Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Porpoise Diving Life

I'm a fan of Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life." True, I don't agree with all his theology. Yes, it's hard for me to get past Warren's scare tactics of the first few chapters ("days") that talk about standing before God at the "final exam" before entering eternity. But I got beyond those issues because Warren's book has shown millions of people that faith in Jesus Christ is worth living, and by living it you find a purpose that is greater than the "live for the moment, live for yourself" message of society. The book is excellent.

Then yesterday I came upon a website called "The Porpoise Diving Life" while googling for something completely unrelated. I asked myself, is this website the equivalent of "The Onion" or the "Daily Show" satire? Is it a joke? No, not really. Actually its a site with content by Bill Dahl that is a sincere effort to reach out to people who are looking to go beyond Warren's 40 days.

Dahl is part of the "Emerging Church" movement that's growing in the United States. In a nation with thousands and thousands of churches there are too many people who are turned off by the sloth of mainline denominations and the consumerism of some mega-church evangelicals. Those who call themselves part of the emerging church function outside of church structures and inside the media of this 21st century world: especially through the internet and blogs.

I must admit that I'm not necessarily on line with the emerging church movement, but I admire their mission and the fruit they seem to be bearing for Christ. The body of Christ includes all believers in Christ. If mainline denominations are missing people... if evangelicals are sometimes off track... if people feel left out... then their must be an "emerging church" for the rest. Christ will not leave any of his children out. I hope to learn more about the "emerging church" in the coming months.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sick, Yet Still Thankful

It just had to happen. You know how it works. Murphy's law... the credo of pessimists all over the world. If something bad can happen, it will happen. But why did Murphy have to stick his foot into my Thanksgiving?

For weeks we have been planning a Thanksgiving family day with Valerie's parents coming into town and my aunt driving down from Wisconsin. But Murphy had some others ideas. On Tuesday everyone in my house got sick, from my little Preston to Pop pop. Wednesday became a day of lounging, laziness, sleeping, and trips to the toilet. Our Thanksgiving plans seemed ruined.

In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, Jesus speaks about God who provides for our every need. If God takes care of birds and flowers, God certainly will take care of you. So why worry? Murphy and his band of pessimists say life should be nothing but worry. But for those who live by faith, worry can be thrown in the trash can so that God's blessings in life can be enjoyed.

Thanksgiving is ruined? Not if I look at my family and recognize just how blessed i am. Not if stand in awe of all that God has planned for me, this despite my own failings. Truly I am thankful to the Lord.

So no this Thanksgiving is not ruined. Most of us are feeling better so the turkey is in the oven. My aunt is on the way down. And I am surrounded by my loving family and my loving God. "Seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself." (Matthew 6:33-34a)

Thank you God!

Monday, November 06, 2006

November Thanks

There is so much we should be thankful for. One day is hardly enough for Thanksgiving, maybe it needs a month. Psalm 24:1 reminds us that "The earth and everything on it belong to the Lord" (CEV). If everything is the Lord's then it is only appropriate that we give thanks to God who does not hoard what is his, but instead provides for our needs with what he has created.

If what I have is God's, I wonder if I have received more than my fair share? In my 34 years of life, the hardest challenge I have had to face is recognizing that instant gratification is wrong. It leads me to spend beyond my means. It leads me to be selfish. And truly the expectation of instant gratification has made me dependent on stuff at the expense of faith.

For me the challenge of saying thanks includes sharing more and being open. As an act of faithfulness I have also tried to live more simply. I see at as a discipline for me to covet a DVD, or an item for my home, or tickets to an event, and instead of putting it on VISA telling myself "NO." In that "no" there is thankfulness. In that "no" I find the feeling that what you have given me, Lord, is more than enough.

Thank you Lord for your blessings. Surly my cup runs over.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Savior

I was watching an episode of "The Bachelor" the other day. (Did I actually admit to that?) You know the show, a bachelor gets to meet, wine, and dine 25 gorgeous women for the purpose of finding his one true love. Week after week women are eliminated from the group, signified by not receiving a rose from her "prince," until finally two are left. On the last episode the bachelor gives his selection a diamond ring. It's a terrible show... but it does reveal just low people will go in a competition. For a while the women play friends with one another. But soon some of the women start to lie, cheat, and do anything to get close to the bachelor. If a women spends too much time with him, she is criticized and hated by the other women. A woman's importance and power is determined by proximity to the man.

