died upon the cross. Even when John the Revelator see Jesus enter into heaven, John writes, "I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain." (Rev. 5:6 ESV) The Lamb was slain but is alive. That is who is standing before the disciples that Sunday evening. "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself," He says. (Luke 24: 39 ESV) And still that which caught my attention was to come.

The disciples still struggled with seeing the resurrected Jesus. It was still beyond their comprehension that Jesus was dead and is now alive. Then Jesus says to them, "Have you anything to eat?" And they gave him a piece of broiled fish and he took it and ate it before them." (Luke 24:40-42 ESV) Broiled fish? He ate it before them? Really? Why?

Have you ever seen the movie Casper? It is a fun little movie which has a redemption and resurrection theme to it. That isn't why I bring up the movie. The scene that runs through my mind is the one where the three ghosts with Casper (Fatso, Stretch and Stinky) eating breakfast. Casper is bringing them food and they are eating like pigs. The camera shows them eating and then swings around beneath the table and all the food they are eating is falling on the floor underneath them. They have no body and no substance and are unable to actually retain any of the food they eat.

That scene popped into my mind as I read the Gospel reading this last weekend. "Do you have anything to eat?" Jesus asks the disciples. Then He eats it before them. And it doesn't fall to the floor. Why? Because He wasn't a ghost, a phantasm, a figment of their over stressed imagination. He was truly alive. This Jesus died and was laid in the tomb. Then He rose again from the dead. He was alive as they were. He could talk, touch and eat. He could take nourishment just as they did. He lives!

That little interchange between Jesus and the disciples is showing that He is alive. As we read that, we can be certain that they were seeing what they were seeing and it wasn't a dream. Jesus lives! The victory's won! Death no longer is our master. Jesus has defeated death as He rose.

That is Easter. That is what we hold onto in our lives. Jesus is alive! And because He lives, all who believe in Him will live forever with Him in heaven. "I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live!" That my friends is the message of Easter. Eternal life with Christ. What comfort this sweet sentence gives: "I know my Redeemer lives!" Alleluia!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

It's Tuesday, So What?

Holy Week is upon us. This last weekend we celebrated Palm Sunday. I have always enjoyed the procession of the palms. I am never quite sure why we have made it that children carry the palms in and have not involved all the adults. Perhaps it is the hymn "Hosanna, loud hosanna, the little children sang..." Maybe that is what has lead us to let the children carry in the palms while the adults sit passively in the pews, singing the hymn or just watching the children as they walk in with their palm branches.

Monday of Holy Week rolls around and it seems it is the day when everyone gets their breath and begins the push towards the end of the week. We all must go to work and school on this day. I am a realist. I know that if we tried to have worship services on each day of Holy Week we would have a handful of the same people showing up for each service. Even if there was no school and no work on these days, most would not attend worship. They would go on vacation, spend time in the yard, sleep in and think, "Easter is coming. I will go to church then." So perhaps it is better that we treat this day as though there is no meaning.

Tuesday is even worse. On Tuesday, if you didn't know better, you would think it was like all other Tuesdays. Not much takes place in the church at this time. When you read the Gospels about what was taking place on Monday/Tuesday, the concept of Holy Week doesn't sit well. All that happens is arguments. One group after another are trying to find some reason to have Jesus arrested. They try to argue points of doctrine with Him. And you know how it is when you argue doctrine, most people think, "Why bother? It doesn't matter anyway, does it?" I find those discussions, those times when the Pharisees and scribes argue with Jesus to be fascinating. They are trying to trap Jesus in His answers so as to show He is not worth following and yet, each time, Jesus is like Teflon. He comes out unscathed. I wish I could discuss doctrine so well. I know there are some today that think they are brilliant when it comes to arguing doctrine, but the reality is they come off sounding more like the opponents of Jesus than Jesus Himself. They will think of themselves as good as Jesus in arguing doctrine but that is just their egos getting in the way. But I digress.

So what about Tuesday? Why is it important? It is a day in which we have the opportunity to see Jesus in His teaching glory. On Monday and Tuesday Jesus shows Himself to be One who has great command of the Word. He understands the nuances, the inside and out of doctrine, the wonder of all that the Father has said through the writers of Scripture. He shows that when you are truly open to His word, listening to what He says, there is wonder and guidance. There is joy and life found in the midst of doctrine, if only we could set aside our sinful pride, our self-centered thinking and our desire to come out on top.

