Tuesday, March 28, 2017

If only...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

Living with Consequences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ramblings on a cold morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

In God's hands

As Christians, we say that a lot. "You are in God's hands." We say that to someone as they struggle with a situation or a crisis. I have said it many times. I encourage members of the congregation with those very words. There are places of Scripture that we fall back on to say this. The one place I often go is John's gospel. There Jesus says, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." (John 10:28-29 ESV) What a comfort it is to know that nothing can snatch us out of the hand of God,

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

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

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

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

Yes, you are in God's hand.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Thoughts as they play in your heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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