Sunday, November 19, 2017

Almost Thanksgiving Day

It is Sunday, the 1st day of the week. This is a special week because by the time we make it to Thursday, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day. I was sitting here thinking about what am I thankful for? I was going to put it as a post on FB, but then realized I had more to be thankful for than a FB could hold. Imagine that! Not a post or a tweet but a blog doth hold some (but not all) that I have been blessed with. So here goes ...

I am thankful first and foremost for my faith. It isn't something I have given myself but is a gift to me by the heavenly Father, working through the Holy Spirit, given in my Baptism, strengthened through Word and Sacrament. Daily the Lord strengthens my faith and I rejoice and give thanks for this greatest of all gifts.

My family. I give thanks for my loving wife, Penny, who loves and cares for me more than I deserve. She has been my love for longer than I can remember (not true). We started dating in high school and have weathered all the storms of life together since that day in 1979. I love her with all my heart. I give thanks to God for the blessing of a wife who is a helpmate, who lifts me up, who inspires me, who is my rib.

My children - Rachael and Matthew. What a blessing they are. I could not imagine what life would have been like without them. They are a joy and a frustration. The joy far outweighs the frustration and I give thanks to God for them. I thank God that He lead Brandon into Rachael's life and brought them together as husband and wife. He has been a blessing as part of our family. I thank God for Chelsey, who though not officially part of the family until May, is a joy for Matthew. Together they will make the family that God intends them to be. Both children are truly faithful Christians and have become such wonderful adults.

My church family. Yes, I give thanks to God for the church family here at St. Paul's, Troy, IL. Like all families, they can be challenging but they are my family. I love and care for them. Each one is a gift from the Lord that I care for and feed through Word and Sacrament. I pray for each of them, lifting them up in a special way to the Lord of all things. Rejoice! Give thanks and worship the Lord for we are family.

Food. Oh my yes I give thanks for food. Biscuits and gravy, turkey, ribs, blackberry pie and a whole host of other wonderful tidbits of sustenance that the Lord has given for the strengthening of the body and the joy of life. I do believe that He gave us food to enjoy, not just to maintain the body.

My body with all its aches and pains. I have had this body for 56 years and it has served me well. I have mistreated it but it has held together. I give thanks for doctors and nurses who are able to take care of me and all the things that go on with the body. I rejoice and give thanks for medicine, though I might grumble about taking it. Thank God I am able to take it for it helps me through each day.

The Chicago Cubs. OK, I was just seeing if you were really paying attention. I do enjoy the Cubs, win or lose. I have learned much from them and the Lord has taught me over and over again what patience is. I enjoy baseball more than other sports. Yet I know that many give thanks for a variety of sports and sporting teams. And there are those who even enjoy and support the redbirds (I can't bring myself to say their name). God has given all for the good of those whom He has given them to.

What else? I could go on and on. The Lord has been good to me. And so I thank the Lord. I pray that you will also take time to give thanks to God this week. Not only this week but every day for He is good and gracious to us day after day. His mercies are new every morning.

Happy Thanksliving.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Give Thanks

I can't believe it! Thanksgiving is only a week away! Really, only a week. Today is Wednesday, which means that this time next week, we will be preparing for family gatherings, turkey dinners and lots and lots of eating. It just dawned on me this last weekend that it was so close. Has it hit you yet?

Thanksgiving. Give thanks. Yes, give thanks. I have much to give thanks for in my life. The greatest thing I give thanks for is that God has saved me. He saved me, a lost and condemned sinner, a person who is not worthy of being saved. He gave His only-begotten Son for me and for my sin. As one who was born sinful (as all people are, Psalm 51:5 "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the moment my mother conceived me."). I did not deserve to have God send His Son to take my place. I did not deserve to have Jesus Christ go to the cross in my stead. Just the opposite is true. I deserved to have God turn His back upon me for all the times I have turned my back upon Him. Yet "For our sake (that is my sake) he (the Father) made him (the Son) to be sin who knew no sin (Jesus was sinless), so that in him (Jesus) we (you and me) might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV) All I can say is "Thank You!"

Thank You God. Yet I should do more than just say thanks. I should live a life that reflects that thankfulness. In all that I do and say, I give thanks to God. I give thanks to God by how I treat others. I give thanks to God in how I work. I give thanks to God in forgiving others. I give thanks to God in sharing the message of the gospel. I give thanks to God with my life.

I also thank God for my family, for my lovely wife of 33 years Penny, for my daughter Rachael and her husband Brandon, for my son Matthew and his fiance Chelsey, for my mother-in-law Shirley Rex, for my brothers John, Bub and Nathan, for my birth father John and his family, and for the extended family which includes Penny's sisters and their families, my brothers families and the others like Bill & Cassie, Gina and those that I can't think of right now. I rejoice that I am blessed with such family, even if we don't see each other or talk to each other as much as we should. That is not all their fault. It is mine as well. We all allow ourselves to get too busy to talk with those we love. Thank You God for family.

I give thanks to God for church family and friends. Here, there are too many to list. There are the folks here at St. Paul's, Troy for which I am thankful. I give thanks that I have the opportunity to be a part of so many lives and bring to them the message of hope found only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I thank God for those at Immanuel, Altamont; Bethlehem, Ferrin and Trinity, Harvel (all in Illinois) . Each congregation held a special blessing for myself and my family, blessings that were sometimes open and apparent and then at other times hidden by the things of this world. Thank You God for all those lives that have touched my life and the life of my family. Thank You for those who lift us up in prayer as well as those who challenge us at different times.

