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.