Monday, December 24, 2018

Time once again for our Christmas blog vacation!

Lots of activity around the old homestead today.  The whole family will be here this afternoon to eat, maybe open one Christmas present and later head to church for Christmas eve services.

Why don't you join us - 7 or 9 pm.  It's always a special time when the lights go down, the candles are lit and the congregation sings "Silent Night."

This is the last blog entry for the year.  Thanks to you all for checking in.  We had more readers than in previous years.  Close to a hundred of you every day took time to read Cross Thoughts.  I hope you've been encouraged and helped and, on occasion, even had a chuckle or two.  If so, then I'll feel that it's mission accomplished!

I'll return on January 8.  Until then, God bless you this Christmas season.  And have a blessed new year!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

You're too small!

Kids hate to hear those words, right? We adults don't like those words either. Hearing that we're too small, not smart enough, not gifted enough, not influential enough really hurts, doesn't it? God has a remedy for our "small-ness!" I'll be preaching this weekend at Life in Christ - today at 5 pm and tomorrow at 8, 9:30 and 11 am.  Join us for worship as we continue to prepare for a birthday celebration - that of the Christ child!

Have a blessed weekend!

What to do during Advent

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

Richard E. Lauersdorf, "Together with Jesus," December 3 devotion

Friday, December 21, 2018

What Christmas is all about

Linus gets it.  Join us at Life in Christ on Monday evening - 7 and 9 pm - to hear the story that Linus was so willing to proclaim.  Join us as we learn about the gift God gives just "for you."

Thursday, December 20, 2018

But you knew this already, right?

      Santa lives at the North Pole.
      JESUS is everywhere.
      Santa rides in a sleigh
      JESUS rides on the wind and walks on the water.
      Santa comes but once a year
      JESUS is an ever present help.
      Santa fills your stockings with goodies
      JESUS supplies all your needs.
      You have to stand in line to see Santa
      JESUS is as close as the mention of His name.
      Santa lets you sit on his lap
      JESUS lets you rest in His arms.
      Santa doesn't know your name, all he can say is "Hi little boy or girl, What's your name?"
      JESUS knew our name before we did.Not only does He know our name, He knows our address too.He knows our history and future and He even knows how many hairs are on our heads.
      Santa has a belly like a bowl full of jelly
      JESUS has a heart full of love.
      All Santa can offer is HO HO HO
      JESUS offers health, help and hope.
      Santa says "You better not cry"
      JESUS says "Cast all your cares on me for I care for you.
      Santa's little helpers make toys
      JESUS makes new life, mends wounded hearts, repairs broken homes and builds mansions.
      Santa may make you chuckle but
      JESUS gives you joy that is your strength.
      While Santa puts gifts under your tree
      JESUS became our gift and died on the tree.
      It's obvious there is really no comparison.

      We need to remember WHO Christmas is all about.

      Jesus is still the reason for the season.

      Yes, Jesus is better, he is even better than Santa Claus!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Jesus lives up to His name

Matthew 1:21
She will give birth to a son,
And you will give Him the name Jesus,
Because He will save His people from their sins.

            How were you named?  After a parent or grandparent?  In honor of a family friend or close acquaintance?  Were your parents looking for a unique or one-of-a-kind name?  Was it because of the special meaning behind your name?

            When it came to their first born, Mary and Joseph did not have any input into the choice of the name.  God the Father already had a name chosen.  The angel informs Joseph that the baby conceived in Mary will be named Jesus, “because He will save His people from their sins.”

            The name Jesus means “the Lord saves.”  Our Savior God lives up to His name.  The apostle Peter said as much when he proclaimed: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  Salvation was the mission of the tiny baby whose birth we will soon celebrate.  Like the Samaritans we, too, exclaim: “We know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”  That’s what makes the name Jesus special to us.  The Lord saves you!

Monday, December 17, 2018

A matter of faith

The issue of faith is not so much whether we believe in God, but whether we believe in the God we believe in.

RC Sproul

A prayer for Advent

Lord God, we praise You that You comforted Your people with the promise of the Redeemer. We praise You that in the fullness of time You sent Your Son as the Redeemer. We praise You that You gave promise that You will send Him again to judge the world in righteousness.

Open our hearts to receive our Redeemer now as He comes to us in Word and Sacrament. Open our eyes in awareness of His rule in our lives by His grace.

