Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Daniel, some lions and God

I was reading in Daniel 6 this morning, the story of Daniel in the Lion's Den. Quite amazing. God protecting Daniel in the lion's den, binding their mouths and keeping the lions calm while Daniel, a tasty meal for such the beasts, was safe. You can tell the power of God for when those accusers of Daniel at put into the den, the lions immediately devoured them. "...broke all their bones" is what in recorded in Daniel 6.

As I was reading, I thought of several things. Perhaps they will all show up here. The first thing that I thought about is how we act day after day. The enemies of Daniel, jealous as they were that he was doing so well in the kingdom that he was going to be elevated to position 2 in the kingdom, sought out something by which they could condemn Daniel. They pulled up his search history on his computer and found nothing. They checked all his texts and there was nothing. (All right, that is a little overboard.) The point is, they found nothing. He lived his life of faith each day. He did his best as a child of God to live the life that he was to live.

What about you and me? Can the same be said of us? If someone was to search us, what would they find? The fear and love of God or the fear and love of the world? When we are watched day after day, when people pour over our lives, what would they find? I am sure they would find all my sins. They would find the ways I have done wrong throughout the years. They would also find that I am forgiven. That I do try to follow the way of the Lord. Perfect? Nope. Forgiven? Yep. Living as a Christian, letting the light of Christ shine in my life and words? Yep. Understand, I am not saying that I am a perfect, sinless person. None of us are. But I do follow the Law of God. The Law as a guide is important to me. Not for my salvation but because I am saved. That is the way it was for Daniel. He wasn't perfect, but the sins he was doing were not such that they could accuse him of wrongdoing. May that be said of each of us.

Another thought I had (there were many,perhaps another day) is that even after he heard of the decree by King Darius, he continued to worship God just as he had before. Did Daniel know what could happen? Yes. Did he hide his faith our of fear for his life? No. Wow! Think that through. What would you do in that situation? Perhaps close the curtains, shut the doors and go to the basement where no one would see you worship God? Would you avoid the house of God in order to live like the rest of the world? (I fear that many people already avoid the house of God because of the pressure of other things in their lives. But this too is for another time.)

I think about this as I approach this weekend's sermon from the gospel of Luke. Would you take up your cross to follow Jesus? Would you give up everything for Him? Following Jesus is neither cheap or easy. There is no "cheap grace" as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would write. To follow Christ costs you everything. More on that Sunday.

Daniel - the lion's den - worshiping God - facing death. Those are all powerful images today in Daniel 6. Take a few moments to read that chapter again, not to see how amazing it is that Daniel survived, but to see how amazing it is to live in faith in Christ each day. Lesson taught. Lesson learned? Lord, I am still learning. Continue to teach me.

Friday, August 26, 2016

In Focus or Not?

This morning (Friday) the sunrise was spectacular. I know that we live in the middle of the country, the "flyover" part of this great country. There are some (and yes, I am generalizing) that think to get a truly spectacular sunrise, you need to go to the mountains or ocean or even Hawaii. When we went to Hawaii for our 30th anniversary, we did see some mighty spectacular sunrises (or at least I did). But I believe that we can get some really great Midwest sunrises as well. This morning was an example of that.

Here is the way it looked this morning. I don't feel that you could take a brush and canvass and make something so beautiful.

So there I was taking pictures of the sunrise, as you would expect if you know me. Then I saw our wind chime. We have several wind chimes but this one caught my eye. So I decided to take a picture of it.

I wanted to get the beauty of the sunrise in the background, so this is the outcome. As I looked at the picture, I felt uncomfortable. I wondered why. Then I realized it was because the cross was out of focus. I was focusing on the beauty of nature and not on the cross. So I took another one.

 I know that it isn't as good as the first one because the cross was spinning in the gentle morning breeze, I still liked it better. Why? Because the cross was in focus.

