Saturday, June 3, 2017

Spiritual Whiskers

I sit here this morning feeling the stubble on my chin . I guess it means that I need to shave. But I don't really feel like it. Perhaps I can go without shaving today. It is Saturday. And what about tomorrow, Sunday. What difference would it make if I decided to not shave tomorrow. Sure, someone might say something about it. But it is my face and my whiskers. Why should someone else have anything to say about my face and whiskers. So what if it doesn't look good. If I don't mind, why should anyone else?

Or maybe I will just shave the right side of my face today and let the left side grow. I could do that all week long. What difference would that make? It shouldn't bother anyone else. It is my face and my whiskers. I am not hurting anyone by not shaving the left side of my face.

I am sure you are wondering where I am rambling to on this Saturday morning. Shaving is really an option for men. It is also an option for women. Men can grow those long beards that became so common following the guys in Duck Dynasty. And why should anyone get upset if a woman lets the hair on her legs grow? After all, women in Europe have done that for years. Just imagine how freeing it would be to let the hair on the legs grow, especially during the summer when you wear shorts or even a swim suit. It is personal preference and why should anyone have anything to say about it?

All right, so I am rambling at the moment. I have had only 1 cup of tea so far this morning. And I haven't shaved yet. So that means what?

Whiskers and hair is like sin. You have to stay after it in order to keep it in check. If you don't shave your face, the whiskers keep growing. If you don't want a beard or moustache, you have to shave each day. The whiskers will continue to grow. If you don't stay after temptation and sin, it will continue to grow in your life. And many times, the sin is personal. It is your own sin. It doesn't hurt anyone else. What difference does it make.

Take pornography. (Yes, take it and get rid of it!) It is a "personal" sin. With the advent of computers and the Internet, you can sit in the privacy of your home and watch as much porn as your stomach can handle. You no longer need to feel like a perv by going to the shady little building on the wrong side of town. You don't need to wait till dark or when no one is around to hurry furtively into the front door, hoping that no one sees you going in or coming out. Now, you can have the porn right at your finger tips. What does it hurt? Who does it hurt? No one. Like whiskers, if you don't nip it in the bud, it will keep growing, the desire, the temptation, etc.

I am getting up to shave, but not till I finish my thoughts. So porn is personal and private. No one is hurt. But what about those folks who make the porn? Do you really think that the women like what is happening to them? What if that was your wife or your daughter or your sister or your mother or your brother or father or uncle? Would it be OK? (Some men and women in their sickness of sin would desire that to be the case. That only show show deep the sin has gotten into their being. Like whiskers or let hair, they have let it grow and grow. The leg hair is not several inches long and the face whiskers is 12 inches long.) What about that marriage relationship? Does the husband now expect his wife to act like a porn star? Does the wife now wish that her husband was built like the guy in the porn movie? Or wish that he would satisfy her like the women "seem" to be in the flick? Does the boyfriend want his girlfriend to act like what he was watching?

Now the whisker has grown. Desire has changed from love to lust. Care for the other person has changed to demand for certain actions. The relationship has changed. It has become like a moustache that hangs an inch over the mouth. Everything that goes into the mouth must pass through those long whiskers. Nothing is truly pure any longer. It now has hairs in it whenever you open your mouth.

And personal? Really? Joseph was tempted by Potipher's wife. He could have had her anytime he wanted. Who would know? What would it hurt? (This was before smart phones when people could video whatever happens.) Joseph gives the answer. "How can I do this wicked thing against God and my master?" He knew that even if no one else knew, it was a sin against God! Yes against God Himself. So Joseph shaved off those whiskers of temptation. He knew that to let it grow even a little bit was a problem.

That is where I am going today (I actually had a plan). Each day I shave. Why? Because I do not want to let the whiskers get long. Each day I return to the waters of my Baptism and I go to the Word of God. I receive the Sacrament of the Altar regularly. I attend worship weekly (not just because I am a pastor but because of my personal need and the invitation of my Lord). Why do I do all that? In order to continue shaving the whiskers of temptation. I do not want to give sin the chance to take hold, to grow in my life. For if I let coveting take hold, it will lead me to other types of sin. If I let foul language slip from my lips, it will soon become a part of my life. If I let sinful desire into my heart, I will soon find ways to act on that desire (not just sexual desire but desire for money, or fame or power).

Can you imagine trying to shave without a razor? Or a knife? Or any other instrument? Try shaving with a noodle or pencil. It won't happen. That is why we turn not to ourselves but to the one place that can help us. God. He gives us the Means to overcome sin and it isn't by trying harder. He gives us Word and Sacrament. Those are the "razors" that shave the whiskers sin. They cut them back, daily. Because those whiskers just keep growing. It doesn't matter your age, the whiskers keep growing. Without the Means the Lord has given to us, those whiskers would soon grow longer and longer until they overtake our entire being and lead us to destructive and sinful actions.

So go shave. Go read your Bible. Return to the waters of your Baptism. Receive the body and blood of your Savior in the Lord's Supper. Attend Bible study. Be in worship with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who need to shave as well. There, the Lord will be with you. There you find your razor, your Savior, the One who will keep those whiskers of temptation cut back.

Now, I am going to shave. Yep, I need the Word of God for this day.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Smeared windows, growing grass and Christ

I washed the windows last Friday. It was amazing how dirty they were after the winter months. Open, spray, wipe, clean, return to normal position and move on to the next window. When I finished, I felt really good about what I had accomplished. When Penny came home, she commented on how much better the world looked through clean windows. I felt really good about what I had accomplished. Patting myself on the back, I looked out the windows at the world around us and rejoiced. I had done a good job.

The grass needed mowed. So I got the mower out, and did the job. Back and forth, up and down, cutting the grass, making sure not to miss any part of the yard. When I finished, it looked really good. I sat on the porch and looked proudly at the yard and felt a sense of accomplishment. I had done good once again. I had made things look really nice around the house. Patting myself on the back, I walked back into the house and rejoiced that things were looking so good.

So we are in life. We do something and we feel proud of it. Look at what I have done, the job I have accomplished. Me, not someone else, me! I did this. I did that. I made the company a fist full of money by the way I sold that contract. I convinced a set of people that they needed what we offered. I set the standard for others to life up to because I did so good. Pat yourself on the back and rejoice, you are really good.

The next morning, as the sun came up, I proudly looked at the window I had cleaned. I knew it was going to be a great sunrise because I had cleaned those windows. But...wait a moment. What is that? They are smeared. Really, they are smeared. Not by dog noses, which would come soon enough. They were smeared because when I washed them, I didn't do a good enough job. I looked at the windows with disgust. Really? How could I, me, the great and wonderful window washer, have not gotten those windows cleaner? Oh, they were good enough. They still looked nice, when the early morning sun wasn't streaming in but I knew. I knew that I hadn't done a good enough job cleaning them. My best efforts weren't really good enough.

I got up this morning, looked at the yard as I let the dogs out and thought, what happened? Didn't I just mow the yard? Wasn't it just looking beautiful after this great lawn mower finished? What did it look ragged today? Why did it look like it needed mowing again? What is up with that? I don't really want to mow again but look at it. Just look. Even though this great yard care person made it look so beautiful, today it doesn't look that way. Oh sure, it is good enough. It really can wait a day or two but look at it! It isn't as pretty as the other day when I mowed it. Even though I had done what was needed, today, my best efforts didn't stop it from growing and looking, well, not bad but not good. My best efforts weren't good enough.

As I thought about this, I realized something important. My best efforts aren't good enough. When I look at my life, I mean my spiritual life, I realize that my best efforts aren't good enough. I try to clean up my life and all I do is smear it more. I try to clip down the sin but all that happens is it grows back, often times faster than I can imagine. I try to help others, but it is not always from such altruistic care. I am doing it for myself. When I help that person that needs help, it only shows that I am in a better place than them. I don't need their help, they need mine. (Pat, pat, pat) When I make some serious cash, I find that my greedful self wants more. Make more. You did it before, do it again. Temptation rears it's head. Sin grows back in my life just like my yard. Sin smears my life just like my windows.

I realize it isn't about what I can do because what I do is colored, completely colored, by sin. Sin is always there. It smears my best intentions. It grows back despite my best efforts. It makes my actions self-centered. It creates in me an impure heart, a heart that is self-serving, self-seeking and self-delusional. Yes, I struggle against that old, sinful nature and I cannot overcome it.

