Pastor's Blog

September 2014

Psalm 23 Christians

This week, we have a guest blogger, Chaplain Mark Wenzel. Chaplain Wenzel serves from Wisconsin Lutheran Institutional Ministries at the Milwaukee House of Corrections and Froedert Hospital. Here are his words to you this week.

Despite its use at funerals and at deathbeds, which usually evokes many tears, Psalm 23 is a celebratory, victorious psalm. THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD! I SHALL NOT WANT! EVEN THOUGH I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH, I WILL FEAR NO EVIL! This Psalm is a bold proclamation of faith in a loving, powerful, protective God. The pinnacle of faith in God, isn’t it? This is what we strive for, what we judge our own faith against. Maybe even what we judge others’ faith against.

We sure don’t want to be like this guy:

 I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping
    and drench my couch with tears.
 My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
   they fail because of all my foes.

Or this guy:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Those guys sound defeated, weak, definitely not faith-filled victorious Christians. But wait a second. Isn’t that the same guy? Sure, that’s David.

It is really great to hear what David wrote in Psalm 23. Those are comforting words. But they might not be all that comforting to someone in the middle of a really bad time. When David was facing difficult times, he didn’t spout the words of Psalm 23. More likely it is that he was muddling around saying: “how long o LORD? Have you forgotten about me God? When are you going to do something about these problems I have? Are you listening God?” David’s journey to Psalm 23 was ugly. It was whiney. It was fraught with anxiety and weariness and drama.

I prefer life to be filled with a lot less drama and I believe there are many of us who want life to appear much more like Leave it to Beaver than the messed up reality taking place inside or outside our doors. But life doesn’t fit into tidy 30 minute timeslots and all the loose ends are wrapped up before we go to bed every night.

Life is filled with great messes, and they don’t get cleaned up as easily and quickly as Bounty paper towel.

The good news is that when we find ourselves in these dark places we are not alone and without hope. God is there and he invites us to turn to him. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened.” “cast all your anxiety on him.”

If you happen to find yourself a Psalm 23 Christian, thank the Lord. But remember, not everyone is there. Remember what it might have taken to make you a Psalm 23 Christian. Can you have empathy for Christians who are still struggling with the challenges?

Those who find themselves questioning life, questioning their faith, and questioning God feel as if they are all alone in their struggle. Sometimes we make them feel that way, not on purpose, but we do it all the same. We do that by not listening to their struggle, but trying to talk them out of their feelings,

I’m betting, that if we’re honest with ourselves, we still cry out like David did.

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Gathered to be Perfect

So who is it that gathers here at Good Shepherd’s and faithful Christian churches around the world? It is people who come with all their filth, all their sin, all their shame to have it taken away by Christ. They don’t want to be that way anymore. You don’t want to live in your sin anymore. You want to live as one who has been forgiven—and by God’s grace are.

Because God has sealed you with his Word, God has forgiven your sins and sees you through Jesus Christ as the perfect church. You don’t have to put so much pressure on yourself and other believers to be perfect. God has already accomplished that.

So how should we live? Like a child who has been forgiven by mom or dad, who skips away in the delight of their parent’s favor and works to be the best little boy or girl they can be. Let’s live for God because God has hugged us and restored us. God doesn’t see our sin, but considers us perfect.

And if that’s how God sees us, isn’t that how we should see each other? It’s so easy for us to be critical of each other. Let’s ease up on one another. If Christ was punished in our place, that means I don’t need to punish you when you sin against me. Instead, how can we serve each other in love to help? If we live this way, God will give us so many blessings and so many chances to show our love to others. Then you’re looking at each other the way God does: as those who have been sealed by his word and made into his perfect church.

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Adversity is Good

As Peter looked around him, he saw the wind, he saw the waves. He had been walking on water but now his mind was filled with the horror of drowning. And just then his faith yelled at him: “Wake up, Peter! You’re looking at the wrong thing. Look back at Jesus.” And faith erupted from his mouth and he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Might you and I not cry out the same thing? As we fall into doubt, we see what we give up, we see where it all leads us, and we remember that we really do need a Savior. So we cry out, “Lord, save me!” Lord, save me from doubt. Lord, save me from sin. And Jesus reaches out his hand and takes hold of you and gently says to you, “Why did you doubt? I was here all along.”

Sometimes we forget that Jesus really is right here. He dwells inside of your heart. He is there to remind you of how dear you are to him. He does not kick you for being so foolish. He doesn’t twist your ear and drag you back to church. He has the quiet, gentle voice of love that calls you back to the cross where he died for all that doubt, where he paid for all that sin. And he tells you it’s going to be just fine. And the storms of doubt go away. And the wind of adversity calms down. And there is peace in your heart and there is faith under your feet and you are safe.

Adversity helps us rediscover this. I just went through some CPR training a few weeks ago. If I don’t practice that skill, I’ll never be able to use it if I ever need to. If God doesn’t allow some challenges into your life, you’ll never venture out of the boat in faith. You’ll never walk on the water out into the storms of this world. You’ll never practice your faith. Faith will just be this idea in your life. So God lets you have adversity, so that you can learn perseverance.

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For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. ~ ROMANS 6:23