Monday, December 31, 2012

My New Year's Resolution

Do you know many folks who make New Year's resolutions? I asked a few people yesterday at church about resolutions and the common response was laughter - "What? I don't make resolutions.  They just get broken anyway Hahahahahahahaha!"

I get that.  Nobody's perfect.  Resolutions get forgotten or broken so many folks just don't bother.

But the idea of a resolution brings with it the idea that in some part of my life, I can strive for improvement.  With the Lord's help, I can do better.  And that's a good thing, right?

So here 2013 I resolve not to own my worries but to give them over to the Lord.

I come from a long line of worriers.  My Mom worried about everything.  About 99 percent of the stuff she worried about never happened.  But she figured that it could happen so that gave her ample reason for worry. 

My inspiration for this resolution is Philippians, chapter four.  The apostle Paul wrote: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

I'm really tired of letting worry impact my life in so many unhealthy ways. Why should I wrestle with my worries until I get wrapped up and pinned down by them? I worship a great big God.  His strength is unmatched and His wisdom is without equal.  Nothing is impossible for God.

He bids me to bring my anxious thoughts and worrisome situations and leave them at His throne.  What better offer could a worrier receive? And on top of it, God promises to exchange my worries for His peace.  This peace comes from knowing that I am a baptized child of God, a member of the Lord's kingdom.  I am a forgiven child of God and there is no sin or transgression that the Lord hasn't forgiven and forgotten. 

This will be a struggle.  You don't spend 60 years of your life worrying and then just stop.  There will be lots of prayer involved.  There will probably be plenty of times when I'll have to stop and repent and confess my ownership of my worries.  But then I'll turn them back over to the Lord and let His peace wash over me. 

That's my New Year's Resolution.  What's yours? Send me an email:  I'll pray for you and you can pray for me.

Have a blessed new year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Fear Not!

And the angel said unto them, "Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people."  This joy is not just for Peter and Paul but for all people.  Not just to apostles, prophets, and martyrs does God say, but to you, "Come, see the baby Jesus."  "Fear not," said the angel.  I fear death, the judgment of God, the world hunger and the like.  The angel announces a Savior who will free us from fear.  Not a word is said about our merits and works, but only of the gift we are to receive.

Martin Luther, from "Martin Luther's Christmas Book," Fortress Press

Taking a break from blogging (and everything) for a few days.  Thanks for reading! Have a blessed Christmas.  Christ the Savior is born! Christ the Savior is born!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Normal Nagel on Christmas

The angel's message is simply what happened - a birth - and the identification of the one born - "a Savior who is Christ the Lord."  Impossible? No, it has happened.  God did not wait for clearance from us whether it is possible or not.  It happened.  A Savior born, Christ the Lord.

Selected sermons of Normal Nagel - Christmas 1975

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Finally, a day off!

This December has been as busy as any I can remember.  Since the beginning of the month I've worked every day (that's how it goes sometime).  Today I get to relax a bit.  I'll help my dear, sweet wife with a little house cleaning, watch my favorite football team, Liverpool, on Fox Soccer Channel, head down to church to see my oldest grandson practice for the Family Christmas Eve service coming up in just a couple of days (Wow!), and spend the rest of the evening with him, making a candy train and watching a Charlie Brown Christmas (again!). 

Tomorrow, we conclude our series, The Prayers of Advent," during worship at 8 and 10:45 am; classes for all ages meet at 9:15 am.  Have a blessed weekend and, if you're in our neighborhood, come see us at Life in Christ!

Friday, December 21, 2012

How about a little Latin?

Gloria in excelsis Deo

Et in terra pax
     hominbus bonae voluntaris

Laudamus te

Benedictimus te

Adoramus te

Glorificamus te

Which is...

Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth, good will to men.

We praise Thee; we bless Thee; we worship Thee; we glorify Thee!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Luther on the Christian Life

Because you have taken hold of Christ by faith, through whom you are righteous, you should now go and love your neighbor.  Call upon God, give thanks to Him, preach Him, praise Him, confess Him.  Do good to your neighbor, and serve him; do your duty.  These are truly good works, which flow from this faith and joy conceived in the heart because we have the forgiveness of sins freely through Christ.

Luther's Works - 26:133

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You Are the Sun

A favorite singer/songwriter of mine is Sara Groves.  A few years ago she released a song entitled, "You Are the Sun."

You are the sun shining down on everyone
Light of the world giving light to everything I see
Beauty so brilliant I can hardly take it in
And everywhere You are is warmth and light

And I am the moon with no light of my own
Still You have made me to shine
And as I glow in this cold dark night
I know I can't be a light
Unless I turn my face to You.