Into this picture steps the Lord. He knows my best efforts are not good enough. He knows I am a sinful person. He knows that I will become proud and arrogant about what is accomplished (even when it isn't something I have done, I will try to take credit for it (especially when it comes to the life of faith). So He shows His love. He takes my sin, my unrighteousness. He carries that for me. He carries it to the cross. He hangs there for me, for my selfishness and my my best (actually they are my worst) efforts. He suffers for me. He dies for me. He is laid in the tomb for me. Then He rises for me.

He gives to me what I lack, His righteousness. He gives that in the waters of Baptism. He gives that through the Holy Spirit working in my heart and life. He gives that through His Word. He gives that in the body and blood, bread and wine of the Sacrament of the Altar. He gives me what I cannot give myself - purity. He created in me a pure heart! He made me know. He makes me new every morning. He forgives, upholds and leads me each day.

Smeared windows, growing grass and Christ. The first two are my sins. The last One is His righteousness. I would love to do away with the first two. I can't. But He does. I would love to claim the last one. I can't. He gives it freely. Looking at the window, I see Christ's righteousness for me. I look at the grass and see Him working in my life.

All I can say, "How great Thou art!" No patting myself on the back. Falling on my knees, I now see is the better place to be.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Mother's Day ramblings.

Happy Mother's Day!

This Sunday, May 14, 2017 is Mother's Day, the annual celebration of motherhood. It is a grand day to remember your mother. It is important to take a moment and thank the Lord for the gift of a mother, since we all have one (either living or departed). For those who have living mothers, I would encourage you to stop by and see her, if you live in the area where she lives or give her a call and talk to her. We all know that we do not live forever. One day, your mother will pass away. At that moment, all the things you wish you would have said or done will weigh upon your mind as guilt. You will wish you would have stopped more often. You will wish you would have called more often. You will wish that you would have told her that you loved her.

So why wait till Sunday? Call her today. Stop by today. Tell her you love her today. Life is fragile. We are not told how many days we will have. Someone that is waiting till Sunday will find that between now and then, their mother will have passed. Don't be that someone.

Mother's Day. I think about the day. I do not know my birth mother. Yes, I have her name. I have vague memories of her but I do not know her. The woman that raised me, that became my mother, died in 1999. So I cannot celebrate Mother's Day with them. But I do celebrate Mother's Day with Penny, my wife of nearly 33 years. She is the mother of our 3 children, yes, 3. You only know 2 of them, Rachael and Matthew. We lost our first child to that unspoken of thing called "miscarriage." It broke our hearts. The Lord healed those broken hearts and broken lives that came from that death. (Do you ever think of a miscarriage as a death? It is. That child was alive, no matter how long he/she was carried.) We were crushed when we lost our first child. I give thanks for the Lord at that moment because we were alone in Wisconsin and received no support from anyone around us. Hurting, lost, the Lord was all we had (and in many ways, He is all we have every day). Penny is a wonderful mother. So on Mother's Day, I celebrate her.

I also celebrate Penny's mother, Shirley. She has become the mother that I don't have. I rejoice that the Lord has given me the opportunity over these years, especially since 1999, to have a mother (though she is technically a mother-in-law). I love her like a mother and give thanks to the Lord that I was able to be a part of her life and family.

I have another mother that I celebrate. That mother is the Church, the Christian Church. Yes, she is my spiritual mother. In the Church I am nurtured and fed regularly. She gives me life. She gives me strength. She feeds me through Word and Sacrament. She gives birth to many brothers and sisters around the world, each one brought to faith through the working of the Holy Spirit. On Mother's Day, I rejoice at the spiritual family that I have been given, here at St. Paul's, Troy; at each of the congregations that I have served as pastor; in each congregation that I have been nurtured in faith; and in the congregations that I have not visited or seen for they too are a part of this Christian family.

So in the end, all I can say is, "Thank You Lord for my mothers, living and departed. Thank You for the life You have given me - physical life and spiritual life."

If you are a mother, happy Mother's Day to you.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Sheep and Shepherd

The 4th Sunday of Easter (yesterday, May 7) was Good Shepherd Sunday. It is on that day of the Church Year that we focus our attention on Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd. He says, "I am the good shepherd..." (John 10:11 ESV) We read in Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." (Psalm 23:1) He watches over us and cares for us in our lives. The sheep (you and me) need the Shepherd to care for us in the midst of this world that is filled with many wolves, lions and other dangers. The devil, the sinful world and our sinful nature all seek our destruction. Left to our own ways, we would find that we fall prey to so many things that our lives are filled with pain and suffering.

Isaiah writes, "We all like sheep have gone astray; we have turned - every one - to his own way." (Isaiah 53:6 ESV) Straying sheep, sheep that feel that we know better than the Shepherd, sheep that seek their own way, that is how we are described. And it is true. When we quit following the Shepherd (for a shepherd leads his sheep rather than driving them ahead of himself), we stray off to all sorts of things.

How true this is for my life. Those times when I am tempted by the tuft of grass here or the berry on the bush that looks so succulent, I forget to follow my Shepherd. I figure, "What will one little moment matter? How can I get in very much trouble if I just go over here for a moment?" It is at those moments that the lion (1 Peter 5:8 "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." ESV) smiles to himself and realizes that yet another little lamb is straying from the flock and is fair game. The simple little tuft of grass leads to another tuft a little further and so on until I have strayed from the Shepherd and the roaring lion gets to devour this little lamb. All because I didn't think that one little temptation would actually lead to something bigger, something called "sin."

That is when the Shepherd comes for me. Now the question that I ask myself and I would ask you is this, "When the Shepherd comes for you, to rescue you, do you fight Him? Do you listen to His voice? Or do you think you are still wiser, more apt to know what is best for you, that you don't listen to Him? Do you run to the Shepherd? Or do you run from Him?"

When called back from sin, we have one of two choices: 1) listen to the voice of the Shepherd, turn from our sinfulness and follow Him, or 2) think that we still have it under control, that we can still hold fast to the sinful action and not be hurt by it. When the Law calls to us, points out our sin, shows our weakness, shows our need of a Savior, how do you respond? I know that often my sinful nature will tell me, "You are all right. You don't have to turn from this temptation. You are still in control. You are safe. Nothing will happen to you." Then the lion sinks his teeth into me, tearing at my flesh, seeking to destroy me completely. That often happens when someone is in a sinful action and doesn't wish to stop - the person who is consumed by alcohol and doesn't want to/is unable to stop; the person who is caught up in pornography; the person who is a gossip; the person who doesn't feel the need for Word and Sacrament in his/her life; and so on. "I can do it myself. I don't need the Shepherd to bother me." Sheep lead astray, sheep getting lost, sheep being destroyed by sinful temptation and sinful actions.

The Shepherd wades into the fray, the battle for the soul of the lamb, giving Himself to the claws of the lion, to the teeth of wolf, to the terror of the angered grizzly bear, all in order to save the little lamb, the sheep who has strayed. That is what the Good Shepherd does. "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11b ESV) He does that when He goes to the cross. The nails piercing His hands and feet, the weight of sin laid on His shoulders, the Good Shepherd gives up His life for you and me. He takes our place, standing between us and sin, death and the devil, fulfilling the Law for us, in our stead. He dies so that we might live. The Good Shepherd rushing to our aid, fighting off those which would devour us.

In Him, we have life. In Him is forgiveness. In Him is true earthly life. In Him is peace. In Him is all that we need. And so I ask you (and myself), "Do you go rushing back to that temptation? Do you feel that it will still be all right to chase after that one berry of sin, thinking that you will still be all right?" The answer to that question is most generally "yes." Even after all He has done for you and me, sin still holds that power of us. This is why we need to be in the Word regularly. This is why we need to be living in our Baptism. This is why we still need to receive the Lord's Supper when it is offered. This is why we still need to be a part of the "flock" which we call the local congregation. A sheep by itself is easy prey. A sheep surrounded by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the Means of Grace (Word and Sacraments), is protected. He/she will still fall into temptation but will be easily brought back through forgiveness. A sheep that is off by itself, feeling no need at all for the flock or the Shepherd or the Means of Grace, will find that he/she is sliding down the steep cliff to his/her spiritual death (even when he/she doesn't realize it). We need each other as brothers and sisters in Christ for the reason that it gives us support, strength and the power to withstand the temptations to stray. Being a part of the local congregation centers us, anchors us and strengths us each day.

All right, so this blog didn't go the direction I thought it was going. But as a sheep of the Lord, the under shepherd of the flock here at Troy, I see that the Spirit leads where He wishes and I follow. Will you follow today? I pray that you will. More than that, I pray that I will follow as well.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Where is He?

