Thursday, January 26, 2017

Exhibiting the Fruit of the Spirit and love of Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen. May it be so. Amen.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

When You Are Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 6, 2017

Epiphany Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Light overcomes darkness. The darkness cannot overcome Him.

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year Resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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