The song still resonates with me.  Because I wrestle every day with the desire to gratify my own sinful nature, I am just like the moon.  I have no source of light.  I am cold.  I am dark.

Such would be my sad state today except for this: As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.  (Luke 9:51).  Some have said that Jesus "set His face" toward Jerusalem.  He kept His appointment at the cross where He suffered and died.  He endured the darkness of Calvary.  He suffered for our cold hearted ways.  In His resurrection from the dead He triumphed over the prince of darkness.  And now, in all His brilliant glory, Jesus calls us to be salt and light.

You are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13).  Salt is a preservative.  It provides seasoning.  Jesus seasons us with His rich mercy and grace so that we might go out into the world and extend the same mercy and grace to others.

You are the light of the world ((Matthew 5:14).  And as we turn our faces to our Lord and Savior, the Light of the World shines His light upon us.  He has made us to shine.  As we do so, all those around us may be able to see the difference Christ makes in us.  They feel the warmth of His love in our words.  They see the brilliance of His compassion in our actions.  All this happens when we turn our faces to Jesus who is warmth and light.

Be salt! Be light! May the light of Jesus' love reflect off of you and into the lives of everyone you meet today.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Best Gift-Giver of All

A few years ago a friend shared with me the story about the young boy who wanted a bicycle for Christmas.  All the other kids in the neighborhood had bikes.  He wanted a bike.  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 to it that I get a bicycle? All my friends have one.  Amen."

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

*In love - "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son...(John 3:16)

*Freely - "It is by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not of yourselves, it it the gift of God..." (Ephesians 2:8)

*Perfectly - "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:5)

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 Christ Jesus our Lord!"  (Romans 6:23)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Saturday Night Live points to Christ!

Never in the history of the program has the opening segment featured a children's choir.  In radiant joy and with beautiful voices, they sang the words that never fail to move believers to worship the Father for the gift of the Son.  "Silent Night, Holy Night...Holy Infant so tender and mild...Love's true light."

Perhaps unwittingly, Saturday Night Live got it right.  In the midst of such a trajedy as we witnessed this weekend at Sandy Hook Elementary School, our only hope, the world's only hope, is Jesus.

Jesus is the only one who can comfort us when evil runs amuck.  Jesus is the only one who can put us upright when we've been knocked down.

Oh, that the world would listen to Jesus! The Word of God disarms Satan every time.  Oh, that the world might turn to Him in repentance and faith.  Jesus earned our forgiveness at the cross but He is always ready to deal with sorrowful hearts with His gifts of grace and mercy.  Even now the Lord stands with outstretched arms, ready to receive and comfort the lost and the hurting.

President Obama is right - we need a change in our country.  But this change will not come from within.  We are not good enough or strong enough.  Sin lurks in the heart of us all.  Change is possible only when we open our hearts and let Jesus come in.  His "redeeming grace" changes us.  Pray that people will take a look at the "Holy Infant so tender and mild."  Jesus is our hope.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Viva Vox Jesu!

"Viva Vox Jesu" - the living voice of God - is what we hear when His Word is read and preached.  The Word of Jesus is both a written and an oral Word.  This Word, though written in words inspired and canonically received, is also spoken and heard within a community called the body of Christ.  This voice is a living voice, for by it Jesus Christ is present for us bodily...we acknowledge that God's Word is God's food for hungry pilgrims who have journeyed in Christ through a baptism of His death and resurrection toward the final destination of full communion with Him in heaven.

Arthur Just, "Heaven on Earth," page 199

Friday, December 14, 2012

Words to live by

While preparing for Sunday's sermon, I came across this comment from former Major League baseball player, Mickey Rivers.  He may have the perfect explanation on why worry is fruitless.  Here you go:

Ain't no sense worrying about things you got control over, because if you got control over them, ain't no sense worrying.  And there ain't no sense worrying about things you go no control over either, because if you got no control over them, ain't no sense worrying.

Got that?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Smile of New Life

This week I'm studying the apostle Paul's words to the Philippians in chapter four, verses four though seven.  This is, of course, where Paul brings his emphasis on "joy" to a crescendo.  The word, "rejoice," in verse four is an imperative - Paul is emphasizing that joy should be a continual, habitual part of the life of a believer.

In one of my journals I noted some comments from author Eugene Peterson on the topic of joy.  I failed to note where I found these quotes.  I think Peterson offers some great insight.  I particularly like the point that joy is not something we create or find.  Joy comes from the Lord.

