Saturday, December 23, 2017

Time for my annual Christmas blog vacation

Hello friendly readers! Each year at this time I take a little vacation from the blog.  I'll be back on January 8. About 100 people each day check out this blog.  That's not a large number but from some of you I hear that you check in every day so I feel quite honored that you take a little time to see what I've written.  I hope you have gotten some encouragement by checking in.  I really love sharing those things that have helped me in some way and I hope they do the same for you.

We have an exciting weekend of worship at LICL.  Today at 5 pm we'll have worship with Holy Communion and music provided by Kevin Svec and his band.  Sunday morning we will worship at 8 am and I'll provide the fourth message in my sermon series, "Moving Toward the Manger." At 11 am our Sunday school kids will tell the Christmas message with costumes, props, everything!  Pastor Marcus will include a sermonette.

Sunday evening at 7 and 9 pm we will hold our traditional candlelight services.  There will be lots of special music and the final message, "Moving Toward the Manger - With Praise," will be offered.  Then, on Christmas Monday, we will gather at the church for our traditional carols and readings service.

In the midst of this very busy time of the year, I hope you'll stop to come and worship the God who has made your salvation possible through the gift of His Son.  His name is Jesus, "for He will save His people of their sins."  "O Come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!"

A blessed Christmas season to you all! Have a wonderful and prosperous 2018!

Sunset in Maui

We were blessed to travel with our dear friends, Dan and Janelle, last September to Hawaii.  From our hotel room balcony I snapped this picture as the sun was setting.  God painted a masterpiece for us.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Love for broken people

There is a cross that makes us all safe. Jesus is drawn to the broken parts of us we would never want to draw attention to. Jesus is most attracted to the busted and sees the broken as the most beautiful. And our God wants the most unwanted parts of us most. "Heart-shattered lives ready for love don't for a moment escape God's notice...The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit." (Psalm 51:17 MSG, HCSB).

Nothing pleases God more than letting Him touch the places you think don't please Him. God is drawn to broken things - so He can draw the most beautiful things.

Ann Voskamp, "Be the Gift," page 102

Happy day for our family

This morning our family grows by one.

My oldest daughter and her husband have been fostering a young boy for a couple of years.  In this time he had become a part of the family.  They decided to adopt the boy and after a long, strange trip through the court system, today is the day.

We are all in agreement - this is the best Christmas gift our family could have received.

May you be blessed in the same way as we are.

Have a great day!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Depressed? Laugh and Sing!

I have shared this prayer before.  But I went back to it today and it blessed me greatly.  Maybe it can do the same for you.

Lord give me the courage
the heavenly medicine
to sing
when I am in the prison
of depression
as the apostles did
in jail
To laugh
at the demons within me
knowing you
reign supreme
in the throne room
of my heart
To be thankful
at all times
knowing you
are in control
Christ in me

Acts 16:23-25, Psalm 27:6; 40:1-3, Ephesians 5:19-20

From "Prayers For People Under Pressure," by Donald L. Deffner, page 28 (I believe this book, which had been out of print can now be obtained from Northwestern Publishing House or found on Amazon)

BFP - two years ago/You have Christ in your neighbor

I've posted the following before - it comes from the biography, "Here I Stand." (page 354)

Many in the congregation think to themselves, "I only I had been there! How quick I would have been to help the Baby! I would have washed His linen.  How happy I would have been to go with the shepherds to see the Lord lying in the manger!

Yes, you would! You say that because you know how great Christ is, but if you had been there at that time you would have done no better than the people of Bethlehem.  Childish and silly thoughts are these!

Why don't you do it now? You have Christ in your neighbor.  You ought to serve him, for what you do to your neighbor in need you do to the Lord Christ Himself.

Martin Luther

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The To-Do List

Sunday Service - check

Christmas Eve Service - check

Christmas Day Service - check

Sunday sermon - do today!

Christmas Eve Sermon - done yesterday!

Christmas Day Sermon - done Monday!

