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Prayers for Guidance

Yogi Berra, the legendary catcher for the New York Yankees, once said, "When you come to a fork in the road—take it!”  How many times have we come to a fork in the road of our lives and really didn’t know which fork to take.  Prayers for guidance come when a need surfaces, but we do not yet sense God’s will.  The anonymous writer to the Hebrews commends us with these words, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Be sure that God hears our prayers when we pray in His name and in His will.  He will meet our needs.  We pray boldly and with confidence that He would cause everything to work together for good because we are called according to the purpose of His will.

Waiting has never been something I do very well.  Yet, you and I know that that is precisely what God would have us do.  Don’t take matters into your own hands (I think of Abraham, Sarah, and Haggai here), but instead wait patiently for the Lord to act.  Someone once said that God is frequently early, but He is never late.  These are wise words to remember when we come to another fork in the road.



Serving Jesus in Disguise

" . . .as you did it to one of the last of these my brothers, you did it to me” (ESV)

Matthew 25:40

For decades Mother Teresa served the poor and the destitute of India with gladness in her heart saying, "Each of them is Jesus in disguise.”  Her words are very biblical as Matthew notes in our reading above.  Here’s what Jesus says on the day He separates the sheep from the goats at the escathon.  "And the King will answer them (those on His right), ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”  Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming a stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison, are all occasions to serve Jesus in disguise. Are we saved by such actions?  Of course, not.  Christ Jesus has already accomplished that on our behalf. The cross stands witness to that fact; as does the empty tomb.  Yet, in the service of others we find unique opportunities to serve Jesus as He so lovingly served us. Serving Him, as it were, in disguise.

 Servanthood is Caught

John 13:1-17

 It’s easy to catch a cold. All you need to do is be near someone who has one.  It’s just that easy.  So, if servanthood is caught, as the title of this blog suggests, how is that done?  By being around those who model servanthood.  The ultimate example of modeling servanthood is Jesus.  John 13, for example, gives us a look into what happened before Jesus’ arrest.  John provides details of what happened during the Passover meal. Jesus stopped the proceedings.  Shedding His robe, He wrapped Himself in a towel and washed dirty feet.  Understand that in Jesus’ times, washing feet was reserved for servants.  But, in this case it seems that the servants were given the night off.  Taking foot in hand, Jesus tenderly washed them to the surprise of all.  Why would He do that? we wonder aloud. If we allow our eyes to scan down to verse 15 in the text, the answer confronts us.  "For I have given you and example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (ESV).  What Jesus Christ has done, His followers are to do likewise.  We are His followers.  We are living examples of the Servant who gave His all, coming into the world not to be served, but to serve.

 Servanthood is Taught

Matthew 20:20-28


I think we can all agree that Jesus is the ultimate authority on what it means to serve God and others.  But the question arises How did He teach servanthood to those who followed after Him? Our text today gives us one example.  Jesus took full advantage of teachable moments.  Allow me to sum up the text for this blog.  The mother of James and John came to Jesus with a request to make her sons top dogs when Jesus comes into His Kingdom.  In this teachable moment, Jesus turns things upside down.  He teaches servanthood, not leadership. Ok, technically we could say servant-leadership, if you’d like. "Whoever wants to be great among you, must be a servant of others,” He said.  Not boss. Not leader.  But, servant. 

Perhaps reading this has provided a teachable moment for you.  Servant-leadership looks like this: Our LORD did not come to be served, but to serve (v.28).  That’s the statement of the cross.  As Christ followers twenty-one centuries later, these words still apply.  Our question to ponder is: How may I serve the One who so generously served me?

 A Look Back and a Look Forward

As one with a heart and passion for history, the Reformation has always captivated me.  How God led men like Martin Luther and others through His Word simply amazes me.  It was the Holy Spirit working through this Word that compelled Dr. Luther to nail his 95 points of debate (we know them as the 95 Thesis) to door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Beyond that the Spirit played upon Luther’s passion to train up Christian children to bring about the writing of the Small Catechism. The purpose for this instructional booklet is to help the head of the Christian household train others in the Christian faith. 

So, what does this mean for you and me today as we look forward in faith?  Consider this startling statistic found in George Barna’s book Transforming Children into Spiritual Champion.  Barna, a nationally recognized researcher, writes:

"[W]hile more than 4 out of 5 parents (85 percent) believe they have a primary responsibility for the moral and spiritual development of their children, more than two out of three of them abdicate that responsibility to their church.”  

My question would be this: Have we forgotten the value of Christian parenting?  As we plan the future of Faith Lutheran Church and School, let us all consider how we might learn to walk beside one another and encourage one another to be in God’s Word.  Let us all pray that God would inspire us to be part of a new reformation of hope and faith in Jesus Christ—in our homes.



Unmasking True Hope

Read 1 Peter 3:14-15

In the above Scripture reading Peter makes this statement: "always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you the reason for the hope that is in you.”  As Christians we put our hope in the forgiveness of sins Christ won for us at the cross.  We put our hope in the resurrection of the dead.  We put our hope in life everlasting promised in that resurrection.  But, it’s important to know how Christians define the word hope.  It’s not as the world does, which attaches this meaning to hope, saying that it is nothing more than "a feeling of expectation and a desire for a certain thing to happen.”  Biblical hope carries with it a certainty the world does not have.  In fact, we could say that biblical hope is a "know-so” and not a "hope-so.”  Sometimes we seek to make this difference known by adding a couple of words ahead of hope in a sentence.  We say things like "in the sure and certain hope in the resurrection of the dead.”  For you and me, and all believers, there is a confidence in all that Christ has done.  He has totally and completely reconciled us with the Father and forgiven us our sins.  This certainty, granted us by the Holy Spirit, provides a hope the world does not have. 

 Chip off the Old Block

1 Peter 2:2-10

The phrase "chip off the old block” is no doubt familiar to you.  When someone acts or behaves as their parents once did, we say that they are a "chip off the old block.”  Our behaviors are similar.  Our words.  Our actions.  In the above Scripture reading Peter impresses upon us that Jesus is the Living Stone.  Jesus is immovable.  He is strength, stability, something that is long-lasting.  Yet, as Easter proves:  He is very much alive.  Later in the text Peter calls those who believe in Jesus, Living Stones.  Christ is the role model for our lives as believers, the perfect Law keeper, the greatest example of all on how to love God and love neighbor.  Those who follow Him are called Christians—"little Christs.”  Through the waters of Baptism, God chiseled us from the Living Stone.  We are "chips off the Old Block.”  Whether in painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving and caring for our neighbor; all serve but one function.  To point others to the "Living Stone” from which we were cut—Jesus Christ our Lord.


Mayhem is Everywhere

John 3:16-21

Perhaps you’ve seen the latest commercial from a nationally known insurance company.  It’s called "Dashboard Mayhem.”  This commercial has a man’s face sticking out of the dashboard of a moving car.  "I’m all that tech stuff you’ve crammed into your new car,” he says.  Then a little later he adds, "I can do everything you want except keep your eyes on the road.”  The driver looks up—realizes that she’s in the wrong lane and swerves to avoid a crash only to lose control.  Her car flies over a fence and splashes into a pond by the side of the road.  Distracted driving is dangerous; very dangerous.  In reality, so is spiritually distracted living.  Our enemy, Satan, would like nothing more than to distract us.  How easily he takes our eyes off of the road of life, causing us to roam into the wrong lane where tragedy awaits.  God’s Word reminds us of God’s abiding intent.  John records words familiar to you.   They are the words of Jesus in John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”  Satan is prowling, but God has given us the most wonderful gift; the gift of His Holy Spirit that we might believe in His precious Son and keep our eyes on Him and where He leads--all the way to eternal life.

 True Forgiveness
John 20:22-23

The second stanza of the popular praise song "Mighty to Save” offers us these words:  "Everyone needs forgiveness, the kindness of a Savior; the hope of nations.”  For a lot of us forgiveness is not an easy accomplishment.  Evil deeds done to us are often remembered even though the words, "I forgive you” have crossed our lips.  In a resurrection appearance on Easter, Jesus spoke these words to His disciples in John’s gospel.  After breathing on them He said: "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  The key to unlocking this passage is not in the words Christ spoke, but in what He did before speaking them.  He breathed His Holy Spirit out on them.  The power of true forgiveness is in and through Jesus Christ Himself.  His Spirit brings us the complete forgiveness of God through His suffering and death.  It is this Spirit that empowers us to forgive others in a manner that brings us comfort and peace.  This is the same Spirit given to us in our Baptism.  Thanks be to God for His precious gift of forgiveness; true forgiveness.


A Palm Sunday Insight

A Faith member recently sent me a text that caught my attention.  You see, I wasn’t expecting to open it to find the picture of a donkey and her colt.  More important still was the cross on each on their backs.  The caption read:  "A donkey is the only animal in the world with a cross on its back.”  I had no idea; did you?  The picture made it evident that this statement was true.  A dark tuft of hair ran the length of each animal from head to tail.  At the shoulders darkened fur formed the crossbar.  A cross most certainly.  The writer continued, "Jesus the Messiah came into Jerusalem on the cross and he also left Jerusalem with a cross.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.”   As we prepare our hearts and minds for the solemn events of Holy Week, we join the writer of this text in saying, "Thank you Jesus for taking ALL our sins on You!”   As Easter nears, let us give thanks with a grateful heart for our LORD’s obedience; an obedience that took Him all the way to the cross.  We give thanks because His death took our sins and exchanged them for His righteousness.  That’s truly amazing grace.


Get Down off of Your Colt and Go Home

The words above are a paraphrase of the meaning implied by comments made by the Pharisees to Jesus on Palm Sunday. Luke’s account has the exact words in verse 39 of chapter 19.  They are: "Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”  In so many words they are saying, "Stop all of this parading into Jerusalem on the back of your colt.  Tell your disciples to stop yelling, ‘Hosanna’ and other such nonsense; and go home.”  Now, do me a favor and take a look at the words Jesus uses in answer.  He says, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”  The stones would cry out??? That’s a true statement.  Why do I say that?  Because ever since mankind fell into sin all of creation has waited for the Creator to make things right again.  This "setting things right again” comes only through Jesus—this God/Man now sitting on a colt in the middle of the road.  The great evangelist, Paul pens these words in Romans:  "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present.”  All of creation, not just part of creation.  All.  Rocks included.  Creation knows its Savior and loudly proclaims Hosannas—"Praise God and His Messiah, we are saved.”  May we rejoice and give thanks as well for His unmerited grace.


A Bold Declaration for Jesus Christ

Recently I came upon an article about Petr Jasek.  Jasek is a Czech national who was arrested and sentenced to life in prison on a charge of spying in the African nation of Sudan.  In reality, he wasn’t a spy at all, but a believer in Jesus Christ.  Jasek’s cellmates included drug smugglers, violent criminals and even ISIS fighters.  He couldn’t know that physical and emotional abuse would be an everyday occurrence in the 15 months he would be in prison.  He had no way of knowing that these two things, along with a poor diet would cause him to lose 55 pounds.  Sounds like Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem on steroids, doesn’t it? Petr Jasek could not have known that he would be very fortunate and not come down with malaria or cholera.  All the while he was in prison Jasek declared Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.  Some prisoners even professed their faith in Christ.  I find it interesting how God works through the crosses we carry, even in instances where we would think there would be no hope at all.  Since his release from prison in 2015, Jasek has used Philippians 1:12 as his guiding principle: "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”  May the Holy Spirit grant us words and actions that declare Jesus as our Lord and forgive us for the times we fail in doing so.  Amen. 

 A Funeral Message with Grace

Tomorrow I’ll preach the message at the funeral of a long-time member of Faith Congregation.  At his family’s request, the gentleman’s name will only be mentioned twice.  As the family instructed me, and rightly so, funerals are not about the deceased and their laundry list of deeds.  Funerals, instead, are all about what Christ has done.  My message tomorrow has John 3:16 as it focus.  Some have said that John 3:16 is "the gospel in a nutshell.”  In other words, this is the gospel is its least complex form.  If you would, review the words with me.  "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”    Allow me to ask you to do one more thing.  Re-read the John 3:16 text and insert your name where I have inserted a blank space.  "For God so loved                that He gave His only Son for               , that                may believe in Him and should not perish but have eternal life.”  Whenever your mind wanders to thoughts of your value in God’s sight, come back to John 3:16 and put your name in the blank space.  God so loved you that He sent His Son to die for you.  Your value to God?  PRICELESS.


Pontius Pilate

What comes to mind when you read the name Pontius Pilate?  Governor of Judea?  Judge at Jesus’ trial?  Mentioned in the Apostles Creed?  All of these statements are true.  Pilate is all of these things, and more.  I’d like us to consider that Pilate was also more like you and me than we may have ever considered.  Think about Pilate from the angle of one who caved in to peer-pressure, for example.  Scripture teaches us that Pilate knew that he was about to sentence an innocent man to his death.  But, the crowd there, most likely hirelings of the chief priests and elders, pressured Pilate into making a decision in their favor.  Now, let’s talk about you and me for a minute.  Aren’t there crowds in our lives as well?  What is it that crowds Jesus out—drives you away from Him? Perhaps it’s individuals who mock you for your faith to the point that you fall away; followed then by words like: "You’re carrying around so much baggage that God couldn’t possibly love you.”  Allow me to remind you that those feelings of guilt that wash over us when we give in to peer-pressure and turn away from Jesus, find their forgiveness in Christ.  Those times when we fail to stand up for the poor, the innocent, the down-trodden of society find their forgiveness in Christ.  You and I can take comfort in knowing that by the blood of Jesus Christ we have been judged—and found NOT GUILTY!


Kingdom Righteousness

Read Matthew 5:33-48

Jesus calls us to demonstrate His righteousness in the world.  Not an easy task.  Worldly righteous.  Now, that’s something we do all the time.  We might even say that because of sin we do these things without thinking about them.  They’re automatic.  Saying one thing and doing another when the situation doesn’t go in our favor?  Can do.  Seeking revenge when someone wrongs us?  Check.  That gesture we make when someone cuts us off in traffic is all the evidence we need of that.  Hating our enemies?  Uh-huh.  Just cross me once and see how long I remember it.  In our reading today Jesus’ words condemn us.  We don’t keep our word. We seek revenge.  We hate our enemies.  Not only did Jesus talk about doing just the opposite in our Matthew text, but He lived them out.  He spoke words of truth.  He turned the other cheek.  He forgave His enemies while nailed through hands and feet to a rough-hewed, wooden cross.  The Kingdom Righteousness He speaks of—this ability to do as He commanded—comes to you through Him.  This isn’t a do-it-yourself thing.  The Holy Spirit given at your baptism spurs you to do as He has done.  And don’t worry, that gap between knowing His will and doing it "perfectly” is bridged by His forgiveness from the cross.  His Kingdom Righteousness extends to you through nail-scarred hands.


Jesus on Adultery

You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”

 (Matthew 5:28)

These words are a small part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.  In verse after verse in the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus speaks to those who seek righteousness before God by their own actions.  With arrogance they look first at themselves and then at the Sixth Commandment and say, "I’ve kept this Law. I haven’t had any relationships outside of my marriage.”  Jesus teaches his hearers, and you and me today, that adultery starts first in the heart.  God desires purity among his followers.  Certainly that means guarding one’s eyes and ears.  What we see and hear matters.  Like me, I’m sure you know instances where lustful thoughts have caused damage to a relationship.  Sometimes that damage is irreparable; crushing marriages and families in its wake.  With the internet promoting pornography in a manner unprecedented in history—it’s important to guard wisely what we see and hear.  In case you are a person who has already crossed the line, it is good for us to revisit the words of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery after all those who condemned her had sulked away.  Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you.  Go now and leave your life of sin.”  May the forgiveness of your sins lead to a life of repentant living.  Amen.

 A Purpose Under Heaven

Perhaps you remember the words to the rock classic "Turn, Turn, Turn”?  Taken directly from Ecclesiates 3, the Byrds had a giant hit with this song.  Remember the words with me: "To everything, turn, turn, turn. There is a season, turn, turn, turn. And a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to build up, a time to break down. A time to dance, a time to mourn. A time to cast away stones. A time to gather stones together.” There is a time for every purpose under heaven.  Including a time of mourning.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find it hard to fill the hole in my heart left by the passing of a loved one.  They were here for a season.  Now, they’re gone.  All of these thoughts came to mind during my morning devotions today.  In 1 Peter, Peter writes with confidence about God’s promise to believers.  "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he writes.  "According to His great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”  Blessed be the Lord who brings comfort to us in our season of mourning.


Guard Your Family Time

This blog is different than the ones I usually write.  The intent is to be helpful and practical and a little less theological.  I want to encourage you to guard your family time.  If you’re like me you sometimes find that you have activities several evenings a week.  It isn’t long before our families are pressed to the sidelines of our schedules.  As I began this New Year and put together a list of books I wanted to read, I came across Bill Hybel’s Simplify.  Bill is the pastor of Willow Creek Community Church.  In his book he recalls his young daughter asking him a question as he prepared to leave for a meeting.  She asked, "Daddy, are you going to be gone again tonight?”  After much prayer, Pastor Hybel concluded that he needed to be home "four nights a week if I want to be as great a dad as I can.”  Of course, you can substitute "husband,” or "wife” for "dad” in this sentence.  Hybel said that from that point on he wrote the words H-O-M-E across four evenings a week.  I’m planning to give that idea more thought and prayer.  In addition, I want to think about how I lead meetings.  My thought is that when I lead evening meetings, I want them no more than an hour long.  I’ve used a one-hour formula in the past with great success.  Our LORD gave us families to grow and nurture, how can we if we’re gone all the time?

 Fisher of People

And He said to them, "Follow Me and I will make you fishers of people” (Matthew 4:19)

In World War II, a Japanese submarine sank the U.S.S. Indianapolis in the South Pacific.  Some on-board went down with their ship.  Others fought off sharks.  Some lost their fight with sharks.  Some became so dehydrated that they drank sea water.  They didn’t survive.  Still others clung to their life rafts—and defied hunger and thirst.  For days they clung.  They watched as allied planes flew over.  None returned to rescue them.  Just when they were at the end of all hope—a plane spotted them, made an emergency landing in the water and saved them.  Talk about a plane that was a "fisher of people,” there it is.  We witness in this story that the ability to be a "fisher of people” comes from outside ourselves.  More specifically, the words of Jesus tell us that: "I will make you . . .” [Emphasis added.]  The power to "fish for people” is a gift Jesus gives to this day through the waters of Baptism and His Word.  Jesus Christ has not only affected your rescue, as the plane rescued those weary survivors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, but He also made you a "fisher of people” just as He promised. 



                       Weary with Sin

Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28)

When I did chapel this morning, I needed something heavy to carry around to demonstrate the weight of sin in our lives.  So, I used a large, heavy rock.  I had a couple of children try to carry this rock around, but it was obviously way too heavy for them.  They couldn’t carry the weight.  Neither can we. What came to mind, as a child and I tried to carry the weight together, was the impossibility of our task.  It wouldn’t take long and we would both weary under the strain. Setting the heavy rock down I said, "Now, I understand what Jesus was talking about when He said, ‘Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Thanks be to God who came to us in our Baptism and took away this immense weight known as sin. If you haven’t been baptized yet and would like more information about Baptism, take a moment today to talk with your teachers.  Baptism is a precious gift from God.  A miracle. Amen.


"When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him”

(Matthew 1:24)

If there is an unsung hero of faith, in my mind, Joseph would be it.  We know very little about him except for a few passages in the birth narrative of our Lord, His presentation in the Temple, and later when Jesus is twelve and He is lost and later found in conversation with the scholars of His day.  Certainly, we know from scripture that Joseph is a "just man” who was unwilling to put Mary to shame after learning of her pregnancy; a pregnancy by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We know as well that God sent an angel to Joseph.  In a dream, the angel revealed the true nature of Mary’s pregnancy and the mission this special child had ahead of Him; that of saving His people from their sin.  Joseph did not dismiss this pronouncement.  Scripture tells us that when Joseph woke from His sleep, he took Mary as his wife.  In other words, Joseph listened to God’s plan for his life and did as God commanded him.  God unfolds His plan for our lives, too.  Perhaps, not as bold as an angel coming in a dream, but certainly through His Word and Sacraments. During the busyness of Christmas, don’t dismiss the proclamation that this babe foretold to Joseph has done exactly what God sent Him to do.  He has forgiven His people of His sins. Indeed, because of Christ we have a Merry Christmas.