I also thank God for the trials and tribulations I have faced. They have taught me not to rely upon myself but to rely upon God alone. When I turn my eyes from Him, I find myself not doing what needs to be done, even straying off into sin. I ask Him to forgive me for all my sins. Yet, many of those trials and tribulations have made Penny and I what we are today, the people we are and the pastoral family that we are. Yes, they have brought Penny and I closer and molded us into a team to serve the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have never understood all those things that have happened to us but we have trusted God through them all. He alone has given us strength to come through the storms of life. At times, we were certain that our boat was going to be swamped and we would cry out, "Master, save us!" Only to hear the words, "Oh you of little faith, did you not know that you were safe with Me all along." He has spoken to the wind and the waves and the they would calm. At other times He would stand with us, holding us tight, as the waves battered the boat, as we were soaked to the  bone with the issues and problems of life, only to find that He also dried us off as the storm passed. So I really am thankful once again for the Lord who has brought Penny and I through so much and has strengthened our relationship and love. Together we face this world, Penny, me and the Lord, a cord of three strands that is not easily broken.

I give thanks for...oh my, there is so much to thank God for. I now realize that it shouldn't just be one day a year. Giving thanks is meant to a daily thing. I am to give thanks each day, throughout the day. When I fail to do so, forgive me God. When I actually do it, thank You Holy Spirit for leading me to do that which is right. Yes, thank You God for all things in my life.

And that, my friends, is where we are. I didn't know where this was going but I reckon it went where it was meant to go. Give thanks! With a grateful heart.

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Reformation Thoughts

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses. He did this in Wittenberg, Germany. In his day, you might say he was "blogging." Why? Because he saw that there was a problem with the teachings of his church. He put them up against the teaching of the Word of God and found that the church was lacking in truth. The way of man had usurped the way of God.

In today's world, the same could be said. The way of man has usurped the way of God. The world does not want the message of the Gospel. It wants a message that tells people that any way that they live is all right. A message that proclaims goodness that is found in every individual. It wants any message other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Many churches have given in to that message. Proclamation of Law and Gospel is not clearly and properly proclaimed. Sin is no longer called sin. Salvation is found in Jesus and...whatever you want to add to that message. Why? Churches want to bring people into their doors, with the hope that the message that the pastor proclaims doesn't upset or turn off the folks sitting there. "Tell me that my life is all right." "Tell me that if I follow Jesus I will have no more problems." "Tell me that my lifestyle is acceptable to God, perhaps even a gift from God." "Whatever you do, don't tell me that I am a sinner."

But that is not the way of the Reformation. The truth of the Word of God needs to be proclaimed clearly in a world of lost sinners. We, you and me, are in need of a Savior who died upon the cross and rose on the 3rd day. We cannot save ourselves. You and I cannot make the decision to follow Jesus. Why? Our hearts and lives, our very nature, is sinful and wants nothing to do with God. Oh, it might long for God when it needs something, like health or security or hope. But notice, it is selfish desire that makes us want God. Sin says, I don't want God in my life to change it. No, I only want God if He will give me what I want at the moment. And then, the God I am calling on is not the God of Scripture. It is a god that I have made up, created in my image, which will do what I want in the times I want and will not make any demands upon me. No, my sinful nature will have nothing to do with a God that comes to me in the Word.

I need Him. I need Him to save me. I need Him to come to me. I need Him to change my heart. I need Him to save me. I need Him, period. AND He comes to me through His Son Jesus Christ, shown to me by the Holy Spirit who does this through Word and Sacrament. My action? It is there as I live my life in faith. My salvation hinges on Him and not on me. He saves me. He enfolds me in His arms. He gives me hope. He guides me through my life. He gives and I receive. What a blessing!

Reformation thoughts. Yes, I guess they are because Luther was working towards that end. The Spirit was guiding him as he studied the Word. The Spirit showed him the truth that everything hinges on Christ and not on us. He forgives, without our help. He holds in His hand. He fills. He lifts up. Notice, it is all about Christ and not about what we have done. That is Reformation thoughts. That is what Luther was trying to get people to see.

And today, we still try to see that truth. It is still all about Jesus.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Show me the...

"Show me the money." Do you know where that line was spoken? (Besides you talking to you boss about a raise or the wife talking to her husband on payday.) It was spoken by...most of you will say Tom Cruise in the movie Jerry Maguire. And you would be...wrong. It was actually spoken by Cuba Gooding Jr. playing role of Rod Tidwell in said movie. Yes, you would be correct to say that Tom Cruise was shouting those words on the phone while in his office. But it was Cuba Gooding Jr. who got Tom to say/shout those words. "Show me the money!"

It was thinking about those words as I was reading in the Gospel of John this morning. Jesus is in the Temple following the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The people were excited. The Pharisees are saying "You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him." (John 12:19 ESV) The world has gone after Him. And then we see that is case. There were some Greeks who came to the Temple at that time. Thy approached one of the disciples, Philip by name, and said, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." (John 12:21 ESV) Show me the Teacher. Show me the Messiah. Show me the Savior! Show me the...

