Saturday, November 29, 2014

Happy Church New Year!

This Sunday marks the beginning of Advent and a new church year.  Advent is a word that means "coming."  During this time of the church year we prepare to celebrate Jesus' first coming as the babe of Bethlehem.  But we also use this time for repentance and reflection as we look for Jesus' second advent as the coming King of Glory who will judge the living and the dead.

Worship takes place on Saturday at 5 pm and on Sunday at 8 and 10:45 am.  Bible classes for all ages are held on Sunday at 9:20 am.  Our sermon theme is "An Advent Letter of Encouragement."  Some would not call Paul's first letter to the Corinthians a letter of encouragement.  Paul deals with a number of important issues and uses the power of the Law to convict the Corinthians and call them to repentance.  But there is encouragement in the letter too and we'll discover how Paul's words can encourage us as we wait for the coming Jesus.

Also, our mid-week Advent worship begins this Wednesday evening at 7 pm.  Prior to the service our Fellowship Team will organize a "Quick Supper" that begins at 5:30 pm.  Be come to come and worship with us this weekend and on Wednesday.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thank you, P.D. James

Back in 2004, my dear, sweet wife and I had the joy of spending 10 days in London, England.  This happened because a member of my church in Hilton Head Island, SC had been a high ranking executive for Kodak and maintained a flat near Harrods.  He said, "If you want to use the flat, it's yours!"  So we went and had a wonderful time.  We loved traveling on the Underground every day to a different part of the city.  We did the stuff all the tourists do and we traveled off the beaten path as well.  It was a wonderful getaway for us.

Sometime later I was lamenting to a friend about how much I missed being in London.  His advice? "Read P.D. James.  It will be like taking a trip to London."  I took my friend's advice and I'm glad I did so.

James wrote detective fiction, as she called it.  But her books read like novels.  Most of her books featured detective Adam Dalgliesh, a formal, reserved, and clever solver of crimes.  James wrote 14 Dalgliesh stories and I eagerly devoured every one of them.  And my friend was right - reading James' book was like taking a trip to London, or England for that matter.

Early Thanksgiving morning, P.D. James died peacefully at her home in Oxford, England.  She was 94 years old.  I never met her but I found a signed copy of one of her books as I searched the shelves at our local Savers store. I, along with scores of readers, will miss her very much. Thanks, P.D. James - you were a wonderful traveling companion!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A blessed thanksgiving to you!

Open for me the gates of righteousness;
  I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
  through which the righteous may enter.
I will give You thanks, for You answered me;
  You have become my salvation.
You are my God, and I will give You thanks;
  You are my God, and I will exalt You.

From Psalm 118

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thankful for ...Hostess Cup Cakes

I first learned to barter in the 6th grade.  Myself and four or five other guys would all gather around Larry Jones' desk.

Every day Larry's mother would include a pack of Hostess Cup Cakes in his lunch.  We thought that Larry had the greatest mom in the world.

Interestingly, Larry didn't much care for chocolate.  We knew this.  So when Larry pulled the Cup Cakes from his lunch bag, the frenzy would begin.  After a while I think Larry would just say, "OK, what have you got?"

Unlike Larry, I loved chocolate.  Loved, loved, loved chocolate.  I could eat those Cup Cakes every day.

I quickly realized that my chances for success were dependent on what my mom packed in my lunch.  So I had a challenge - I needed to get my mom to pack really good stuff every day without her knowing that I was trading away part of my lunch to get one more heavenly bite of those Cup Cakes.

Over time I learned that Larry had some weak spots.  He liked Red Delicious Apples.  He really liked Fritos.  And, for some reason, he liked Oreos.  That one puzzled me - Oreos were chocolate which Larry said he didn't like.  Then I figured it out.  Larry would open all four corners of his milk container and then he would dunk the cookies.  Isn't that how most of us eat Oreos?

My mom was good about getting the Oreos and the Fritos because my dad liked them too.  Of course, that posed another problem.  Going to the pantry and finding the the chips and cookies gone because dad had devoured them.  When something terrible like that happened, I knew that someone else was going to be enjoying my Cup Cakes.

I'm waxing nostalgic today because last night I did a bit of shopping before I went home.  As I stood at the check out counter, I saw them.  I was less that a foot a way from them - Hostess Cup Cakes! It was just a couple of years ago that Hostess shut down.  About a year later Cup Cakes were back on the shelves.  And this morning, while having coffee I enjoyed bite after bite of my Cup Cakes.  I tried to eat them slowly so that I could savor every single bite.

Just like the good old days.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Giving Tuesday

Our Synodical President, Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison has designated today as "Giving Tuesday," an "online effort to encourage people around the world to make a difference through charitable giving on a single day."