Joy is not a requirement of Christian discipleship, it is a is what comes to us when we are walking in the way of faith and obedience.

All suffering, all pain, all emptiness, all disappointment is seed: sow it in God and He will, finally, bring a crop of joy from it.

The joy comes because God knows how to wipe away tears, and, in His resurrection work, create the smile of new life.  Joy is what God gives, not what we work up.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The word for the day is "blessed"

Did you know that the Sermon on the Mount can be read in 15 minutes? Matthew writes: "His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them." Jesus begins by teaching them what it means to be blessed.

In the Greek, the word is "Makarios." Some Bible translations use the word "happy."  Others "fortunate."  The use of those words causes some problems for me.

"Happy" has as its primary meaning an emotional state.  "Fortunate" too often is understood to mean "to have good luck."  And, to be honest, happy is the last thing I feel when I am poor in spirit because I realize just how far short I fall in living according to God's will...or when I mourn the loss of a church family member and I see how this loss has created such sorrow for the family.

I am not happy when I am mistreated by others, especially those who seek to hurt my family or my reputation...or when I become frustrated with my lack of spiritual growth and fall to the same pet sins again and again.

No, the proper word is "blessed."  The Beatitudes do not tell us how to become blessed; they rather describe the blessedness that already belongs to all believers in Christ.  The beginning of Jesus' sermon mentions eight ways in which all Christians are blessed.  All Christians are poor in spirit.  They all mourn and are meek.  They all hunger and thirst for righteousness and are merciful and pure in heart.  They are peacemakers and are persecuted for righteousness.

So even when I am unhappy, God comforts me by reminding me of the blessings I already have in Christ.  I am comforted and filled and have been and continue to be shown mercy and I am a Son of God. 

Blessed is George.  Blessed are you!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Just Plain Exhausted

If you are like me then your December calendar has more meetings, events, gatherings, parties and other commitments than you know what to do with.  Even though each year I say to myself, "Keep it simply," it seems that the opposite happens.  Donald Deffner's prayer is a good one to pray anytime you are worn out.

I'm tired, Lord

just plain exhausted

But now let me not
just dwell on my weariness
but on Your strength
Direct me to
Your holy Word
O you who were
wearied for our sakes
even to the cross
Let me find my refuge
in You
Send Your holy angels
to minister to me
and bear me up
Refresh, renew and strengthen me
Give me the peace
the world cannot give
Restore to me
the joy of Your salvation
You have promised
You will come
Abide with me then
till I find my final rest
in You

From "Prayers for People Under Pressure," page 88

Monday, December 10, 2012

St. Francis says, "Live for Today!"

I did not note in my journal where I originally found this quote.  It seems that St. Francis has picked up on Jesus' words in Matthew, chapter six: "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself."  (6:34a)

Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and everyday.  Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it.  Be at peace, then, put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations and say continually: The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart has trusted in Him and I am helped...

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tomorrow's going to be emotional...

Worshipping every Sunday with the flock at Life in Christ is a joy.  But tomorrow will be memorable.  I'll have the privilege of giving the Lord's baptism to my fourth grand child and first grand daughter, Emily Faith.  I always seem to get teary eyed at baptisms but when it's your own grandchild? I hope I can keep it together. 

Then in the afternoon my good friend of 40 plus years, Jerry, will be commissioned as a Deacon to serve our church.  Jerry has worked so hard the past three years to complete his course work.  We are all so proud of his perseverance.  Come and join us and see God's grace touch many lives.  Worship at 8 and 10:45 am with Christian LIFE (Learn Is For Everyone) Hour at 9:15 with classes for all ages.  Hope to see you Sunday at Life in Christ!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Encouragement from Dr. Luther

We know that to be saved is nothing other than to be delivered from sin, death and the devil (Col. 1:13-14).  It means to enter into Christ's Kingdom (john 3:5), and to live with Him forever.

From the Large Catechism, part 4, paragraph 25

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The devil's agenda

Another nugget from John Jeske's great book, "Connecting Sinai to Calvary"

(Satan's goal) is to rob us of our thankfulness for God's good gifts.  If it was within Satan's power, we wouldn't 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.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Have a Charlie Brown Christmas!

