Saturday, July 30, 2016


Folks coming to church at Life in Christ this Sunday are going to be surprised at some of the changes.

The great wall on the south side of the sanctuary is down and now we see what was going on behind that wall.  We have expanded the seating on that side of the sanctuary and the new area looks great. A new sacristy has been created for our altar guild plus two additional storage facilities have been constructed.  New carpeting was laid in the sanctuary and narthex and that looks very nice too.  Also, a elevated sound board area was constructed and, while not yet finished, will be a great place for our sound and IT people to work from.  Progress was made this week and we're grateful to God for it.

Services this weekend will take place today at 5 pm and tomorrow at 8 and 10:45 am.  I'll be preaching on the theme, "Hide and Seek."  Our place is cool so come and join us this weekend for worship at LICL!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Joyce Haynes Committal Service Sermon

The Lord is MY Shepherd

            It is often during times of serious illness that a pastor discovers what words from Holy Scripture can really comfort and offer hope to a person.

            There was absolutely no doubt what Word from God gave comfort and hope to Joyce Haynes – the beloved 23rd Psalm.

            As we talked during that last week of Hospice care, Joyce kept coming back to Psalm 23.  She would say “Jesus has taken care of me.  Jesus has been good to me.  He has blessed me.  The Lord is MY shepherd.”  That’s how Joyce saw it – Jesus really was her shepherd.

            That’s the way David saw it too.  He could have written, “The Lord is like a shepherd” or “The Lord is the shepherd.”  But no! The name of the Lord takes the first place in this Psalm.  Surely David does this for emphasis – The Lord is my shepherd!

            Because Jesus was Joyce’s shepherd, she could sincerely say, “Jesus has taken care of me.”  Joyce wanted for nothing.  She had everything she could ever want.  God had blessed her with a loving and devoted husband, kids and grandkids and great grandkids whom she adored, friends and church family who gave her joy.  Today’s advertising is designed to create in each of us the need to want more.  But Joyce had all she needed.  As we confess in the First Article of the Creed, God had provided all the basics – clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, everything needed to support her body and life. 

Jesus led Joyce to His Holy Word where she found nourishment and rest for her soul.  We lamented that moment at Hospice when it was decided that there would be no more food or water to nourish and help Joyce.  But she was never without the Holy Food of God.  Every time you read the Bible to her, every time you prayed God’s Word with her, the Holy Spirit was feeding Joyce, strengthening and nourishing her faith in her shepherd.

Joyce could also say, “Jesus has been good to me.”  The 23rd Psalms drives that point home with the words, “He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”  These paths are those which lead to eternal life.  But these paths are not of our own making.  We had nothing to do with their construction.  This path is opened to us by Jesus.

            When the Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep, the path of righteousness was opened wide for you and me and all who believe.  We are waved on to travel down this path because Jesus’ righteousness has been credited to us.  This happened at the cross where Jesus died.  He died with all our sin and disobedience piled on top of Him.  In return, His perfect righteousness was given to us.  This righteousness inspires us to want to live Christian lives every day.  It also makes us holy and acceptable to a holy God.  Jesus the Good Shepherd made it possible for Joyce to travel down “Righteous Road” and through the gates of heaven.

            The 23rd Psalm reminds us of something very important.  The Shepherd not only provides for His people; He protects His people too.  We read in verse four about “the valley of the shadow of death.”  The words could also be translated, “the darkest valley.”  So it’s fair to say that the Shepherd is with His sheep, like Joyce, during all those times in life when darkness threatens to overtake us.  We become discouraged or depressed; we get hurt and feel pain; all that was good in our lives suddenly seems to have vanished. 

            David reminds us that we do not deal with these difficult times alone.  And we do not travel down dead ends, destined to live with doom and gloom all our lives.  Remember how David put it: “For you (O Lord) are with me!” When you can confidently say, as Joyce did, “The Lord is MY shepherd,” then you know that your shepherd will lead you through the darkest valley ever, even death.

            Are you aware that sheep have a big problem? They cannot protect themselves.  Sheep have no dangerous bite.  Their hooves cannot do the damage that sharp claws can cause.  They’re not fast.  When it comes right down to it, a sheep’s only security is its shepherd.