I've never done the sermons backward like that.  But sometimes when you get inspiration you gotta run with it.  I had outlined the Christmas Eve sermon so I had a good idea of what the goal and subject would be.  Then came an idea for Christmas Day so I started typing and in 3 hours I had a sermon.  Praise the Lord!

Bottom line is that I'm making good progress and, hopefully, that will relieve some of the anxiety I've been feeling.  I believe that we're going to have a wonderful time celebrating our Lord's birth this weekend.  I hope you'll be there to help us give praise and thanks to the Father for the gift of the Son!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A busy week of work

Yesterday I got started on the three services I need to prepare for this weekend.  The Saturday/Sunday 8 am service is nearly done.  Christmas Eve is pretty much finished, just needing a few tweaks.  Christmas Day, traditionally full of Scripture readings and hymn is done. 

Today I'll finish the services and in between Memory Cafe and lunch with one of our members I'll get started on the Christmas Eve sermon.  The title is "Moving Toward the Manger - With Praise."  Now that I've got a title, all I need is a sermon to go with it! The Sunday 8 am service covers Luke 1:59-80. We come full circle with Zechariah.  Elizabeth delivers her baby and the moment of truth comes - how will the child be named.  So I'm working on some ideas for that sermon.  And the Christmas Day sermon will be entitled, "Mary Had a Little Lamb."  There are some correlations with the birth of Christ and John the Baptist's later pronouncement, "Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."  So I'm interested in exploring that idea and seeing if it goes anywhere.

This is not just a busy week for pastors; everyone I know has a pretty full agenda this week.  Whether it's getting ready for family to visit or attending school or work events or taking care of last minute shopping for gifts, it can really get stressful.

Last week I reread the story of Mary and Martha (Luke, chapter 10).  I realized that I was becoming like Martha.  The text says she was "distracted" by all the preparations she had to make in welcoming Jesus into her home.  But Mary chose "the better thing" and simply sat at the feet of Jesus, listening to Him teach His Word of hope and eternal life.

We can't do too much about the demands of the season.  But can do something about how we deal with those demands.  Yes, get out those to-do list and work through them.  But don't let those items distract you from what is really important - celebrating and giving thanks for the baby in the manger. Jesus is Mary's little lamb and Jesus is your Savior, who takes away your sin and fills your heart with peace and joy.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Gift For You!

When a person gives a genuine gift, don't you cherish the presence of affection?

Have you ever received such a gift? Yes, you have. Sorry to speak on your behalf, but I know the answer as I ask the question. You have been given a perfect personal gift.  One just for you. "There has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11 NASB)

An angel spoke these words.  Shepherds heard them first. But what the angel said to them, God says to anyone who will listen, "There has been born for you..."  Jesus is the gift.

Max Lucado, "God is With You Every Day," page 370

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Curved in on yourself

Just read this great quote and wanted to share it with you:

Sin is the slippery slope of me, me, me. As the roiling sea we contribute to and are forced to swim in - us in our hoodies with our ear buds in, blocking out any and all input that does not delight or serve us, perpetually curving in on a world of our own creation.

Heather Davis, as quoted in "Reading Romans With Luther," page 23

Won't you join us for worship this weekend?

Martin Luther, in his explanation of the Third Commandment, wrote:  We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

You can put those words into practice this weekend at Life in Christ.  Saturday worship at 5 pm; Sunday services at 8 and 11 am.  Hope to see you soon!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Today's decision

I am slowly becoming a fan of Ann Voskamp.  I like her writing style.  It seems that each time I pick up one of her books or read her blog, she gives me something to think about.  Today, you can chew on this with me:

You have only one decision to make each day: how will you use your time?

From "Be the Gift," page 23.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Change the Lord's Prayer? Bah Humbug!

The Pope has a problem with the sixth petition of the Lord's Prayer.  Folks at church asked for my opinion on Sunday and my answer was pretty simple - why would we mess with Jesus' words.  An examination of the Greek (see Gene Veith's blog for a fine analysis) shows that "and lead us not into temptation" is a correct translation.  So, what does this petition mean? Martin Luther reminds us:

God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Martin Luther - Pastor, Rebel, Prophet, Monk

One of our member, Dave, blessed me with a book last week.  He'd read it and was so inspired by it that he purchased copies for myself and our associate pastor. 