Serving the Lord

And Mary said, "Behold I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”

(Luke 1:38)


Think for a minute about what Mary just said.  "Let it be to me according to your word.”  God has just called her through His angel Gabriel; called her to carry a baby in her womb.  Not just an ordinary run-of-the-mill baby, but the very Son of God.  Does she know what this means?  It means being pregnant ahead of marriage and all the consequences that go along with it.  Her fiancée could legally break off the wedding.  In fact, if he wanted to, he could accuse her of adultery and have her stoned to death.  The Bible doesn’t say that Mary said, "Wait!!!  Let’s push the pause button here.  I’ve changed my mind.  I’m not going through with this deal!!!”  Instead she says, "Let it be to me according to your word.”  God is LORD of Mary’s life.  Because of His favor toward her, she will serve Him with her whole heart, regardless of all consequences.  Her new baby, whom she will name Jesus, will one day do the same.  He will serve His Father even to the point of death.  Even death on a cross.  That’s what the Christmas season is all about.  Not getting, but serving.  Loving the LORD of your life by serving Him with every fiber of your being regardless of (or should I say, in spite of) all the consequences.  That’s our call now as followers of our LORD Jesus Christ.


A Voice in the Wilderness

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:3)

It’s easy enough to feel snug within the cocoon of our lives.  By that I mean that you and I are creatures of habit and often go about our lives as if on auto-pilot.  There are times, and I find myself included in this statement, that we become so busy that we shut others off by our actions.  The lives of others become secondary to what’s going on in our own.  Neglecting the pain and heart-ache of others, we fail to take the time to listen.  I mean, really listen.  Listen with our hearts as well as our ears. Empathize.  As I was reading the above verse from Matthew this morning, a flood of emotions came over me as I remembered how often I have mistreated others this year.  "Repent,” it reads, "for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  God calls us to repent in many different ways including the words of John the Baptist in our text.  When those words strike, we feel guilty.  Christ brings healing to contrite hearts.  It is this kingdom that John is talking about.  Why not join me is confessing your sins to God and one another this Advent season and receiving the blessed assurance from God that He has forgiven you through Christ Jesus whose Kingdom has come.  


Oh Give Thanks to the Lord

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 118:1)

Take a moment to read and reread the verse above.  As we sit here just one day away from Thanksgiving Day, these words are an important reminder of the true source of thanksgiving. God Himself.  Sometimes it’s so easy for God to get lost this day.  Don’t you sometimes find yourself so busy preparing the turkey and all the trimmings, watching football, and entertaining house-guests that you forget the source of all your blessings?  Hey, I can relate.  I can get so wrapped up in the activities that I forget who makes all of these activities possible.  In the process I can give God short shrift; or even no shrift at all.  May I offer us all a few words of encouragement?  Take the time tomorrow to think of the cross and Christ’s work there.  Your eternal life came at a terrible price.    But, it doesn’t stop there!  Christ rose from the grave to proclaim the forgiveness of your sins.  You’ve done nothing!  Christ has done everything!  With these simple thoughts in mind it should be very easy to remember the words of the Psalmist—"Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever.”
 Lord, Remember Us in Your Kingdom and Teach us to Pray

These oft repeated words usually serve as a lead-in for us to pray the Lord’s Prayer during worship.  In Fresh Faith, the author, Jim Cymbala, writes these insightful words.  "The twelve disciples never asked Jesus to teach them to preach.  But they did say, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ (Luke 11:1).  They saw something about His communion with the Father that was so outstanding that they couldn’t help saying, ‘Help us to pray like that.’”  Faith turns to God in all situations in life—family crisis, job loss, addictions, abuse, abandonment, affairs, and the list goes on, and should, likewise, include the joyous moments in our lives as well.  It includes thanksgiving, praise, adoration, and, of course, requests on behalf of ourselves and others.  Prayer takes hold of God’s promises stated over and over again in the Bible and knows that they all find their "Yes!” in Jesus Christ.  It is this same Jesus who taught us to pray saying, "Our Father who art in Heaven . . .” The words are familiar to you.  Why not go boldly before God with those words right now? 

 The Focus of Ministry

So often those of us in ministry can get caught up in the temptation to want to do everything ourselves.  This may lead to congregations that sit and watch the workers work.  Allow me to clarify.  As a pastor it is so tempting for me to take on more than I can possibly do well instead of training up the "priesthood of all believers” to share the load.  Regarding congregations; it is easier to look to pastors and staff as "paid professionals” and allow them to do everything instead of joining in the mission of the Church as the "priesthood of all believers.” Truly, God has equipped each of us with spiritual gifts to do ministry, and lest we forget, that ministry focus is that of transforming lives by connecting them with Jesus Christ.  When we make transforming lives through Christ the focus of ministry and when staff and congregation unite behind that focus, the Kingdom of God grows.    

 Put Others First

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4)

Now, those words are challenging, aren’t they?  I don’t know about you, but I know that I struggle with putting others first.  As a first-born son, I’ve always been head-strong, independent, self-reliant and extremely goal-oriented (some would probably say that it’s actually ‘goal-oriented in the extreme’). But, what happens when we step aside for others?  In that case others realize that they have value; they are important.  Think of those times when you headed to the check-out counter at Super Saver only to end up behind someone with a cart full of groceries.  How did you feel when this person offered you their place in line?  Elated, right? Let’s relate this to the life of Jesus Christ.  As God, He took on human flesh to show us how to put others first; living out the very best example of that taking our place on the cross and in the tomb.  May the Holy Spirit realign our priorities and enable us to put others first just as our Lord did and forgive us for those times when we put our own interests ahead of others.


The Prayer of the Humble

"God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11)

My grandson and I often argue over what radio station to listen to as I take him home.  A few days ago, he won.  I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard the song "Me Too” by Meghan Trainor, but the words sure caught my attention.  "If I was you, I’d wanna be me too,” she sang.  Talk about self-centered, right?  But, wait a second.  Don’t we at times look down our noses at others?  Don’t we sound like the Pharisee in the parable Jesus told in Luke 18?  "God,” we say, "I’m sure glad you didn’t make me like that guy.  Boy, what a sinner, he is.”  In the process, we miss the joy of knowing that God created all creatures.  And we fail to recognize our own sinfulness.  In Jesus’ parable, the tax collector realized his status before God.  Something the Pharisee chose to ignore.  The tax collector humbly stood before God and mourned, "God be merciful to me, a sinner.”  This man is the only one of the two men to whom Jesus applied to term, "Justified.”  That’s something worth thinking about any time you’re tempted to say, "If I were you, I’d wanna be me.”

 Standing at a Distance

"…He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance” (Luke 17:12)

As Luke’s account of the healing of the ten lepers opens, there is a gulf separating them and Jesus.  The lepers "stood at a distance” as Luke records it.  Their words were pitiable. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  To understand this account we must remember that lepers were shunned.  They were society’s outcasts.  The dregs.  The undesirables.  They knew full well that without Jesus’ healing power they had no chance whatsoever of returning to their families, their religion or society as a whole.  Just as the contagious disease of leprosy separated the lepers from Jesus, our sinfulness separates us from Him too.  We stand at a distance.  Like the lepers, we mournfully cry out: "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  The Good News for us, as it is made known here in Luke’s Gospel, is that Jesus hears our pleas.  He does have mercy. In His mercy, He healed leprous skin.  Likewise, in His mercy by the shedding of His pure and precious blood, He heals the sin-ravaged bodies of those who cry out for mercy.  His passion is to remove "the distance” and declare sinners clean.



Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6)

How are you doing in the area of cross-training?  Be assured, I’m most likely thinking of a different cross-training than you.  What I am not thinking of is an exercise regimen.  Instead, I’m thinking about how we raise up our children with emphasis on Christ and Him crucified.  Yes, that cross.  So, how are you doing raising up God-fearing children as God desires, as not only a family, but also a family of believers.  These words struck me as I read them this morning: "Christian communities of all kinds must find ways to include teens and young adults in the spiritual life of the church, rather than relegating them to the game room” (emphasis added).  The congregation where I serve has begun using some of our young men to assist our Elders.  I agree that this is a very good start, but it’s just that—a start.  What if some of our teens began serving as "mentors” to our young children and disciplers (if that’s such a word)?  Now, that’s what I call real cross-training.  
                   Doing Life Together

". . . they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32)

Of the infant church it was said that they had everything in common.  They were especially like-minded in making sure those in want were cared for.  They sold parcels of land and gave away the profits to those that had barely enough to get by.  Contrary to the belief that this is an example of communism among the believers there were no dictates from the State mandating that this happen.  Instead it came from their desire to serve God and one another.  They were doing life together.  This past weekend my wife and I had the opportunity to spend time with fellow believers; to hear of their needs and desires while attending a weekend camp out.  It’s always interesting to me how spending time in God’s Word and in fellowship with one another leads to a desire to grow in togetherness.  That’s why I’d encourage you to become part of a small group Bible study as a couple or as a single person.  Doing life together is the way God designed us.  He is the One who drew us together as a family of believers through His Word and precious Sacraments.

 A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep

Growing up as I did near the Platte River the above expression was very common to me.  It was an expression often applied to this historic river running through Nebraska’s mid-section.  So, when I read it as applied to the Christian faith, I had to pause and reread it.  Yes, those were the words alright.  They were applied to the Christian community by David Kinnaman in his book You Lost Me.  In particular, Kinnaman, applied this term to churchgoing teenagers, who said that they understood Scriptures "very well.”  Yet, when they were asked specific questions about Scripture’s basic content, they could not answer them.  Could it be that they and I’d venture to say others, have compartmentalized their faith?  Worship? "Yes, we can check that off the list.  I attended services this past weekend.  I’ve given an hour of my time. I’m good.”  I’ve often commented that Christianity isn’t a religion, but a way of life. But, in saying, it begs the question:  How can we grow to spiritual maturity (with a faith deeper than an inch) if we limit our association with God to a single hour a week?  I’ll let you wrestle with the answer.


Doing Life Together

Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men (Mark 1:17)


The disciples Jesus called to do life with Him had no idea what He was calling them into.  All they knew was that when Jesus said, "Follow me,” they were drawn to walk with Him.  To this day, Christ calls each of us into community with Him.  Baptism makes us part of this community known as the Church.  Here He sustains us with His Word and precious Sacraments.  When individuals gather in groups of ten or twelve to form a Small Group, something special happens:  They do life together.  A bond forms, by the Spirit’s power, which knits the hearts of group members together.  They grow to depend on one another just as the disciples grew to depend on Christ Jesus.  In fellowship they pray, they study God’s Word, and they learn to share each other’s burdens in confidence.  Christian author Ruth Haley Barton sums up the importance of being part of a small group by writing:  "When we are seeking a way of life that is counter the dominant culture, we need support.”  That truly describes what small groups are all about, so why not join an existing small group or form a new group today. 

Leaving a Legacy

What God has brought together, let no man put asunder (Matthew 19:6)

The small group that my wife and I belong to recently wrestled with the question of leaving a legacy.  I’m not going to give you the details about what our group said, because that would betray the confidence of those involved.  What I can tell you is that one of the questions we discussed was this one (and let me to challenge you with this question as well).  "Think about those in your life whose marriages you admire, especially a couple that has been married for thirty years or more.  Describe something about their marriage that you want to be true of yours.”  While I thought about the couple again today, I also began to think about the spiritual legacy they are leaving as well.  It doesn’t take the brightest crayon in the box to figure out that Satan has placed a great big bullseye on marriages.  He’s always sought to destroy what God has brought together; all the way back to shortly after time began.  Destroy a marriage and chances are pretty good that trust in God is destroyed at the same time since marriage models the relationship God has with His bride, the church.  Take time today to think of ways Satan might be attacking your marriage and then ask God to protect it and the legacy you’d like handed down to others.  


 Fear Not Little Flock

Fear not little flock for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32).

More than just some flippant philosophical words, Jesus’ words commanding His followers to "fear not” convey a powerful message.  I’d like to tie into last week’s blog by expanding on it a little.  When it comes to defining what most people fear on a daily basis; researchers tell us that most people fear death above all else.  Although we’d rather not think about death at all, the fear of death and the end of our physical existence lurks in the recesses of our mind.  This fear stems from humankind’s original rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden.  Read Genesis 3 today, if you haven’t done that in a while to see this for yourself.  At the cross, Jesus Christ paid the ultimate price for sin in His sacrificial death.  And the good news today is that He didn’t stay dead.  Death had no hold on Him as He rose from the grave Easter morning.  His resurrection assures those He claimed through the waters of Baptism; that God has already given them the Kingdom.  It’s a here-and-now event and not a wait-‘til-you-die event (Romans 6:1-12).  By God’s grace we no longer fear death.


Into The Jaws of Death

That’s the title of an account of a World War II soldier that I am reading currently.  Unusual title; but here on these pages is a life-and-death account of a man who faced down a lot more danger at age nineteen than many of us will face down over a lifetime.  Few of us have experienced the daily deprivation of a common foot soldier or as some would say, "grunt.”  Yet, into our lives come heart-ache and tragedies for us to face.  Unpaid bills.  A marriage in shambles.  Debilitating illnesses.  Prodigal children.  Aging parents.  Unyielding bosses. Bullies in school or the workplace.  Harassment.  Torment.  They are standard issues in the war of life.  The point is that you and I face down giants daily like David did.  When David stood toe-to-toe with Goliath he did not rely on his own strength.  He relied upon God.  When Jesus Christ stared into the jaws of death at Gethsemane, He prayed and then committed His will to God.  What equipment do you carry into your battles?  God knows your sufferings just as he knew David’s Goliath and His own Son’s fears at Gethsemane.  He speaks these words to you today as you tremble in fear looking into the jaws of death, "Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom (Luke 12:32).  Find the time today to learn more by reading Luke 12:22-34.


Opinion Over Truth

David Kinnaman makes an interesting observation in his book You Lost Me.  He notes that there is a prevailing trend among Millennials to value opinions over truth.  What that means is that anyone’s opinion whether spoken, written, or accessed on the Internet is not only on par with the truth, but considered more valuable than the truth.  Before we panic, wring our hands and say that God’s Word is doomed to obsolescence, let’s think about this for a moment.  Aren’t these the very times of "itching ears” Paul warned us about in 2 Timothy 4:3, 4? Yes, it sure seems like it. Has the Holy Spirit lost its power? No. The Good News in all of this is that while Millennials value opinions over truth, (Oh, yes, some of those older than Millennials do too.) they also value relationships and mentoring. For you and me as Christians, panicking and wringing our hands is not an option, but extending those same hands in friendship is.  How can we get started reversing a trend?  By being a friend and then asking permission to share Jesus.  

 Why Do We Need Creeds Anyway?

Great question.  Perhaps you’ve wondered about that question yourself, especially if you have ever attended a worship service in a congregation that does not recite a creed.  Creeds, they may tell you, are written by man and are therefore fallible.  So, how would you answer?  Try this approach.  Admit that they are written by man, but tell them that each statement in any of the three creeds of the Church is rooted in Scripture.  Creeds, therefore, provide an anchor to the faith we profess.  Think of it this way:  If you don’t believe in something; you’ll fall for anything.  So, as a good anchor firmly holds a ship in place against hostile seas, so too, creeds anchor us firmly to Christ when the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh seek to toss us about in angry seas of doubt and unbelief.  You see, without an anchor holding us solidly in place, our belief in God and what He achieved for us through Christ, often flails about and drifts far out to sea.  


The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father who art in Heaven (Matthew 6:9)

As Matthew records it, Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer as part of the Sermon on the Mount.  The words are easy to remember, but they have profound impact on the life of a follower of Christ.  Over the next few weeks we will explore these words and assess their impact.  Today, we’ll look at the opening phrase that follows Jesus Christ’s command—"Pray like this.” Our Father who art in Heaven.  What we discover in these six simple words is that more than our earthly father desires our good; our Heavenly Father desires our good.  His desire is that we honor Him, put our faith and trust in Him and look to Him for every good gift. In other words, He alone wants to be our God.  The words, "Our Father who art in heaven” is our acknowledgement of His authority over all of creation and our very lives as well.  Certainly these words wrap themselves around the First Commandment:  You shall have no other gods before Me.

                             Found in Luther’s Pocket

When Martin Luther died a slip of paper was found in his pocket.  It was well worn and obviously had been examined and reexamined through the years.  To be preserved this long, it became obvious that this particular slip of paper had great value to the Reformer.  Upon further examination only four words were found—"Wie sind alles bettler” ("We are all beggars.”) The reality of these words drives home a very important point.  When it comes down to our lives before God, we are all beggars.  We know that original sin has ripped apart the fabric of God’s design for the human race, putting a mighty gulf between God and us; a gulf we cannot bridge.  We look at God’s standards in the Ten Commandments and become disheartened at their judgments against us.  "Guilty!” they shout. We are all beggars in need of God’s mercy and grace.  Thankfully, God sees our need even before we fall to our knees and beg.  He sent His Son Jesus to pay the penalty of our guilt and deliver us poor beggars from sin, death and the devil.  The cross reminds us that "We are beggars” and that He is merciful.  


 Love One Another Just as I Loved You

Not an easy command.  We love ourselves alright; but loving others with that same kind of love is difficult.  Some would say, impossible.  That is, of course, without the help of the Holy Spirit.  By God’s grace we can visit with our neighbor over the garden fence.  Take Jack (not his real name) for instance.  There have been several opportunities for me to visit with him.  The other day I received word that Jack was in the hospital.  A medical emergency put him there.  I stopped to see him.  A nurse told me to limit my time because Jack needed to rest.  After just a few minutes, I asked if he would like me to pray for him.  A firm right hand took mine as Jack answered "Yes.”  When I finished I looked into misty eyes and heard the gentle words, "Thank You.”  Putting others ahead of ourselves is not a natural occurrence, but with God’s help we can join Jesus on His mission.  


Nathan said to David, "You are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7)

Those are harsh words, aren’t they?  Like a strong right hand coming when least expected they knock us, in a crumpled heap, into the canvas of life.  Because of sin none of us likes being held accountable.  Instead of picking ourselves up off the mat and admitting we let our guard down, we offer excuses instead.  These could have been David’s words when Nathan pointed an accusatory finger in his direction, "Hey, it wasn’t my fault that I had an affair with Bathsheba.  If she hadn’t been sunbathing in nature’s own, I wouldn’t have invited her into the palace in the first place.”  This isn’t, however, what David said.  Instead his reply was "I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).  Temptations happen daily.  You and I sin often.  Yet, the model of accountability David sets for us stands. God desires that we confess our sins to Him and receive in return the healing salve of His grace.  I guess we could say, in boxing parlance anyway, that God is a great "corner man.” 

 Worship through Prayer

You and I have a propensity to believe that we can walk through life in a shell of self-importance.  Allow me to put some flesh on the skeleton of that statement by saying that when situations get out of hand in life, we often turn to self-first and God, if invited at all, is relegated to a mere afterthought.  John Kieschnick brings a powerful insightful perspective to our prayer lives when he writes, "One of the insights that has propelled my own prayer life is the realization that God is constantly attempting to get my attention.”  Now, I realize that I may be making a hasty generalization here, so if you turn to God first in all situations, let me apologize to you.  But, if, on the other hand, my thoughts struck close to home for you, consider ways God may be calling you to turn to Him in prayer.  While you are considering, ponder this statement from John Kieschnick as well, "The practices of prayer aren’t objects of worship, they are means of worship.” 


If I asked for a definition of the word worship, what would you say?  Think about it a moment.  Now, allow me a follow up question: Does your definition limit worship to the singular hour spent in church?  If so, you are not alone.  Worship, as many would define it, is a one hour event filled with uplifting music, confession and absolution, a message from the pastor, and that’s about it.  Some might say that the purpose of worship is to pump us up.  To inspire.  To motivate us and make us feel good. Consider this definition of worship I owe to John Kieschnick.  "Worship,” he writes, "is an attitude, a longing to please God, all day, every day.  We do that when we’re alone or in a meeting, at home or in the office, in the den or in the bedroom, at the game or in church.”  He goes on to encourage us to worship God everywhere we go.  Kieschnick is not discouraging coming to worship with fellow believers.  Not at all.  Instead he is encouraging us to live our lives before God as one great big act of worship.  It doesn’t matter where we are or what we are doing.  This Spirit-led transformation takes worship from a singular event to a way of live.  Truly that’s worship the way our LORD intended.


Perhaps the most common definition of this word is that of admitting that we have done something bad or wrong.  As Christians, you and I associate confession with the admission of our guilt before our Holy and Just God at the beginning of Divine Worship.  Recall the words with me: "Most Merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean.  We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done and by what we have left undone.”  You may have noticed that the plural pronoun "we” paints all who recite the words into the same corner.  In spite of our notions to the contrary, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” as Paul relates in Romans 3.  John puts it very boldly, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8, 9).  And that, my dear friends in Christ, is Good News.



While reading Loaded Words by Heather Choate Davis and LeAnn Luchinger, I found these insightful words about the meaning of the word church.  They write, "This is the bottom line on why the bibilical meaning of church can never be a building: buildings can’t believe.”  Words like these seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom.  All too common is the misunderstanding that all a congregation needs do is build a church structure and the community around the building will flock to it.  From of old, long before the age of Gothic cathedrals the church was the gathering together of God’s people.  These people gathered together in the desert, in open fields, and in private homes to read and study God’s Word.  Together they served one another—being what God had called them to be—the body of Christ to one another.  One final quote from Loaded Word seems appropriate here, "About this God is exceedingly clear: no amount of stained glass and good order can assure that He will continue to dwell in a house that has been overtaken with superficial faith.” 

