Pastor's Blog

It's "only" the end of the world

The truth is: the world has been ending for a long, long time.

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul spoke about it a lot in his letters to the different churches. He said in 1 Corinthians, “The world in its present form is passing away.” It was almost like he expected it to happen any moment. Jesus himself gave us many signs that the end of the world is coming. He said in Mark 13, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains."

Did you catch Jesus’ promise to the apostles there, to believers throughout the centuries, and to you and me? It only gets harder. The wars become more frequent. The famines and floods and natural disasters keep coming. The turmoil in this world increases. The love of most will grow cold. Many will fall away from the faith. Christians get treated worse and worse.

Hey, it’s only the end of the world—don’t worry! Right?

Jesus says “be on your guard” and “watch out” but he doesn’t say get worried. In fact as things get more difficult, as the end draws closer, Jesus gives you and me confidence to share the gospel.

This last week the Lutheran church celebrated the Reformation. It's a time to celebrate how God reformed the church through Martin Luther in the 1500s.

And really, when you break it down, the Reformation is really all about one thing: confidence in God's Word.

Martin Luther would agree, it’s only the end of the world. Don’t worry: stand firmly on the gospel and trust the promise of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus says, "Do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit." (Mark 13:11)


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All Those Little Things

All those little things. Let's see...

  • Take out the trash
  • Convince child to do homework
  • Clean house
  • Settle argument with spouse
  • Get oil changed
  • Visit mother in the hospital
  • Relax?

All those little things sure add up to a whole lot of work, stress and anxiety. It seems a day can be made up of a whole lot of little things that, when taken together, become huge. We have a few options: we can tackle them one at a time until they're all done, no matter how long it takes and how much sleep we lose. Or, we can neglect some of them until we can get to them.

Neither of those sound like great options. Of course, there's a whole world of organizational science to help us through the maze of little things. Lot's of that is really great stuff and is a big help. 

But that doesn't fix the spiritual impact of all these little things. They can and do gnaw away at the soul.

That's where a blind man from the Bible can help. Here's a man who was blind, yet he could "see" just fine. And his blindness was no little thing, obviously. But when he found out that Jesus was coming, he got pretty excited. He knew who his Savior was and how his Savior could help him. So he cried out to him, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." (Mark 10:47) 

And within that there is a lesson and a comfort for us all. This blind man reminds us that all of our troubles lead us to our Savior. All these little things that can gnaw away at our soul remind us that we need a Savior for our soul, that we can't do it all on our own. "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Have mercy on my troubled family. Have mercy on my troubled soul.

And his answer: Go, your faith has healed you. (Mark 10:52) Through faith all the "little" things that Jesus did (little in the sense of not really impressing the world)--his perfect life, his death on the cross, his resurrection from the dead--all these things add up to peace for the soul and eternal life where the little things from this world of sin will hardly be a memory.

Now to get back to my list...


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Get it Done, God's Way

I’ve always been a very ambitious person. For example, early on, God put it into my heart to be a pastor. I remember growing up, Pastor Henning, standing up in front of the congregation in his black robe, speaking the words of the liturgy with authority: “I said I will my confess my transgressions unto the Lord!” And I knew, “That’s what I wanted to do.” And one day, coming out of church, I grabbed Pastor Henning’s hand and declared to him in front of my mother and the entire church, “Pastor Henning, when you die, I’m going to have your job!” If my mother could have sunk into the tile floor she would have! Ambitious, wouldn’t you say?

We have all kinds of ambitions: some career, some achievement, some improvement in our life. But what is it that drives you to get it done? For most of us, we would have say that our motives are not always in line with God’s. It’s not that God doesn’t want us to accomplish things, but he wants us to do it for the right reason. Do you have something you want to accomplish in your life, in this day, in this year? Get it done—God’s way. 

Jesus gives us this encouragement for getting things done God's way, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:45



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Your Impossible....Possible!

Outside in the hallway, he sat on a lonely bench with his head in his hands. “How could I not be good enough,” he kept asking himself. How was this possible? He was qualified he had perfect references. How could they tell him he wasn’t good enough?

It’s a tragedy played out in the lives of people every day. People who worked hard, who set high standards for themselves, and achieved great personal goals, only to see that all their preparation and all their anticipation was useless because the decision was, “You’re not good enough.”

How tragic it is to hear those words! How tragic it is to be told by a friend that you haven’t been good enough, or to be told by a child or a sibling that you didn’t measure up. It’s the kind of thing that destroys confidence, the kind of thing that drives a person to depression and the kind of thing that makes achieving goals seem trivial. Why bother trying if I’ll never be good enough?