You can learn more about this effort at

On Sunday at Life in Christ we learned that the Lord is filled with great joy when His people do the "little things," like giving food and water to a hungry, thirsty person, reaching out to a stranger, providing clothing for those without, and visiting and caring for the sick and those in prison.

I asked our worshippers if they would consider doing one little thing this week that would bless another person and demonstrate love for Jesus.  I noticed that we've starting receiving a nice food offering and that there are several coats in one of our offices.  Hopefully, that pile grows so we can donate them to Phoenix Rescue Mission who will pass them along to those who don't have coats.

The events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri last night remind us that we indeed live in a broken and sinful world.  The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."  What good, simple thing can you do today for someone? Jesus says, "Whatever you have done to the least of these, my brothers, you have done unto Me."

God be with you on giving Tuesday.  May the Lord inspire you to do one little thing for another person today.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Consternation in Cardinals Nation

Prior to yesterday's game with Seattle, we in Cardinals Nation were feeling pretty good.

Yes, we'd lost our starting quarterback again to an injury.  Carson Palmer is out for the season with a knee injury.  But our backup, Drew Stanton, has played like a quarterback ready for prime time.  He filled in admirably the first time around and even came in to throw the winning touchdown pass to beat Detroit two weeks ago.

But yesterday Stanton played very much like a backup, someone who'd seen action in something like 8 games in 8 years.  It's not his fault that the Cardinals lost.  Seattle is tough to beat on their home field.

The reality in the NFL is that you've got to have a really good to great quarterback to be a winner.  Carson Palmer is one of those guys.  Now, we'll find out if Stanton is one of those guys too.

In the meantime the Cardinals have a two game lead in their division.  If they only won their two remaining home games that would give them an 11-5 season - good enough for the playoff.

But it might not be good enough to gain home field advantage throughout the playoffs and the Cardinals football team plays best when in front of Cardinals Nation.

So what do we do now?

First, calm down.  It was just one loss.  Our defense played very well yesterday.  We can certainly expect our guys to make some plays in our last five games.

Second, trust in BA.  Bruce Arians has pushed all the right buttons, so to speak, this season.  And his guys like to play for him.  I think it's safe to say that the Cardinals still have plenty of good football left in them this season.

Finally, go have breakfast, drink some coffee, get ready for work.  In other words, do your usual stuff.  The sun will come up this morning.  One loss is not the end of the world for Cardinals Nation.  There's still lots of football to get all worked up about!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Looking for the little things

A pastor once asked me, "What great thing are you going to do for God?" And that really got me thinking, "What great thing can I do as a pastor?"  But now I'm convinced that God isn't looking for any of us to do great, big, impressive things for Him.  Why am I so sure? Come and find out this Sunday at LICL.  Worship takes place at 8 and 10:45 am with classes for all ages held at 9:20 am.

Or if Saturday evening is a better option, worship with us at 5 pm.  Pastor John Pope will preach and Holy Communion will be celebrated.  Hope to see you this weekend at Life in Christ!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Singing with the Saints at Lifestream

Seven years ago one of our sweet, older members asked if I would keep up a tradition that had started many years before and lead a sing along at a long term care center.

This sweet, older member is someone that you don't say "no" to so I said, "yes!"

I'm glad I did.

Connie and I spend an hour or so one Friday a month and sing with the saints who live at Lifestream, located directly east of Thunderbird Hospital.

The facility was originally called "Baptist Village."  So guess which hymnal we use?

Being a life long Lutheran boy (and Connie a life long Lutheran girl) I wasn't familiar with a lot of the song in their hymnbook.

The challenge was even greater for Connie.  She has to play songs she's never heard before and do it on the spot.

Fortunately, the Chaplin there (now retired) Craig Avrill, takes Connie through the more difficult or unfamiliar ones.  We have appreciated his help so much over the years.  He has become a good friend of ours.

The real joy is spending time with the residents.  Connie and I have gotten to know some of the folks really well.  We know where they're going to sit and what songs they're going to request: "Yes, Ruthie, we'll do 'Never Alone' for the 4792 time!"

The residents bless us with their confession of faith.  They truly enjoy singing those great old Baptist hymns.  For 45 minutes we join our voices together and present God with an offering of praise and thanksgiving.

We have fun too.

I've got a bunch of stuff on the schedule today - a couple of meetings, a visit to make, a class to prepare for and a wedding to get ready for.

But in the middle of the morning it will be nice to drive over to Lifestream for some singing with the saints!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Here's a little Latin for you

Benedictus Deus in omnibus donis sues!

"Blessed be God in all His gifts."

