Monday, November 14, 2016

Signs of the End

"And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting in fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world." (Luke 21:25-26 ESV) Words spoken by Jesus during the week leading up to His death upon the cross. Timely words for every generation. The end has not come upon the world but it did come upon those in the generations that have passed before us.

The super moon, the election of Donald Trump president, the riots and protests filled with anxiety and foreboding, the earthquake in New Zealand, the tsunami that followed - are these signs of the end? Is the end upon us? Will the Son soon return?

Yes. These are signs of the end times. Shocked? You shouldn't be. I didn't say the end was upon us. I didn't say that the return of the Lord is today. These are signs of the end. Remember that Jesus also says, "The end is not yet." When the signs happen, they tell us that Christ will return. They point, not to themselves, but to the return of the great Judge on the Last Day. The signs all say to us, "Turn from your sinfulness and follow the way of Christ. Do not look to yourself or the actions of the world around you for hope and peace. Look to Jesus Christ alone, for only in Him will you find that peace you are searching for in the actions of the day." The signs say to you and me, "Christ is going to return."

Are you ready? I don't mean are you ready for the world to come to an end? Are you ready by believing in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Is your faith in Christ or in someone or something in this world? Where is your hope? In a political candidate? In a safe place? In your own desires? If it is any place other than Christ Jesus, you better hope that the end doesn't happen now for you will not have eternal peace in heaven. Only in Christ is that eternal, heavenly peace and life given.

If you are ready by believing in Jesus Christ, are you sharing that message of the Gospel with others? If not, why not? Are you willing to let others be damned? That is what it means to not have Christ Jesus as your Savior. The more sure that you are that Christ is going to return, that the signs of the end point to a return of Christ soon, that should light a fire under you to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only in Him, faith in Him, is salvation given. How can they believe in the one in whom they have not heard? And how can they hear if no one speaks to them? You are sent by the Holy Spirit to speak words of life, hope and peace.

Signs of the end are saying, "Share the Gospel. Share the Word of God. Don't wait. For the time is short." Yes, the time is short.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Still in Your hand

Well, November 8, 2016 is now in the history books. For some, they will claim it is the greatest day of victory. Others will claim it is the greatest day of calamity. There will be doom and gloom. The markets will react. Pundits will pund (if that is a word). Commentators will commentate. There will be folks dancing. There will be folks crying.

Is this the end of America? Is it the return to a true America? Each will have their feelings about it. Each will claim that they are correct. If fill in the sentence. There will be those who are full of hope for a better future. There will be those who are sure that the future is ruined.

Me, I see us right where we were before the election. In the hand of the Lord. I am not talking about the leaders of the country. I am not talking about a political party. I am talking about each of us, people who are in need of a Lord who watches over us and is with us in all that we do. We are in the hand of the Father. "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." (John 10:28-29 ESV) There is where I find comfort. I found comfort in those words prior to the election. I find comfort in those words after the election. I never put my confidence in either candidate. I put my confidence in my Lord Jesus Christ.

Many in the land of Israel cried out in fear over the situation of their nation. It was going downhill quickly. Some would cry out. Some would accept. Some would see no problems at all. As you read through the history of the Old Testament, you realize that even in the direst of times, God was still the God of His people, even as they turned their back on Him. Even when they would not look to Him for guidance, He still guided them. He even disciplined them because of their sins. Yet He was still their God and they were still His people.

I do not claim that America is the new Israel. That would be wrong. I believe that those who hold Christ in their heart and follow Him in their lives are the people of God. They are sinners. They turn from Him over and over again. They love Him and then follow the temptation of the devil, the world and their own sinful nature. They return to God in repentance. They receive forgiveness. They have the Holy Spirit guiding them with the blessed Means of Grace - Word and Sacraments. Nothing has changed. Nothing. will say. Trump was elected. Some claim he is the savior of the nation. Others claim him to be the destruction of the nation. Which is right? Neither. The only Savior is Jesus Christ. No man can claim that for himself nor should that be given to any man. That is idolatry. That is wrong. Neither is one man the source of destruction. That is sin, sin in each one of us. Sin that turns from God to accept the sinful actions and desires of the heart is that destruction.

In the end, the only hope is found in Jesus Christ. Will America collapse? I don't know. It is possible. Will it become great again? I don't know. It is possible. I do not claim to know what the future holds. But I do know the One who holds the future. It isn't Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. It is Jesus Christ. We are still in His hand, that is, as long as we do not leave behind our faith in Him.

What do we need to do? The same thing we needed to do before the election. Return to the Lord with our whole heart. Trust in God in all things. Lift up our leaders in prayer. And turn from our sins. Nope, there is nothing new under the sun. The needs are the same. The Savior is the same.

We are still in His hand.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Day thoughts

"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV) I have heard this passage used in the days leading up to this election. The idea is that at this moment, if people will band together, admit their guilt and pray to the Lord, He will have the right candidate elected as president, vice president and a while host of other elected positions.

But which candidate is the right candidate? Which is the one that the Lord would have elected? The Christian on one side will say, "This one," while the Christian on the other will say, "that one." Who is right? My friends, that is the wrong question. We misuse this passage in order to get God on our side and have our candidate elected. And it truly is a misuse of this passage.

Instead of throwing around Scripture in order to get someone elected, why not actually listen to what this passage is saying? Solomon had finished building the temple, the house of the Lord and the Lord came to him with these words of hope and promise. It had nothing to do with an election. It had everything to do with a way of life.