"He is not here. He is risen, just as He said He would," the angel says. "Behold my hands and side," Jesus says to the disciples. "He walked with us, talked with us and broke bread with us," the men from the road to Emmaus tell the other disciples.

"He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!" the parishioners and pastor greet each other on Easter Sunday morning. The lilies trumpet the news of the resurrection even as the trumpets play loudly along with the organ as the worshipers lift up their voices in a rousing hymn of joy, "Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!" With confidence, they join in singing "I know that my Redeemer lives, What comfort this sweet sentence gives..."

Yes, He is alive. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He lives even today. Easter joy, Easter celebration. Join the festal song as we praise the name of our risen Lord Jesus Christ.

But it is now almost 2 full weeks since that Easter celebration. This Sunday, April 30th, will be the 3rd Sunday of Easter, the 2nd Sunday since that celebration. The question I ask you, "Where is He?" Where is Jesus Christ today?

I know that you are going to say, "Everywhere." You would be correct. Yet I want you to think deeper than that. Where is He today? If you celebrated the resurrection on Easter Sunday, where is that risen Lord in your life right now?

As I write this, I have several thoughts in mind. I may or may not get to all of them today. That is all right. These are after all, "random thought..." I can be random even as I try to be specific.

First, we know where Jesus is. He is in the Word and Sacrament. He is THE Word. John tells us that in the 1st chapter of the gospel that bears his name. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." (John 1:1) Then in verse 14, John tells us, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14) The Word is none other than Jesus Christ. Martin Luther knew this Word when he wrote in the hymn "A Mighty Fortress," "One little Word can fell him (Satan)." That Word is Jesus Christ. He is the Word. All the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, are written to show us the Word, to show us Christ. From Genesis to Revelation, the Holy Spirit lead the chosen writers in the thoughts they expressed and the words they wrote. The purpose of the Bible? To show each one of us the Savior, to show us the Word, to show us the risen and living Lord Jesus Christ. Where is He? In the Word. He is the Word.

Even more, He is the Sacrament of the Altar. There, in the bread and wine, we see the very risen Lord. He gives us His body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine. As you eat the bread in a normal fashion, you receive the body of Christ. As you drink the wine, you receive the blood of Christ. How? Through the Word of Christ. He says it is there and therefore, it is. Period. If He was wrong on this point, then on what point can His word be trusted? Where is He? In the Sacrament of the Altar, each time it is offered.

There we know that He is. There we are assured of His presence. There, in Word and Sacrament, we see the risen Lord. Have you gone back to worship since Easter? If not, why not? Was the one event of meeting the risen Lord enough for your life? No. Put your hand on your chest. Is your heart beating? If so, then you need to return to the very place where He promises to meet you week after week - in Word and Sacrament. (I am not going to get into that argument that says, "I can be a Christian without attending worship." True, but what kind of Christian are you? The Lord invites you to worship and you are saying to Him, "No thank you." What does that really say about you?)

Where is He? He is in your life. He is in your heart. He is with you every single day. He is with you as you sleep. He is with you as you eat a meal. He is with you as you drive. He is with you as you go to work. He is with you are school. He is with you as you go to the ballgame or hockey game. He is with you as you watch TV or surf the Internet. He is with you as you post on Facebook. He is with you as you read the book. He is with you as you work in the garden or do the laundry. The risen Lord is with you wherever you are. He tells you, "I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." Always. Everywhere.

How is that reflected in your daily living? Do you reflect the living Lord in your actions? Your words? Do you reflect the living Lord in your plans? Do you show those around you that the Lord lives in you? Do you live for Him or do you live for yourself? This really gets into the life of sanctification, the life we live each day. This gets into our life as Christian stewards. Our lives are not our own. We were bought with a price (His suffering and death). You were baptized into Christ Jesus, into His death and into His resurrection. He lives in you. You are to live for Him. You are to live according to His will, sharing His love with others, caring for those around you in the way that He would have you care for them.

This is so challenging. It is easy to say "He lives!" It is more difficult to live "He lives!" Why? Our sinful nature doesn't want us to follow Him. It wants to live for itself. It wants what it wants. He desires what it desires. And that generally is not what the Lord desires. Wow! Really? That means that He alone is the One we should live for each day.

Where is He? Ask yourself that today. Ask yourself that every day. Pray that the Spirit will lead you to live for the risen Christ, live in the risen Christ, live as He lives in you. Let that risen Lord shine through you today.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! He lives in you today.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Disappointment

Have you disappointed? In some situation, in a person, in an organization? I think that probably all of us have been disappointed at one time or another. Someone tells you that they will contact you, then they don't. The interviewer tells you that they will get back to you about the job, then they don't. You have high hopes to get into a certain school, then you are turned down. You put all your trust in a government, a president, a governor and then they don't quite live up to your expectations. You love and trust someone in a relationship and then they do something that lets you down.

Yes, we have all faced disappointment at one time or another. Perhaps it is just the disappointment of not getting the certain toy or gift that you wanted as a child. I can remember as a child, standing at the door of the house, looking out the screen door, waiting to see a certain person walk up the steps to the door, only to not have that happen. Disappointment.

Why does it happen? Sinfulness. We are sinful people, living in a sinful world. No matter how good, true and honorable our intentions, each of us is still a sinner. We will disappoint someone and they will disappoint us. It will happen again and again.

There were some that were greatly disappointed people on that 1st day of the week so many years ago (the day we call Easter). Why were they disappointed? Because it didn't go the way they expected. They knew that the body of Jesus had been placed in the grave. They knew that there was a stone at the mouth of the tomb. They knew that there were guards placed outside the tomb in order to keep people from getting into the tomb. Why did they know this? Because they were the ones who did it. The chief priests and the Pharisees did not want the body of Jesus to be taken by the disciples or some other fanatical person. So they made the tomb as secure as they knew how.

Come that Sunday morning, they were disappointed. An angel came and rolled back the stone. The guards fell down as though dead. And Jesus walked out of the tomb. (All right, we don't know that He walked out. It is safe to say that He was no long dead in the tomb.) He was alive. And they were disappointed.

Another one that was disappointed? Satan. He wanted Jesus to remain dead. He wanted to defeat the Son of God. And he didn't. He did NOT defeat the Son of God by having Him put to death on the cross. Instead, he sealed his own fate. For not only did Jesus die, but He rose from the dead on the 1st day. To say that Satan was disappointed is probably a huge understatement. He was crushed!

Jesus rose from the dead. He is alive today! He lives! For me, there is no disappointment in Christ. I look at Him and know that no matter how often I disappoint other and they disappoint me, all is forgiven in Christ. He has brought forgiveness to each of us. In Him there is no disappointment - only truth, forgiveness, life and eternity.

Yes, others will disappoint you. They will disappoint me. You will disappoint others. I will disappoint others. The joy we have is that we are given forgiveness through a risen and living Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, there is no disappointment at all. In Him is life!

I give thanks to God for the faith, forgiveness and life that I have been given in the risen Jesus Christ. No disappointment there!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

If only...

Another gray day. It is one of those days when the clouds have set in. The sky doesn't want to rain and yet the sun doesn't want to shine. It is a day when people become a little grumpy and start to growl at one another. If only the clouds would part. If only the sun would shine. If only...

We spend a lot of time with the "if only." If only this would happen. If only I could do that. If only I would get the new job. If only the doctor would find out what is wrong. If only I would have turned left instead of right. If only I would have stayed in bed an extra 10 minutes. If only I would have gotten out of bed 10 minutes earlier. If only...

I would challenge you to think differently. Don't spend your time with those things that might have happened or could have happened or might have gone differently. Spend your time and effort living where you are now. Yes, make plans for the future. Have a goal or three. Have a direction you are going but don't spend your time looking backward. Look forward. Paul writes, "One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Chris Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14 ESV) The writer to the Hebrews says, "...let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings to closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12:1b-2a ESV) Looking forward to what is coming rather than looking behind (if only), we move forward each day.

The goal? Living in Christ. Living each day in our Lord we lay our "if onlys" at His feet, ask Him to forgive those things where we have failed or sinned and to bless us as we follow Him into a new day. We all have those moments, sometimes many of them, in which we were not living for Him but the joyous news is that He went to the cross for us, for our sins, for our if onlys. Look not to what you might have done differently to what He is doing in you. Be guided by the Spirit through Word and Sacrament to live in Christ. 