            Joyce knew and believed this important fact.  She could not deal with her sin.  Unless taken care of, it would have crushed her to death.  That death would have been for eternity.  And Joyce could not have protected herself from Satan.  The devil, left unchecked, would have devoured Joyce, gleefully causing her destruction.

            But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was with Joyce.  Jesus redeemed Joyce with his own blood, paying the penalty for her sins.  His resurrection on the third day makes possible for Joyce to live again, on the Last Day.  And through His death and resurrection, Jesus took his rod and staff and gave Satan a beating from which that the old evil foe will never, ever recover.  

            And yes, Joyce could say, “The Lord has blessed me.”  Interestingly, in the last two verses the 23rd Psalm seems to change focus from a Shepherd to a King.  But I’ve read that in the Near East Kings were often referred to as shepherds of their people.  A king invited his most honored associates to live with him.  In the palace they were treated to the most sumptuous banquets.  Every need or whim was accommodated.

            But in the 23rd Psalm the place being referred to is heaven and all the feasting and celebrating represents the joys of eternal life with God.  In heaven we will have nothing to fear – our enemy, the devil will be vanquished forever.  There will be no more sadness or pain.  We will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  And in the greatest irony of all, the Good Shepherd who made all this possible for Joyce and all who believe will be the Lamb who died for us.

            Get the picture.  This is why Joyce kept coming back to David’s beloved Psalm.  Trusting in the Shepherd, Joyce faced death and, through faith, has won the victory.  Today, she rests in Jesus.  Someday, she will rise in glory.  And I can tell you, that was her prayer for each of you here today.  Repent of your sins.  Turn to Jesus.  Receive His forgiveness, peace and salvation.  Grow in your knowledge and love of the Lord.  Then you’ll start talking like Joyce and we’ll be glad to hear you say, “The Lord is MY Shepherd!”  Amen.

Failing to get the message

Here is today's Friday Funny!

A young business executive visited his pastor for some marital counseling.  At the conclusion of their discussion, the pastor advised the executive to apologize to his wife and give her a token of his remorse.

"You know," the pastor said, "say it with flowers."

"OK," the executive said, "I'll pick up a rose on the way home."

The pastor asked, "Just one?"

"Well, I'm a man of few words."

From "A Laugh a Day - A Daily Dose of Heavenly Humor"

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Reliving my renewal

Yesterday I referenced some cleaning that Sherri and I are doing around the house.  As we were sorting through the "keep" stuff and the "send to Savers" stuff I happened upon a CD recording of our Welcome Home event at church following renewal.

Sherri and I had put together a slide show of activities and events we had participated in while being gone May, June and July 2011.  The centerpiece of the renewal for us was the three weeks we spent in Europe.

We experienced the Vienna, Austria Arts and Music Fair.  We spent a few days in Salzburg, Austria, touring churches and getting the "Sound of Music" experience.  We traveled to Leipzig, Germany for BachFest (the picture above is the St. Thomas Church where Bach served and wrote music for the church that has stood the test of time).  We visited Wittenburg, Germany where we immersed ourselves in all things Martin Luther.  We also enjoyed the time we spent in London, England.  A day trip to Liverpool to immerse ourselves in all things Beatles was a highlight.  And we won't soon forget our week in Cambridge, England and our visit to the Pastor's Conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in England.

Listening to that recording filled my heart with a strong sense of gratitude.  I really needed that summer of renewal.  In a congregational vote the members supported my request by 94% to 6%. When we weren't traveling we were visiting churches in the area, looking closely at worship and music styles.  One thing became clear to Sherri and me - God had blessed us richly when He called us to come and serve at Life in Christ.

We attended churches that did not offer their members the chance to hear the two great messages of the Bible - Law and Gospel.  Important elements of worship like confession and absolution, the creed and the Lord's Supper were MIA.  Some pastors preached moralistic sermons that made mere or no mention of Jesus.  It's no wonder that some Christians have no idea of just how magnificent the grace of God really is.  They never hear about it and they rarely receive it when they gather for church.

By the time we finished the three months away Sherri and I had come to embrace the words of Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" - "There is no place like home!"  Our renewal helped us to really appreciate and give thanks for the home we have with our church family at Life in Christ Lutheran Church!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Reading with Dick and Jane

My dear, sweet wife has almost reached the end of her summer vacation.  Usually when this happens, she makes a very concentrated list to complete her "things to do" list that she wrote at the beginning of the summer.  One of those things to do is to clean up our book shelves.