Make Advent a blessing to us as we welcome our King in faith and love. We lift up our heads to welcome Him anew. Fill us with gladness as He comes to us. Amen.

Lutheran Book of Prayer, page 55 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Peacemaking Church

I really admire Curtis Heffelfinger, author of "The Peacemaking Church."

His honesty and transparency about dealing with church conflict - much of which he, himself, created - was refreshing.  Here was a pastor willing to admit his mistakes in dealing with people and offering suggestions and ideas how others could keep from making the same mistakes.

Why should pastors and church leaders read this book.  Because conflict in the church is inevitable. Churches are not made up of perfect people but of sinners - and that includes the pastor. Heffelfinger describes "The Peacemaking Church" as sometime like preventative medicine.  It's what you do to prevent disagreements and conflict from spinning into full-scale war in the church.

I also appreciated how Heffelfinger continually emphasized that it's "Jesus'" church and not ours. Remembering this key point should cause pastors, leaders and members to take care in dealing with change, difficult decisions and differing opinions that regularly take place among church members. A united church, walking together as one, is what Jesus has called us to be. Heffelfinger describes all the ways this can take place.

Every pastor should have this book in their library.  It's that important.

Book provided by Baker Books

We light the "joy" candle!

We light three candles this weekend on the Advent wreath, the third being the pink or "joy" candle. Paul writes to the Philippians, "Rejoice in the Lord always! The Lord is near!" Today, the Lord is as near as His Word of forgiveness and His body and blood in the Holy Supper.  Immanuel - God with us! Now, that's a reason for joy!

Today, worship at 5 pm.

Tomorrow, worship at 8, 9:30 and 11 am.

Hope to see you at LICL!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Top Ten Things Vice President Pence was thinking during the Trump, Schumer & Pelosi dust up

We all saw that little tiff at the White House earlier this week.  Vice President Mike Pence was strangely silent.  Did you wonder what he might have been thinking while the “discussion” was going on? Well, here you go!

“What’s that verse in 2 Timothy? ‘Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen’.”

“How can I sit still for my vice-presidential portrait with all this yelling and screaming going on?”

“I wonder how much hairspray President Trump uses to get that look?”

“If this were Indiana we’d just go outside and settle this with a good old fistfight.”

“I don’t care if they date back to 1860.  These old chairs are really hard on a guy’s back.”

“Is this office really oval? An egg is an oval shape.  Why don’t they call it the “egg office?”  Must mention this to the President.”

“I wonder how much hairspray Nancy Pelosi uses to get that look?”

‘So this is what it is like to be a fly on the wall!”

“Isn’t my only responsibility to go to funerals?”

And the number one thing Vice President Pence was thinking during the Trump, Schumer, and Pelosi dust up was:

“I’m hungry.”

Getting in God's way

The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven't yet come to the end of themselves. We still trying to give orders, and interfering with God's work within us.

A.W. Tozer, as quoted in "The New You," page 23

The hereafter?

The Pastor came to visit the other day. He said that at my advanced age I should be thinking of the hereafter.

I told him, "Oh, I do it all the time." 

"No matter where I am - in the living room, upstairs, in the kitchen, or down in the basement, I am always asking myself: 'Now, what am I here after?'"

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Looking Unto Jesus

            The controversy here in town regarding the Phoenix Suns' request for expensive upgrades for the arena they play in got me to thinking about how much I used to love basketball.

            I fell in love with basketball back in 1968 when I watched for the first time Pistol Pete Maravich.  I was in high school then and Pistol Pete was the player I wanted to be.  I loved his floppy socks and long hair.  I marveled at his behind the back and through the legs passes.  I cheered every time I read that he had set another college basketball scoring record.  Pistol Pete was the first college athlete to earn a million dollar contract.  I was certain that he would become the greatest basketball player ever.

            In the pros Pistol Pete continued to dazzle fans with his play on the basketball court.  But off the court he was a troubled and confused man.  Burdened by impossibly high expectations set by himself, his father, his coaches and the press, Pistol Pete was unable to attain the greatness he desired.  In order to soothe himself, he turned to alcohol.  He sought peace and contentment in a number of different religions and philosophies but every path he traveled led to a dead end.