People are crying out like the Greeks. They want something, someone to help them in their lives. They are struggling. They are frustrated. Things in the world today are not good. Murder and mayhem are the rule of the day. Love? That is just a word that is said when someone wants to get something from you. Sexual abuse happens in all corners of the world. The whole Harvy Weinstein debacle shows us more of the abuse in the world. Perhaps folks were saying, "Show me some love." By that they meant that they were willing to do whatever it took to get ahead, to make the money. I am not saying that he was right in what he did. He was a snake, a no good rotten person who used his position of power to abuse women and young girls. It was terrible what he did. Yet he was allowed to do this for years and years because folks figured it was a way to get what they wanted in this world. Many of the victims did get ahead because they put up with the abuse. "Show me the money!" they cried. "Show me the love!" he would reply. The sinful decadence of the world showing the terrible underbelly of rottenness.

Show me...Jesus. In a world crying for something, the Greeks had it right. What do we really need? We need the Lord. We need to see what true love looks like. We need to see that true love does not use or abuse a person but offers the greatest gift of all, freedom from sin, from the tyranny of the devil, freedom from the emptiness of death. That can only be found in Jesus. Only in the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, the sinless Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

That is what you and I are to be about - showing the Savior. We often get off track. We forget that the mission of the Christian is to show Christ. The message of the Gospel does not need our help. We need the help of the Gospel in our lives. That is the task of the Church, the people of God, to show others Jesus. Christianity is not about getting rich, being healthy, having fun, being pain free, having the perfect job, etc. Yes, those things may happen. Or they may not happen. We don't know. But we know one thing, salvation is found in Jesus alone. Freedom is found in Jesus alone. Truth in found in Jesus alone. Life is found in Jesus alone. Eternal life is found in Jesus alone.

Show us Jesus! The world cries. What is your response?

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Rise and Fall of Temperatures

It was cool yesterday. Yes, perhaps some folks even turned on their heat because their houses felt cold to them when they rose in the morning. It was a morning to wear a sweater or a jacket when you headed out. 

Then it wasn't cool any longer. Long pants were exchanged for shorts. Long sleeves for short sleeves. Heat turned off. Windows opened. Windows closed. Air conditioning turned on. The temperature rose throughout the day. Today (Saturday, Oct. 14) it is possible in the Troy, IL area to set a record high temperature. 

Tomorrow the windows will be closed again. The sweaters will be out. Perhaps the heat will be on again as the temperature drops from nearly 90 to a little over 60 for highs. We shake our heads and wonder, "What is going on?" 

If only...the weather would become more fall like. If only it would remain one temperature, then we would get used to it. If only it would normalize, then there would be fewer people getting colds or other sicknesses. Life would be all right, if only...

If only...that is what we often say about most situations. If only this would happen or if only that would be done, then everything will be all right.

Well my friends, the "if only" will not fix the world, the weather or our lives. The only One who can do that is our Lord Jesus Christ. What we face is the challenge of following Him and not our sinful desires or the temptations to try to fix things on our own. We struggle with that. We want to be in control. And when we are in control, that is when things really get messed up. Our sinful desires control how we act, what we say, and how we treat each other. We feel completely justified in how we have treated another person and figure it is their fault, their problem and not ours. Often, we don't even look at our own lives and see where we have sinned, where we are not "righteous" in our actions or words.

This is where we come back to our Lord Jesus Christ. Or perhaps I should say, this is where the Holy Spirit brings us back to the way we should live. We are convicted of our sins. Lead by the Spirit, we confess our sins to the Lord and to one another. We ask for forgiveness. We give forgiveness. We ask the Spirit to lead all involved to treat each other with love, with forgiveness, with mercy and with an attitude not born of this world but born at the cross and the empty tomb. 

We are to be different from those around us. We are called to be followers of Jesus Christ. That will be shown in our attitude of humility (like Christ) and service (again like Christ). 

Temperatures will be up and down. We will say "if only" once again. And then, let slip from your lips, "Lord, forgive me for how I have been toward You and toward others." Help me to follow You in how I act. If only I would be more like You, dear Lord.

Monday, September 11, 2017

9/11, storms, fires and the only Hope

The day dawned bright, sunny, clear blue sky overhead, a touch of fall in the air. A day of hope. A day which promised and promises so much. People moving about their day, routines. Coffee, a roll for breakfast, a quick stop at Duncan Donuts for a cup of the regular and a deep fried delight to give the day a good start. Perhaps you should have exercised instead. Tomorrow.

Winds blow, sky darkens, rain starts. Water rising. Hoping the wind doesn't cause too much damage. A surge of water, deeper than expected in one area, less than expected in another. Why didn't they get it right? How come they made us prepare in one place when things fell apart in another? Crazy people. Why didn't they just leave us alone and let us eat the donuts and drink the coffee and go about the day in the way that we wanted?

Eyes glued to the TV, the in computer, the smart phone. Fire, raging fires eating away at countless acres of brush, trees, chasing wildlife from their homes, people from their burrows and yet there are those who stand, staying the course, fighting to stop the onslaught of the raging inferno that seems so angry, so hungry.

Then the unthinkable. Explosions. Eyes turned skyward. Watching as it happens again. Two times, planes and buildings do not mix. The first might have been an accident. The second could not have been. Why? What? Countless lives gone in an instant. Unheard of events. Terrifying stuff.

Then it happens. The house of cards comes tumbling down even as two massive buildings crash to the ground in a roar, a cloud smoke and dust, covering everything. Could nothing have stopped this? Lives shaken. Routines broken. Fear. Deep fear. What is next.

