Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Going to bed last night I laid my head on the pillow and replayed our Christmas Eve Candlelight service in my mind.

"All is well, all is well.  Let there be peace on earth.  Christ is born, go and tell, that He is in the manger.  Alleluia!"

"For born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

"Silent night, holy night.  All is calm, all is bright."

"The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.  The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace."

What a wonderful way to go to sleep.

Today, LICL has a 10 am Christmas service.  Pastor John Pope will preach.  There will be lots of great Christmas hymns to sing.  Come and join us.

Starting today I'm going to take a Christmas blog break.  I'm a little pooped out after a very busy Advent and Christmas season.  So I'll be back on January 6th which is Epiphany.  Until then, have a blessed Christmas season and a very happy and healthy New Year!

Pastor George Spicer

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

All is well

Reading the newspaper this morning, a person could come away thinking that there's not a lot of hope for our world.

One expert in Middle East affairs is pessimistic that anything can be done to stop ISIS.

Even though our economy is improving there are still too many people with nothing to eat and no place to live - except on the street.

One more shooting of a young black man takes place in Missouri and the protesters are aflame with anger.

But all is well.

That's our message tonight at Life in Christ - All Is Well.

All is well because God kept His promise to undo the damage our first parents caused when they despised God's Word and plunged the world into sin.

All is well because God's Christmas gift to us will live up to His name - Jesus, "the Lord saves."

All is well because God is with us.  He knows our hurts and disappointments and struggles.  He is our refuge and strength.

All is well because the Baby in Bethlehem's manger will bring peace to the place where we need it the most - our hearts.

Our world is deeply troubled.  And it would be so easy to fill up with despair over all we see and hear.

But tonight we have God's good reminder that all is well.  Jesus comes and deals with our biggest problem - our sin.  Jesus comes and meets our greatest need - peace of heart and mind.

We pray you'll come and join us tonight.  At 5 pm our Family Christmas Eve service will take place, featuring our children from Sunday school.  Our Associate Pastor, Marcus Breitbarth will deliver the message.

At 7 and 9 pm we'll hold Candlelight Christmas Eve services.  Our Adult Choir, Bell Choir and several singers and musicians will offer special selections that will enhance our worship.  I will have the joy and privilege to speak of the Savior's birth and what it means to us in all the moments of our lives.

We hope to see you tonight at Life in Christ!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What happened to my well organized life?

A couple of weeks ago I revealed to the kids (and the congregation) here at church that I thought there were two weeks left until Christmas when, actually, there were only 10 days remaining.

I've been running behind ever since.

On Monday, I wrote my Christmas Eve sermon and got the services for 12/28 and 12/31 ready to go.

I left the office last night thinking that I was right on schedule and had two more days to finish up my work.

What was I thinking anyway?

I come in this morning and Connie wants to know where the Saturday service is.


She also needs "Treasuring God's Word" for the coming week so it can be included in Sunday's bulletin.

Double Oops!

Suddenly I realized that I was behind and keeping people from getting their work done.

We scrambled and with some creative maneuvering I think we've got things covered.

I consider myself as rather organized person.  But this year I feel like I'm running a four lap race and I gave the field a one lap head start.

I can see the finish line and I'm gonna make it.  But it sure has been a struggle.

Praise God that I can stop running on Christmas Eve.  What a joy it will be at the Candlelight services when the lights go down, the candles are lit and we sing softly "Silent night, holy night.  All is calm, all is bright."

My heart's racing right now.  But a sense of calm will settle over me and the rest of our worshipers as we think and rejoice over that glorious moment when the angels proclaim, "For this day in the city of David a Savior has been born to you - He is Christ the Lord!"

Jesus...the One who can calm every restless heart.  Jesus...the One who can bring comfort in the midst of chaos.  He can't come quickly enough.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The countdown continues!

5 days before Christmas and I don't even want to think about all the work I have to do.  So, instead, I'll tell you about the weekend's schedule at Life in Christ.