Yes there will always be an "if only" in your life. The One that is bigger that your "if only" is Christ. He overcomes each one of them and gives you a "now in Me" for your day. Now in Christ, you can move forward, learning from the mistakes, failures and sins, and living in Him. All praise be to God for the gift of His Son Jesus Christ and for the faith given to each of us through the water and the Word. 

Now, let's face today with the confidence that comes through the One who has already walked this road and leads us through the Valley daily. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Living with Consequences.

I was reading a report on Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers quarterback that decided he would use his freedom of speech to protest the nation by not standing for the National Anthem at the start of the games. His agents said that he is being punished for his using his rights to speak out about what he felt were problems in the nation.

Perhaps there is some truth in what is said. I am not saying that there aren't some that feel like punishing him. The one thing that is left out of the equation by his agents is that there is also freedom of speech for the fans. The fans have just as much the right to say that they do not agree with his stance and don't want to support him nor do they want to support a team that signs him. This is what freedom of speech says. You can say what you think. I can say what I think. And we are both free to do so.

We also both have to live with the consequences of our freedom to speak out on a topic. One of the consequences that this embattled quarterback is facing is that owners and teams don't want to bring his presence into their city/team. They are looking at him and looking at the fans and deciding that perhaps it is more important to listen to the fans that pay the ticket prices and support the team financially than to support a quarterback that will drive fans away from the ticket gate. That is a consequence that Kaepernick was not planning on. It is one that he has to live with.

What is my point? There are always consequences to what we say. We do have freedom to speak as we like but we are not free from the consequences of that speech. If someone doesn't agree with me in what I say, he/she does not have to to support me. He or she can speak against me, turn away and not support what I am doing or saying. That is the other person's freedom as well.

It appears that in our world today (and this is a sweeping statement) we believe that we have freedom of speech and that everyone has to accept what we say because we said it. It also seems that it is thought that no one has the right to disagree with what we say. There is also the thought that we should not live with the consequences of our words or actions. "Let me be to do what I want," it seems to be said, "and don't you dare disagree with me or speak/act against what I said. It is my right." But, my readers, it is also the right of the other to disagree with you and to speak or even act against you. The owners don't "have" to sign Kaepernick because of what he said. They have to weigh all the different pieces and decide what is important to them. If his speech is driving people away from ticket sales, they have the right to say, "It isn't worth the cost to have him on the team." That is their right.

Living with consequences is a challenge. The greatest thing we must face is the consequence of our sin. Sin separates us from God. Sin causes problems in our lives. Sin destroys relationships. Sin destroys the relationship with God. Yes, you are free to sin. But you also must realize that you are to live with the consequence of that sin. Our sin makes it impossible to enter into heaven. Our sin makes it impossible for us to live the way that God tells us that we must live in order to save ourselves. You can go ahead and sin. That is your right. But also understand that God does not have to change what He has said for you. Sin will still damn. Sin will still separate. That is the consequence of sin.

There is only one way out of this dilemma and it isn't found in you or your actions. It is found in the grace and mercy of God. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to take the sin of the world, to suffer for it, to keep the Law perfectly and then to die upon the cross for that sin. Then on the third day, He raised Jesus from the dead in order to give eternal life. Who receives this eternal life?

All who believe in Jesus as their only Lord and Savior. Period. You have the right to disagree with that statement but know this, your disagreement doesn't change it. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have eternal life." John 3:16 This is what the Father has said. There is only one way to be saved. It is through Jesus Christ alone.

The gift is forgiveness, faith and eternal life given by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That is it. Through Him alone is life eternal with God in heaven. And yes, there are consequences to not believing in Jesus as the Savior. Do you want to live with those consequences? For me, I believe Jesus is my only Savior from sin, death and the power of the devil. Period.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ramblings on a cold morning.

What are you thankful for today? It is cold, so I am thankful for heat. And for sweaters and hot tea. It is morning. So I am thankful that I was able to get up this morning, even it was earlier than I planned because of a chocolate lab wanting to get the other two dogs up to go outside because she didn't want to go out by herself. I grumbled. I growled. And then I was thankful for the quiet time, the time for prayer, the time to be strengthened by by Lord. So I see that I can even be thankful for chocolate lab that wants to get me up early.

I am thankful for the sunrise, the colors, the clouds, the reds, purples and oranges that glow with the handiwork of the Lord. I can see the colors. What a blessing! I am thankful that I am able to see yet another day.

Why am I thinking about all this? I don't know. It just is part of my ramblings on this Thursday morning. I was thinking about how the Lord is with me each day, no matter what takes place. He is there in the good time and in the bad times. He is there when decisions are easy and when they are hard. He is there when the health is good and when it is less than what I would like it to be. He is my Lord and my God at all times.

I am reminded of that daily. And I want to share that thought each day. I know that there are some who are struggling, having challenges in life that seem to be insurmountable. From their perspective, they are huge mountains to climb and they have no road to reach the top. I pray for them. I know that there are those who are facing health issues much greater than mine, and I pray for them. The little discomfort I face is truly nothing compared to the pain and weakness some face each day. I learn yet again that there is no reason for me to complain. This too shall pass and if it doesn't, then I have the Lord to lean upon, the One who will carry me through each moment of each day. Penny hears me when I grumble and I am thankful for her listening ear. I am also thankful that she reminds me that the Lord will see us through whatever we face. (Just so you don't read too much into this, there is no new diagnosis. There is no further things going on. I am just reflecting and rambling.)

I listen in awe of the Word of God that tells me, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him,'" (Lamentations 3:22-24 ESV) Like the sunrise that is new every morning, so is the love of the Lord. His mercy is always with me. I rejoice in the wonder of the day that He has given to me.

And that is why I am thankful. That is why I am rambling about the wonder of life as I have been given it. I serve as shepherd to the Lord's sheep. I am given the opportunity to share the love of the Lord with many people. The love I share is the love that has been given me. I am learning anew what it means "my cup runneth over." The Lord fills my cup with His love and as it overflows, I am sharing that with others.

So yes, I am thankful. Boy am I thankful for this cup of hot tea and the warm sweater. But more than that, I am thankful for the Lord's love in my life.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

In God's hands

As Christians, we say that a lot. "You are in God's hands." We say that to someone as they struggle with a situation or a crisis. I have said it many times. I encourage members of the congregation with those very words. There are places of Scripture that we fall back on to say this. The one place I often go is John's gospel. There Jesus says, "I give them eternal life, and they shall 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) What a comfort it is to know that nothing can snatch us out of the hand of God,

That doesn't mean that we don't face difficult times. It does mean that when we face those times, We belong to God. The situation can not take us out of the hand of our Father. Therein lies the real challenge. It seems that in times of crisis, we are not in the hand of God. "Where is God in this struggle? Where did God go while I face this crisis? Why do I feel so alone as this is going on? Shouldn't God stop this problem?" Those and many more thoughts can run through the mind of someone that is facing a crisis of some sort. It doesn't have to be a major, life-threatening crisis for the person to think that. It is a crisis for that person at that time.

I would remind you that being the Lord's hand is not based on your feelings. It is based on a very certain fact. Your feelings will change. They will fluctuate. Some days you will feel close to God, others you will feel far from Him. No, this does not rely upon you or even the situation you face. Listen to what God has said, "Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands." (Isaiah 49:16a ESV) Do you hear what He said? He engraved you on the palms of His hands. You didn't do it. He did it. When did that happen? Turn not to the actions of or thoughts of your heart. Turn to the waters of Baptism. There, in those blessed waters, God has called you by name. He claimed you. He promised you, "I will be your God and you shall be my child." He declares it. You don't even have to claim it. He gives it to you. Period. He gives you this promise. He engraves you on the palms of His hands. You are with Him every moment of every day - no matter what is going on in your life.

So you see, it isn't up to your feelings or your situation. He says to you, "You are mine. I am holding you every moment of every day." That is His promise made to you in the waters of Baptism. It is sure. It is certain. It is absolute.

You are in the hand of God. Sitting there reading this, you are in God's hand. Going to work, you are in God's hand. Eating breakfast, going to school, sitting in the doctor's office, laying on the gurney in the ER, taking that breath right before and during the time of your surgery, sleeping in your warm bed, driving down the road, washing the dishes, reading a book, and watching TV - you are in God's hand. He never lets you go. He never is too busy. He is never too anything. He promised you. And that promise is so wonderful.

Yes, you are in God's hand.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Thoughts as they play in your heart

It is a crazy thing to have doctors play around inside your heart. It is even crazier when they use a laser in your heart or at least around your heart. For those of you who don't know what I am talking about, let me explain.

