Tuesday, July 31, 2012

God's love in action

Yes, that's what I saw on Sunday at my grandson's baptism.

Baptism is a means of grace.  It is a tool that God's uses to pour out His love and grace upon people who need it.  Drew came into this world  like you and I - stained with the the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. 

But God was not willing to leave Drew with this deadly condition.  So God gave us Baptism which washes away sin.

Drew received the washing of water with the Word on Sunday.  God acted and made Drew His child.  Without doing a thing, Drew received the forgiveness and love of God.

I pray that as Drew becomes older, his parents will stop at the Baptismal font each Sunday with their son.  I pray that they teach him how to put his little fingers in the water and make the sign of the cross on his forehead.  I pray that they will never let Drew forgot the day that God acted and loved and embraced Drew to be His very own child.

Praise the Lord!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Satan's goal

is to rob us of our thankfulness for God's good gifts.  If it were within Satan's power, he wouldn't let us have a single piece of bread, not a single penny of income, not even a single hour of life.  But since that's not in his power, he'll try to rob us of God's blessings by making us ungrateful and unappreciative of them.

John C. Jeske, Connecting Sinai to Calvary, Northwestern Publishing House, pg. 52

Friday, July 27, 2012

What were they thinking?

Noah and his family, that is, as they stepped off the Ark and on to dry ground? Were they happy, excited or relieved? Maybe their hearts were filled with fear.  This Sunday we see the lengths that God will go to comfort and help His children.  Join us for worship at 8 or 10:45 am with Sunday school and Bible class at 9:15 am.  You'll meet the nicest people when you worship at Life in Christ!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Chip Hilton - my hero

My favorite sports hero didn't even exist - except in the mind of one man, Clair Bee.

When I was a kid growing up in Tucson, I spent hours reading and re-reading the Chip Hilton sports stories.  Clair Bee was a famous college athlete and, later, coach.  I don't know how he found the time to write books as well.  But starting in the 1940's and through the 60's, Bee crafted a wonderful series of stories around the fictional hero, Chip Hilton.

Hilton was someone that a youngster like myself could look up to.  I loved sports and played them all, just like Hilton.  By reading the books I learned lessons about character, fair play, being a good friend, giving my all and winning (but not at all costs).  My dad, who was an insurance auditor, had as one of his customers a bookstore.  Every time he visited the store he took me along and allowed me to buy a new Chip Hilton book.  Over time I probably collected a dozen or so of the stories.

When we moved to Mesa, in 1968, I gave the books away to younger friends in the neighborhood.  What a fool! The books are now out of print and have become collectors items.  So, as I find a Chip Hilton book at Goodwill or Savers I buy it.

Earlier this week I was looking around Half Price Books when I discovered, under lock and key, a Chip Hilton book.  It carried a hefty price tag so all I did was look.  When I got home that evening, I told my wife about my find and she said, "Why didn't you buy it!" Well, that was a green light if I've ever heard one!

I went back the next day and purchased the book.  I'm better than half-way through it but I'm trying to read slowly, trying to savor the joy of reconnecting with an old friend and a great hero. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It does matter how Christians live

Luther, writing in the Large Catechism on the First Petition of the Lord's Prayer...

In the second place, God's name is profaned by an openly wicked life and works, when those who are Christians and God's people are adulters, drunkards, misers, enviers and slanderers (1 Cor. 5:11).  Here again God's name must come to shame and be profaned because of us.  It is a shame and disgrace for a flesh and blood father to have a bad, perverse child that opposes him in words and deeds.  Because of that child the father suffers contempt and reproach.  In the same way also, it brings dishonor upon God if we are called by His name and have all kinds of goods from Him, yet we teach, speak and live in any other way than as godly and heavenly children.  People would say about us that we must not be God's children, but the devil's children.

From "Luther's Large Catechism with Study Questions," page 105, Concordia Publishing House

Monday, July 23, 2012

It's the Lord at work in His church

While doing today's reading in "Treasury of Daily Prayer," I read these words from Acts 19:11: And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul.

These words were an excellent reminder that...

When the words of absolution are spoken during worship, it is the Lord's who is doing the forgiving.

When the water is applied to a person, little or big, in baptism, it is the Lord's baptism.

When the bread and wine are being distributed, it is the Lord's Supper.

God uses people like pastors to proclaim His Word and administer His sacraments.  But these are not the pastor's things.

