Pastor's Blog

November 2016

The Thanksgiving You Almost Missed

So an 86 year old man from West Bend, WI won the coloring contest for this year's Sendik's Tim the Turkey contest. It's a fantastic piece of art: almost looks like a stained glass window. Must have taken a long time! (And congratulations, by the way!)

Makes me wonder if the person who colored that page thought about the gifts that had been given to him to be able to make something so beautiful.

Which is, of course, what this time of the year is all about. Giving thanks. 

But should we focus so much on the earthly things?

I recently asked a Bible class to write out what they were thankful for on some note cards. I took the results and categorized them: people, things, spiritual. From a group of about ten there was only one thing on the list related to the spiritual. And that was from a Bible class! If that isn't irony, then I'm Tim the Turkey.

Ok, so the point is made: we tend to focus on the stuff we can see, touch, hold. It's not that we don't recognize the spiritual things in our life. It's that we assume them. And that can be quite the devilish trick.

Take another example. Did any of you get up this morning, and as you reached for the light switch wonder, "I really hope the lights turn on"? Believe me, there are many people in the wolrd who WOULD wonder that, but I'm guessing that to my typical audience of North Americans, the thought rarely if ever crosses their mind. We are blessed with a steady and consistent supply of power.

And that's the "problem" with the spiritual things, with God's love: it's steady, consistent, always there. And therefore an easy target to be assumed.

So it's a good idea to look around you with spiritual thanksgiving. To look at the material things and whispher a quiet prayer of thanks to God. It's good to look at your family members whom you love and pray in your heart a song a thanksgiving to God for them. It's good to look at God's Word, your Savior living, dying and rising for you, it's good to look at eternal life, it's good to look at the spiritual things and let those fill your heart with thanksgiving.

It's good to thank God first--it can be easy to miss.

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Dying to Live

I’m tired of death. I’m tired of turning the news on at night and hearing how this kid killed another kid. I’m tired of hearing how rival gang members kill other gang members. And why are they killing? Because of the way one person decided to style his hair. It’s stupid. I’m tired of hearing about it. I’m tired of hearing about co-sleeping deaths. I’m tired of hearing how teenagers hurt and kill themselves or others because of the reckless things they do while driving. I’m tired of diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s that rob our loved ones of strength and life. I’m tired of wills, and powers of attorney and all the other paperwork for when I or my spouse are too weak or are dead and can't make important decisions. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of death.

But as tired or frustrated about death as you or I may be we can’t escape it. Death is part of life. It’s everywhere we look. Some might even say we live in a culture of death. And, actually, death is part of the Christian life, too. You might say that believers are live again. 

Let me explain...

Physically, yes, we die. Even though Jesus paid for sin, the consequence of physical death still lingers. But physical death is not something to fear. Because Christ endured the curse of death for us, we have nothing to be afraid of. He will bring us through death. We pass through our physical death like we walk through a door. It’s a change of existence from this life to the next life.

And spiritually we never have to fear the unending torment of eternal death in hell. That death has been taken away forever because Christ took it away from us—you can no longer die. Christ has made you children of the resurrection.  You die, and in God's time, you are raised back to life. Your souls rejoin your bodies and you live forever with the Lord.

So death holds no fear for us. In fact, we are dying to live again because we know death gives way to life. Physical death is our deliverance from this world of sin, death, disease, murder, hatred. It brings us home. It brings us into the presence of our Heavenly Father who eagerly waits for us to be with him forever and has set a day when that will happen for each of us.

So now is the time to take Jesus seriously because we don’t control death. If eternity awaits, why hold on to the things of this world when soon it will all pass away? Get rid of those things that stand in the way of your relationship with God. In an instant this will all pass away. In an instant God will take you from death to life. In an instant your eternity will begin. So how should you think about the things of this life? In that instant, how important will your nice house, your nice car, your exceptional education, your cushy retirement, your career, your time—how important will any of that be? Think about that when Black Friday and Cyber Monday roll around. As the rest of this world flocks to the temples of commerce to get what their empty hearts desire, you know that eternity holds more glimmer and happiness than all the things of this world.

Death holds no fear, no threat, because in Christ, live forever. You might even say, we're dying to live again.

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Trust Not in Princes

Trust not in princes, they are but mortal; Earth born they are and soon decay, Vain are their counsels at life's last portal When the dark grave will claim its prey. Since, then, no one can help afford, Trust only Christ, our God and Lord. Alleluia! Alleluia!" - Johann Herrnschmidt (1675-1723)

I would have written those words, no matter who won the election for US President. I would have written those words because no matter who is in control of the government, they cannot save a human soul.

I write these words because so much of politics seems to be based on the idea that we can create a perfect world. If we would only enact the correct policies, if only we would have the correct tax code, if only we would treat this or that differently, then we could get rid of poverty, get rid of hunger, get rid of crime.

The problem, of course, is that no human can get rid of sin. And certainly no government, no matter how noble, can cure the human soul.

Please don't misunderstand though: government plays a very important role. God established the government when he created the family. From mother and father the government derives its authority because mom and dad are ultimately responsible for the physical and spiritual welfare of their children. In our country, moms and dads ask the government to assist them in their role of taking care of the body of their children by electing and supporting government officials who provide for the safety and peace of society. Romans 13 tells us therefore to be subject to the government and to support the government.

But if we look to government to solve our spiritual woes, if we look to government to deal with the problem of sin or to give the answers to eternal life, then we are asking government to do what only God can do. "Trust not in princes, they are but mortal."

But if we put our trust in Christ, we put our trust in the only one who can give us what our souls crave. If we put our trust in Christ we put our trust in the one who will never die, who will reign forever and who holds your eternal soul in the palm of his hand. By the blood of Christ, by his perfect life, by his resurrection from the dead, Christ has given you what no mortal human being could ever give you--eternal life. Put your trust in him and pray for those princes--those government officials that God has put in place.

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Let Your Sins Be Strong

As we celebrate the 499th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, I thought we'd take a look at a famous (infamous?) quote of Martin Luther.

Here's the full quote:

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.

Martin Luther was writing to a friend and colleague, Phillip Melanchthon, in August 1521, who had some questions. This part comes from the end of the letter. You can read the full letter here. (I'm guessing the entire letter does not exist, so you just have to sort of jump right in to it.)

The phrase, "let your sins be strong," is the one that is often translated "sin boldly." Some people see that quote and think that Luther is advocating sinful behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth! Instead of sinful behavior, Luther is helping his friend (and us!) see the importance of being honest about sin and grace.

If you are honest with yourself you know you are a sinner. If we're going to have any meaningful relationship with God we have to hold on to that truth with everything we have. We can't pretend our sins are "small" or that we're better than other people. No, we're sinners, through and through and deserve nothing but God's unending wrath and punishment.

Only then can we begin to grasp the depth of God's mercy. Only then can we begin to grasp the height of his great love for us. Only then can we begin to grasp what Jesus endured to rescue us from sin. Only when sin is bold can grace be even bolder. Only when sin is honestly dealt with and freely admitted can the life and sacrifice of Christ be of any value to us.

This is the same thing we mean when we say, "You don't know what you have until it's gone." Only when God "takes away" his grace and love by preaching hell and punishment to us do we realize how much we have truly gained in Christ. We will not die but live. The Lamb of God has taken away your sins too.

So, yes, let your sins be strong, so that your Savior can be stronger.

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My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. ~ PSALM 62:1