Pastor's Blog

May 2018

Rescued from Ruined

Kyle didn’t realize it, but he was ruining his life. He thought he was living the big life. The parties on the weekend were wild and carefree. His job was making him a lot of money to play with. His friends were just as wild as he was. But he didn’t realize how ruined he was. He didn’t realize the paranoid feelings he was getting more and more were because his brain was getting fried on party drugs. He didn’t realize how bad his health was getting because of the lack of sleep. He didn’t realize the diseases growing in his body because of the multiple partners he slept with. He didn’t realize his party friends were disloyal and really despised him. He didn’t realize it, but his life was ruined.

But a friend realized it. She saw the wild pictures on Instagram. She heard from this other friend about his drug habit. She knew how ruined his life had become. So she rescued him. It wasn’t easy, Kyle resisted. But she eventually convinced him that he was a mess. And when the cloud of fantasy that had become Kyle’s life lifted and he saw who he really was, Kyle was filled with guilt and dread at what he had become. But his friend rescued him out of that life and led him to a better one.

That can happen, to us, too, you know. We sometimes live our lives in a fantasy of who we think we are. We ignore our addiction to sin and the disease of wickedness that lurks in our hearts. We forget how ruined sin makes us.

That is, until God dispels the fantasy to rescue us.

The same thing once happened to a sinful man named Isaiah. Here's what happened, in his own words, "Woe to me!" I cired, "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips..." Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." (Isaiah 6:5-7)

Rescued from ruined. No matter the sin, no matter the grace, your sin is atoned for, your guilt taken away. This is God's special work for sinners like us.

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Our Pentecost Faith

Pentecost is an ancient celebration. It began back in the BCs as harvest celebration for the Jewish people. Today Pentecost continues a celebration of a different kind: the celebration of the Holy Spirit's work in our life.

Today's Pentecost is a celebration of an end and of a beginning. It is a celebration of the end of the disciple’s education. For nearly four years, Christ had been their professor and now he had departed from this earth. He is not there with the disciples, now called apostles. He isn’t there to be the “go to” guy to answer all their questions. They’ve graduated from all that. So Pentecost is a celebration of the beginning of their ministry. It is the beginning of doing what Christ told them to do, to proclaim the gospel to all nations.

But what would the future hold for these men? It wouldn’t be long before the apostles would be beaten for teaching about Jesus. It wouldn’t be long and the first great persecution of the church would break out, scattering believers throughout the known world. And so is Pentecost also a day of uncertainty? Is Pentecost the day that reality begins to settle in on the apostles: “Man, is this is the real deal, or what!”

If the apostles were worried about the future, we certainly don’t see it as we read about in Acts. In fact, a quick glance through the book of Acts demonstrates the exact opposite. The apostles were beginning to see that Pentecost is faith without fear. Pentecost is about Christ’s promise to send them the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is about enjoying the unique peace of Christ. With this in hand, the apostles fearlessly proclaimed the gospel.

Faith without fear… It’s a bold statement because we have plenty we could be afraid of. Pentecost is an end and a beginning for us as well. It is the end of “having Christ” with us as he teaches the disciples. And it is the beginning of our own ministry. Does this frighten you? Today, we follow in the bold footsteps of the apostles. There is no fear because Pentecost is faith without fear. Like the apostles, we too enjoy the Holy Spirit as our counselor and we too rejoice in the peace of Christ. Today is fire. Today is power. Today is courage. Today is Pentecost.

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Christ Helps us Help a Hurting World

The Christian church, and the Lutheran church in particular, has a custom called "confirmation." Perhaps you remember the day of your confirmation: whether you were confirmed as a youngster or as an adult, I hope it was a happy day. And it should be because confirmation is a celebration of God’s word. He brought you to faith. He keeps you in the faith. And he will bring you to himself in heaven.

So now what? Sometimes confirmation can seem like such a big deal that we put all this emphasis on it without thinking about the day after confirmation, or the life after confirmation.

Confirmation means strengthening—strengthening for a life of showing your faith. Because whether you are aware of it or not, there is a world out there that hurts. It hurts because it’s lost in sin. And you and I, who have been confirmed or who will be confirmed, have the answer for that world.

The problem is sharing that answer with the world is painful. There was a Christian man named Stephen.  And he shared the message of Jesus with a hurting world. And what did the world do to him? It murdered him. Jesus once said to his disciples, "The world hated me and it's going to hate you, too." And Stephen was an example of that. You might look at his story and think, “What a painful thing to go through, what a terrible experience!” But in the midst of all the bad things that happened to him, Christ was right there to strengthen him.

Acts 7:54-58, "When they heard these things, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at [Stephen]. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed up into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  He said, 'Look, I see heaven opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.' But they screamed at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and rushed at him with one purpose in mind. They threw him out of the city and stoned him."

At the moment of their greatest anger against Stephen, Christ knew what Stephen needed. And Christ knows that we need his help if we’re going to be any help in this world. Jesus helps us help a hurting world. 

You know what the last thing Stephen did before he died was? He prayed for those who were murdering him. Christ had kept his promise to him, and he will keep his promise to you.

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Passing the Test of Love

I don’t know if I would have passed the test like he did. I don’t know if I’ve got the faith or the love to do what this man did. In an instant, a man pulled out some handguns and started shooting. The innocent people who were caught in the line of fire on the Trestle Trail Bridge in Menasha, WI could never have seen this coming and never have prepared themselves for this random violence. But there it was. In the amount of time it took to empty two handguns of their bullets, the whole scene was over. Blood, carnage, confusion. And love. In middle of all that, a father lies dying, and his last words to his wife were stunning, “Forgive the shooter.” I don’t know if I would have passed the test of love.

How many of us come into contact with that kind of evil, that kind of blind hatred that reaches out to hurt innocent people standing around? I wouldn’t have been surprised if anyone had been angry at the shooter. But here is the true character of Christ, the true heart of Christ, spoken in words that still break my heart, “Forgive the shooter.”

Passing the test of love…could you do that? Could you look your murderer, the killer of your daughter, the maniac who hurt your spouse—could you look that monster in the face and say, “I love you” and then die? Maybe we need more opportunities like this. Not more violence. Not more blind hatred. But more opportunities to look the undesirables of our life in the face and proclaim our love to them. Maybe then we’d learn what means to pass the test of love.

John 4:7, "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God."

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Don't Kick a Tree

Suzie looked at the tree in her backyard and wondered if it would grow any pears this year. She was too little to realize that the pear tree in their backyard was dying. But she wanted pears. Every day in the spring she would go out and look at the tree, hoping that it had made a pear. But all it ever did was grow leaves that eventually just fell off. The tree just didn’t have the strength to produce pears. Once Suzie went out and yelled at the tree, “Why won’t you make any pears?!” She even kicked it. But the tree couldn’t do it; it was too sick.

Sometimes we’re like little Suzie when it comes to growing God’s fruit. God wants us to live perfect lives. Our consciences tell us what we should be doing and how we should be living. Yet, no matter how often we tell ourselves to do those things we still can’t produce the kinds of perfect fruit that God wants. No matter how hard we kick ourselves, we still sin. We’re too sick to grow God’s fruit on our own.

Making the kinds of trees that can grow God’s fruit is the work of Christ. John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." His work reverses our sinful dying condition so we can grow the kind of fruit God wants. All Christ does is he connects us to himself: the true vine and that connection cleanses us from our sin and gives us the power to grow God’s fruit. 

No kicking required.

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