I have had continued chest pain for the last couple of years. Yes, I have been going to a cardiologist for this problem. It started 6 years ago. Since that time I have had my gall bladder removed (which was needed), changed my diet to lower my cholesterol, visited the ER a couple of times, had 2 stents placed, and over that length of time had 6 heart caths, along with countless stress tests, nuclear stress test and a host of other things. All of which have shown that while I had some blockage in the heart, there was no major problem that should be causing said chest pain.  after about 4 years, I changed from a cardiologist at Anderson Hospital (which gave me good care but no answer) to a one at Barnes Jewish. He changed my medication around and I had about 6 months free from pain. Then it started again. More tests, the 5th of 6 caths, and still no answers. I continued to have the pains - at times when I was active, other times when I was sitting calmly doing nothing. Most people did not know what was going on. No need to cause concern among the family or congregation. So I carried nitro with me. For a while, I might use 1 pill a week. Then it became more common to use it daily and finally at least twice a day. If I could make 24 hours with using the nitro, we felt pretty blessed. My cardiologist was beside himself trying to figure out the problem. I was frustrated. Penny was frustrated. My cardiologist was frustrated.

So off to the chest pain clinic I went. It is relatively new but has had much success working with weird patients like me, that don't respond to medication. The cardiologist there explained that it could be cardiac artery spasms (which are hard to see unless it happens right when you are doing a cath) or maybe small vessel blockage (which can't be seen on regular scans). He recommended another heart cath, but this time using a certain medication that, if you have the problem, will cause the arteries to spasm. Then having a pet scan which looks at the small vessels of the heart to see if they are blocked. I agreed and so it was set.

Little did I know when I agreed that I would have a detour of a hernia that needed repaired, so at the end of January I had that fixed. It was painful for the first couple days but then got better. It is no fun getting older and I am still young by some people's recollection (only 55) and old by others who are in their 20's and 30's. I continued to have the support of the family and members. Lots of prayers, which lifted me up and strengthened me in ways you can't imagine.

Finally had the cath scheduled for March 7 (my brother's birthday). It was at Barnes. They were going to see if my arteries spasm. If so, there is medication for that. I wasn't sure who was going to do the procedure but I really didn't care as long as it gave answers, and possibly relief. How I long for relief from this stuff. Unless you have had chest pain, you don't know what it is like. I was good at hiding it from folks. Most people didn't know what was going on. Penny did. My family did, mostly. I didn't tell them all the pain that I had in order to keep them from being worried. Yes, I said worried. I know one in particular who would worry herself sick if she knew what was really going on. She prays for me and loves me and I was shielding her from more worry. I was shielding the congregation from worry too. Who wants their shepherd to be having chest pain while doing service. The focus would not be upon our Savior but upon the under shepherd and I refuse to stand in the way of the Gospel. The focus is on Christ not some pastor who has problems. I know I was prayed for by many, and it gave me strength. The Spirit guided me, and continues to guide me, through the worship services. All praise be to God.

So the morning of the cath dawned early. At Barnes at 6:30. Called to register and we doubted that I would make the 8:00 procedure time. Called back. Prepped. IV, questions asked. Nerves going. But still, resting in the arms of the Lord. Penny brought back. We sat there talking. Nervous energy but love flowing through it all. After the Lord, she is my rock. The 'fellow' came in (I guess that is what they call the people who are working with Dr. Singh) and explained what they are going to do. Good deal. Then Kevin comes in and starts getting things ready. "Are we going?" is asked. Yep. A kiss, an I love you, Penny leaves and they roll me away.

Into operating room 1 I go. 8:03 I enter. Wow, I think. Right on time. 1 1/2 hour procedure. Out by 9:30, 3-4 hours in recovery, home by 3:00. Going to be a good day I tell myself. Then onto the table. Getting put in position Vegal nerve problems for me (not sure how to spell that), I tell them Oxygen and medicine brought in just in case Problems getting the computer and the new monitor to link up. Reboot. Waiting. Drape is put on me. Sterile. Ready to go. 8:30, no computer. 8:40 Dr. Singh comes in and talks with me. It will be soon. (Dr. Singh is head of cardiology, by the way.) He asks if I need something to relax me and I respond affirmatively. I may be in the arms of the Savior but I still need the relaxation given by medication. He orders it. I receive it. I relax as I lay there. Still the compute and monitor don't synch up. 9:00 comes and still no procedure. "Soon" I am told. What can I do. I lay waiting. Still covered, ready for it to start. at 9:20, they decide it isn't going to work, even after the tech people work on it. So off come all the sterile things, moving from #1 to #6 (yes, I was able to know what was going on even with the relaxation medication.)

At 9:30 I roll into room #6. The procedure should be done by now. I ask them to make sure that Penny knows what is going on. They do. Finally they start at almost 10. Guess what! I vegal down on them (that is what they call it). Medication to help. Boy is that hard on a person. I hate the feeling. BP drops, heart rate drops, you feel sick, you feel like you can pass out, you feel...hard to explain but it is difficult on me when it happens. Dr. Singh does a great job going into the artery, into my heart, getting things ready, and then, "There is stent here." He asks me about it. I tell him that I received those at Anderson. He tell someone, get the records from Anderson now. They jump. They get them. He tells me that the stent is filling in. He will clean it out. OK. Sounds good to me, as I am in lala land (not the movie). Sometime in here I vegal down again. Twice during the procedure. Ugh. I feel really bad. I mean, REALLY bad. He lasers the blockage in the stent, then has to reinflate it because it wasn't fully extended. He balloons the stent. All this taking me to noon.

Finally it is done. You know what? They didn't do the test. Seriously. No test on the artery spasms. Dr. Singh says maybe this will help the problem. Who knows? The Lord knows. I realize that. I hope he does too. All the while, through this, prayers are said. By me. By Penny. By my family. By the church people. Yes, I was in good hands.

Off to recovery. Lay still. Don't move. Told that I have a silicone plug in the artery so that sheath is gone. Still have a sheath in the vein. Never had two before. But I wait. Around 3:00 they say they can start to remove the sheath.. BP still low but ok. The remove it. Can you guess what happened? I vegalled down again. Another 'fellow' is there to help out. More medication. Head lower than feet. Feeling terrible. Praying. praying, praying.

And you know what, it makes me cry to think of it even now, As I begged God for help, I had this come to me - the Ancient of Days. Yes, I believe that I saw the face of God. Seriously, as He wanted me to see Him. At that moment, peace came upon me. No longer was I afraid. Did I still feel terrible? Yes. But it was different. I was given the peace that passes all understanding. It was an amazing thing. He didn't say anything to me. He just looked at me. Those eyes, such peace and comfort. So overwhelming in all that is good, positive, comforting, and loving. My dear Father, giving me what I needed. No longer shaking. No longer afraid. Just resting in my Father's arms. Nothing could be better. Only a moment, but it could have been an eternity. I didn't care.

Then is was over. Body going back to normal. Worn out. Sleeping, Penny back in the room. Resting. Finally able to drink some water. A turkey sandwich never tasted so good. Grapes, chips and a sugar cookie. Hot tea (careful if you drink hot tea through a straw). Able to sit up in bed after an hour or so. Final labs to be run at 6:00 and then if all is well, heading home. A lot different form 3:00. But that is all right.

Finally, labs drawn. Getting up. Shaky on the feet. Light headed. Walk down the hall. How about a chair before I fall to the floor. Then back to my feet. Moving down the hall, turn around, back to the room. Sitting in chair. Penny helps me change. She is my angel here on earth. Dressed. Waiting for the labs. Brittney from Carlyle is my nurse. Good gal. Takes good care of me. Finally labs are back. IV is out. Rolled out to the curb. Dumped at the side of the road, left alone. Not really, just seeing if you were still paying attention. Penny pulls up, I get in and 12 1./2 hours later we are heading home

The outcome? At 36 hours I have had no chest pain. Seriously, none at all. The leg is sore and stiff but no chest pain. I wait, I wait to see if it starts again. I pray it doesn't. I wonder if I still will have to have the other test. But that is out of my hands. I pray I don't. Time will tell.

And that, my friends, is a long story of my day in which I had a heart cath, 3 vegal downs, a vision of the Father and the love of my wife, not to mention the prays of countless people. Yes, prayer is powerful. It surrounded me with peace even when all was falling apart inside of me. Thank you for your prayers. Thank You, Lord, for your presence.