It' Tuesday of Holy Week. Help us to listen to You teach Lord. Open our hearts to Your word and lead us in the way of life eternal.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pre-Lent Thoughts

It's that time of year again - Lent. 40 days of repentance and spiritual reflection. It is a time when we focus, not on ourselves, but on the Lord and what He has done for us. He is the sinless Son of God who came into the world to be our Savior. He took upon Himself our sins. He placed Himself under the Law in our stead. He suffered. He sweat. He carried. He died. All for us. Lent is about our Lord did and not about what we do.

I guess that is the change that I have seen in the past years. Lent has become more about what we do and while we do this, we talk about what our Lord did. But it seems that Lent has become that expression of Christian piety that was at one time seen as foreign to Lutheranism and was to be done away with. Perhaps I am a product of the church in which I was raised and that influences me today as a pastor in that same church.

Some of the things that have become "popular" in the Lutheran Church that were not part of the church piety in years gone by. The first is the "giving up" something for Lent. It has become fashionable to do such a thing. More than that, it has become fashionable to wear that on your sleeve and let everyone know that you are giving up something. We strive for bigger and better things to give up. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think that there is a thing wrong with giving something up for Lent. I just am appalled by the show that is made of it. Like the Pharisees in Jesus day, we give up soda, chocolate, candy or something else and then tell the world on the street corner. Our Lord tells us to do these things in private, not letting "the right hand know what the left hand is doing," for your Father in heaven knows what you are doing. The people around you don't need to know. It becomes a show of piety rather than an act of faith.

Then there is the imposition of ashes. It has become fashionable among the "faithful" of the Missouri Synod to do the imposition of ashes. To wear the ashes marks a person as a faithful Lutheran. Yet at the same time, we read the gospel reading for Ash Wednesday which tells us, "When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting may be not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret." (Matthew 6:17 ESV) Through the years, our marks of piety have become more for show and less about serving the Lord. My parents and grandparents would be appalled by Lutherans walking around with ashes on their foreheads. That was seen as the extreme acts of piety that was for show. As a pastor, I do not do the imposition of ashes. Perhaps I am robbing my members of this faithful action but I can't bring myself to do it. It seems so self-centered rather than Christ-centered. Look at me, I have my ashes, I am faithful. Instead we should be saying, "Look at Christ. He suffered. He died. He is faithful."

I remember back when I entered the pastoral ministry, all the things that are popular today among our conservative elements of the LC-MS, we the things that the liberal elements were doing. I guess we have baptized them confessional and made them a part of true Lutheran piety

My point today? My point is this. Whatever you do, do it for the Lord. When you give up something, don't make a show of it. Do it as a way of focusing your attention on what the Lord has done and not on what you are doing. If you receive ashes tomorrow, wash them off before you leave the church. Why? So that you are not calling attention to yourself and your actions but instead calling attention to your Lord and what He has done and continues to do for you.

.Lent is not about you! It is not about your actions. Lent is about your Lord and His actions. He is the Savior. He is the One who carries the Law. He is the focus of the season. Don't forget that as you get caught up with the acts of piety that are spreading through out our church body.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

In the Shape of a Heart

Valentine's Day - the day of so much expectation and pressure. The husband is expected to remember to buy the flowers, get the candy and get off work in time to take his wife out to dinner. The wife is expected to look like a model, be as sensuous as the most sensuous woman in the world and still make sure the house is clean and the kids are bathed. The boyfriend or girlfriend is expected to put their best foot forward and make the evening the most romantic thing since Romeo courted Juliette. That is a lot of pressure for an ordinary husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend. Many a man has failed to reach that level of romance. Many a woman has failed to reach that level of romance.

I have to admit that I have fallen prey to the "Valentine's myth." Don't Google that term. I just thought of it. The Valentine's myth is that you can create romance for one brief evening and in that evening you will attain the highest level of sexual desire and pleasure. The moment you buy into that myth, you will be sadly disappointed. The reason? There is no way to live up to the hype that is put forward by society. All the Valentine's myth does is cause disappointment, frustration and hard feelings.

Now don't get me wrong. I am a romantic who enjoys time spent with my wife. In my eyes, she is that supper model who is the most lovely person that there ever was or ever will be. Why do I feel that way? Because I love her. I love her as she is not as society expects me to love her or as society expects her to be. I love her as Christ loves me.