Then is is 16 years later. Have we learned? Do we understand? We build our lives on the sand of our hopes and dreams. We build our routines, sure that nothing could change that. But that pain in the body, what is it? Why does it not stop? Driven to our knees, the routine broken with uncertainty. The storm breaks upon an entire state, disrupting thousands and thousands of lives. Millions out of power. Where is our certainty that we have it all under control?

Groaning. Deep groaning, from deep inside. "Lord, have mercy!" Led by the Spirit, we cry out to the only One who can help in this time of need. "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me," we whisper through tears of pain, fear, and anguish. "Please.," is on our lips as we slip off into the shock of the moment, the medication giving relief for a moment, the nurse saying it will be all right, the preacher pointing to the One who leads through the valley of the shadow.

Yes, life is uncertain. We think our routine is set and nothing can change that. But everything changes. Everything. Except the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrew 13:8) He is the Rock on which we can build. Yes, the storm still come. Yes the pains still happen. Yes things are pulled from our lives without a request for permission. But in Christ, we stand. In Him we are given hope to face the moment. In Him is given the power to face the day. His rod, His staff, they comfort us in our days.

Thank You Lord for being with me today. Thank You Lord for being with those who are ill at this time. Thank You Lord for being the One who holds people fast when the wind blows everything apart. Thank You Lord for being the Rock, the Savior, the Hope, the Peace, the One that never changes. Thank You for comfort as we remember the events of 9/11.

Thank You. That is all I can say. Thank You for being You and not being me, or someone else. I can look to You and find certainty when nothing else is certain. I can be anchored in the storm the of life. Only You. Yes, only You. May each one turn their eyes to You for what they need today.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Thoughts on changes over the past 30 years

I did not spend any time reflecting in the last blog. I spoke of the wonderful support and love that was given by St. Paul's congregation as they recognized my 30 years in the pastoral ministry. I thought I would reflect a little on some of the things that have taken place in those 30 years.

Social media. Need I say more? When I began, computers were large, bulky and slow. Internet was something still to be figured out. While at Bethlehem, Ferrin, IL the Internet became something that was starting to be used. I remember going to the library in Carlyle in order check out the latest things on-line. We did not have the Internet at home yet. Why? Because it was dial up and any calls to the the AOL number in the area was considered "long distance." That meant we had to pay for the minutes we used while on-line. To download a document would take 20 to 30 minutes. There were times that I would try to download a document from the LCMS website, only to have the connection time out because it was taking too long.

And social media was not something that was even considered. Emailing was new. Not too many did it. We still called people on the phone, which today would be called the land line. We didn't have cell phones or IPhone or Ipads or anything like that. I would tell Penny were I was going. If something came up, she would call the number where I was in order to relay a message to me. I can remember being in a hospital room, visiting a member and having their phone ring. I would hand them the phone and step back while they talked to whomever it was. This time though, the member smiled, said, "It's for you," and handed me the phone. Penny had found me. There was none of this tracking a friend's phone. It was open communication.

People talked. I mean really talked. Not just instant messaging or email but sitting down and face-to-face talked. It was just the way things were done. Now we do meeting via email or Webex or some other form of communication.

I do like some aspects of social media. I can actually find out what is going on in people's lives without having to hear it from someone who happened to hear it from another person who heard while at the White Cottage (Raymond, IL) for a cup of coffee in the morning. I am also able to share regular prayers with many people. It has helped me to be in contact with people that I hadn't heard from for year, whether it is folks from congregations I have served or people I grew up with. I do like that part of social media.

Newsletters were handed out or mailed out. Here at St. Paul's, we moved into the 21st century and started to send the Troy Lutheran out via email about 2 years ago and have been posting it on the website even longer. That sure saves a lot on mailing costs. Unfortunately, it also means that we end up with more flyers and things in the TL since it doesn't cost any more to have 10 pages or 5 pages (which was the max to go for 1st class without extra postage).

Changes for good and for bad. In the end, it all depends on what you do with the changes. The Lord gives us many blessings. In our sinfulness, we learn how to corrupt it. The Internet is a great example. Lots of good on it but also lots of terrible, filthy stuff as well. Social media has been a blessing but can be used for harm as well.

As I use these tools in the ministry, I see many blessings. I also see that it is possible to sit at the computer without talking to a single person. I fear that is not a good thing. We still need to talk. We need to see each other rather than isolate ourselves from one another. We are the body of Christ. As a body we need each other, not in virtual reality but in physical reality. Good and bad, once again.

More reflections to come.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Reflections and Thank Yous

Well, well, well, this last weekend was really something, If you were not in worship, you missed so much. The first thing you missed is the blessing of the Means of Grace. The Lord feeds us through Word and Sacrament. That is a gift given to us weekly. Worship is that time when God says, "Come into My house. Let me take Your burden. I will take Your unrighteousness and give You my righteousness." How can we say no to that?

Another thing you missed is the remembrance of my ordination in to the Office of Public Ministry, which took place on June 21, 1987. The Board of Elders and the congregation recognized that it had been 30 years since I had been ordained. There was not one reception but 3, one after each service. I give thanks to the Lord for the love shown by so many members of the congregation who showed that they cared for me as their shepherd and wanted me to know that they appreciated the ministry of the Word that has taken place in their midst.