This is always a challenge for me.  Books are like best friends.  How do you part with them? Over the years, as we've moved a number of times, I've had to pare back my library.  To this day I still lament books that got sold at yard sales or given to Goodwill.  So getting rid of books is always a painful experience.

While cleaning yesterday I found a couple of books I picked up at Goodwill (Oh, the irony!).  They were a couple of Dick and Jane books, the very books used in my school to help first graders learn to read.  One book was entitled, "Something Funny," and the other was "Fun With Our Family."

To this day I still remember the thrill of learning how to read.  The authors of the Dick and Jane books really knew how to capture the attention of their young readers: Look, Dick. Look, look. Oh, oh. Look, Dick. Oh, oh. See, Dick. Oh, see Dick.

Left you on the edge of your seat, didn't it?

What resources do schools use today to teach children how to read? I tend to think that Dick and Jane books are considered old hat, so to speak, not to be used to teach modern day children how to read.

But, frankly, when Dick and Jane find Spot playing in the mud, well, could there be anything more amazing and wonderful?

All I know is this - we are not giving to Goodwill our Dick and Jane books!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How the church is like the ark

Frank Starr is a Lutheran pastor who wrote a series of Bible study-devotional books for Concordia Publishing House. Although I suspect the books are long out of print, I've gone back to them several times in an effort to give order and enhance my daily study and prayer time.  I really appreciated this quote from book one which had to do with the Noah account in Genesis:

How like Noah and his family are we, kept safe by God within the confines of the ark, kept safe from the destruction without. Our ark is His Church, where we are sheltered from the wrath of God by the covering of the righteousness of Christ.

From "Light for the Way," book one, page 9.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Singing with the Saints

Elsie Kane’s Memorial Sermon         

“Singing with the Saints”

            I want to tell you about one of the most enjoyable times I had in ministry and I have Elsie Kane to thank for it.

            Everyone who knew Elsie knew how much she loved music.  She sang hymns on Sunday morning with gusto.  Singing with church choirs was a delight.  Playing piano and singing the great hymns of the church, along with good old gospel favorites, filled her heart with joy.  Some people are described as having “a song in their heart.”  That was Elsie.

            For years she and Pastor Vern Trahms and some other people led a monthly hymn sing at Baptist Village (now Lifestream).  One day Elsie came to Connie Kanzler and I and asked if we would take over that ministry opportunity.  Pastor and Esther felt like it was time to step aside and maybe let someone a little younger have the chance to participate. 

            Elsie did not want to see the hymn sing simply fade away.  She loved the people who came each month.  She saw how encouraged the residents were by having the opportunity to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord.  She also knew how much the residents looked forward to having people to sing and visit with.  Elsie was determined to see the singing at Baptist Village continue.

            So Elsie asked Connie and I to take over.  And, frankly, how do you say “no” to Elsie.  If there is a way to do so I never discovered the secret.  Connie and I began making our monthly visits and Elsie was right there with us – greeting the residents, passing out a liberal amount of hugs, singing with all the power her tiny lungs could generate, and just generally letting the light of her faith in and love for Jesus shine brightly for us all to see.

            For nearly 10 years Connie and I made the monthly trek over to Baptist Village.  We enjoyed singing the great hymns of the church with the residents.  We also learned some new songs, ones not in our Lutheran Hymnals.  We made a great friend in Chaplain Craig Avrill, who helped Connie navigate her way some unfamiliar tunes. 

            And during those ten years something kind of bittersweet happened.  Connie and I also made some good friends during that time.  But then we would miss a friendly face.  We’d ask Chaplain Craig about these friends of ours.  And he would say something like, “They’re not here anymore.  They’ve gone home to be with the Lord.”

            All of those friends of ours, no longer with us, resting in the arms of Jesus.  And on July 5, our dear and wonderful friend, Elsie Kane joined them.

            The blessed good news that both comforts and thrills us this day is that Elsie is still singing praises to the Lord.  Now, in this service we’ve been lifting up our voices in praise to God.  But Elsie has it so much better – she is singing praises in the presence of God.  How amazing is that!