That is the message that is given to us in Ephesians 5. The love of a husband and wife is a sacred love, created by God in their hearts, melded together by God in the gift of marriage and sustained by God as they move and live together in Him. There, in God's Word, in the heart of God Himself, we see the true meaning of Valentine's Day. Love - as you are loved by God.

There can be candy. There can be the dinner (though the dinner I ma giving to Penny is the wonderful dinner at the Southern Illinois District Convention - woohoo!?).  There can be sexy clothing. All of those things are great and can add a dimension into the husband/wife relationship. But if that is all there is in the relationship, it will fall short. The love that is present in the heart and life, prior to Valentine's Day is the love that will make the day the most wonderful day possible. Love begins the day over a cup of coffee with a discussion of what is taking place that day. It is goes through the day when you are at the office, in the classroom, on the road or at home. And that love touches the heart in a special way as the day draws to a close. That is Valentine's love - based in Christ, reflected each day, blessed by the Spirit working within.

Gentlemen, don't forget the candy, flowers and card. Ladies, don't forget to be appreciative. Enjoy Valentine's Day. Celebrate your love. Rejoice in that person God has given to you. I know I will. I love my wife with all my heart. She is a beautiful woman, a fantastic wife, a great mother and my closest friend. As God intended, she completes me. The two have become one.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

We have things messed up.

Really? That is all I can say about the latest hype about the movie "Fifty Shades of Grey." Really? This movie is being touted as a romantic movie as it comes out on Valentine's Day. I just can't imagine taking my wife to see that movie. Then again, I can't imagine spending the time reading the books either. I can remember when a movie based around the loose sexual activities would have been considered pornography. But this one is widely accepted (at least the books have been) and is being pushed on every network and by many social groups. 

And all I can say is, really? It only goes to show how low the morals of our society have dropped. We no longer hold fast to the teaching of our Lord that the sexual relationship is meant for a man and a woman who are married. Society, and many Christians are included in this, has accepted that sex outside of marriage is not only OK, but is to be expected and is the highest kind of love that can be shown. 

Really? When did the Lord's will change? When did He decide to change what He told to Adam and Eve? When did He decide that the 6th commandment no longer means to live a sexually pure life in word and deed? To go with that, when did He decide that marriage was no longer a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman?

He didn't. He still holds fast to what He has told us in His Word. It is us, sinful men and women, who have decided not to listen to Him or to follow His will. We have decided that we know better than the Lord when it comes to how we should live our lives. And we have made a mess of things. Sex before marriage. Living together. Sexual unfaithfulness in marriage. Divorce. Same sex marriage. All of these are wrong before the Lord and yet we have somehow convinced ourselves that they are all right and acceptable. 

We are wrong. We all need to repent of such sinful thoughts and actions. We need to pray to the Lord for guidance in changing our sinful lives. I would hope that the movie "Fifty Shades..." will bomb at the box office. Unfortunately I do not see that happening. I pray that as a nation we would see the error of our ways but I do not see that happening either. 

Lord, forgive us. Lead us. Help us to see the sinfulness of our ways. Turn us from our sins back to You. Bring us back to Your ways. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Problem

When I went to bed last night, I knew that I had a problem. I hoped that the problem would go away or would, somehow, perhaps even miraculously, fix itself. It didn't keep me awake. I snuggled down inside my covers and slept away. I would occasionally wake up, think about my problem, wonder if it was fixed, and then go back to sleep. But when I got up this morning, the problem was still there. It hadn't fixed itself.

Now, before I tell you my problem, let me ramble for a few moments. I got to thinking about this and realized that is how many of us live spiritually. (You knew I was going there, didn't you?) We have a problem. It is called "sin." Sin is what causes us all sorts of issues. It is what leads us into sinful actions as temptations come our way. Sin is what causes us to be anxious and worry (staying awake all night worrying about my problem would not have done any good but how many of you would have stayed awake all night?) about our life, the life of our children, the state of the world today, the murders that are taking place in St. Louis on an almost daily basis, how we are going to make those dollars stretch to make ends meet, etc. Sin is what causes our bodies to break down - sickness to come, cancer to take over, heart problems to cause pain, dementia to take over our lives. Sin is what causes us to (gasp) die. Yes, sin is the root of all our problems here on earth.

But sin is even more than just a problem here on earth. Sin is what causes us eternal problems as well. Sin is what causes us to be damned, to not go to heaven, to make it to where we will spend eternity separated from God. Sin is that terrible.