I received numerous gifts (not that I was looking for them). The greatest gift I received was the gift of love. So many kind words and hugs, sharing the love of Christ. That melts the heart of a pastor to know that those that he spends so much time caring for, praying for, leading and uplifting also care for him. One thing that is often said by pastors is that they do not feel supported by the members of their congregation. I can say that this weekend showed me that there are many in the congregation who do care and love me, and not only me, but also love Penny, my dear wife. It was uplifting to receive the gift of love.

I also received a special edition of the Lutheran Study Bible, ESV. It is a Reformation edition, with the woodcut of Dr. Martin Luther on the cover. It is numbered 285/625 made. Engraved on the cover is "Rev. Mitchel Schuessler." Inside the Board of Elders wrote, "Presented by St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Troy, IL; Celebrating 30 years in the Ministry; June 21, 1987-June 21, 2017." This is a gift that will continue to give each day as I use it for devotions, study, teaching, and preaching. Thank you.



The other gift the Elders gave on behalf of the congregation was a painting by Ruth Schmitt. She does lovely work. This painting was of Wrigley Field with the marquee showing that the Cubs were the 2016 World Series Champions. I know it must have been hard for Ruth, a diehard Cardinal fan, to paint this picture but she did a good job. I greatly appreciated the thoughtfulness of such a gift.


There were also many cards and kind words spoken. All Penny and I can say is "Thank You." Thank you for your love, your support and your kindness. Not only at just that moment but for your continued love and support.

I give thanks to the Lord that I have been given the opportunity to share the love of Christ and the message of the Gospel with the saints of St. Paul's and the community of Troy. Not only is this the opportunity for folks to say thank you to me for the work that is done in the name of the Lord but it is also the opportunity for me to say thank you to each of you for the Lord uses you too in the sharing of the love of Christ and the sharing of the Gospel.

I suppose you notice that the heading is "Reflections and Thank Yous." I feel that I have gone long enough for today. I will not get to any reflections on the 30 years in the ministry. Instead, I am stopping with the thank you that Penny and I give. Thank you for love. Thank you for support.

Thank you most of all to the Lord for being the One that has made it possible for me to be in the ministry for these 30 years. I pray that I will be found faithful when then days are done, faithful not to myself but faithful to the Lord and the words of the Gospel.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Change...Unchanging

The 2017-2018 school year is set to begin. Here at St. Paul's, Troy we begin school today, Monday, August 14. Some schools like Metro East Lutheran High School began last Thursday. Others, like Triad, will begin on Wednesday. Those who are in college will find that they begin next week, many of which begin on the day of the Great American Eclipse, August 21. Still in other areas, school began earlier in August while other areas will begin after Labor Day. While there is no uniform date of beginning classes, the reality is that school begins.

Here at St. Paul's, and I would imagine many schools throughout the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, there is a theme based on Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow." (ESV) This corresponds with the theme for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation which takes place this year on October 31, 2017. That theme is: "It is still all about Jesus."

Jesus Christ is the same. He doesn't change. Things in this world change. At St. Paul's, the teaching staff has changed. We have only 2 teachers returning that were with us in the 2016-2017 school year. Change. The students have changed in the sense that they are a year older. They have changed, grown and matured. They look a year older. For those that were not seen over the summer, they look different from when school ended back in May.

Change. It happens. We sing in a popular hymn: "Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day; Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away; Change and decay in all around I see..." (Lutheran Service Book, #878 vs. 4) Change. It is inevitable. It happens whether we like it or not. We change. We never remain the same. The things of our lives, our situation, changes us. Nothing remains the same. Nothing. Except...

...Christ Jesus. He is changeless. As the writer to the Hebrews says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow." He alone is changeless. This is such a wonderful, powerful and uplifting word of promise. Why? No matter how much you change, no matter how the situation of your life changes, no matter the ups or downs of your life, Jesus is the same Jesus that claimed you in the waters of your Baptism, who was with you as a little infant, as a child, as a teen, as a twenty-something, as a young adult, as a middle age parent, as a person in your 50s or 60s, as you grow older in to the 70s and 80s, and then into the final years of your life. He is the same.

His love for you never changes. It doesn't rise or fall with the situation of your life. The promise of life, of forgiveness and of salvation is the same today as it was yesterday and will be the same as that of all your tomorrows. He is unchanging. The hymn verse ends with "...Thou who changest not, abide with me." (LSB #878 vs. 4)

Never changing. He loved you yesterday. He loves you today. He will love you tomorrow. All with the same, passionate love that doesn't wane with time. Unchanging. That is the message of the Gospel, unchanging. Salvation still comes through the grace of God, shown in His Son Jesus Christ, bestowed by the working of the Holy Spirit. It remains the same. He doesn't change the way we are saved. He doesn't say one thing today and then another thing tomorrow. He says the same thing day after day: "You are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ." Always the same.

As we begin this school year, we do so with the very same confidence with which we begin each day. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. It is the same confidence that I had yesterday. It is the confidence I have today. This is the confidence I shall have tomorrow. And if my confidence wavers, if the situation of my life shakes me to the core, causing me to struggle, wonder or doubt, I know this: He has not changed. His love is the same. He still loves me. In sickness and in health, He loves me. In strength and in weakness, He loves me. In perfection and in sinfulness, He still loves me. He is unchanging.

I give thanks to Him for this assurance. I rejoice that Jesus Christ is the same today as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow. Thank You Lord. Thank You.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I wonder...

