Tuesday, December 28, 2010

STOP THE NOISE!

“Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight a path for Him!” (Mark 1:3) So shouted John the Baptist in the wilderness. There is so much noise in our world, especially in the days that lead up to Christmas: music in stores, children crying, customers' loud voices, ambulance sirens and traffic congestion. If you really want to be heard in the midst of all the noise, there are times when you almost have to shout.

During a typical lunch hour at the University of California - Berkeley, spokesmen for a dozen different causes can be found on the plaza, trying to shout louder than the others. One day a lone figure sat down defiantly in the middle of the crowd and held up a sign which said, "SILENT PROTEST." Someone tapped him on the shoulder and asked, "What are you protesting?" The defiant figure held up another sign which said, "NOISE."

That reminds me of the Salvation Army woman a few years back who was informed by a policeman that a local ordinance prevented her from ringing her bell for contributions. But that ordinance could not stop this inventive bellringer. The next day she did a better business than ever as she waved one sign and then another in the air. The signs said, "DING" and "DONG."

John the Baptizer had to contend with all the noise of his day that drowned his message to be prepared for the coming Messiah. There has always been noise when the God's spokesmen try to speak His message. Perhaps that is one of the reasons John shouted in the wilderness - simply to be heard.

In Psalm 46:10 God says, “Be still and know that I am God.” There is a time for shouting and a time for being still. During the coming year of 2011, may you know the difference, especially in those times you need to wait on the Lord to hear His still, small voice of divine guidance and love.

Do you hear the Lord speaking to you?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NEW LIFE IN CHRIST

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given." (Isaiah 9:6) What is it that makes us truly human? Besides our eternal soul, what has God given people that He has not given animals? The ability to reason? To laugh? To worship the Creator? To analyze one's life? To give gifts of gratitude?

This time of year is centered on gifts, those we give to each other and God's supreme gift in Jesus. I recall my father giving new plowshares to my uncle for using his tractor and plow. I've witnessed forgiveness given with tears and received gifts of thanks for things long ago forgotten. 

A priceless gift is a second chance, the opportunity for a new life. This Sunday I will baptize my grand daughter and witness God's merciful gifts to her of faith and forgiveness. Abandoned in a distant land and her cries bringing rescue by a stranger, Anaya has been given a new chance in life because of God's love. God has an eternal plan for this little girl, and it includes the baptismal gifts of faith and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. 

Another baby's cries were once heard in a Bethlehem stable, and they signalled the presence of the Solution to the world's true problem. His cries frightened a king and frustrated mankind's greatest enemy. Despite the message of angels, His mother and foster father did not fully understood what He would mean to this world of sin and separation.

Our life is a gift from God; what we do with life is our gift to Him. As you count your blessings this Christmas, remember the gifts of being born where you are, into the family you are, with the gifts you have, and at this time in history. We, among all people, are assuredly most blessed. What now will we do with the life He has given us?

This Christmas, consider who you are, as well as Whose you are.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

MESSIAH TIME

This time of year is Messiah time. The night before last I enjoyed singing the "Messiah" with the Casa Grande community chorus, again doing the opening tenor solo, "Comfort Ye." As I did, I thought about the circumstances under which George Friedrich Handel wrote his master work, because I'd read about them that afternoon.

Historians tell us Handel been for a long walk on a Sunday afternoon in late August, 1741, and the great maestro was really depressed. Although he'd had a successful career writing operas, things were not going well. At age 41 he'd had a serious stroke and though he had recovered, people stopped buying his compositions.

That afternoon as he returned home from his walk he found a manuscript on his doorstep, left by a friend, Charles Jennens. It was offered as a possible libretto (musical story) about Jesus Christ, His birth, ministry, cruficixion and resurrection, and all started with wonderful prophetic passages from Isaiah. When Handel read Isaiah 40: 1-2, “Comfort ye my people,” he later said the clouds of gloom began to lift and he began that day to compose an Oratorio on the entire life of Christ. Incredibly, in just over three weeks, it was finished. The entire "Messiah" - 250 pages of original musical composition - was written in just three weeks! Truly amazing! It's his gift to the ages.

These days are not just time for Handel's musical “Messiah," but especially for Jesus the living Messiah. Without Him, there is no true winter festival. Hannukah is about the rededication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and Kwanzaa was invented in the mid-1960's by an activist to honor African American heritage. Only Christmas gives us joy in the gift of God's Son. Only Christmas is about forgiveness, comfort and peace on earth.

We modern people need God's comfort for unsettling days. We need God's peace to lift us from the doldrums of winter storms, human weakness and bad news. We need God's power to change for the better. We need Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, who gave His earthly life that we might have eternal life. In other words, we really do need the Messiah.

George Friedrich Handel, like most of the great musicians during the golden age of music, were dedicated Christians. Martin Luther once said that next to the Gospel, music is God's greatest gift to humanity. On a plaque I saw once were these words: "BACH gave us God's Word, MOZART gave us God's laughter, BEETHOVEN gave us God's fire, GOD gave us music that we could pray without words." I guess I'd add, "HANDEL gave us God's Hope."

May each of us have God's hope and joy this Christmas!

Monday, December 6, 2010

LIFE ON ANOTHER PLANET

This December 7 marks sixty-nine years since the Pearl Harbor invasion, and I was tempted to write once again about the sacrifices of those brave men and women attacked on a Sunday morning. But something caught my attention this past week - a story about the discovery that an additional element, arsenic, that can be part of the formula for human life. This bit of info produced many media stories, including several which speculated about the potential of life on other planets.

I happen to believe there has been life on other planets, and so do you. Forty-one years ago, on Sunday July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon at 3:17 EST. The moon is a satellite of earth, and is large enough to be considered a minor planet in our solar system. That day and for the next three and a half years, a total of twelve astronauts walked on the moon. During those years we can say without doubt there was intelligent life in another location of our solar system.

The Apollo Eleven moon landing has been celebrated and examined in great detail. But one aspect usually overlooked is that Buzz Aldrin had Holy Communion when he was on the moon. Aldrin's church had given him a small packet containing consecrated bread and wine, and during the radio blackout when the Eagle was out of contact with earth, he ate and drank the elements of Holy Communion 235,000 miles away from the nearest church. After he did, Aldrin read John 15:5, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me and I in Him will bring forth much fruit."

NASA kept this act secret for two decades because it was already embroiled in a legal battle with the athiest Madelyn Murray O’Hare over the Apollo Eight crew's reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. Aldrin said he prayed aloud after communion that day, giving thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the moon's Sea of Tranquility. It is interesting and heartening to realize that the first food and drink consumed on the moon were the elements of the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

Aldrin's memoirs were the center of Tom Hanks' 1998 HBO mini-series, "From the Earth to the Moon," and in it the audience was made aware of this act of Christian worship. This year I am assisting Trinity congregation here, in Casa Grande, AZ, with midweek Advent services under the theme, "The Prophets Speak." It's a Trinity custom to celebrate Holy Communion during these services. This Wednesday I intend to remember those astronauts and the intelligence, humility and faith they showed that day on another planet in our universe God created.

"He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge." (Psalm 91:4)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

GIVE THEM A HAND

This time of year finds many people helping others who need it. From Salvation Army bell ringers to needy Christmas gift organizers to food basket gatherers to used clothing sorters, all kinds of people around our great country seek to help others in all kinds of ways. Certainly the root inspiration for this kindness is our heavenly Father who gave His only Son to forgive the sins of the world. Helping others at Thanksgiving and Christmas is part of what makes our nation strong and our people good.

Americans show their goodness in many and various ways. Sara Tucholsky, a softball player for Western Oregon University, hit her first college home run in a game against Central Washington, but she nearly didn't get credit for it. As the ball sailed over the fence, Sarah rounded first base, and in her excitement, missed it! When she skidded to a stop to go back, she twisted her knee so badly, she couldn't even crawl back. By rule, unless she touched each base, she could not get credit for her home run.

Though the rules said she could not be assisted by her own teammates, Mallory Holtman, first baseman for the opposing team spoke up, "Would it be okay if WE helped her touch the bases?" After conferring, the umpires agreed. So long as her own teammates didn't help her, the opposing team could do so if they wished. So Mallory and another teammate made a "chair" with their arms, picked up Sarah, and carried her around the bases, helping her to touch each one. By the time they got her to home base, many from both teams were crying at this selfless act of compassion, and Sarah was awarded her first college home run.

When our fellow Christians stumble and fall, we need to follow the example of those ballplayers. We need to reach out, lift them up, and sometimes even carry our struggling neighbors along. Christmas is a wonderful time to "Minister [God's love] to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." (1 Peter 4:10) Whenever we help someone, we mirror the love of God for all people in Christ Jesus.

Who can you hold up, even carry, at this time of year?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

THANKS A LOT!