But do you ever really think about the problem of sin? Do you realize just how terrible and overwhelming sin really is for your earthly AND eternal life? There is absolutely nothing you can do to change this reality. You can't act nice enough. You can't do enough "good" things for others to counteract the reality of sin. You cannot make things right with God. There is no sacrifice, no action, no words that you and I can do to overcome sin. We are lost. That is our problem.

So what can we do about it? Absolutely nothing. Beat you thought I was going to say something like "Believe in Jesus," or "Trust in God." That is once again trying to figure out some way that you and I can make things right with God. We can't even do that. We can't believe in Jesus. We can't "turn to God." Sin makes that impossible.

That, my friends, is why God sent His Son into the world. That is why the Son of God became man. That is why He lived the life here on earth as a man. And that is why He went to the cross. He is the Savior. We aren't. He is the One who bore our sins, we can't. He is the One who paid the price, we didn't. The fixing of our problem is totally and completely on His shoulders, in His hands and not on our shoulders or in our hands.

Then that salvation, that forgiveness, is given to to us. Yes, GIVEN to us. It is a gift given to us by God through the working of the Holy Spirit through those precious Means of Grace - Word and Sacrament. He bestows on us salvation. He gives to us faith in Jesus Christ. He works that in our hearts and lives. He maintains that faith in us as He feeds us through His Word. He strengthens us as we recall what He did in the waters of our Baptism. We are blessed, forgiven, strengthened and assured of all that in the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

All of that is through God. We have the problem. He has the solution. We have the sin. He has the forgiveness. We have the damnation. He gives the salvation. It is all God. Not us.

Anyway, all of that comes to my mind as I think about my problem. What is the problem that I had when I went to bed? What is the problem that didn't fix itself overnight? What is the problem that I got up and faced? We have no heat. The furnace went out. I looked at the furnace last night. I checked everything I knew about a furnace. But to no avail. I could do nothing. (I tried and failed.) Sounds like our spiritual problem, doesn't it?

So what did I do? I cried out, "Lord, have mercy!" Well, not really. That is what I do about the sin issue. What I did was call my head trustee, Todd, and he is working to fix the problem. It is out of my hands and in his. I give thanks for the people of the congregation that the Lord has placed here for all sorts of reasons. Each has skills and abilities, gifts from God. And I am so pleased that they use them as part of their vocation in life.

Would it have done any good to worry about the heat all night? Nope. It would have just made me grumpy today because I wouldn't have slept like I should. So I thank God that He gave me a night of rest. And I thank God that He has given me a Trustee who is doing his job as trustee. Yes, I give thanks for no heat. Not because I like being cold but because it taught me once again that I rely totally and completely upon the Lord for all things in my life. It taught me again that He takes care of me each day.

Yes, I have a problem. And I have Lord that is greater than that problem.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Light Shines

A very blessed Epiphany to you. We celebrate today as the day when the magi followed the star in order to find the child who had been born King of the Jews. Read Matthew 2:1-12 for the full story.

Often we find ourselves caught up in the discussion of the magi, the star, King Herod and all the other details of the story. I would like to challenge you to see a deeper meaning of the story. In the coming of the magi, you see the hand of God at work. Without God working in their lives, they never would have come to the the Christ-child. Instead, they would have remained blissfully unaware that the Savior of the world had been born. They would have been content to live in their ignorance and their sin without any hope of knowing the One who has come to save them from their sins and from their eternal damnation.

Instead, God intervened. He placed a star in the sky. He gave them the ability to search the writings of a foreign country (Israel) and find in Numbers 22 that Balaam foretold that a star would announce the coming of the King. He moved their hearts to follow the star. God gave the priests in Jerusalem the knowledge to interpret Micah 5 in order to know that the child would be born in Bethlehem. God had the wicked King Herod send the magi to Bethlehem to search for the child. God placed the star back in the sky in order to guide them to the house where Mary and Jesus were to be found.

God revealed to them the Savior, the Light of the world. Into the darkness of this world, God send His Son. He sends the Savior of the world. He gives the One that is needed by you and me, sinners lost in our darkness, heading for an eternity in hell. God sends the Light.