I wonder...do you ever wonder about things? Do you wonder why there is such order in this world even while it is filled with such chaos? Do you ever think about why people will love one person and hate another? Do you ever wonder why we treat each other with such contempt? Do you ever wonder why people lie, cheat, steal, hurt, destroy, deceive and do a whole host of other things to people around them? So do I. Even while I wonder about others, I realize that the same could be said about me. There are those who feel the same way about me, no matter how perfect I try to act or try to come off as in my life.

Then I read such words as, "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5 ESV) I hear these words echo in my thoughts: "None is righteous, no, not one, no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good." (Romans 3:10b-12 ESV)  I realize the answer is that I am living in a fallen world that focuses on self and not on others. I realize even a deeper issue. My heart is that same way. I cannot change it. In fact, when left to myself, I often don't even want to change it.

That is when I give thanks to God for His grace and mercy. "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8 ESV) And again, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10 ESV) It is all about what God has done through Jesus Christ. He suffered and died in my place. He gave His life for all my sins, for all the ways I have broken the law. He died so that I might live.

And then He draws me to Himself. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, He breaks into my hardened heart, tears down the walls of sin, and makes me a new person. I am made new, not in my actions, but in that which Christ does within me. In my Baptism, the Old Adam in me is drown and I rise to a new life in Christ. He changes me. That is what happens. He changes me. I don't change myself. He makes me new.

Then I live in that new life. I listen to the words, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." (1 John 4:11 ESV) My old self balks at these words. My new self, in Christ, empowered by the Spirit, rejoices in these words and turns from hatred to love, turns from deception to openness, turns from self to others. That is the life I have in Christ.

I wonder...what would happen if each one of us that professes Christ would actually live in Christ? I wonder what would the world be like if we would love as Christ has loved us. I wonder...then I I ask the Lord, let this begin in me. Instead of me looking at others and trying figure them out, send the Holy Spirit in to my life that I might be changed, yet again today, that I may grow in faith, love and life each day.

Yes Lord, let it begin with me.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Disappointment and a response to it.

People will disappoint you. I say that not because of the recent situations that have happened, though I would be deceptive if I said that did not also have something to do with my thoughts. I say that because it is true.

Think about it. That disappoint started with Adam and Eve. They had it made. They walked and talked with God Himself! Seriously. How much better could it be than that? But they disappointed. Following the deception of of Satan, they ate the fruit. Really? Fruit is better than a perfect relationship with God? When all was said and done, Adam must have been disappointed that Eve had listened to the serpent. Eve must have been disappointed that Adam did not fulfill his role as head of the family and didn't stop her.

Fast forward through time to other incidents in the Bible. Abraham says Sarah is his sister rather than his wife. What? You can't even stand up and be a man, accepting that others might not like the fact that Sarah is yours and yours alone? What kind of a man are you? David lusted after Bathsheba, took her, got her pregnant then killed her husband. Wow. I can't imagine how that must have disappointed so many people. Sure, it's good to be the king. But to act in that way is rotten. It is disappointing.

I have been reading in 2 Kings (after I finished 1 Kings). There the kings and the nations were so disappointing. Time after time it is said that the king followed in the way of the sins of Jeroboam. They would not follow the Lord. They would worship other gods. Some even sacrificed their children! What?! Why would they do that? Don't they know...of course they know what the Lord says. But they did not care of follow the way of the Lord. How disappointing.

I am sure that you could find examples in your own life of how you have been disappointed by others. The marriage relationship that was betrayed for a roll in the hay. A trust that is destroyed by a few words, a life that is destroyed by the use of drugs or alcohol. Friendships torn apart because of some action. Jobs destroyed, futures ruined because of self-centered actions. Disappointments.

While I don't want to say this but...I am sure that you have been disappointed in me as a pastor. You had a direction you thought the church should go and because of my leadership, it did not go that way. You thought that something should be said and I did not say it. I did not make the call when you thought I should. I was not available when you had a need. And I disappointed you.

People will disappoint you. No matter who they are - parent, child, employer, employee, pastor, teacher, or friend. Why? Because we are all sinful. We all struggle with ourselves, our desires, our directions, our needs and our wants. We do not always live the way we are supposed to live. We do not love as we are to love.

So what do we do? We turn to the Lord. He never disappoints us. I am sure that you can point to some situation you were disappointed by the outcome and you blame God for that fact. But think about it, did God actually tell you that you would get everything your sinful heart desired? Nope. He did not. We think He should do what we want, but that is not the way it works. That would make us God and Him our lackey. That is not the way it is. He is God. We ware the creatures. He made us. He knows what is best for us.

What about when my daughter or son died? God disappointed me. No He did not. You set yourself up as God and told Him what should happen. Death destroys. It always will. Until the last day when God destroys death in the resurrection. When Christ comes on the clouds, the dead will rise and we will see what it means in John 11:25-26, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who believes in me shall never die." God did not disappoint you. Sin did. Sin caused the break, the death. But God could have stopped it! Yes, you are right, but He never promised that you will not face death, your own, your spouse, your child, your parent. He did promise to give life from death.

God disappointed me when the pastor sinned. God disappointed me when my friends turned their back on me. God disappointed me when He did not give me the job. God disappointed me when He did not heal my broken relationship. God disappointed me...do you see the common theme? You are blaming God for the sinful behavior of others, of yourself. He did not do those things. You did. Others did. They disappointed you not God.