            We know that there is singing in heaven because the apostle John, in the book of Revelation, give us glimpses of such singing.  He describes one such scene in chapter five. 

            John paints a picture of a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of a throne.  We know that this is our Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And the singing starts – first from what are described as the four living creatures and 24 elders.  Then they are joined by countless numbers of angels, who sing with full throated power.  And then John writes: Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.

            Elsie couldn’t possibly be happier than she is right now.  Singing in a heavenly choir.  Singing praises in the presence of God. 

            In the 10 years that I knew Elsie she had one lasting hope – to go to heaven and be with Jesus.  She sang with real feeling the great hymn of the church, “I’m but a stranger here – heaven is my home.” 

            It wasn’t that she was dissatisfied with what she had here in this life.  She loved her family very much.  She prayed over you all every single day.  She loved all of her many friends.  She loved her church family.  For most of her 96 years Elsie lived a full life.

            But her hope was heaven.  And Jesus, the Lamb of God, made heaven possible for Elsie.

            What are we saying when we call Jesus, the Lamb of God?

            When Israel sat down to eat the Passover meal, they sacrificed a lamb and smeared the blood from that lamb over their doorposts.  The shedding of that blood saved Israel from death.  Jesus is the sacrificial lamb who blood saves all who believe from death – eternal death.  Jesus is the lamb of the daily offering, mentioned in Exodus, chapter 29.  He is the perfect sin offering through which you and I receive forgiveness for all our sins. 

            In heaven the saints sing of the Lamb of God, and with Your blood you purchased men for God. 

            A few weeks ago Connie Kanzler gave me an unexpected but wonderful gift.

            I wonder if you all remember S & H Green Stamps? My Mom was an avid collector of Green Stamps.  I remember how she carefully watched the cashier put the Green Stamps in her grocery bags.  And when we got home, nothing got put away until her Green Stamps went into her books.  Connie was going through some stuff of her mother’s and found a whole collection of S & H Green Stamp books.  What a find! I hadn’t seen these stamps and books for decades!

            Those of you who collected Green Stamps – do you remember where you went to use the stamps? The Redemption Center! You redeemed or purchased goods or products by virtue of having the stamps.  My sister’s first bicycle was redeemed, you might say, by Green Stamps.

            We could do nothing to save ourselves.  No amount of our own blood, sweat or sacrifice could ever make us right and holy before God our Father.         

            But Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God, shed His blood on the cross.  He truly is the Lamb without blemish or defect, as the apostle Peter wrote.  Only Jesus could make an offering acceptable to God the Father.  Our Lamb redeemed us by His blood.  He lifted our sins and the sins of the whole world upon His shoulders and carried them away in death.  And through His death, we have life – power to live our new life in Christ now and eternal life in heaven.

            Once upon a time, Elsie used to sit right here with us and sing songs like:

My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling

Lamb of God pure and holy, Upon the cross didst suffer

Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us

But now she sings a new song, one sung by every creature in heaven and earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them – in other words, all creation sings:

To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

Be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever!

            So God be praised! He has kept His promise and has given Elsie her heart’s desire.  God’s promise is that whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life.  And we who are still living life daily with our Savior by faith, look to that day – the Last Day, Resurrection Day – when we will be reunited with family members and friends and all those who died trusting Jesus for life eternal.

            We’ll be raised to new life and Elsie will be there.  Her mind will be sharp and clear.  Nothing will bother her.  Nothing will infirm her.  We’ll see her and certainly get a hug or two from her.

            Family and friends, follow Elsie’s example.  Receive Jesus’ gracious invitation to trust in Him for forgiveness of sins, peace for your heart and a new eternal address in heaven.  Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.  That’s God promise to you.  Trust in Jesus and have the certainty that no matter what challenge or problem or disappointment you face in this life, there is absolutely nothing that can separate you from the love of Jesus

            Do this and then look forward to that day when you are singing with the saints.  Elsie will be there waiting for us to join our voices with her to give praise and honor and glory to Jesus, that Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Oh, what a day that will be!  Amen.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

In love with the 23rd Psalm

First, there was Joy.  Then, there was Elsie.  Now, we have Joyce.

Three wonderful Christian woman, called home to be with Jesus.

As we were preparing for Elsie Kane's Memorial Service last night we received a call that Joyce Haynes had fallen asleep in Jesus at 6 pm.