This is a prayer a pastor prays at the beginning of his day.  And it's very appropriate.

According to Martin Luther's explanation of the First Article of the Creed God blesses us with gifts abundantly.

God has given us life.  God gives us all the stuff with which we need to live.  God gives us a multitude of relationships.  He meets our needs.  He gives us protection from the evil one.

And, according to Luther, "All this (God) does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.  For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.  This is most certainly true."

Blessed be God in all His gifts!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Birthday greetings to Glenn

Every seminarian has a favorite professor, one in whom he finds much inspiration, wisdom and admiration.

While a student at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, that professor for me was Rev. Dr. Glenn Nielsen.

It was in my first homiletics class that I felt a connection with Dr. Nielsen.  An important part of pastoral ministry is the preaching task.  We all wanted to learn how to write a good sermon.  We had lots of questions.  Dr. Nielsen was more than up to the task of answering them.

Actually, he provided more than answers to our questions.  He often gave us examples.

A question would be asked about how to approach a particular text and Dr. Nielsen would think for a moment and then compose a mini-sermon on the spot, showing one way to proclaim a particular truth in God's Word.  I sat there, slack-jawed, amazed, that anyone could formulate a response, in mere moments, like that.

I soon began to scour all the issues of the Concordia Journal to read Dr. Nielsen's sermons.  I was continually amazed to see all the various ways he approached different texts.  All his sermons had a freshness that's I'd not seen before.  Law and Gospel were correctly divided.  And the Gospel he preached would just make your heart soar with gratitude and joy for the forgiveness and salvation given through faith in Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection.

Even today, I'm still trying to write a "Nielsen sermon."  Maybe one day I'll get there.

My ordination day was very special for many reasons.  Lots of family, traveling from different parts of the country came.  The pastors at our home church in Edwardsville, Illinois participated in the service.  My best friends from seminary were there with their wives.  Members from my vicarage congregation in Olivette, Missouri drove down for the service.  It was a day filled with many blessings.

Dr. Nielsen gave the sermon.  A "Nielsen sermon" just for me.  His advice was simple - "Preach the Word!"

Thanks, Glenn, for that encouragement.  I love preaching the Word of God.  I learned to love doing this from your fine instruction and example.  Hope you're birthday was a blessing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A benediction for today

May Christ give to you at this time and for always

His peace in your soul

His presence in your heart

His power in your life.

From my dear, sweet wife's Prayer Board

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Good Stuff from Yesterday

Every Sunday brings with it lots of good stuff.  God never fails to deliver His gifts of grace in worship.  Forgiveness for our sins, power for daily living as the Holy Spirit works through Word and Sacraments and the joy of fellowship with people who share something in common - faith in Jesus Christ as the only Savior needed for salvation and eternal life.

Good stuff - LICL received a large group of new members yesterday.  These men, women and children stretched from one side of the altar rail to the other.  Some found us through the internet while others were brought by a friend.  Some admitted that they were "church shopping," but stopped shopping after worshiping with us.  One common theme - all were attracted by the warmth of the people of our congregation. This has to be a secret of growing churches - make people feel welcomed.  A warm greeting will enable a visitor to relax and help them be much more ready to hear the good news of Jesus' life, death and resurrection for the salvation of the world.

Our Nurturing Team hosted a New Member Luncheon following the late service.  We had a wonderful time of fellowship and many connections were made by the new folks joining our church family.  I just can't thank our Nurturing Team enough for the the joy and care they bring to all of these gatherings.

Good stuff - the curse does not strike the Arizona Cardinals! On Friday I wrote of my fear that something bad was going to happen to the Cardinals because they had landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  It seems that any time a favorite team or player ends up being featured on SI's cover a loss or injury is just around the corner.  The Cardinals defense was awesome and the offense did just enough to outscore Detroit.  9-1...who saw this coming for the Cardinals?  Next up - Seattle.  The Seahawks are tough to beat on their home field but Arizona just may have the right stuff to bring home a road victory.

Today provides an opportunity to kick back and take a short break before the "busy-ness" begins all over again.  It's nice to enjoy these moments when life slows down, noise is replaced by quiet and praise and thanksgiving can be offered to a loving and gracious God for all the "good stuff" that happens in our lives.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Welcome Deacon Cynova!

Today at our 5 pm service we will install Gale Cynova to serve as a Deacon at Life in Christ.  He joins Jerry Klink and Danny Baker who also serve our church.  Jerry will also deliver the message during the service.

Sunday at 8 and 10:45 am Associate Pastor Marcus Breitbarth will proclaim God's Word to us.  Sunday School and Bible classes are held at 9:20 am.  Come and join us this Sunday at LICL!

