Thursday, June 22, 2017

Why Care About the Environment?

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden
To work it and take care of it.”
Genesis 2:15

For the last several years there has been a debate raging about the subject of what is called “Global Warming” or “Climate Change.”  The point seems to be that because of global warming we had better start taking care of the environment or catastrophe is coming.  Now the purpose of this week’s blog is not to join in that debate.  I will let those who know far more than I do, debate these issues. For me, global warming is not the reason I care about the environment.

My reason is much simpler.  In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that there is a simple reason why we pray.  “We should pray because God has commanded us to pray.”  The same could be said about why we care about the environment.  God has commanded us to care about the creation.  He put the first man in the garden “to work it and take care of it.”  That little verse from Genesis 2 speaks volumes to me.  First, this is a great reminder that the world belongs to God, not you or me.  He is the owner.  We are His servants.  We are His stewards.  We are not free to work and take care of this world as we please.  Ours is to watch over the creation as He pleases!

In a whole number of ways, the creation around us is a gift from God.  He gives it to us to “work it.”  That means we are to use the resources of the creation to provide for our daily lives and the lives of those we love.  So producing food, using timber for building, oil for gas and so forth are proper examples of “working it.” 

And at the same time, the creation is a gift to take care of.  This is a gift on loan to us.  There are two great commandments – to love God and to love our neighbor. Those commandments are at the heart of why we care for this gift of creation.  This world belongs to the Creator and so out of love for Him, we care for this world.  We also care for it out love for our neighbors.  We care for the world so that our neighbors might also live productive live.  We take care of the environment so that this world will be here for future generations to work and care for. 

Being made stewards of the creation is itself a gift.  When I was a kid I loved it… I counted it a great gift when my dad was working on something and he let me help.  He didn’t need my help.  But he wanted it  When he built the new shelves in our basement and he had me cutting the boards, or nailing the shelves together, I loved that dad wanted my help.  What fun it was to work alongside of him.  That’s the gift God gives in making us stewards of His creation.  He is inviting us to be a part of His work.  What a privilege!  What a gift.

Finally, creation is a gift God wants us to enjoy.  The Garden was called Eden.  That word means “delight.”  God desires that we delight in, and find joy in the creation.  Walks in the woods, a swim in the lake,  a picnic in a park, camping, fishing, playing in the midst of God’s majestic creation – those are all part of God’s will for us in the gift of creation. 

Giving us this world is one of the ways God has shown us just how much He loves us. What better way to show Him our love for Him than by taking care of this world, this universe – His amazing gift to us.  That’s  really all the reason I need for taking care of the environment.  

Friday, June 16, 2017

Pointing Fingers

“’Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you
Not to eat from?’  The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me –
She gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate.”
Genesis 3:11-12

There is a quote that is credited to Ronald Reagan, that I really love.  “Can you imagine how much we could accomplish if we weren’t worried about who would get the credit?”  Lately the following slight variation on that quote has been running through my mind – “Can you imagine how much we could accomplish if we weren’t worried about who to blame?”

Like all of you, I was horrified (once again) by the senseless shooting of American congressman who were practicing for a charity ball game.   I am continuing to pray for the recovery of all who were wounded in the attack.  Yet it seemed for while that, as horrible as the attack was, one good thing was coming out of it.  For a little while all the vitriol and blaming and attacking of others was silenced and people in government, in the media and across America realized they were all countrymen first, regardless of their political party.  But then I woke up this morning, looked at the news from America, and it seemed that the truce was over    People, the media, the politicians were once again pointing fingers at each other.   

I need to say that such finger pointing is not unique to America.  There was a lot of it going on in the UK following their election last week. 

More importantly, for my purposes in this blog, finger pointing is not unique to the political world.  Unfortunately, it happens at work, at church, at school, in our neighborhoods, our families and our marriages We all do it.  Have you ever worked with anyone who could never admit fault?  If something went wrong, it was always someone else’s fault.  That’s finger pointing.  Have you ever gossiped about someone… made someone look bad in the eyes of others by sharing some embarrassing story about that person?  That’s finger pointing.  Have you ever tried to place the blame for something you did on someone else?  I have.  I lost one of my teacher’s books in the third grade.  Rather than own up to what I had done, I forged a classmate’s signature to make it look like she had lost the book, not me.