Then I thought, isn't that the problem we have in our world? We focus on the beauty of the world, and there is nothing wrong with that, but often, it is at the cost of the cross. Many people would take the 1st picture of just the sunrise with nothing in the way of it, and call it a day. That is the way of the world in general. Remove the cross, remove God, remove Christ from the picture and just focus on nature. In doing so, they forget the Creator and Sustainer. They have left out the One who made the heavens and the earth.

Others would take the 2nd picture figuring that at least they have Christ/the cross in the picture. Isn't it good enough to put Him in your life, even if you don't focus on Him. Isn't that how we are to live? Why do we need to focus on Christ anyway. Put Him somewhere just not at the center, not in focus, not that which guides your life. Good enough?  Yet, not everyone that says "Lord, Lord, will enter into heaven." To place Him on the side, in the back pocket, like a lucky charm, is not faith. That is just kidding yourself.

The last picture shows how we are to live our lives - seeing everything, doing everything, through the cross of Christ. Living as that redeemed child of God, a person of faith will have the cross in focus in all things of life. In many ways, that is what it means to live as a Christian steward. You live your life, focused on Christ, and letting everything run through Him, through faith in Him. All you say, all you do, all you think - focused on Christ.

And that, was the lesson I was taught by the sunrise this morning. I repented of those times I have removed Christ from the picture. I confessed those times that I had Christ out of focus, on the sidelines in my life. I thanked God for the times that the Holy Spirit, through Word and Sacrament, has guided me to keep Christ at the center of my life and in focus. Yes, I learned a lot from the beautiful Midwestern sunrise this morning.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Give the Gift of Life

 That is the slogan that is used by the Red Cross (at least I think it is the Red Cross) when it advertises a blood drive. Here at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Troy, there will be a blood drive this week. On Wednesday, August 24, from 3-6:30 p.m. you can come in and give the gift of life. You can donate blood. It is an important thing for you to do. That blood that you donate may help that person who hurt in a car accident or who is surgery or you name the situation. I have never had to have a blood transfusion but I know many different people who have, members of the congregations I have served. I visit them in the hospital and there is the bag of blood hanging on the pole, the little machine delivering the right amount of blood through the plastic tube that runs to their arms or to the port in their body. It is important. It is vital. It is giving the gift of life to that person.

I would encourage you to give blood on Wednesday. Sign up on line, call the church office, show up the day of the blood drive, whatever. If you are able, give blood. It is the gift of life.

There is another that gave blood as the gift of life as well. (Did you really think I was going to be done so easily?) That one gave blood as He hung upon a cross. By the shedding of His blood, Jesus Christ gave the gift of life. "In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace." (Ephesians 1:7 ESV) Jesus went to the cross to shed His blood for you and me. He gave His blood as the price of paying our sins. Through His blood, we are given life. "...knowing that you were not ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." (1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV) Redeemed through the blood of the Lamb, through the blood of Christ - that truly is the gift of life.

Then we receive the gift of life each time that we receive the Lord's Supper. There in the supper is the body and blood of our Savior in, with and under the bread and wine. Jesus said to us, "Drink of it all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:28 ESV) There is wonder in the Sacrament. There, each week, we are given the gift of life.

We cannot save another as Christ saved us. But we can take steps to do our part. That is why we have blood drives. Give the gift of life for someone else. And remember, as you do, Christ has already given you the gift of life.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What or Who Affects Your Life

I was sitting here this morning wondering to myself, "What affects my life?" Another question is "Who affects my life?" I know, I could ask those questions better but that is what I am thinking. What or who affects me?

The answer to that depends on the situation. I know that it shouldn't, but it is true. We often surround ourselves with people who think the same as we do. The reason? That way the answers we get to questions or the guidance we get in a certain situation will be what we want to hear. The last thing we want is for someone to tell us that we shouldn't go the direction we are going. After all, we can achieve or become who or what we want.