He reveals that Light to you and me. He doesn't do it with a star. He does it with His Word. That wonderful Word shows us the Savior, the Christ-child. In the Word, we are shown out need of a Savior. We are shown the depth of our depravity. God then reveals to us the wonder of His love. He reveals to us His Son. He leads us along the paths of life to His Son Jesus Christ.

I pray that you will be guided by the Word to your Savior. I pray that your life will be blessed as the Spirit opens the Word up to you and shows you the Light of Christ.

Together, let's walk the road of life, guided by the Word, strengthened by the Spirit. The goal? Life eternal in heaven with our Lord. That is where we shall see the Christ, the Savior, the only true Light.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

Reflection and resolution. The things that are commonly done on New Year's Eve/Day. Did you make your resolutions? What were they? To eat better, healthier? I have seen the "no junk food" diet going around. People have resolved to not eat junk food for the year in order to get healthier. More power to them. My son went to the gym the other night. He does that regularly. It wasn't a resolution for him to go to the gym but it must have been for a lot of people. He said it was packed with people. He could hardly get his workout done because the various machines were busy. The cartoon B.C. had Peter changed his place to a gym. He said at the beginning of February it would revert back to Peter's bar and cheesecake emporium. Sounds about right.

So what did you resolve to do? More to the question, what did you resolve to do for your spiritual life? Did you resolve to read the Bible from cover to cover? To pray 10 minutes each day? To attend worship every week? To go to Bible study? Many people make resolutions about their spiritual life just as they do for the physical or emotional life. And then they find themselves just as frustrated because it is difficult to keep those resolutions.

Why is it so hard? One word - sin. Our sinful nature makes it difficult for us to change our lives. It takes two components to make those spiritual changes in our lives. 1) The Holy Spirit and 2) hard work. One is found in the gospel and the other is found in the law. The Holy Spirit works through the Gospel to change our hearts and lives. The Law acts through our works to guide us in our lives.

The Law that we are talking about here is not the 1st (curb) or the 2nd (mirror) uses of the Law. Those two uses of the Law never makes any changes in our lives. It is the 3rd use of the Law, the guide, that shows us how to live our Christian lives. But those changes do not start in the Law.

Changes (those that make it possible for the resolutions in our lives to happen) start in the Gospel. The Holy Spirit must change our sinful hearts and make them new in Christ Jesus. As the Holy Spirit changes our sinful lives can we begin to make those changes necessary to begin to read the Bible more, to attend worship more, to pray more, etc. If our lives aren't changed, then we will not make those changes to our lives. Sleep will be more important than reading the Word. Sitting home and having a cup of coffee on "the only day I have to take it easy" will be more important than getting cleaned up and attending worship. Talking to a friend will be more important than talking to God.

So those spiritual resolutions actually don't begin in you. They begin in the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. How does the Holy Spirit work? Through the Means of Grace - Word and Sacraments. He works in you each and every day. And you need the Means of Grace more than just on Christmas and Easter. You also need the Means of Grace more than just once every month or once every six weeks. Now, that sounds like the Law, doesn't it? It is. For some, it is the 3rd use talking, guiding in life to help make those changes. For others it is the 2nd use, showing where they have sinned by not making use of the Means of Grace in their lives. For still others, it is 1st use, curbing those sinful impulses to that which is wrong.

What a challenging time it is for each of us! Resolutions. For me, I had resolved to blog more. I didn't do it yesterday and I almost didn't do it today. There were other things I need to so - write a sermon, prepare a Bible study, get worship plans together. All those are important. They are all necessary. But so is blogging. So what happens here? I stop, pray to the Lord for guidance on what to do, ask for help to accomplish all that is needed, ask for wisdom to make the right choices in what needs to be done when, ask for truth in knowing when I am wasting time and when I am not, and then, go about my time as I feel is best.

Resolutions. They challenge us to change our lives. Most of the time we don't want to change. I would prefer to play games and be lazy on this rainy Saturday morning. I don't know about you, but I sure need the Holy Spirit to guide me and help me to do what is needed for my spiritual life and for my personal life.

All I can say is, "Thanks Holy Spirit, for Your guidance and strength. Feed me again from that wonderful Means of Grace."

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

Well, it happened. 2015 has begun. As of this writing, the new year is already 8 hours old. It is time for reflections and resolutions. I talked about that very thing last night during the New Year's Eve sermon. Reflections on 2014 and resolutions for 2015.