This is nothing new.  We all come from a long line of finger pointers. Adam was the first one.  When the Lord found him and Eve in the bushes, he asked Adam, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”   Listen Adam’s answer.  ‘The woman you put here with me – She gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate.”  His first, instinct, as a brand new sinner, was to point fingers. He blamed Eve for giving him the fruit.  He pointed the finger at God for making Eve. 

Why do we do that?  Shame, guilt, not wanting to get caught, fear of punishment, fear of what others might think?  Yes, it can be any or all of those things.  Sometimes it’s our own arrogant, self-righteousness belief that we couldn’t possibly be wrong.  Therefore, it has to be someone else’s fault. 

In the movie, Bridge of Spies, Tom Hanks keeps asking the Russian Spy if he’s nervous, if he’s afraid, if he’s worried.  Each time, the spy answers in a calm, even bored tone, “Would it help?”  The implication is that none of those things would change or help anything.  Well that’s even more true of pointing fingers.  Pointing fingers just makes things worse.  Pointing fingers divides.  Others go on the defensive and point their fingers back.  The argument grows hotter.  Relationships at work, at home, in church or where ever are poisoned.

So I challenge you - Imagine what would happen if we weren’t so worried about blaming and pointing fingers.  Imagine what would happen if instead of pointing fingers at each other, we each shouldered our share of the blame for things.  Imagine how it would change things if we each stood before God and each other and took the ancient confession as our own – “I confess to God Almighty and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned in thought, word and deed by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault…”  I know what God would do.  He has told us.  “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”   Right there in the garden, in response to their confession, He did this.  He promised them a savior who would crush the serpent’s head.  He gave His Son.  His Son Jesus shouldered the punishment for our most grievous fault when He died on the cross.  He rose again that we might be restored to God. That’s what God did.  And you know, forgiven in Christ, that’s what we could do for each other.  Instead of blaming, we could forgive each other.  Imagine that.

No imagine even more than that. Imagine what would happen if instead of pointing fingers and talking about each other – we talked to each other.  That’s what Jesus told us to do.  “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother.”  Imagine what we would accomplish if our concern was to love… to win our brother or sister’s heart rather than blame them.  We really don’t have to imagine it.  God has shown us.  That’s why He didn’t send an angel.  He came Himself, in our flesh and blood – because He loved us… His desire was to win us for Himself.  And that’s what He did.  Imagine that.  

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Most Important Confirmation Teacher

“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old
he will not depart from it.”
Proverbs 22:6

This past Sunday was confirmation Sunday here at Trinity!  The whole weekend was a great celebration.  On Saturday, the confirmands gave their faith statements and wow, was it great. One sang, others gave their personal testimony of faith.  One did a children’s message, another used soil and seed and growing plant, two others used their own artwork.  Each expressed their faith in their own unique way.  Then on Sunday they were confirmed.  All of us, the three teachers who taught their confirmation class, rejoiced to see and hear what God has been doing in their lives.

I have been reflecting on that a lot this week – on my role as Pastor and teacher in their lives.  Then the Lord humbled me.  He reminded me that I am not the most important teacher of the faith in the lives of our confirmands.  Luther in his Small Catechism, leaves no doubt about who that teacher is.  At the beginning of each of the six chief parts you will find these words – “The Ten Commandments (or creed or Lord’s prayer) as the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.”  Mom and dad, let there be no doubt about this – You are the most important teacher of the faith to your children. 

In 33 years of pastoral ministry – this fact has always been true.  The students who get the most out of confirmation are almost always those who come from homes where the faith is important to Mom and/or (the best is when it is both) Dad.  When the faith is talked about, and practiced at home… when the faith is important at home, it will be important to that student in confirmation too.  Now parents I don’t mean that as a guilt trip.  I mean that as an affirmation.  You are the most important people God has placed into the lives of your children.  No one else has the influence over them that you do.  What I saw and heard in the faith statements of our confirmands is more a reflection of a life time of learning the faith from mom and dad, than anything the three of us did these past two years.

There are so many ways in which you parents pass on Jesus to your children.  Think about this.  Who brings your child to be baptized?  You do.  Who says teaches them how to pray at bed time and at meals?  Who says their prayers with them from the time they are infants?  You do.  Who answers their earliest and most important faith questions?  You do.  Who is the first one to tell them about Jesus, to read bible stories to them?  You are.  Who takes them to church and makes sure they are in Sunday School?  You do..  When their grandma or grandpa dies, who comforts them with the assurance that grandmas and grandpa are in heaven with Jesus?  You do. 