            Then Jesus Christ came into his life.  In Christ, Pete Maravich received the peace, contentment and joy that he had sought all his life.  He became a bold and confident witness for the Lord.  Because he was Pistol Pete, people were willing to listen to his story.  Pete kept point to Jesus – to the Lord’s forgiveness and grace and love.

            One day in early January 1988, I heard the shocking news – Pistol Pete had passed away at the age of 40 of a rare heart ailment.  He has just finished playing in a pickup basketball game when he suddenly collapsed and died.  As he lay on the court, someone noticed the T-shirt Pete had been wearing.  It read, “Looking unto Jesus,” inspired by the New Testament book of Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 2. 

            In the New International Version of the Bible, that verse reads like this: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

            Why should we keep “looking unto Jesus?”   Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith.  Faith must have an object – our faith is rooted in Jesus, the only One who could write the story of our salvation.  For the joy of carrying out the will of His Heavenly Father, the Son of God suffered the shame and humiliation of becoming sin for us.  Jesus was punished for our disobedience.  He paid in full the debt we owed to God for our lack of faith and love.  Jesus suffered and died so that we would not perish but have eternal life.  And our Lord is still at work for us.  He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, pleading and praying for us before the Father.

            In his day, Pistol Pete was a true celebrity.  People sought after him in the same way that folks today gush over musicians, movie stars and the like.  But unlike many modern day athletes, Pete Maravich was not all about promoting his new basketball shoe and maneuvering for a brand new contract.  His focus in life was all about his relationship with His Lord and Savior.  What better message to convey to the world than this one: looking unto Jesus. The perfect message for Advent, Christmas and every day!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

When we pray...

Let our Father be in heaven: join Him there through your words. Defy gravity and stand beside Him. That's the action of God in prayer...

Daniel E. Paavola, "Our Way Home," page 37

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Remembering Aunt Jeanie

My aunt Jeanie fell asleep in Jesus last evening.  She had undergone successful surgery on her shoulder.  But then there were complications and her condition worsened quite quickly. When asked how she felt, I understand that her answer was, "I'm ready to go home to see my mother and my sisters." God was merciful to her, answered her prayer and brought her home to rest.

She was the cool aunt.  Never raised her voice.  Never seemed to be in a bad mood.  Always had a smile for you.  With Aunt Jeanie you felt acceptance.  She was so nice you would do anything for her.

Yet, she was a strong lady.  Raised eight kids mostly on her own.  Never heard her complain. Somehow, she made it look easy, raising her gang of eight.  I know it wasn't easy. But she did it and those kids, my cousins, were fiercely loyal to their mom.

Aunt Jeanie was a child of God.  She was raised in the church and never left it. Her joy was to hear of God's love for her in Jesus Christ and to come to the altar to receive the Lord's Supper. A number of years ago my family and I were visiting her and her clan and on Sunday we all went to church together. As we stood waiting outside the entrance we suddenly heard this loud roar in the parking lot.  It was Aunt Jeanie, driving her sports car, sans muffler.  What an entrance.  She hopped out, adjusted her wig, and went in to worship. That's a memory I won't soon forget.

She was a faithful saint, a humble and sweet person.  Because of the promises we recite in the Creed - I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting -  we have the certain hope of being reunited on that Last Day when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead. Look for my aunt.  She won't need that wig.  But she will have that beautiful smile.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Apostles Creed as a prayer

Why is the Creed included in morning prayers? Isn't it rather just a statement of belief? It is a statement of belief, of course...but when we speak it in the presence of God who has made us His own children in Baptism and has made our bodies into His temple, then it is our prayer as well.  We are simply saying back to Him in summary what He has said to us; and our confession of what He has said to us is a plea that He keep us in this faith - since it is not of our own invention but of His revealing.

"Thank, Praise, Serve and Obey," pages 31-32

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A prayer before worship

Lord God, revealed to Moses in a burning bush; to Israel in a cloudy pillar; to Isaiah on a lofty throne: help us in our worship to stand before You as on holy ground, seek the company of Your grace, hear and obey the voice of Your Word. Remove from us all hindrances to proper confession and forgiveness, to attentive hearing and obedience, to sincere praise and thanksgiving, that we may go forth with Your benediction; through Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The New Elder's Handbook

In my 22 years as a parish pastor I've said and I've heard others say, "We need to do a better job of training our elders." The truth is that many churches either elect or appoint men to elders boards, give them a list of names and then say, "Go! Be an elder!"