The book is "Martin Luther - the Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World."  The author is Eric Metaxas, who wrote a brilliant biography on Deitrich Bonhoeffer.  This book was definitely on my "to buy" list.  Dave beat me to it and I'm really glad.

I sat down last night to get started on the book and read something in the first paragraph that I did not know. 

In 1934 an African American pastor from Georgia made the trip of a lifetime, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, through the gates of Gibraltar, and across the Mediterranean Sea to the Holy Land. After this pilgrimage, he traveled to Berlin, attending an international conference of Baptist pastors.  While in Germany, this man - who was named Michael King - became so impressed with what he learned about the reformer Martin Luther, that he decided to do something dramatic. He offered the ultimate tribute to the man's memory by changing his own name to Martin Luther King.  His five year old son was also named Michael - and to his son's dying day his closest relatives would still call him Mike - but not long after the boy's father changed his own name, he decided to change his son's name too, and Michael King Jr. became known to the world as Martin Luther King Jr.

Metaxas goes on to write, "This father and son name change is just one dramatic measure of the influence of Martin Luther."

Can't wait to see what else I learn.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Come for a short sermon this weekend

I'm not sure when I copied this quote in one of my journals.  But I remember the impact it made on me.

A long sermon may be good.  But a good sermon is rarely long.

Jazz great, John Coltrane, once talked about his idea that good experimental jazz had no time limits.  If it took 20 minutes to play the song, that was the appropriate length for the song.  Then he had an epiphany of sorts - he began playing with musicians who seemed to accomplish the same impact with their music in 10 minutes and Coltrane realized that quality, rather than quantity, was what he should strive for.

My mentor at the Seminary, Glenn Nielsen, was once asked, "How long should a sermon be?" His answer - "As long as it needs to be."  So there's no time limit to how short or long a sermon should be, huh?

Yes, that's right.  But that's not the only consideration.

We live in a day and age where people are not accustomed to receiving information from a talking head, standing in a pulpit, going on for 15, 20 or more minutes.  The average attention span of a person today is, depending on who you read, is only a couple of minutes at best.  So, if a pastor is going to go on and on, sharing every idea he's discovered in his study of the text, he'd better be a captivating speaker.

Most of us aren't.

Even someone as talented as Max Lucado doesn't speak endlessly.  He brilliantly decides on one goal or theme for his message and then develops that one goal or theme.  His books were sermons first - so you get an idea of how he arranges his thoughts and how he masterfully presents the central truth of the text.  And he's such a great writer and speaker that he could go on forever and you'd never once look at your watch.

But he doesn't.

Not being one of those great speakers, I do pay attention to the length of my messages.  That doesn't mean that I never stray into the 17, 18 minutes area.

But I'd better be convinced that I really need to speak that long and I'd better feel certain that the material that I've developed needs to be presented to the flock.

I started a new Advent sermon series last Sunday, "Moving Toward the Manger."  The message lasted, I believe, 15 minutes.  When I first read it the message timed out around 17 minutes.  So, I reviewed the manuscript carefully.  I looked for redundancies.  I sought out paragraphs that could be tightened up. I found stray sentences that were just in the way of the main point I was trying to make.
I trimmed a good two minutes from the manuscript.

Was it a great sermon? I don't know.  The feedback I received was good.  Mostly, I felt like I had delivered the message I thought the flock needed and I did so in an appropriate time period.

This weekend I offer part two of the series - "Moving Toward the Manger - With Faith."  We'll look at Mary's encounter with an angel and his message - that she would be the mother of the Most High God.  The question I want to explore is, "What was it that the angel said that caused Mary to respond the way she did?"

The message takes 12 minutes to deliver.  It could be longer.  In fact, I wondered if I'd left something out that needed to be communicated.  But having read through the message a couple of times, I'm satisfied with what I've written.

But the proof is in the preaching so I'm anxious to see how it goes.