These are the Lord's things and it is He that is doing the miraculous in our lives - calling us to faith, giving us the new birth and new life, enabling us to embrace Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, keeping us in this one, true faith until we called to our heavenly rest. 

Praise the Lord that He still does the extraordinary in our lives!

Friday, July 20, 2012

What is compassion?

What does it look like? Where can we expect to find it? The answers to these questions and more coming up this Sunday during worship at Life in Christ.  Join us, won't you? Services are at 8 and 10:45 am with Sunday school and Bible class at 9:15 am.  We'd love to meet you!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

If you're gonna brag, brag about Jesus!

You know how it is with reading the Scriptures, right?  You can read a passage or chapter a dozen times and then in the 13th reading you have one of those enlightening moments and you wonder, "Why didn't I see that before."

That's what happened to me today as I was working my way through 2 Corinthians 11.  The apostle Paul is dealing with the frustration of some false prophets who have begun to exert a deadly influence over some of the Corinthians.  These "super apostles" as Paul mockingly calls them, have come to Corinth to preach a different Gospel than the one preached by Paul and they have attacked Paul's credentials.  These opponents have spent much time boasting about their spirituality while tearing down Paul's ministry.

In chapter 11, Paul goes on the offensive - but he hates every moment of it.  To boast of what he has done in ministry is to stoop to the level of his opponents.  To boast about oneself is, according to Paul, "foolishness."  The world and worldly people brag about themselves, how wonderful they are, how much they know, how spiritual they are.  As you read the chapter, you almost feel the sense that Paul has dirtied himself, stooping down to their level.  Paul would always rather point to Jesus Christ - for in Christ there is forgiveness, salvation, righteousness and peace. 

For some reason I hadn't really caught the impact of chapter 11 in my previous readings.  I suppose I am tempted, like you, from time to time to boast about my accomplishment (or what I think I've accomplished).  And usually this happens when I've been with another person or group of people who are boasting about something they've done or something their church has accomplished.  But Paul makes it clear - you stoop down to the level of those around you when you choose their tactics instead of simply letting what God has done through you speak for itself.  I have a feeling I'll be pondering Paul's words all day and probably offering a prayer for forgiveness for all the times I boasted foolishly.

From there I went on to do today's readings in the Treasury of Daily Prayer, an excellent resource from Concordia Publishing House.  I couldn't help but smile as I read the Hymnody appointed for the day:

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
  Save in the death of Christ, my Lord
All the vain things that charm me most
  I sacrifice them to His blood.

From "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" Lutheran Service Book, #426, verse 2

Monday, July 16, 2012

Luther...on prayer

It is very wise to make prayer the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night.  Be very careful to avoid thinking, "Wait awhile, I will pray in an hour or so, but first I have to take care of other things."  You will only be deceiving yourself! These kinds of thoughts are only going to lead you further away from praying.  You will end up getting so busy with other things, you'll end up not praying at all that day.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Faith is a gift

Where does faith come from? Is faith something we obtain through our own efforts or works.  Do we hear about Jesus or want to draw close to God and so we somehow find faith within us to believe.  Luther's Small Catechism gives the answer:

Question 8 - What does God teach and do in the Gospel?

In the Gospel, the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ, God gives forgiveness, faith, life and the power to please Him with good works.

Romans 1:16 - I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.

When it comes to our salvation, God is the one who acts.  He graciously gives us what we need - faith - to believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord and to receive the gifts of forgiveness of sins, the new life in Christ Jesus and the hope of eternal life.

Praise the Lord!

Friday, July 13, 2012

How is faith created?

Through the washing of water with the Word, the Spirit creates faith's hand to receive Christ's blessings.

Richard Lauersdorf, "As Luther Taught," page 175, published by Northwestern Publishing House.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

What is faith?

Faith is merely a passive instrument, like a hand into which someone places a dollar.  The person receives the dollar provided he does not withdraw his hand; beyond that he does not have to do anything.  The donor is doing the essential part by putting the gift into the hand, not the other party, by holding out the hand.

A quote from CFW Walther's book, "Law and Gospel," as found in "Predestination" by John Moldstad Jr., page 86, Northwestern Publishing House

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Ministry is not about the Minister

How about that? In the Augsburg Confession, one of the writings that makes up the Formula of Concord - the confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church - article five is about The Ministry.  Here are parts one through three (From "Concordia - the Lutheran Confessions" published by Concordia Publishing House).