Did you know that the Gospel of Mark has it's own episode of "The Bachelor?" Except in Mark the bachelor is not a prince, but actually the "Prince of Peace" fortold in the prophets. The brothers James and John try to distinguish themselves from the rest of the group by asking Jesus if they could rule by the Lord's side in his "glory." Unfortunatly for James and John, they don't receive the response from Jesus they were hoping for. Then to make matters worse the other ten disciples hear about the brothers' request. They are furious. Kinda like an episode of "The Bachelor." All twelve have fallen into the same trap of human nature the innocent woman fall into in the TV show... the trap of envy... the trap of sin.

Praise God that Jesus Christ makes a far better Prince of Peace and King of Kings than the prince on TV. Jesus is not impressed by James or John or anyone who would look for their own selfish needs and desires over selfless servitude. He is disappointed with the twelve when he hears them arguing so Jesus gives them this message about greatness and power: "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." - Mark 10:42-45

Our TV bachelor would not be impressed by such service. Hair, eyes, and incredible curves are what matter to him, all at the expense of the others. But for our Lord the service of which we are all capable of is the true test of greatness. All 12 disciples and all children of God are made great through Christ. No one is chosen as greater. We experience some of that greatness when we serve others.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Hidden Killers

This week on Google I looked up the phrase "hidden killers in homes" because it has been my observation that in our society we are overly concerned about a lot of little things that have only a miniscule chance of harming us, while at the same time every day we encounter "hidden killers" that, unbeknownst to us, are hurting our health and preventing us from being all that God wants us to be.

These are some of the "hidden killers" that Google brought to my attention: carbon monoxide, lung disease, colorectal cancer, and super evolutionary germs. They all sound quite scary. Just the other day Valerie and I were talking about installing a carbon monoxide detector in our home. I guess I found the $30 price tag more frightening than the actual carbon monoxide.

Sin is the hidden killer in our journey of faith that too often goes un-noticed. In every person there is darkness that pulls us away from faithful living, discipleship, and being all that we are capable of being. The solution that exposes this hidden killer is the Word of God. "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)"

In Psalm 19 we lift up with joy our experience of God in his creation and in his wonderful Word: "The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. (Psalm 19:8)" We also recognize that sin keeps us from expressing such a rejoicing heart. Therefore call upon the Lord to forgive your sin, even of those hidden sins you don't even think about. "But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults. (Psalm 19:12)" As forgiven children of God, our sins are exposed and neutralized. Now you may live free from worry and the power of sin.

There are many hidden dangers out there. But the biggest danger we face is in our own hearts. Through prayer and study of God's word be protected from these hidden killers and rest assured that the Lord is leads you along every path.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Trading Spaces

It hasn't taken much time for me to get settled in here in my new office. It drove me crazy a couple days to be in here with clutter, boxes and chaos. With each box emptied and each piece of furniture moved into the "right" place came more of a sense of peace. By the time I was finished I was a little surprised because my new office was looking a whole lot like my old office. I guess there is a little bit of Rainman in all of us that insists on putting the bed by the window, having 8 fish sticks for dinner on Thursdays, and watching Jeopardy at 5:00 no matter where you are.

The Rainman in all of us is the desire to control our surroundings. It is human nature to want to make our space our own. The cable networks HGTV and TLC have made a living showing programs of people moving into perfectly fine homes and then changing every room in the house in some frenzied attempt to make it over. We want control and don't you dare stop us.

In reality God is in control. When we insist on control we miss the fact that what God has blessed us with just might be better for our lives and our souls than what we want. Jesus gives us permission to give our lives over to him. We don't need to obsess about our space or stuff. Instead the Lord provides for our every need so that we can concentrate on more important things like loving our families and neighbors and helping those in need.

If we are in control then all we have to look forward to at the end of the day is that scene from "About Schmidt" from my last post. If we faithfully give the Lord control then we can look forward to a place being prepared for us at the great feast to come. And at that feast in the Kingdom of Heaven it is the Lord who will design the space and the Lord who will set the table. Give control to Christ and enjoy the ride.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

About Dusso

There is a scene near the beginning of the movie "About Schmidt" in which 66 year old Warren Schmidt sits at work in his empty office, staring at the clock, alone, waiting for his last day of a lifelong career to come to an end. Well, here I am in my empty office, and I feel a whole lot like Mr. Schmidt.

