Monday, September 26, 2016

A Thorn is never fun

"So to keep me from becoming conceited...a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited." (2 Corinthians 12:7 ESV) Paul writes this about his life and his service to the Lord. In a worldly sense, he could be conceited. Look at what had been accomplished through his ministry. Churches were started. People were converted. Salvation came to household after household. He was writing letters that would later become part of the corpus of what we call the New Testament. He could say, "It is all about me." But he didn't. Instead he continued to say, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." (1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV) The focus of his life was upon Jesus Christ. He would join with John the Baptist in saying, "I must decrease so that he will increase." It is all about Jesus. SO he had the thorn in the flesh that continued to plague him in his life. It kept him humble. It kept his focus upon Christ.

I don't claim to be St. Paul, not even in the same category. I am a parish pastor, serving where the Lord has placed me, following His guidance. But I can say with Paul "To keep me from becoming conceited, a thorn was given me in the flesh." And the challenge becomes learning to live with it in each day. I long for healing. I long for this thorn to be taken from me but the Lord says to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV) There is that part of me that begs the Lord to take the thorn from me for I do not wish to face it. But in all that I have tried, the answer continues to come back, "My grace is sufficient for you."

So I continue to live in Christ. I continue to let His strength be my strength. I learn my limits. And I pray for forgiveness when I become impatient, edgy, stubborn and whatever else Penny would put in there as she puts up with me. Yes, His grace is sufficient. His power is made perfect in my weakness. Lord, be powerful. Then comes the thought, "But do I have be so weak?" Then I hang my head and realize, I am back where I began. That is truly the way life is. Always learning to live in Him

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Birthday Reflection

Who is that looking back at me in the mirror? What happened to the young man that had a head full of red hair? When did the hair start to turn gray? Well, at least there is still hair on top the head. But he doesn't look as young as he once did. He doesn't seem to have the stamina and the vigor that he once had. When did that happen? He was sure that he would always be filled with vim and vigor and could accomplish anything with enough drive and positive thoughts.

Reality, it sets in so suddenly. After 55 years, which I know some will say "I wish I was only 55," begins to show that you are not a young man any longer. I learned at 30 that I cannot compete with the teens as I found myself with ankle reconstructed follow a ice skating accident. Yes, I was still trying to act young and found out that I wasn't. At 40 I found that the knees were not what they once were and started to pay the price for all the running, the gymnastics and the flag football that I did. I should have known that when I was playing flag football at the Seminary, those knee injuries would come back to haunt me. And they did. After having them cleaned up in the 40's, I am told to take care of them, which of course, I don't. I still think that the knees are those of the 20 year old guy when they bark back at me and tell me that I am the age of the speed limit on most two lane roads. But I want to be able to go more than that and they just smile and say,  "no."

Do I feel like I am double nickels? Not really. But then at times I do. Does it matter? Not really. I just keep doing what I can, when I can and face the fact that I will have pay the piper at some time, if not now, then later. That is the way of life. Would I go back to being 25, or 35 or 45? No I wouldn't. All the aches and pains I have today are a result of the learning and growth that has taken place over these years. I have great memories that go with all those aches and pains. For all the fried chicken, chicken fried steak, pork tenderloin sandwiches from Elam's Silverfross Root Beer drive-in, and all the like, I have great memories. Each time I try to kneel and feel the knees groaning and complaining, I remember with joy the times on the parallel bars or the rings, the running around the basin at Lake Decatur, or the host of other events that I have enjoyed in life.

More than that, I rejoice that I have had the years to enjoy my life with Penny. She said that she had celebrated 37 birthdays with me. And that blew me away. It is true. We have shared all those years together. I wouldn't trade them for anything. It has made our relationship what it is today. She is my love, my strength, my joy, my hope, my encourager and my wife. She is the only one that truly understands me. (Yes, I know that that Lord takes first place in all things. She is a gift to me from the Lord. He is the One that guides our life together. He makes it full and exciting. Gives us the love we share. Has covered over all our sins. Granted us more blessings together than we deserve.) I have two wonderful adult children who have given me so much joy for 27 and 25 years. They are the sparkle of my life. I love them so much and to go back to the younger years would rob me of them and they love they bring to my life. Add to that the fact that I also have another son through marriage, though he feels more like a son than a son-in-law, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Every one of those gray hairs is worth it just to have them where they are in their lives.

