Tuesday, November 1, 2016

I love Play-doh! Sometimes when my stress or boredom reaches a high level, I wander into the Preschool room and sit down with the children and make Play-doh creations!  
   Here’s a photo of one of my fine museum–quality pieces. As you can see, like all good art work, it is open to interpretation.  Is it a hose, a worm, a snake, or the outline of an ear??  Why is Play-doh so awesome?  Because even an accomplished artist like myself often finds themselves in need of re-forming their creation!
   499 years ago Martin Luther found himself in a Church that had lost its God-given shape. In place of God’s free grace, the Church was selling forgiveness.  To combat this false practice and teaching, Luther posted 95 Theses for debate on the door of the church in Wittenberg — and the Reformation was born. 
   But the story isn’t over, the need for re-forming the Church continues. Errors continue to creep into the teaching and preaching of the Church’s pulpits.  Some, in the name of Jesus, tolerate behaviors and lifestyles that Christ Himself condemned in His Word.  Others strut around in their freedom from sin unwilling to grant that self-same forgiveness to others.  Why is the Church so prone to mangling her holy, Christ-given shape?  Because the Church of Jesus Christ is comprised of forgiven, yet still sinful, people.
   As much as we want to blame others, re-forming the Church back into the shape the Lord desires has to begin with us.  Paul declared that you are a “new creation” because you are in Christ.  By your sin — both inherited and that which you have committed — your reflection of the image of God was cracked and broken.  Through Jesus you have been forgiven and re-formed back into the beautiful and glorious image of God.  The rub is this:  the cracked and broken part of you remains until the Day of Resurrection!
   EVERY day we need to consciously and prayerfully re-form the broken one within us...but how? Remember that in your faith and baptism you were given rebirth as a child of God.  And then USE your baptism!  Luther wrote: “the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before the Lord in righteousness and purity forever.” [Luther’s Small Catechism, pg 23, © 1986 Concordia Publishing House]   Then as the redeemed and re-formed child of God you are able to effect Godly change within your family, community and Church.
   As we celebrate the 499th anniversary of the Reformation, let us continue the work of re-forming.  Let us be a people daily at work at re-forming ourselves through repentance and faith in Christ.  Let us be a people who remain vigilant within the Church, guarding our confession.  And let us EVER share this news of New Creation through Jesus  with those the sinful and broken and wounded around us.   
To God be the glory!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Training Our Children

   I admit, I largely dodged the bullet of sitting in the pew with my children for Sunday morning worship service.  That task was left up to my wife Tess who served as: Diplomat (negotiating WHO shall sit by WHO); Caterer (supplying necessary in-pew refreshments); Police Officer (enforcing the law when the work of the aforementioned diplomat did not result in peace); Noise Abatement Officer (keeping the ’roar’ of her pew-mates to a minimum); and Nurse (healer of ills and hurt feelings).  

    If you ask my children about their childhood memories of Sunday mornings, they will tell you more about their mother than anyone/anything else.  And that’s just fine!  Why? Because, in addition to all of her other Sunday morning roles, their mom served as their Trainer in how to worship the Lord.  While I lounged in the relative comfort of the Pastor’s Chair in the front of the sanctuary, she was showing them . . .
. . . how to sit and listen to the Word of God;
. . . how to join in the prayers of the congregation;
. . . how to sing the hymns (humming before they could read);
. . . how to give to the Lord as a natural expression of their faith;
. . . and that Worship on a Sunday is vitally important (even when it is hard work).

    WHY do this difficult and often frustrating work of bringing small children to worship? 
Because we believe the Lord is faithful — we believe Him when He says: 
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6 
 If we train our children early it will take hold in their lives!  This hard work is worth it . . .
Because we believe that the Word of the Lord is a means by which the Spirit of God brings grace and forgiveness and life to His people . . . of ALL ages! 
Because we believe that even infants can have faith John the Baptist leapt for joy while still in his mother’s womb! 
Because we believe that faith is MORE than just an intellectual grasping of truth statements it is a spiritual gift from God. 
Because we believe that little ones are loved and treasured by their Creator and Redeemer.
Because we believe WE must train them about the truth of the Lord believe me, if we don’t, the world, the devil and their sinful flesh will fill their minds, hearts and souls with lies.
   Children are a blessing and a gift from God!  They are also incredibly hard work! When our four were little, I remember asking Tess “How was the sermon today?”  She would often answer “The part I heard was good . . . ”  I recognize that bringing small children to worship is hard work.  It is a chore, a task and a great toiling!  But it is definitely worth the effort as it is an ETERNAL work for the salvation of their souls and the giving of everlasting life through Christ Jesus.

Time to Ponder . . .
What childhood lessons have stuck with you throughout your lifetime?  What faith lessons have stuck with you?

What are your earliest memories of worshiping Jesus?  Of being in a Church?

Is there something you wish your parents had taught you when you were young?

To God be the Glory!

Friday, September 16, 2016

“Disciple” Means “Following”
    Without evil intention, much of modern Christianity has allowed a cheapening of the person and work of Jesus Christ to creep into our congregations.  We have forgotten to be disciples.

   Throughout the ages the Church has confessed a belief in Jesus as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God” Who, in time, “for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the virgin Mary.”  We believe, teach, and confess that Jesus is fully divine AND fully human.  So far so good . . .