 Mission Mindset Changes

In "Joining Jesus on His Mission:  How to Be an Everyday Missionary,” three important mission mindset changes are noted.  The first is that Jesus is on a mission and He invites us to join Him.  That means that we don’t go for Jesus.  We go with Jesus.  Jesus is already at work in the lives of others, He only asks us to be a good neighbor to those around us.  The second mindset change is that the river has moved.  Our culture today is dramatically different than before.  Culture has moved from a churched to un-churched culture, or better still, to a mission field.  That, in itself, opens up opportunities to join Jesus on His mission. The third mission mindset change is that Jesus has given us a secret weapon for joining Him on His mission.  That secret weapon is being with and enjoying people.  Our Lord asks us to imitate Him.  As He loved being with and enjoying people, so should we.  I challenge you today to identify someone in your neighborhood and work to create space to occasionally hang out with them as you see Jesus doing throughout the Gospels.


Making a Difference

Faith sharing is one of the things we’re emphasizing this year, and that’s what we’re learning about in "Joining Jesus on His Mission.”  And it’s already making a difference.  One of our Elders sent over an email talking about what happened after class last Sunday.  He wrote:  "I am guilty of going to classes and ‘learning’ but not acting. Perhaps others are also and I thought that [small group discussions on faith sharing] might be good to ‘chew on’. It was interesting that shortly after class I met a member who has not been coming very often. Small talk ensued about job, etc. followed by my question of ‘how is everything else going for you?’ This person replied "Well, it’s been a rather difficult week. My spouse just lost their job at the beginning of the week and doesn’t want anyone to know because of embarrassment.” That afforded a chance to ‘act’.”  Want to learn how to make a difference?  There’s a place at the table for you during "Joining Jesus on His Mission.” 

 The Psalms—a Starting Point for Prayer

Often as we turn to God in prayer it’s because of our desire for healing, for prosperity, or for deliverance from some unpleasant circumstance.  In fact, for some, these requests comprise the entirety of prayer.  What this type of prayer does is place God as the head of some Heavenly Commissary instead of the Creator and Sustainer whose Name is adored and whose Will supersedes that of His human creatures.  For Martin Luther, a man steeped in the study and memorization of the psalms, much could be learned about this Creator and Sustainer through the careful and deliberate study of this precious hymn book.  Psalm 46, for example, refers to God as "our refuge and strength and a very present help in trouble,” and calls his creatures to "be still, and know that I am God.”  It’s acceptable, of course, to pray at all times and in all situations, but for those times when you have just a few minutes alone with your God in meditation and prayer, consider reading one chapter in Psalms as your starting point.

 Restored in Christ

Recently someone very dear to me shared the story they heard first-hand of a young man who had abandoned his faith.  Although raised in a Christian home, this young man denied his roots to proudly set off on his own.  His journey away from Christ started innocently enough when he went off to college and fell in with the wrong crowed.  Soon after, alcohol and drug abuse followed.  He spiraled out of control into financial troubles, job losses—one after another—relationship troubles and ultimately time in prison.  It was not long before this young man felt that he was way beyond the reach of God’s grace and mercy.  The apostle Peter was a lot like that.  His three-fold denial of Jesus left him depressed and alone.  The Good News is that Jesus Christ did not leave Him there.  Take the time to read this account in John 21:15-19.  But, what of the young man, you ask?  By God’s grace, he came in contact with a pastor who told him all about God’s love for him.  Restored in Christ, this young man married, raised a family and is about to retire as a pastor of a rural Nebraska congregation.

 As a Last Resort—Pray

While doing research for a Bible study on prayer I came across information from a Barna Group survey from 2009 on spiritual maturity.  They noted that only 9% of those who replied said that spiritual maturity is shown by "practicing spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study” (emphasis added.)  Only 9%.  That leaves a staggering 91% of individuals believing that spiritual maturity is shown in ways other than through prayer and Bible study.  Of note also the template many Christians follow in their own prayer life.  Quite often prayers are only expressions of our human desires.  Mostly we pray for healing, prosperity, relief from pain and unpleasant situations.  This seems to make God no more than the head of the Heavenly Commissary instead of the Creator and Sustainer whose Name is adored and whose very will supersedes that of His human creatures.  Certainly, prayers for all of the above mentioned situations are welcomed by God, however, as Jesus Christ points out in the Lord’s Prayer, God is seeking much, much more.  Take a moment today to read the prayer Jesus taught as Matthew records it (Matthew 6:9-13).  The Lord’s Prayer, as you will quickly see, is a prayer of first resort and not of last resort.

 A Mission a Tomb Could Not Hold

(Matthew 28:1-10)

My wife and I make an annual pilgrimage to decorate graves each Memorial Day.  The one thing we do not expect to find is an open grave and an empty casket. Every year it’s the same; the dead stay dead.  That’s what the two Marys expected as they pilgrimage to Jesus’ grave. Jesus is dead and the dead stay dead.  They saw Him die on the cross.  He was dead and they knew it.  The Roman soldiers were very good at their craft; the craft of crucifixion.  Hurriedly, Jesus was placed in the tomb before the Sabbath started at sundown.  That’s exactly where they expected to find it.  The dead stay dead.  Or do they? But, the tomb was open and the body was missing.    "He is Risen! He is not here!” the angel declared. Wow!! This changes everything.  Jesus’ mission is too big for the tomb.  God is reclaiming His creation.  In fact—He’s recreating it through His Son.  The mission is huge, but the Good News is that our sins are forgiven and we are now free to join Jesus on His mission.  We are reminded each time we hear the words, "He is Risen!” to which we echo back "He is Risen indeed!”

 I Will Give You Rest

Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

(Matthew 11:28)

Sometimes our days feel like they will never end.  We plow through life at such a frantic pace from the time we get up to the time we go to bed.  So much to do.  So little time.   Rush the kids to school.  Hurry to work where we find deadline after deadline with no end in sight.  Our evenings jam packed with piles of homework or activities.  Or both; involving us or our kids.  Weekends crammed to overflowing.  Events and activities piled as high as the dirty laundry.  "Will this never end?” we wonder. And then we are confronted with the words of Jesus.  "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” He said.  How can we possibly set aside time from our labors?  We’re not sure, but what we do know is that there is peace and calm in our lives when the Holy Spirit calls us to Jesus’ side.  One day we find ourselves drawn to our Bible.  We don’t pause very long; but the change is obvious.  For a brief shining moment we can catch our breath. God allows a moment of rest; a little island of sanctuary in a stormy sea.  "I should do that more often,” we think.  And the Lord rejoices.

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean that God won’t remove His mercies from us.  Like the Israelites before us, having that self-righteous attitude can lead us into a one-way street called Complacency where we miss entirely what God is doing through His Son.  During Holy Week, Jesus confronted those walking down Complacency Street in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. As Luke relates it, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day held tightly to their "Jewishness” considering it the source of their salvation.  Self-righteousness Avenue led them right into Complacency Street.  When Jesus finished his parable, they gulped.  They recalled that God often called them His vineyard because of His mercy toward produced faith.  But with the murder of the vineyard owner’s son, there would follow the withdrawal of God’s mercy and the giving of this mercy (the vineyard) to others.  They cried in one voice "Surely not,” yet the deed was done.  What do we learn?  We learn that denying God’s gift of redemption through Christ Jesus is a dangerous thing—it’s the one unforgivable sin.  Let us always pray that God would deepen our faith through His Means of Grace; that we would never take for granted His mercy shown to us through Christ Jesus, and that we may always join Jesus on His mission. 

 The Great Prisoner Exchange

During the course of the American Civil War prisoner exchanges were common place.  Soldiers captured by one side or the other were held until they could be exchanged.  There was a hierarchy followed.  Soldiers of a higher rank were worth more in the exchange, so, for example more soldiers of a lower grade were given in exchange for a general officer.  You and I are part of the greatest prisoner exchange in history.  An on-going exchange.  Our Lord Jesus Christ offered His very body and blood in exchange for us.  His pure, sinless self, was given in exchange for all the sinners of the world for all time.  Given for you and me.  We were once held captive to sin; imprisoned by our words and deeds.  But, by His grace, Jesus’ death on the cross served as full payment for the sin debt we owed.  We are set free.  Not to live as we want, returning to the captivity of sin, but to tell others what Jesus has done; that in the hearing of the Gospel, they too, might be set free.


The Fruit of Repentance

What have you given up for Lent?  For some this question is answered: soft drinks, candy bars, chips, cheese curls, or even offensive language and behaviors.  Annoying habits are also at the top of the list like fingernail biting, cigarette smoking and offensive computer screen watching.  The reasoning behind giving up something for Lent is that because Christ sacrificed Himself, so should we.  While these are all fine things to do during Lent, there is one thing that out distances them all.  Jesus speaks of this one thing in Luke 13.  In fact, He repeats a phrase in verse three and in verse five of this text.  He says, "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  Repent is the understanding that you have done things you shouldn’t have OR left undone some things you should have done.  These things have brought dishonor to God and for that you are deeply sorry.  Remorseful.  Moved to tears.  The Good News is that such a broken spirit and sorrowful heart God will not despise (Psalm 51:17.)  By grace through faith in Jesus Christ, God graciously forgives us all our sins.  

 It’s a Jungle Out There

A few years ago a quirky detective named Adrian Monk burst onto our television screens.  The theme song for the show was Randy Newman’s "It’s a Jungle Out There.”  Man, that describes our lives, doesn’t it?  What a jungle.  Drug use is up.  Church attendance is down.  Homicides.  Bombings. Abusive bosses.  Fractured relationships.  Race riots.  Life in this world is quite literally a sin-filled jungle.  If, as Solomon teaches us in Proverbs 1 verse 7, "fools despise wisdom and instruction,” there must be a lot of despising going on. How in the world will we survive?  Certainly, not without a proper guide to show us the way.  To be sure, there is only one guide to depend on and that’s Jesus Christ.  His Word is true when He announces that He is "the Way, and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6).  Jesus knows the way and without Him we merely wander around stumbling into all kinds of trouble.  Thanks be to God for His rescue.  Because of it, sinners are forgiven by His Word and the road is opened through the jungle of this life into an eternity spent with Jesus Christ.


Resisting Temptation:  Doing What Comes Unnaturally

When I saw the picture on Google Images, I knew I had what I was looking for. Here sat a cat on her haunches looking at a fish bowl with four swimming gold fish.  Written all over this picture was the word temptation.  Cats have no resistance.  Neither do we.  As the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve we can’t help ourselves. Temptation knocks, we answer.  Like a cat, we simply do what comes naturally.  That is until Jesus Christ came modeling what comes unnaturally.  He relied on God’s Word.  He prayed.  He healed.  He resisted the devil.  He made us like Him and told us to do the same (Romans 6 and Matthew 28:19-20).  He did this through water applied in His Name.  Now we are new creatures.  Unnatural creatures.  Because of Christ in us, we can resist the devil and he will flee (James 4:7).  That’s about as unnatural as it gets.  


Forgiveness in Marriage

It is not uncommon for those who have been married for a while to wonder where the joy and spontaneity went in their marriages.  Something is different, but what?  For some the realities of balancing two careers, children, and the time for each other become problematic. An imbalance in the first two arenas crowds out time in the third.  As sinners, it is not uncommon for marital relationships to take a backseat.  We forget that we are God’s gift to each other.  Gene Veith Jr. and Mary Moerer claim that: "Marriage is the great proving ground for forgiveness.”  Profound words.  God intended marriage as a place where the forgiveness of Christ is modeled.  So, before pulling up the tent stacks and collapsing the tent of marriage why not start up a conversation with the simple words, "I know that I have hurt you and I ask for your forgiveness.  I offer no excuses, just ‘I messed up and I am sorry.’  Will you forgive me?”  Words like these reopen the closed doors of communication.  And forgiveness brings God’s restorative healing and balance.  


A Mother’s Influence

A recent reread of Family Vocation caused me to pause to examine something I highlighted in an earlier reading.  "Nancy Eisenberg, in reviewing research in child psychology and moral development, found that mothers play a major role in their children developing moral faculties such as conscience, guilt, empathy, and sympathy.”  This section of the book went on to say that these faculties come not so much through the words said, but through a mother’s presence in a child’s life.  Research bears out the fact that the very presence of a mother in a child’s life exerts a God-given influence over the way the child develops in the four key areas noted earlier: conscience, guilt, empathy, and sympathy.  Certainly a mother blest with the assurance that Jesus Christ has redeemed her from sin and loved her beyond human understanding can best reflect God’s grace and mercy to the child God has brought forth from her womb or adopted into her care.  She loves the off-spring God has given her because God first loved her.  So, when you get right down to it; a mother’s influence is quite literally Christ’s influence through her.


We are all One in Christ

As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians 12:20-21)

The "one body” Paul speaks of in this text is Christ.  It is Christ who brings believers to the font for Baptism where He forgives sins and grants eternal life.  Here at the font, He also unites believers into Himself giving us all one identity—collectively, we are known as "His bride, the Church.”  Because we are His, the Holy Spirit has drawn you and me together into this family of believers known as Faith Lutheran Church and School.  Earlier in chapter twelve, Paul tells us that to each member of this body of believers, God has given spiritual gifts (12:1-11) for the "common good” (v.7).  In other words, for the sake of building up His Church.  If God Himself has drawn us all together in this place to worship Him and mature in our faith, can we not also say that each one of us, individually, is here because God brought us here that we might use our gifts to His glory?  Look around you and give thanks to God who gives all good gifts.


A Word to Fathers

"God calls earthly fathers to reflect what God does as father.”

The above words belong to Gene Edward Veith Jr. and his daughter Mary J. Moerbe in a great book titled Family Vocation.  Interesting, isn’t it, how fatherhood is devalued in a society that values instead promiscuity, an abandonment of responsibilities, and a "love-‘em-and-leave-‘em” approach to relationships.  All this at the expense of children.  From ancient times, children have always been the throw-away end-products of a society that has collectively turned away from God and turned to self.  Consider again the words: God calls earthly fathers to reflect what God does as father.  So what is it that earthly fathers are to reflect?  They are to reflect their Father in heaven.  He desires that we reflect His example by loving our children sacrificially.  So sacrificially, I might add, that He came into the world to die for His rebellious children; loving them unconditionally instead.  He did not abandon us and say "Fend for yourself!  I may have created you, but that’s as far as My responsibilities go.”  Can human creatures reflect God perfectly in their own families?  Certainly not, but these short-comings are more than compensated for through the blood of Christ poured down from the cross.  Thanks be to God we have a Father in heaven who not only forgives, but forgets (Hebrews 10:17).  Now, there’s something to reflect.


Christian Education: Preparing God’s People for Acts of Hospitality

Our 2016 emphasis as a congregation centers on the word hospitality.  How we treat one another takes its cue from how Christ first treated us.  In His compassion for a world shrouded in sin, He was hospitable.  Taking our sins upon Himself He gave His life that we might live.  Wanting to learn more about the very heart of Jesus is, in itself, the core of Christian education.  We’ve claimed Christian education as a Core Value.  A Core Value is a characteristic or trait that we will always hold dear; an important part of our identity at Faith Lutheran Church and School.  We have learned that being in God’s Word is transformational. The Holy Spirit working through God’s Word shapes our lives and the way we treat one another; those we know and those we would consider strangers. As God unfolds each and every new day before your eyes, may He draw you every closer to Himself; creating in you a desire to learn more about Him and His hospitality to you that you might share His hospitality with others.  



In ancient times it took the collaboration of two or more witnesses to bring about a conviction.  To this day the testimony of an eye-witness to an event carries a lot of weight in a court of law.  The same is true when it comes to the eye-witness accounts found in the New Testament.  Each book found there is written by an eye-witness or a near eye-witness.  The life and times of Christ Jesus parade before our eyes in their testimony.  Matthew—an eye-witness called out of his vocation as a tax collector to follow Jesus.  Mark—a near eye-witness who records the account of Jesus as told by Peter, a disciple.  Luke—another near eye-witness who interviewed eye-witnesses before retelling their stories in two narratives.  John—an eye-witness and disciple.  Paul—the man who received a personal revelation from Christ on the dusty road to Damascus.  As Twenty-first century Christians we are blessed to read about Jesus from several eye-witnesses or near eye-witness accounts that we might believe and rejoice in knowing that Jesus is Lord.  


Peace through Christ Alone

"God isn’t fixing this!” a recent newspaper headline declared; in the process denigrating prayer and belittling God. Why isn’t He? We wonder.  Why on earth are all of these things happening?  Where is God in all of the anguish and suffering we see in our world today? After all isn’t Jesus the "prince of peace?” Hasn’t His Kingdom come? I wonder: Could it be that humanity has lost its perspective on the human rebellion against God that put in motion every heart-ache and tragedy from that one incident forward?  Humankind, you see, instigated a rebellion against God in a long-forgotten Garden, shattering peace between God and His good creation.  Today, it seems, we look for peace in all the wrong places.  Instead of turning to God, we search and search, seeking to find peace only to be repeatedly confronted by man’s sin filled inhumanity to man.  Are we left without hope as some surmise? Yes.  That is, unless we seek the peace found only in Christ, the Son of God.  He alone offers the world peace of an entirely different kind.  The Greeks call it eirene; and the Hebrews shalom.  In either language it means peace that flows only from God to man.  This peace brings with it reconciliation through Christ alone for the forgiveness of our sins.  That’s true peace. Take heart, my friends.  Have faith.  God’s Kingdom has indeed broken into our everyday existence bringing with it a peace beyond all human understandingIt is this reconciliation—this peace—that truly puts the merry in our Merry Christmas.  

Loving God

Luke 1:46-48 Living Bible (TLB)

Mary responded, "Oh, how I praise the Lord.  How I rejoice in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation forever shall call me blest of God.”

Mary’s prayer here is both beautiful and insightful.  Martin Luther asks us to consider the order in which Mary put her words.  First of all Mary called the God of all creation her Lord.  Next, Mary recognized this God for what He is—her Savior.  Lastly, Mary commented on what God has done—He has blest her.  You and I usually don’t pray this way.  Usually, we don’t recognize God as our Lord.  Nor do we recognize Him as our Savior or honor Him for the many blessings distributed throughout our lives.  Instead, we usually offer up what Luther would call "parasitic” prayers.  These are prayers focused on what we want God to do for us.  I’d put it like this:  We consider God no more than a giant PEZ dispenser.  We pray (or is it command?) and we expect God to deliver all the sweetness in life.  Mary knew that God’s gifts come by His grace.  In response she centered her prayer on Him and thanked Him for his goodness.   Point well taken.



A Message to Shepherds?

Imagine you are God for a moment.  If you were going to make an announcement of the birth of your Son, wouldn’t you want to have a greater impact than trusting this information to a band of shepherds?  These guys were the dregs of society.  They were dirty, filthy, unwanted, down-trodden—and besides that they smelled like sheep.  Two words beginning with "o” describe them—odiferous outcasts.  Yet, in these poor shepherds tending their flocks by night, we see ourselves.  Our sinfulness puts a stench in God’s nose.  And like the shepherds, God comes to us and declares us righteous and gives us the opportunity to see Jesus.  The shepherds saw Him in a manger.  We see Him in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  You and I work in the fields, too.  Our fields may be on the farm, in our office, in our homes, in our schools. Wherever God has placed us, we work to tell others about this special, one-of-a-kind child; a child who lived and died to forgive us our sins.  Now, that’s quite a message.  


No gods!  No Masters!

When the car pulled up beside me the first thing I noticed was the driver and the two dogs.  Then as it pulled ahead of me I saw the window sticker.  In bold letters in the rear window were these words: "No gods! No Masters!”  What popped into my mind was that this guy was driving down 84th Street at speed-limit.  And he was in the correct lane as he headed south.  He wasn’t heading south in the left hand lane, but the right.  So obviously, he did have a master:  City of Lincoln traffic laws.  I’m sure the driver of this car isn’t looking at the incongruity of his beliefs.  Instead, he’s making a comment on the perceived restrictiveness of God’s Laws.  Because of them, he can’t do what he wants when he wants.  City of Lincoln traffic laws were enacted to keep the driver of the vehicle and others from colliding.  Same goes for God’s Laws.  These Laws, as you and I understand them, provide a curb, a guide and a mirror to our behaviors toward God and toward one another.  It would be interesting to hear this young man’s point of view and to explain the freedoms we have because of the redeeming work of Christ, wouldn’t it? 


The Root of Rebellion

For a time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:3).

History intrigues me.  Understanding events that shape behaviors in today’s society is a "hot button” for me.  While reading Joseph Loconte’s "A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War” the impact of World War I came into focus.  Modern day myths at the root of atheism, in particular.  Myths rebuffed in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien and his good friend; atheist-turned-Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis.  Loconte contends that the death of millions of young men during the trench warfare of World War I; followed by many, many more deaths from influenza; the rise of Communism in Russia and Fascism in Italy in the years immediately after the Great War; along with the study of philosophers such as Fredrich Nietzche and naturist Charles Darwin; fanned into flame the atheistic myths experienced today.   You and I live in interesting times.  Times removed nearly a century from World War I.  Yet, unbeknownst to many, it is a time that shaped the world as we know it.  And while this influence remains strong, so too, is the even stronger influence of God’s promise to never leave us, nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).  We also know that "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him (John 3:17).  To me there has never been a better time to join Jesus on His mission.