Now we wait. Time will tell. I preached Wednesday night. How could I not? The love of God pulled me through a tough time. All I can do is tell you how much He loves and cares for you. And I will keep doing it until He calls me home, which I pray is not for another 30 years.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Thought on 2 Peter 1

This last Sunday at St. Paul's we celebrated Transfiguration Day (according to the 3 year cycle of readings and church year). It is the day when our Lord Jesus Christ went up on the mountain with Peter, James and John, his brother, and was transfigured, showing His glory. His face shone like the sun and His garments were pure white. This gives a glimpse of the glory of Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God. (read Matthew 17:1-8)

The epistle reading for that day was in 2 Peter 1. In this reading we have Peter saying, "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, 'This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased,' we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for were with him on the holy mountain." (2 Peter 1:16-18 ESV) Here we are told by one of the eyewitnesses that he saw Jesus transfigured. How much more do we need to believe. Listen to what he has to say and know that it is true.

But wait. Peter doesn't want you to just trust his word. Instead, he does something amazing. He writes, "And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place." (2 Peter 1:19 ESV) While Peter could say, "I saw it, believe what I say," he doesn't. Instead he points us to that which is more sure, that which we can hold fast to in our lives, the prophetic word. He is pointing us to the Law and Prophets (of what we call the Old Testament) which was shown in the appearance of Moses and Elijah on the mountain. You want to be certain that Jesus is the Christ? Look at what the prophets wrote, Peter would say to you. You want to be certain of what is done was according to the will of the Father? Look at the words of the prophets. This Jesus is the fulfillment of those words.

Peter, a man who saw Jesus, spoke with Jesus, walked with Jesus, ate with Jesus and spent 3 years with Jesus, says to you, "Look to the Word of God." Look to what the Holy Spirit has done through the hands of man. Peter writes, "For no prophecy was ever produces by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit," (2 Peter 1:21) We call that verbal inspiration. That is why we believe the Word of God. The Holy Spirit guided the writers of Scripture in the thoughts of their mind and in the words they wrote. Jesus had told the disciples on the night when He was betrayed (we call that Maundy Thursday), "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (John 15:26 ESV) How did they know what to write? The Holy Spirit guided them. He opened their minds, their thoughts, brought back the memories of what took place and they wrote them down.

I was overwhelmed once again this last weekend as I read these words. I realized once again (as I recall week after week) that the Scripture readings that I was reading in the congregation was truly God's Word. When I end the reading with "This is the Word of God," it truly is.

All we can say in response is "Thanks be to God!"

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Weekday Parable.

Tuesday morning is a blessing to each one of us. It is a day that follows the dreaded Monday. How would you like to be Monday? No one likes you. People talk bad about you week after week. People dread seeing you. Except, except when you are a holiday like President's Day, when many people have the day off work and school. Then suddenly you are loved. People like you. They rejoice to see you.

Then your cousin, Tuesday, becomes the hated one. After a long weekend (3 days for some, 4-5 days for others) Tuesday becomes the bad one. Tuesday causes people to grumble. And as Monday, you smile. You sit back, enjoy the cup of coffee and rejoice that you aren't so hated for just one week.

Imagine you are Tuesday. You wonder why people suddenly don't like you. Some grumble about you. Others talk poorly about you. Others just downright hate you. What did you do to deserve this treatment? The only answer you can give is "nothing." You did nothing at all. You showed up, just like you do each week. You expect to be greeted like always and you aren't. It hurts, deeply.

At that moment, you realize what your cousin Thursday must go through week after week. By no fault of his own, he is not liked. He is the day before Friday. The day that stands in the way of the end of the week. He is a day that no one really thinks about other than, I wish this day was over." He is a day that is endured. You have been accepted because you are Tuesday. Thursday is put up with because he is not quite Friday. No one really like him.

So there you are. What will you do with that knowledge? Will you rejoice when next week you go back to being the lovable Tuesday? Will you forget about how much people despise Monday because it is Monday? Will you turn a blind eye to the despair that Thursday feels because it is not Friday?

Or will you change your thinking and begin to reach out to Monday in support and encouragement.? Will you give a good word to Thursday, a word of support? Yes, what will you do when this week is over?

Yes, Tuesday is a blessing to us all. As is Monday and Thursday. Each day is different. Each day is special. Each day should be accepted and supported. Yes, Tuesday is here. Welcome Tuesday. Thanks for showing up.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Traveling by Train.

Good morning. Penny and I are currently traveling south on the Amtrak Train #303, Lincoln Service. If you haven't traveled by train lately, it might be the time to consider it. There are good and bad points to train travel. It is limited to traveling by tracks, so there is a limitation on where it can go. But at the same time, it is much more comfortable. The seats are nice and big. We prefer to travel by train rather than by plane. It isn't that I am afraid to fly or don't like to fly but it just isn't what it used to be (what is?) The reality is that train travel isn't what it used to be. Perhaps you traveled by train back in the 50's or 60's. That was when train travel was in decline. In fact, the mess that became train travel in the 60's is what lead to the beginning of Amtrak in the early 70's. And yes, it was a mess for quite a while.

Why do we travel by train? It is comfortable. It is easy. It is relaxing. We see the country. We enjoy the sound and the feel of train travel. There is something about the whistle of a train that is comforting to me. Yes, it does shake, rattle and roll. Yes, when you are walking on a train, you have to make sure that you hang on to the seat backs and watch your step. Some people are surprised at the way it moves when it goes over switches and bridges. It surprises them. Have you ever tried to walk in a moving vehicle at 70 mph? Probably not. I know, an airplane travels much faster but have you ever been in a plane when it hits turbulence? Not fun. It is easier to stay seated in a plane than to walk about, and you aren't allowed to just walk about on a plane. You can on a train.

I am not trying to convince you to like train travel. You will either like it or you won't.. But watch the face of the little 2 year-old when he is on a train, and you will see something magical. Watch the face of a 50 year-old when he is on the train (when he really enjoys it) and you will see something magical.

Lincoln service travels from Chicago to St. Louis, basically running along Interstate 55. There is a stretch between Dwight and Pontiac that reaches 110 mph. That is awesome. Currently we are going 60 mph between Summit, IL and Joliet, IL. Moving pretty good while I sit and type on my computer.

This summer, we will travel the Southwest Chief, the Sunset Limited and the Texas Eagle. We have a room for that trip. Nice to have our own room. Here we are in Business class. Nice, comfortable and fast (unless something happens but isn't that the way of all travel - auto, bus or plane?). We will be home soon, rested, ready to face all that is coming down the road.

We had a great weekend in Chicago. But that is for another blog at another time, perhaps. We'll see. Until then, have a great President's Day.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Thoughts from Chicago

Penny and I are in Chicago. I took the weekend off in order to spend time with Penny. It isn't easy for me to take a weekend off. No, the Board of Elders don't forbid me from taking time off. Just the opposite. The Elders at St. Paul's are a very supportive, caring group of men who encourage me to be sure to take care of myself which includes taking time off.

It is hard to take time off because I greatly enjoy leading worship and preaching the Word. I feel very close to the Lord when I am immersed in the Word and leading worship. I also feel very close to the members of the congregation and the people in worship. That Word of God, the Sacrament, the study of the Bible, the sharing of relationships - all are a part of being the body of Christ. And God has charged me with the spiritual care of the people at St. Paul's, Troy (even as He did at Harvel, Ferrin, Altamont and others). As the undershepherd, I find that leading my people in worship is probably the closed to the heavenly praise that we can get here on earth. I remember one member that said she loved the part of the communion service that spoke about joining with "the angels, the archangels and all the company of heaven." It filled her comfort to know that she was at that moment joining with those in heaven. I have never forgot that. And I feel the same way.

As much as I love leading worship, I also love spending this time with my wife. Penny is precious to me. We have been together for 38 years now. I asked her to be my girlfriend at a Valentine's Day dance at Eisenhower High School in Decatur, IL on Feb. 16, 1979. She has been my love ever since, though the love we share has grown, changed, morphed and become what it is today. I love her with all my heart. This time that we spend together is special to us. We long for these days together when my attention is not drawn away by the needs of the sheep. Quite often we travel by train for two reasons: 1) we love it, and it is one of my favorite things in this world, and 2) it gives us time just for the two of us without having to worry about driving, navigating and watching out for the other guy on the road. Yes we do have another long trip planned for the summer. We are going to the LWML convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

So you see, I take this time away, not because I don't love my congregation but precisely because I do love them. This is healthy for me and for my relationship with Penny. We grow stronger together and because of the strength of the love we have for each other, we are able to share that love in the way the Lord wants us to - in the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

Yes, these are thoughts from Chicago. The early service is about to begin at St. Paul's, Troy. The bell is about to ring. Rev. Thomas will feed the flock. And Penny and I will continue growing together even as they do.