Joyce had been in Hospice care for over a week.  I had seen her nearly everyday during that time.  A week ago Sunday the family and I met with her for a time of worship, singing and prayer.

During that time together I discovered Joyce's great love for David's great psalm.

During the next several days Joyce and I kept coming back to Psalm 23.

Those six verses provided Joyce great comfort.  She would say, "Jesus is my shepherd.  He has always taken care of me.  I know He is with me.  I will be with Him forever."

Simple but powerful statements of faith.  Just as a shepherd loves his sheep, Joyce knew she was loved by her Good Shepherd, Jesus.  She never wavered.  She kept on trusting.

Joyce was with those that she loved and who loved her the most.  Her beloved husband, Chuck.  Her kids and grand kids.  And continually watched over by her Shepherd.

We will miss her but look forward to the Last Day when we will be reunited with Joyce and all the saints of God and taken into heaven.

Rest in Jesus, Joyce.

Join us this weekend for worship at LICL.  Saturday's service begins at 5 pm.  Sunday services take place at 8 and 10:45 am.  Bible classes for all ages start at 9:20 am.

Have a blessed weekend!

Friday, July 22, 2016

And when will you be 11?

It's the return of the Friday Funny!

In some congregations, children ten and under get to attend Children's Church, while those 11 and up are expected to worship with the adults.  In an attempt to buck the system, one mom of an 11 year old girl told her daughter, "Now remember, Anna, if anyone asks, you are only ten.  Got it?"

Anna nodded her head.

At the beginning of Children's Church, the leader approached Anna.  "How old are you?" he asked.

"Ten, sir," she said.

"Ah, and when will you be 11?"

The girl though for a moment.  "As soon as Children's Church is over."

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Greeting card philosophy

One of my dear, sweet wife's favorite things to do is to shop for greeting cards.  She can spend hours (or so it seems) walking up and down the rows of cards at places like Hallmark, examining cards like a jeweler might look for fine diamonds.She is always happy to show me her "finds" and to tell me who she had in mind when she picked out the card.

One card which she had purchased for a dear friend included this sentiment: Good friends know your stories.  Great friends were there when it happened.

During our vacation this summer we had the chance to spend a few days with three of my classmates from seminary and their wives.  When we started our journey together we had no idea where it would take us all.  As we gather each year we often stroll down memory lane, talking about those experiences that have shaped our lives to this day.

While telling the stories we are reminded that those dear friends played a part in many of those stories.  They were there to offer encouragement or to wipe away tears.  They rejoiced as we rejoiced and mourned as we mourned.  Through it all some great friendship have been made.

Today, take a moment to pray and give thanks for the great friends that you have.  Praise the Lord that they were there...for you.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Joy Robinson Memorial Service Sermon

The Crown of Life

            If you will give me a moment, I want to do something I’ve never done before.  (Put on hat)

            There – that’s better! I’ve never preached from the pulpit while wearing a hat.  But I think Joy would be delighted.

            This hat thing found its inspiration is a Bible verse that the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  He was addressing the issue of hair length, specifically that the length of men’s hair should not be that of a woman’s.  Down through time the tradition of women wearing hats in the church was considered a respectful and proper thing to do.

            Joy kept the tradition alive and we were glad for it.  Her hats were never outlandish or showy.  They always complimented the rest of her ensemble.  She dressed up – for her Lord.  Joy looked very classy.  She put the “S” in style.  And, if she were here she would probably be shaking her head at all of these platitudes.  Joy did not live for fawning compliments.

            But Joy lived up to her name, didn’t she? Some people suck the joy from every place they go.  But Joy filled the places she went to with an overflowing, abundant joy.  Her laughter was infectious.  Whether she was playing a hot game of cards or just visiting with good friends, people were touched by her joyful spirit.

            The word, “JOY” has sometimes been used as an acrostic to convey the message – Jesus…Others…You.  Here again, Joy lived up to her name.

            Joy’s love and trust in Jesus couldn’t be missed.  She loved being in God’s house.  She rejoiced in the singing of hymns…was filled with gratitude for the words of the forgiveness the Lord spoke to her as she made her confession…eagerly received God’s Holy Word as it was read and proclaimed…humbled by the Lord’s invitation to come to His table and receive His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

            As I ministered to Joy and Terry in these last months I couldn’t help but admire her Bible.  It was worn.  It was being used a lot, regularly.  And still, in the midst of her pain, she never stopped from turning to her Lord and Savior to receive his Word of comfort and peace.  And she never stopped desiring the spiritual nourishment that the Lord’s Supper gave her.