Being Authentic in Prayer

Writing in the Large Catechism, Martin Luther said, "Nothing is so necessary as to call upon God incessantly and to drum into His ears our prayer that He give, preserve and increase our faith.” How might you and I come before a holy God "incessantly” as Luther points out?  If human-beings seek authentic relationships, it causes me to pause and wonder if this human characteristic applies to God as well; and even more so.  After all, King David’s prayer of confession in Psalm 51 pleads that God would, "create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  So, what would an authentic relationship with God look like, according to King David?  It would be a relationship in which we would come before God humbly seeking His forgiveness. That is the first step in the process of God "creating a clean heart.” Put in the simplest terms it would be a reminder to us that "when we mess up—we fess up; and ask for forgiveness.”  Taking responsibility for our actions is not something we do well, yet according to the Psalmist it is the authentic relationship God desires to have with us; a frank realization that we are sinners--SINNERS SAVED BY CHRIST.  


Thy Strong Word

You know well the words of the hymn, "Thy Strong Word did cleave the darkness; at Thy speaking it was done.”  The opening verses in the Genesis account shows the awesomeness of God’s strong Word.  Whatever God wanted to create, He spoke it into existence. Jesus Christ, as the Gospel of John proclaims is the Word of God wrapped in human flesh.  The New Testament is filled with Jesus’ exploits among them the healing of many, the calming of a hostile sea, the feeding of the 5,000, and His raising from the dead.  Still we wonder if God strong Word has any power left in it after all of these years.  Our fears and anxieties are hard to still; our habits and vices way beyond repair.  The Good News is that God’s Word still changes things; it still creates and recreates.  That’s what the Center for Bible Engagement discovered through 180,000 interviews.  When people engage God’s Word four or more times a week some miraculous things happen.  Join me for my message "Thy Strong Word” this weekend; learn about the difference engaging God’s Word makes and learn ten practical ways you can engage it yourself.  See you in church this weekend.


A Reordering of Priorities

"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

I believe it was Augustine who first coined the phrase that sin causes us to curve in on self.  In other words because of original sin and the handing down of this sin uninterrupted from generation to generation, our central focus at all times is on ourselves.  We often hear this self-centeredness in words such as "my husband doesn’t fill my needs,” or "if I just had ___________ (you fill in the blank) I would have everything I need.”    Moments before Jesus spoke the words of the Gospel text above He was asked by His disciples how they should pray.  In response to their request He taught them the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).  In this prayer Jesus teaches us to reorder our priorities.  In our prayer life we should at all time acknowledge the one who has bestowed on us all we have.  The giver is God.  Hence the words "Our Father in heaven.”  Second, we pray that all people would recall this "bestower” and honor his name.  We read the words of the Lord’s Prayer as "hallowed be your name.”  Next follows the words that reorder our priorities.  We place God’s interests ahead of our own.  This is a change from our normal sinful behavior.  The petition in the Lord’s Prayer reads, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Only after we have prayed for the hallowing of God’s name and the coming of His Kingdom among us should we pray for ourselves and other.  The acronym J.O.Y. comes to my mind.  Jesus First.  Yourselves last; and others in between.  That certainly makes for a reordering of our priorities.


I Never Thought of That

Recently I’ve written several blogs highlighting the fact that the "river has moved.”  In other words, the culture has moved so far away from the church that it seems the church is no longer relevant.  If we equate the church to a bridge to society we realize that society has moved away leaving the church isolated and alone.  So exactly how does the church build the next span of its bridge to society?  One relationship at a time.  It’s interesting to note that people become willing to consider Jesus when they like and trust the Christians they know.   Are you living out your life before God and your neighbor as Christ has modeled that life for you?  Do you love your neighbor as yourself or are you living as if Christ never lived, bled, died and rose for you?  When people see you, do they see Christ in you or do they see a two-faced, do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do role model?  If society today is seeking authentic relationships, how authentic are you?  If there are three things to think about as the church builds a bridge to society today in order that she might share Christ with others it would be "relationships,” "relationships,” "relationships.”

Posted 10/7/15

Train Up a Child

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22:6

We’ve heard these words dozens of times and often use them to make reference to the importance of spiritual development in children.  In reading these words again today I found an additional meaning hidden in them; the development of our Christian faith is a lifelong process.  George Barna points out that the spiritual development of a child is well in place by the time the child reaches his ninth birthday.  Yet, this faith in Jesus Christ must be routinely nurtured and strengthened.  This is done by being part of a community of believers in worship, the place where God has promised to be found.  It is here that His Word and Sacraments spur us along life's pathway God has set before us.  What we discover in these words is that growing in faith is a lifelong continual process that should become for believers a 24/7 habit.  The good news is that God promises to join us in that process showering upon us the rich blessings of His unmerited grace.


Posted 9/30/15

One in Christ

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12).

Have you noticed the cultural emphasis on "apartness” (if I may coin a word)?  Culture stresses the notion of the rugged individualist.  Persons living independently; individuals who depend on wit and grit to survive are glorified.  Think of all the reality shows that promote this "individual-against-the world” theme.  "Swamp People” comes to mind for me.  Am I criticizing this show?  Of course not. I’m using it only to make a point.  God wired His people differently.  God’s Word, His Sacraments and the faith in Christ He grants draws us together; unifying us.  The term Paul uses is "one body.”  What that means is that when one member of "Christ’s body” suffers, is neglected, has financial difficulties, is having concerns over their children, has a loved one suffering from cancer or the ill-effects of addictive drugs, or is rejoicing over what God has done in their lives; the whole "body” mourns or rejoices with them.  Because God first loved us, we love Him and desire to serve our neighbor.  There is a bond unlike any other (or at least, there should be) between Christians; a bond established by God for the mutual benefit of His people.

Posted 9/22/15

Yes!  It’s Really That Simple

English explorer Sir Francis Drake once composed a prayer that began with these words, "Disturb us, Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little, when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.”  Sometimes it seems that you and I depend too little on the power of the Holy Spirit when it comes to speaking about Jesus Christ.  It was Jesus Himself who modeled for us exactly how to evangelize.  Jesus loved hanging out with people and eating with them.  The friendship Jesus offered was authentic, genuine.  He saw His neighbor as we should—as a real live, living, breathing, human-being.  A human-being for whom He would die (see John 3:16).  Greg Finke puts it this way in Joining Jesus on His Mission. "Humanity is perishing, and yet it is the world our God so loved.” "So, through the love of the Father and the work of the Son, the once-beautiful world of humanity will not be left to its own ruin and destruction.”  Why not build relationships that free you up to speak of God’s love for the world He created and all that is in it?  To learn more, join me for my message this weekend.

Posted 9/15/15

Spiritual Moorings in Place by Age Nine

Are you kidding me?  A child’s spiritual moorings are in place by the time they reach age nine?  These are not my words.  They are the words of George Barna, a noted Christian researcher.  His book Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions is a real eye-opener for me.  By the time a child is nine; really?  Isn’t that fourth grade?  What about High School; isn’t that an impressionable age?  Yes, Barna says, but "by waiting until a person is in his or her late adolescent or teenage years, the nature of influential attempts must be significantly different, because the spiritual foundation has already been formed and integrated into the person’s life” (emphasis mine).  With a daycare, pre-school and school, as well as a very active Sunday school program we are an important part of faith formation.  Does this matter?  You, bet!  Barna asks a very pointed question that we should ask ourselves when funding comes up for such things as Children’s Ministry.  He asks, "Can we afford to let the moral and spiritual dimension of our future leaders be shaped by default?”

Posted 9/8/15

The River Moved

In 1998 a hurricane slammed into the Central American country of Honduras and stayed there.  Hurricane Mitch churned and churned over the nation dumping an historic amount of rain--by some estimates 75 inches in all.  That's over six feet of rain!!  As rain crashed down out of the mountains into the Choluteca River below, it changed the course of the river forever.  The state-of-the-art bridge that once spanned the river today sits in the middle of nowhere.  The river moved.  Author Greg Finke uses this bridge analogy as a metaphor for what's happened in U.S. Churches.  Churches that once spanned the river of culture are now isolated and alone.  The river moved.  The good news is that today's culture is ready, as Finke notes, to have the next span of bridge built over to it.  While today's culture places little confidence in organized religion and has hit an all time high with those who say they have no religious affiliation, there is still hope; hope that only believers in Jesus Christ can offer.  This weekend join me for my message "The River Moved" and discover two very important facts about how to erect a new span across the river of culture.

Posted 9/2/15

How We Shall Live

Earlier this week I had the privilege to preside over the funeral of a grandfather of a young boy I baptized earlier this year.  Afterward, family and friends gathered in the garden room of the funeral home to share a meal.  It was during that meal that I struck up a conversation with a gentlemen sitting next to me.  He wanted to talk politics.  He mused about how Christians might live in a society that rewrites history to fit its "agenda.”  Great musing, I’d say.  How indeed? I was reminded of the words of Josh McDowell in his book The New Tolerance.  McDowell suggests that we season all of our conversations with the salt of God’s grace.  Although we are sorely tempted to confront others in anger, it is best to "not let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths” as we speak the truth in love.  Under God’s inspiration, this is what Paul suggests in Ephesians chapter 4.  This is how we shall live.  We shall live as Christ did.  As He did, so, too, do we.  He lived "in” the world, but was not "of” the world.  He changed the world one person at a time, so should we.  

Posted 8/25/15

8th Grade Confirmation in Service

I have to tell you how proud I am of our 8th grade Confirmation class.  Last Wednesday(8/19) the class and at least one parent met Mark Atterbury, his son Josh and me at the People’s City Mission to serve there for one hour.  Our hostess took us into a conference room filled with clothing and toiletry items and asked us to sort them.  She said there was too much to do for us to get done in an hour, but to do what we could.  We got right to work and to our hostess’s amazement were completely finished in about 40 minutes.  Allow me to share this email from Michele Orth, Volunteer Services Director.

Thank you gentleman for arranging the volunteer experience for your 8th grade Confirmation Class.  Katherine was SO appreciative of the help, and I hope everyone had a good time and learned a lot. J

Let me know if you need anything in the future.  PLEASE thank the kids for me. J



I couldn’t say this any better myself.  Great job!

Pastor Gary

Posted 8/24/15

Sending Mixed Messages

Saying one thing and then doing another is an example of sending a mixed messageAnother example would be telling children about the importance of Sunday school, taking them there and then dropping them off while you drive up the street to the nearest Starbucks.  Current information on parenting stresses an important fact: the most influential people in the life of a child remain that of the child’s parents. Yes, peers have an influence, but by far the most influential of all are parents. When a parent says one thing and does another, the child is confused by this mixed message, and in many instances will repeat the example set by the parent and ignore the words.  Parents, and this applies to grandparents or older adults as well, often reap the outcome of the examples set for our children to follow.  If we teach our children that Christian Education is important and we lead by example by attending classes ourselves, we set a child well on the way to remaining a Christian the rest of his life.  Allow me to ask you:  Are you leading by example or are you sending children a mixed message?  

Posted 8/17/15

Playing with Adults and Teaching Children

I remember taking offense when I first heard these words from Rev. Dr. Harry Wendt.  "In the church we have a tendency to play with adults and teach children.  Have you noticed that Jesus did just the opposite—he taught adults and played with children”?  I know I was offended because Dr. Wendt’s words flew right in the face of conventional wisdom when it comes to the church.  We often invest a lot of money in teaching our children and the adults watch.  Now, before you accuse me of dissing Children’s Ministry, hear me out.  I am a huge proponent of Children’s Ministry and I believe that we are doing an excellent job in this area at Faith Lutheran Church and School and Lincoln Lutheran.  I also believe that we are doing a good job offering some very special classes for adults as well.  What I’m not seeing at times is an interest on the part of every congregation member to take advantage of the classes we offer.  Walk into the Commons on a Sunday morning and announce that adult classes start in five minutes and you’d think someone threw a skunk into the room.  Oh, how we scatter.  As a family of believers we must come to grips with the reality that it does take a village, more specifically a whole congregation, to raise a Christian child.  Consider this my challenge to you—make every effort to get involved in Christian Education and watch the changes it makes.

Posted 8/12/15

A McDonald’s Paradigm Shift

McDonald’s Restaurants have it right.  For years they have focused their advertising on reaching children parked in front of the television watching The Cartoon Network.  Their premise is simple: Advertise to the children and they will "pester” parents into taking them to McDonald’s to eat.  And they did.  I find it interesting that in the church we seem to have it backwards.  In many instances, parents "pester” their children to go to Sunday school so the church can do the important task of faith training.  Consider this paradigm shift.  If parents have such a great influence on their children’s faith life, and studies show that they still do, we may need a McDonald’s paradigm shift.  I wonder what would happen if children "pestered” their parents into coming to church to be better equipped and nurtured to teach the Christian faith in the home.  Imagine if you will what could happen if the church partnered with parents and the impact it would have on God’s Kingdom.

Posted 8/3/15

Rejoice in Persecution

Who among us likes to be made fun of?  In a classroom setting, or any other setting for that matter, my guess is that no one would raise their hands.  No one likes to receive harsh criticism or be made to feel a fool.  Yet, that’s the feeling we often get when watching news stories that refer to Christians as homophobes, narrow-minded, and that dreaded word that trumps them all—"intolerant.”  Pastor Beckman’s sermon series on Jude over the last few weeks has revealed the importance of Christians "contending for the faith.”  That means our words and actions reflect Jesus Christ regardless of the persecution that may follow.  This weekend I’ve prepared a message intended to remind us all that the ability to stand firm during times of persecution does not come on your own.  We have no such ability.  It comes by God’s grace.  In His "Sermon on the Mount” Jesus tells His hearers, "Blessed are those who are persecuted.”  He adds, "Rejoice and be glad for your reward is in heaven.”  Jesus Christ was persecuted and ultimately put to death, but rose again that we might rejoice in persecution.  Because of faith in Christ we endure knowing eternal life is ours.

Posted 7/30/15

Four Family Practices to Help Young People Grow in Faith

I’ve only recently begun reading a book by Ben Freudenburg.  It was the title that drew my attention: The Family Friendly Church.  If you would, I’d like to share something learned while reading just the first few pages.  First, when it comes to faith development, "the family is just as important” as the church. For some reason (yes, even in Lutheran circles) we have the mistaken notion that the best thing for faith development in our children is to turn them over to the pastor or other paid staff member.  While these individuals can play an important role in faith development, they cannot replace the significance of the family.  That brings me to my second point.  Freudenburg contends (and I would have to agree with him) that there are family practices that are keenly important in the faith walk of a child.  These are: talking about faith with your mother; talking about faith with your father; having family devotions or prayer; and doing family projects to help other people.  I’m not suggesting here that we discount the role of pastors, DCEs, and other teachers in the lives of our young people.  What I am suggesting is that we often underestimate the role of family when it comes to the faith life of our children.

Posted 7/15/15

Why Promote Christian Education?

If any parent is reading this right now, the question above has no doubt popped into your head.  I mean, after all, you are paying taxes to support public education, while considering an additional investment in your children in parochial education.  Why would you want to do that?  Isn’t that "double dipping” as I like to say?  I’ve done some thinking about this and as I have, I’ve been led to read Proverbs 1:7.  It says that the "fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.”  That led to the conclusion that the purpose of Christian education is to produce a person who is not only well-versed in math, science, social studies, reading and writing, and technology, but also a person with knowledge and understanding when it comes to God.  We can call that "fear of the Lord” as the proverb says.  While public education does a very good job of teaching children to "know themselves” (their strengths and weaknesses), Christian education teaches children to "know God” (what He has done in creation, forgiveness, and the leading of moral lives).  Christian education is an investment worth making in our children and Faith Lutheran has the resources available to help.  Together we can make a difference—one child at a time.

Posted 7/1/15

The Case of the Lost Owner’s Manual

I have a couple of friends who really enjoy antique cars.  One owns a Ford Model "A”; the other a Kaiser.  When you look at the vehicles themselves, you will notice all kinds of differences.  Consequently, the Owner’s Manuals are different.  Both of my friends, however, are very glad that their antique automobiles have an Owner’s Manual. Try working on a vehicle without one.  My guess is that you’ll find one in your vehicle as well.  Why do I make that statement?  Without the manual it’s very difficult to adjust the side mirrors or setting your cruise control, to say nothing about knowing when to change oil, or at what air pressure to inflate the tires for maximum mileage.  Is it fair to say that the older the vehicle the more valuable the Owner’s Manual?  For some, marriage is an antique vehicle destined for the scrap heap.  Out-of-date, they say.  Could it be that marriages no longer function as they should because some have lost the Owner’s Manual, a.k.a. the Bible?  Or is it that we simple choose to ignore how the engine of marriage is supposed to be wired—one man to one woman. Yes, that wiring still produces sparks.  As my dad used to say: "When in doubt, read the Owner’s Manual.” 

To sign-up for "I Still Do” a marriage-changing event for couples on October 17th  hosted by Faith Lutheran Church and School visit www.faithlincoln.org.   

Posted 6/29/15

Symbolism over Substance

I’ve been watching the unfolding of the debate over the Confederate flag and can’t help but shake my head in disbelief.  Banning a flag in the aftermath of the horrible shooting massacre of Christians in South Carolina is a perfect example of putting symbolism over substance.  If I really thought that all racism would end I’d jump on this "band wagon,” but it’s not the case at all.  Focusing on the symbol (in this case the Confederate flag) steers us away from the substance (the underlying reason racism exists).  The real reason is sin and our refusal to do as Christ has called us to do—to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Instead of focusing on our neighbor’s best interest, we focus instead on the color of our neighbor’s skin.  Historians know that slavery is only one of many key disagreements leading up to the Civil War; state’s rights are another as are economic differences.  Human hearts are not changed by banning flags.  Human hearts are changed when they come into contact with God’s Word.  When we place symbolism over substance we don’t have to face ourselves in the mirror and say, "I’m a sinner” and seek the Lord’s forgiveness.  Instead we can shout: "At least it looks like I’ve done something” fooling ourselves once again.  Can you think of other examples of symbolism over substance?    

Posted 6/23/15

When People See Us, What Do They See?

Have you ever heard this expression before:  "Be careful what you do or say; someone is watching”?  If we confess our Christianity and then act in an un-Christian manner, we belittle what our Lord has done for us.  Greg Finke writes:

 We are the presence of Jesus made tangible in our families, neighborhoods, workplaces and schools.  The love we show, the patience we have, the notice we take, the attention we give, the truth we speak, the hope we inspire is not us but Christ living in and through us.

Our actions speak louder than the words we speak.  When people see us, what do they see?  Do they see Christ or do they see something else entirely?  Are they confused by mixed signals?  Do we confess Christ and acknowledge Him as Lord of our life, but act as if Jesus didn’t really matter?  In our actions, we either bring glory to Christ or we don’t.  Someone once said that true character is the behavior we exhibit when we think no one is watching. So, allow me to ask this question again:  When others see us, what do they see?

Posted 6/16/15

Storms on the Sea of Life

Rembrandt painted only one seascape, a massive canvas measuring five feet by four feet. His subject holds the image of the gospel reading for this weekend:  Jesus calms the sea as Mark records it in chapter 4 verses 35 through 41.  Storms can pop up completely unannounced and surprise even the best of fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.  That’s the case in the biblical text.  In their panic the disciples clamor toward the aft of the vessel and confront a sleeping Jesus.  "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” they ask in panic-stricken voices.  Aren’t these our words when sudden storms come our way?  The storms of life often toss us about like a roller coaster traveling at break neck speed.  Yet, in all of this mess caused by sin, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ rises to his feet and says, "Peace!  Be Still.” In my life, and I’m sure in yours as well, you can recall times when our Lord commanded the winds and waves to be still and an unexplainable peace came upon you.  This is Jesus calming the storms on your sea of life.

Posted 6/10/15

A Child’s Identity

I just love looking into the face of a child and then looking up to see that face reflected either in the child’s mother or father’s face.  I’m sure you’ve noticed similarities as well.  "Your daughter has her mother’s eyes.”  "Your son has your dimples,” we say.  Words like these reflect the parent-like features we see in the child they have in tow.  Although there are similarities, there are also differences.  In Family Vocation Gene Edward Vieth notes, "A child is a separate person from the parents, having a distinct will, moral agency, and spiritual identity.  The child is ‘other’ than the parent.”  That makes child rearing very difficult at times, doesn’t it?  Though this is so, God has called a family to surround the child.  Parents. Grandparents. Aunts. Uncles. Cousins. Siblings.  And yes, the greater family of God, known as the church.  Each of us has a responsibility to walk alongside parents of those children we have welcomed into our family through the waters of Baptism.  To support families any way we can—and especially through prayer.  Isn’t it wonderful?  God has invited us to join Him in His mission.

