Saturday, May 31, 2014

There Are Winners...& There Are Winners

is the title of this weekend's message at Life in Christ. In Acts, chapter one, an election of sorts takes place.  Someone has to be chosen to take the place of Judas as an apostle.  Two people are put forth.  One wins and one loses.  Or is that really true? Join us at LICL to find out.

Saturday worship is held at 5 pm.  Connie, Dan, Ron and I will provide the music.  On Sunday you can join us at either 8 or 10:45 am with Bible classes taking place at 9:20 am.  Hope to see you soon at Life in Christ!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Painful to believe in Jesus

An interesting insight from a favorite book...

It is painful to believe in Jesus.  When you believe in Jesus, it means that you have to admit that there is something outside of you far more important and significant than you are.  Faith in Jesus means that you must admit that you need Him, that He gives you something you would otherwise never have.  It means that you must depend on Him for certain blessings.

Klemet Preus, "What They Need to Hear," page 57

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Christ, my joy!

What this coming of Christ among us really means, above all, is the joy of God in the world, the joy of God catching fire in humanity, which is hungry for joy.  In a thousand ways people ask today, where can we find joy? Church of Christ, you alone know the answer; say it out loud: Christ, my joy!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ascension Day Sermon, 1933

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Did I hear that right?

Recently a pastor told me that he had a "following" at the church where he serves.

Color me overly sensitive, if you will, but I was offended by the remark.

Sure, pastors are shepherds and leaders.  But they are servant leaders.

Pastors point people to Jesus.  It's in Jesus that there is forgiveness of sins, peace for mind and heart, the promise of eternal life.

Pastors get close to people so that so that they can apply the healing balm of the Gospel to broken hearts.  They get close to people so that they can speak the Law to those who are going astray.

Pastors who brag about their following are putting the spotlight on themselves and not on Christ Jesus.

When ministry becomes a popularity contest, when the pastor with the biggest following is considered the best, then Christ loses His rightful place in the church.

John the Baptist once told some of his followers that he, John, should decrease so that Christ might increase.

Sounds like John was saying, "Follow Jesus, not me."

That's what every good pastor will tell his flock.  Follow Jesus.  Follow Jesus.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

17 years and counting

On Sunday I celebrated my 17th year in the parish ministry. Actually, I didn't celebrate at all.  I didn't mention it at church.  We didn't throw a party at home.  Usually, the 17th of anything doesn't get much notice.

Mostly I just gave thanks to God for seeing me through these years.  Serving as a pastor is hard, much harder than I ever imagined.  I make so many mistakes.  I seem to fail with amazing regularity.  I relate to what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans, seven.  I do the things I don't want to do and fail to do the things I should really do - and I do so all the time!  What a wretched pastor I am! Praise God that we have victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Over 17 years I've watched God at work - forgiving sins, giving and strengthening faith, providing hope for today and eternity - through the Means of Grace, Word and Sacraments.  I've seen the joy the Word gives to a Mom and her newborn and I've seen the comfort the Word gives to an elderly wife who has said goodbye to her husband.

I've had the privilege of serving three congregations - in Missouri, South Carolina and now Arizona.  Each congregation richly blessed Sherri and my kids and I.  I've been on the receiving end of much love and respect and concern.  I am one blessed pastor.

On my ordination day I asked the Lord to give me 20 good years of ministry.  God has answered that prayer and more.  On Sunday I thanked Him for the opportunity to be an under shepherd to the Good Shepherd of the Sheep, the Lord Jesus Christ.  To God goes all the praise and glory! Amen.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Speaking of Hope

is the title of this week's message.  St. Peter tells us that we should always be ready to speak of the hope that we have.  How does a person do that when faced with a hopeless situation, a hopeless life? Peter will point the way for us.  Join us this Sunday at 8 or 10:45 am for worship with Bible classes for all ages at 9:20 am.  Or, if you've got Sunday/Monday plans, check out our Saturday service that takes place at 5 pm today.  Pastor Pope will be preaching and communion will be celebrated.  Have a blessed weekend!

Friday, May 23, 2014

When faith grows best

This faith grows in persecution more than at any other time.  Faith perseveres in the most severe trials, and through exercise it becomes strong.