God will never disappoint you when it comes to that which He has promised. He will be your God, always. He will love you even when you do not love Him. He will watch over you even when you are blatantly doing wrong. He will love you even as you do not love Him. He will never even turn on Himself and disappoint. Paul wrote to Timothy, "If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself." (2 Timothy 2:13 ESV)

No, God does not disappoint us. People disappoint us. What do we do about that? We learn to forgive. We learn to move beyond the actions that caused disappointment. We also learn to admit that we have also disappointed others. We learn to live with one another, sinful people that we are, knowing that we all trust in the One who will never disappoint and that is not you or me.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

OK Lord, Now What?

OK Lord, what now? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Most of the time it comes in the midst of a crisis or a problem. You wonder what the Lord is doing or not doing in your life. You had your life all figured out, knew where you were going and what you were doing and then something happens - sickness, death, loss of job, mental struggles, friends turning away, attacks from places you were not expecting it - and you ask, "OK Lord, what now?" Or maybe you are saying, "Lord, where are You? I need Your right now."

The answer is always the same, "I am with you. I am your Good Shepherd who will lead you if you will only follow My voice." Shaking your head, you think, "But Lord..." And like a sheep that doesn't quite hear the voice of the Shepherd, you begin to wander. You think perhaps you know the best way to go, the best thing to do, and so off you go, doing your own thing.

Wait a minute, that wasn't where I was going with this today. Where did that come from? OK Lord, what now? I mean that in the sense that He is leading me into a new area of ministry that will stretch and challenge me in ways that I have yet to imagine. Yesterday at the national LWML convention in Albuquerque (I still have to think about how to spell the name of this city) the ladies of the LWML elected me to serve as the junior LWML pastoral counselor. And I ask, "OK Lord, now what?"

I didn't really believe that I would be elected. The journey has been interesting. After having served the Southern Illinois District LWML as pastoral counselor two different times and having served as zone pastoral counselor in the Midstate, Upper Kaskaskia and Metro Central Zones, I wondered if the Lord wanted me to continue to serve the LWML. So when the request for nominations for national counselor came last year, I told the SID LWML Board that they could nominate me. The process was such that I didn't think anything would come from it. There were approvals given by the SID president Tim Scharr and St. Paul's, Troy. The next step was to go through the committee and then getting approval from Pres. Harrison. I figured, no way. Not some parish pastor from Troy, IL. But the Lord said, "Watch this." Down to five candidates, my name was still there. Really? Not possible.

Then came the interview with the committee. That was fun. Margo Dupre interviewed me. She was such a pleasure to talk with that it didn't even seem like an interview. Even thought the video portion of the interview didn't work, we still enjoyed the time together. I guess I am going to have to figure out this web stuff. Then I went on with ministry.

Penny and I were walking into Walmart one day and I received a phone call from Margo. She said that they had decided that I would be one of the two candidates for the office of pastoral counselor. I remember saying, "For real?" I was so excited. I couldn't believe that it had gone this far. Penny and I talked about it while shopping. We figured it was an honor just to make it this far in the process. We figured that I wouldn't be elected but were humbled even to be considered to this point.

As we prepared to go to Albuquerque, the ladies of St. Paul's were excited. This was as much an honor for them as it was for me. I felt proud to be the pastor of the ladies of the LWML at St. Paul's. I knew that I was representing them in this trek. They wished Penny and I well, even had a bake sale to help us with the expenses. Thank you ladies. With a prayer we were off on a journey that would lead us to where? OK Lord, now what?

So here we were in ABQ (didn't want to spell it again), attending the convention. Yes, I packed a suit coat, dress shirt, tie and dress shoes along with my purple LWML socks just in case. But really, I didn't think I would need them. Thursday and Friday lead to Saturday, imagine that! I was nervous getting up on stage with the other candidates, being introduced to the convention. Why? Because I was out of my element. If I was going to lead worship or preach, no problem. The Spirit leads me at those times and the focus in upon the Name that is above all names, the name of Jesus. I am just a tool that is used to bring that wonder of the Word to the people. Jesus is already there and the Spirit is already working, I am just joining the mission. But to stand there, silently...hear name, step forward, wave, and step back. Ugh, nerve wracking, really, it was.

Then after lunch, after several presentation, the elections. Penny and I waited. What did the Lord have in mind? "Vote now." Ten seconds. They seemed to be longer than 10 seconds. Results. Computer tabulating. And then...there is was. I had asked, "OK Lord, now what?" His answer was, "Serve the women of the LWML through out the country and the world as pastoral counselor." Really? Me? A parish pastor who loves serving the folks in Troy, IL? He said, "Yes, serve Me as you serve the women throughout the LC-MS at large." I felt like crying. It is overwhelming. It is such an honor. It is so humbling. I can't believe it. Thank You Lord for this privilege to serve You and the women of the LWML.

And so I ask, "OK Lord, now what?" Really, now what? I will need to learn. I will need to listen. I will need to get to know new people. I will need to have guidance in what I am to do in this position. My mind is kind of spinning, because there will be many new things to do. Lord, You have been training me for this service through the 30 years of ministry in each congregation and in each position on the circuit or zone level in the SID and CID, and the district levels in both LWML and the SID. Each piece is in place. You knew where this journey was leading even when I didn't. Now I serve You. In all I do, I lift up Your name for it truly is the Name above all names.