Posted 6/1/15

God’s Power in Easter and Pentecost

A few weeks ago the Christian church celebrated its birth at Pentecost.  Acts chapter 2 tells us what happened that day.  God’s Holy Spirit came upon Jesus’ disciples and they were able to speak in many different languages.  Why?  So, that people from all over the world could hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ spoken about in their native language.  Wherever people live today there is still a need to hear the Gospel message of what God has done through His Son.  Sins are forgiven.  Death is defeated.  Eternal life is given to all who believe that Jesus did what the Bible says He did.  I really like what Anglican theologian and author, N.T. Wright has to say about Pentecost and its relationship to Easter.  "Easter and Pentecost belong together.  Easter commissions Jesus’s followers for a task; Pentecost gives them the necessary equipment to accomplish it.”  The Good News is that this same Holy Spirit is given to each of us in our Baptism.  Can we all speak in languages?  Perhaps not. But, we can all tell others about what God is doing in our lives and love our neighbor as God first loved us in whatever language/s we do speak. 

Posted 5/27/17

Praying for Yourself

"I am not supposed to pray for myself because that’s a sin.  I am only supposed to pray on behalf of others.” I am not sure if you have come across this statement before; I know I hadn’t until recently.  In fact, that statement caught me completely by surprise.  The person who told this to me had heard it from a friend; knew it wasn’t true, but likewise did not know how to respond.  "I’ve always prayed for myself and for others.  Now, I’m not sure what to do; should I pray for myself or not?”   Isn’t it amazing how we can so easily minimize the power of prayer?  Doubt creeps in and we call into question what we once took for granted.  Of course, we are permitted to pray for ourselves and the proof is found in the Psalms.  Take a moment to read Psalm 51 where David begins with the words, "Have mercy on me, O God.” Psalm 54 starts out with "O God, save me by Your Name.”  Psalm 55 says "Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not Yourself from my plea for mercy.”  And there are more.  Many more.  Think also of your time of confession.  Confessing sins and asking God for forgiveness is most certainly a prayer for oneself.  Don’t be fooled.  Praying for yourself in a wonderful acknowledgment before God that the load you carry is bigger than you can carry alone.

Posted 5/18/15

The Gift Giver

As children we looked forward to our birthdays.  In my case, my mom and dad invited a few of my friends to celebrate with me.  With the birthday cake made (always a Duncan Hines, but that’s another story altogether), and the bottles of soda pop chilled, we had only to wait until the first of my friends arrived; soon followed by many more.  My friends always arrived with brightly colored packages containing a birthday present.  Usually they reciprocated and invited me to their homes when their birthdays rolled around. For a moment think about what it might be like to receive an invitation to a birthday party with a special request on it.  It reads: "Please, no gifts.”  Instead of arriving with your present, you arrived empty handed.  That’s exactly what happened on Pentecost and for that matter—you’re Baptism.  The apostles brought nothing with them, but the Lord God blessed them abundantly with the power of His Holy Spirit enabling them to speak in languages they had never learned.  N.T. Wright gives us a new insight saying that "Easter and Pentecost belong together.  Easter commissions Jesus’ followers for a task; Pentecost gives them the necessary equipment to accomplish it.”  God, the Gift Giver, still gives gifts to His people.  In Baptism, the same Holy Spirit given to the apostles is poured out over us.  Can we speak in unlearned languages?  No.  God’s gifts are given to each individual specifically for His purpose.  We rejoice in knowing that the Gift Giver knows the best gifts to give and when.  

Posted 5/4/15

"Active” and "Passive” Righteousness

Wow!  Now that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?  "Active” and "Passive” righteousness; two interesting topics to talk about, but probably not before we have asked the Lutheran question:  What does this mean?  Of these two kinds of righteousness Dr. Robert Kolb, Professor Emeritus at Concordia Seminary writes:  "Passive righteousness [is] the God-given identity as His children, which is the way God views us first of all.”  And, he adds, "‘Active righteousness,’ [is] the performance of God’s expectations that demonstrate and renders concrete our identity as God’s children.”  Allow me two opportunities to say this in another way.  (1) "Passive righteousness” is the righteousness God sees in us because of what Christ has done through His death and resurrection; a righteousness given to us in our baptism.  "Active righteousness” is that same righteousness seen now in our actions toward God and neighbor.  This righteousness flows from us automatically in response to God’s declaration that we are righteous on account of Christ.  Or (2) "Passive righteous,” is Christ’s righteousness freely given to us by God and "active righteousness” is our response to that freely-given righteousness lived out in love toward our neighbor.  

Posted 4/29/15

Life has Hurdles

A few years ago Aries Merritt performed the incredible; he smoked the field in the 110 Meter hurdles.  His time was an incredible 12.8 seconds.  Can you imagine;  flying over all the hurdles without crashing and then sprinting to the finish line in record time.  As believers in Jesus Christ, we face hurdles as well.  Many of you have experienced these hurdles in the course of your lifetime.  In a recent message to our confirmands, I had the privilege to talk about three hurdles they may face. (I’m sure you can think of many more.)  Hurdle #1 is "Doubt in God.”  It seems that all of us have faced this hurdle where the words of someone we know and trust casts doubt on God.  Hurdle #2 is "Peer Pressure.”  Peer pressure can cause us to do things we wouldn’t ordinarily do.  Hurdle #3 is "Selfishness.”  This hurdle comes when we begin thinking that we are the center of the universe; what we say or do is more important than the opinions or thoughts of others.  How are these hurdles overcome?  Well, just as an athlete trains right and eats right, we come to worship and train on God’s Word and eat at His training table—we know it as the Lord’s Supper.  It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit would constantly remind you that life has hurdles and that you need Jesus Christ in your life to overcome them.

Posted 4/23/15

Paul Maier to Speak at Faith

Think about these questions for a moment: What would happen if Satan could cause doubt in the validity of Holy Scripture? What would happen if some writers blatantly proclaimed that the Bible as we have it, is a bad translation—and not to be believed?  The sad reality is that both of these things are happening even as I write.  Satan is at works creating doubt just as he has been since the days of Adam and Even.  And, yes, some writers, many of whom have no credentials at all, claim that Bible translations today are far removed from the actual wordings in the ancient texts.  Come and hear Dr. Paul L. Maier, one of our country’s leading authorities on the biblical world and a widely acclaimed author and speaker when he comes to Faith Lutheran Church and School for one day and one day only Saturday June 6th beginning at 9:30a.m.  Dr. Maier will evaluate all the misleading claims about the Bible and explain why our 66 books made the final cut.  Tickets are on sale now by calling Stephanie at 402-466-6861.

Posted 4/13/15


Hebrews provides one of my all-time favorite faith chapters.  Although scholars have scoured this book looking for clues about who wrote it; that seems far less important to me than knowing that these words were written under God’s inspiration.  Those who find their names in chapter eleven of this sacred book are Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses as well as the judges Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah, Samuel the Old Testament prophet, and David, considered Israel’s greatest king.  Each confidently believed in God’s promise of a deliverer without ever seeing Him.  Their belief was in a "yet to be completed” promise. Their eyes saw into the future and they believed.  Our eyes see the future as well; with a little different take.  We see the future of an eternity with the same promise "fully completed” in Jesus.  We have neither seen nor touched Jesus as His disciples did (John 20).  Yet, we are blessed.  Hear Jesus proclamation to Thomas and ultimately to you and me, "Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).  Thanks be to God that He has granted us the ability to see with new eyes—the eyes of faith.

Posted 4/8/15

Maundy Thursday Living

This past Thursday evening we worshipped together as the family of God.  On the calendar perhaps you noted the word—Maundy Thursday printed on that day.  Maundy is from the Latin "mandata,” meaning mandate or command.  That very evening our Lord Jesus Christ gave a new command to His disciples; love one another as He loved them (John 15:12).  This mandate or command not only applies to the lives of those who received it personally; it applies to you and me as modern-day disciples.  Think about Christ’s command in the following manner:  Christians live out this command every time they love their neighbor as themselves.  This is missional living; truly Christ is action.  His love for us   planted firmly in the rich soil of His Word, watered in Baptism, and fed by His own Body and Blood.  It is for us to live out this command by being Spirit-led to provide a shoulder to cry on when our neighbor is suffering, to pray when our neighbor mourns, and to befriend our neighbor when they are overwhelmed by life itself.  Maundy Thursday is every day that we live out our lives loving others as Christ loves us.

Posted 4/2/15

To Build the Church, You Must First Be the Church

That’s a long phrase isn’t it?  But, think about that for a moment.  For some reason we continue to have the mindset that Greg Finke presents when he says, "The U.S. has become one of the largest mission fields on the planet.  The trouble, of course, is that most churches and church-goers continue to think and operate as if the U.S. culture is still essentially churched or looking for a church home.  And they aren’t. Uh-oh.”  An important point in all of this is that, for one thing, we don’t build the church—structure or otherwise.  The Lord Jesus Christ does.   Matthew 16:18 has these words for our Lord.  "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  The hard reality is that the Church is built by living the confession that Jesus is the Christ; every day, and in every way.  At Faith we have a desire to build a new worship center.  It’s our vision.  To that, I am inclined to say, "This vision will become reality only when the phrase ‘To build the church, you must first BE the church’ is lived out in our neighborhoods, our jobs, our schools, our kid’s soccer matches, our summer sports leagues, and our family reunions.  Joining Christ in his mission; what a difference that makes.”

Posted 3/25/15

David was a Man after God’s Own Heart

Have you heard these words and wondered what they mean?  Here’s one way to look at them based on Scripture.  My guess is that you remember the tale of David and Bathsheba, that beautiful sun-bather, who captured David’s heart.  The problem is that she was married.  That doesn’t stop this affair and the result is that Bathsheba becomes pregnant.  Now, that’s a problem because Bathsheba’s husband is at the front doing battle with David’s enemies.  Bathsheba’s husband couldn’t be at two places at the same time---home and fighting a battle.  The upshot of this is that David has Bathsheba’s husband killed, so he can marry her.  This whole incident displeased God. So much so that He sent a prophet named Nathan to David (All of this is in 2 Samuel 11, by the way, if you want to read it).  Accused of sinning against God, David breaks down and weeps.  In despair David asks the Lord for forgiveness and in His mercy, God forgives David through Nathan.  (Just for fun, you can read David’s response in Psalm 51.)  So, by David’s example we learn that a man—or woman for that matter—after God’s own heart is one who confesses their sins to God and receives His abundant mercy, while at the same time readily accepting any and all consequences for what they have done.

Posted 3/17/15

Storm Clouds Gathered

A few days after Jesus turned the tables on the money changers, storm clouds gathered.  Something is about to happen.  You know the feeling.  The air is electric.  Tension so thick you can cut it with a knife.  You recall an earlier time when Greeks asked Philip for an audience with Jesus.  Instead of giving them His time, Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  In the midst of ministry Jesus saw the cross.  His mind was set on it.  Betrayal.  Suffering.  Horrible pain.  Jesus faced them head-on.  Something is coming.  Storm clouds gathered.  Had we been there that day to see Jesus hanging limply—dead on the cross, what words might we have said?  Perhaps, "Our hope is gone.  There is no good in this Friday when storm clouds gathered.” Yet over two millennium the cry has come down to us; "He is risen from the grave.  Death did not hold Him.  Salvation has been won.  Your sins were forgiven the day the storm clouds gathered.”  And to that we simply say, "Amen.”

Posted 3/10/15

Wrestling with Satan

Two contenders face each other.  Each bears his right arm.  The judge makes sure elbows are locked into place.  Hands grasp one another.  One hand is tiny. . .puny, weak.  It is dwarfed by the size of its competitor.  This struggle is more than a simple struggle between two evenly matched arm wrestlers.  One competitor has a phenomenal size advantage.  It is three times bigger; three times more powerful.  An "I gotcha’” smirk crosses his lips.  On our own there is no way we can match strength against this behemoth with three names.  His name? "Satan” "the world” and "our own sinful flesh.”  Every Captain Obvious knows we’ll lose this struggle and the betting line is heavy in Satan’s favor . . . in fact, millions to one.  We’ve been there, haven’t we?  We’ve faced; in fact we continue to daily face, this triumvirate of evil.   Left to our own devices, the outcome is certain, DEATH.  But, the Good News is that we are not left to our own devices.  Daily, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ sits in our place.  His arm becomes our arm; our struggle, His struggle.   The victory’s won. The outcome? ETERNAL LIFE.  Thanks be to God.

Posted 3/4/15

Whom Do You Serve?
I admit that it’s been awhile since I last visited Gary Thies at Mission Center.  Gary, you may know, works diligently to provide missionaries to foreign nations.  Chara Sype, a member of Faith Congregation who serves in Africa, is a prime example.  Although it’s been awhile since my last visit, I still recall that each tour began in Gary’s office.  "I just want you to meet my boss,” he announced.  Then, pointing to a picture of Jesus Christ on the wall behind his desk, he lovingly announced:  "This is who I work for.”  The text for my message this weekend is John 2:13-22. Here Jesus cleanses the Temple; driving out those who deny access to God by selling goods in the Temple courtyard.  Unlike the bold proclamation of Gary Thies, the religious rulers of Jesus’ day had forgotten all about the God whom they served and were deliberately keeping others from meaningful worship. Jesus turned the tables on them.  Literally.  If I may be so bold; allow me to ask you:  When people see you, do they see you serving Jesus and others?  I pray that they do.

Posted 2/24/15

This is the Kingdom of God

I imagine that you read the above title for this blog and said to yourself, "Yeah, right!”  If this world is the Kingdom of God, I’ll eat my hat” (as the old expression goes.)  "Look at the news,” you want to shout at me.  "Does it really look like this is God’s Kingdom?  I mean, really, does it??”  And I have to admit that the world doesn’t look like we imagine God’s Kingdom to be.  Brutal murders.  Martyrdom of Christians.  Open threats against sovereign nations.  Yet, in these disheartening days we take comfort in knowing God’s Kingdom has come into the world.  It remains "redemptively operational” as theologian Greg Finke put it.  We know God is at work in this world every time we witness acts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  These are the "fruits of the Spirit” as Galatians 5:22-23 remind us.  Take heart, my brothers and sisters in Christ.  We know our Lord told us there would be difficult times and I firmly believe that He created us and put us where we are for times such as these.  The world is suffering in agony and will do so until Christ makes all things new.  But, take heart.  This world is His Kingdom.  May His Kingdom come among us.  

Posted 2/18/15

40 Day with Jesus Begins this Weekend

This weekend we begin a new sermon series that will carry us through Lent.  Come and watch this series of eyewitnesses that dramatically retell the course of Christ’s ministry leading up to his crucifixion.  These videos from the Skit Guys (they provided our Advent sermon series videos as well) will help us prepare for Easter.  They highlight major events in Christ’s life and how they impact people’s lives today.  We’ll be watching a total of eight videos in all beginning this weekend with John the Baptist.  John the Baptist was chosen by God as the one man who would introduce Jesus as "the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.”  John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River setting in motion the ministry of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps your wondering why Jesus, who is without sin, needed baptism at all.  You’ll gain some wonderful insight this weekend as we begin our journey together.  Our 40 days with Jesus.

Posted 2/9/15


Perhaps you’ve come upon the word transfigured before.  It means to be "changed in appearance.”  We may think for examples such as the transfiguration of a face as it changes from a frown to a smile.  Talk about a simple transformation with spectacular results.  Now picture the change in Jesus’ overall appearance as Peter, James and John saw it.  Matthew, the Gospel writer says that Jesus’ "face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:2).  Can you feel it?  This is a squint-your-eyes bright.  Then, in addition to this stunning transformation, the disciples with Jesus saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus and hear a heavenly voice saying "This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”  If you think that Jesus was only one transfigured that day—think again.  Peter, James, and John were transfigured on the inside after seeing Jesus in all His glory.  The same holds true for you and me.  In His Word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, our Lord comes to us and transfigures us on the inside. Our sins are forgiven; we can never be the same. 

Posted 2/4/15

Marriage God’s Way

I had opportunity to attend a seminar hosted by Concordia University last Friday.  The title was "Life in God’s Way” and the presenter was Rev. Dr. Todd Biermann, Senior Pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Grand Blanc, Michigan.  Dr. Biermann started things off with an illustration I’d like to share with you. He asked us to give him the "Thumbs up” sign.  As we clinched our fists and put our "Thumbs up” he pointed out that in our marriages it’s important for us to keep right relationships.  Our relationship with Jesus is #1 (symbolized by our thumbs pointed heavenward). Our relationship with our spouses is #2 (the forefinger), followed by our relationship with our children and extended family (the middle finger), followed by our church family (the ring finger), and then the world and all others (the pinky finger).  Biermann pointed out that by keeping our relationships in the right priority we are able to strike a "proper balance” among all relationships.  It’s a wonderful illustration that reminds us of the value God places on marriage.  For further reflection see Mark 12:30-31 as well as Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5 and Ephesians 5:31 as you consider the first two priorities in your relationships.

Posted 1/28/15

Healed to Serve (Mark 1:29-31)

The disciples entered the house.  Immediately, they knew something was wrong.  Instead of finding Simon’s mother-in-law scurrying about the house, they find her bed-ridden.  A fever has overtaken her.  We’ve all experienced times when we joy is sucked out of a room.  This is such a time.  Friends gather.  Life is in the balance.  Eyes meet. Tears fall. Heads shake. Hope is gone.  Then Simon remembers Jesus standing in the doorway.  Hope returns.  Healing is what Jesus is all about.  Taking Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand, the fever lifts.  She rises. Health is restored.  In gratitude she serves the Lord.  Jesus knows our suffering, too.  He knows that sin sucks the joy from life.  His nail-scarred hands reach out.  His Word heals.  We rise to new life.  A life transformed by His grace and mercy.  Sin’s fever gone, we do as Simon’s mother-in-law did.  We rise to serve the Lord.

Posted 1/21/15

How We Got the Bible

Perhaps you read the cover story of the January 2nd edition of Newsweek with this intriguing title:  The Bible:  So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.”   The story itself reveals just how little people know about the Bible and how it came into existence.  Kurt Eichenwald, the author, claims that:

"No television preacher has ever read the Bible.  Neither has any evangelical politician.  Neither has the pope.  Neither have I.  And neither have you.  At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.” 

It is because of misunderstandings such as these (and there are many others) that Faith Foundation is pleased to announce the return of Dr. Paul L. Maier, Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University, one of the country’s leading authorities on the biblical world and a widely acclaimed author and speaker.  Dr. Maier returns to Faith Lutheran Church after a two year absence with an exciting one day seminar appropriately titled: HOW WE GOT THE BIBLE—Saturday  June 6th.  Dr. Maier notes that:

 " . . .the media is awash with sensationalizing claims of ‘lost gospels,’ ‘forgotten Scriptures,’ ‘hidden writings,’ and apocryphal books that should have been included in the Bible.  We’ll evaluate all these claims and explain why our 66 books made the final cut.”

Tickets for this seminar available soon, so mark your calendars now for Saturday June 6th.

Posted 1/20/15

Jesus Doesn't Call the Equipped; He Equips the Called

Two men stood along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  They were fishermen, but they had more than that in common.  They were also brothers; Andrew and Simon by name.  It wasn't long before they shoved off  to begin another day.  As they readied their nets, a solitary figure stood on the shoreline.  It was Jesus.  His call was simple.  "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men."  Coming ashore, these two disciples did as Christ commanded.  They followed Jesus. Were they equipped to serve?  No.  Jesus doesn't call the equipped; He equips the called.  You and I are called as well.  To us Jesus says, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations."  The Greek word translated "Go" here in Matthew 28:19 is literally, "While going."  Like the disciples before us we receive training while going.  They had Christ with them.  We do, too.  Through His Word and Sacraments we have all we need to do as He has commanded us.  This saying remains true in our day, Jesus doesn't call the equipped; He equips the called.

Posted 1/15/15

The Time is Right

In his book "Joining Jesus on His Mission: How to Be an Everyday Missionary,” Greg Finke makes a couple of incredible statements.  First, he says that "the number of Americans who say they have no religious affiliation has hit an all-time high.”  Then, he adds: "Less than 10% of adults under 30 regularly participate in the life of a local congregation.”  These are two statements that were not anticipated in the church many of us grew up in.  Yet, we dare not lose hope.  Christ is still at work.  His Word is as powerful as it ever was and we take comfort in knowing that.  Finke adds:  "Consider this: the U.S. culture, although remarkably unchurched these days, is also becoming uniquely ripe for the church to be the Church again.”  We have a choice to make, don’t we? We can ring our hands and wonder what happened; why it seems the "river” of our culture has shifted away from the "bridge” of our faith.  Or, we can roll up our sleeves and realize that we are God’s missionaries to our own neighborhoods.  As for me; I choose the later.