The most important way in which you teach the faith is by your example.  When your kids see you going to church and Bible class… when your kids see you at home reading your Bible… when they see and hear you praying… when they see how you act towards others.  I remember watching as my dad spent his entire holiday at the church replacing the boiler with all the labor free.  I remember watching as my dad was getting yelled at by someone but dad didn’t lost his temper.  I reading my mom’s notes from my oldest sister was sick.  Those notes were filled with faith.  Their example was so very important.  So is yours mom and dad.  You are a gift from God to your kids. 

And you are not alone.  God promise that the word you share with your children will not return to Him empty but will accomplish the purposes for which He gave it  “Faith,” He promises, “comes from hearing the word, the word about Christ.”   “The Scriptures are able to make” your children “wise unto salvation through faith in Christ.”  He loves your kids even more than you do. He gave His Son for them.  His Son gave His life for them.  Trust this promise – “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Trust that promise and share Jesus with your kids.  You are their most important confirmation teachers.  Thank you. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

You are One of God's Best Sermons

“Shine like stars in the Universe, as you hold forth the Word of Life”
Philippians 2:15b-16a

It is truly amazing all you can learn about God from the stars!  I first heard this from Dr. Steunkel, the President of the College where Linda and I attended.  He was talking about Isaiah 40:26 – “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?  He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls them each by name.  Because of His great power and might strength, not one of them is missing.”  Wow!  There is a lot in those words.  God is the creator of the stars.  He made all of those stars you see in the sky.  They belong to Him, as does all of His creation.   I am told that on a clear dark night you and I can see with our eye only a few thousand of the millions of stars that fill the Universe.  Yet each one of those stars is important to our God and creator.  “He calls them each by name.”  Because of His power they were created and because of His power not one of them is missing.

You get the message.  If God cares that much about each and every star in the sky, imagine how much He cares about you and me.  After all it was for you and me that He gave His Son. It was for your salvation and mine that Jesus gave His life.  Jesus Himself tells us that the lilies of the field preach this same sermon.  “If that is how God clothes the lilies of the fields, which are here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will He cloth you?”  After all, in the words of Paul, “If God did not spare His own son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also along with Him, freely give us all things?”  That’s quite a sermon the stars preach.

But did you know that God preaches that same sermon through you to those around you.  That’s what Paul is telling us in Philippians.  “Shine like stars in the Universe, as you hold forth the Word of Life”  Like the stars, He created each of us. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.  Of us the Lord says, “I have called you by name, you are Mine.”  “The very hairs on your head,” Jesus tells us, “ are all numbered.”  He gave His Son for you.  At Baptism He made you His own.  God intends for you’re your life and your words to be a living, breathing sermon about God’s care and grace to all who meet you.  “Shine like stars in the Universe!”

But how can you or I be such a sermon.  This world is a very dark place. How can you and I possibly make any real difference.  That’s precisely the point, my friends,.  Those are the moments when God shines brightest through you and me.  Once again God teaches us through the stars.  When it is bright and sunny outside, you can’t see the stars. The sunshine obscures them.  But when its dark… indeed when its completely dark outside, that’s when you see the stars. That’s when they are at their brightest.  In the same way, it is in the midst of the darkest moments in life when God’s light shines most clearly from your life and mine.  I remember one man named Dwain, dying of cancer.   As the darkness of death encroached his faith shone at its brightest, sharing his faith with his son-in-law while in the hospital waiting to die.  His joy, his hope in the face of death – that was the sermon God preached through Dwain.  That’s what He does through you and me.  He makes us His stars shining with faith, hope and love in the darkness of this world.  For those who know you at home, at work, in various parts of your life - no sermon I ever preach from the pulpit can match up to the sermon God  preaches through you, your faith and your life.  You are one of God’s best sermons. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

You're Fired!

“’Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins…”
Acts 2:37b-38a

One of the first things I do when I wake up most every day is get online and check the news, especially the news from America.  Yesterday morning I wasn’t expecting what I read there.  The President of the United States had fired the Director of the FBI.  Now I have tried purposefully to stir this blog away from politics and instead focus on what God’s word has to say to our daily lives.  This week’s blog will be no exception.   

However, as the day went on, I couldn’t get the word’s “You’re Fired” out of my mind.  That’s when it struck me, there is someone in each of our lives who absolutely needs to be fired!  That someone in my life is me.  That’s someone in your life is you – the old sinful you and me.  When God calls you or me to repent, that’s what He means.  That’s what it means to turn away from sin.    Spiritually, this is the first step in the new life God has given us in Christ.  This is the first step of every day of the Christian life – to repent… to fire yourself!