CFW Walther, "God Grant It," page 806

Thursday, May 22, 2014

And the star of our show is?

Author Todd Hunter really nails the importance of being in the Scriptures to ensure spiritual growth and faith:

Seeking spirituality without the Bible leaves us like a musician without a score, an actor without a plot or lines of dialogue, like an athlete with no lines on the field to confirm what is in bounds or not.  The Scriptures are the primary source material for spiritual formation in the way of Jesus.  Our sacred text shows us what such formation looks like and the wider story in which it occurs - for instance, that God is the main character, not us.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How to discover the Purpose Driven Life

This prayer from pastor and author, Bo Giertz, provides a clue:

I notice, Lord, that when I'm down and tired of life, it's because I've tried to live without You.  If life becomes meaningless, it's because I've tried to find a different meaning than the only right one, the one that comes from You.  When I make my own plans and decide what I want to have, when I want to profit and be happy and receive appreciation for my own gains, then it seems meaningless...when I'm happy to do something for You at Your side, then there's always a purpose in every day and a purpose in every task that lies before me.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

C.S.Lewis has something to say!

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him:"I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God."  That is one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else He would be the devil of hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit on Him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not let that open to us.  He did not intend to.

CS Lewis
Mere Christianity

Monday, May 19, 2014

Blessed are the peacemakers

Happiness will follow.  Jesus says so.  "Blessed are the peacemakers," He promises, the spouse, parents, children who don't insist on having their own way or the last word.  Blessed are the Christians in the community who work together with neighbors and respect other people's opinions.  Blessed are the believers in the congregation who avoid gossiping and griping, who in all things work to keep peace.  God already acknowledges them as His children, and so will their fellow Christians.

Richard Lauersdorf, "Together with Jesus," September 10 devotion

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Are You Ready For Some Worship?

It's happening this weekend at Life in Christ.  Today, our Saturday service begins at 5 pm.  Deacon Jerry Klink will be preaching and the Kevin Svec group will provide the music.  If you've got plans for Sunday, check out tonight's service.

Tomorrow, worship takes place at 8 and 10:45 am and our Bell Choir will offer music at both services.  The message is entitled, "The Purpose Talk."  Sunday school and Bible classes for all ages begins at 9:20 am.  Come and join us this weekend at LICL!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Dealing with stress

I offered this advice a few years ago.  I came across it again while looking through one of my journals.  I needed the reminder and maybe you can use the help as well.

1) Take a deep breath

2) Say a prayer

3) Focus on serving someone at this very moment

Kurt Senske, "The Calling," page 23-24

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Preaching without a net

Thursday is sermon writing day for me.  And after almost 18 years this old dog is trying to learn a new trick - writing the sermon in such a way that it can be quickly memorized and preached without using the manuscript.

I call this "preaching without a net."

Having the manuscript in the pulpit with you is the safety net.  And I believe that most pastor preach with manuscript in hand.  My feeling for so long was that I spent a lot of time writing the sermon, spent a lot of time trying to craft memorable thoughts and ideas so there was no way that I wasn't going to preach from the manuscript.  Hey, I might forget the most important point of the sermon (and what's the point of that?).

But our website manager, Dan, has been posting video of some of my sermons for those in our congregation who are unable to worship with us and want to hear God's Word.  And as I watched some of these sermons I found myself disappointed.

Because I was so focused on the manuscript I often was looking down at the page I was preaching on at the very moment I should have been making eye contact.  Here were some of the most important thoughts of the sermon being preached and I was looking down instead of seeing the hearers.  That was really bothersome to me.

Two weeks ago I walked out on the tightrope.  There was no net underneath me.  And I began my sermon.  About 18 minutes later I had finished.  I was still breathing! I still had a pulse! I lived through my first sermon without having the manuscript nearby.

Last week as I prepared the sermon I wrote it in such a way that I could remember the important points I wanted to make.  I spent some time on Friday and Saturday practicing.  Sunday went well.  I didn't get lost.  I didn't forget the main points.  And I maintained eye contact throughout the message.  It seems to go well.  The reviews from my toughest critics - my family - were positive.