Worship this afternoon takes place at 5 pm with Deacon Gale Cynova offering the message and Pat Herman and her group will offer the music.  Tomorrow, you can join us for worship at either 8 or 10:45 am (Sunday school and Bible classes for all ages meets at 9:20 am).

Sunday afternoon our middle school and high school youth are sponsoring a Christmas gift wrapping event.  From 4 to 7 pm you can bring your Christmas gifts to the Ed. Building and they'll do the wrapping for you.  It should be a fun event.

Looking for a friendly church? Come and see us this weekend at LICL!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Wise words from a wise man

In the Bible a sign often means something that contains and conveys what God is doing and giving. At the same time a sign hides under what appears to be its opposite.  The disclosure of a sign is by a word of God, which requires hearing and receiving faith.  God's dealing with us in this way reduces us to the point at which we are nothing but receivers.  The shepherds received the words of the angel and embraced the Baby in the manger as the Savior who is Christ the Lord.

Norman Nagel
Selected Sermons, page 33

Thursday, December 18, 2014

How well are you investing the stuff you have?

Read this recently in the Treasury of Daily Prayer.  This is a wonderfully simple but profound statement by the great man, Martin Luther.

O Lord Jesus, come to me, enjoy my bread, wine, silver and gold.  How well it has been invested by me when I invest it in You.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"The 52" is coming!

In 2006, a group of us went on a one week mission trip to work with the Servant's Heart ministry, based in Guatemala City, Guatemala.  While we were there we had the chance to make visits to the Shanty Town that was a short walk from ministry headquarters.

Shanty Town was where the poorest of the poor of the city lived.  Walls of homes were pieces of plywood with sheets of metal serving as the roof.  There was no electricity.  Lamps and candles provided light at night.  Furnishings were sparse.  A bed (that often slept many), a chair and a table, and a cabinet for storing a few things was all that we saw in many of the homes.

We'd never seen poverty like this.  What can you give to a person who lives in such horrible conditions? The young Guatemalans showed us the way.  You give people God's Word.

As people shared their stories and talked about their needs, the Guatemalans kept pointing people to Christ for help and hope.  And although they did not carry Bibles with them, they had memorized God's Word and the Holy Spirit gave them the words to say to the people we were meeting with.  Our group was both amazed and impressed by how well these young people knew the Scriptures.

When we came back from our trip we resolved that we would make that same commitment to knowing and treasuring God's Word.  We started providing little cards that had a Bible verse that people could pick up and keep handy for memorization.  And we did this for the better part of a year.

For the past couple of months I've been thinking of ways to encourage our church family to better treasure God's Word.  We know that God's Word has the power to speak forgiveness as we confess our sins; it has the power to comfort us when we mourn loss or separation; it has the power to give us hope when life feels hopeless; God's Word points us to Christ Jesus, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

So starting on January 4, 2015, we will introduce "The 52" at LICL.  It's pretty simple, really.  Each week we will invite our church family to memorize a Bible verse.  We'll be looking for ways to get our children and youth involved as well.  Periodically, we'll review the verses during the Sunday Adult Bible study and learn how people have applied the verses to their lives.  And there will be other things we'll do throughout the year to encourage everyone to better treasure God's Word.

I'm excited about this opportunity and I hope our members will grow in excitement during the coming year.  What could be better than to have God's Word on the top of your head and hidden deep in your heart? That's what "The 52" will do for you!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The number is 220!

As in 220 pounds of coats and jackets and sweaters - all donated by LICL members and given yesterday to the Phoenix Rescue Mission!

My dear, sweet wife made the delivery during her lunch hour.  Thank goodness for the invention of side view mirrors on automobiles.  Our Toyota SUV was completely filled! Couldn't see a thing out of the back.  (Should I be admitting that here?)

Our junior high and high school youth helped Sherri load "Mt. Coatmore" into our car on Sunday. We knew we had lots of coats.  But once the kids had stuffed the car with all those coats, we could see so clearly the generosity of our people who were willing to do "one little thing" for the least of those brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus.