Join us tonight at 5 pm or tomorrow at 8 or 11 am.  Come and travel with us as we move toward the manger in Bethlehem to receive the gift God has given us - His Son!

And have a blessed weekend! 

Friday, December 8, 2017

You say the sermon was a little long?

A pastor, known for his lengthy sermons, noticed a man get up and leave during the middle of his message. The man returned just before the conclusion of the service. Afterwards the pastor asked the man where he had gone.

"I went to get a haircut," was the reply.

"But," said the pastor, "why didn't you do that before the service?"

"Because," the gentleman said, "I didn't need one then."

Thursday, December 7, 2017

When we make church all about us

But when we make church about us, we can expect two outcomes: shallow friendships and a shallow faith.

Sharon Hodle Miller, "Free of Me," page 117

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

BFP (five years ago) - The Devil's Agenda

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

(Satan's goal) is to rob us of our thankfulness for God's good gifts.  If it was within Satan's power, we wouldn't have a single piece of bread, not a single penny of income, not even a single hour of life.  But since that's not in his power, he'll try to rob us of God's blessings by making us ungrateful and unappreciative of them.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Your favorite hymn?

What is your favorite hymn or song? Is there a psalm, hymn or spiritual song that cheers and blesses you every time you hear its melody or sing its words?

Of modern songs I am blessed every time I hear the Stuart Townend/Keith Getty song, "In Christ Alone."  And with some help from his friends, Matt Maher wrote and and recorded, "Abide With Me." The former is a statement of faith; the later a cry for the presence of God.  Both, in my humble opinion (doesn't count for much) are masterpieces.

My all-time favorite hymn is 'My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less."

My hope is built on nothing less
 Than Jesus' blood and righteousness
No merit of my own I claim
 But wholly lean on Jesus' name
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand
 All other ground is sinking sand  (LSB 575)

My devotional reading over the past few weeks has taken me once again through the Psalms.  I often read each one as if I'm a miner looking for a gem or two that I've missed before.  I had that experience recently as I reread Psalm 13:6 - I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me.

At the beginning of this new work week why not follow the lead of the psalmist and sing to the Lord? His goodness to you is all the reason you need.

God is:

Your shelter - see Exodus 33:22
Your keeper - see Psalm 121:4
Your helper - see 1 Peter 5:7

Include your favorite hymn or song in your devotion time this week.  Sing the song or hum its melody as you travel around town.  Ask your spouse, kids or friends about their favorite hymn. Share why your special hymn or song is so meaningful to you.  Someone said, "The one who sings prays twice!" (Was that Luther?)  Go ahead - sing to the Lord! He has been good to you!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Happy 2017 Church New Year

Yes, the beginning of Advent marks the start of a new church year.  Observing major festivals in the church year like Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost help provide a rhythm for worship and an opportunity to utilize the entire Scriptures in worship and study.

We worship today at 5 pm and on Sunday at 8 and 11 am.  My Advent sermon series is "Moving Toward the Manger," and we'll follow Luke chapter one and what happens to Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary as we look forward to the events that take place in Bethlehem.  Come and join us this weekend at LICL! 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Let it all go

This morning I woke up unusually anxious.  The the season of Advent and Christmas will soon be here.  It is a more stressful time for clergy.  There are extra services and sermons to prepare for along with special projects and events to plan for the upcoming year.

I was feeling the stress pretty badly.  I didn't want the dark cloud to completely envelope me again.

I sat down in my chair and started to breathe deeply - in and out, in and out.  As the anxious thoughts began to flood my mind I prayed, "Lord, I give this to you.  Lord, I give this to you."

As I relaxed and prayed eventually a peaceful feeling came over me.  I could feel my body relax.  The anxiety began to lessen.  I found myself at peace, breathing in and out quite easily.  This quiet time with God was such a blessing to me.

I may have to do this several more times today.  I've given my anxious thoughts to God.  But I have a very bad habit of taking them back.  Do you do the same?

Psalm 32:7 - "You are my hiding place; You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance."  Praise the Lord that He is our hiding place in times of anxiety and stress.  May His unfailing love surround you and me and all who call out to Him to take our troubles away.