Please understand that I'm not implying that somehow I'm a better speaker and pastor than those who preach from a manuscript.  Listen, preparing and delivering a sermon is the toughest job for most pastors.  It's an opportunity to deliver the powerful, life-giving Word of God to people who are hungry for a word of peace and hope.  Who wants to blow that opportunity.

For nearly 18 years now I've wanted to preach without relying on the manuscript.  No reason to rush into things, right? Pray for me, won't you.  This Sunday morning I'll be stepping out on the tightrope again.  That's a big part of preaching without a net.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

CFW Walther on faith

Faith, then, is nothing but the hand with which a person grasps the salvation acquired by Christ, the vessel in which he gathers up the goods of grace, the key with which he opens the heavenly treasures.

God Grant It, page 823

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Shout Out for "Mom's Night Out"

If you're the kind of person who is drawn to rooting for the underdog, then the film, "Mom's Night Out," is for you.

You can root for this film because it's a clean comedy.

You can root for this film because it sympathizes with Moms who try so hard to make life work and feel like failures when it doesn't.

You can root for this film because it portrays people of faith in a positive light.

It's for those reasons listed above that most movie critics have trashed this film.

I read one review that criticized the movie for not being the typical raunchy comedy that fills most movie screens (think: "Bridesmaids").

Another review opined that the movie slammed all Mothers except those who stay home.  That is simply untrue.

And several reviews seemed to object to the film simply because a few scenes took place at church.

I know how hard life can be for Moms.  Their expectations are super high.  Their aim is for perfection.  That target is impossible to hit every time.

Here is a film that offers real encouragement.  It provides some hope for those Moms who are frustrated with themselves and their lives.

Know such a person? Encourage them to see a movie in which they'll laugh and maybe cry and leave the theater knowing that being a Mom is the most worthwhile vocation in the world.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Practicing Forgiveness

It's been said that the six hardest words to say are, "I was wrong.  Please forgive me."

Many find it equally difficult to say these four words in return: "Yes, I forgive you."

One of the lessons that the little letter of Philemon can teach us is the importance of practicing forgiveness.

I call it "practicing" because a forgiving nature doesn't come naturally.

We can be hurt by the wrongs committed against us.  We might suffer loss.  We might feel pain.  We can be abandoned.  Our reputation might take an unjust hit.

The person inflicting such damage may come to their senses.  With sincerity of heart they approach you to seek reconciliation and forgiveness.  They speak to you the six hardest words to say.  How do you respond?

Here's an idea: Perhaps you can quickly review "every good thing (you) have in Christ" (Philemon, verse six).  You remember the humiliation of Christ - His immaculate conception and humble birth; His unjust suffering and His cruel death.  You think of the price your Savior God paid so that you might receive the forgiveness for the wrongs you've committed against the Holy God.  You remember the grace of God in your own life.  Then, through the power of the Holy Spirit, you extend that grace to the person who seeks forgiveness from you.

What can happen? Reconciliation can take place between you and a friend, just as it did between Philemon and Onesimus.

If you've not read the epistle to Philemon in a while, do so this week.  Won't take long! Read how the apostle Paul teaches the practice of forgiveness to a dear friend.  Perhaps you need a lesson as well.  Read and let the forgiving love of Your Savior heal your hearts and give you strength to extend God's grace to others.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Savor the good times

Last night my dear, sweet wife and I had the chance to have dinner with my youngest daughter and her husband.

Normally that would not be much of a big deal.  But now it is.  They're planning on moving out of state next month.

A new job opportunity has arisen, too good to turn down.  I know the feeling.  I once moved the family back to the Midwest for what seemed like a really good opportunity.

Still, it's hard to see them leave.

We're spoiled.  We've had all our kids nearby since Sherri and I moved back to AZ in 2005.  Sunday dinner with the whole family has become the norm.  Our house has often taken on a zoo-like appearance but who cares! What can be better than to spend time with your kids and grandkids.

So we've decided to savor the good times.  And in the future, when we're able to visit and spend time together, those good times will be even more meaningful.

And all the while, we pray that our gracious God keep watch over all our kids...wherever they may be.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Still my kids!

My kids are all grown up and they each have their own kids.

But my kids are still my kids and I still feel that fatherly pride when they do well at home or at work or wherever.

My son is working through a graduate program and received a nice email from the instructor, informing him that he pulled the top grade in the class and that his work had been exemplary.