The folks at the Rescue Mission were overwhelmed by the number of coast they unloaded.  Beside giving them away on site, the people there told Sherri that they have a van that takes nightly runs through Phoenix, looking for folks living on the streets who need help.  Many of those unwanted and unused coats will bless some unfortunate people with warmth and love.

One thing our church has learned through this coat drive is that it doesn't take months of planning and organization to get some things done.  Identify a need and then ask God's people to respond.  Then identify another need and see what you can do.  In this way many lives are touched with God's love by simply doing "one little thing."  I can't wait to see where the Lord next leads our church!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Joy on a Sunday Evening

Last night at Life in Christ, Mel and Ruth Donaho presented their second play, based on the Christmas story from St. Matthew and St. Luke.

A good crowd of 170 people came for the performance.  Many of our members played different characters.  Our choir and other musicians were involved.  A large crew was assembled who helped with the stage, lighting and sound.  It was a multi-generational effort.  Adults, teens and children all participated.  And everyone had a great time.

There has been much for me to marvel during my almost 10 years at LICL.  I praise the Lord today for providing our congregation with so many gifted people.  I couldn't produce a play like the one held last night if I had a 100 years to make it happen.  I'm terrible at organizing big events.  And since I fear rejection I would find it almost impossible to ask so many people to take on various tasks.

But Mel and Ruth made it happen.  They found folks who wanted to work behind the scenes.  They recruited people, nearly all without any acting experience, and trained and worked with them to play their characters with conviction and joy.  Without a doubt, what we presented last night was more worthwhile than anything that was on television.

Long, heartfelt applause was offered to cast and crew after last night's performance.  We all left LICL having experienced joy on a Sunday evening.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It's the pink candle!

Acolyte instructions for the third Sunday in Advent are simple...2 purple candles and the pink candle!

Actually, the color of the candle, I'm told, is rose (but I'm colored blind so all I really know is that there is one candle that is a little lighter than the others so that's the pick one).  While the purple candles symbolize the penitential attitude of the season, the pink candle symbolizes joy.  We receive joy as we prepare the celebrate the Father's gift to us of His Son and we also meditate on the eternal joy we will have when the Son, who has made all believers right with the Father, comes to gather us up and take us to the kingdom of heaven.

Worship at Life in Christ takes place on Saturday at 5 pm and on Sunday at 8 am and 10:45 am.  Classes for all age groups - from pre-school to adults - meets at 9:20 am.  Also, on Sunday evening LICL will present a special Christmas program featuring a cast of 100's of adults and kids (OK, I'm exaggerating but the cast and singers is large!).  It begins at 6 pm and seating is limited so be sure to arrive early.

The Lord bless and be with you this weekend.  Hope to see you at LICL!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Flipping through old pictures

A crucifix - found in the Thomaskirche, Leipzig, Germany, summer 2011.  This was the church for which Bach composed some of his greatest music.  We were there one afternoon and was treated to an impromptu concert when one of the church organists came in to practice.  All of us who were milling around the church sat in the pews and listened as the great organ filled the church with beautiful sounds.  It was one of a dozen or more unplanned treats we experienced while on our travels through Austria, Germany and England.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Climbing "Mt. Coatmore"

Well, it seems that I am having trouble posting pictures of "Mt. Coatmore."

And that's a shame because I wanted to show you how generous some people in our congregation can be.

A few weeks ago, in the Gospel reading at church, Jesus reminded us that if we want to serve Him we can help the hungry and thirsty, reach out to strangers and the sick, clothe the naked and remember those imprisoned.

Since then, generous folks at Life in Christ have given hundreds of pounds of food and water to food banks.  People have called the church office to get phone numbers and addresses of those in our church who are ill.  Last night one person told me that she is keeping one dollar bills handy in her car to give away to people standing on street corners.  She said, "They're strangers to me.  What they do with the money is up to them.  I'm just happy to provide a little help."

Our members have also been writing Christmas cards to the young women imprisoned at the juvenile center.  The chaplain there told us that we needed to collect 40 cards to ensure that each young woman got one card.  Our folks have done much better than that.