A shopper on "Black Friday" (the day after Thanksgiving) needed a break. She'd found many specials and could hardly carry them all. She went to the Food Court, bought herself a little bag of cookies and a cup of coffee, and sat down at one of the crowded tables to sip her coffee quietly. Across the table a man was reading a newspaper. After a moment she reached out and took a cookie. As she did, the man seated across the table reached out and took one, too. She was a bit startled, but she did not say anything. A few moments later she took another cookie. Once again the man took a cookie. She was getting a bit uneasy at him eating her cookies but did not say anything.

After another sip of coffee she took another cookie, and so did the man again! Now she was a bit upset, especially since there was only one cookie was left. The man also saw the one cookie left, and before she could say anything, he broke it in half, offered half to her, and proceeded to eat the other half himself as he walked away. She glared at him and left the table. "What a jerk!" she thought, "Some men think they're so smart!" She picked up her purse, and underneath it discovered her own cookies in their unopened bag. She'd been eating his cookies the whole time!

I like that story - it is rather like how we treat God when He provides us with so much, and we think it's all ours. How often don't we act as if we own everything, and that it's all purely because of our efforts? Perhaps we ought to memorize the words the Old Testament reading: "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land He has given you." (Deuteronomy 8:10)

It's human nature to believe that all we have is ours, and that it comes through our own efforts. Deuteronomy 8 reminds us all we have is from God, things we may work to get, but nonetheless things that come to us from God's gracious hand. Every National Day of Thanksgiving is meant to show us it is God who gives us what we have. A line in a contemporary song says, "Thanks a lot! Thanks a lot! Thanks for all I've got!" We've all got "a lot," and I hope we'll all remember where it came from.

I'll be leading Thanksgiving Eve services tomorrow ( Weds, 4 & 7 PM if you're in the area) here at Trinity Lutheran in Casa Grande, Arizona, under the worship theme, "Count Your Blessings." It will be interesting to see how full the pews will be. There are so many winter residents here and being retired they are just so busy!

May God give us grateful hearts this Thanksgiving and always!

Monday, November 15, 2010

NO MORE TEARS

A woman was making a major change in her life. She was retiring after working for the same employer for over forty years. Some of her co-workers had been with her for much of that time, and as she hugged them, she frequently said, “Sorry about the tears.”

Why do we often feel the need to apologize for weeping? It might be tears of happiness at a wedding (I cried when our son was married), tears of farewell at a funeral, (a dear friend of ours died this afternoon) or even tears of relief at hearing good news after a long wait (happened to me a time or two) - whatever the case, we often feel we must apologize for our crying.

There is a time and a place for tears, but not all agree when that is. I once mentioned to a group of pastors that I was uncomfortable with pastors “breaking down” during a sermon and several agreed with me. I was surprised, though, at how many thought pastors should let such emotions show, even during a sermon. I’ve always felt that few people are comfortable seeing a leader weep while speaking.

Our positive emotions are God-given. God grieves. In Genesis 6, God becomes sorrowful (and angry) about the sin of His people. Scriptures record Jesus weeping at least twice, at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:35) and later as He entered Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). Jesus is God in the flesh, and He often joined his friends in their tears of grief or joy. I can think of no greater example than Jesus.

One day when we get to heaven there will be no more tears - of sorrow or separation or pain, for “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 21:4) In the meantime, tears may often flow. And no apologies are needed.

Thanks, Lord, for tears that clear our eyes to see You (and others) more.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A SECURE FUTURE

(I am pleased to report that Debbie and our newest grandchild came home to Phoenix last Thursday night. Nine month old Anaya from the Congo took her place with five year old Micah and three year old Emily, also adopted by son Chuck and Debbie. At nine months old, Anaya is healthy, sleeping most of the night and smiling at everyone. If you would like a photo, tell me and I will send you one. Thank you for all your prayers. God is good!)

About thirty years ago my wife and I were driving in the hills of southern Germany when we came upon a large flock of sheep moving across a winding country road. The lone shepherd had two dogs who were helping him direct his flock from the winter lowlands to summer pasture. We pulled our rental car to the side of the road while the flock swirled around us, and watched them until all had crossed the road.

As a Christian shepherd, I was amazed at how calm the flock was around our car, and I wondered, "Do sheep fear change, or movement, or new places?" Those sheep surely looked undisturbed as they moved past our smoky, noisey little car to new places.

Like most older folks, I like the "fold," the old familiar places, and even though we live each half year in two states, we enjoy seeing old friends in both places. But it seems so much is shifting and changing in the world today. Politically and economically, we are being led into new surroundings and into a vast unknown. What new tests will come our way in the days ahead? What new and untried paths must we go down?

Jesus said of the Good Shepherd in John 10:4, "When He has brought out all His own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice." Life may cause us some dismay as we see change swirling around us. We may lie awake at night wondering what life will bring us tomorrow. In such times we need to trust that our Shepherd knows the way, and will guide us there if we will follow Him.

Our Good Shepherd knows our limits. He loves us and will not forsake us. He will not lead us down paths too dangerous or too difficult where He cannot help us. He knows the way to green pastures and cool waters. All we need do is follow Him.

Our unknown future is secure in the hands of our all-knowing God.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

BUMPS IN THE ROAD

Last week I asked you to pray for Debbie and Anaya, my daughter-in-law and her newly adopted African baby, that they could return to America safe and soon. I want to thank all of you for your prayers and good wishes. At this time Debbie and Anaya are still in the Congo, but will begin their flight home early tomorrow morning. She will travel through Ethiopia, Rome and Washington DC, planning to arrive in Phoenix late Thursday. The trip will take at least 35 hours.

Last week Debbie received Anaya's Visa from the US Consulate, but the Congo Exit Letter was delayed. That finally came late Monday, but only after someone called the authorities on her behalf strongly urging they get the letter done. Debbie attempted to get on the return flight this morning (Tuesday), but was unsuccessful. So, God willing, tomorrow morning the journey home will begin.

These last four weeks have been difficult with so many delays. When I asked our son Chuck yesterday if Debbie was upset, he said they consider the delays as bumps in the road, and that God is with them on the road. Carol and I know there is purpose behind it all, and perhaps one day we'll know what it is. Bumps are sure to happen on any road of life. We need to expect them and not fear or become too angry over them.

I've learned much about prayer in all this. About a year ago, I began praying daily for three specific causes, two of which God has answered in wonderful ways. The third, a successful adoption trip, is almost answered. I've learned that when we pray for God to do certain things for us, He does not ignore us or make light of our fears, even though it may seem that way. I've learned again that God's answers are best. I've also learned that taking requests to God on a daily basis can change your life.

When St. Paul urged us in 1 Corinthians 5:17 to "Pray constantly," it's because God wants to hear from us. He does answer our prayers, and gives us circumstances that can move us to pray. If you or I didn't see our need to pray every day, we'd never try it. The bumps come along on the road of life can force us to fold our hands.

Grandparents often wonder what their purpose might be later in life when their family seems to need them less. "Pray constantly" might be that purpose. It takes little time or effort, and no one can tell us how or what to pray for, or stop us from praying. Prayer is a calming privilege and strengthens our faith. You don't need to be a grandparent to "Pray constantly," but if you are, try it and see its blessings.

Remember, those are bumps on the road, not mountains.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

PRAYER WORKS!

My daughter-in-law Debbie, whose birthday is tomorrow, has been in the Democratic Republic of Congo two and a half weeks, attempting to bring back their newly adopted infant daughter Anaya. She left Oct. 7 and was to return Oct. 30, but now a government passport mistake could force a delay. I would like to ask that all who receive this WEEKLY MESSAGE pray for her. You can use this prayer if you wish: "Dear Lord, please help Debbie and baby Anaya come to America as soon as possible. Keep them safe and healthy. Your will be done, Lord Jesus, Amen."

I will give an update next week. Three plus weeks is a long time to wait in this chaotic African nation. Many of the adoptive parents with her have been complaining, but Debbie has decided to use this time to observe and write about the Congolese way of life, so she one day will be able to describe to Anaya a little of what her homeland was like. Public photos there are illegal, so she can use only words to describe what she sees.

Due to ongoing war, there are over 5 million orphans in the Congo. There is great poverty, but still a spirit of joy and hope among the Congolese that's especially evident in their Christian worship. Accompanied by drums, a plastic whistle and a chorus, the people sing to God with their whole hearts. Despite the squalor and lack of necessities, they are kind towards each other, especially the children, and have learned to face each day with determination.

The oppressive heat and lack of creature comforts are overlooked. As they have for centuries, people walk everywhere and carry most things in baskets on their heads. Those who run the orphanages must depend on the goodness of fellow citizens to donate food, beds and clothing. They must face the daily challenges of having a hundred or more children to feed without any government support, and they make this their life's work. Time is much slower there. Something that would take a half hour in the states may take all day in the Congo.

Debbie met a government official in worship Sunday who promised to help her get the papers she needs to return home on time. We can only hope and pray he can and will do what he said. But however long it takes, Debbie will help Anaya and the rest of us know that God answers prayer.

