Monday, December 30, 2013


I recently heard a joke about a priest and parishioner in a Confessional Booth that wasn't all that funny. But it reminded me that people often make light of the Confessional with insinuations and humor. But whatever you may think of the Confessional, confessing one's sin is a good thing, especially at this time of year.

Confession empties the spiritual dirt and dust from life. We know it's necessary to empty the dryer filter right after using or  if we have one of those new bag-less ones, empty the vacuum container after each use. If we don't empty such appliances regularly, they will work less and less efficiently until they are finally plugged with dust and dirt. 

The same is true in our life with God. If we don't repent of our sins frequently and humbly ask God for His forgiveness, the sins of daily life will clog our life and eventually make our faith so weak it's almost useless. Many a person is a walking dirt bag, spiritually speaking of course and all because we don't see a need to get rid of our sin.

Because of this we wonder why our faith in God seems weak, or why we feel far from God, or why "going to church just isn't what it used to be." The fact is, we need to come clean with God. Confession isn't just talking to the Almighty about one sin. It is coming clean with Him, confessing to Him all our sin, emptying our life's dirt bag so that our days won't be clogged with old stuff that should long ago have been removed.

Have you let God empty your dirt bag lately? Or is there some of that ugly stuff you never let go?

Most worship services I conducted during my ministry contained confession and absolution. Being able to come clean with God makes worship more helpful, maybe even enjoyable. Most Christian church services include confession and forgiveness and they should. Jesus' purpose in coming to earth was to earn forgiveness for us, so that when we ask Him in faith, He will remove our sins. "As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our sins from us." (Psalm 103:12)

Several years ago I found a nearly-new vacuum cleaner next to the dumpster at the end of our Arizona winter season, left by someone who didn't want it but thought it too good to toss out. I took it home, cleaned its clogged pipes and found that it worked perfectly. I still use it today. It is a name brand aptly named "Dirt Devil."

A friend told me he'd be uncomfortable using an appliance filled with someone else's dirt. I told him that's what Jesus did for us. He unloaded our dirt on the cross and unclogged our pipes with His resurrection from the grave. I think that's what I told him. If not, I should have. Jesus still cleanses our dirt, and will do so until our life ends.

What dirt does Jesus need to clean from your life in the coming New Year? 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Azariah set down the last stone of the day as there was no longer enough light to see and the floor of the temple was nearly finished. He was old, exhausted and wished for an end, an end to the day, end to the project, and most of all an end to their life in Babylon. The men of his crew trudged wearily to their quarters speaking few words even though it was the first time they could openly speak to each other that day. 

"We cannot do this much longer," Mishael muttered as they walked slowly. "How much longer will the Lord God have us suffer this exile?" "Only He knows," said Azariah, "and He has not yet told us." Kenaniah, the eldest said, "The Scriptures say a Deliverer will come, so we must trust Him and wait." 

Azariah stepped inside his hut and smelled the delicious aroma of food. Sitting down on the mat next to his wife Miriam and their two boys, he lifted his eyes heavenward and said, "Let us pray. O God our Father, we thank You for this food that blesses our bodies. Come, Lord God and send Your Promised One. Save us, O Merciful God. Come, Emmanuel and end our exile here, amen."

The year was 539 BC and in less than a year God would answer the prayers of His people. Cyrus the Great had already decided to allow the Israelites to return to their own land. But Azariah's prayer would be repeated over and over, sung in prayed throughout the coming centuries until Jesus of Nazareth, the Promised One of God, would be born in Bethlehem and live to fulfill God's promises. 

Yet this song would not stop there. Early believers in Christ would continue to pray for His promised second coming, that He would again be Emmanuel, their "God With Us." In the eighth century AD, an unknown monk would compose a Latin song, “Veni Emmanuel,” in which he would plead for Christ's promised second return in glory. The song continues to this day in the Advent hymn we love, translated by Henry Sloane Coffin: 

"O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel 
That mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel."

"Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:21) 

Monday, December 16, 2013


Once again a school shooting has raised its ugly and tragic head in Colorado my home state. But this time it was more personal as I watched national media cameras zero in on Shepherd Of The Hills Lutheran Church, the congregation where I pastored eleven years. It showed hundreds, perhaps a thousand, youth being joined with anxious parents in the church parking lot, tearfully grateful to take their children home.

Television stations carried a short weekend clip on Shepherd Of The Hills as they ministered to school youth and adults. I felt proud and grateful their pastor and people opened church doors to the shaken students and parents and are seeking ways of providing spiritual counsel to questions.

The answers are elusive, but the cause is simple. Evil and sin are gaining a stronger foothold in American culture. But what can be done about this most obvious trend? Just another angry child taking out his vengeance? A young adult who legally possesses a weapon, a boy who turns a wrong corner in his journey? What can be done in A weary and callous nation which shakes its head at tragedy, then turns away to other things? Or political movements pointing fingers, poised to defend their own philosophy? What can be done?

It's one thing to know the answer and another to do something about it. Homes need to be strengthened, Jesus needs to be honored, not feared, and schools need to teach basics rather than trends. People of all ages need more real face time and less tech time. Teachers need our prayers, and students need good adult examples. Churches need to reach out and pews need to be filled in honoring God. 

We are told we live in enlightened times. Who needs God when we've got technology? Why talk about sin when choice is what matters? Don't talk about evil! Youth simply need more choices and schools just need more money. We don't need more God, just more human answers, more educated guesses and less religion. Then someday we will wonder why it happened again.

But one of the first responders this time was a church and its pastors. And the church went into action, not preaching but living its faith in the large parking lot, with open door for human needs, with hands outstretched and soothing voices to show the way as people to meet those they love. 

And all this because a Christian Church is where Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords.

"Unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11)

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Carol and I spent time decorating the house last weekend. We've added a screened-in breezeway and now have room enough for our big Christmas Tree. We had it brought down from Colorado by friends passing through town from the Black Hills on their way to winter in Arizona.

In a box of the decorations here is our African Nativity set our daughter-in-law brought back for us three years ago when she went to get their newly adopted daughter from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This ebony creche has sleek, tall figurines, so we arrange them on a small table and use a dab of Elmer's Rubberized Tack to keep the figures standing up.

As we took them out of the box, I wondered aloud where the pieces should go. Without hesitating Carol said, "Start with the baby. Put Him right in the middle in front, and the rest of the pieces will fall into place." Considering this briefly, I said, "I believe there's a message in what you just said. 'Put Jesus in the middle of things and the rest will fall into place'."

Do you believe that's true? As Christians we know in our head this should be true, but are we able to do this in our hearts on a daily basis? How difficult is it to put Christ first in our lives?

I find it very difficult. I am a guy who wants to take charge and do things my way, and this has helped me often in my ministry. I've learned this trait is a gift from God so long as I don't get proud of it. Furthermore, I am often quite direct with God as to how I would like Him to answer my prayers and even to right the wrongs in the world.

But God doesn't always follow my suggestions. He's smarter than that. it's easy to think we have most of life figured out until reality changes things, and the world quickly becomes different. Then adage is really true, "Put Jesus in the middle of things and the rest will fall into place."

Maybe that's what He meant in Matthew 6:33, "Seek first the Kingdom and His Righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."

May we all put Him in the middle of things this Christmas.