I also suggested that we could collect old, unused coats for those living on the streets.  My dear, sweet wife has made some good contacts at the Phoenix Rescue Mission who said, "We'll take the coats.  Bring 'em on down!"

Are they going to be surprised!

It seems that many of our members have been cleaning out their closets.  Piled up on a table in our narthex is a huge stack of coats.  All kinds of coats.  For men, women and children.  Light jackets and heavy outerwear.  Two more huge piles are begin kept in our office work area.  Our little effort ends on Sunday so I expect more coats will be brought in this weekend.

Since arriving at Life in Christ almost 10 years ago I have always marveled at the generosity of so many of our members.

But it's the Word of God that fuels their generosity.  Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for Me."

Thank you, Jesus, for giving us the opportunity to serve You! Thank you for the opportunity to serve those You love!  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Epiphany in Caperanum

While reading Matthew 4:12-25, I had these thoughts...

4:16 - Matthew quotes Isaiah to connect the prophecy and its fulfillment in Christ.  "The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light...on them a light has dawned."

4:20, 22 - Notice how each verse begins? "Immediately."  No thought, no hesitation from Peter and Andrew, James and John.  They answer the call of Jesus.  Oh, that it could be said that I, too, respond, in trusting and steadfast faith, to Jesus as He calls and teaches me in His Word!

4:23 - This is the first mention in Matthew of Christ doing miracles.  It won't be the last.

Prayer: Father, You said, "Let there be light," and there was light.  Help us to turn our faces toward You so that we might live and rejoice in the light of Your love.  Enable us to reflect that light to those caught up in the darkness of temptation and sin.  We ask this through Christ our Lord, the Light of the world.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Learning how to wait

Last Sunday I preached on 2 Peter, chapter 3 and learned what a blessing it is that God is patient.  I also reflected on how impatient I can be.  Perhaps this prayer will help me (and maybe you too).

This time
I want to act
to make a decision
But the Spirit 
in Your Word
tells me to wait
on You first
to hear Your counsel
For if I don't wait
I won't have
my strength renewed
Purge me of impatience
O God
Instead of a rash temperament
give me wisdom
Show me Your plan
and not my own
Move me to seek
that peace of mind
which comes not
of my own design
but Yours
that Your peace
which passes
all understanding
may fill my heart 
and mind.

See also Psalm 27:14 & 69:13; Philippians 4:7

From "Prayers for People Under Pressure" by Donald L. Deffner

Monday, December 8, 2014

What to write about on a Monday?

Should I write about the good feeling I had when the time and preparation during the week led to a good proclamation of God's Word? (Based on the feedback I received).

Should I write about the bad feeling I had when our Voters Meeting erupted into chaos at the end?

Should I write about the joy of watching the Arizona Cardinals hold on to beat Kansas City yesterday?

Should I write about the sorrow of having picked Kansas City in the weekly football pool? (Sorry Michele!)

Should I write about the happiness I felt as I read Louis Zamperini's amazing and courageous story in "Unbroken?"

Should I write about the sorrow I felt as I read the last page of "Unbroken?" It's sad when a great book comes to an end.

Obviously, I need to give this more thought.  I'll get back to you.

But if I don't, have a blessed day!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

God is Patient!

This is what the apostle Peter teaches us in his second letter to the church.  This Sunday we'll learn why God's patience with us is so important and how His patience motivates us to get out the good news about Jesus' coming into the world.  Join us for worship at 8 and 10:45 am and for Sunday school and Bible classes at 9:20 in the morning.

We also have a Saturday Vespers service and it take place ant 5 o'clock.  Deacon  Jerry Klink will offer the message.  We hope you can join us this weekend at LICL!

Friday, December 5, 2014

The posture of Advent

I loved this bit of writing from Pastor Richard Lauersdorf:

This Advent season it's time to kneel a little closer to Jesus' crib and beneath His cross...There I'll hear the best news ever of how God sent Jesus to bring double payment for my sins.

From "Together with Jesus," December 3rd devotional

Thursday, December 4, 2014

It's just old sentimental me

Yesterday did not start off very well for me.