If today you experience struggle or delay, pray rather than complain. Pray for yourself and for those around you. Trust and believe that God is watching over you. May God continue to bless us with patience towards all those annoying little things that may have an eternal purpose for us and those we love.

"Dear Lord, help Debbie and Anaya return home quickly, amen!"

Monday, October 18, 2010

WITH US IN THE PIT

Last week most of the entire civilized world watched the rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean miners. It was emotionally moving to see each of them come to the surface and immediately show their relief and gratitude. Most of the world, however, missed the fact that each miner emerged wearing a shirt that said, "Thank you Lord" on the front, and on the back, "To Him be the glory and honor." On one sleeve of each shirt was the name "Jesus." 

It's obvious all these miners were grateful to God for saving them. One of them told a reporter, "God and the devil were fighting over me and God won."  Another said, "I always knew they would get me out. I always had faith in the professionals here in Chile and in the Great Creator." Another miner, when he came to the surface, knelt down to pray and pointed to heaven, giving thanks to God. The youngest miner, 19-year-old Jimmy Sanchez, had written a letter that was sent up to the surface prior to their rescue that said, "There are actually 34 of us, because God has never left us down here."

It doesn't matter that the press didn't report this, but we can be sure that faith in Christ surely was the center of life for those 33 men as they endured the 68 days of being trapped a half mile underground. Being no fan of the deep underground, I can hardly imagine how they would have gotten through those days without trusting in Christ.

There are many times in life when we are faced with forces beyond our control. Waiting for government to act, waiting for help to come, or struggling to find a solution that eludes us, we must rely on help from the One who has the whole world in His hands. Sometimes help comes quickly, but however long it takes, we must wait and trust in God's best solution and in His best time.

Psalm 31:15 says, "My times are in Your Hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me." We truly give thanks when people are rescued from disaster by brave and resourceful people such as we saw in Chile. May we, like Jimmy Sanchez, also realize there is another One with us when we feel trapped, One who will never leave us nor forsake us, One who will bring us to the surface and to the Light.

To Him be the glory and honor!

Monday, October 11, 2010

SPIRITUAL RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS

My ignorance of biology is almost embarrassing, so I've begun reading some good books on the subject. In one such volume, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, by Philip Yancey and Dr. Paul Brand, the authors not only explain the human body, they compare it to the Body of Christ in fascinating ways.

In Chapter 22, Dr. Brand describes the problem of rheumatoid arthritis. While the cause of this disease is unknown, we recognize it by what it does. Rheumatoid arthritis produces a hypersensitivity within the cells of joints. A joint becomes flooded with enzymes that normally occur when bacteria or abnormal cells are present and call into action the body's defensive mechanisms. But in this disease, there is no apparent "enemy" present, only the body's perception of one.

In rheumatoid arthritis, a healthy joint turns cannibalistic, destroying parts of itself. Yet when the joint is opened for examination, no "enemies" are found, only the body's defensive cells attacking healthy cartilage and ligaments. It's like a civil war has broken out in there and the defensive mechanism itself has become the disease.

The authors liken this pathology to some activities in the Christian Church. Members become hypersensitive, taking offense at real or imagined criticism, and their dignity or position becomes more important than the harmony of the group. An individual or a small group may grab a minor doctrinal or practical issue and make agreement on it the essential factor for unity - or else!

The lesson is obvious, but needs to be recognized. Is there friction and tension in your church or church body? Could it have resulted from righteous indignation against perceived wrongs? Could "righteous" anger be causing more damage than the "wrongs" which anger some people?

We may think Christians should be less susceptible to friction in the body because we believe in Jesus and His eternal ideals and goals. However, sin is always present to cause irritation, create friction, and make resulting tensions cause damage. Some folks may want to "do it right" so completely that all the good accomplishments get damaged by anger and harsh words.

Faith in Jesus Christ does not give us immunity to conflict. There's no innoculation against sin, no matter who we are. But there is One who gives us His eternal aid. Jesus brings us the spiritual medicines of forgiveness and reconciliation. He brings us peace and harmony on earth, and promises a life of no conflict in heaven.

The authors write, "The human body goes to incredible lengths to prevent friction, and the Body of Christ should be as careful to lubricate itself against possible conflicts as we move in common activity." (p. 182) I highly recommend this book for both its biological and spiritual insight.

Are you contributing to tension around you or working to overcome it?

Monday, October 4, 2010

MAJORING IN MINORS

Ever wonder why maps of the whole world have funny shaped edges, or why they make some countries bigger than they are on a Globe? Cartographers have found there's no perfect way to draw a round surface on a flat map, so they distort the shape of certain areas in the north and south, for example, making Greenland look bigger than Australia.

Christians can have problems with distortions as well. When we try to understand spiritual truths within the limitations of a sinful world, we can end up exaggerating the minors while minimizing the majors. Not all spiritual teachings have equal importance. The liturgy of worship, for example, is not as important as the doctrine of Jesus Christ. How we pray is not as important as to Whom we pray.

Distortion can also happen in what we consider to be sin. When confronted with what science says about certain actions, we may be tempted to believe some wrongs are no longer wrong. What we've always believed to be right can be placed in doubt by popular notions disclaiming what is right.

The New Testament addresses distortions that come when the teachings of popular teachers become more important than the teachings of Jesus Christ. Sound biblical teaching does not distort the basics found in the Bible, nor does it divide the church. Rather, it unites believers and builds up the body. "New" teachings can often be old sins in a new disguise.

Attempts to explain God and His will fully and completely are usually inadequate. Those who think they can explain all the mysteries of God usually end up distorting our priorities, confusing our thinking, and flattening our understanding of what it means to be a child of God. What's really important is what we believe about Jesus Christ.

St. Paul may have had this in when he wrote 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power."

Relying on Jesus Christ can keep us from distorting the truth.

Monday, September 27, 2010

WE WILL HAVE ENOUGH

Maybe you've seen the photo - an old woman sitting in an alley near an overturned garbage can. She is eating some food she'd found in the garbage - and she is smiling. Most of us won't eat food we accidentally drop on the floor, but this woman didn't care who touched it last. She was hungry and had found food. We hear daily warnings about obesity and the need to eat right, and yet this woman seems satisfied with her few mouthfuls of someone else's food.

There is much talk now about our struggling economy and the cost of living going steadily higher. Many people are anxious about their livelihood, and job notices, even the most humble, are leading hundreds of people to apply. Economists cite statistics on foreclosures and bankruptcies, and, of course, Washington politicians promise to fix it all for us. 

Is it possible, in the midst of gloomy times, to heed the words of our Lord in Matthew 6:25, "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on"? Can we really have that kind of faith? Our Lord is not telling us we don't need to work, nor are we to be unconcerned with what we eat or wear. He was warning against letting money or possessions rule us instead of trusting Him for our needs.

When Jesus said, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33), He is urging us to recognize that no matter how much effort we expend to make a better life for ourselves and our families, true contentment comes from knowing it is the LORD who provides for our needs. And since God is our Heavenly Father who truly does love us, we will have enough!

"Lord, I believe - help my unbelief!"  (Mark 9:24)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

GIVING IT ALL AWAY

What does a person do when he's made a billion dollars and owns part of the American dream? What does he do next? In one man's story, he gives it all away, because he found all his wealth and achievments didn't matter as much as his relationship with God.

In 1985, Tom Monaghan had everything a man could want or imagine. He was wildly rich, owning Domino's Pizza, an enormous collection of classic cars, several Frank Lloyd Wright houses, an entire island in the Great Lakes, boats, planes, several smaller companies, and even the Detroit Tigers baseball team.

But something changed Tom Monaghan's heart and moved him to sell all he had and give his money away. Today he is a devout Christian who heads a religious foundation that distributes his former wealth to many human needs. He has built a half dozen churches in Central America, a Christian University, and supports conservative Christian causes however he can.

When he was four and his father died, Tom began life an orphanage, foster homes and even a juvenile detention center. He finished last in his High School class, and served in the Marines and barely made it through college. In 1960 he borrowed money from his brother to buy a pizza place in Ypsilanti, Mich. This single store ultimately grew into Domino's Pizza and propelled Tom to power, possessions and prestige. But with all his successes and influence, Monaghan became a prideful and demanding man. After reading C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, he decided to give up his worldly goods and rededicate himself to God.

Repentence is a powerful force that changes people. Few people will ever achieve the worldly success of Tom Monaghan, but all of us can be eternally blessed by repentence. Jesus died for the sins of all, young and old, rich or poor, and the Holy Spirit can re-make us into new people.

Praise God that He loves us enough to change us for the better!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

CHOOSING WHAT'S BEST

During the past week, tragic events may have given us cause to look at our own life. The anniversary of 9-11-01, as well as the nearly two hundred homes destroyed by fires in Colorado and California should make us consider what we value. Houses, skyscrapers and even nations can be rebuilt, but not lost human lives. 

In southern Germany near Heilbronn is the city of Weinsberg whose main attraction is the ruins of a medieval castle, named "Weibertreu." How this ancient castle got its name is a true story of courage, love and understanding of what is important.