One of the reasons why many churches see so much turnover on their elders boards is because guys get frustrated because they're not sure what to do.  Greg Schaft and Arthur Kok's new book provides help.

"The New Elder's Handbook" provides a practical guide for training elders.  For the pastor who wants to train elders but doesn't have the time to develop the needed materials, Scharf and Kok have solved the problem.  Coming out of their own experience, "The New Elders Handbook" offers a step-by-step guide for identifying, training and encouraging elders.

I can see this book working well as a year-long study with a pastor and his elders board.  It would be well worth the time spent in reading and studying "The New Elders Handbook."

Book provided for review by Baker Books

A Big Apple memory

My dear, sweet wife and I in New York's Central Park.  We, like lots of other tourists have come to Strawberry Fields, the place that honors former Beatle, John Lennon. Today is the anniversary of Lennon's death.

That was the first stop on a tour that took us to 30 Rockfeller Plaza, St.Patrick's Cathedral, The new World Trade Center, a boat ride around the Statue of Liberty and other famous spots.  It was an exhausting day but well worth it.  Sherri and I wouldn't mind another trip to the Big Apple.

The only trip I'm taking today is down to church to preach at 5 pm.  Join us, won't you.  Or stop by Life in Christ tomorrow - 8, 9:30 or 11 am - for worship.  We'd love to see you!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

God is good & God is wise

God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be confused, and if I cannot trace His hand I can always trust His heart.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, from "Hope When Your Heart Breaks," page 52

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Our Life in Christ

I love it anytime I come across something that uses the phrase "Life in Christ."  Here's one example from William Weedon's excellent book, "Thank, Praise, Serve and Obey."

All of life is lived from the standpoint of our baptism.  It is the start and ending of our day, that event that began our new life in Christ and will, on the day of our death, complete it.

page 36

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Aesop said

When all is said and done, more is said than done.

From, "Joining Jesus - Show Me How," by Greg Finke, page 51

We sin...

So when we confess that we are by nature sinful, we are saying what the Word of God declares to be true about our fallen human nature. We are in effect saying not that we are sinners because we sin, but rather that we sin because we are sinners.

"Trust, Praise, Serve and Obey," page 80

Monday, December 3, 2018

What church do you belong to?

Dave Barry never fails to make me laugh!

To avoid offending anybody, the school dropped religion altogether and started singing about the weather. At my son's school, they now hold the winter program in February and sing increasingly non-memorable songs such as "Winter Wonderland," "Frosty the Snowman," and  - this is a real song - "Suzy Snowflake," all of which is pretty funny because we live in Miami. A visitor from another planet would assume that the children belonged to the Church of Meteorology.

From an article in Chicago Tribune Magazine, July 28, 1991

Saturday, December 1, 2018

All Life in Priceless

I really appreciated this devotion from Portals of Prayer - November 29:

Depression has been called the "silent killer," because those who suffer this devastating illness often do so with little or no visible symptoms. Intense internal torment is tearing them apart, but they hide it well. Overwhelmed by hopelessness and helplessness, some see suicide as the only way to relive the emotional anguish.

Jesus' promise shines a bright light into the darkness of depression. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for all. By His suffering on the cross, He shows the depressed person and all of us that we are worth every second of pain.  He willingly suffered.

If you are deep in the pit of despair, call on Jesus to lift you up and surround you with His love. His victory over death is His promise that one day, the disease of depression will be destroyed in the resurrection of all flesh and it will never again harm you.  You have been redeemed not with silver or gold but with the holy, precious blood of Jesus, who loves you so much.  In Him, you have abundant life now and eternally in heaven.

"Lord, be our light when worldly darkness veils us...And in our day when hell itself assails us, Grant us Your peace." (LSB 659:3).  Amen.

Stop me if you've heard this one

"Pilot to tower...pilot to tower...I'm 300 miles from land...600 feet over water...running out of fuel...please instruct!"

"Tower to pilot...tower to pilot...repeat after me...Our Father who art in heaven....."

What that has to do with this weekend's worship I have no idea!

However, we start a brand new church year this weekend.  Worship today at 5 pm and tomorrow at 8, 9:30 and 11 am.  I'm starting a new sermon series - "Christmas Spirit - the right way!" - so come and check it out. 

Have a blessed weekend!