I woke up with a migraine headache.  Tried to shake it with some over the counter medication and loads of coffee.  Went to the office for a few hours but my head felt like it was a bass drum being pounded by an overly enthusiastic marching band drummer.

I came home, took some heavy duty medicine,fell asleep.  By 4 pm I was starting to feel like my normal self again.

That was good because I really wanted to see my oldest grandson's Christmas program at his school.

I missed last year's program because I was home - with a migraine.  I really didn't want to miss his performance again.

The sanctuary at Christ Church Lutheran in Phoenix was standing room only when the kids walked in.  As they began to sing "Away in a Manger," it happened.

I began to weep.  I tried to hide the tears but they just kept coming.  At one point my dear, sweet wife nudged me - she offered me her little packet of Kleenex.

It was embarrassing.  I didn't see anyone else bawling their eyes out.

But here's what got to me.  Much of the world is afraid of Jesus.  In many parts of the world Jesus is hated as much as He was 2000 years ago by the religious elites of His day.

Much of our culture hates Jesus and what He stands for.  Things are said of Jesus in the media that would never be said of other religious men.

And here in a packed church, kindergarten and first grade children were singing their hearts out for Jesus.

They recited the Christmas story from Luke, chapter two.  Their voices filled the sanctuary as they joyfully sang, "Therefore I'll say again, God loves me dearly, God loves me dearly, loves even me!"

Their heartfelt confession of faith moved me to tears.

I pray that the excitement that Luke had as he and his class witnessed Christ to a packed group of parents, grandparents and friends continues to grow and grow and grow.  Amen, amen, yes, yes, it shall be so!

And I'll keep the Kleenex handy.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Luke's Christmas Program brings back memories

Tonight my dear, sweet wife and I will venture over to Phoenix to attend my grandson's Christmas program.  I missed last year's presentation due to illness so I'm really looking forward to seeing and hearing Luke and his class tell the Christmas story.

Thinking about this reminded me of the first time that my sister and I participated in a children's Christmas program.  I wonder if my sister remembers this? It's surprising that it wasn't the last Christmas program we ever participated in.

We were very excited to be assigned speaking parts.  When we informed my Dad he had one bit of advice - "Speak loudly.  People will want to hear you."

So we practiced speaking loudly.  After a few minutes my Dad said, "That's good.  You can stop now."  I remember him saying something to my Mom about having a headache.  He must have had a bad day at work.

Finally, the big day came.  The church basement was packed.  I couldn't remember seeing that many people in church on Sunday.  Then we heard the music for "O Come All Ye Faithful."  We marched up onto the stage and took our places.  Then, the Spicer kids made the Christmas program memorable.

When it was my turn to speak I walked to the front of the stage with my Dad's advice ringing in my ears - "Speak loudly."  So I did - I spoke loudly into the microphone!

By the time I had finished reciting my Bible verse my voice was ringing in everyone's ears!  My Mom was the picture of embarrassment and I think my Dad had steam coming from his ears - a regular occurrence.  After the sound of my voice stopped reverberating throughout the basement, some folks began to laugh.  Then I became the picture of embarrassment.

A little later it was my sister's turn to speak.  She was smaller than the previous speakers so she tried to lower the microphone.

But she pulled down so hard on the mic stand that the whole thing came tumbling down, hitting the stage with a loud BOOM!  You would have thought that a bomb had been set off in the basement!

It scared my sister so much that she ran back to where her class was sitting, bawling her eyes out.

I think it was at that point that the Pastor went to his office to sign the letter of transfer for the Spicer family to attend another church...any church!

The car ride home that night was pretty quiet.  I expected to get an earful from my Dad but he said nothing.  Perhaps my Mom had said to him, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  So he said nothing.  And I was kind of glad about that.

Having been a Pastor for awhile now I've seen all kinds of humorous things take place during children's Christmas programs.  But, interestingly, I can't remember the details of any of them.