Eric forwarded the email to me with a note indicating that he didn't want to appear boastful but that his grade and the praise in the email had made him feel really good.

I remember the good old days when Eric would come home with a paper or test score he was really proud of or how he would tell me about his successful exploits on the ball diamond or basketball court.  Naturally, I was chuffed to hear of his successes and victories.

And I'm still proud of him (and of my girls, too!).

Way to go, Eric!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A petition worth praying

O Lord, give to us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for - because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.

Peter Marshall

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A word for parents

Just rediscovered this good piece of advice and thought I'd share it with all of you who are raising kids.  So simple but, oh, so true: But parents who have not themselves learned self-control cannot teach their children obedience.  To bring up a child in the way it should go, you must go that way yourself.

From "Daily Bread," page 88

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sentences that have never been written

Rick Reilly is one of our great sportswriters.  When he was writing for Sports Illustrated I started with the back - not the front - of the magazine.  That's where the best stuff was - Reilly's column.  His ability to turn a phrase never ceases to gast my flabber.

A couple of years ago, Reilly wrote my number one goal when I write is to come up with sentences that jump off the page and poke you between the eyes, sentences that create an immediate word picture in your mind.  For instance, you might write, "There is no way I would've thought of that if I were trapped for a year in a closet with a keg of Red Bull."  Coming up with sentences that have never been written before may leave you sitting in the media room while everybody else is fast asleep, but it makes your writing fresh and different.

Do you have a favorite author? It just might be that you appreciate that person so much because of their ability to write sentences and express ideas that just jump right off the page.  That's what I aspire to do when I write sermons (although there is a difference between the spoken word and the written word).  Rick Reilly always gives me something to shoot for.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A new opportunity

For some people going to the dentist is more pleasurable than attending a church voters meeting.  At least the dentist isn't trying to inflict pain (at least I don't think so!). 

But voters meetings can be very painful.  God's people sometimes say and do things that they'd never think of doing at home or at work or among friends.  The behavior isn't very Christ-like at times.

But yesterday wasn't one of "those" voters meetings at Life in Christ.  We gathered together to discuss the possibility of acquiring some property to expand our church campus.  The turnout was wonderful.  It demonstrated that many are concerned about their church and that we continue to give the Lord the opportunity to grow our ministry. 

The Facility Planning Committee gave a very fine presentation.  They described the options and the impact depending on whether we stood pat with where we are or if we decided to expand the campus.  The questions asked by the congregation were on point and the discussion was helpful.

Finally, it was time to vote.  Should we take advantage of an opportunity that would give us a chance to better serve our church family and expand our outreach to the community? The voters said yes! By a margin of 130 to 2 it was decided to move forward and acquire the property.

It made this pastor feel really good to see our church work well together.  We've still got lots to do.  No doubt there will be difficult and challenging days ahead.  May the Lord continue to lead us so that we keep on reaching our community with His love and forgiveness.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Owner's Manual

The Owner's Manual.  We're certain we don't need them.  But they sure come in handy.

For example, the last time I had my car in for service, the digital clock got scrambled and wasn't showing the correct time.  There are two little buttons to set the time.  Should be easy to set the clock correctly, right? Maybe for you, but not for me! I messed with it and fussed with it, all to no avail.  Finally, I got out the owner's manual, read the short paragraph on "clock," and had the correct time set in two minutes.  Thank goodness for the owner's manual!

After doing some study it seems to me that the Epistle of James serves as a manual of sorts for Christian disciples.  Over the course of five chapters the brother of Jesus deals with a variety of subjects.

1) How to deal with temptation
2) Hearing the Word of God and putting it into practice
3) Loving your neighbor
4) Putting faith to work through serving others

With James you get nothing but straight talk.  He's got no time for those who blame their problems on God or others.  He's not impressed by those who "talk the talk" but fail to "walk the walk."  Take some time to read James.  You'll find yourself being challenged by his words.  Read them carefully.  They were written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit so, you might say, these are God's Words to you.  Consider them.  Pray over them.  Identify those areas where growth in faith and obedience is needed.  And then ask the Holy Spirit to continue to do His sanctifying work in your heart and soul.

May your reading of James fill you with the wisdom that comes from heaven! (3:17)