            Yes, Joy loved Jesus.  But she loved others too.  Let me ask a question – how many of you here today received at one time or another, a greeting card or a phone call from Joy? Wasn’t it such a blessing to know that you were being thought of and prayed over by Joy? I can’t tell you how often I was lifted up by the cards she used to send me.  Or when she called the office and said, “Don’t want to bother you – just praying for you.”  And it wasn’t just to check on me – she called often to ask about someone on our 5:16 prayer list.  These gifts of prayer and encouragement given to Joy by the Lord did not go to waste.  She put them to good use.  And in that way her name, Joy, really came alive – Jesus…others…you.

            She lived this life of Joy in spite of all the trouble her friend caused her – and Terry, I’m not talking about you!  Amazingly, she referred to MS – multiple sclerosis – as a friend.  I could think of other words and you could too.  Joy once wrote, “It is very strange how these two friends (MS and the Lord Jesus) have become so intertwined.  Each are silent, but very strong – yet always with me.  Each one has a definite hold on me, in their own way!!”

            Rather than curse God for allowing Joy to be saddled with this affliction, she rejoiced that God was present with her and giving her the power and strength not to be limited in the life she wanted to live.  Joy wrote, “For you see God is in my every movement, saying, “Go, gal, you can make it – I’ll see that you do.”  That was Joy, the woman who loved her husband, adored her sons and their families, prayed and cared for her church family, lived life as fully as any of us and put the “S” in style with her wonderful array of hats.

            And it gives us such great comfort today to know that even as Joy rests in the arms of her Lord and Savior, she has traded in her hat for something much better.

            It is a crown.  We call it the crown of life.

            The apostle James, the brother of Jesus, wrote about this crown in his epistle: Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when He has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.

            This crown is also described in the book of Revelation: Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

            Notice that this is not something that is earned.  It is a gift from God.  It is given to the faithful.  Those who trusted Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life.  It is placed on the heads of those who trusted Jesus in spite of personal suffering, like the suffering that is experienced by those afflicted with MS. 

            So Joy left behind her 150 something hats for something better, much better to wear.

            And it has happened because Jesus chose to wear a crown as well.

            A crown of thorns.  (Display crown of thorns)

            It is early on the Friday morning we call “good.”  Jesus has been illegally taken captive by the Temple Guard and unfairly tried by the Jewish religious leaders, the Sanhedrin.  He has been dragged before the Roman governor, Pilate, who sentenced Jesus to be crucified.  Jesus then received a horrific flogging and then was led into a place called the Praetorium where an entire company of soldiers gathered around him.

            Listen to St. Matthew’s description of what happened next: They (the soldiers) stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head.  They put a staff in His right hand and knelt in front of Him and mocked Him.  “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said.  The spit on Him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again.  After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put His own clothes on Him.  Then they led Him away to crucify Him.

            These words are so very hard to read.  The Son of God being made sport of.  The King of heaven being made to wear a crown of torture.  Imagine the sharp thorns piercing Jesus’ scalp.  See the blood trickling down His cheeks.  Picture the pain etched on His face. 

            As horrific as those images are, they are nothing in comparison to what Jesus suffered next.  Jesus carried His own cross to Golgotha.  His hands and feet were nailed to that cross and then that cross was lifted up for the people of Jerusalem and for all the world to see.  He suffered fully and completely.  Those who should have been begging for His forgiveness mocked and baited Him.  They shouted out, “He saved others but He can’t save Himself.”

            But that which perhaps causes the greatest pain for us is to hear Jesus cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

            It was bad enough that it seemed that the whole world, in that moment, had turned against Jesus.  But to be abandoned by His Father in heaven – why?

            It was because Jesus, as he hung from the cross, had become the biggest and worst sinner the world has ever known.  On the cross, as the apostle Paul teaches, Jesus became sin.  He bore Joy’s sins.  He bore your sins and mine.  Resting on Jesus were the sins of the whole world. 