We often confuse ourselves with that statement. If we can dream it, we can do it. To a point, this is true. We see that at the Olympics. So many people with dreams seeing them come true. But then again, only the top 3 receive medals. The rest go home with the memories of what a great time it was and the realization that they didn't win. Do you actually think that anyone goes to the Olympics thinking, "It doesn't matter that I don't win. At least I get to go." Perhaps, but everyone dreams of that one event that they suddenly break through the barrier and are the underdog that wins the gold away from the superstar that was expected to win. But I digress.

I was thinking about daily life. The temptations that we have in our daily lives to do that which we know is not right. Those temptations to sin. Big sins, little sins, big lies, little white lies - doesn't matter, we are tempted to do them. (I can hear the argument that all sins are the same in God's eyes and you would be correct. But I am talking about the way we view the sins.) In those moments of temptations, who or what affects your decision? Do you surround yourself with the Word of God? Have you put on the whole armor of God? Or do you surround yourself with others who don't put the Word first? Are you listening to the Spirit of God or the spirit of the world? This truly makes a difference.

If it is a temptation you really like, you will listen to those who tell you to "go for it." Then you listen and do it. "It is only a little thing that no one will know about and doesn't change what goes on in the big scheme of things." Perhaps it is a really big temptation and yet you still want it. What happens when the Word of God steps up and says, "Nope. That is wrong." Do you listen?

My point is this: that with which you surround yourself will guide your decision. The person who is looking to purchase drugs will not stop and talk with a police officer to see if it is a good decision. The person looking to have an affair will not talk it over with the spouse or with someone who is content and happy in a marriage relationship. In both cases, that would really put a damper on the activity. No, you surround yourself with like minded people, hoping they will encourage you to continue down the path you are on.

This is why we find that the Lord tells us of the needs to worship, to be fed from Word and Sacrament. For the Spirit will guide our wayward hearts with the truth of the Lord's will. We may not like the guidance because it means we must give up our sinful behavior, but in the end, that is the best thing for us. Like a child who doesn't like listening to mom or dad, we don't always like to listen to the Word of God, but it is best for us.

Worship, Bible study, personal devotions, times of prayer, fellow Christians, people who are guided by the Spirit - I would encourage you to surround yourself in this way. It will help to guide you when you are facing those moments (which come often) when you are tempted. Instead of letting the sinful world guide you, let the Lord guide your decision. (And if you don't, remember to return to the Lord, confessing your sin, asking for forgiveness and guidance.)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Built on the Rock - School Year 2016-2017

Welcome back. That will be said over and over again today at St. Paul's school. The teachers will welcome back the students for another school year. It will be said at schools around the town of Troy and all the neighboring communities as they start up over the next few days.

Welcome. That will be said by teachers who have never had some students before. There are new students in the school - preschool 3 students who are scared to leave mom and dad, preschool 4 students who didn't attend preschool last year, new students in school who are starting fresh at a new school. Welcome.

Yet we say much more than "welcome" or "welcome back." At St. Paul's, we say to the students, "Jesus loves you." That is why the school is here, to proclaim the love of Christ in the classroom while teaching the students the wonders of this created world.

It is upon this Rock that we build our school year. "You are the Christ, the Son of God," Peter proclaims to Jesus. "Upon this rock (Jesus Christ), I will build my Church," Jesus responds. The Rock is none other than our Savior Jesus Christ. We build each day upon the Rock. We build the classroom on the Rock. We build our lives on the Rock.

This is going to be a great school year, not because we are so great, but because our Savior is so great. When we build upon Him, it will be great. There will be times of sorrow. There will be failures. There will be frustrations. AND there will be joys. There will be victories. There will those times when the student suddenly "gets it."

No matter what happens this year, we build on the Rock. We build on Christ. He forgives. He strengths. He blesses. He guides. It truly is all about Christ. Built on Him, the Rock. We move forward.

Built on the Rock - school year 2016-2017. There is no better place for us to build.