1) So that we may obtain this faith (referenced in Article 4) the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.  2) Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given (John 20:22),  He works faith, when and where it pleases God (John 3:8), in those who hear the good news 3) that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake.  This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ's sake.

As in worship, so it is in salvation - God is the prinicple actor.  He takes center stage.  He is the one who works, when and where He pleases, to bring His gifts of forgiveness of sins, power for daily living and the hope of everlasting life to all who embrace Him as Savior and Lord.  May we never succumb to the ego-centric ways of some church and push God off of the stage.  "Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people.  Kindle in us the fire of Your love.  Alleluia!"

Monday, July 9, 2012

Where's Jesus

When my dear, sweet wife and I are on vacation, we like having the opportunity to visit other churches.  It's always helpful to see how other congregations worship and how they welcome visitors.

Yesterday we visited one of the big box mega-churches on our side of town.  The service started right on time.  Approximately 59 minutes later, I finally hear the name, "Jesus," mentioned.

I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised.  The opening three songs that were sung were dominated by the personal pronouns, "I, me, my."  Each song cast the spotlight on what "I" was going to do for God.  God was not the principle actor in this service.  That was easily seen by the fact that although the church did have a few crosses, they were on either side of the stage the band was singing from. 

The sermon was very much a law-oriented message that centered on the what the hearers needed to do to get right with God.  Nearly an hour into the service, I finally heard the name of Jesus and his forgiveness.  It was a cursory reference and then the speaker got right back to telling everyone that if they were real Christians they would get around to thus and so.

Why am I so disappointed? What's the big deal about Jesus?

It is through Jesus that we have access to God the Father.  It's through faith in Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection that believers are justified before God, declared forgiven of their sins for Jesus' sake, and receive the promise of everlasting life.  That's the good news of the Gospel.  The Gospel gives life.  It assures us that our salvation is not "do" but "done."  And because of the love of Jesus, we want to serve our neighbors.  It's a joy to serve the Lord.  God's love motivates us to do so.

Lutheran Worship is such a blessing.  You don't have to go looking for Jesus.  He is the principle actor, the spotlight always shines on the Lord - His forgiveness, peace, comfort and assurance.  Hymns, unlike praise choruses, have real substance.  God's Word is read, proclaimed and prayed.  The Lord's Supper brings Jesus and His forgiveness to every person who comes to the table.  The name of God is placed on the heads of the worshippers as they prepare to leave church and return to their homes. 

If you join us at Life in Christ some Sunday, I guarantee you that it won't take 59 minutes for you to hear the name Jesus!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Is your church still growing?

That was one of the questions one of my classmates asked me during a recent trip to St. Louis.  I was glad to answer, "Yes, God is still growing our church."

God gets the credit for all that is happening at Life in Christ.  Neither I, nor our leadership can pat ourselves on the back and point to some grand program for church growth.  We don't have a plan - not when I arrived seven years ago or today, for that matter.

When people ask me "What's your secret?" the best I can say is: "We have a warm and friendly group of people and we have Law and Gospel - the Word of God."

I don't think that there are many church growth experts who are going to ask me to write a book, based on my answer above.  But it's the best answer I can give.

Our people help to make a good first impression on guests.  It's easy to see that folks are excited to worship and receive the gifts of God that are delivered in worship at LICL.  Our greeting team is so good at make guests feel welcomed.

And then there is God's powerful Word that works mightily in the hearts of those who worship.  God's Law shows us that we are not even close to being as good as we think we are.  In fact, it's just the opposite.  We are, as we confess, "poor, miserable sinners."

But then God's Gospel sweeps over us and overwhelms us as we are touched deeply by the grace and mercy of God.  We hear Jesus say, "You are forgiven."  We learn in the proclaimed Word how Jesus exchanged His righteousness for our sins and then carried them to the cross and paid the penalty for those sins.  Through faith, we have been made alive with Christ and are now wholly acceptable to our heavenly Father.  Peace and joy fills our hearts.

That's good news, isn't it? Searching and hurting people want and need to hear such news.  So many come back the next week and the next and so on.  Through the power of Word and sacraments, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the church.  And we keep growing.

I have a number of church growth books on the shelf in my office.  They're not very well read.  I think we'll stick with what we're doing and trust that the Lord will grow His church as He pleases.  After all - it is His church!