Friday, December 30, 2011

In times of trouble, turn to the Psalms

All of us have people in our lives that have influenced us or made a lasting impression on us in someway.  Because of their faith in us or love they've shown to us, we consider such people our heroes.  We look up to them.  We admire the example they set for us.  We want to be like them.

One of my heroes is Father Tim.  I've never met him in person.  In fact, he doesn't exist - except in the pages of the Mitford series of books written by Jan Karon.

Father Tim is the pastor of the Lord's Chapel in the fictional town of Mitford, North Carolina.  Each of the Mitford books follows the life of the humble and devoted pastor as he cares for the people of his little community.  I appreciate the fact that Father Tim knows what people need the most - the Word of God.  And he uses the Psalms very effectively in his ministry.

For example, as Father Tim sought to minister to a young man who had been abandoned by his mother, he prayed Psalm 32:8b - "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you."

When searching for encouragement, Father Tim remembered Psalm 69:19 - "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens."

To the individual near death, the first verse of Psalm 27 was Father Tim's prayer: "The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?"

You can't spend enough time in the Psalms.  Luther loved sitting down with his psalter.  The comfort and hope he drew from the Psalms was good medicine for those stressful and dangerous days of the Reformation.  I pray that you find verses and chapters from the Psalms that give you comfort in troubled times and peace when your heart is troubled.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My last sermon of the year

is finished, whew! Depending on the kind of year you've had, you might need a pep talk to get you pumped up for 2012.  Join us Saturday evening at 7 pm for worship at Life in Christ.  The apostle Paul has got something to say that you need to hear.  Be here!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Going All In with Professor Grant Horner

Who is Grant Horner? I didn't know who he was until the other day when I was reading Tim Challies' blog.  Horner is a fellow who has developed a Bible reading system that, when used faithfully, will lead you to read 3650 chapters of the Bible over the next year. 

It's a pretty ambitious program.  You read 10 chapters from the Bible every day.  These chapters are taken from 10 lists that have been devised by Horner.  I liked how he broke down the 10 lists.  In a given day a person would read five chapters from the Old Testament and five from the New Testament.  I like the balance such a schedule provides.

According to what I've read, reading the 10 chapters takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour a day.  At first I wondered where I would find an extra hour in my day to do this kind of reading.  The truth is that I have a least an hour that I can devote to this.  I can do some reading in the morning during my devotion and prayer time; I can read more while eating my lunch (which I do most of the time in the office); and I can finish up by leaving the TV off and spending that time listening to the Lord.

I read the Bible every day.  But usually it is in conjunction with preparing sermons, Bible classes, and other such tasks.  I need to spend more time in God's Word for myself.  I want the Lord's voice to be the loudest I hear as I live from day to day.  His Holy Spirit works through means - like the Scriptures - to keep strengthening faith and forming us into faithful disciples.  I want the Spirit to be doing this work in my life.

What are you doing for your Bible reading and devotion time? You can check out Horner's Bible reading system by going to and look for the blog entry for Dec. 27.  Once you get there, read the articles and look for the tabs that will lead you to Horner's material.  Jan. 1 is just a few days away.  If you're going to make just one resolution for the New Year, resolve to spend more time in 2012 reading God's Word.  It will be the best resolution you've ever made!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Top Ten Reasons Why People Don't Go To Church

Here we go...

10) "The glare from the pastor's forehead is too blinding!"
9) Three letters - NFL
8) "I don't have kids yet!"
7) "I have kids!"
6) "People that happy just give me the creeps!"
5) "I can worship God in the outdoors...with the roof open at the University of Phoenix Stadium!"
4) "I'm a good person and I want to avoid hearing otherwise!"
3) "They don't serve a good cappuccino during the coffee hour!"
2) "When I want to feel guilty I just call my parents!"

And the number one reason why people don't go to church is (drum roll...)

Because you haven't asked them to come with you and your family!

You can change that, however.  Invite someone to come with you to the New Year's Eve service at LICL at 7 pm or on New Year's Day at 10 am.  Tell you what we'll do - we'll powder the head of the pastor so that the glare isn't so bright:-)!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Prayer for Christmas Eve

Dear Jesus Child, I want to kneel by Your crib.  I know I can never thank You enough.  I know I can't give You anything that would sufficiently thank You for what you've done.  But since You want to have everything that's evil in me, I will give You everything: my life and my heart, my past and my sins, my future and my eternity.  I wouldn't dare to come to You if You hadn't come to me.  But now You are here, and I know that it's for my sake.  Therefore, I kneel here and thank You, Jesus Child, Prince of Peace, You who are called Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God.  Amen.