We could say that our lives are often caught up in trying to impress. Whether it’s the young woman who, because her father gave away very little of his love to her, dresses to gain the attention of the opposite gender, or it’s the young college graduate who works 70 hour weeks because he’s in competition with 10 others for the same solitary promotion, we often live our lives to impress others. It’s this natural inclination we have to hold up our credentials before the world, to prove to them that we are indeed good enough, that we are worthy to be called “successful.” It’s the American dream.

And God says, “you’ve got to do better.” God demands more. He demands more offerings, “But I’m on a fixed income.” God demands more time, “But I already volunteer.” God demands more mission work, “But I’m already sharing my faith.” Friends, it’s not good enough. You’re not good enough. And Jesus looks you and me straight in the eye, he stares into the depths our hearts and declares, “Children, it is a hard thing to get into God’s kingdom! It would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of needle.”


With man, this is impossible. But not with God. With God there is a possible impossible. It starts and ends with Christ. When we realize that we can’t do it on our own, then we are right where God wants us to be. When we realize that our superficial definition of goodness doesn’t pass muster, then we understand our predicament and God can save us. If God is to rescue us, we must be ones who need to be rescued. Understand that when we focus on our own efforts, our own work, we cannot be saved. It is only when we despair of ourselves, when we throw our hands up in the air and say with the disciples, “Then who can be saved!” that Christ can come to our aid.

And then what is impossible for us becomes possible.


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Boys and Girls, it's time to play nice

If you’ve ever met with a group of friends to play a game that involves teams, you know that you’ve got to divide everyone up. So what do you do? Well there are a lot of ways to make teams, but I bet what you probably do is: boys versus girls, right? It’s that old contest: who’s better the boys or the girls. I would like to submit to you today that when we do that, we are admitting something about our natural state of sinfulness: boys and girls don’t always want to play nicely together. Now I’m not saying teams of boys vs. girls are wrong, I’m saying I think it illustrates a portion of our human nature.

Of course, God never intended life to be “boys vs. girls.” God intended boys and girls to help one another, to partner together. God intended boys and girls to marry and become not just friends, but intimate companions in this world whose relationship would form the foundation of society. What God says about boys and girls is that he made them to be each other’s companions and not just companions but as husband and wife, intimate companions.

Genesis 2:24, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."

So it’s not boys vs. girls, is it? It’s boys for girls and girls for boys; husbands for wives and wives for husbands. God’s will is that we be each other’s companions and as married companions to share that intimate bond with one another.

And it is possible because God has established his intimate companionship with you and me first through Jesus Christ.


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Service that Makes God Smile

If God published a newspaper, what would be his headlines? I think you and I might be a little surprised, because what interests God would never interest the publisher of the Journal-Sentinal (our Milwaukee rag) or any other newspaper, for that matter. God’s interests lie in the heart of man. He’s interested in why people serve him. And when people serve him simply because they love him, that becomes a major headline in God’s newspaper: Husband Helps Wife Wash Dishes After Dinner, Eighth-Grader Studies for History Test, Teenage Boy Helps Friend, Stranger Says Thank-You to Store Clerk, Mother Changes Baby’s Diaper for Hundredth Time. These would be the headlines in God’s newspaper. Stories about Christians who just can’t stop serving their Lord and serving the Lord in the most routine and ordinary ways.

These are God’s stories about you and me, stories about our faithful service. Don’t stop serving. Instead, serve in many ways, and serve in the world.

Jesus says in Mark 9, "Anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward."


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God's Messengers

If I took a survey of everyone at my church, how many do you think would answer "yes" to the following statement? I want to go and proclaim the gospel to people who will probably reject it. I’m guessing there wouldn’t be too many enthusiastic answers. Imagine standing in front of a whole group of people who are eager to hear what you have to say, but when you start talking about Jesus and what he’s done, they start to scoff at you and slowly the crowd thins to one or two spectators. Being an unwelcome messenger is no easy task and nobody wants to be rejected because of the message they bring.

But isn’t that what we’ve signed up for? Isn’t that the job God has called us to do? In a sense, he has. And if you look outside these four walls, it doesn’t take long to find people who don’t want to hear what we have to say; who show by their passive apathy that God is not important to them.

How does that make you feel, Christian? How do you feel when you see countless thousands marching their way towards an imminent encounter with a perfect God who will demand from them an accounting for their lives? And how do you feel when you see fellow Christians shrug off the good news and through their actions oppose the gospel?

We know how it feels. Yet God has called us to be his messengers, messengers who face opposition, but messengers who also receive God’s help.

The prophet Jeremiah was no stranger to rejection. He prophesied to a people who largely rejected the message God had given him to proclaim. Once, his life was even threatened, but he escaped the plot. Jeremiah records the words which give us comfort in Jeremiah 11:20, "But, O LORD Almighty, you who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cuase." Jeremiah was right to pray this way and, given similar circumstances, we might be, too. But the point is this: God will take care of you as you share his message. We can committ our cause to him and trust that he will give it the success he desires.