Now I know President Trump seems to make firing someone look easy.  He made a whole career out of sitting across the desk from people on The Apprentice and saying, “You’re fired!”  But anyone who has had to do it at work, can tell you that it’s anything but easy.  I have only had to do it once and I hated it.  Other managers talk about losing sleep when they knew that they had to take this step.

Having to fire yourself is as hard or harder!  Repentance after all means admitting that you have been wrong, that you have been going in the wrong direction, that you can’t set yourself right… that you can’t save yourself.  Most of us spend a lot of time doing just the opposite, trying to hide or deny our failures, trying to convince ourselves and others that we are handling life just fine… that we haven’t done anything wrong.  Why?  Because it’s humbling to admit we’re wrong.  There is shame involved.  We want people to only see the good not the bad in us.  We are afraid of facing the truth about our sin.  Yet go to any 12 step recovery program and they will tell that the first step is to admit you are powerless… that you can’t fix yourself.  They will also tell you that this step, just showing up at AA or Celebrate Recovery, and admitting you need help is the hardest step to take. 

Yet when the people asked Peter what they needed to do, this is exactly what Peter tells them.  “Repent and be baptized…’  “Turn from your ways and live…”  “Fire yourself!”  Why?  Because new life is found only in trusting God’s Son, not in trusting yourself.  Listen to Paul’s words to the Galatians, words of great hope that describe what happens when you fire yourself.  “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.  The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  That’s what God does every time we repent. He starts a new life in you and me.  “If anyone is in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away.”  It’s been fired.  “Behold the new has come!”  Luther says the same thing in His Small Catechism when explaining the meaning of baptism for our daily lives.  “This signifies that the old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sin and evil desires.”  In other words the old Adam should daily be fired.  Why?  “so that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

You know there are mornings for some reason I wake up discouraged.  Linda thinks it’s because I start off with emails and the news.  Maybe she’s right.  Maybe the better way to start the day is to look in the mirror and say to our old sinful selves, “You’re fired!  I don’t need you anymore.  I’m a baptized child of God.  In Christ He’s given me a whole new life to live each day!  He’s all I need.”  Try it tomorrow morning.  I will too.  Amen. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Hide and Seek

“And their eyes were opened and they recognized him”
Luke 24:31a

There is an old joke about a man stranded in his home during a huge flood.  First, a boat came along and offered to take the man to safety.  “No need,” said the man.  “I have faith.  God will rescue me.”  A few hours later the waters had gotten higher.  Now the man was sitting on his roof.   Another boat came and offered to take the man to safety.  “No need,” said the man again, “I have faith.  God will rescue me.”   The waters continued to rise until the man was standing on the very peak of his roof.  This time a helicopter came along.  They offered to lift the man off the roof and take him to safety.  “No need,” insisted the man, “I have faith.  God will rescue me.”  Well the man died and went to heaven.  Standing before the Lord, the man asked, “I trusted you.  I was so sure you would rescue me.  Where were you?  Why didn’t you come?”  “What do you mean?” asked the Lord.  “I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”  The problem wasn’t that the Lord didn’t come.  The man just failed to recognize him. 

Sometimes we are like the man in that story.  We look for God yet fail to recognize Him.  We seek for him, but it’s as if he is hiding from us.  I think of the man who committed adultery, who was sure God had left him.  “I pray,” he said, “But I know he’s not listening.  Why would He listen to me, after what I have done?”  There was the woman with cancer. “I pray and pray and pray but the cancer only gets worse,” she said.  “Where is God? Why doesn’t He answer?”  Sometimes, it’s just the routine of life.  Every day becomes so much the same. “How’d my life become so boring? So empty?  Where is God?”  Perhaps you are listening for God’s calling.  One person asked me, “How do you know what God wants you to do?” You pray for His guidance but you can discern no answer.  Where is He?  It’s like God is playing a spiritual game of hide and seek – hiding Himself and trying hard not to be found.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Take the story from the Luke 24, about two men walking to Emmaus on that first Easter.  They were talking with each other about all the terrible things that had happened in Jerusalem – about the crucifixion and death of Jesus.  While they were talking Jesus Himself drew near and walked with them.  At first they didn’t recognize him.  They told him about all the things that had happened.  They even told him about the wild stories of the women, that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Still they didn’t recognize Him.  He started speaking Scripture to them.  Still they didn’t know it was him.  It wasn’t till he agreed to stay with them… until “he took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it them” that “then their eyes were open and they recognized Him.”