In AD 1140 the Weinsberg Castle was besieged by the army of King Welf, and the Staufers who possessed the castle eventually had to surrender. According to recorded history, the king planned to kill all the Staufer men, but he granted the women and children of the castle free departure, and they were allowed to take with them whatever they could carry on their backs. Although the castle contained great riches, when the castle gate opened, the conquering army saw the women of Weinsberg carrying, not jewels and gold on their backs, but their men. 

So moved was the King by the sight of these women carrying husbands, brothers and neighbors, that he adhered to his word and let them pass. These women became known as "treue Weiber" ("loyal wives"), and the castle ruins of Weibertreu are still today a reminder of those who value human life above riches.

If a wild fire was coming and you had only a short time to leave your home, what would you take with you? What would pack in your car? Hundreds of people recently had to make such decisions. In these shakey times of terrorism, unemployment, shakey economy and political chaos, each of us ought to take stock of what is important in our life, and give thanks for it. 

Thanks be to God that we have the unshakeable things of God that cannot be taken from us - His grace, faith and forgiveness. Thanks be to Jesus Christ that He carries us on His back past our enemies and into a life of peace and joy with Him. 

"O Give Thanks to the Lord for He is good; His love endures forever." (Psalm 107:1)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

HIS ANSWERS ARE BEST

How does prayer work? Does God answer our specific prayers? What did Christ really mean when He said, "All things, whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive"? (Matthew 21:22)

James Gilmour, a missionary to Mongolia, was once asked to treat some wounded soldiers. Although he was not a doctor, he did have some knowledge of first aid, so he felt he could not refuse the request. He dressed the wounds of two of the men, but a third had a badly broken thigh bone. The missionary had no idea what to do for such an injury. Kneeling beside the man, he prayed, asking the Lord for help. He didn't know how God would answer his prayers, but he was confident that God would supply his need.

He couldn't find any books on physiology in the primitive hospital there, and no doctor was near. To complicate matters, a crowd of beggars came to him asking for money. He was deeply concerned about his patient, yet his heart went out to those ragged people.  Hurriedly he gave them a small gift, plus a few kind words of spiritual encouragement. 

A moment later he stared in amazement at one weary beggar who had remained behind. The half-starved fellow was little more than a living skeleton. Gilmore suddenly realized that the Lord had brought him a walking anatomy lesson! He asked the man if he might examine him. After carefully tracing the femur bone with his fingers to learn how to treat the soldier's broken leg, he returned to the patient and was able to set the fracture correctly. Years afterward, Gilmour often related how God had provided him with a strange yet sufficient response to his earnest prayer.

When we raise our petitions to the Lord, we, too, can be certain that He will help us -- even though the answer may come in a way we might least expect. Not all prayer will be answered the way we think it should be; and in fact, most will not. But God does hear all our prayers and answers them in His best way. Jesus told His disciples, and also us: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7)

God's answers are always best!

Monday, August 30, 2010

THINGS UNSHAKEABLE

Did you know that the Lutheran Church teaches separation between Church and State? Our Doctrinal statements teach that while the power of the Church and State are both ordained by God, they differ from each other radically. Here are a few of those differences:

THE STATE...
- has authority over all its citizens
- rules its citizens by civil laws
- preserves external peace in the community
- is interested in the earthly affairs of its citizens

THE CHURCH...
- has authority only over its members
- rules its members by the Word of God
- offers God's blessings and internal peace
- is interested in the salvation of its members

There is to be no Church-State or State-Church. This is true of ANY religion or church that may seek to rule our nation. No religious body has any right to rule American people, or to enact or enforce its own laws. Let me repeat: No religion has the right to force its laws on the citizens of America.

The fact that governments are ordained by God does not mean the State must govern according to the tenants of any religion or its book. Any religious book is meant to have authority only in that religion, and not in American civil government. It is an open fact that at least one world religion is seeking to rule our nation, and all nations, by the rules of its book. We must never let that happen here in America.

Our nation was founded on Christian principles, and we have a right to retain them, for they are the core of what makes America great. We abandon our foundations at our own peril. God has given us this great nation, and we will never be defeated by an outside enemy. Any defeat will happen because we have caved in to the forces of evil within our borders.

Those forces are knocking at our doors today, so what should we do? We should pray constantly that God will give us fearless and loyal leaders who will stand for what is right, not just what is popular. We should support those candidates and policies that will keep our nation sovereign and safe. We must ever be vigilent to keep the forces of evil from undermining our nation.

Our nation has been shaken to its economic and social core, but we must remain unshakeable. Hebrews 13 tells of a time when our present world will be shaken, so that the unshakeable things of God in Christ may remain. May we all be ready, by faith and prayer to Christ, for such a time.

"Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful." (Hebrews 13:28)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE...

In this time of economic struggles, it's tempting to place money on a higher pedestal than it deserves. True, we need it, but of itself, money doesn't satisfy. There is a lot more to a good life than possessions. I just finished a book about a beautiful, wealthy woman who killed herself because she was abused as a child. Her money and financially successful life meant nothing compared to the pain she carried with her. It was a tragic way to end a sad life.

It reminds me of another story, a much better one. A small boy admired a colorful old vase his mother had. She told him it had come from her Great grandmother, so it was one of her dearest treasures. He knew it was special, so he wanted to hold it and "feel" the colors. It was high up, just out of his reach, but he tried to get it down anyway. He didn't realize his little hands couldn't hold it, and it crashed to the floor. And the small boy began to cry.

His crying started with sobs and turned to loud wails, as his mother came rushing into the room. She stopped when she saw him sitting on the floor, broken shards all around. She knew immediately what he had done, and he cried even louder when he saw her looking at him.  "I b'oke .... your vase," he sobbed and bent over, hiding his tear-filled face.

But rather than anger or a lecture, his mother gave the small boy a precious gift. With a look of relief, she said, "Oh thank heavens - I thought you were hurt!"  And she got down on the floor, held him close, and began to sing, "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey. You'll never know, Dear, how much I love you..."  The small boy grew up, but his mother's song is a gift he still carries in his heart.

I love that story. It didn't happen to me, but it could have, because that was one my mother's favorite songs. She gave all five of us kids gifts of love that are with us still. If you are in a time of hardship, please remember that our real treasures of life can't be put in the bank, only carried in our hearts. 

A mother's love is much like Jesus. No matter how old we are, we still break our vases and break out in tears. And Jesus still gets down on the floor with us amid our broken lives and dreams and loves us. Jesus doesn't always bail us out of our troubles. Rather, He stays with us through them, and gives us courage to see the more important dreams and to live the truly meaningful life on faith and grace. And He helps avoid those troubles the next time.

"...Please don't take my sunshine away."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

LEFT TO TELL

Why should we forgive? What's the point of forgiveness? We understand our need for forgiveness from God. but did God HAVE to forgive us? If so, there where is His choice in the matter? If not, then why did He require us to forgive, for He said, "If you do not forgive your brother his sins, neither will God forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:24-25)?

In her book, LEFT TO TELL, Immaculee Ilibagiza survived the 1994 Rwanda genocide by hiding 90 days in a 4 x 6 bathroom with 7 other women. Immaculee's "sin" was that she was a Tutsi, one of Rwanda's educated minority, hunted by the majority Hutu people in the 1994 Rwandan rebellion. Immaculee's parents and two brothers are among the nearly one million killed in 100 days during a savage and brutal war of extermination. Amazingly, her benefactor was a Hutu pastor who hid the women in his own tiny bathroom, whose own adult children did not know they were there.

A Christian, Immaculee survived by prayer and faith. When she emerged from her tiny cell, she had lost 50 lbs, weighing only 65 lbs. A kindly UN officer gave her the chance to face those Hutu neighbors who killed her family, and Immaculee forgave them. The officer was livid, angry she did not curse them or at least spit on them. She said no, she forgave them because she did not want them to hinder her from living the rest of her life.

Commentator Francis Louise writes of LEFT TO TELL, "It is Immaculee's trust in her Lord and Savior that gives her the ability to forgive and move forward in life. Actually, it is not her faith that allows her to forgive; it is God who gave her the ability to forgive. Her seeking Him by constant praying allowed her to see Him work in her life."

Immaculee is a sinful human as we all are. The beauty of the Christian faith is that the Holy Spirit can triumph in us over our sins and weaknesses.

Could we be as forgiving as Immaculee? We can be grateful for her example and encouraged to seek God in prayer, and joyfully look for His good in our future. God will bring us through our troubles. He will bring us joy once again. True, there may be sorrow and pain, but God will heal us and give us a hope and a future in Christ.

Forgiveness releases us from the pain of the past. Forgiveness is both for others and for ourselves. God has forgiven us for our benefit. When we forgive others, it is for them, but especially for us. God's gifts go to both sides, for both of us need His blessings.