It's a goofy feeling to be saying goodbye to a life, a space and a community that has been so important in your life. In the empty office or empty house all you can think of is the people that have walked through and events that have occurred in this vacant space. The feeling is melancholy and a bit sad. It's no wonder Mr. Schmidt had a breakdown.

But as I sit in my empty office alone, I quickly am reminded that actualy I am never alone. The Word of God comforts me in Psalm 121 when it says "The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore." (Ps 121:8) Regardless if the transition is the end of a 45-year career or a 3-year job, Jesus transforms the melancholy of leaving into the comfort and hope that comes through his gospel. In Christ there is more life to live, more spaces to occupy, and more people to love. August 31 is an end for me, and my office is empty, but September 1 will be a new beginning and my new space will be crammed with the chaos of boxes, clutter and kind, friendly, new people asking to help.

God's grace promises that even when we face our final day on earth, the day of our death, we will not be alone. The hospital room or hospice room might be bare and white and cold, but the warmth of the Lord will also be present. And after we die, we will still live with the promise of a tomorrow: a new life, new space, and new people to meet at the great feast to come. Thank you Lord for taking away our melancholy on the cross and bringing us hope and joy, even as we sit in an empty room.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Hot or Cold?

It's summer, so of course it's hot. But it just seems like its been a little too hot for a little too long. Unfortunately, I need to mow my lawn, and a break in this heat doesn't seen to be coming.

Last night on TV a local news report showed clips from a snow storm that hit this area back in January. They then posed this question: "Which would you prefer, this summer's heat or the cold and snow of the winter?" I had to think about that one for a while. Certainly in January I was itching for some really hot days and of course now a good blizzard sounds wonderful. But I think my faith led me to come up with an completely different answer.

Life, like weather temperatures, has many ups and downs. During those times of stress and difficulty we like to complain and wish for something better. Psalms of lament give us permission to lift our complaints to God. But what I learn from those laments is that ultimately we only find relief when we realize and affirm the fact that God is in control. When we begin lamenting in Psalm 22 "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (v.1)" we finish by affirming that hope comes from only from the Lord: "But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me (v. 19)."

A blizzard or heat wave is not the answer. God is our answer. With a faithful heart I look at the blessings of today, try to stay positive, and give thanks to the Lord my God. "They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! (Ps 22:31)"

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Walking to Me

I'm thinking this morning about two of Jesus' miracles: feeding the five-thousand and walking on water. The two miracles are paired in Matthew, Mark and John's Gospel. So what do feeding, eating and walking on a lake have to do with me?

Right now I'm in the midst of transition. (A reason why I went so long without posting a blog.) Next month I'm moving my family to Oak Forest, IL, having been called to serve as the pastor of Resurrection Church, an ELCA congregation in Oak Forest. I'm excited about the move and praise God for the opportunity.

However, a transition always mixes some complications with the joy, like: finding a home, packing, mortgage loan paperwork, faxes, phone calls, inspections, schedules, goodbyes, hellos, and lots of time driving between here and there. At times the going has been easy, like being on cruise control with God as my pilot. But other times I feel a little pressed and have this desire to cut through the clutter. I wonder if that is how Jesus felt when we left the crowds after he fed the 5000. They were going to make him king (but not the kind of king he was called to be) so Jesus retreated to a mountain to pray.
Contrary to popular belief, we are not the first multi-taskers the world has ever seen. The world has always been chaotic, pulling on every emotion under the sun. The Psalms are a testimony to that. Therefore there has always been a need for love, grace and a chance to get away. In the midst of transition I'm thankful Christ offers to feed me through the Word and worship. I'm also thankful that when I do get in a bind he comes looking for me, even if he has to walk on water.