            And because God is a holy God and will have nothing to do with sin, Jesus was punished for our sins.  He was punished and also abandoned by His Heavenly Father.  As He hung from the cross, Jesus experienced hell. 

            You and I can’t come close to imagining or appreciating what Jesus endured during those six hours of suffering on the cross.  But we can truly rejoice and offer our greatest thanksgiving and praise as we hear those wonderful words, “It is finished!”

            Finished – Jesus’ suffering is complete.  Our sins are paid for.  Our sins will no longer be charged to our account.  Jesus has paid off those sins accounts – in full! And as we sing in “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “God and sinners reconciled!”

            So because Jesus willingly wore that crown of thorns, we are blessed to receive the crown of life, a gift given to all who trust in Jesus alone for forgiveness and new life and salvation.  On July 2nd, the Lord said to Joy, “Welcome home.  You’re the hat lady, right? Try on this crown – you’re going to love it.”

            You know, a crown is often seen as a symbol of victory.  It comforts us to think of Joy as victorious.  I’m reminded of some other words Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

            This is why we can celebrate even in the midst of sadness.  Joy is with Jesus.  She wears the same crown that you and I will receive. Those who believe in Jesus’ victory over sin and death and the devil will wear the crown of life.  On the Last Day, Resurrection Day, the dead in Christ will rise.  We will see Joy again.  You’ll know her and be able to hug and love on her.  But there’ll be something different about Joy.  That old friend, MS – gone, abolished, a thing of the past.  She will be whole.  No trouble with her legs.  No problems walking.  How wonderful is that?

            So you ladies – keep on wearing those hats.  They look great.  I think Joy would approve.  But don’t hold onto to them too tightly.  God has something even better in mind for you – and the guys too.  We’ll be just like Joy – wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, friend.  We’ll all be decked out in the crown of life – a gift promised to us by our merciful and gracious God.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A simple question to ask

I am close to finishing Duncan Hamilton's impressive book, "For the Glory," which tells the life story of Eric Liddell.  I was introduced to Liddell through the film, "Chariots of Fire."  In the film, Liddell, a devoted follower of Jesus, stuns the world by refusing to compete on Sunday.  Liddell was convinced that Sunday was a day to rest in the Lord, to worship, pray and to make the day all about God's goodness and grace.  In the end, Liddell competes in a race he has not trained for and wins a gold medal all the same.

The first third of the book is about Liddell's early life and about the events that took place at the 1924 Olympics.  Following that, the focus in on Liddell's life as a missionary in China.

It is this part of Liddell's life for which Hamilton is truly interested.  I knew a bit of what Liddell faced while reaching out with the Gospel, serving a country (China) that becomes embroiled in war against Japan.  You can't help but admire a man who sets aside his own security and comfort in order to witness Christ to those without faith, without forgiveness, without salvation.

One aspect of Liddell's life in which Hamilton gives great insight is the devotional life Liddell led. Without fail, Liddell began each day with an hour given to Scripture reading, mediation and prayer. Liddell said, "Every Christian should live a God-guided life.  If you are not guided by God, you will be guided by something else."

Liddell wrote some short booklets which outlined a way to let God take the lead in daily life.  Liddell gave one example of how this worked: "If, in the quiet of your heart, you feel something should be done, stop and consider, whether it is in line with the character and teaching of Jesus.  If so, obey that impulse to do it, and in doing so you will find it was God guiding you."

Thinking about taking a meal to a friend? Tempted to look at pornography on your smart phone? That close to spreading a rumor about your employer? Liddell would advise you to ask one simple question: "Is what I'm about to say or do in line with the character and teaching of Jesus?"

I believe it was Martin Luther who once said something to the effect that it is better to have a few good books that you can go back to again and again rather than having a great many books that are read once and then put on a shelf to collect dust.  Hamilton's book is one of those few good books that I will read again and again. There is much to be learned from the life of Eric Liddell.

Monday, July 18, 2016

WELS Mobile

This year's summer vacation took us on a three week trip to the outer banks of North Carolina; then on to Stateville, NC (a suburb of Charlotte) to link up from friends from the Seminary I attended; then on to Green Bay,  Wisconsin to be with my youngest daughter and her family.

Because of the length of the trip my dear, sweet wife and I resolved to try and pack as lightly as possible.

