Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Jesus is full of surprises!

Have you ever given much thought to that? So often, the people who meet Jesus are surprised by His Words and actions.

A Samaritan woman (John 4) was surprised that Jesus spoke to her.  She was even more surprised that the One offering her living water was the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

The fisherman, Peter (Luke 5), was surprised that Jesus would have any interest in him, a sinful man.  Jesus made Peter an offer the fisherman couldn’t refuse – to catch men.

The tax collector, Zacchaeus (Luke19), was surprised that Jesus wanted to have a meal with him.  By the end of the meal, Zacchaeus surprised himself by returning money to those he had cheated. 

These are only a few of the people whom Jesus surprised.  But they are not the only ones.  Ask yourself, “How has Jesus surprised me?”

When He spoke His Word of forgiveness to you at a time when you could not forgive yourself?

When He offered His peace to you in a moment when your life was in turmoil?

When He proclaimed His love to you when you felt lonely and unlovable?

As we Run the Race of Faith we can almost assuredly expect Jesus to surprise us in some way.

So often, Jesus surprises us when He does what we deem impossible – comfort our hurting heart or provide peace in the midst of our pain or come to our rescue during depression and discouragement.

Keep on drawing near to Jesus.  Have an open ear and heart for His Word.  Come to His table and hear Him say, “This is my body, this is my blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  See how much I love you!” In the pages of Scripture, the waters of Baptism, the bread and wine in Communion - in these Jesus comes to you.

As you draw near to Jesus, don’t be surprised when He surprises you – answering a prayer when you least expected it, offering a clear path when you couldn’t see it, or speaking a Word of love to you when you really needed it.

What does today look like for you? Same old routine? A day just like any other day?

Be watchful – just like the Samaritan woman or Peter or Zacchaeus, you might find that Jesus has a surprise for you!

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Eight Ball

When I was growing up I had a friend who had one of those big, black "Eight Balls."  Remember them? You could ask the Eight Ball questions like "Will I hit a home run in the Little League game?" or "Will my parents ever increase my allowance?" and then turn the big, black ball over and wait for the answer.  We kids never put much stock in the answers we'd get.  But it was kind of fun to mess around with it.

There are times when a reliable "Eight Ball" could be helpful, wouldn't it? Being able to know about our health or finances or how our kids and grandkids will turn out would seem to be a benefit for us.  But there is nothing in this life - no person or thing - that can tell us the future with any certainty.

You wouldn't have found an "Eight Ball" in the apostle Paul's traveling bag.  He traveled by faith, trusting in God's presence and power to help him finish the race and complete the task given him by Jesus - "the task of testifying to the Gospel of God's grace."  (Acts 20:24)

How shall we then live? Paul offers a fine example for us.  He explained to the Ephesians Christians that he did not know what would happen to him as he traveled from place to place.  But he believed that the Holy Spirit would direct and help him.  He learned that he could trust God no matter where he might travel or what he might face.

Today, some people turn to a horoscope to attempt to learn about their future.  Others collect crystals with the hope that they might provide some healing power for an illness.  It seems to me that these efforts are something like seeking answers from an Eight Ball.

You and I don’t need to turn to a big, black Eight Ball for answers.  We can turn to the Scriptures.  You’ll find the assurance that God knows know what you need and will take care of you (Romans 8:32).  You’ll receive comfort that Jesus is near and will not forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).  And you can know without a doubt that your future is secure in Christ Jesus (1 Peter 1:3-4).

Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13:11) that, when he was young, he spoke, thought and acted like a child.  But as he grew older, he put his childish ways behind him.  As a kid, I learned that the big, black Eight Ball was totally unreliable.  It told me I would hit a home run.  I struck out! It told me my parents would never increase my allowance.  But they did!

Isn’t it so good that we have God and His Holy Word to turn to as we go through life with its daily opportunities and challenges? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).  Good advice to follow so that you never find yourself “behind the Eight Ball!”    

Friday, July 12, 2019

The most interesting Man in the world

Everything He says...happens.

He walks on water.  By the way, He created the water.

He is fully God and fully man.  That's right, you heard me.

On Christmas, you celebrate His birthday but He gives the gifts.  Actually, He is the gift.  How do you top that?

He loved you enough not to fight for His own life.

His presence often strikes fear in people - must be the nail-scarred hands.

There are so many people who won't give you the time of day.  He'll give you all the time you want.

Thirsty, my friends?  Read John, chapter four to learn how to quench your thirst.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Do you need a Spiritual EKG?

Jesus said: Listen and understand.  What goes into a man's mouth does not make him "unclean," but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him "unclean." St. Matthew 15:10b-11

The Pharisees, Jesus' self-righteous enemies, considered a person unclean or unacceptable to God by failing to keep their regulations and traditions.  The Pharisees’ rule book far exceeded the commands of God.  For example, the Pharisees had very specific regulations about when and how a person should wash their hands.  The people were expected to know and to keep every little rule.
Jesus responds by exposing these Pharisees for who they are.  Drawing on words from Isaiah 29, Jesus says: These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.  Isaiah 29:11

Later, the disciples approached Jesus. The disciples didn't quite get what Jesus meant and asked him to explain His little parable.  Here are verses 16-20: Are you still so dull? Jesus asked them.  Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a mouth come from the heart and these make a man "unclean."  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.  These are what make a man "unclean;" but eating with unwashed hands does not make him "unclean."