Herein lies the real problem. The way of life in our country is far from the way that the Lord would have us live. We accept sin as an acceptable way of life. We embrace sinful actions while we despise the way of the Lord. We call good evil and evil good. We have turned things upside down in our country. And it isn't just the unbeliever that acts this way. Many Christians have embraced the way of sin - living together outside of marriage, the killing of the unborn, racial injustice (and not just against blacks but against every race, even the whites), homosexuality, abuse of power, hatred, anger, bitterness. It isn't just those who don't know any better but it is the Christian who has turned his/her back upon the Lord and embraced the way of sin with no contrition or repentance. Church bodies have turned from the Word of God, even so far as claiming that it is no longer the Word of God but merely the word of man. Churches and church leaders have begun to practise empty actions, much like the pharisees in our Lord's day, claiming that they are the holy ones because they offer the right sacrifices, do the right actions, have the right way of doing worship.

Then when the election comes around, we say, "For the moment, turn to the Lord, humble yourselves, and He will do what is right." Really? This isn't about an election. It is about a way of life. Turn from sin. Turn from the lies of the sinful world. Turn from sinful actions. As you turn from those things, confess your sins to God, repent! With repentance comes a way of life. The one who is sinning sexually should cease doing the sinful action. The one who is sinning by hating another because of his/her skin color should cease doing this sinful action. The one who is sinning by loving the things of this life more than the Triune God should cease doing this sinful action. Not just today but every day in the future.

This passage is talking about a complete way of life, a life that is lived according to the will of the Lord and not the will of man. It is much to late to begin to pray today for the outcome of the election. The reality is we are receiving the fruits of our sinful lives. Don't like the candidates? Think of this, we are receiving what our lives deserve. I do not believe either presidential candidate is the best candidate for the office. I do believe that they are what we as a nation deserve. We have turned form the Lord in our daily lives. This is receiving from the hand of the Lord what we deserve. When you turn from Him each day, over and over again, how can you expect Him to bless you? So it is with our nation. Long ago we turned from following the Lord. Today, we have the unfortunate outcome of our sinful way of life.

It is time we all wake up, from the least to the greatest. We humble ourselves. We confess our sin (not the sin of others but your personal guilt and sin). Receive forgiveness from the Lord. Then change, yes change, our way of life, the way our hearts guide us. We can't go on sinning boldly and then expect blessings from the Lord. It don't happen that way.

God be merciful to us. We are receiving what we deserve. Please, save us from ourselves.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Sausage suppers

Sausage supper. It is that time of the year when church after church has their sausage supper. For those who are members of the church, it is a lot of work. For those who eat the supper, it is a joy. The question can be asked, why do them? Is it really necessary to do the sausage supper? For the congregational treasurer and finance board, the answer would be yes. It is vital to do the supper in order to supplement the income of the congregation in meeting its budget. For others, they might say that while it is nice to have the income, it is a lot of work and might not be worthwhile. These arguments can go back and forth with no conclusion.

As I look at the sausage suppers, I see them in a different way. Sausage suppers open the doors of a congregation to folks of the community. It brings people together. It helps people of the congregation work together. It gives people the opportunity to reconnect with folks they haven't seen in a while. It gives a good meal to folks. This is the one area that is often overlooked in the discussion of sausage suppers.

Yes, they bring in some finances to the congregation, But more than that, it brings people together and isn't that the purpose of the church, to bring people together? Now before you jump up and become upset with me and say, "The purpose of the congregation is to proclaim the Gospel!" I would ask that you hear me out. Yes, the overall purpose of the church is to proclaim Christ Jesus as the only Savior, the way to be saved. Without that message, the church is useless. It should be proclaiming that loudly in worship, Bible study, in all that it does. The Gospel is what makes the Christian church the Christian church. Christ Jesus is the Savior.

But not everyone is going to walk in the doors of the church on Sunday morning. I would love to have every Christian church filled to overflowing capacity on Sunday morning, week after week. We are called to share the love of Christ in many ways. Sausage suppers is one of those ways. Go to one and look around. Watch the people. Watch the relationships. Watch how people treat one another. As I sit and wait to be seated, I enjoy watching folks come, see someone they know, and start talking. Would that have happened normally? Probably not. Each family would go to the houses, hide away inside with their TV or Internet and not see the other. But sausage has brought them out of their cave for a short time.

And while they are out of their cave, they begin to interact with others, folks they haven't seen for a while. Watch all the smiles, the hugs, the kind words. You begin to realize more than eating sausage takes place at the suppers. Relationships are built, renewed, refreshed. I went to Bethlehem, Ferrin yesterday and spent more time talking and visiting than eating. Yes, the sausage is probably the best sausage ever served but that isn't why I am there. I am there to see folks. To talk, to catch up, to share in their lives and to share my life. The Sausage supper made it possible for me to see and talk with folks that I haven't seen for the past year. How many times does that play out at sausage suppers at Worden, Holy Cross, Collinsville, or Trinity, Edwardsville? How often is the supper more than a meal? It is friends and neighbors joining together once again for a short time.

As they join together, the love of Christ can be seen as it is shared in the smile or the kind word. The love of Christ is seen when folks sit down together and talk while they are waiting for their number to be called. How often is the love of Christ seen as folks work together to make the dinner possible, cooking sausage or green beans, cutting pies, clearing tables, or giving drinks? Christ is in those places as the relationships are renewed and strengthened.

Yes, sausage suppers are great. Good food, good friends, good visiting, good time - they are worth all the effort. Thanks to all the folks at the different churches who put on their supper. See you next time!