Friday, November 14, 2014

First, the Cover! Is the Curse Next?

Got home from church Thursday night and saw it on the kitchen counter - my copy of Sports Illustrated magazine.  I've been reading SI since a teenager and the magazine has arrived in my mailbox, with just a few interruptions, ever since.

This week's cover is a thing of beauty - stretched out, air born, hauling in a 48 yard touchdown pass is Cardinals rookie wide receiver, John Brown.  Brown's touchdown catch on a ball thrown by backup quarterback, Drew Stanton, put the Cardinals in the lead to stay as they went on to beat the St. Louis Rams.

I stood there for a moment, admiring the picture, when suddenly I became filled with a feeling of absolute dread.

The curse! The curse of the SI cover! THE CARDINALS HAVE BEEN CURSED BY THE SI COVER!

You think I'm going a little overboard about this?

Over the years it seems that the week a sports team or individual athlete is featured on SI's cover, they suffer a horrible loss of some kind during the following week.

For whatever reason, being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated often brings some kind of disaster for a team or an individual player.  Maybe the research guys at could crunch the number and see if there really is a curse connected to being on the cover of SI.  The results might surprise us all.

In any event, I'm not too worried.  If anyone can break the curse of the Sports Illustrated cover, it's Cardinals coach, Bruce Arians.

Arians is a no-nonsense football lifer.  He coached with the legendary Bear Bryant of Alabama and adheres to Bryant's coaching philosophy, "Coach 'em hard and love 'em later."  He's a plain speaker in the manner of President Harry Truman.  Women and young children are advised not to attend Arians' press conferences.  To steal a line from the late broadcast icon, Howard Cosell, Arians is not afraid to "tell it like it is."

That's why I'm not worried about the curse.  I'm sure Arians doesn't believe in it and isn't concerned about it.  I'll bet if he were asked, Arians would say "@#$%&* the curse!"

Sunday's checklist for the Cardinals is as follows: 1) Beat the Lions - this is going to be a tough game.  2) Kill the curse!  In that order.

Go Cardinals!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thinking about Luther

What with celebrating the Reformation and Luther's Birthday in the past few weeks, it got me to thinking about the trip my dear, sweet wife and I took in the summer of 2011.  One of our stops was Wittenburg Germany.  It felt like we had arrived in the Holy Land - at least the Holy Land for Lutherans.  In the first picture is the altar of the church; the second photo is of the pulpit and the third picture is the outside of the church.  We had a wonderful time there and I hope someday to return to Wittenburg.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Being born twice

From "Together with Jesus," by Richard E. Lauersdorf, November 11 devotional:

Birth is something that happens to me.  I was not born the first time because I wanted to but because my parents wanted me.  I was born the second time, not because I wanted to but because God wanted me.  Thank God for His grace in making me born twice.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

God paints another masterpiece

Carlsbad, California, December 31, 2013.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Keep those torches burning

This Sunday we'll look at Matthew 25 and the story of the 10 virgins.  We'll also learned the importance of being prepared.  Come and join us at either 8 or 10:45 am.

This afternoon at 5 pm, Holy Communion will be celebrated and Pastor Dave Darling will proclaim God's Word.  Hope you'll join us this weekend at LICL!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Down on the Farm

Two of my grandchildren, Emily (left) and Drew having fun at a farm located about 30 minutes from Green Bay, Wisconsin.  They had a great time with the pigs, cows, horses, chickens and sheep.  They took a hay ride and fed lots of animals.  As our day came to an end, I just had to take one more picture.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Blessed by the Today's Light Bible

For years I've used CPH's "Today's Light Bible," with devotions by Jane Fryer as my resource for daily Bible reading and meditation.  Fryer's devotions are worth the price of the book.  I was greatly encouraged by this devotion as Fryer wrote about Abraham and Sarah.  In part, she wrote:

How like us - to think that somehow God can't or won't keep His Word, especially when we don't see Him fulfill His promises right away.  How like God - to come to us, not with words of rebuke but of grace.

God asserts a remarkable truth to Abram and Sarai by changing their names.  These desert nomads with dust in their sandals were, in reality, His royal children.  Kings would come from Abraham.  Sarai was now Sarah - "princess."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The importance of being simple

Some people love to play God.

God doesn't understand what marriage is all about.  Let's change it.  God doesn't get that it's my body and I can do what I want.  Let's abort it.  God doesn't realize that when I have a terminal illness then I be able to die with dignity.  Let's end it.

We live in a post-modern culture where my truth is just as good as your truth and as long as I'm not hurting you I should be able to do whatever I want.

The problem is that the new normal about marriage hurts me.  The problem with the new normal about life and death hurts me.