There are so many other things I could reflect on - the parishes I have been blessed to serve either as full-time pastor, vacancy pastor or visiting sermon slinging pastor, the classmates I had in grade school, high school, college, seminary and more, the people I have met, the people I wish I wouldn't have met, the folks that have wiggled their way into my heart and life, the extended family that I love so much and that drive me nuts at time, and the list could go on. All of these and much more were blessings that the Lord has given me over the past 55 years. I wouldn't trade them for anything. Even the hard times, the frustrating times, the terrible times, the dark times, the fearful times have made me who I am today.

Through them all, there has been one constant - my Lord Jesus Christ. He has never forsaken me. He has never left me. He has lifted me through sorrow and grief. He has been with me on the operating room table and in the pulpit. He has guided me when I needed to share words of comfort and has been the One who has guided others when I needed a word of comfort. His love is complete. His love is full. His love overflows. His love is shown on the cross and at the empty tomb. His love is given freely and bountifully. And I have been blessed to receive that love for 55 years. There has never been a moment in that time when He hasn't been with me. My heart overflows with thankfulness for all that the Lord has done for me.

I pray that I can be a blessing to others, that I can share that love of Christ in some way so that each one can feel the same assurance that I have in my life. I am certain that nothing, neither life nor death, neither loneliness or fear, neither joys or comfort can separate me from the love of Christ. If there is one thing I would share at this time in life is that very thing - CHRIST IS MY ALL IN ALL AND IS MY LORD AND SAVIOR.

Thank You Lord for the 55 years. It has been a wild ride but it has been great. Here's to another 55 years, or however many the Lord gives to me.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Lord is Here!

Thinking back on the events of 15 years ago, I find myself giving thanks to the Lord for His presence, hope and peace that comes in good times and in bad times. It was a beautiful day. Clear, blue September skies. The smell of of a fire under a copper kettle filled with apples was in the air. A morning in which you could say, "The Lord is here." We knew the presence of the Lord at that moment. Fellowship of the body taking place as the members of Bethlehem, Ferrin, IL were cooking apple butter. It didn't get much better than that. The kids were outside that morning, as they did each year at apple butter time. They were ready for school but had to spend a little time with the people who loved and cared for them. They were able to watch as the kettles were being stirred. Childlike wonder filled their lives. They had seen this each year and still, they loved it. It didn't get much better than that. I can safely say, "The Lord is here."

It was quite the day. It changed quickly. News spread through the people. We all know where we were and what we were doing that day. Terror at the fact that someone would hijack a plane and use it and the people in it for their own goals of destruction and terror. Yep, it worked. Terror broke upon the hearts of many people. Then sorrow. Great sorrow. More sorrow than we had know for a generation. Death, destruction, loss, fear, uncertainty and much more. Shock on the faces of people. Wonder. What will happen next? How will this play out? It was a day when we could say, "The Lord is here."

That is something that we can say every day. The Lord is here. That is a reality. Some acknowledge it. Others deny it. Some hold fast to it. Others let it go. No matter what we think, do, or even consider, the fact is, the Lord is here. He is always here. He is always with us. He is in our lives, in good time and in bad times. He is with us in health and in sickness. He is with us in apple butter cooking and in tragedy and death of 9/11. That reality, that fact, is what gives hope in this world. It gives hope to me. It gives hope to you.

We don't always think we need the Lord. "I got this," we will say. But we don't. Even when it is going the way we plan, we don't go it. He has it. He has everything in His hand. He has you and me, the events of our lives. He has it all in His hand. He is with us. He cares for us. He never, never ever, leaves us or leaves us to our own devices.

I was reading the other day, "Does God really care who is elected as president?" The answer is, "yes." He does. There is nothing in this world that He doesn't care about. He cares. He guides. Even when we don't understand (like in this election when we don't know which one is the better of a two bad choices), He still cares. He is still in control. He is still right there with us.

That was very obvious in 2001 and it is just as obvious in 2016. Blue skies. Fires under kettles. Planes in the air. Death happening at every moment. Sickness. Problems. Sorrows. Fears. Anxieties. Joys. Life. Births. Normal. Easy. Nice. Beautiful. In all things, He is here. The Lord is with you. Now and always.

Thank You Lord. Thank You.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Built on the Rock Bible Study

As the faculty at St. Paul's, Troy, IL began the school year, I presented a Bible study on Built on the Rock, the theme for the year. I have attached this study for you to use for your personal growth as well.

2016-2017 SCHOOL YEAR

As we go into the 2016-2017 school year, we do so with the theme “Built on the Rock.” I would encourage you to include this theme in what you are doing in your classrooms. Here are some thoughts to go with this theme.