Notice that the problem was not that Jesus wasn’t there.  He was there.  The problem was with them.  Like the man in the flood, they were blinded by a lack of faith. 

So where is God?  Is He playing hide and seek, not wanting to be found?   Far from it.  He’s playing hide and seek, the way my grandkids do.  They run and hide but then tell you where they are hiding.  Our God and savior hides Himself so that He can be found.  He hides Himself right where He tells us He will hide Himself.  He comes in a pastor telling us God forgives us as the beginning of our worship.  He comes in water and the word at baptism.  He comes in the words of Scripture read… spoken and preached.  He comes in bread and wine to give us Himself to eat and drink.  He comes in our fellow believers – in their listening ears, their kind words, their acts of service and support – for He lives in His people by His Spirit.  He comes in those in need but He said, “I was hungry and you fed me… I was in prison and you visited me.  I was naked and you clothed me… For whatever you did  for the least of these my brothers, you do it unto me.”  He comes as He did for those two disciples… to open our eyes… Why hide Himself in these ways?  Because He is the Almighty God.  He is too much for us to see face to face right now.  So He hides His glory in places and in ways so that as he did for those two disciples – our eyes might be opened to Him.  Yes, He’s here.  Do you recognize Him?  Amen. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

No More Locked Doors

“With the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them…”
John 20:19

“On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked...”  That’s how Jesus found them on that first Easter evening… that’s how he found them one week later – hiding in fear behind lock doors.  Those words last Sunday reminded me of all the times I have visited people who were locked up for one reason or another – locked up in a psychiatric ward for trying to commit suicide… locked up in the county jail for stealing… locked up in a nursing home because the person had Alzheimer’s.  Each time my thoughts were the same.  No matter how much the person deserves to be locked up or needs to be locked up, it has got to be hard.  It’s got to be scary. They tell you where you can go and where you can’t go.  You have no control over your life. 

The truth is that all of us have prisons and locked doors in our lives.  For one person it’s a bad marriage.  For another it’s her debts.  I remember one woman who was paralyzed from the waist down.  She felt imprisoned by her bed.   There is the husband imprisoned by his addiction to filthy adult materials and the wife imprisoned by her anger with him.  There is the man imprisoned by his age.  At 55 he lost his job and no one would hire him.  There was the mother trapped by things going on in her daughter’s life.  She was so concerned that she could eat or sleep. What are the prisons in your life?  Whatever they are, most of the locked doors in our lives are doors we have built ourselves.  For the disciples its was their fear of the Jews.   Peter was imprisoned by guilt because he had denied Jesus.  Thomas was imprisoned by his doubts and unbelief.  For the man with all the debt, it was his greed that locked him in that prison.   The lady in the nursing home wasn’t imprisoned by her paralysis.    She was angry with God and full of self-pity.  However we do it, you and I build strong locked doors, doors we are powerless to unlock.

Thank God that there is no prison that can contain Him.  There are no locked doors that can stop Him.  That’s what this first tells us.  On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.  Yet, without unlocking a door Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”   In the first chapter of Revelation Jesus explains why no prison, no locked door that stand in His way.  “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.  Did you hear him?  Jesus holds the keys that unlock the prison doors  of our sin.  He holds those keys because, as He said, I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! 

Indeed the story of our Lord’s life is the story of the greatest jail break ever.  Jesus took on our flesh and blood.  He became like us in every way except one. Sin could not imprison Him for  “he committed no sin nor was any deceit found in his mouth.”  That’s when Jesus did the most amazing thing.  He entered our prison.  He switched places with us.  God made Him who knew no sin to be sin from us… On the cross.  He entered the prison of sin and death for you and me so that that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  Then Easter morning  He burst His three day prison.  He rose from the dead. 

The jail break didn’t stop there.  The doors were locked for fear of the Jews and Jesus came stood among his disciples.  He unlocked the door of fear. He invited Thomas to see and touch his wounds.  He set his free from the locked doors of doubt.  He set Peter free from his guilt.  He does the same thing for you and me.  At your baptism He raised you up from sin and death.  When you confess your sins, He forgives.  When you cry out, He answers.  That paralyzed woman became a source of encouragement to others.  In Christ there is no prison that can stop Him.   He holds the keys of death and Hades.  In Him there are no more locked doors!  You are truly free.  Amen.