That's what these miracles mean for us today. They are not just some "newspaper" report from the past, but a reminder to us that Christ feeds us and comes to us today. He anticipates our needs and won't let anything get between him and us. In John 6:20 he tells the frightened disciples on the boat "It is I, do not be afraid." Jesus literally is "I AM:" God who comes to us in our chaos, anxiety, and doubts to provide us with all we need spiritually and physically. Do not be afraid.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

One Good Apple

You know what they say: "One bad apple spoils the whole barrel." You better watch out who you hang with, or who you allow to be part of your group, because if you associate with the "wrong" kind of person suddenly you may find yourself in the wrong as well.

Jesus didn't see it that way, however, he spent a lot of his time with "bad apples." They where the outcasts of society, either because they were sinners, or because they had disease that made them unclean. According to Leviticus anyone who touches an unclean person becomes unclean themselves, and in Jesus' day the religious leaders followed those purity rules with a passion. They were always concerned about saying away from an outcast. After all "one bad apple spoils the whole barrel."

When Jesus touches and eats with sinners, lepers, tax collectors and sinners, he is saying something amazing about the power of God and God's Kingdom. Instead of bad apples spoiling others, Jesus, the good apple, cleanses those who are unclean. The power of God's grace and forgiveness always wins over sin and darkness. Through Jesus' love we are made clean as well.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What Code?

There has been a lot of publicity the past couple weeks about the new movie "The Da Vinci Code." I read the book. It was pretty good. But many Christians around the country are offended by the book, apparently threatened by some of its ideas regarding Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and the Holy Grail. Sure this work of fiction is a bit far fetched because it insists that truth about Jesus has been hidden and only a select few know the truth but my faith is not threatened by good fiction story. Jesus teaches that "I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. (John 12:46)" The truth about Jesus is not hidden in the shadows or encoded... Instead it is in the open, light shines upon it, and all are able to know his wonderful gospel.

Be wary of anyone who claims to have special, unique, or privileged knowledge about God. Through God's Word and his Sacraments Jesus comes to us in ways we can hear, see, touch, taste, and smell. He is real. He is in the open. Jesus is light. Bask in the light of Christ and opening embrace the truth we find in him.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Love is Trump

I was playing euchre this afternoon with some friends. Euchre is a fun, fairly simple, and often frustrating game. In the four player version you and your partner compete with another pair to take the majority of "tricks" in a hand. You take tricks by playing the highest card. So aces are beautiful. In each hand there is always a suit that is "trump." If trump is played, the highest trump takes the hand. Then to make it all the more complicated the most powerful cards are the Jack of trump (the right bower) and the Jack of the other suit of the same color is the next most valuable card (the left bower).

Where euchre becomes frustrating is when you are dealt beautiful cards, lets say the Jack of spades, Jack of clubs, Ace of spades, King of spades, and the Queen of spades. It's a perfect hand. It's an unbeatable hand. The problem is however, hearts was called up for trump. A perfect hand suddenly becomes a loser and your opponent ends up with four points because she took all the tricks alone.

As Christians we have a lot of beautiful cards in our hands, particularly if we live our faith every day. Worshiping on Sunday is an Ace. Reading the Bible is a Jack of Spades. Praying daily is the Jack of clubs. We feel pretty good with the hand we got. We are living our faith and can easily sit back and relax.

The thing is Jesus has called love up as trump. The Scriptures teach us that there are many ways God has called us to live our faith. I have listed seven of those priorities on the left column of this blog. But of all those priorities listed only love is trump. We can do everything God expects of us, but if we have no love, we are holding a losing hand. But when we live our faith with love as a priority we win every single time. When we win in our faith we bear fruit for the Lord.

"If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

In the game of life love is trump. We are saved by the grace of God through the blood of Christ, but as we journey through life as a disciples who believe in what Christ has done for us we first and foremost must make love our number one priority. Everything we do in faith for Jesus must done through the lens of love.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

How's The Weather Out There?

I don't usually spend much time watching the Weather Channel or surfing the web to get the latest forecasts but this past week has been an exception. My brother turns 30 today and he is coming to Ohio tomorrow so the two of us can go to a couple of ball games to celebrate. Going to baseball games in this part of the country, this time of year, is an iffy proposition. It's easy to be fooled by a beautiful sunny afternoon in the 60's to only find yourself freezing half-to-death at a cold ballpark that evening.