Read LEFT TO TELL. You will find it strengthens your own faith.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

MAKING LIFE ADJUSTMENTS

Someone has said, "The only thing we can be sure of in life is that things will change."  Of course, I believe there are many other more important things a person can be sure of (i.e. We're sinners, God loves us, Jesus is Lord), but as paradoxical as it may sound, change is a constant. And with change must come life adjustment. 

I experienced two such changes this week, and though both certainly are not important, both required some adjustment. Yesterday I awoke feeling great and by 10 AM I felt horrible. Now I don't get ill often, but this one required some major adjustment. It literally knocked me down, causing me to sleep most of the day, having chills and being so weak I could barely walk. After a night of misery (also for Carol) I went to the doctor this morning, got some meds, and they are working - praise God! The adjustments were to my daily life, and taking new medicine, if I'm going to survive this illness.

The second change may make you chuckle. In retirement I enjoy horseshoes. I even put up a set of pits in the back yard and practice with them often. However, last winter my right shoulder started giving me trouble, probably from an old High School injury, and this caused me to stop pitching due to increase of pain. Again my doctor came to my rescue, and after an MRI and rehab, there is far less pain now. 

But if I am to continue painless horseshoe pitching, now I must use the lightest regulation set reserved for teens, women and injured old guys. Today my set of GXL 1.8 pound horseshoes arrived - baby blue, no less - and throwing them will require a lot of adjustment. After all, the old ones were 2.5 pounds! But my shoulder won't hurt, if I make the adjustment.

Christian repentance is making important life adjustments. I used to teach my Confirmation students, "Repentance is realizing what your doing is wrong, asking God to forgive you and start doing what is right." And if they did, the Holy Spirit would give them strength to do it! 

In Matthew 3:8, John the Baptizer told the Pharisees, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance." By this he meant make the life adjustments you need to make so you will avoid sinning. I need to do that often every day, and so do all of us. None of us is without sin nor the need for life adjustment. May God the Holy Spirit give you strength to see what's wrong in your life, ask for forgiveness and then do what needs to be done right.

I need a nap - this writing has worn me out. Maybe tomorrow I'll try out my new horseshoes.

Monday, August 2, 2010

DRIVING THE AUTOBAHN

2017 will be the 500th anniversary of Luther's posting of his 95 Theses, statements he hoped would lead the church to be more faithful to the Bible. In Wittenberg they are planting 500 mature trees to commemorate the event. City officials are asking tourists to return home and plant trees there also. Luther once said if he knew the world would end tomorrow, he would still plant a tree today.

No trip to Germany is complete without a drive on the autobahn, 18 inches of smooth concrete and only a rare speed limit sign. Autobahns make for rapid and efficient travel and racing hearts. As I became accustomed to driving our rented VW on the A-4, I wanted to go faster. I easily went around a truck at 100 kph (63 mph) and moved to the center lane and up to 120 kph (80 mph). I like that speed on the Interstate back home, so why not here?

A car came up behind me rather fast, so I increased to 140 kph (90 mph). What a great drive! After calculating that 160 kph would be only 100 mph, I bumped it up again. I remembered as a youth I'd always wanted to go 120 mph, so I edged the VW up to 180 kph. Cool....

But whoa! What would happen if we'd have blown a tire? A note on the dash said “Max 210 kph” (140 mph!) and this turbo diesel with 6 gears could easily do that. Just then a BMW went around me like I was standing still! It was doing at least 150 mph, and weaving slightly. So I settled back to a relaxed 100 mph and felt safe, even smug!

All this is not unlike our tendency to experiment with sin. We try out something new here and there, and the thrill makes it exciting. But soon we need more thrill, and for others it leads to addiction. Most will settle into a "safe" mode of sin, convinced we're not as bad as others, certain we'll be safe. A few forge ahead, oblivious to all dangers.

But sin carries results, and the Bible says the Big One is death. We need forgiveness through faith in Jesus, and we also need the Spirit's help to rein us in to keep sin from destroying us. Without Christ, there's a horrific flaming end waiting out there. We must continually pray for God's mercy, ever being watchful of our weaknesses that move us away from God.

Jesus Christ came to save us from sin and from ourselves. He is our eternal life preserver, our safety net, the Holy One who slows us down saves us from destruction. "Never will will leave you, never will I forsake you," our Lord tells us (Hebrews 13:5). And we can be sure He will guide us on the right path.

Slow down! Plant a tree to honor Martin!

Monday, July 26, 2010

LUTHERLAND, THIRD EPISTLE

Living in Germany for two weeks gives you a far different perspective than one day stopovers on a tour. Tour buses are great if you want to see many things quickly and not worry about getting lost. But staying the same place for a longer time has its special blessings.

People: friends among discussion groups or hotel staff, people you'd like to know in back home. Sounds: church bells tolling quietly at night, rapid footsteps, speeding bicycles, and horse hooves on cobblestone streets. Places: picturesque caf├ęs, historic churches, and yummy ice cream parlors! Food: tasty soups, noodles and stroudels. Worship: energized Christians singing “A Mighty Fortress” with pipe organ power and Lutheran gusto!

Meeting Christians from all over the world is best. Saturday night after leading worship at St. Mary's, Luther's Church for 22 years, I spoke with a group of Hawaiians. As Americans, they joined Christians I met from 18 or more nations around the world over the past two weeks. God's people come here in all colors, sizes, languages and customs, and I can see how God could love them all. Most come here, weary and humbled at being where God did wonders through the Reformers. Saturday night held an unexpected fireworks display outside our hotel window, lignited from the Castle Church plaza and lighting up the City Church sky - fireworks made in Germany!

One of our last places to visit here was Wittenberg's Schmetterling Park, where we and family guests saw dozens of lovely, brilliant butterfiles in a jungle-like atmosphere and foliage, with caterpillars and cocoons awaiting their brief life as God's delicate creatures.

During this trip I've been reading Lee Stroebel's "The Case for Faith," where he quotes experts of all the disciplines who clearly see the hand of the Almighty Creator around us. In one chapter he quotes a scientist as saying if we cannot even understand the science of how a caterpillar changes into moth, how can we ever believe our world is the result of evolutionary chance? Stroebel, an expertly trained and bright investigative reporter, cites scientist after scientist as coming to believe an Intelligent Creator has made the universe. As my Dad would say, "Good for them!"

O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

LUTHERLAND, SECOND EPISTLE

Carol and I come to you again from Lutherstadt Wittenberg (Luther's city by the White Hills) where Martin, Katie and their reformer friends lived and worked. It's where world history was changed because people chose to stand fast to God's Word so they could live in religious freedom rather than under the rule of tyrants. Luther, Melanchthon, Bugenhagen and others discovered the Gospel of Christ buried under centuries of tradition, and decided to build their lives upon it. The road of faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus is never easy to travel.

We've had good friends visit us here a few days, and expect some family this weekend. After overcoming small problems (with sleep, prayer, mosquito lotion), life here is slower and cooler. In my first three devotionals in the small chapel, we had about sixty visitors from ten nations who have sung “A Mighty Fortess” in majestic voice. We praise God for sending us these pilgrims, whether Lutherans or not.

Last Saturday I led worship in the Castle Church and preached in the pulpit directly above Luther's grave. I hope he didn't roll over at my message. Around 80 attended, though about 50 from a Wisconsin tour group left after singing "A Mighty Forrtress" - schedule to keep I was told. Afterwards I answered questions of those remaining and it was a very memorable experience.

Last week the Lutheran Church on earth swung even further to the political right with new leadership in the LCMS. Maybe it will be good, maybe not - only the Lord knows. Did you know some early Lutherans broke off into several groups right after the Reformation began? Some felt the Holy Spirit did everything, so why read the Bible? Others believed the sacraments were only symbolical, and still others came to church bearing weapons out of fear. Luther had his hands full. So does the church of today.

When Luther got married, it was a blessing, despite losing two of their six children in childhood. God's people often forget how important the family is, and how the Gospel can be lived and taught in it. Prior to the Reformation, priests did not marry, so when the Reformers decided a married priesthood was best, they invented the “parsonage” and actually changed home life all across Europe.

Carol and I are making our home at the Luther Hotel here and today decided to do some hand washing of laundry. Luther Hotel would wash our clothing, but we calculated the cost, piece by piece and it came to about $60. Today our hotel room looks like a house where the washer broke down, but Luther would feel at home sharing the beer we've drunk while doing it. Tomorrow I start afternoon devotions again in the small chapel and Saturday will conduct worship at St. Mary's, the Town Church where Luther was pastor 22 years.

May God always give us the courage to stand fast to our biblical convictions!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

HERE IN LUTHERLAND

Carol and I have begun two weeks here in Wittenberg, Germany, conducting devotions and worship services for the English speaking tourists and residents here. We experienced again lugging too much luggage, reminding me we need to shed some of the stuff we carry around in life. We're also experiencing some authentic "Luther life," as Wittenberg is in a heat wave, and there is no air conditioning in this town! None - nowhere, except in cars. We wanted to know what life was like back then, but not this way!