Bo Giertz - "To Live With Christ" page 797, CPH

We'll have church today...and tomorrow

While reading Gene Veith's excellent blog yesterday, he noted that the last time Christmas fell on a Sunday, many churches kept their doors closed.  The logic was that Christmas is a family holiday and it would be better if families were able to stay home and enjoy their time together.

Is church really that much of an interruption or inconvenience for families? You mean to tell me that devoting an hour of worship to the God who gave us the gift of His one and only Son completely messes up Christmas day for families?

There is no better place for a family to gather - no matter what day of the week it falls on - than Christmas Day.  What could be better for a family than to be in God's House, giving thanks and singing praises that Jesus Christ is born?! Church is the perfect place for parents and kids and grandparents and relatives and friends to be on Christmas morning.  The presents and goodies and basketball and football games will wait.  They won't disappear - trust me!

Tonight at 5 pm our Sunday school children will tell the Christmas story.  I watched them practice and they will do a great job.  At 8 pm and 11 pm (take your pick) you can join us for a candlelight service.  It's goose bump time when the lights go down, the candles are lit and the church sings with one voice, "Silent Night, Holy Night."

Then on Christmas Day we'll have a worship service at 10 am.  More great singing and special music is scheduled.  Come and learn why the Babe born in Bethlehem treats us like a shepherd and why that is really good for us.  It's Sunday, the day of the Lord's resurrection.  We worship on Sunday.  Don't treat this Sunday as something different.

God's very best to you and your family! See you tonight...and tomorrow!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

One way to get rid of the garbage

Have you heard this Christmas, Tom went to visit his brother, Frank, who lived in New York City.  After being dropped off at Frank's apartment, Tom was horrified to see garbage piled up on the sidewalks as far as a person could see.  Frank explained that the city was in the midst of a long garbage strike.  Tom asked, "What do you do with your garbage?" Frank replied, "I've come up with a very ingenious idea.  I take the garbage bag out of the can each evening and wrap it up in Christmas paper so that it looks like a gift.  I then take it downstairs and put it in the back seat of my car with the door unlocked.  Every morning the car is empty."

How blessed we are that Jesus never goes on strike.  He takes the garbage of our lives - the sins we commit each day - and removes it from us.  Not by tricking someone to take it off our hands.  He takes those things that would have separated us from our heavenly Father and buries it at the foot of the cross.  And now our sin account is empty.

Because of the love of our Lord and Savior, we can really celebrate His birth.  Join us at Life in Christ - Christmas Eve @ 5, 8, or 11 pm and on Christmas Day @ 10 am.  Blessings! 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

One who knows how to give gifts

Did you hear the story about the kid who wanted a bicycle for Christmas? All the other kids in the neighborhood had bikes so he wanted one too.  The boy's mother, trying to be helpful, encouraged her son to pray to God about this request.  So that's what he did.  "Dear Jesus, could you see that I get a bicycle? That's all I want for Christmas.  Amen."

Each night the boy prayed the same prayer.  But the praying didn't seem to help.  How could he be sure that God would give him the gift that he wanted most? Then the youngster got an idea.

When his mother wasn't looking, the boy snuck into the living room, found the little manger scene which was set up under the Christmas tree and put the statue of Mary in his pocket.  He rushed to his room, closed the door, and knelt by his bed.  He prayed, "Jesus, if you want to see your mother again, I'd better get that bike!"

This kid brings new meaning to the phrase, "Desperate times call for desperate measures!"

The good news for us is that God is without peer when it comes to gift-giving.  His gift of the Christ-child is a prime example of how God gives to you and me.

He gives in love - For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son...John 3:16
He gives freely - It is by grace that you have been saved and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God...Ephesians 2:8
He gives perfectly - Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15

It seems like every Christmas there is always one gift that has to be returned - wrong size, wrong shape or wrong color.  Praise God for His "one size fits all" gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 6:23).

Monday, December 19, 2011

What good are idols for?

Yes, American Idol is the most popular TV show in America.  Have you noticed, though, how most of the winners have faded into the background? That how it is with things that we often idolize - we focus our hottest attention on them for a while but then something else comes along that is new, prettier, different or somehow offers something that we think will make our life better or more exciting.  Working on a sermon for our Wednesday night service that takes various Hebrew words for "idol" and explains what they mean.  Some interesting discoveries regarding just how worthless idols really are.  Join us this Wednesday evening at 7 pm to learn more.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Something to think about...

Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Greatest Story Ever

Everyone likes a good story, right? Join us at Life in Christ this Sunday for the greatest story ever.  Hear all about it at 8 and 10:45 am.  Sunday school, Confirmation, High School and adult Bible class meets at 9:15 am. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Luther on the 8th Commandment

For there is nothing on or in a person that can do both greater and more extensive good or harm in spiritual and in temporal matters than the tongue.  This is true even though it is the least and weakest part of a person (James 3:5).

From the Large Catechism, 8th Commandment

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hilton Head's Calling Us Home?

No, not quite.  But my dear, sweet wife and I enjoyed a wonderful visit this past weekend with my former congregation as  Island Lutheran Church of Hilton Head Island, SC celebrated their 25th Anniversary.  We were treated like royalty by our hosts, Bart and Dorothy.  They planned a little dinner party for us last Friday where we greeted 27 of our former church family.  Saturday we poked around Harbor Town for a bit and had lunch for our dear friends, Ed and Lois.  That evening we attended the 25th Anniversary Banquet - a fun evening.  On Sunday I had the great honor of delivering the sermon; the theme was "One People - One Mission."  During the service, 22 new members were received; of that number, 3 were baptisms and 5 were adult confirmations.  It was truly a glorious service!

Sherri and I very much enjoyed meeting the new pastor, Larry, and his sweet wife, Kathy.  Pastor Larry is the perfect shepherd for that congregation.  Very personable and enthusiastic.  We pray that God continues to richly bless his ministry there.

It was a wonderful visit but it wasn't until we landed back in Phoenix that we had the sense of coming home.  Peoria is our home.  It's the place where our kids and grand kids and our church family can be found.  Be it every so humble, there is no place like home.  Praise the Lord!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Making the Sign of the Cross

We Lutheran make the sign of the cross.  It's not mandatory.  A person doesn't have to do so.  But making the sign of the cross is a very good reminder of our baptism - our adoption into the family of God.

While researching a topic the other day, I came across something in the book, Lutheran Worship: History and Practice that I thought I'd share.  The book references another book, Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book, written in 1912, which gives instructions to the pastor on making the sign of the cross.  Read on...

The presiding minster will, therefore, position himself accordingly.  The signing with the cross connected therewith is a personal signature, and it is appropriate that all join in this act as a remembrance of Holy Baptism and the call to repentance.  Lutherans have commonly made this sign differently from Roman Catholics, specifically as to the direction of the last movement.  With the palm of the right hand held flat with thumb and fingers together, first the forehead is touched ("My Lord Jesus Christ came down from heaven"), then the breast ("and was incarnate for me"), the right shoulder ("and was crucified for me"), and finally the left shoulder ("and entered into my heart").  Luther recommends the use of this sign in both the Small and the Large Catechism. 

For some, making the sign of the cross seems a little awkward.  You might even feel a little self-conscious about making the sign the first few times you do so.  After a time, it is quite easy and becomes more and more meaningful.  Anything we might do that reminds us of our baptism and the new life in Christ we have received through the washing of water with the Word, is a very good thing indeed.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Join the Resistance

During last summer's European trip, I spent a week with pastors from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in England for a time of study.  While there I got to know Rev. George Samiec, the editor of the British Lutheran magazine.  He's put me on the mailing list so I can keep up with all the stuff going on in the ELCE.  Turns out he is also acquainted with Dr. John Kleinig, a great theologian and author.  Kleinig is recently retired from the Australian Lutheran College but is in great demand as a speaker, preacher and teacher.  Kleinig has also written several books including a masterpiece, "Grace Upon Grace."  Rev.
Samiec included an excerpt from "Grace Upon Grace" in the latest edition of the British Lutheran.  Called "Joining the Resistance," here's what Kleinig had to write:

We resist the devil through our faithful attendance at the Divine Service.
We resist the evil foe in our daily devotions.
We resist the devil by trusting in the grace of God and living in it.
We resist the Satan by staying under the authority of Christ and His Word.
We resist the evil one by praying the Lord's Prayer and by using it as a pattern for our praying.
We resist the devil using the practice of intercessory prayer in the name of Jesus.

How about it...are you ready to join the resistance?

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Warm Up Act

A thankless job - being the warm up act for a big star appearing in concert! John the Baptist can relate for sure.  Find out more this Sunday at Life in Christ.  Worship @ 8 and 10:45 am.  Sunday school, Confirmation, High School and Adult Bible class at 9:20 am.  Visit us and hear the great Gospel of Christ Jesus and meet some great people!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Are you walking in the darkness or the light?

The apostle John has some thought provoking words for us in chapter two of his first letter: Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother lives in the light and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.  But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.