So I have been looking at accuweather.com the last few days. Earlier in the week they predicted rain and cold for Sunday and Monday night. Rain is out of their forecast now, but there still might be clouds Monday and temps in the 40's both evenings. Both Aaron and I have enough experience to know not to be fooled by a nice afternoon on either day. We will be prepared for the potentially cold evenings. With the information I got from accuweather I will purchase tickets today with confidence, knowing that we should be able to enjoy two good ball games, even if it might be cold.

Wouldn't it be great if there was a website like accuweather for all of life's decisions? There is an acculife.com, but it's in German and sells some strange, goofy stuff that won't seem to help much in my life.

The best place to look for guidance in life is not found on the internet, its found in God's Word. The Word is an excellent forecaster of all aspects of life. It points us to God and touches upon all the possible joys and struggles we may face in life. It is never wrong to follow the directions of God because no matter if it rains or is sunny, God will lead the way. And even when we face the end, God continues to give us support because he has given us a Savior, Jesus the Messiah, who opens the doors to heaven for us.

It very well may rain tomorrow and Monday. That would really bum me out. It also may storm in my life. But if I struggle with Christ I have faith that my thunderstorm will be for my gain. It may very well be the path to even greater things.

"It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God." - 1 Peter 3:17-18

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Oh Wonderful Light

Christ is risen! Through the Resurrection the Light of the World spreads his brilliant light upon the whole world. God is light, but before the coming of Messiah the world still dwelt in darkness. Sin kept people in that darkness. Through Jesus the darkness departs and is swallowed up in Christ's light. Sins are forgiven and all people are invited to be present with the Lord. Thank you Jesus for your light and your forgiveness. Thank you Jesus for the new life you have given me.

"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifce for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." - 1 John 2:1-2

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Holy Week

What makes something holy? Being divine? Being of God? Sacred? Something to do with the church?

Yes something is holy because it is sacred, but essentially when we talk of something being holy we mean that somehow it is different from the ordinary and set apart. The Bible is holy because its not like any other book. Baptism is holy because its not like any other bath. Ground is holy because it is set apart for sacred use. A week is holy because its unlike any of the other fifty-one, it is set apart for special devotion.

For me Holy Week has meant more time for worship, prayer, and the reading of Scripture. This week I will worship Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights. I will spend an hour Thursday night in prayer and an hour Friday afternoon in prayer. This Friday I will fast. This week my focus is on Christ, his cross, and what it all means for me and for the world.

This is a holy week. Every spiritual devotion I commit to this week is for the purpose of spiritual renewal and growth. It is Christ, who makes this week holy, who will produce such gifts within me.

Jesus speaks of himself and his followers when he says, "Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24) This is a week for producing seeds. First we remember that Christ died for us. But we move beyond remembrance when we allow this week to also produce holy seeds in our hearts... seeds that will feed us through the many weeks of ordinary.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

No Control

Martin Luther wrote something profound about the commandment "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." He wrote, "We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way." Obeying that commandment is more than not lying about someone, it is making sure that you give your neighbor the benefit of the doubt.

One of the most painful experiences we can have in life is being slandered and torn down by others. It is especially painful when it is the result of a lie or misunderstanding. People can be especially hard on others, even those we trust. Such slandering even happens among Christians.

Only through Christ can we bear such pain and find relief. We have no control over how others react, but we do have the ability to put our faith in the Lord and allow him to be our guide. In a lament Jeremiah expressed to the Lord his pain about others slandering him: "For I hear many whispering: 'Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!' All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. (Jer 20:10a)" It's easy to stumble under such hurtful words, but the Lord gives us strength. He certainly does for Jeremiah when he concludes his lament saying: "Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers. (Jer 20:13)"

When you experience such betrayal sing to the Lord. Through your lament you can find hope and relief, for through your lament you find the Word of God and the wonderful gospel.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Finding Joy in God's Word

I'm thinking about the Ten Commandments and Psalm 19 this week. God's commandments in Exodus 20 are a wonderful guide for life. They are abused as a political tool when Christians battle over where they are posted, instead of battling about how to live by them.

In Psalm 19 it says "The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes." (Ps 19:7-8) Being engaged in God's word and sincerely obeying the Lord's commands is a delight, for it gives meaning to every day and puts into proper perspective all that one encounters from day to day.