It is best to travel light. A few years back I went to an estate sale taking place in a large building filled with stuff, very little of it valuable. The sale manger told me, "You should have seen it before we hauled away those other five dumpsters full!" I think they quit too soon. Those folks had amassed quite a collection and now it just sat there, unwanted.

Most of us need to lighten our loads. We need to think of God more and self less.  "He must increase, but I must decrease," said John about Jesus (John 3:30-KJV). We busy our lives filling our new barns, forgetting about what's really important. We fret about today, tomorrow and yesterday, but can do nothing about two of those days. Tomorrow hasn't yet come, and yesterday is gone forever. Only today is within our reach to deal with. When troubles of life threaten to overwhelm us, we need get the essentials of Jesus back into our lives.

We also need to use the mind God gave us. When Luther married Katie, he was paid only once a year. The first year they were married, he picked up his pay and by the time he got home half of it was gone, given it to beggars along the way. After that, Katie picked up his pay from Elector Frederick of Saxony. Katie became financial head of the house, using the talents God gave her. Luther later wrote she amazed him every day. He would have agreed with David, "Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope." (Psalm 16:9)

I'd guess even Luther would say this humid town needs air conditioning!

Monday, July 5, 2010

THREE AMERICAN PRINCIPLES

No one doubts that we face stressful times. Changes swirl about us, making us wonder what will happen next. A small but vocal group of naysayers broadcast that America is crumbling. But make no mistake, we are still a strong nation. Though distrust of elected officials is high, though our economy is shakey, though our enemies may mock us, we are still a strong nation.

News commentator Dr. Dennis Prager recently stated why he believes in America's strength. He cited three things, all of which we find stamped on our coins: 1) "E Pluribus Unum," 2) "In God We Trust" and 3) "Liberty." He calls them the American Trinity, though I prefer to call them the Three American Principles.

First Principle: "E pluribus Unum" - "Out of Many, One." America's strength has always been our ability to absorb diverse groups of people and mold them into a single nation. No matter where they come from, our immigrants eventually become Americans. We have never closed our doors to legal immigrants because we need them, and they are part of makes America strong. Out of many peoples, America makes one people.

Second Principle: "In God We Trust." Though some have tried to erase this motto, though some have denied it, most Americans still trust in God. We have not always trusted God well, but when trouble comes and the enemy attacks, Americans trust in God. And it's not just any god, but the God of the Holy Bible, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Despite what some may say, America still trusts in God.

Third Principle: "Liberty." Liberty is different from freedom. Freedom is the ability to live without others controlling us and is enjoyed by individuals. Liberty is sum total of our freedoms, and is granted to citizens by their government. A person can be free and not be a citizen, but liberty comes with citizenship. Despite attempts to make us subject to others, Americans continue to enjoy most individual basic freedoms and, as citizens, liberty. These Three Principles are what I believe Americans hold dear, and what makes America strong.

The next time you pick up a penny, look for these Three American Principles which remind you why we are still a strong nation. Though America may be shaken, it has never lost its basic strength. God has made America the strong nation it is. Our Constitution is a wonderful gift from Him through our Founding Fathers; may it always hold us together.

No foreign army, no politician, and no modern movement will be able to bring down this nation, but citizens can forfeit what we have. We can forget who we are and whose we are. Abraham Lincoln said in 1838, "If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher."

May Americans continue trusting in God, and may God never stop blessing America!

Friday, July 2, 2010

YOU'VE GOT THE JOB!

Back when telegraph was a common means of long-distance communication, a young man applied for a job as a Morse Code operator. He entered an office with a telegraph clacking away, and several men were seated, obviously applicants awaiting an interview. A sign on the receptionist's counter instructed applicants to fill out a form and wait until summoned . The young man completed his form and sat down. After a few minutes, the young man stood up and walked into the office. The other applicants perked up. Why was he so bold? He hadn't been called in! 

A few minutes later the young man emerged from the inner office escorted by the interviewer who said, "Gentlemen, thank you for coming, but the job has been filled by this man." One applicant grumbled, "No fair! He was the last to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed." The interviewer responded, "Gentlemen - all the time you've been sitting here, my telegrapher has been ticking out a simple message in Morse Code that said: `If you understand this message, come right in.' Evidently none of you understood it, but he did, so the job is his." 

Christians hear the voice of God and respond. They bear fruit that shows their faith. God the Father sent His only Son Jesus that we might be forgiven. God the Holy Spirit directs us to listen to God the Son and trust Him for salvation. The Triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - is the only true God, the One we trust for life here on earth and eternal life there in heaven. 

Trust in God, my friends, and let the Holy Spirit bear fruit in your lives. Proverbs 3:4-5 tells us, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not depend on what you think you know. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths." 

May we all trust God that much!

Monday, June 21, 2010

LET GO AND LET GOD

We do not always know the effect we have on other people, and we certainly do not know what the future holds. But we can be sure of this: God has a plan for you, and it's a good plan. His plan for your life may involve some struggle, but it is for your benefit. You will need to trust God, and let Him do His work. As the saying goes, we should "Let go and let God", meaning stop trying to do everything yourself and let God do the amazing things in your life that only He can and will do.

In 1850 John Egglen went to church in a hard snowstorm. He was the newly elected deacon in his rural England church, so he went to open the building. But it had snowed so much that only about a dozen people showed up. Even the pastor was snowed in and couldn't come. The few people there talked of going home, but John said, no, they'd come for worship and so he would lead it.

John had never led worship before, so he had them sang a hymn or two. John then read from the Bible and talked about Jesus. In the group was a fourteen year-old boy named Charles. Deacon John preached only about 10 minutes and didn't quite know how to end his message, until he finally looked right at the boy and said, "Young man, look to Jesus. Look, look, look to Jesus!" Later as an adult that boy wrote, "I did look, and a cloud on my heart lifted, the darkness rolled away, and at that moment I saw the sun."

That boy was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who became England's greatest preacher. Did Deacon John knew what he did? No. Did God know what He was doing? Yes! God had a plan, a good plan. Spurgeon's life wasn't easy, but his powerful sermons about the Lord Jesus changed the hearts of many thousands, perhaps millions of people during his lifetime. Praise God that He does such things among ordinary men.

Let go and Let God!

Monday, June 14, 2010

WELCOMING STRANGERS

Do you have a recent immigrant among your family or friends? As part-time resident of Arizona, and also son of an immigrant mother, I have strong opinions about immigration. I am also grandfather to an adopted legal baby girl born of illegal parents, and, God willing, soon will be grandfather to an adopted legal immigrant baby girl. All this has made me consider how God wants us to relate to immigrants, both legal and illegal.

It's tempting to think answers about immigration are all simple, but that's just not true. On the one hand, God's Word speaks to us about the need to welcome and care for the stranger and alien, "For yourselves were once aliens in the land." (Deuteronomy 10:19) On the other, it also says, "Everyone must submit to the governing authorities." (Romans 13:1) Do Christians have one mindset relating to legals and another for illegals? How should we deal with this conflicting problem?

Immigration will happen in our time just as it has always happened. People move so their needs are met, whether for food, fields or freedom. It all began when Adam and Eve moved from the Garden after rebelling against God. People will also move where workers are needed. Europe and the Americas today have such a low birth rates that workers must move in from other people groups. Europe is being filled by Muslim workers and America mostly by Hispanics. Do these people bring only potential problems, or are they also opportunities to show God's grace and share the Gospel?

This spring I've led two Bible studies relating to immigration, and tensions always arise quickly as we discuss issues. We are concerned about our nation. We want our homes and loved ones to be safe. We don't always see the inevitability of migration or the national need for more workers. It is too easy to let our emotions control the conversation because of our vested interests.

I have some questions for you: (1) Is immigration necessary for America because our birthrate is too low to support future economic needs? (2) Who would you rather have crossing our borders, whether legally or not: Hispanics or Muslims? (3) How should we consider those who come: as potential friends and workers or as enemies? (4) What would Jesus say if He were talking to us today about this?

Solutions will be complex and will take time. Our government leaders certainly won't have all the answers. Opinions we hold today may need to change tomorrow. Let's not have our emotions guide the whole discussion. The reality of immigration, whether legal or illegal, will be with us for a lifetime. May God's grace and mercy guide us in word and deed.

"I was a stranger, and you welcomed me." (Jesus speaks in Matthew 25:35)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

RUNNING WITH JESUS

A few days ago I was reading about Jonah, one of those guys we love to use as an example of all that is bad in us. He ran away from his responsibilities, gave excuses, felt sorry for himself, and complained. He was generally bitter about life, and his jumping overboard seems more acceptance of fate than being courageous. When Jonah finally obeyed God, he became angry that God was merciful. We don't name our children Jonah because he isn't much of an example to follow.

Yet Jonah wasn't the only person to run. There is an impressive list of important people of the Bible who were runaways. Jacob ran from Esau, Moses ran from Pharoah, David ran from Saul and Elijah ran from Jezebel. Peter and the other disciples all ran away the night Jesus was arrested. It all began when Adam and Eve ran to hide when they heard the voice of God in the Garden. We might even make a case for Luther running away from life when he joined a monastary.