    The problem comes when we apply this to our lives, to where the rubber hits the road!  Too often, like a retailer trying to compete in a changing market, the Church has offered a more and more stripped down version of its confession.  Gauging the market, we have determined that folks will not tolerate well a teaching that places demands upon them.  We have mistakenly taken this as good news – after all the Good News of God is that Jesus has freed us from the condemnation of God’s Law. 

    But we seem to have forgotten our calling to “make disciples of all nations.”  And the results have been devastating:
  • Instead of disciples of Jesus, we have inadvertently raised a generation of Church-goers who don’t go to Church (worship).
  • Instead of disciples of Jesus, we have raised a people who confess with their mouths but whose lives/actions do not match that confession. 
  • Instead of disciples of Jesus, we have created a people who demand that He follow US, in the stead of us following Him.

   As He walked this earth, Jesus exhorted those listening to Him:
“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” Mark 8:34   

    Jesus desires that we FOLLOW Him.  He desires for us to trust that His life, His death, and His resurrection paid the price for our sins and has given us victory through Him.  He desires that this freedom and victory would shape every aspect of our lives, bending our own wills and worldviews to match His will and His view of humanity.  He desires that we become His students and apprentices.  To do that we must follow Jesus . . .
. . . and watch Him
. . . and imitate Him
. . . and live with Him.

Some Ponderings . . .

How does your faith help shape your life?

In turn, how does the shape of your life help strengthen your faith?

What do you personally find to be the most difficult aspect of following Jesus?

What do you personally find to be the most rewarding aspect of following Jesus?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Rub Some Dirt In It . . .

Image result for crown of thorns purple   "Rub some dirt in it and walk it off!"  When I was a lad that was the default encouragement one would hear whenever someone injured themselves while playing sports.  It was a way of saying STOP crying and get back in the game so we can win!  Not exactly sympathetic, huh?

   This past week the season of Lent opened up with the observance of Ash Wednesday.  Lent is the Holy Christian Church's way of saying "Rub some dirt in it." But the Church's motivation is not to win, but rather, to lose. 

  • to lose our boasting before the Lord;
  • to lose our love of sin;
  • to lose our disillusionment of making ourselves right with God by our actions;
  • to lose our alibis and excuses for our wrong actions, words and thoughts; and,
  • to lose any fantasy about our mortality.
   "Rub some dirt in it" means that we are honest about who we are before the Lord.  It is a realization that standing with our spiritual resume before the Most High God is a harrowing ordeal.  It is a confession that we have come woefully short of His expectations and demands.  It is a stark reminder that death - both physical and eternal - are what we deserve for how we have misused the life our God has granted us.  It is listening, along with Adam, to the words of the curse: 
"By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return"  Genesis 3:19
   But there is more to the Christian's life than repentance and sorrow - there is HOPE!  We have hope because God sent His Son into this life of dust and dirt and sin in order to rescue us.  We have hope because Jesus lived a perfect life, suffered and died, and then rose from the dead on the third day!  Through faith we hear the curse revised into: Dust you are and to dust you shall return . . . until Jesus returns again and you are called once more out of the dust into eternal life!"  

   Lent is a time to reflect on our mortality and sin, even as we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!  Life got you down? Burdened by sin and sorrow?  Just plain tired of the world's garbage? Rub some dirt in it and rejoice - for Christ has overcome the world!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Surviving the Furnace

   This is week is one of my favorite Chapel times with our Preschoolers as we "live" the story of The Fiery Furnace.   (If you aren't familiar with the full story you can find it in Daniel 3)

   In the story three young Hebrews named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, are dealt with rather harshly by the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar.  The king had a 90 foot statue of gold erected, and then commanded all of his government officials to bow down and worship.  Any who refused would be immediately cast into a fully fired-up furnace.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bend their knee to the statue saying . . . 
"our God Whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace"
   In the face of the king's ensuing anger, these three stood strong and faithful. They never claimed that their God would deliver them unharmed from the fire - they merely said that He "is able" to deliver them. Their faith in the Lord was such that they trusted He would deliver them either from the fire or through the fire.  God would either walk them out of the fire unharmed OR would allow the fire to take their life and thereby release them from the evil of this world and bring them home to Himself.  In this case their refusal made the king so hot under the collar that he commanded the furnace to be stoked to 7 times its normal temperature! 

   As he peered into the furnace, Nebuchadnezzar noticed TWO curious things: 
  1. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were walking around unharmed in the heart of the fire, and
  2. There was now a FOURTH man walking with them who was like a "son of the gods"
   Nebuchadnezzar was moved to exclaim:
“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!”
   Have you found the furnace to be running particularly hot in your life lately?  Has it seemed that the world is geared against you and that your days seem to be more heavily numbered among the bad than the good? Are you tempted to follow the ways of the world and abandon seeing the world from the Lord's point of view?  Hold on tight!  Never forget that Jesus, the Son of God, has already walked among us.  He has saved us by His life, death and resurrection and He will deliver us from evil . . . perhaps from the fire and perhaps through the fire.

Father, mighty and gracious Lord, hear the prayers of all Your people in distress.  Grant that the Holy Spirit to confirm them in their faith, strengthen their weary hearts, and sustain them through the hope of eternal life through Your Son Jesus Christ, in His name we pray. Amen.
To God be the glory!