8 years ago on February 15, 2009, I was installed as pastor at Troy. I have rejoiced and continue to rejoice ever since. I look forward to a long, loving relationship. Even as I continue to look forward to a long, loving relationship with my wife.

I am truly blessed by my Lord.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Monday the 30th. A Surgery and thoughts a week later.

Last Monday, January 30th, I woke up to the reality that it was the day of surgery. Nothing extreme. Not a major type of surgery. Hernia repair. Yes, it would be done laproscopically, with the doctor using the robotics to do the surgery. Nervous? Yes, as one would be when facing a surgery. Why? You just never know what is going to really go on. Penny and I knew that this would be the day. We had been told that it would take place but we had lots of questions. We would end up asking them when we arrived at the surgery center.

But while I was nervous, I was also confident that I was in the hand of the Lord. He had made me that promise in the waters of Baptism. He called me by name. He told me I was His. He would be with me in all that I faced and that included having surgery. So there was a calmness that comes with that knowledge. It is a calmness that comes as a friend sends a prayer via text message. It is a calmness that comes when you recall the 23rd Psalm. It is a calmness that comes through the Lord's Prayer. Does one remain nervous even with that calmness? Yes indeed.

So the morning progressed, we arrived at the surgery center. They took me back, started the IV, checked all the vitals, answered questions. I was surprised. The surgery that we thought would take 30 -45 minutes was going to be longer than that. I wasn't sure that I heard correctly so when Penny was brought back, I asked the nurse, Wayne was his name, to tell her about how long it was. He said between 2-3 hours. Floored us. Then the guy that puts you to sleep (couldn't think of how to spell it), came in, explained that there would be the breathing tube used, explained why, because of the length of surgery, the way it was done, going through the abdomen the way they did, needed to have the help breathing. Nervous? You bet. Calm? In Christ alone was I calm. In myself, I was nervous as a long tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

I wish I would tell you all about the surgery. But I can't. After a kiss and "I love you" with Penny, they wheeled me to the operating room. Off to the table. Wrapping up my arms so they didn't get in the way. Instructions given. Blue mask. Breath. Breath deeply. Looking around, seeing but not seeing (those who have been there know what I mean), the mask, and the next thing I knew, there was a nurse talking to me, telling me to breath. Really? Don't I normally breath? Then she would say that I needed to breath. Take deep breaths. I thought I was. Again. Pain? Not yet. Still groggy. Where was Penny? That was my first thought that I could remember. This was recovery. She would be brought back when I went into the next room. OK. Breath. Others in the room? Yes, I believe so, but then again, I couldn't be sure. You know the feeling, you are there but you aren't. Breath. Pain level? I don't remember what I said. I am sure it hurt. But then again, I didn't know. That stuff they put you out with makes it hard to remember.

Then wheeling out of the recovery into the next level of recovery. Room 13. Really? Room 13? I thought, isn't that unlucky? It was at the end. Perhaps that is where they should put me. Next thought, "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, o what a foretaste..." Singing. It felt good to sing. So I sang. There was my lovely wife. A kiss, a hand and I felt like I was complete again. The Lord holding me while my wife stood with me. How much better could it get than that? It couldn't. Ouch, That didn't feel good. Sing some more. So I did. Songs just kept coming to me. So I kept singing. Maybe that is why they put me in Room 13, at the end, so I wouldn't disturb those around me.

I must say, I was no longer nervous. It was over. Now for the healing. Eat something. Drink something. No longer told to breath. Strange feeling like that. But the one thing that wasn't strange: Penny holding my hand, loving me, and the Lord holding me, loving me. Prayers from so many people, holding me in Christ, loving me. I have to say, WOW! All the prayers, folding me in the warmth of the Holy Spirit, assuring me that I was not alone. The Lord was with me. My family was with me. My friends and church family were with me. All in prayer. All in Christ. And in the end, there was nothing better for the day than knowing that.

The healing would come. Soon I would leave Room 13 and go home. But that didn't change anything. The Lord still held me. My wife still was with me. My family still prayed for me. My church family and friends still prayed for me. And I knew, it was going to be all right.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Thankfulness

Thankful. That summarizes how I feel right now. Thankful for what? It might seem difficult to be thankful bring laid up and unable to do things that I would like to do. But let me list some of the things I am thankful for right now.

Prayers - so many prayers from so many people. What a powerful feeling to be a part of the body of Christ and know that within that body, there are those who care enough to pray for me.

Pain medicine, doctors who know how to fix the broken body, nurses that care for you before and after surgery, a soft couch, a laptop, two dogs that really make me smile and show unconditional love, blankets, hot tea, family (oh how I am thankful for family who share their love, give their support and make me smile), stitches that hold you together, cell phones, Internet, sweatshirts, sweat pants, pillows, and the list can go on.

I am thankful for Penny. She puts up with my grumbling and hardheadedness. She loves me more than I deserve and takes care of me.

The Lord, who gives healing. Knowing I am in His hand. Knowing He is caring for the sheep of this pasture even while I am sitting here recovering. The love of Christ for me, giving Himself for me is truly the most amazing gift one could ever receive.

There is so much more I can be thankful for. I pray that the people of our nation would quite their bickering and bullying and learn to get along again. I don't care which side of the issue you find yourself, you do not have the right to bully others, make fun of them, call them names, etc. Teach your children how to act properly instead of like a spoiled child in a grocery store that doesn't get his/her way.

Thankful that I can write a blog. Thankful. O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good and His mercy endures forever. Amen.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Exhibiting the Fruit of the Spirit and love of Christ.

"There's just no explaining the things people do." (lyric by Phish, song "Things People Do.") This is what I think after this week following the inauguration of Donald Trump as president. No, this is not a political rant in favor or Pres. Trump nor is it a rant against Pres. Trump. It has nothing to do with how I feel about former Pres. Obama. It has to do with the way that people are acting.

There are rants after rants going on. Facebook is swamped with political rants. Some are very supportive while others are adamantly opposed to the new president. Folks have left Facebook because of the way things are being thrown out in front of others. There is news after news being presented. How much of it is true is hard to say. What is fake news and what is real news? I can't tell any longer. Friends have unfriended their friends. Relationships have been broken. All because of the things being said and done on FB. 

Seriously? I am sorry to such things taking place. It shouldn't be. Anger. Bitterness, Rage. These are not fruits of the Spirit. No, they are the ways of the flesh. It is one thing to see those who are not of Lord acting in such fashion. One cannot expect for the non-Christian to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. But these are Christians acting in this way. As sad as it makes me, I wonder how the tears must fall from the eyes of our heavenly Father. (Please note, I am not talking against any one person or one position. I am talking about people on both sides of whatever issue is being bantered about at the moment.)

I fear that because of such things there will be a fall out at church. People will feel that the church is not supportive of their point of view and will therefore leave the church. Yes, I actually am afraid that will happen. I pray that it doesn't. I have done my best to keep the political rants off the church page, out of the relationships between people. I have avoided saying anything on FB either for or against the current situation. Why? Because I do not want to cause offense where I should not cause offense. 

Now, if someone was to attack the message of the cross, that would be a different issue. I would have to take a stand with Christ Jesus. But even then, I will do all I can to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in my discussion with others.

My prayer is that people will treat each other with the love and respect they themselves wish to be shown. "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." The Golden Rule is something that we need to remember.

So my friends, if you are reading this, know that you are still loved by the Lord Jesus Christ. Know that the church is still a place of rest and refreshment for your soul. It is where you can still hear the Word of God which will feed your soul. Know that you are still able to come into the house of God and receive the Sacrament for refreshing and strengthening of your soul. Please, oh please, let us be kind to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, each one of us has been forgiven.

Amen. May it be so. Amen.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

When You Are Thinking

This morning I sit and think. Lord, what are You saying to me? I am seeking the guidance of the Lord. There are a variety of events in a variety of situations that cause me to sit and wonder. Ask the Lord and He will give you and answer. But what if you are not sure of the question? Or perhaps you don't want to hear the answer to the question that you are asking?

Living in faith is a challenge. It isn't always so hard and fast, so concrete. There are times that you really don't receive an answer to the prayer that you are raising to heaven. Then there are times when the answer is not what you are really wanting. Or maybe the answer is that it isn't the time for you to receive an answer? How do you handle such a moment? Do you whine and complain? Do you struggle? Do you accept? Do you sing praise in the midst of the ice storm that steals your power, your heat, your ability to get around? Do you sing the praise of the Lord when you are in a hospital bed and the doctor tells you that you need another test because the last one was inconclusive and they still don't know why your body is failing?