We all run at some point in our life, but I'm not referring to those who run to keep in shape. Around here I see quite a few people doing that, especially on Sunday morning. I prefer walking to running. A person can think better while walking and avoid twisting an ankle in potholes and pebbles. If you're walking away from your troubles, it's a shorter distance back home. 

What are you running from right now? Are you fleeing a stale marriage or a stack of bills? Are you running in circles at your job, running from church to church, or chasing the illusion of a perfect house? Is your new car or RV purchase really just another search for happiness in something you can buy? 

Jesus is the Savior of all runaways. He understands our frustrations and feelings. He runs with us while we're searching for happiness and is there waiting with open arms when we come back home. But do we really trust Him? Do we believe Christ's words that we are forgiven? 

A recent daily devotional had a prayer: "Jesus, forgive me for my past, walk with me in my present, and keep my safe and secure in the future you have in store for me." I encourage you to pray those words often, because they will help your faith.

If you're running, maybe it's time to slow down, check the course you're on, and run with Jesus!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

REMEMBERING....

Memorial Day was a time to remember, and like many of you, I did remember with gratitude all the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who have made sacrifices for us. I also remembered some of my ancestors who are buried in a cemetery somewhere. I even took a little time to remember things of days gone by, days of youth when we didn't worry about immigration, oil spills, deployment or health insurance.

Do you remember when we played hide and seek at dusk, and ate Mom's fresh carmel rolls or warm buttered bread and jelly and didn't feel guilty? Do you recall playing with cousins, running through sprinklers, catching lightening bugs, sitting on the porch with friends and playing Cowboys and Indians? Do you remember penny candy, hopscotch, push lawn mowers, doing the chores, eating liverwurst sandwiches, or playing dodgeball? Did you lick the egg beaters when Mom made a cake, or watched a car audometer turn over at 100,000 miles, or laughed so hard at your friends' silly jokes that your stomach hurt?

I can remember when nearly everyone's Mom was at home after school, a quarter was a decent allowance, and everyone picked up a penny. I can also remember country school, gathering eggs and licking green stamps. It doesn't seem long ago that gay meant a good time, Mom made dish towels out of 50 lb. flour sacks, laundry detergent came with a free glass inside, or it was a great privilege go to a restaurant with your parents. I actually do recall the last time someone filled my car with gas, washed the windshield and checked the oil! I can still feel the fear of being sent to the principal's office, but that was nothing compared to getting a switch from my Dad!

Memorial Day this year brought back memories. Of course, we have also forgotten all the flies, sweat, cleaning barns, race riots, flat tires, and snowy TV. We have replaced our fear of atomic bombs, being drafted and polio with fear of AIDs, terrorists and school shootings. Pastors are no longer the final word on the Bible, and Congress is no longer the final word on anything. 

But we do not live in the past and we should be glad for it. God is so very good to us today, with blessings unimagined a few decades ago. Today we are blessed with living longer and more leisurely, and we take for granted cheaper and better clothing, better communication, better roads, wonderful medicines and fine homes. Despite the cynacism of academia, it's a joy to read of intellects acknowledging God. Despite some churches adopting teachings contrary to the Bible, more laymen are reading God's Word and finding eternal life in its pages. And for all this, I say:

"O Give thanks to the Lord, for He is Good; His love endures forever."

Monday, May 24, 2010

GOD'S WILL AND GRACE

There is an email of encouragement making the rounds that says, "The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you." No one seems to know who wrote this, and though this saying is not in the Bible, its intent surely is. This saying is about (a) God's will and (b) God's grace.

The will of God refers to what God wishes for His creation. Since God knows the future, He also has a plan, a Big Picture that encompasses all He wishes for the human race, and for each of us individually.  "God's will is that all people are saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." (2 Timothy 2:4) The will of God would never take you away from God, nor lead you into temptation, for the Bible says, "God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. " (1 Corinthians 10:13)

The grace of God is God's love which we do not deserve. Grace is the love He shows to sinful people, we who are unworthy of His love, yet still receive it.  "God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) That's true grace! His grace grants us eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.  "By Grace you are saved through faith." (Ephesians 2:8)

Thus, it is true:  "The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you." I found some further sentences that help make this saying more clear. Their author is also unknown:

1- "The will of God will never take you, where the grace of God cannot keep you, where the arms of God cannot support you, where the riches of God cannot supply your needs, where the power of God cannot endow you."

2- "The will of God will never take you, where the Spirit of God cannot work through you, where the wisdom of God cannot teach you, where the army of God cannot protect you, where the hands of God cannot mold you."

3- "The will of God will never take you, where the love of God cannot enfold you, where the mercies of God cannot sustain you, where the peace of God cannot calm your fears, where the authority of God cannot rule over you."

4- "The will of God will never take you, where the comfort of God cannot dry your tears, where the Word of God cannot feed you, where the miracles of God cannot be done for you, where the omnipresence of God cannot find you."

5- "Everything happens for a purpose. We may not see the wisdom of it all now, but trust and believe in the Lord that everything is for the best."


It takes great faith to believe such Godly concepts as these.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

TRUTH AND LIES

Do you always tell the truth? I've been working on my summer Bible studies, brief topics to use when I am doing Sunday Pulpit/Bible Class supply. One topic I'm working on is, "Truth vs. Lying" which is filled with ethical questions, such as, Is lying ever the right thing to do? Is telling the truth ever wrong? It seems to me lying is gaining more acceptance among young and old today. Whether it's in business, school, politics, sports or even in the courtroom, lying is becoming more prevalent, and it is weakening our society.

Martin Jay, author of "The Virtues of Mendacity," (Mendacity is the tendency to be untruthful) says there are moments when lying is okay if it serves a higher purpose. As an example, Jay refers to a situation in which a peasant is asked by the Nazis whether or not there are Jews hiding underneath his floorboards. The peasant tells the truth, and the soldiers come in and shoot them. Author Jay said it would have been morally justified in that instance to lie. Dietrich Boenhoeffer, martyered Christian apologist during WWII, might agree with that situation when such evil is involved.

Yet this seems to contradict what Jesus tells us about the Truth. In John 8:44, He says about Satan, "When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." And again Jesus tells us in John 8:32, "The truth will set you free." Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 to "Speak the truth in love." Judging from the dozens of negative biblical references about lying, as well as the equal amount of positive references about telling the truth, it is clear God favors the truth.

Psychologist Alan Hilfer says we all tell "white lies" and in doing so are not necessarily being irresponsible. Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny are examples of "benign" lies which stoke children's imaginations and make for happy memories. Our ability to tell white lies may actually start when we are young children and are coaxed to spare the feelings of others: "Tell grandma how much you love the book she sent you."

Truth is always best. Our Christian life is filled with choices, some of them between the lesser of two evils. It takes faith to tell the truth, faith that God will protect us and bring about the good He desires. When we assume the right to lie, even to protect someone else, we also assume the risk of where it will lead. In our everyday speech there is a good axiom to follow: "Tell the truth and you'll never have to remember what you said."

God forgives our sins of weakness and rebellion, including our telling lies, for whatever reason we may have. God's people always need to remember, though, that the truth does set us free, free to serve God and free to love His people in the best way.

Do we need to go cold turkey on white lies and learn to value the truth?

Rev. Bob Tasler (LCMS, Emeritus)
Read past WEEKLY MESSAGEs at my BlogSite: http://pbtsplace.blogspot.com
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Monday, May 10, 2010

TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN'

In 1964, in his third album, Bob Dylan sang, "The times they are a-changin'." While that's always been true, lately times seem to change faster. I know my body isn't cooperating like it used to. Life is no longer the way it was before, not with eyeglasses, hearing aids, daily meds, new aches/pains, and a fading memory (or have I already mentioned this?)

No one said life wouldn't be without change. Today our house is being painted, and for the first time, I'm not doing it. The hired crew is doing a great job, but an old shoulder injury keeps me from swinging a brush like I used to. These guys are caulking, scraping, priming, spraying, brushing and doing it far better and faster than I ever did. "The times they are a-changin'."

Politics, economics and legalities are changing also, and sometimes these changes make their way into the church, for better or worse. During such changing times we give thanks to God for what doesn't change. In the winter Carol and I attend an LCMS congregation in Casa Grande, AZ. It's a sleepy church, primarily due to so many winter residents, but we delight in always hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No matter what else may happen, whatever new hymns, liturgy or special music may come, the Gospel of Jesus is always heard. That's also true of our home church in Colorado.

Hebrews 13:8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." I like that verse. His church may change, and His people may change, but Jesus Christ remains what He is and always has been, our Lord who loves us. He gave His life that we might have eternal life. He remains at heaven's gate with open arms, awaiting our arrival. As Henry Lyte wrote in 1847 in his famous hymn, "O Thou who changest not, abide with me."