What to do? Dietrich Bonhoeffer has a suggestion.

To be simple is to fix one's eyes solely on the simple truth of God at a time when all concepts are being confused, distorted and turned upside down.

We can take our cues from the world or we can take them from the Word.

Know the simple truth of God's Word that makes so much sense in a world that seems more confused every day.  Trust in the power and authority of that Word.  It gives peace in the midst of chaos and leads to eternal life.

Remember the KISS principle? Keep It Simple and...well, you know the rest.

Bonhoeffer reminds us that our hope is in the simple and solid truth of God's Word.  Let it be your soul's anchor, today and forever.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord

The temptation to play God is awfully great.

We want to be in control.  We want to call the shots, so to speak.

We didn't choose our parents.  Had no control over that.  But as soon as we can, we try and wrestle control and authority away from those who God had given it to - parents, teachers, pastors,coaches, those who protect us and care for us.

Our sinful human nature strives for this.  We believe that we know what's best for ourselves, our life and our death.

Death on our terms.  That's how a person dies with dignity.

I've sat by the bedside of the dying.  I've looked on as spouses and children and friends spent last moments together - laughing, crying, singing, supporting one another.

I've marveled at the sick and suffering, those who would have never thought about ending their own life.  Instead, they lived until the very end, trusting that the God who gave them life and then also gave them eternal life through faith in Jesus would be with them until they fell asleep.

Some would say, "It's easy for you to write these words - you aren't suffering from a terminal disease.  You're not facing death."

No, I'm not suffering from cancer or heart disease or ALS or any of those things.  Thank God for His grace and mercy.  As of today, I am pretty healthy and enjoy a pretty good life.

But I'm facing death.  And so are you.

In my case, I don't know when my death will come.

But it's coming.  So I trust God with my life and my death.

I trust God because He has something better in store for me.  Jesus said, "In this life you will have trouble."  Like everything else Jesus said, He's right.

But the faithful God has seen me through every trouble and every trial.  Who knows how much He has spared me from that which I'm not even aware of.

And God gave me a Savior who has defeated death.  That's what Easter Sunday is all about.  Death couldn't keep Jesus in the grave.  His victory over death is my victory.  Because He lives I too will live.

Death is our enemy.  It was never God's plan for death to be a part of His creation.

But because Adam and Eve decided that they wanted to be God, they disobeyed the Word of God and ushered sin and death into the world.

Jesus dealt with the death question.

So I will let him deal with my death whenever it comes.

This past Sunday was All Saints Sunday.  It's the day we remember those in our church family who fell asleep in Jesus during the past year.

We were also reminded of what God thinks of those who die trusting in Him until the end: Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" from now on.

Such a wonderful Word of comfort for those who grieve.

It's a promise that we all can hang on to.

I don't want to die with dignity, acting like God, planning the details of my death.

I want to "die in the Lord," trusting in His promises, believing that my Redeemer lives and that in eternity I will see God - forever.

Monday, November 3, 2014

We have a Savior who can sympathize with us!

In rereading a familiar text - John 11:17-37 - this morning, I made the following observations:

In verse 20, there is a role reversal - it's Martha who is with Jesus instead of Mary.

But in verse 28, Jesus calls for Mary.

In verse 32 it's Mary who has the complaint (remember when Jesus visited Martha and Mary? Martha complained about her sister who wasn't helping her).  But notice Mary's posture - she kneels in worship.  And her complaint expresses her faith in Jesus - "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died."  (Yes, Martha expressed the same complaint - but also in faith).

I was also struck by Martha's faith:
verse 22 - I know that whatever you ask from God...
verse 24 - I know that (my brother) will rise again in the resurrection...
verse 27 - I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God...

I know...I know...I believe.

But I was also struck by Christ's compassion.  He did not wait on Mary to come to Him; He called for her.  He was moved by those who were mourning Lazarus' passing.  He wept.

We do have a Savior who can sympathize with us! And because He is the resurrection and the life, what He did for Lazarus, He will do for us.  On the Last Day all the dead will be raised and those who trusted in Jesus for forgiveness, new life, and salvation will be gathered by the Lord and ushered into heaven.

This is good news for a Monday!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

All Saints Sunday

This is that Sunday in the church year where we remember all those who were called home to rest in Jesus.  They have joined that great host of saints who await the Last Day when Jesus shall return in all His power and glory.  Until then we wait patiently for the Lord.

Come and join us for worship this Sunday at 8 am and 10:45 am.  Classes for all ages will meet at 9:20 am.  Or be here this afternoon for our Saturday worship at 5 o'clock.  We'll see you at LICL!