Posted 1/15/15

We Choose Life

This Sunday we observe "Life Sunday.”  We do this because as Christians we honor our Lord who pronounced these words in John’s gospel:  ". . . I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Our Lord’s call is for everyone.  Yes, even those who are yet to be born.  Each life is precious.  Not one life is insignificant or unimportant.  Yet, while this is the view of Jesus, we still hear words such as, "This is my body and I can do with it what I want” by those who seek to justify the taking of an unborn child’s life.  While this sounds good, it certainly isn’t true.  Our bodies are not our own.  We were all bought at a price.  That price was at the expense of Jesus Christ who was rejected, hung on a cross, and died in our place.  He did this willingly in order forgive our sins and grant eternal life at His resurrection from the dead.  We choose life.  As you solemnly observe "Life Sunday,” remember that "as Lutherans we believe that God the Father created life; God the Son redeemed life; and God the Holy Spirit restores life.”  

Posted 1/5/15


It’s a new year and for many of us it means a brand new set of New Year’s resolutions.  To me, looking at each day as if it were a clean white board to write on is a wonderful approach.  And while planning is essential, otherwise we just wander about with little purpose, we let God unfold the day right before our eyes.  Do me a favor and take a look at your resolutions.  Allow me to ask: How many of them have to do with personal improvement?  While this is important God also wants us to live as His Son did.  It is living as Christ did that will have the most impact on the lives of others.  Think about it this way; Jesus Christ lived in a different manner.  While you and I usually put ourselves first, living as it were, from the outside in, Jesus lived inside out.  By that I mean that He put the interest of others ahead of His own.  He quite literally gave Himself away.  In my message this weekend, we’ll take a look at what living inside out looks like.  You won’t want to miss it.

posted 12/16/14

Resources—Small Groups or Otherwise

In cottage meetings this year we identified five Core Values that best describe Faith Lutheran Church and School.  Christian Education and Small Groups are two of these Core Values.  Faith in Christ grows as it is fed.  God promises that wherever two or more are gathered in His Name—He is there with them.  Why not make a New Year’s resolution to join or start a Bible study this year?  The New Year is an ideal time for new beginnings; of starting fresh.  Several new adult Bible studies start in January.  What a great way to grow.  I would also encourage you to begin or become part of a small group.  Gather a few friends together, pick a Bible study or book to read together.  When families do life together in God’s Word, incredible things happen. God wired us for fellowship—why do we thing we have to "go it alone”?  Stumped about what to study or read?  My office is chock full of resources you can check out and use for free.  Bible studies, parenting resources with videos, studies just for men, studies just for women, studies of Luther’s Catechism, studies on world religions, video resources from Dr. Paul Maier and lots of others.  Let me know how I can help feed the flame of faith.

Merry Christ and a Joyous New Year,

Pastor Gary

Posted 12/11/14

The Shepherd

The young boy stood in line as the team captains chose sides.  He was still standing there when the choosing was over.  No one wanted him.  He couldn’t catch.  He couldn’t run.  Besides that, he wasn’t very popular.  When the choosing was over, he wasn’t chosen.  Shepherds in Jesus day were the same.  They were never chosen for anything.  They were in the fields tending sheep all day seven days a week.  That meant they couldn’t come to worship.  And besides, they smelled like sheep.  Yet, shepherds were the first chosen by God to hear the angelic announcement that the Savior is born.  Think of it.  The outcast, the rejected are the first to hear.  While others did not choose them for anything; God did.  He chose Shepherds to see and proclaim.  God chose us, too.  Like shepherds we feel alone—unchosen.  Big promotions slip through our fingers.  Someone else was chosen.  The man or woman of our dreams shatters our heart.  Someone else was chosen.  We run for office, but . . . someone else was chosen.  Take heart, my dear shepherd, God has chosen you. He has chosen me.   We can’t run well or catch well.  We have nothing to offer.  Yet, there it is.   In Baptism, He chose us.  In Baptism, God has taken us to the manger.  We have seen the Christ child.  Let’s do as other shepherds before us—let’s proclaim the birth of the Savior.

Posted 12/10/14

Our Treasure in Heaven

To say that Martin Luther has a command of language is the height of understatement.  Reading in "Faith Alone,” Luther’s daily devotions, I found a sentence that blew me away.  Let me set the background.  Luther is commenting on Romans 15:13, a verse speaking about "overflowing with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  Luther notes that Peter also writes about this hope—"a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).  We know we have God’s treasures, but right now these treasures are concealed.  We know they are there, but we can’t see them.  What you and I also know is that one day these treasures will be revealed.  Luther explains it this way: "We can enter eternal life without dying and having this life pass away.”  Now, here’s the part that blew me away, "So while we are here, and until that day God wants us to see the treasures we possess, we must keep on living in hope.”  Scripture reveals that we already possess the treasure God has for us.  Hope is a future desired. Eternal life is that future fulfilled.  For now, we wait.  Soon we will see the treasure we already possess.  Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  

Posted 12/2/14

Education with a Third Dimension

     The moral decline of America is well documented. While the causes are debated, some of the blame must be laid at the feet of our a two-dimensional public education system. The mind is the first dimension. Here students learn math, science, reading and related subjects. The body is the second dimension. In this dimension students learn to care for their bodies and use them in assorted athletic endeavors. This two-dimensional system has roots firmly planted in the soil of ancient Greece. Mind and body embodied their civilization. We Americans are no different. By the buckets full we throw money into this system. If, as Einstein once stated, the height of insanity is to continue doing what you're doing and expecting different results is true, a change is necessary. It's time to add God back into the education equation. Often in public education he is
the persona non grata; the uninvited third-dimension. I contend that a good deal of money and time is spent on mind and body at the expense of the soul. If, as Americans, we are pleased with the moral decline evidenced around us, then most certainly we should stay the educational course of two-dimensional public education. If, on the other hand, we desire to step out of the moral malaise that has plagued the world for as long as any of us can remember, then there is no better time to add the third dimension to education. And, if as I suspect, the public sector will choose not to change, then reasonable society members must invest resources in private Judeo-Christian education for the sake of their children--and for the sake of American society as a whole.
    Think of two-dimensional education this way. A tightrope walker steps onto a high wire hundreds of feet in the air. No safety net. A huge crowd lines the streets far, far below. Ant-like in size, they gather. Checking the wind speed, the tightrope walker mounts the wire. But, before he takes the first step on his death-defying walk, he clutches a balance beam provided by his assistant. An experienced tightrope walker knows the impossibility of crossing between skyscrapers without it. He cannot walk alone. It is too easy to lose his balance. Confidence is one thing, but relying on one's own abilities without balance is entirely another. A misstep. A simple over compensation brings tragic results. For the sake of this illustration: mind and body are the tightrope walker and God the balance beam. While the first two educational dimensions are necessary, without the third dimension; the nourishing of the soul through the Word of God, life gets out of balance. Our tightrope walk of life can suddenly and tragically end on the streets of human endeavor far, far below. Will missteps happen even in the lives of those carrying the balance beam? Certainly. To think otherwise is to think naively. Yet, without the balance beam of God's grace and mercy, that third dimension of education we've been discussing here, no hope of survival exists at all. And all around us we see the results of a world without hope. Therefore, we conclude that not only does God provide balance with His grace and mercy, but the morals and ethics emanating from His grace and mercy places a safety net under the feet of those who believe. 

Posted 11/18/14

The Parable of the Sheep and Goats

I believe it’s been said that a parable is an earthly story with heavenly implications.  We see that again in the parable Jesus told about sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46).  In the last days Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats.  The sheep at his right hand will receive the Lord’s praise for serving Him by serving others.  In fact, Jesus places Himself right in the middle of this parable by saying that when they served others they were literally serving Him.  Dr. Harry Wendt says that the sheep were serving Jesus in His various disguises.  To those who have followed our Lord’s command, He gives eternal life.  To the goats on his left who ignored this command; He sends away to eternal punishment.  As much as you and I would love to say that we are Christ’s sheep on all occasions—that we faithfully serve Him by serving others—we know that this just is not so.  We desire to, but we are not always faithful to Christ’s command.  We would likely say, "Lord, if I’d had only known it was you, I would have served you.”  So, we face a dilemma.  We want to be sheep, but many times we are goats deserving eternal punishment.  An interesting Law/Gospel dynamic is at work here.  Our Lord calls us to repent and receive His mercy of eternal life.

Posted 11/12/14
Note:  This entry was written for a class I'm taking on Reformation Theology

Why Remember Reformation Day?

One line from the motion picture "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” has always stuck with me ever since I was a kid back in the early 1960’s. (Yes, I realize I’ve just dated myself.) The line comes from a newspaper man who has just learned that everything he thought he knew about the "Man who shot Liberty Valance” was legend and not fact.  Throwing away the evidence that reveals the facts behind the legend, he says:  "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”  Such is the case with Martin Luther.  As years have passed into decades, and decades into centuries since his death, many legends have taken root surrounding Luther’s life and times.

Today we remember an event that happened on October 31, 1517.  On that day, Martin Luther took 95 topics he wanted to discuss in a debate with the Roman Catholic Church of his day.  He took what we know as the 95 Thesis and nailed them to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany.  This much is fact, and like a rock hitting a pond, with impact and ripple, news of what he had done spread a long, long way. 

Was Luther the first to seek to reform his beloved Roman Catholic Church?  Not, by a long shot.  But the political climate and the printing press caused his legend to spread.  Were his 95 Thesis the be all and end all of Luther’s theology? Not by a long shot there, either.  What facts reveal is that this newly-minted doctor of theology spent long hours in prayer and in God’s word.  It was while teaching the New Testament book of Romans that he discovered that God teaches us that salvation is not dependent on the works we do, but solely on the work of Christ.  He learned that the One who was crucified shows mercy to all those who believe in Him.  It’s an enduring legacy!  The stuff of legends.

Posted 11/5/14

The First Commandment

While reading Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms:  TEN COMMANDMENT by Albrecht Peters, I ran across a very interesting quote.  The words are these:  "The entire history of Israel’s worship thereby becomes a single battle for the first commandment.”  Come to think of it, this is our battle as well—whether in worship or otherwise.  We are no different than the ancients who often found themselves selfishly preoccupied with "gods” of their own makings.  If, as Luther teaches, a god is that to which we look for all good things and to which we run to seek refuge, haven’t we made gods of some pretty interesting things?  In times of distress, don’t we seek solace in "old habits” (drinking, drugs, partying, carousing, work—the list is endless) instead of seeking God?  Haven’t we made gods of our money, our time, our friends, and our 401k—again the list is endless?   Don’t we utter such phrases as "I’m a self-made man,” or "I’ve made a decision to follow Christ” and forget completely who made us and who made a decision for us long before through the bitter suffering of His Son?  You and I are no different at all, are we?  Ancient Israel’s plight is our plight.  Thank God for Christ Jesus for without Him we would be lost and without hope.    

Posted 11/4/14

Wise and Foolish Virgins

Matthew 25:1-13 presents us with a very interesting parable.  By definition, a parable is a story that uses human-beings in real life situations to teach a lesson.  In this instance, the human-beings are five wise and five foolish virgins who teach a valuable lesson about good works and faith.  So who are these virgins anyway?  Let’s just note that virgins are pure and undefiled.  They are the Church—the believers washed clean in the waters of Baptism.  The oil is the faith God gave them.  The wise virgins made use of this faith and did acts of service.  The foolish virgins did just the opposite—they did not serve God by serving others.  Now their faith oil is all dried up.  When the foolish virgins ask the wise virgins to share, they learn that good works done in faith cannot be transferred from one person to another.  So, then, what is to be done?  Is the situation hopeless for the foolish virgins; after all they miss the wedding banquet?  Learn more as we explore the Parable of the Ten Virgins this weekend.

Posted 10/29/14

                                   Great Advice in the Area of Family Vocation

As I neared the final words of "Family Vocation” by Gene Vieth and his daughter Mary, I was expecting them to take a swipe at today’s society.  They had been building a case for such swiping, or at least I thought they had.  For several pages the dialogue had centered on postmodern society with points being made against postmodernist thoughts on marriage, along with how society is morally self-indulgent and irresponsible.  I anticipated a closing argument filled with a Law application directed against all postmodern miscreants.  But, just like a hand with an accusing index finger pointed outward, I found the remaining four aiming at me.  Here are the words that really hit home.  "If Christians can live out their faith in love and service to their spouses, children, and parents, then the institutions of marriage, parenthood, and the family itself will be transformed.”  Did you grasp it?  Transformation does not start with "The other guy;” it starts with you and me.  I would encourage you to think about that for a while.  Let it soak in.  Then, put it into practice.

posted 10/21/14

Religious Beliefs at Age 13

Those of you who know me well know that I am a staunch supporter of Christian education for adults AND children. But, I do have to tell you that some of the information I am reading in George Barna’s "Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions” is giving me pause.  For example, Barna surveyed several 13 year olds and found the following to be true for three-quarters of them.  First, the devil does not exist—Satan is just a symbol for evil. Second, a good person earns entry into heaven.  Third, people are born morally neutral and make choices to become good or bad.  Fourth, all sacred books from different traditions are merely different expressions of the same spiritual truths and principles.  And fifth, spiritual and moral truth can only be discovered through logic, human reasoning and personal experience.  These five statements should give us all reason to pause and give thanks.  We give thanks, not because these five beliefs are held by so many, but because Faith Lutheran Church and School is actively combating these falsehoods each and every day in our classrooms and in our correspondence with parents.  Let us give God thanks—thanks for Christian education and those He has called to serve us in this place.


Christian Education "13-9”

No, the numbers above are not just put up there randomly.  I’m using the "13-9” to illustrate a very important point about Christian education.  In his book, "Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions,” George Barna contends that the spiritual formation of a child is "mostly in place” by the time a child is 13 years old and that the moral compass is in place by age 9.  Think about that for a moment.  By the time a child is in Junior High/Middle School, the spiritual formation is "mostly in place.”  And by the time the child is in Fourth Grade, the child’s moral compass—the ability to know right from wrong, is already in place.   He adds that the most formative ages are between 8 through 13.   Is it any wonder then why Faith Lutheran Church and School has made Christian Education for all ages a priority?  We value teaching adults to walk hand-in-hand with our Sunday school and Daycare, Preschool and School teachers and staff.  We have seen the difference Christian Education makes in the lives of individuals and we willingly make raising god-fearing children a priority—a Core Value.

Posted 10/14/14

Hiding from God

In my devotional time this morning I came across these words from Martin Luther: "We need to realize that hiding from God is the essence of sin.”  As his example, Luther described the encounter between Adam and God.  You may recall that soon after Adam and Eve sinned, they hid when they heard the sound of the Lord walking in the Garden (Genesis 3:8).  This wasn’t normal behavior.  Usually, they stood before God unafraid.  No longer.  Their guilty consciences drove them to hide among the trees of the Garden.  Unaccustomed to this behavior God called out to them.  "Where are you?” He asked, knowing very well the sin they had committed.  Cowering behind a tree, Adam answered back that he became afraid when he heard the sound of God walking in the Garden.  That answer could have come from you or me.  Sin drives us to fear and fear leads to hiding from God in despair and hopelessness.  Fear, despair and hopelessness should drive us to God and not away from Him.  God’s, "Where are you?” is a rhetorical question addressed to you; a life raft.  It’s time to stop hiding from God, to confess your sins, and to take hold of His mercy and grace through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. 

Posted 10/8/14

Raising Children

In "Family Vocations” authors Gene Edward Vieth Jr. and Mary Moerbe recount the story of a frustrated mother.  She had committed herself to God, pledging to get up early in the morning to read the Bible and pray.  Yet, each morning as she sat down, her baby started crying.  She wanted a deeper relationship with God, had even committed herself to doing that, but each time the baby interfered.  Soon the mother resented her baby.  That is until the day she realized that God had given her an equally valuable role; that of mother.  Our author’s write, "She realized that the spiritual discipline of waking up early, reading the Bible, and praying for a fixed amount of time, while valuable, was not what God wanted of her at the particular moment.”  Attending to her baby was a spiritual discipline as well.  This mother learned that she could serve God by serving her baby.  God, we learn, asks us to serve Him in the various vocations to which He has called us. 

Posted 10/6/14

Core Value: Prayer

It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus knelt to pray. He fervently prayed for God to take the "Cup” from Him --the "Cup” of suffering, pain, and death. Our prayers are like His.  "Father,” we pray, "What I’m facing here is overwhelming.  I’ve lost my job!” or "My marriage is on the rocks,” or "I’m facing a huge battle with my health,” and the list goes on and on. Consider Christ’s submission to God. He added the four words:  "Thy will be done” to His prayer. A few months ago, Faith Lutheran Church and School adopted Prayer as one of her five Core Values. As a congregation we value prayer as Christ modeled it; prayer focused on committing our wills—our very lives, hopes, dreams—into God’s hands. We are Spirit-led to trust in Christ’s "Thy will be done” model. For Christ this meant suffering, pain, and death.  For us it may mean the same.  Still, we offer our prayers in God’s will knowing that the One who raised Christ from the dead has promised eternal life to those who believe on His name.  This is God’s promise—and God is faithful. 

Posted 10/2/14

Plans are Only Dreams until Carried Out

Sometimes there is a big difference between knowing what to do and doing it.  I am reminded of a story involving General U.S. Grant.  Grant, it seems, was put in charge of the Union forces outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee.  As Grant relieved his predecessor, he learned that this general had a well-organized list of things that should be done.  Years after the American Civil War had ended, Grant commented that his predecessor knew exactly what to do, but never acted on any of them.  Christian communities sometimes do the same thing.  We know that our Lord Jesus Christ loved us so much that He died for us.  Wow!  You talk about a plan with follow-through.  We know that He went to the grave for us.  And most importantly of all, we know that He rose from the grave to give believers eternal life.  We also know that He commanded us to love others as ourselves.  Great plan.  But, sometimes plans stay plans and never become reality.  If you know someone who is missing worship regularly, or someone who needs some physical or emotional encouragement, or could use some financial help and you’ve "planned” to do something about it, imagine the difference acting on a plan can make.  The truth is: plans are only dreams until carried out.

Posted 9/24/14

Comments on Luther

We appear to be splitting hairs in determining if Luther’s "tower experience” is a one-time discovery, even if it covered several years or; in fact, if it is only an example of a lifelong undertaking.  Luther himself refers to this event in a 1545 document as having occurred in 1519.  He writes, "Meanwhile in that year [1519] I returned a second time to the interpretation of the Psalms.”  Later, he makes reference to his discovery of the meaning of the phrase "the righteousness of God.”  By implication, Luther seems to suggest that these two events—his study of the Psalms and then subsequent study of Romans in the same year [1519] account for his "tower experience.”  Through the years historians have boldly attempted to pin-point precisely when this event occurred; saying at times that Luther misdated this discovery which thirty years or more in his past.  Arguments over the precise dating of a discovery places more significance on the dating than on the discovery.  Therefore, arguing the above thesis one way or the other is unimportant (and believe me, I am a history buff).  What I consider most important is that through the Spirit’s unveiling, Luther placed an emphasis on the role "faith in God” plays in the lives of Christians, which Luther continued to develop throughout the remainder of his life.  This understanding influences my approach to pastoral care by reminding me that the Holy Spirit works when and where He wills, revealing Himself suddenly at times and subtly at others.


Core Value: Small Groups

So what exactly is a Core Value?  A Core Value is something that you hold dear and you would hold on to and never give up.  For a congregation of believers like Faith Lutheran, Core Values serve as our identity to the world around us.  For example, when someone asks what Faith Lutheran is known for, the answer they often hear is "Education.”  This is because we are well known in Lincoln for our excellent Touching Hearts Early Childhood Development Center and for Faith Lutheran School.  Other Core Values we have discovered through a series of cottage meetings are these:  Small Groups, Outreach, Prayer, and Music.  On September 13 and 14, we begin a new sermon series on our Core Values.  We’ll begin with Small Groups.  Having led a Small Group when I was a member of another congregation, I know all about the close relationships that are nourished there.  I have to tell you that there were times when my wife and I went to our Small Group feeling so tired from the day’s activities only to come away feeling revived and invigorated.  Come and learn about Small Groups and how you can find a place where you can belong.

Posted 9/9/14

                                        A Strong Reminder

I was recently sitting at my desk contemplating the day and praying when my eyes fell upon a little stand-up plaque my daughter gave me for Father’s Day.  The words are a strong reminder both to me and to you as we think about those times when the cold winds of doubt blow like a headwind against us.  The words on the plaque are these:  "Dad…stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1Corinthians 15:58).  I’d ask you to go back to the beginning of the above quote and read it again, substituting your name for "Dad.”  "__________________ stand firm!”  That’s a command; an imperative.   St. Paul wrote those words to a young Christian congregation in Corinth.  They, like you and me, have suffered disheartening days.  They, too, have wanted to shout "God, where are you?” at the top of their lungs.  It is so important that we not lose hope; that we continue to "give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord,” to believe and not doubt.  Take hold of God’s promise spoken to you through St. Paul, "Because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  That’s God’s promise and you know that God keeps all of His promises—saying "Yes!” to them all in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Posted 9/3/14

Why Suffering?