I do wish life wouldn't surprise us with changes I'd rather not see, and I won't rehearse them here. I hope amid the changes we see in society that God will still have a place of honor, especially in His church. I pray that God's forgiven people will not abandon the Gospel or lay aside the essentials of the Christian faith. Times may be a-changin', but we don't want that kind of change.

Praise God the truth of Jesus Christ remains changeless!

Monday, May 3, 2010

TUNING UP FOR LIFE

I like to sing. Ever since I was a child, I've enjoyed singing, whether for myself, in church, or to entertain others. I learned early that "the urge to perform does not guarantee talent," so I've practice often to do it well. I tried learning the piano for accompaniment, but discovered I didn't play well, so I taught myself to play the guitar. It was easier and far lighter to carry around than a piano.

Back in the 1970's I bought two guitars, a twelve-string Conn and six-string Yamaha. Both have served me well, and though I like the full sound of the Conn, tuning 12 strings has always been a challenge. Last week I discovered something I should have had long ago - a guitar tuner. I've always thought I could tune it myself well enough, but I should have had a tuner from the start. 

That old Conn sounds better now than ever because it's finally in tune. It's older but better - something we all like to hear! With correct tuning it's even easier to play, and all because I used a tuning standard, a musical yardstick to measure how it should sound. It works better than when I tuned it by myself.

Some things in life take awhile to learn. Instead of doing everything my own way, I have found life is better when I follow something better than my own standards. The Bible's standards of behavior are always better than one's own. Psalm 119 verse 105 speaks to this: "Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path."  I once broke a toe walking into a heavy chair one dark night. Two weeks of pain would not have been necessary if I'd have turned the lights on. 

God's Word is our Light. It tells us there's forgiveness for trying to live our own way. Jesus gives us a chance to start over. He forgives our sins and helps us do better the next time, but not if we don't reach out to Him. My tuner won't correct those guitar strings all by itself - I need to pick it up and use it. If you and I read and use the Bible, life can be better. If we ask the Lord Jesus, He'll help us do better the next time.

I think I'm going to enjoy that old Conn now more than ever!

Monday, April 26, 2010

HIKING LIFE'S TRAIL

Tomorrow we'll be back in Colorado again after six months in the Arizona desert. It's been a long winter in snow country. I am sure people there are eager for warm weather, especially after the spring snowstorm they received last weekend. They're eager for green leaves and grass after months of bare trees and brown lawns.

I'm sure many folks there are already making plans to hike mountain trails and camp out under the stars. But many, especially those who come to vacation in Colorado, have no idea what they are doing. They show up on the trailhead in sandals, shorts and T-shirts, carrying a water bottle and little else as they head up the trails. They have no map, no compass and no rain gear. If so, they are headed for trouble.

Volunteers for Alpine Rescue tell stories of tourists rescued from certain death after wandering off a trail or getting caught unprepared in a deadly summer lightening storm. Regardless of circumstances, Alpine Rescue always responds to a call for help. Not once have they lectured hapless tourists, saying, "Well, since you ignored the rules of the wilderness, you'll just have to bear the consequences."  Their mission is rescue, and so they pursue every needy hiker, no matter how undeserving.

The central message of the Bible is one of rescue. The apostle Paul says none of us "deserve" God's mercy, and none of us can save ourselves. Like a stranded hiker, all we can do is call for help. Paul says in Romans 3:10, "There is none righteous, no not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God."

The Good News is that, in spite of this, God seeks after us, and He responds to our every plea for help. God is in the rescue business. What do you do when you need spiritual rescue? To whom do you turn? Do you fear you are too bad or too unimportant for God's rescue?

In Psalm 50:15, God our Rescuer tells us,  "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me." God will always answer your prayer. He won't lecture you, and will always help you, because He is in the eternal rescue business.

Happy hiking on your trail of life!

Monday, April 19, 2010

EXERCISING OUR FREEDOM

An elderly lady had finished her shopping, and upon returning to her car, found four young men in the act of getting into the vehicle. She dropped her shopping bags, drew a pistol from her purse, and shouted, "I have a gun, and I know how to use it! Now get out of that car!" The four men got out and ran like the wind. The lady, somewhat shaken, loaded her shopping bags into the back seat and tried to insert her keys in the ignition. She tried and tried, but couldn't, and then realized why. A few minutes later, she found her own car parked four or five spaces farther down. She had been trying to get in the wrong one! She drove to the police station, and told the sergeant, who pointed to another room where four pale young men were reporting a car jacking by a crazy old woman carrying a large handgun. Fortunately, no charges were filed.

Great story, but it also tells us something about how we see the world. If we are expecting bad things, we will see bad things. If we are fearful of life, life will frighten us. Fear can cause us to see, say and do things that may be out of step with the truth. That lady was prepared for the worst, so she saw the worst. She also did not see her own actions as being wrong, as least not at first.

I've always been a supporter of Second Amendment rights. Recently Arizona became the only state in the union where a person can carry a concealed firearm without any sort of permit or registration. About the only thing this new law requires is that the gun owner tell police that (s)he is carrying a weapon if stopped. We hope this new law will help the citizens of Arizona, since we're in the midst of huge drug and illegal immigration problems.

I do think, however, that guns don't belong in church, a trend I've been hearing about recently. Perhaps a large church might believe it needs to train and arm some of its staff, but common sense must prevail. A house of God needs honor and respect and I'm not sure having firearm there is appropriate. Those who have a firearm at home should make sure the young or uninstructed can't get their hands on it. Every freedom or privilege comes with responsibility, and common sense needs to prevail.

I once preached a sermon entitled, "Just Because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should." It was based on 1 Corinthians 6:13, where St. Paul wrote, "Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial." Many people today believe that any freedom can be exercised anywhere, but no freedom is absolute. Our freedoms must be treasured and protected, but they must also be exercised for the good of all, not just one person's preference.

"Be careful that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak." (1 Cor. 8:9)

Monday, April 12, 2010

TENACIOUS PRAYER

I've been praying for a certain thing for several months now, and it hasn't happened yet. Every night I pray for it, and every day I think about it, wondering whether today will be the day when my prayer is answered. But so far it hasn't yet happened. It reminds me of a conversation I once had about prayer, specifically whether it really helps to ask God's help for specific situations. My friend thought it was best just to let God do it in His own good time, and not to bother Him with small things.

Jesus once told a story about a poor woman who went to a judge and asked him to fix a problem she had. The judge told her not to bother him, but she kept going back again and again with the same request. Finally the judge said, "I really don't care about this woman or her situation, but if I don't do something she will drive me crazy." So he did what she requested.

Jesus finished His story, saying, "And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:7-8)

There's something about Jesus comparing Himself with a cranky old man that's bothersome. But the point of His story is what's important - God eventually does answer our prayers, either yes or no. We just need to keep asking. You see, God's not a vending machine. You can't just pop in a prayer and out comes the answer. God's answers can also a way God teaches us patience and faith.

Those last words haunt me. "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" Prayer takes faith. Prayer means trusting God can do anything, even take time to answer our "little" needs.

Remember that lame man who lay by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years, hoping to get into the water in time so he could be healed? Each time the angel stirred the waters, someone else got there ahead of him, but he kept going back anyway. Finally Jesus healed him while His disciples watched. That's why it took so long - so he could be an example of faith for all the ages to see.

I know God will answer my prayer, but I hope it won't take 38 years.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

FOR THIS YOU HAVE JESUS

In Hebrews 13:5, God reminds us, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." In an evangelistic meeting in Ireland years ago, the speaker was explaining what it meant to abide in Christ and to trust Him completely. Concluding his message, he repeated several times, "It means in every circumstance you can keep on saying, 'For this I have Jesus'."

The meeting was then opened for testimonies. One young woman said, "Just a few minutes ago I was handed this telegram. I reads, 'Mother is very ill; take train home immediately.' When I saw those words, I knew that tonight's message was meant just for me. My heart looked up and said, 'For this I have Jesus'. Instantly a peace and strength flooded my soul."

Weeks later the evangelist received a letter from this woman. It read, "Thank you again for the message you gave that day. Life has become an uninterrupted Psalm of victory, for I have come to realize that no matter what life brings, 'For this I have Jesus'." (Taken from "Our Daily Bread", April 6, 2010)

That believer in Christ had found in her Savior the One who would be with her in all her trials. No matter how old or young you are, no matter how rich or poor you may be, no matter if you're a faithful Christian or a babe in the Faith, you still will have troubles in life. For all your troubles, you have Jesus.

"For this I have Jesus." Learn to speak it several times a day. We Christians don't often speak of a "mantra," for it suggests a pagan religion. But a Christian "mantra," a true phrase repeated often, can remind us who will give us strength and direction in our time of difficulty. So, no matter what trouble comes your way....

For this you have Jesus!

Rev. Bob Tasler, Emeritus Lutheran Pastor
Read past WEEKLY MESSAGEs at http://pbtsplace.blogspot.com
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