I stopped watching Christmas television specials long ago because they usually had nothing to do with Christmas.  I stopped listening to radio stations playing Christmas music for a month or more because the songs they played usually had nothing to do with Christmas.  But last night I was overjoyed to see one more time, "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

I think this program made its debut in 1965.  The story was the familiar one - poor Charlie Brown can't seem to get the meaning of Christmas.  He's certain that the commercialism of the season is not the reason to celebrate.  He's puzzled that his friends don't share his same concern.  And when he picks the one real Christmas tree in the whole lot and brings it to rehearsal, his friends let him know, in no uncertain terms, that he's failed again.

With Charlie on the edge of utter despair, it's Linus to the rescue.  Walking softly to the center of the stage, he recites the Christmas story from St. Luke, chapter two..."For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."  Then he walks back to Charlie and says simply: "That's the meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown."

That's the moment when the tears trickled down my face (Yeah, I know - I'm a baby!).  That's the news that never fails to warm my heart and cause every problem I'm dealing with to melt away.  For me is born a Savior! For me! God loves me dearly! Loves even me enough to send His only begotten Son to save me from sin and death and give me the greatest gift I'll ever receive - eternal life in heaven!

On Facebook I've been reading how some folks love "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," or "Frosty the Snowman," or "Alvin and the Chipmunks."  Sorry! I'm having a Charlie Brown Christmas this year.  The meaning of Christmas is found in a manger in Bethlehem.  Born there is forgiveness for sins, power for daily living and the hope of eternal life.  Christmas is about Christ Jesus - nothing more and nothing less.  Praise the Lord!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Be faithful...

Sometimes my sinful nature wants to take over and lead me to believe that if anything good is to happen in my ministry it will be up to me - my efforts, my wisdom, my power will be what is needed to carry out my calling to the church.

Whenever I fall prey to this thinking, I always become stressed out, harried and depressed.  Not a  healthy way to live for sure.  A very helpful person gave me some excellent advice, which I later had written on a plaque.  It sets on the corner of my desk where I can see it every day.  It reads:

Be faithful and watch what God does.

This was his way of telling me that I didn't have to be a "super pastor," somehow thinking that if any kind of ministry happens in the church, it's all up to me.  That's what Satan would have me believe; that's what many church growth experts espouse; that's what my sinful nature wants to hear.

But God has not called me to greatness or busyness; He has called me to be faithful.  When I simply carry out the calling He has placed upon me - to preach and teach the Gospel and administer the sacraments and be available to His people when they need me, His Holy Spirit can and will work mightily to change hearts and bring people into the kingdom. 

"It's not up to me"...what a wonderful thought that is.

The same is true in your calling - be a faithful spouse, father or mother, son or daughter, employee or employer, friend, servant - and watch what God does in your life and in the lives of everyone else.  God is faithful (1 Thessalonians 5:24).  Trust Him today and watch what he does!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Let's go to sermon!

Rev. Scott Murray writes the "Memorial Moment," a daily email missive that folks can subscribe to.  He is a gifted writer and theologian (or maybe it should be the other way around).  A few months ago he wrote something that caught my eye.

The people of Martin Luther's time, instead of saying, "Let's go to Mass (service)," said, "Let's go to sermon."  They thought the proclamation of the Word as the center and focus of the whole service's activity.  How right this is.  The whole was known by its most important part.

I fear today that many churches and pastors have lost sight of this important distinction.  What I mean is that is seems that in many churches the sermon and God's Word have been left to serve the music and the praise band.  Some folks choose a church based on how the praise band sounds and whether or not the music is the newest and latest they hear on the radio.  To be sure, music is an important part of worship.  Music and hymns give us the words that we often want to express as we offer thanksgiving to God for the gift of His Son, Christ Jesus. 

But the music is to serve the Word.  I can go to church and do just fine without singing one song or hymn.  But I cannot do without the Word of God.  I cannot do without God's Holy Supper.  These are the gifts that give and nourish faith.  They are like water that nourishes a plant.  I can live without music.  I cannot live without the Means of Grace.

Don't get me wrong - I love music.  Music so often gives expression to what I feel deep in my soul.  It helps me respond to God's grace and mercy, His forgiveness and salvation.  But music can never be the focal point of any worship service.  To borrow from the prophet, Joshua, "As for me and my house, we shall go to sermon!"

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Happy Church New Year!

Tomorrow is the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a brand new church year.  Should we have a party to celebrate? Or is there a different attitude to take as we enter a new church year? The apostle Paul provides a wonderful example to follow in chapter three of his first letter to the Thessalonians.  Be here tomorrow to learn more.  Worship is at 8 and 10:45 am with Christian LIFE (Learning Is For Everyone) Hour at 9:15 am - classes for all ages.  Hope you can join us!