Jesus does something very revealing here.  He described the defilement of a person in much different terms than the Pharisees.  The Lord teaches that defilement comes from an impure heart.  What separates a person from God is not what they eat but by sinful and unrepentant ways.

So, if you really want to know what a person is made of just listen to what they say and do.  Do their words defend or accuse? Do their words lift up or tear down?  Do their words frame a person's actions in the best and kindest way or is their goal to hurt and ruin a reputation?  Oh, we all need to repent for things we've thought, said and done that broke God's commands.  Have mercy on us, O Lord!
An EKG is often used by doctors to determine if a person is suffering from heart disease.  Today, find a moment and administer a Spiritual EKG.  Where do you find uncleanness in your heart? Don’t bury or ignore it.  Confess it and trust that the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, can cleanse your heart and make you right and acceptable before God the Father.  That little “heart procedure” can do wonders as you live out your new life in Christ!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Top 10 Discoveries Made Around the Church Office

Hello friends and readers!  Just got back from vacation.  We traveled to Michigan to see my youngest daughter and her family.  Sherri and I really needed a little time away to refresh and recharge.  My daughter truly has the gift of hospitality.  It is a pleasure to visit her, although our visits seem too short.

While away I put the finishing touches on a Top 10 List I had been working on.  Keep on reading to learn the Top 10 Discoveries Made Around the Church Office:

10) Pastor miffed that the Modern Music service does not feature his favorite contemporary song, "Kumbaya."

9) Office computers still function poorly even when upgraded to Windows '98.

8) Church custodian feels taken advantage of when told to wax the fellowship hall floors and the pastor's car.

7) Secretary is fed up having to hum the hymns to the pastor each week because "he can't remember how they go."

6) Pastor discovers there is no place to hide from the church organist.

5) Church staff refuses to call the pastor, "The Sermoninator."

4) The secretary tries to talk the pastor out of his latest outreach idea, "Reverse Offering Sunday," where visitors get to take money out of the offering plate.

3) Pastor blows a gasket when he reviews the Sunday bulletin and finds that the secretary has placed a "sad face" next to Confession, a "happy face" next to Absolution and a "sleeping face" next to the sermon.

2) In order to cut costs, church staff are surprised to learn that the new copier is coin-operated; color copies require a credit card.

And here it is!

1) Pastor complains of one sleepless night after another when unable to get the VBS songs out of his head.

Have a great week!

Friday, June 28, 2019

How can we be sure?

As I was doing some devotional reading yesterday, I was struck by these words from the Apostle Peter: Though you have not seen Him (the Lord), you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.  1 Peter 1:8-9.

How is it that Peter can write with such confidence? Why can he be so sure that his readers are filled with such a trusting faith in Jesus?

The explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles' Creed in Luther's Small Catechism reminds us that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.

The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts and gives us the saving knowledge of Jesus as Lord and Savior.  With this faith we can trust Jesus for forgiveness and salvation, rejoice in our new life of faith and find comfort in our Lord in all the seasons of our lives.  With the help of the Spirit, we believe in our Savior even though we do not see Him!

The psalmist Asaph speaks to this same kind of faith.  In Psalm 77, Asaph complains about the difficulties of his life and the lives of his people.  They have suffered so much and, without any relief, Asaph is beginning to wonder if God has forgotten about him.

But then Asaph begins to meditate on God's Word.  He remembers God's mighty deeds.  He recalls God's gracious help and deliverance when the people were freed from bondage.  He writes in 77:19 - Your path led through the sea, Your way through the mighty waters, though Your footprints were not seen.

Faith enables us to know that God is with us even when our eyes can't see Him.  His Word assures us that God will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).  Today, offer thanks to the Holy Spirit who empowers you to know and trust Almighty God even when you can't see Him.  

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

God's service station

A while back in "Christian Reader" magazine, Jim Corley wrote about a conversation he had with a friend named Alex who attends Corley's church.  Meeting at an automobile dealership, Alex got right to the point.

"Jim," said Alex, "I feel like a hypocrite every time I go to church because I fail to live for Christ so often."

"Alex, what do you call this part of the dealership?" Corley asked, nodding to the area outside his cubicle.  "You mean the showroom?" Corley answered, "That's right.  And what's behind the showroom, past the parts counter?"  Alex answered confidently, "The service department!"

Corley then asked, "What if I told you I didn't want to bring my car to the service department because the car was running rough?"  Alex quickly answered, "That would be crazy! That's the whole point of the service department - to fix cars that aren't running right."

Corley responded, "You're absolutely right.  Now let's get back to our initial conversation.  Instead of thinking of church as a showroom where image is everything, start thinking of it as God's service department.  Helping people get back in running order with God is what the church is all about."

What can keep our relationship with God and others from running smoothly? In a word - sin.  So when you come to church on Sunday, you are stepping into God's service station! In worship, God serves you and the very first thing He does is to hear your confession of sin and to speak His Words of absolution and forgiveness.  God forgives that sin that separates us from Him and empowers us to practice this same confession and forgiveness with those whom we have hurt or have been hurt by.  Do you need a tune up or a complete overhaul?  Come and let God serve you!