Take today for instance. I read panic in a colleague's e-mail as she discussed the bird flu. I felt lost as I tried to straighten out some miscommunication among my friends. I sensed exhaustion as my four-year-old kids have learned to take "pushing the envelope" to new uncharted heights. But through it all the word of God and his commands bring me guidance, peace, and strength. It also says in Psalm 19 that there is great reward in keeping God's law. Those rewards are reaped today as I follow the Lord through this world of chaos.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

What's In A Name?

In the Scriptures there are many people who go by more than one name. No one tops Jesus when it comes to name variety. Some students of the Bible have counted more than 100 different names for Jesus. Abram, Sarai, Jacob, Simon, Saul are others who go by different names in the Bible.

God changed Abram and Sarai's names as a reflection of both their faith and the reality of what God created them to be. The name Abram meant "father exalted" His name becomes Abraham, "father of multitudes." Sarai meant "princess." Her name then becomes Sarah, "princess of many." The name change was not too big, essentially they remained the same, but it was changed just enough to show Abraham and Sarah that they were blessed more than they ever realized. They would become the parents of a great nation with descendants as numerous as the stars.

In Mark 8 Jesus foretells that he will be soon killed and on the third day rise again. When Peter argues against such a prediction Jesus scolds him. He then describes to his disciples what it means to follow him. "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it."

When we become disciples of Christ through baptism we are given a new name, much like Abraham and Sarah. In fact we are given many new names: "child of God," "brother" or "sister," "friend." Our old name reflected us as individuals. Our new names reflect our relationships with God and others. As disciples God takes our focus away from self-centered desire and worry and moves our focus outward toward others. But its important to remember that when God renamed Abram and Sarai he kept the heart of who they where. The change was not that big. They always were "Father" and "Princess" but now their focus is outward instead of inward.

Baptized in Christ, the very best of our old selves remain. We can hold on to the names our parents have given us. But when we deny ourselves we change our focus and recognize that our place in the world is greater than we can ever see by ourselves. God has called you to great things. As a disciple you will touch the lives of many people. By denying ourselves, not only do we see a bigger purpose for our lives, but we actually are taking steps to living out the lifes that God desires for us.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday

In a parable in Luke 18 Jesus compares two men who go to the temple to pray: a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee thanks God that he is not like other sinners. The tax collector with heartfelt repentance only says "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Jesus expects us to be like the tax collector.

The forty day season of Lent exists so we can come before the Lord and say "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." One way we do this is by making changes in your life. For some it means giving something up, a reminder that we are too dependent on worldly things. A TV addict might give up TV, a soda addict might give up soda... Or you may choose to do the opposite, and do something you haven't done before. Today I walked over a mile to and from my office. I hope I can keep that up throughout Lent.

The best way, however, to make a change in your life and recognize your sinfulness is to worship more faithfully during Lent. We enter worship as repentant sinners so that our hearts might be open to the message of God's grace. In the Ash Wednesday worship service we hear the words from Psalm 51 that calls on God to "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." With ashes on our forehead (that remind us of our mortality) and a repentant heart we are ready to hear God's grace so that the changes made in our lives are real and lasting.

Friday, February 24, 2006


The first verse of Psalm 127 says "Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain."

We live in a society where marriage and families are in crisis. Too many marriages end in divorce. Too many families are broken. Too many people are not part of a loving family. This is a shame because marriage and family can be a great gift. God wants us to live in homes of love and joy.

If we allow the Lord to "build" our house, and be the foundation of our marriages and families, we are blessed. A family centered on the Lord can withstand the ups and downs of life and at the end of the day individuals can look back and see just how rewarding family is.

It's not easy being a husband and a father. I have had to give up so many things I used to do because either there is not enough time or not enough money. I have also been forced to do many things I would rather not be doing. (I still don't enjoy the whole bathroom thing with my kids.) But yet, even so, I know my family is my greatest blessing from God. Why, you ask?

My family has taught me what Jesus has been trying to teach me for 33 years... Real joy in life comes from being selfless and loving other people. I am a better Christian because of them. My faith is stronger because of them. They have also helped me grow from a child into a man. Through them God has given me maturity, responsibility, and meaning. As a selfish child I was lost and alone... But now as a husband and father I have more confidence in myself, knowing just what God has called me to do in this life.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Forgiveness is Tough

When four friends bring a paralyzed man to Jesus in Mark 2, they expect Jesus to heal him. He had already healed many people, so why not their friend? But instead Jesus says to him, "Son, your sins are forgiven." This caused some in the crowd to grumble because only God can forgive sins.