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Die to Save Your Life

     There is a right time for a person to die, but the only person who truly knows when that moment will come is God. And when death comes there is no debate. But until that moment comes, there is plenty of debate. You may remember a woman by the name of Terri Schiavo. Many years ago, she was going through life in a “persistent vegetative state” being kept alive by a feeding tube. Her life, such as it was, brought this debate of dying back to the headlines. And I am sure that you have had to personally wrestle with this issue.

            So why is the debate there in the first place? Part of it, I think, has to do with medicine’s ability to sustain life. We have a lot of technology at our disposal which can stave off death. But is that always the right thing? The other part of the debate goes deep within the recesses of our souls, to the dark corner of the sinful nature. We don’t want to let go of this life. Sometimes people, even Christians, say they don’t want to die because they’ve got too much they want to accomplish. It boils down to a love of this life that borders and, yes, passes into, idolatry.

            So we need to die. We need to put to death this sin. We need to put to death our love of this world and the only way this happens to us is when we die with Christ. Then sin is no longer our master, our sinful nature no longer has its death-grip on our souls, and we can die to the world. Life through death, it’s one of the great paradoxes of Scripture. But it is the only way to survive to eternity. Die to save your life.

Jesus says, "Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it." Mark 8:35


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One Word and We're Saved

It’s amazing the power words have. Sometimes all it takes is one word and you’ve had an entire conversation with someone.

She says just the wrong thing to you and that’s it, you’ve lost your temper. Your boss comes up to you and it’s the same thing he always brings up, and in your mind you roll your eyes. Sometimes it’s the avoidance of a certain word that really gets us. You know what someone wants to say, but they won’t say “that” word, so they talk around that word, as if we’re not observant enough to realize what they’re really saying.

But these one-word conversations aren’t always bad. In fact, they’re quite often pleasant. A well-timed, “thanks,” can make your spouse’s day. Telling a child they did something perfectly helps them build confidence. Encouraging the young person by telling them you respect them, helps them grow into respectable people.

Words carry power. And no one’s words were more powerful than our Savior’s. If you were looking at the Mark 7:31-37 with a red-letter edition of the New Testament (the one that puts all the words of Christ into red ink) there would be one red word, “Ephphatha."

"Jesus looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said him, 'Ephatha,' which means 'be opened.'"

That's it. One word but it carried the whole of Jesus’ love and compassion for a man who was deaf and mute, one word that healed him, and one word that tells us we’re saved. "Ephphatha, and we’re saved." That power of Jesus' word makes us well: it destroys the work of Satan and gives us eternal life. So how else could we respond but with words of thanks and praise for a Savior who by his word has made us whole?


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One Cup of Tradition, Please

Jesus quoted Isaiah in Mark 7, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men."

There’s something comfortable about the familiar, isn’t there? Catching up with a familiar friend, or sitting down to your favorite meal or favorite movie are comfortable things. There is a relief when you return to familiar surroundings after being away for a while. That’s probably why traditions hang on for so long. They’re comfortable, they’re familiar.

But isn’t there a feeling among us that what is familiar, what is traditional, must be modernized? You take something as simple as the traditional cup of coffee and that’s just not good enough anymore. Starbucks has introduced us to the world of mochas, Americanos, lattes, espressos and Frappuccino. Someone who grew up in the age of diners and drive-ins might step back and wonder, “What’s wrong with a plain ol’ cup of coffee these days?”

To the opponents of Jesus, he was a kind of a rebel. That’s because Jesus was challenging the traditional values of the Pharisees. But Jesus wasn’t trying to undo their traditions for the sake of modernization like someone might claim Starbucks has done to coffee. What Jesus was trying to do was to actually restore the traditions of God. The traditions of the Pharisees only told people to focus on themselves and what they could do for God, traditions that ultimately resulted in eternal death. But the traditions that Jesus wanted to restore focused on what the Lord does for people, traditions that result in clean consciences and eternal life.

We like to think that we’ve moved beyond the Pharisees, but if you look at our own culture, our own lives, which tradition seems to be more popular? God's or man's? Looking at my own life, it seems I like the traditional religion of man way too much. And perhaps you see the same thing. You see in your life a desire to focus on your own actions and efforts, but find that those often disappoint. We fail. The traditional religion of man fails.

That’s why I want Jesus to restore God’s tradition in my life. So...

"I’ll have the traditional faith, please." 

The one that focuses on Christ and the one that gives us a clean heart.


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All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. ~ 2 TIMOTHY 3:16