OK Lord, now what?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Time in New Mexico

Good morning from Albuquerque, New Mexico. It took me a while to learn how to spell the name of this city. Actually, for the longest time I just wrote ABQ, which was the designation given by Amtrak (and the airlines I think) so that it can show up on your tickets. St. Louis is STL. Chicago is CHI. This city is ABQ (I didn't feel like typing it again). It is brutally hot here, over 100 degrees, but it is a dry heat. Which means it is still hot. The air is hot. The wind is hot. Everything is hot. It is hard to cool a building with it being so hot. But it will get better. Down into the 90's but they say that the humidity might come up. What that means is it might get to 20% or maybe 25% humidity. They are struggling to understand how that will affect them. Even the weather man was talking about how it would affect their swamp coolers (I guess that is a form of southwestern air conditioning) and their houses might not get as cool. Every area has it's weather woes. I do miss our Troy weather. I know what to expect. This is new to me.

We are here for the LWML convention. That is the Lutheran Women's Missionary League convention in case you wondered. IT is nice to see so many Lutheran women in one place. I heard 3,400+ in attendance. Last night (Thursday) was the opening service. The convention center was packed with folks as we received Word and Sacrament ministry. Always amazing to worship in such a large crowd. I haven't read this morning how many attended that service but the convention floor was packed. I think many Lutherans from around ABQ must have attended as well. It was great to hear the Word, receive the Supper and sing the good old Lutheran songs. The choir was amazing. Sang 3 great pieces. I was amazed at how they were able to pull that together with only 1 practice. Wow! Way to go ladies.

Penny and I took the train to New Mexico. The Southwest Chief left Chicago on Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. (right on time) and traveled over the next 25 hours to ABQ. We were on time all the way until we reached Lamy and then it fell apart. With track work being done, there were slow orders (I would rather go slow than take the chance that the work wasn't completed correctly) from Lamy to just NE of ABQ. So we had to wait for the eastbound Chief to arrive at Lamy before we could continue. It was about an hour late. Then we rolled through the area of track work. Finally we arrived to the stretch of track owned by the New Mexico Rail Runner (the form of metro, commuter service). They put us on a siding while we waited for an inbound Railrunner to pass and then for an outbound one to pass. We sat there for just shy of an hour, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And...finally it passed and we started moving. Hurrah! Then we had to wait for another one to pass so we stopped for another length of time (I forget how long). Sitting there taught us patience. Real patience. Because we could do nothing to change the situation.

Have you ever been there? In a situation where you could do nothing to change it? That is a struggle, isn't it? We like to take control. To do something to make our situation better. We want to act! That is probably why God's grace is so tough for us to receive. We want to do something for it. We want to work out our salvation is some way. So instead of trusting in Christ alone, we trust in Christ and our works. What works? How we act, what we say, the money we give, the attitude of our lives and so on. We want God to look at us and say, "You deserve My love. Here, let me give it to you." But He doesn't. There is nothing we can do to earn His love, nothing we can do to deserve His grace, nothing we can do. Period. Nothing. No matter how pious we act or how nice we are to the cab driver, none of that earns our salvation. No matter how I sit and endure the wait on the train, no matter how quietly I grumble to myself or to Penny, I still don't deserve His love, His grace, His presence in my life.

He just gives it. He gives it to me even though I don't deserve it. And I don't. Even while I think I am a good person, I am not. I was upset at the New Mexico Rail Runner dispatcher for making us wait. I was upset that my time table was messed up. I was upset with other people that got in my way. I can't count the number of times I have unkind thought about people for situations that were beyond my control or were in my control and I still had bad thoughts. I think about what I would like to say and I don't, but I am still wrong. I look at situations and know that what was done is wrong and I want to blast someone, but I don't. But that desire in my heart was just as bad. And O how the heart wanted to do just that...I give praise to the Holy Spirit for helping me in my time of need to say and do the right things. Only through His power does that work. I realize once again, I am not worthy of God's love.

He still gives it to me. All praise be to Him for His true love and grace for me. And for you!

Back to ABQ. So we enjoyed yesterday. Spent some time in the morning at the Old Town Albuquerque. Nice southwestern shops, felt like old town. Wonderful meal though I had doubted when I heard the name of the place - Church Street Cafe. I thought that it sounded more like a place to get a so-so meal that was more in line with a Denny's or something. But the mexican meal was great. I have to say, I have enjoyed the food so far. Even Q Burger with the mesQuite bison burger was good.

Today the LWML convention continues. Yesterday I was on stage at the delegate orientation, being introduced. Why? Well I am from Troy, IL. Who shouldn't know a little known preacher from Troy? No, actually I am on the ballot for national pastoral adviser/counselor. Exciting stuff. Saturday is the elections. We will see were that goes. Penny posted a picture of me waving from the stage. Felt really strange yet exciting. The parade of banners is this morning and bible study and other things.

Today is our 33 wedding anniversary! 33 years ago Penny and I shared our vows. I am thankful for each of those years and for her love. I know it has been a rugged road but she has given me love and support that is beyond imagination. She is really a special lady. I know that some don't think so but they are wrong. Her faith, her commitment to sharing the Lord, her love for children puts most of us to shame and I think it is also unnerving for some. She is an amazing lady and I love her more now that I did 33 years ago. And I think she is prettier now than then. Thank You Lord for leading us through these 33 years. Let's see if we get another 33!

That is all from ABQ for now. I will let you know what all continues to happen. Praying all is well with you. Moving forward in Christ, all things are possible. His is the name above all names. His name is what fills our hearts and lives now and forever.

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.