Jesus came to the world to save God's children. He accomplishes this through forgiveness of sins, offered to all people through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. Forgiveness was and is tough, but we fall into the trap of thinking its not a big deal. This happens because we are afraid to face the reality of our sin and accept the life changing gospel of "your sins are forgiven."

Want to know how tough forgiveness is? Confess your darkest sins, not just in prayer, or in general during worship, but your specific sins to a Christian brother or sister. You will discover quickly how tough forgiveness is, but you will also experience the great power of "your sins are forgiven." It might be one of the most moving events of your life.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Run To Win

Today is the first full day of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. This provides a nice break from the everyday as athletes from around the world compete for metals in various sporting events. Some of these athletes have trained for years, every day, to get this point. And for what? A metal and good story to tell. But there isn't an athlete in Torino who will not go all out to get that prize.

Paul must have been a sports fan himself. When he writes to the Corinthians he cannot help but bring up a reference to the biennial Isthmian games that were held eight miles from Corinth in the first century. He compares living your faith in Christ to training as an athlete for the games. "Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. (1 Cor 9:24)"

If athletes will "enslave" their bodies through rigorous training to win a simple and ultimately worthless prize, how much more dedicated should we be as we live our faith in Christ with an "imperishable" prize of salvation awaiting us?

Using the tools of faith training: prayer, study, worship, inviting, love, giving, and service... our bodies become spiritually fit. Not only do we have an "imperishable" prize to look forward to, but we are better able to embrace the blessings and tasks God wants for us today.

As a Christian you are already in this race of life... so lets listen to our coach and run this race to win!

Sunday, February 05, 2006


On February 4, 1906 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born... 100 years ago yesterday. He was a German protestant pastor with great skills for ministry, writing, and teaching. Before he was 30 he was teaching in seminary. At 31 he wrote "The Cost of Discipleship," the most important book of the twentieth century.

Bonhoeffer lived in a dangerous place during a dangerous time: Nazi Germany. Such a setting forced him to make many important ethical and spiritual decisions during his life. The Protestant Church of the 1930's began to give in more and more to the will of Hitler and his Nazis, but Bonhoeffer refused to bow to such evil. The lives of Bonhoeffer and other like-minded Christians were soon threatened.

In 1939 he fled Germany to safety in New York City, but within weeks he was on the last ship back to his homeland. Like Jonah in the Old Testament, Bonhoeffer's conscience would not allow him to flee his call and stay in the United States. God had called him to proclaim the gospel to his brethren in Germany. He accepted his obligation and returned. After his return the Gestapo continuously harassed Bonhoeffer and soon he was forbidden to teach or publish his writings. He was arrested in 1943 and imprisoned for fifteen months. On April 9, 1945 he was murdered by the Nazis in the Flossenburg Concentration Camp.

How blessed we are to live in freedom today. But being a Christian is not always easy, even in the United States in 2006. Just two days ago five Baptist congregations in Alabama were burnt to the ground for no good reason. More and more Christians are the object of ridicule and prejudice in our society.

But Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:16 "If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no reason for boasting, for an obligation has been laid on me, and woe to be if I do not proclaim the gospel." Bonhoeffer lived by these words and as an obedient servant he proclaimed the gospel to his Christian brothers in Nazi Germany. God was his strength and guide through those difficult years. When things get tough for us as well today, God is our help. While it might not be easy we all are called to proclaim the gospel.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Playing The Game

It was a cold October evening, I was ten years old, and little did I know that this would be the last time I would see my beloved Brewers in a World Series. There were two outs, no one on, and the Brew Crew down 6 to 3. The powerful Gorman Thomas was at the plate but the crafty Bruce Sutter and his revolutionary split-finger fastball was on the mound for the Cards. Then I saw an image that would be burned in my brain the rest of my life. Stormin' Gorman swinging wildly at strike three and Sutter jumping up and down in triumph: winning game seven of the 1982 World Series for St. Louis over Milwaukee.