Reflecting on 2014, I would have to say first and foremost that I rejoice that I was able to celebrate a 30th wedding anniversary with my lovely wife Penny. It amazed me that it has been 30 years since we said "I do." The time has gone very quickly. As 2014 came to a close, there was no one I would rather have spent the evening with than her. I give thanks to the Lord each day that He gave me a wonderful Christian woman to be my wife. A truly, she is a gift from the Lord.

I also rejoice that I am pastor at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Troy, IL. I thank the Lord for the other congregations that I have served in the years past. They all helped me learn to be the pastor that I am today. I rejoice that I am now pastor at St.Paul's. I give thanks for each of the members. I thank the Lord that I have been called here to bring Word and Sacrament ministry to them. Much took place throughout 2014. We celebrate the gift of faith and life given in the waters of Baptism for 14 infants, 2 young children and 2 adults. What a powerful testimony to the working of the Holy Spirit in the Troy. We celebrated the confirmation of 6 youth and 6 adults. We weekly received the Lord's Supper. We remembered the promise of the resurrection 5 times (funerals in case you wondered what I meant).

More than that, St. Paul's continued to take the message of the Gospel into the Troy community and the surrounding communities as we reached out with the message of the Gospel. We continued to support the mission work through St. Paul's Lutheran School, teaching the children who attend school at St. Paul's the wonder of the Gospel and reaching out to their families with that good news of salvation found only in Jesus Christ.

We cancelled Sunday worship twice in 2014. That is amazing. We cancelled worship on Sunday, Jan. 5th because of the big snowstorm and then again on March 2 because of a snow/ice storm. I know that Alan Kilzer, head elder, and I agonized about what to do with those times of cancellation. It is really hard to call off worship. But the weather was such that it couldn't be helped. We also had to cancel the annual Sausage Supper on March 2. Ken Sipes and I struggled with that one as well. It turns out that the calls made to cancel events were the best decisions. I thank God that He has given me men and women who think with clear heads and consider the many sides of those decisions.

Reflections - there is so much to reflect upon. So many things that took place during 2014. As I reflect back, I rejoice at the wonder of that we call faith. The Holy Spirit continued to strengthen my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He continued to open the Scriptures to me and guided me as I wrote sermon after sermon, Bible study after Bible study and gave guidance to the members of St. Paul's. I give thanks that I am still a child of God despite my sinful nature that fights against that each and every day. I reflect on the spiritual struggles of this past year and rejoice that the Lord that I follow is stronger than those which fight against me (the devil, the world around me and my sinful nature). I also rejoice at the forgiveness of sins that was given me daily as I returned to my Baptism each day. Daily that sinful nature was drowned, daily I was forgiven, daily I was given the love of Christ, daily I was lifted from sin and given the righteousness of Christ Jesus. It doesn't get much better than that.

What else can I say in reflecting back on 2014? I rejoice at the gift of my family. I thank God for Rachael and Matthew, my two children by nature. I give thanks for Brandon, my son by marriage to my daughter. I rejoice that each of them is a part of my life. They brought me much joy through out this year just gone by (and I am sure they will bring much joy in the year to come). They are amazing children of the Lord. I thank the Lord that I have been given the opportunity to guide them in their lives and show them the love of Christ, guiding them to grow in faith, in hope and in love. Rachael and Brandon are carving out a their life here in Troy and Matthew is doing his carving in Seward, NE as he attend Concordia University, Seward. Where will they be at the end of 2015? Only the Lord knows the answer to that. But wherever they go, I know they will have the Lord in their hearts and lives and will be blessed by Him.

Resolutions? I will talk about that tomorrow in another blog. I resolve to be better about blogging, to not let the rush of the days cause me to fail to blog regularly. How is that for a resolution? I know this one thing: only the Holy Spirit can give the power needed to make true changes to my life (and the same can be said for your life). Any time I rely upon myself to make changes in my life, I am going to fail. I will even fail with the Holy Spirit in my life. That just reminds me that I am a sinner that can turn my back on the will of the Lord. It reminds me of why I need a Savior who became human, who suffered and died upon the cross for me and for my sins. I also resolve to...that is for tomorrow.

Happy New Year to you. May the Lord bless your 2015 in ways that you cannot even imagine at this time. In those times of sorrow, loss, pain and suffering, remember the cross of Christ. He came because of those things. He came to save us from from ourselves and our sinfulness. 2015 is in His hands. I pray that your 2015 will be one guided by Him.

Happy 2015 to you.