It's not the mistakes that are memorable.  It's watching and listening to kids and grandkids tell the story of the birth of the Christ child.  It's their confession of faith, that childlike faith that trusts Jesus completely.  It's the joy they show as they sing about a silent night in Bethlehem.  It's a story that we never get tired of hearing and the story sounds so sweet to our ears when we hear it told by the ones we love the most.

So I'm looking forward to Luke's program tonight.  And I will offer him absolutely no advice about speaking loudly!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Music without Christ?

I have a pet peeve.  Give me a moment to unburden myself, OK?

We have a radio station in town that promotes itself as the "Christmas Station."  Before Thanksgiving took place, this station began playing Christmas music and will do so throughout the holiday.

Driving my daughter, son in law and youngest grandson to the airport in east, east, east Mesa gave us the opportunity to listen to Christmas music.

But don't you think that Christmas music should be about Christ?  Shouldn't the birth of Jesus be mentioned in at least some of the songs played?

Seems reasonable to me.  But in the hour I listened, I heard one traditional Christmas song - by that I mean a song that had Christ Jesus at its focus.

I heard about Frosty the Snowman.  We rocked around the Christmas tree.  We listened as Gene Autry sang about Santy Claus.

But we heard only about Christ when a version of "O Come All Ye Faithful" was played.

Why is the world so afraid of Christ Jesus? Why avoid the mention of His name? Why refrain from recognizing that He is "the reason for the season?"

This morning I dug out our Christmas CD's.  Fooey on the "Christmas Station."

Let the Christmas season be about Christ.  His conception by the Holy Spirit.  His birth in Bethlehem by the Virgin Mary.  His reason for coming into our world - to save the world from sin.

From that point of view, maybe it's right to say that "we" are the reason for the season.

Our need for forgiveness and to be reconciled to God the Father is why Jesus was given to us.

Christ - for our greatest need...surely our greatest gift.

Christ should be in our Christmas music.

CD's are picked out and in my car.  Today, as I drive around I'll listen to Christmas music.

OK, I'm done.  Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Thanksgiving Surprises

The Thanksgiving holiday season brought with it several surprises.

For starters, I was probably the only person in America who hadn't watched the film, "Frozen."  I'd heard of kids who'd watched the movie dozens of times.  I guess "Frozen" birthday parties were all the rage this summer.  I know many adults who said things like, "It's one of the best movies I've ever seen."  Well, "Frozen" isn't going to make my top 10 list but now I get what all the buzz was about.  A great story and the singing by the two lead characters was just wonderful.  I might even watch "Frozen" again sometime.

I did the Saturday service and was pleasantly surprised by several worshipers who brought coats for us to give to the Phoenix Rescue Mission.  One family donated three coats - one that had been dry cleaned and was still on the hanger.  I was inspired by Matthew 25:31-46 to ask the congregation to consider doing one of the "little things" Jesus talks about - like feeding the hungry or giving someone something to drink, reaching out to strangers and the sick, or caring for the naked and the imprisoned. I've seen our folks respond to this plea although I shouldn't have been surprised.  Our congregation has always been generous and never fails to respond to those who have needs.

I was pleased to have the Rev. Dr. Ray Mirly and his wife, Debbie, join us for worship yesterday. Pastor Mirly was my supervisor during my vicarage or internship year while I was studying at Concordia Seminary.  At that time he was senior pastor at Immanuel Lutheran in Olivette, Mo.  I learned much from Pastor Mirly and the entire congregation during my year there.  He and the congregation were extremely kind to my dear, sweet wife and kids.  Pastor Mirly put me in charge of the Visitation Ministry of the church.  Every Monday night a dozen people (including myself) paired up and went out to call on those who had visited the church for worship the day before.  We all grew in confidence as we talked with strangers about the forgiveness and love of Jesus.  That year was a blessing for me and my family and I will always be indebted to Pastor Mirly for his interest, direction and confidence in me.

Of course, there were things that happened around our house  that were of no surprise - I ate too much, the Christmas decorations went up on Black Friday (a much better way to spend the day IMHO), and my kids and grandkids brought Sherri and me great, great joy.  I hope your Thanksgiving holiday did the same for you!