I.                   Matthew 16:18b “…on this rock I will build my church.”

Jesus says this to Peter after the confession of faith that Peter makes. Jesus asks, “Who do the people say that I am?” After many false starts and wrong answers, Jesus asks, “But you, who do you say I am?” This is the question that is put to us as teachers in a Lutheran School. Who do you say that Jesus is? Your answer will be reflected in the way you approach your children, your teaching, your classroom, and your life.

Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is the solid confession that Peter makes, not by his own power but as he is guided by the Holy Spirit. He has come to this through the teaching/words of Jesus. Only as the Spirit guides him can he make this confession. This is important for us to remember as well. This is why we keep the Word of God front and center in all that we do in our classrooms. It will help the children to make this confession of faith.

It is to this that Jesus responds with our theme verse: “Upon this rock (this confession of faith, this Word) I will build my church.” Christ builds His church upon the very confession of faith that focuses on Him, His life, death and resurrection. This is to be what we are teaching our children – Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. That gives us the Rock upon which we build.

II.                1 Corinthians 10:4b “…the Rock is Christ.”
Psalm 18:2 “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

What we see here is the emphasis on who this Rock, this Confession, is – Jesus Christ. To make any other confession is to lead the children astray, a chasing after wind (as the writer of Ecclesiastes would remind us).

As we teach in our classrooms (not just in religion), we are to be setting the foundation for our children, the foundation on the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. In science, He created the heavens and the earth (the Son was present and active at the 7 day creation – see John 1). As we talk about the surety of math (2+2=4 always!), we show that created the laws of this world upon which all things are founded (gravity, math, etc.).

III.             Matthew 7:24-27 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock. And the rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.
And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like the foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rains fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Jesus is telling this towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount. He has been speaking to the folks about their lives, how they should live, in whom they should live, etc. Here, He shows the foundation that is needed in this life. We build upon the Rock, Jesus Christ. Our spiritual lives are reflected in our classrooms. As teachers, we need to be building the foundation of our lives upon the Rock, the Word made flesh. We do that as we attend worship weekly and also attend Bible study. Like the children we teach, we need to build upon the Rock, so that our foundation is firm.

Our children will face many storms in their lives. Some have already faced some serious ones (health issues of self or family members, divorce, moving to a new community, changing schools) just as each of us have faced many storms. The rains comes and the winds blow, Satan works against us, perhaps more than he does against our students, for if he can cause our house to collapse, then it will lead to the collapse of many other houses of faith. It is important for each of us to be fed from Word and Sacrament on a weekly basis. And then we can emphasize to our children that they need to be fed from Word weekly, living in the Sacrament of their Baptism on a daily basis.

IV.             1 Peter 2:4-5 “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, and you yourselves like living stones are being built up in a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

As Peter is writing to Christians, he is talking about how, when they have been built on the Rock (he knows firsthand what this foundation is, having been with Jesus, encouraged by Jesus, forgiven by Jesus, accepted by Jesus and commissioned by Jesus) then they become a part of the house of God. Each one is a spiritual stone laid on the foundation of Christ Jesus. As teachers, we are helping our children to grow in faith in Jesus Christ, becoming those living stones in the house of God. As you teach your children, you are one of those upon which the children will be built, one of the spiritual stones upon which they are laid.

V.                Ephesians 2:19-23 “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Here Paul brings together all that is important in the household of faith. He takes what Peter says about being living stones and shows how we are built up, a house that is never finished until the Lord returns. You, as teachers, are continuing this building. Our school is a place in which, little by little, though the Means of Grace, we also are taking part in the building of this house of faith. Each one of our children are at different levels in their lives of faith. The Spirit is using us to help them to grow in faith in Christ Jesus. Like you, their teacher, their lives are spiritual sacrifices to God (see Romans 12:1 “I appeal to you brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.)

This takes us back to our theme “Built on the Rock.” Our lives, the lives of our families, and the lives of the children and their families, are to be “built on the rock.” The Rock is Christ Jesus. We are built through Word and Sacrament. We emphasize this each day in our classrooms. And we will be emphasizing this weekly in our chapel services.

Built on the Rock the Church shall stand / Even when steeples are falling.
Crumbled have spires in every land; / Bells still are chiming and calling.
Calling the young and old to rest, / But above all the souls distressed,
Longing for rest everlasting.

We are God’s house of living stones, / Built for His own habitation.
He through baptismal grace us owns / Heirs of His wondrous salvation.
Were we but two His name to tell, / Yet He would deign with us to dwell
With all His grace and His favor.

(Lutheran Service Book, #645 vs. 1, 3)