Bruce Sutter was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame a couple weeks ago. It's an honor he deserves. But I'm sure now that when he looks back at 1982 his memories are not all that different than mine. Little did he know at the time that it would be his last appearance on the biggest stage in sports: the World Series.

Every day God is providing us with doorways and opportunities but all too often we allow busyness, comfort, and sometimes even fear to prevent us from seizing those chances or even seeing them in the first place. With courage Sutter took the ball from Whitey Herzog in that final game in the eighth inning: his team only up only one run. He got in the game even though he could have been a goat for the ages. He got in the game and came out a champion.

All too often, though, we don't come out champions. Just ask Gorman Thomas or any Milwaukee Brewer for that matter. But we shouldn't let that stop us from getting into the game. Don't fear failure, learn from it, and who knows today may be the day God presents you with one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments. Will you recognize it? Will you take a chance?

Get in the game. Live your faith daily. Behold the hand of God in your life.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Learn from the Witness of Martyrs

I attended a commemoration service for Martin Luther King Jr. last night in East Cleveland. Earlier that same day I read a headline on Yahoo News that said "Blacks more likely to remember MLK Day - Poll." I think it is sad that in 2006 the remembrance of Martin Luther King is for the most part limited to those who are African American. I would estimate that the assembly at last night's service was 90% African American: this for an event sponsored by a Lutheran synod that is 95% white.

When it says in Hebrews that "since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us," Martin Luther King is one of those witnesses. His witness of Christ and action among God's children during his life is an inspiration for us who continue to proclaim Christ today. His proclamation of the Gospel resulted in him being killed. He is a martyr for the faith and we can learn greatly through his witness.

As I journey on in faith, I am thankful for the great cloud of witnesses who surround me and teach me. Though he died four years before I was born Martin Luther King teaches me that Christ's cross is for all children of all races. He teaches me how to be a disciple with courage and perseverance even when others hate you. He teaches me that all things are possible through Christ who strengthens me. He teaches me that all people are capable of great things if they allow God to lead.

I'm sure Martin Luther King often prayed the words of Psalm 121 as his own. "I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where is my help to come? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth." May I be courageous enough to pray these words with you Martin.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Here I Am

What does it mean to be called? When someone calls you on a telephone they want to talk you. You either answer the phone or you let it ring.

God might not use a telephone, but he does call people. In the Old Testament the boy Samuel was called by God. He answered the call even though he didn't know who was on the other line. He thinks its the priest Eli, his caretaker, calling him. "Here I am!" Samuel diligently responds. He does'nt know it is God.

It took the maturity of Eli to understand who was calling Samuel. Through Eli's guidance Samuel proclaims to the Lord "Speak, for your servant is listening." But it took the innocence and naivete of Samuel to blindly answer God's call.

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke Jesus instructs his disciples to allow little children to come to him. "Let the little children come to me, do not stop them, for it is to such as these that God's kingdom belongs." We can learn from the faith of Samuel and other children who blindly accept God as Father and Jesus as Lord. Eli understands it is God calling, but he does not understand how to live faith. Samuel, on the other hand, simply responds "Here I am."

Some days I'm like Eli. But I pray for the simple faith of Samuel which allows God to lead and me to follow.

Here I am.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

On Easter of 2005 I presented to my congregation a guide for living faith in Christ every day based on priorities God calls us to make in the Scriptures. With a new year, and through the moving of the Holy Spirit in my heart, I have made some small changes.

Because we are so blessed by God through the grace and love given to us through The Lamb, our Savior Jesus, we are called to respond in this way:


PRAY... so that your heart is centered on Christ in repentance, thankfulness, and praise. (look up 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

STUDY... so that the Word of God is alive in your heart giving you direction and joy. (Psalm 119:105)

WORSHIP... so that in weekly fellowship your faith in fed with God's Word and Sacrament and the witness of your brothers and sisters who believe as you do. (Romans 10:17)

INVITE... so others might have the same faith in Christ you have. (Matthew 28:18-20)

LOVE... so you can encourage and support others... even those who offer you no love in return. (1 John 3:18)

GIVE... because everything you have is first a gift from God. (Luke 6:38)

SERVE... so that you can put into action your faith in Christ and love of others. (Mark 8:43-45)