Look around you—suffering is everywhere.  We cannot get away from it.  Whether it’s suffering abroad in places like Iraq, Cameroon, Israel, and Sudan; or closer to home—in our own lives—suffering seems as much a part of the human existence as breathing.  Loved ones are ill.  Friends have lost spouses. Our children face difficulties in school.  A car breaks down.  The cycle is endless.  Sometimes it seems we are constantly in "crisis mode.”  We want to shout at the top of our lungs—"THIS ISN’T FAIR!”  or better still "WHY ME, LORD????” and often do. When faced with endless suffering, either their own or that of a loved one, some Christians have wandered from the faith.  In their minds, the idea of "Christian suffering” puts two words side-by-side that should not be joined together—"Christian” and "suffering.”   Everything should be wonderful, they believe, from the moment of their Baptism on.  The harsh reality is that sin—dating back to the Garden of Eden—introduced suffering and death into our lexicon.  In fact, in Romans 8 we read that "the whole of creating has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”  Now, while suffering—and even death—remain a harsh reality even for Christians, God has spoken important words on the subject.  He says, that those who remain "steadfast under trial” are promised "the crown of life” (James 1:12).  And that is Good News!


Submit—It’s Not What You Think

Many would say that the word "submit” is perhaps their least favorite word.  This word, they say, speaks of enslavement, mistreatment, disappointment and pain.  Yet, St. Paul uses this word repeatedly in Ephesians 5:15-33.  One example is when he writes, "Wives, submit to your own husbands” (Ephesians 5:22).  But, if you have your Bible handy, you’ll notice that this taking Scripture out of context by removing it from the text before and after it.  Paul went on to add these words and they make all the difference in the world.  He added, "…as to the Lord.”  When it comes to "submitting” you see, what society perceives as a horrible word, was at the time of Paul, a word for ordering one thing under another.  And Christ set the example for both wives and husbands when He willingly placed Himself under God’s authority by saying in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Not my will, but thy will be done” (Matthew 14:36).  Submission, therefore, is an expression of love and an act of service; just as we have seen when Christ submitted Himself to His Father.  

posted 8/11/14

Satan Still Plays in the Garden

He [the Serpent; Satan] said to the woman [Eve], "Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1)

Did you notice how Satan creates doubt in the above text?  "Did God really say…?” causes Eve to doubt what God had related to her through her husband Adam.  Causing doubt is still one of the many, but perhaps the most common, ways in which Satan undermines God’s plans.  In fact, Satan is using this very tactic to gnaw at the foundation of society.  What I’m speaking about, of course, is marriage.  Recently, I began reading "Family Vocation” the work of Gene Edward Vieth Jr. and his daughter Mary J. Moerbe.  They write, referring to Jesus’ comments in Matthew 19:4-6, "Jesus does not being discussions about marriage by first addressing role or functions; rather, he turns our focus to God’s roles and functions with marriage: it is God who joins man and woman into one living flesh.”  Jesus grounds marriage to God’s creation of human beings in two genders.  As such, He pronounces that human authorities have no justification when it comes to defining, or perhaps we should say, redefining marriage.   Using legislation to redefine marriage is Satan playing in the Garden again.  The words are different, but the goal of creating doubt is the same: "Did God really say marriage is between one man and one woman?”

Posted 8/5/14

Advice My Father Gave Me

This past Monday (August 4th) my wife and I celebrated our forty-first wedding anniversary.  While reflecting on the day I recalled some words of advice my father gave me.  Taking me away from the crowd gathered at St. John’s Lutheran Church, he said, "Son, let me tell you something that will change your marriage.  I know, right now you think you have all the answer—after all you’ve just graduated from college, but remember these words.  There will come a time when you and Carol will argue and you will say stuff you really didn’t mean to say.  When that argument happens remember not to let the sun go down on your anger and let the devil get a foothold in your marriage.”  It wasn’t until later that I realized how insightful my dad is.  Arguments left unresolved fester overnight and become mighty dragons that soon become too big to slay. St. Paul wrote all about the horrible consequences of unresolved arguments in Ephesians 4:26 and 27.  The fact is, you and I belong to Christ and that means we should desire to live out our lives that others may see what God has done in us.  Yes, that even includes our spouses.  

Posted 7/31/14

Letting God’s Word Speak for Itself

As many of you know I am currently taking a class on the New Testament.  One of the many things I’m learning is how to let God’s Word speak for itself.  In other words, without consulting a commentary, what is God saying.  I’d like to share a bit of what I am learning in this blog.  We’re going to center our focus on John 12:20-33 and divide my analysis into three phases. Phase one looks at the text right before our focus text; then we’ll look at the text itself, and phase three will lead us look at the text immediately after.  Here we go:

Before the text:  Jesus rode in Jerusalem.  His raising of Lazarus from the dead "continued to bear witness” (John 11:17) precipitating the Pharisee’s conversation that "the world has gone after Him” (John 11:19).

In our text:  Gentiles come asking to see Jesus (John 12:21).  When Andrew and Philip tell Jesus, He talks about how "the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23).  Jesus announces that His coming is with a "purpose” and that is to glorify God’s name (John 12:28). Judgment has come upon the world as God cast out the "ruler of the world” (John 12:31).  Jesus notes that His "lifting up” will "draw all people to Myself” (John 12:32).  The earlier account of the "world going after Jesus” is amplified in this text with an emphasis on an additional "drawing” of people to Jesus coming because of His crucifixion.

After our text:  Much of what follows initially after our text takes place in the Upper Room.  Within the coming text we hear Jesus restate the "purpose” for which He came—that of bringing glory to God (John 13: 31-32).

Posted 7/24/14

Double Predestination

When my Thursday morning class arrived to read these two words on the white board, I thought we might be in for an interesting discussion, and I was correct in that assumption.  "Okay,” someone finally spoke up, "just what is double predestination?”  "Let me explain it this way,” I began.  "There are some Christians who truly believe that God has predetermined (predestined, if you will) some to go to heaven; and that God has also predestined some to go to hell.  The thought is that since God has predestined these two groups, there is nothing anyone can do to move from one group into another.  If you’re predestined to heaven, you’re going to heaven and vise-versa.”  I quickly followed this up by mentioning that we, as confessional Lutherans, do not believe in double predestination otherwise there would be no need for the Parable of the Lost Coin, the Parable of the Prodigal Son or even in any need for intercessory prayer.  As Lutherans, we believe that God desires all humankind to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth as Paul tells us in 1Timothy 2:3-4.  Since this is God’s desire and since our Lord provided an excellent example of intercessory prayer (see John 17) we must shy away of believing that God has predetermined heaven or hell for all those who live upon the earth.  

Posted 7/17/14

Paul in Ephesus

For the past few weeks we’ve been looking at Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.  This we’ve done through a sermon series and the Bible study that goes along with it.  When Paul wrote this letter he was in prison in Rome, but certainly he could recall an incident that caused him to leave Ephesus after ministering there for three years.  Luke records this incident for us.  What I want us to see is how the Holy Spirit used this incident to carry the Gospel to Macedonia (Acts 19 and the open verse of Acts 20 records this). The Holy Spirit, it seems, had placed in Paul’s mind to journey there when suddenly chaos broke out in Ephesus lead by Demetrius, a silversmith.  Demetrius sold souvenirs of the goddess Artemis (Diana) and Paul’s preaching was hitting him in the wallet.  Rounding up Paul and his followers, Demetrius and several other craftsmen, carted them all to the amphitheater to shouts of "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”  Had it not been for the intervention of the town clerk bodily harm may have come to Paul.  Instead, the clerk warned the craftsmen that chaos like this could lead to a charge of rioting and he dismissed the crowd.  Because of this incident Paul gathered the leaders of the Christian church in Ephesus, encouraged them, and "departed for Macedonia.” We pray that this same Spirit would lead us as a congregation as we seek to "Know Christ and make Him known to all.” 

Posted 7/7/14

Infant Baptism

Perhaps you’ve encountered this question:  Why do Lutherans baptize infants?  The best way we might answer that is by saying, "Because it is commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ.”  You see, the Lord commanded Baptism for all people in the Great Commission.  Remember the words with me from Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”  While our Lord’s Words do not specifically identify children, they also do not specifically identify adults either.  What they do say though is that baptism is part of disciple making.  The words are therefore neither age specific nor age exclusive.  David writes in Psalm 51, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” If, as we believe, this refers to original sin or as Luther often called it "root sin;”  if, this "root sin” is passed from one generation to another; and if baptism in the name of the Triune God is for the remission of sins; then wouldn’t it be best that infants are brought to the waters of baptism as soon as possible to receive God’s Holy Bath?  To use a very Lutheran statement:  This is most certainly true.

Posted 7/3/14

The Holy Temple of God

In his letter to the Christian Church at Ephesus, Paul makes a rather remarkable statement about the Church itself.  He claims that the Church "rises to become a holy temple because it belongs to the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21).  Quite an interesting remark when we consider that Ephesus was home of one of the most beautiful temples of ancient times—the famed Temple of Diana.  Carpenters and craftsman had poured over the structure for years until it rose like a phoenix from the ashes of an earlier temple.  Like this ancient temple, the Church has a cornerstone and a foundation.  Only its cornerstone is Jesus Christ and its foundation is that of the apostles and prophets.  Jesus Christ has crafted the Church.  He feeds and nourishes her faith through His Word and His body and blood.  The Church is God’s temple and it remains under construction until our death or the Second Coming.

Posted 6/30/14

Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians

This weekend was our second weekend of preaching on and studying Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  Ephesus was once a community of 250,000 people; the same size as Lincoln, Nebraska.  It was a port city although it was inland; the Cayster River was wide enough and deep enough to accommodate the merchant ships of the day.  The dominate feature of this cosmopolitan city was its Temple of Diana, a Greek goddess.  In Paul's day this would have been the second temple structure since the first had burned down.  When Paul spent three years here on his third missionary journey, this second temple was already 400 years old.  It's fame lives on in its designation as one of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  Other pagan temples dotted the landscape as well, but none drew the tourists like the Temple of Diana.  As a point of interest, when Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesian Christians he was in prison in Rome.  This letter is one of four in the New Testament known as the "Prison Epistles."  The other three are Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon.  In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul seeks to encourage this congregation to consider that Christ is the head of the Church and that the Church should seek and do His will.  One of the most beautiful parts of this letter is Paul's desire that the Ephesians might know God better (Ephesians 1:18 NIV). 

Posted 6/19/14

A Change of Phrase

Quite often we hear the phrase "Jesus dwells in my heart and He is the most important part of my life.” And while this phrase seems to be able to pull its own weight theologically, there are short-comings.  We should note that the Bible often refers to the heart as the place where faith dwells, not Jesus.  For example:  Jesus says "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8).  In other words, these people say good things about him to his face, but their heart (faith) doesn’t back up their words. Allow me to ask you now to consider perhaps a more Lutheran phrase to replace the heart phrase above. "God’s reign has broken into the world in Jesus, and the Spirit has called me to belong under his reign.”    Biblically, we can easily support this phrase.  Luke 17:20, for example, records Jesus’ words "the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”   Jesus has broken in.  And the rest of the phrase?  In Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles Creed we say, "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”  And then we add, "This is most certainly true.”

Posted 6/11/14

Que Sera Sera

In 1956 the songwriting team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans penned the music and lyrics to a song emblematic of our culture today.  The song was "Que Sera Sera” (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) recorded by Doris Day.  Nearly sixty years later this fatalistic approach to life depicted in song remains an ever-present corruption.  Fostered by the writings of Fredrick Neitche who once proclaimed, "God is dead!” some resign themselves to believe that God no longer exists or, if He does exist, He is no longer involved in the world He may or may not have created.  Yet, throughout the Biblical narrative we see time and again that God works throughout history (rightly called His Story) to manifest His good and gracious will.  His chosen people often waited in the certain hope that He would do as He promised, and even prayed asking Him to recall those promises and act upon them.  This confidence is given to those who put their faith in Him.  This confidence counters the hopeless, fatalistic approach, replacing it with a sure hope that God still hears our prayers and answers them according to His good and gracious will.  As Lutheran Christians we recognize God’s intervention each time we boldly pray, "Come, Lord Jesus” confessing in these three words God’s promise "I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Posted 6/11/14

Cross Training

No, we’re not looking at athletic training here.  We’re looking instead at why the cross is and should remain the central focus of who we are as Christians.  Here’s how I addressed the issue in opening remarks of a recent sermon.

The cross, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, sums up everything that St. Paul has taught us over the last several weeks (We were preaching and teaching on Colossians at the time.)  Allow me to explain:  As we look at the cross, we discover that it is constructed of two pieces of wood—one piece of wood is vertical—it goes up and down.  The second piece of wood is horizontal—it goes from side to side.  These two pieces of wood symbolize two relationships.  The vertical symbolizes our relationship with God.  His mercy and grace flows down to us and we respond with prayers and adoration, songs and worship, and rightful living that flow into our relationship with others, represented by the horizontal beam. The analogy is completely in line with what Christ Himself teaches us.  In Mark 12: 30 and 31: Jesus said, "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (the vertical relationship symbolized by the vertical wooden beam of the cross).  The second is this:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (this horizontal relationship is symbolized by the horizontal wood beam of the cross).  Two relationships—One with God and the second with one another—all seen in the cross?

It is so easy to gloss over what God has done in the cross.  For some, the vehement dislike of the word "sin;” especially when applied to us personally causes us to want to remove any evidence of our sinfulness.  Hence, in some congregations the cross is removed altogether.  Without sin, there is no need for redemption.  Without redemption, it’s then a very short walk to a spot where we say that Jesus Christ is not who the Bible says He is.  To me that’s a direction, I don’t care to walk.

Posted 6/4/14

Take Time to Pray First

In his book Leading from the Heart, Michael C. Mack remembers these words from one of his seminary professors.

"The voice of Jesus saying, ‘I will build my church’ can hardly be heard among the babble of human voices saying, ‘We will build the church.  Our plans, our organizations, our resources will accomplish it, and we will have it the way we want it.’ God is sometimes boxed out of His own enterprise by self-centered or self-sufficient partners.”

For some reason these words really struck me as I read them.  We plan, we organize, and we compile an abundance of resources and charge as cavalry headlong into our idea of what God’s Kingdom should look like.  Most certainly, God blesses our endeavors.  Yet, how much of His rich blessings do we miss because we are too preoccupied with self that we miss the voice of Jesus.  Allow me to put this as succinctly as I can.  Before our planning, before our organizing, and before our resources are gathered, we do well to be in prayer first.  Some might use the expression; "We need to be in prayer early and often.”  The Psalmist puts it this way: "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1).  Listen.  The voice of Jesus is saying, "I will build my church.”

Posted 6/3/14

A Fait Accompli

As Lutheran Christians we struggle with what appears to be two diametrically opposed ideas in Baptism.  First, we read in Romans 6 that in Baptism the old Adam drowns and a new Adam comes forth. On the other hand, we hear Luther’s words saying that "while the old Adam is drowned in Baptism, this old Adam is a pretty good swimmer.”  So how can these both be correct?  Or can they? Certainly, they can and are both true. An explanation is need, however.  Although we are baptized, our life struggles continue. St. Paul describes our own life struggles when he says of himself, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19).  Does this sound like you?  It does me.  The point is this, although we are Baptized, we continue to do things that we do not want to do.  While Baptism makes us wholly righteous before God ("justification” is the word theologian’s use); like infants, we need nourishment to grow in our faith and trust in God ("sanctification”).  This spiritual feeding and growth occurs as we stay connected to God’s Word and His Sacraments (in particular, the Lord’s Supper, since we are already baptized). As we are Spirit-led to grow and mature in our spiritual walk with God, the Holy Spirit also mortifies our flesh creating a desire to stay away from sin and stay in tune with God who redeemed us in the sacrificial death of His Son Jesus Christ.  During this period of spiritual growth and struggle, God does not see us as we are (sinful), but as He pronounced us in our Baptism (sin-free). It is here that the French fait accompli ("a thing already done”) comes in. God looks at the baptized yet still struggling in their sin, as pure, holy, and sacred.  Because of the redeeming work of His Son—all that God intends for us is already accomplished by Christ—it is a fait accompli.  Keep in mind that all of this is another of God’s great mysteries which are difficult to explain with imperfect illustrations.

Posted 6/2/14

A Most Difficult Word

Perhaps one of the most difficult words for you and me to wrestle with is "submit.”  Yet, when we read Paul’s letter to the Colossians "submit” hits us right between the eyes.  In verse 18 of chapter four, Paul writes: "Wives, submit to your husbands…”  Now, that’s where most of us stop, don’t we?  In this context "submit” seems to be pointed exclusively at women and ordering them to do as their husbands demand.  Yet, if we take verse 18 out of context like that, we end up with only a partial reality because Paul does not stop there.  He continues: "…as is fitting in the Lord.”  Then in verse 19 he explains further by adding, "Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.”  Relationships centered in Christ have a different complexion than those that don’t.  Husbands concede their wills ("submit”) to Christ.  They "submit” to Him by sharing their love, respect, and honor toward their wives.  In love, respect, and honor of Christ, wives concede their wills ("submit”) to their husband’s.  Just as Christ dearly loved His bride, the church, husbands are called to love their brides in like manner.  In a loving and compassionate relationship, "submit” is not such a difficult word at all.  In fact we pray "they will be done” each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer—prayerfully pleading that God’s will would be done among us.  Please join us this weekend as our sermon series on Colossians continues.

Posted 5/21/14

Psalm 46

With this blog I’d like to take you through an analysis I recently did with Psalm 46.  My guess is that you already know that this psalm served as the background for Martin Luther’s Reformation hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (Lutheran Service Book 656, 657).  Just for fun take a couple of minutes to read Psalm 46 before you continue reading this blog. 

Let’s examine two key questions.  1) What does this Psalm 46 tell us about God?  2) What is the application of Law/Gospel in this psalm?

What does this Psalm 46 tell us about God?   In very dramatic fashion Psalm 46 says that no matter the circumstance God is a fortress providing safe harbor to those who seek refuge in Him.  We might recall instances in the life of the Hebrew people when God affected the rescue of those whom He loved.  In her past, the Hebrew people saw first-hand how God led them out of exile in Egypt--the Red Sea standing up on either side as they walked on dry land.  Only moments before they had found themselves pinched between the Sea and Pharaoh's army with no visible means of escape.  In like manner the mountain of God trembled with His presence while the Hebrews gathered about its base.  There God provided a system of purification making it possible for unholy people to gather for a meal before their holy God.  Certainly, the chaos of King David at war against members of his own family may have also come to their mind.  Again, God provided a way to protect David in order to continue the promise--a fortification, a hedge of protection around him.  

What is the application of Law/Gospel in this psalm? In Psalm 46 the Law is found in God's judgment against His sinful people.  Whether the mountains falling into the sea is a real end-times event or analogous for the onslaught of human catastrophes, we see the effects of sin.  The Gospel is seen in the steadfastness of God--His promise of refuge of whom the sons of Korah write with historical context and God's prophetic wisdom in mind.

With these thoughts in mind, please consider how God is a mighty fortress in your own life.  Consider those times when He provided safe-harbor through illnesses, through family squabbles, through death of a loved one, through seemingly insurmountable obstacles of real life.  If, as the psalmist says, God is a fortress, then how might we run to Him?  We run to Him where He has promised to be found—in His precious Word and Sacraments.

Posted 5/20/14

Why Me, Lord?

How many times over the years haven’t we found ourselves asking "Why?” to various episodes in our lives?  Sometimes the "why” is expressed in questions like these:  "Why did this have to happen to me?”  "Why did I develop cancer?”  "Why does it seem that no matter what do, we can’t get ahead financially?” The list of questions is endless, isn’t it?  What we are looking at when we ask these "why” questions is expressed well by William Carr who calls this "the scandal of particularity.”  We might define "the scandal of particularity” as those things that God chooses to do that make us wonder "why?”  For example, I might ask "Why did God choose to allow my grandson to be born with spina bifida?  In this case, a debilitating birth defect that prevents him from walking.  Truth be told, I never questioned God’s decision in my grandson’s case.  I never wondered "why” God decided as He did.  I never considered attempting to decipher this "scandal of particularity”—God’s reason or purpose behind doing one thing and not another. Instead, I am content to ponder what God will do through each crisis; each "scandal of particularity.”  You see, through faith (and this is a gift of the Holy Spirit) God has changed my "why” into "who.”  Whodoes God wish to strengthen in their faith? Who does God intend to come to understand His sovereignty, His majesty, His love, His compassion?  We may never know the answer to these questions; therefore, it is more important that we simply let God be God. The psalmist expressed it best when he wrote these words under divine inspiration, "Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).   