Still, I had to bring a couple of books with me.  My iPod and headphones were a must.  But what about a Bible? What about my devotional materials?

Then I suddenly remembered (I am a little slow on the uptake!) - I have a Bible app on my phone so I'll have God's Word with me.  Then I remembered something else I had downloaded to my phone.

The Wisconsin Synod has developed a new app called WELS Mobile.  It's free! And it's perfect for the traveler who wants to meditate on a God-inspired message each day.

So each morning I would grab my phone and do three things.  Read the Christ-centered devotion, which are really well done (they also have an audio version if that's more to your liking).  Then, there is a daily Scripture reading (currently going through Ezra).  And then there is a feature called "Worship Helps," which lists the upcoming pericope for Sunday and poses some questions and answers about each of the texts.

There are a few other features of the app that are nice but I really appreciated the big three listed above.  Each morning I would try to find a quiet place and go to the app.  And I didn't miss my books even once.

Since getting back home a couple of weeks ago I've continued to use the app.  It's enriched my devo time.  I'd encourage you to check this out and see if it doesn't help you draw closer to your Lord and Savior.

And did I mention that it's free?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Hats On!

Joy Robinson was the hat lady.  On Sunday morning folks would look around our church with a question - "What hat is Joy wearing today?" Joy's hats were never over-the-top outlandish.  They complemented her ensemble.  They were attractive.  She liked looking her best when she came into her Savior's house.

On July 2, Joy traded in her hats for something much better - the crown of life which the Lord gives to those who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  This morning at 10 am we will hold a Memorial Service at Life in Christ for Joy and celebrate the new head gear that she is wearing.  A reception will be held afterward at the Lakes Clubhouse at Westbrook Village.

Later, LICL will have its Saturday worship service, starting at 5 pm.  Pat Herman and her group will provide the music.

Sunday, I'll be preaching on Genesis 18 and the title of the message is "Promises, Promises."  Join us at either 8 am or 10:45 am.  I'll also lead the ABC (adult Bible class) at 9:20 am and we'll continue with the series, "The Jesus I Never Knew," based on the book by author, Phillip Yancey.

Hope to see you this weekend.  And if you join us this morning, "Hats On!"

Friday, July 15, 2016

Godlessness in the Last Days

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God - having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with them.  2 Timothy 3:1-5

The apostle Paul wrote these words in his last days.  Scholars believe that it was only days after he penned these words that he was taken from the dark, dank cell in which he was imprisoned and beheaded.

We believe he wrote these words by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  God knows all things.  And although Paul wrote to Timothy 2000 years ago, his description of our days is spot on.  These are terrible days.

We have made millionaires out of talent-less people who are lovers of themselves.  How do you explain someone who tweets naked pictures of themselves for all the universe to see? The selfish sinful nature always wants to be put front and center.  Athletes are idolized and lifted up while making their boastful comments about their greatness.  Opinion polls often tout our society's "spirituality."  Many people think of themselves as spiritual, intent on worshiping a god made in their own image.  Meanwhile, the one true God, the maker of all things, who offers a new life and new way of living through Christ Jesus, is pushed farther and farther away.  Lord, have mercy.

The news from Nice, France last night left me in a state of shock.  Coming on the heals of so much recent death, destruction, hatred and tragedy, it was almost too much to take in.  Again, this weekend in our churches we will pray for those who mourn and implore the Lord to bring this nonsense to an end.  Christ, have mercy.

All of this has left me with the strongest feeling that our last, best and greatest hope is Jesus Christ. Jesus teaches us to have love - not for ourselves but for God and for our neighbor.  He sends us into this world to go and be merciful.  Have mercy on the poor.  Have mercy on the abused.  Have mercy on those hard to love.  Our new life in Christ changes us.  We realize that life is not all about "me, myself and I."  It's all about Jesus - His forgiveness, His grace, His hope, His salvation.

With apologies to Bob Dylan, "The times they are a'terrible."  But as His church and people, we trust in His power and wisdom.  Nothing is too hard for the Lord.  Nothing is impossible for God.  So we turn to God in this time of trouble.  We pray for mercy.  But as we pray, let us not be silent or inactive.  Go into your part of the world and witness Christ.  Share His love.  Give witness to His power to change hearts and lives.  We are not people who live without hope.

We have Jesus.

We have hope.