The answer to these questions? That is found in your life of faith. When everything is falling apart around you, where do you turn? Food? TV? The Internet? A person? Sex? Drugs? Alcohol? Shopping? Anger? The Lord? Let me tell you this, there is only one in that list that can actually lift you up, give you guidance, assurance, peace, and a future. That One is Jesus Christ.

The answer to all questions are found in Him. Really? The answer to the question, "Why am I still hurting?" is found in Jesus? Of course. The answer to, "Why is there not enough in the finances to go forward?" is found in Him? Yep. What is that answer?

I can't tell you that. I am not privy to the will and direction of the Lord. I have to wonder as much as you do, perhaps more in some instances. But I do know this, Jesus is the Lord of all. He is the answer to all my questions. I may not be given the answer at the moment I want it, but He is still the answer. I may not understand the direction things at the moment, but I do know that He does. Will He tell me? Maybe, maybe not.

So in the end, I find that I am challenged to live my life in faith, trusting the Lord in all things. The Lord says, "Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at the great horde, for the battle is not yours but God's." (2 Chronicles 20:15) That is hard to believe. The horde is against me. I see them. I do not see You Lord. How can I know that Your Word is true. Then I look. I see. The most amazing thing of all. Nail marks. There, in the holes in His hands, I see the answer.

And I pray, "Lord, give me the faith to trust in You. I know that You will give guidance. I don't know what that will be or where it will come from but I do know I can trust in You. Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief. Amen."

So I go about my day now. Is the horde still there? Yep. But I am certain. The One who is in me is greater than all those that are against me. Forth in His name I go.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Epiphany Thoughts

Today is Epiphany, the time when we remember the coming of the wise men/magi to see the King of the Jews, the King of kings, in the tiny village of Bethlehem. From such humble estate comes the One who is the Savior of mankind. Born in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary begin to raise Jesus in that little hamlet. The wonderful, peaceful and picturesque scene of the magi coming to see Jesus, presenting Mary with the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh is followed by the surreal and gruesome attack of the soldiers of King Herod that kills all the male babies 2 years of age and under. How can such a terrible event follow such a glorious one?

Darkness is trying to overcome the Light. Darkness always tries to overcome the Light. Sin tries to destroy the gift of God. Satan is trying to stop the salvation of mankind. Jealousy tries to remove any competition. What we see happening in the Matthew 2 account of the coming of the magi and the death of the babies of Bethlehem is what takes place day after day. It might not be the actual murder of infants (though that happens in abortion every day), it is what takes place spiritually as parents do not teach their children about the Christ, as communities work to remove any sign of the Savior from the public view, as schools stop children from reading the Bible or praying publicly and so one.

Why do you think we are so tempted to not attend worship? Why do you think it is easier to let dust settle on the Bible than to pick it up and read it? Why do you think the FB app on your phone is used more than Bible app? It is because darkness (temptation, sin, the devil and the demonic horde) are working every day to overcome the Light of Christ in your life.

Can you work harder, try harder, be more convicted and overcome that darkness? No. What? Do you have a shocked look on your face? Does that mean that darkness is going to win? No it doesn't. Overcoming the darkness is not something YOU do. It is what Christ has done for you. He has already defeated the darkness in His life, death and resurrection. He gives that victory to you through faith, which He also gives to you. You do not overcome darkness. He overcame darkness. The Holy Spirit, through the Means of Grace, overcomes the darkness in your life.

Epiphany is not about what you can do to overcome the darkness. You and I are just like the magi, seeking out the One to whom we have been guided by the star (the Word or the prophets who lead us to the Light). We are drawn to Him. We are brought to the Light.

Then we rejoice. We give Him our gifts, gold frankincense and myrrh. Gold - that which is most precious to us. Frankincense - our prayers and praise. Myrrh - our life, dying to sin and rising to a new life in Christ.

Light overcomes darkness. The darkness cannot overcome Him.

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year Resolutions

It's that time again. Time for you to make the New Year's resolution. Perhaps you are like me and have said years ago, "I resolve never to make any more New Year's resolutions." Then you have held to that resolution. I find that is a simple way to say to people, "I don't have any plans for this year." That means that I won't have to worry about failing at reaching any of those goals that I have set. But then again, it also means that I have no goals to reach for in this new year.

Is that what you really want for the year? A year in which you have no goals, no aspirations, nothing that you are reaching to attain? Then why bother with the year? If you are going to just flow through 2017 with no goals or aspirations (resolutions), then you are wasting a perfectly good year. You have been given 2017 (even as you have been given each of the years before) by the good Lord. He has blessed you to be here on earth for another year, or at least for a part of this year (we are after all in the 2nd day of 2017 already). He has handed you this year and now asks, "What are you going to do with this gift that I have given you?"

So what are you going to do? Fritter and whittle the year away doing nothing? That is why we make resolutions, to give us something to strive for in our lives. Perhaps you have the goal of reading 1 book a week through out the year, with 2 weeks off for a break, meaning that you will read 50 books during 2017. Or maybe you have resolved to read through the Bible in a year. Maybe you have resolved to get up and walk 5 out of 7 days a week. Maybe you resolved to lose 10 pounds (or 15, 25 or 50). Maybe you have resolved to be more loving to your family. Maybe your resolution is that you will finish the degree you have been working on. Or maybe getting a new job or a new position in the company you work for currently. Maybe you resolve to relax more, taking time for the family instead of working so much. Maybe you resolve to get a job. Maybe you resolve to build relationships with co-workers or with folks at church.

Let me ask, in your list of resolutions, where it the Lord? How does He figure into the resolutions for the year? He actually is meant to be at the heart and center of all that you resolve. A way to see this is to say, "Lord willing, I am going to..." or perhaps "With the Lord empowering me, I will..."

I would challenge you to resolve that you are going to put forth the effort, guided by the power of the Holy Spirit, to participate in worship more in 2017. Notice how that is worded, "to participate in worship." The first step is to attend worship regularly. If you attend worship once a month, strive for two times a month. If you attend 1 time every 3 months, work to attend 1 time a month through a 3 month stretch. If you attend worship 2 times a month, strive for 3 times.

Now, here is where it becomes a little harder. It is easy to attend worship, to sit in worship, but not truly participate. You can sit, let the preacher say the words, let the others sing the hymns, let the others take part in the liturgy, etc. while you yourself just sit there. You are "in" the service but not "of" the service. I would challenge you to actually become a part "of" the service. Become involved. Listen to the words of Scripture and ask, "How does this apply to me as I walk out of this service." As the prayers are being said, actually join in the prayers instead of thinking about what you have to do later the day or wondering if the prayers will ever end. Take the list of people for whom we pray and make it a regular thing during the week to pray for those very same people. Listen to the sermon with the question, "How can I take this home with me and put it into action in my life?" All of this needs to be surrounded with the leading of the Holy Spirit. If you find something that you don't understand in the sermon or the readings, open the Bible and study the section of Scripture. If it still causes you to wonder, ask the pastor. Email him, text him, message him, stop by his office, ask the questions that are concerning you. Say, "I heard in the sermon this last week...and it makes me wonder about..." Let me tell you, your pastor would love to sit with you and talk about God's Word and what it means for your life.

So participate in worship. Become a part of the service. In those times when you attend, which really should be weekly, become an active participant. Ask the Spirit to open your heart and your life to let the Word wash over you and flow through you. Then ask Him how you can put that Word into practice in your life.

Resolutions. What goals do you have for 2017. Me? My goals are many: continue to study the Word for myself rather than just for preaching or teaching; pray for all people more; continue work on my D.Min MAP project; improve my health; not snack so much; read 6 books not related to the ministry; spend quality time with Penny; attend the 2017 National LWML convention in June; attend a baseball game at Wrigley field; become a better leader and pastor to St. Paul's congregation; blog at least 1 time a week; spend more time with my kids; preach a better focused sermon; and most of all, grow in my relationship with Christ Jesus so that His love will be reflected in my words and actions to all people. If I don't reach any of the others, I pray that I will reach this last goal.

Lord, send Your Holy Spirit to me as I make my 2017 New Year's resolutions. By Your grace and by the Spirit's guiding, may I reach these goals and many others. Help me be the servant You would have me be in my life. Take my sinful desires and turn them to desires for that which is meet, right and salutary. All this I pray in and through the name of my Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.