Posted 5/15/14

Judaizers in Colossae

Over the past several weeks, Pastor Beckman and I have been exploring the book of Colossians in our sermons.  We’ve been preaching though the major themes of this letter written by God through the inspired pen of St. Paul.  One of the heresies addressed on the pages of this letter is that of Gnosticism.  Gnostics had infiltrated the Christian Church in Colossae and sought to destroy it by saying that one needed some "hidden knowledge” to gain entry into eternity. This week we learn of a second heresy brought in by the Judaizers.  Although their beliefs were different from the Gnostics, their purpose was the same—to destroy the Christian church.  Judaizers were Jews who taught that one must first become a Jew before becoming a Christian. This meant that men must be circumcised, and every Christian was required to follow all Jewish practices including the sacrificial system.  As we will learn, it is so easy to allow the influence of man-made requirements to creep into our religious practices.  Works righteousness crowds out the freedom given to us in the Gospel; it shackles us and holds us hostage.  The Gospel, on the other hand, sets us free to live our lives as God originally intended. 

Posted 5/6/14

The Name God Wants to be Called

Sometimes we find ourselves playing a game of semantics when it comes to God’s holy name.  Certainly, there are some religions that have chosen to identify God with names that He has not chosen to be called.  I think in particular of Allah, a name quite familiar to those who practice Islam.  Yet, in only one "holy” book is God called by this name, that of the Koran.  This name appears as a new revelation some six hundred years after the death of Jesus Christ.  If, as Christ proclaims in words and deeds, that He is the Son of God, then perhaps we do well to call God by the name proclaimed out of Jesus’ background of Judaism.  Throughout His earthly ministry Jesus applied God’s name "I Am” to Himself.  He does this in such New Testament accounts as "I Am the good Shepherd,” "I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life,” "I Am the Bread of Life” and others.  These numerous "I Am” references have a direct Old Testament tie-in that dates back to Moses and the incident we know as "the burning bush” (see Exodus 3). This is some fourteen hundred years before the birth of Christ and nearly two-thousand years before one man; a man named Mohammed, claimed to know God’s real name.  During this incident Moses told God that the people he was told to lead would want to know God’s name and asked God to reveal it to him.  God tells Moses that "I Am Who I Am” or simply "I Am” (Exodus 3:14) is His Name.  Simply identified as the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) this name was so sacred among the Hebrew people that they never used it; instead they translated or spoke only of Adoni (or "Lord”) in its place.   To claim then that the name Yahweh and Allah are synonymous does severe damage to the message of the Gospel.  In fact, two things happen when we do that as Christians: 1) the importance of Christ’s salvific work is negated and we remain in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:16-17); and 2) the free grace God bestowed on believers through faith in Jesus Christ is replaced by the work-righteousness of the 5 Pillars of Islam.  As the two different names imply—the God of Christianity and the god of Islam are not one in the same.  There is much more to it than a simple game of semantics.

Posted 5/5/14

On a Firm Foundation

For countless centuries the Rock of Gibraltar has risen nearly fourteen hundred feet above the southern tip of Spain; part of the Iberian Peninsula.  Along with a second peak nearby, these two structures acquired once were known as the legendary "Pillars of Hercules."  Today the image of the Rock of Gibraltar is as symbol of strength and security by a major insurance company.

As our sermon series on the book of Colossians continues this week, St. Paul builds on the theme he used earlier when he described Jesus Christ as the solid foundation of faith (Colossians 1:24-2:5).  Christ is the firstborn of creation.  He created all that was created and in Christ all things hold together.  True, at times others present "fine-sounding arguments," as St. Paul put it.  These arguments are intended to lead us away from Christ.  Yet, Paul is very specific in our purpose as Christians.  We are to encourage others to remain firm--not trusting in the strength of God's creation, like the Rock of Gibraltar--but in Jesus Christ.  He is the author and perfecter of our faith.  

Posted 4/23/14 

A Tale of Two Philosophies

Over the past several months I’ve been reading an interesting book entitled: "Our Father Abraham—Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith.”  Among the claims the author, Marvin Wilson, makes is that the focus of education changed several centuries ago—a departure that created two diametrically opposed views.  One of those views of education came out of the Greek culture, made its way into The Enlightenment in the philosophy as Rousseau, before exploding into a worldview shared by Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud and many, many others.  This educational philosophy is captured in two words—"Know Thyself.” This philosophy puts humankind at the center of his/her own universe.  In ourselves, we become the source of all wisdom and find a god created in our own image rather than the other way around.  If this is so, then our personal views become god’s views; our concepts of right and wrong become god’s concepts of right and wrong.  There is no need for forgiveness because each person has his or her own standards to live by.  Within this philosophy we might hear words like, "How dare you criticize me?  My opinion is just as valid as yours.”  In this philosophy there are no absolutes—no accountability and no hope.

The alternative view of education comes from the ancient Hebrew people.  Like the Greeks their educational philosophy is summed up in two words, but unlike the Greeks there is no "self” involved at all.  Their two words are these—"Know God.”  Think about this for a moment.  With this educational philosophy God is restored to His rightful place as creator, redeemer, and sanctifier.  Mankind is created in His image.  If this is so, then God is the source of all knowledge and the font of all wisdom.  His view of right and wrong is expressed in love in sources outside of ourselves.  Within this philosophy we might hear words like, "I have sinned and fallen short of what God expects of me.  Thanks be to God who has forgiven my sin through the atoning death of Jesus Christ.”  In God we find absolutes—there is accountability and, therefore, there is the certain hope of eternal life.  May the Holy Spirit help us to keep a right focus when it comes to education—turning to Him and away from self.

Posted 4/9/14

Palm Sunday Remembered

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is the stuff of legends.  Instead of walking the scant few miles from Bethany, Jesus climbs aboard a donkey and rides in.  Crowds formed along the way.  Crowds determined to catch of glimpse of the rabbi who reportedly raised Lazarus from the dead.  Those who believed the incredible account focused on three simple words spoken at the tomb—"Lazarus, come out.”  They relate the news to others that indeed Lazarus appeared at the mouth of the tomb in the very "roller bandages” applied to him when he was first laid to rest.  Proof they say that death is no longer the enemy feared since the Garden of Eden.  "Charlatan!” is the name others applied to Him.  Most likely this term was applied to Jesus by the Pharisees who saw Him as a threat to their power base.

Shouts of "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” echoed from the hillside as Jesus rode down the Mount of Olives.  Palm branches, long the symbol of independence in Israel, waved in anticipation.  "Is this the long expected arrival of the heir to King David’s throne?” some wondered out loud.  A search of the writings of Zechariah, the Old Testament prophet, foretold just such an entrance by the son of David (see Zechariah 9:9).  You and I know that this was the entrance of David’s heir, but the kingdom He is about to usher in is much larger than anyone there could have known.  We pray, "Thy Kingdom come…” each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer and it is this Kingdom—God’s Kingdom—that is about to break into a desperate and sin-filled world.  By His death and resurrection it became so.  But, that’s an account best told during Holy Week.

Posted 4/7/14

The Paralytic’s Friends

The digging began in earnest.  "Hurry!” they shouted to one another.  "Hurry or He will be gone before we finish!”  Fevered fingers gnawed at the clay that comprised the roof of a first century Capernaum home.  The men digging into the roof that day had a plan.  They planned to carry a litter with their paralytic friend to see Jesus.  Finding their way into the home blocked by a crowd, they had scurried up the stairs on the outside of the house and made their way to the roof.  Again, the way was blocked; this time by the clay and thatch of the roof itself.  On hands and knees they began clawing their way to Jesus. Calloused hands gave way to sticks, yet they did not stop to rest.  First a small hole appeared.  Then the hole grew larger.  At last Jesus came into view.  A new problem arose.  How do they lower their friend so that Jesus might see him and heal him?  "Ropes!” one of the men shouted.  Soon ropes were secured and tied to the litter.  Awkwardly, they lowered their friend, fearful that a miscalculation would result in a fall.  Carefully, they lowered him into view. 

You and I know the rest of the story.  We know that Jesus healed the paralytic man.  But, I want us to focus on the man’s friends for a moment.  As I mentioned early on; they had a plan.  They planned to bring their friend to Jesus.  The accounts of Jesus’ ministry had given hope to those that had none before.  Without hope they accepted life as it is as all there was.  Jesus changed all of that.  Those living without hope, now had hope.  It is so easy and so crippling to look at life without hope, isn’t it?  Without a plan (for the four men it was bringing their friend into the presence of Christ) we falter and stumble around as if the room was completely dark and every exit covered with pitch.  The realization that Christ changes everything gives hope for the future; causing us to plan, to dream.  For the paralytic’s friends doing nothing was not an option.  It’s time to be Spirit-led and dream of ways to carry others to Christ.  My prayer is that the Lord would inspire us with the same zeal that he gave the paralytic’s friends.

February Posts 2/26/14

Christ’s Victory is Our Victory

I’d like to call your attention to Matthew 4:1.  The words recorded there are these: "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  How many times I’ve read these words, I can’t possible recall.  Hundreds. Perhaps more.  Until recently, I’ve casually blown past Matthew 4:1 and quickly moved into the heart of the text which presents the three temptations of Jesus.  All very familiar.  We do well, however, to pause to reflect.  Would you do that with me by rereading the text just once more?  Allow me to highlight a few words that caught my attention when I reflected on them. "Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  Notice the words? The Holy Spirit led Jesus.  That means that Jesus’ temptation is deliberate, intentional, and purpose-filled.  The Spirit led Jesus directly into a confrontation with the one who caused Adam to sin. The one Jesus calls "the father of lies” (John 8:44). When Adam sinned, his disobedience brought calamity and disorder to all of God’s good creation.  While the first Adam failed when tempted; the second Adam (Jesus Christ) did not.  He obeyed His father and the battle to restore God’s Kingdom to its original beauty was engaged.  Thanks be to God, you and I know the outcome of this battle.  By the Spirit’s power, we know Christ’s victory is our victory. 

February Posts

True Freedom

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.   For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4).

The tyranny imposed on the thirteen original colonies is undeniable.  That Great Britain required colonialists to house the British military at the colonial’s expense while they taxed supporters of American independence at a greater rate than those who supported the monarchy, introduce justifiable reasons why the Continental Congress wrote a Declaration of Independence for the thirteen United States of America.  It is this Declaration we celebrate with picnics, concerts and fireworks each 4th of July.  A loose-knit nation of states, once held under monarchial rule not only declared their independence, but bled and died to achieve it.  In the monarch’s place our nation set up an unprecedented system of government; a government with checks and balances, involving shared powers within the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches.  With immense forethought the founders of the United States of America delivered a freedom never before seen on the world’s stage.

While warranting celebration, the Declaration of Independence pales in significance to the freedom won by Christ Jesus.  The tyranny of sin, even more subversive than the world’s most hateful dictators, embraced the world.   In sin, the world looked at God’s Ten Commandments and saw an unattainable perfection.  What God desired, we could not do.  We could not free ourselves from sin no matter how hard we tried.  Then one day, when the time was right, God ransomed us to Himself through the blood of His own Precious Son.  We were free!  But look where this new-found freedom has taken us.  In freedom we deny the very presence of Christ in, with, and under the elements of Holy Communion.  In freedom we tolerate sexual practices equal to those of ancient Rome (see Romans 1:18-32).  In freedom we seek to cede back the freedoms won by our forefathers as well as those won at Calvary.

St. Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, offered words we do well to remember; "Everything is permissible,” but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible"-but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1Corinthians 10:23-24).  You see; freedom without morals is pure chaos.  Christians no longer live under the law, for Christ has freed us, but we lovingly place ourselves under God’s law as a moral norm for our lives.  That’s true freedom won for us at a terrible price...the death of God’s own Son.

Pastor Gary

February Posts

Oh, So That’s Where That Comes From


"The villainy of the more recent ones is familiar.  They even falsified this passage (Genesis 3:15) and changed the pronoun "He” to the feminine "she.” And with obvious malice they twisted this passage into a reference to the Blessed Virgin.  I am excusing Lyra, who appears to have been a good man but yields too much to the authority of the fathers.  And so he allows himself to become involved through St. Augustine in a most absurd allegory, which Gregory also adopts in his Moralia” (Luther’s Works, Volume 1, p.184).

 Reading my Luther the other morning provided an answer I’d sought for several years.  My question related to where the Roman Catholic faith could scripturally tie the Virgin Mary into Christ’s redeeming work.  In Works, Volume 1, Martin Luther attributes this action to a mistranslation of a verse you and I have often called "the first Messianic promise.”  Genesis 3:15 as you and I recognize it comes as God confronts the serpent for his role in "the Fall” and reads, "I will put enmity between you and the woman[Eve], and between your offspring and her offspring; He will bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Roman Catholics, on the other hand use a translation that reads, "I will put enmities between thee and the woman[Mary], and thy seed and her seed; she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel,” calling this text "the first prophecy referring to Mary” (Catholic Encyclopedia: The Blessed Virgin Mary).

 Martin Luther traces the origins of this Roman Catholic belief to the time of St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) and states that Pope Gregory (574-604 A.D.) promulgated this mistranslation.  He writes, "We do not want to take away from Mary any honor which is her due; but we want to remove the idolatry contained in the statement that by giving birth to Christ, Mary has destroyed the power of Satan” (Luther’s Works, Volume 1, p.192).  The disagreement continues today and remains a key doctrinal difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism.

  Addendum: While researching this blog, I chanced upon a web entry chastising Mel Gibson for getting this concept wrong in his movie "The Passion of the Christ.” Remember the scene? A serpent approaches Jesus as He agonizes in prayer the Garden of Gethsemane. Seeing the serpent, Jesus rises and crushes its head, harkening back to an earlier garden and an earlier serpentine encounter.

Pastor Gary

February Posts


Why Do I Do What I Don’t Want To Do?

Each of us struggles daily against sin. The Law God put within us and wrote out into stone tablets at Mount Sinai daily announces just how much we struggle in vain to free ourselves from sin.  God’s Law confronts us with His holiness and His desire that we live holy before Him.  Yet, as St. Paul teaches, the sin passed on from Adam and Eve continually causes conflict:  "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh.  For I have a desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-20).  Luther used the term Simul Iustus et Peccator (simultaneously saint and sinner) to describe this struggle.

Doesn’t Paul’s struggle sound like ours; a struggle between our flesh and the Spirit of God?  Our "flesh” or "sinful nature” wants to drag us into lies, corruption, sexual immorality, greed, lust, hatred, murder and anger. While at the same time the Holy Spirit strives to create within us "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). 

The Good News follows in verse 24 of Galatians chapter 5: "[T]hose who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  While there remains in us the idea that we can somehow free ourselves from sin, we soon see how impossible the task.  Only faith in Jesus Christ and the forgiveness He brings, offers us any comfort whatsoever.  In what we affectionately call "the Great Reversal” Christ’s atoning death transfers our sinfulness to Him, and credits His sinlessness to us.

Our struggle against sin persists, but thanks be to God for His Son Jesus Christ and the faith poured on us in Baptism.  Because of faith we now live Simul Iustus et Peccator knowing that the Law no longer condemns.  In fact, Jesus feeds us His very Body and Blood in Holy Communion as our assurance of forgiveness for His name’s sake.

Pastor Gary

February Posts

A Look Back and a Look Forward

As one with a heart and passion for history, the Reformation has always captivated me.  How God led men like Martin Luther and others through His Word simply amazes me.  It was the Holy Spirit working through this Word that compelled Dr. Luther to nail his 95 points of debate (we know them as the 95 Thesis) to door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Beyond that the Spirit played upon Luther’s passion to train up Christian children to bring about the Small Catechism. The purpose for this instruction booklet was to help the head of the Christian household train others in the Christian faith. 

So, what does this mean for you and me today as we look forward in faith?  Consider this startling statistic found in George Barna’s book Transforming Children into Spiritual Champion.  Barna, a nationally recognized researcher, writes:

"[W]hile more than 4 out of 5 parents (85 percent) believe they have a primary responsibility for the moral and spiritual development of their children, more than two out of three of them abdicate that responsibility to their church.”  

My question would be this: Have we forgotten the value of Christian parenting?  As we plan the future of Faith Lutheran Church and School, let us all consider how we might learn to walk beside one another and encourage one another to be in God’s Word.  Let us all pray that God would inspire us to be part of a new reformation of hope and faith in Jesus Christ—beginning in our families.


Pastor Gary

February Posts

"God Gathers and Renews His People"

God give us new life as a Christian; not only that, but God desires that we do good works for the benefit of those we meet.  Likewise, God gathers Christians together with other Christians.  Being together in a Christian congregation is not simply the matter of happenstance; it is a matter of God's Holy Spirit putting us exactly where God wants us.  We are to be in service to God and to one another way.  It is for this reason the gathering together of Christians is called "the body of Christ." 

The nature of this gathering is for God to continue the renewal process begun in our Baptism.  The Holy Spirit does this through the pure teaching of the gospel of Christ.  He also uses the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper given in conjunction with the gospel to form us into a body of believers.  Martin Luther put it like this, and please allow me to paraphrase, "Just as the bread of Holy Communion is made up of many grains united to make one loaf; and just a many grapes are blended together to make one wine; God makes the many one in Holy Communion."

One of the really interesting aspects of this is that it isn't the trappings of the pastor or the gestures he makes while applying Christ's Word to the elements of bread and wine, but the power of the Holy Spirit that unifies the members of a congregation into the body of Christ.  This gathering and renewing does not depend on whether we are worthy to receive Communion or not.  And it also does not depend on the worthiness of the pastor giving it.  Instead, this gathering and renewing is all about what God is doing because of the willing obedience of His own dear Son.   What should we do with this gift?  A great idea would be to share it with others. Now that is a God-pleasing mission, if I've ever heard of one.

Pastor Gary

February Posts

The Importance of Prayer

As I spent some personal devotional time this morning I ran across an interesting quote from Martin Luther.  Please allow me to paraphrase it.  Luther’s comment was that prayer should be the first business in the morning and the last at night.  I must admit that just a few years ago I would have blown off this idea.  Prayer was the last thing on my mind when I woke and certainly, as my eyes grew weary, the last thing on my mind before going to sleep.  It took a dear friend to change that routine.  One day as we were meeting, he reached into his bag and pulled out a devotional book that I’ve read most mornings since.  God has used this particular devotional book to instruct me and guide me in His Word and in prayer. Now, I could boastfully say that I’ve spent time with God every morning, but in truth is it just most mornings.  And truth be told, I’m still working on the "last business at night” that Luther recommends.  Gentlemen, allow me to speak to you as a friend:  As we lead God’s people together entering a New Year, please join me in prayer each morning and resolve along with me to pray each night before turning out the lights.  What God has in store for us, none of us knows, but what we do know is that He wants us to pray that His will would be done.  So at His command, let’s pray.


Pastor Gary

February 2014 Posts.

Who Can Know the Mind of God?

Yesterday, I had the brief opportunity to "poke my nose” into the Fifth and Six Grade Confirmation classroom.  As I did, my wife greeted me with these words, "Here’s someone who knows the answer to our question today?”  Nothing like being put on the spot when the intent was just to see how everything was going in the classroom.  Closing the door behind me, I asked, "Ok, what is it that I’m supposed to be able to answer?”  Here was the question, and as I pose it, I’d like you to think about how you might answer:  "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” 

This sure seems to be the case, doesn’t it?  I have a 21-year old cousin who is battling cancer.  What would you tell her to bring comfort to her?  What would you tell my uncle who is so grief stricken that he’s making himself sick in the process?  What do you tell the families whose homes were wiped away in the Colorado flood waters?  What do you tell families who lost loved ones in the horrible Washington, D.C. shooting?  And the list goes on and on.  The times we live in are filled with many things that simply do not make sense, at least by human standards.

There is comfort in simply saying to someone that no one knows the mind of God.  This, you see, is a very Biblical answer.  God speaks these very words to Isaiah in chapter 55 verse 8.  Read them now: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.”  We do not, [I think Luther uses even stronger words here when he writes about this issue] probe into the matters God reserves for Himself.

What we do know about God, and what we can say about Him, is that we have His solemn promise to never leave us or forsake us (Dt. 31:6; Joshua 1:5; Heb. 13:5).  Through those times of not knowing, those times of fear, those times of doubt, we have His strong Word of comfort and hope.  Indeed, He will never leave us or forsake us.  Let us all put our confidence in these words as we visit with others who are struggling to make sense of what is happening to them or to a loved one.  Because of God, we boldly go through life although we do not know the future.  With the arms of faith, we grasp God’s words of promise.

January 2014 Posts.

God has not Forgotten His Promise

I recently read the words above in a book called "The Drama of Scripture” by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen.  These words caused me to stop and reflect.  How many times haven’t God’s Word of promise been lost among the mounds of frustration and disappointments of life?  Personally, there are times when it seems that real life intrudes.  Pardon the football analogy, but like a defensive back, real life often crowds us out of bounds.  God, on the other hand, wants to pick us up, dust us off, and put us back in the game.  He supplies His Word and Sacraments to do that.  Working through these Means, the Holy Spirit reminds us of whose we really are—bringing to mind that God has never forgotten a promise.  We have.  Our friends have.  God has not.  So, then when times get tough—and you know they will—God remains faithful. His promise to never leave us or to forsake us remains as true today as the day it was spoken for the very first time.    And this promise is just one among many.  God bless us all in His service.

Pastor Gary