Wednesday, December 19, 2012

“He knows if you’ve been naughty or nice.”

      “You’d better be good or Santa won’t bring you anything for Christmas!” Many a parent has used these words to warn a child that Santa sees all and knows all. It’s usually used by parents to get their excited children to behave in the days and weeks prior to Santa’s arrival. According to the Christmas song, Santa “knows if you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good; so be good for goodness sake.”
How would you feel if someone really knew everything about you? What if they knew your strengths and weaknesses; your troubles; your most private thoughts? That might trouble us if the one who knew all this was not our friend. If it were someone who liked us, it would not bother us as much. What if the person who knew everything about you was someone who loved you with all their heart; someone who cared about you deeply and could help you in any way needed?
Christmas announces the arrival of someone who can do all this and more. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, God’s dear Son. Because Jesus is God, he knows when you’ve been “bad or good” – “naughty or nice.” Jesus knows when you’re tired and frustrated, excited or disappointed. He knows and understands everything that is going on in your life. He knows you better than you know yourself.
Are you facing problems? Jesus understands. He was born in poverty and had to flee from King Herod, who was trying to kill him. Are you being treated unfairly? Is a friend turning against you? Jesus was betrayed and forsaken by his own disciples. He was denied by Peter and betrayed by Judas. He was beaten and put to death by those whom he came to save. God is not oblivious to our problems. Jesus knows what is going on in the world and more importantly what’s going on in each of our lives.
“Santa knows.” These words might bring fear to the heart of a naughty child hoping to get gifts at Christmas.  “Jesus knows.” These words bring comfort and courage to those who believe in him. They bring comfort because God loves us whether we have been naughty or nice. He doesn’t like it when we do wrong. He hates the sins we commit. But, God loves the sinner. He showed that at the cross.
God knows and has the ability to do something about our situations. He can remove our problems, or he can help us cope with them. Even sin and death are no match for Jesus.
       Merry Christmas! Through Christ that’s more than a hollow wish. We can have a merry Christmas because God is on the job. He gives us the best of presents also, his own Son.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Don’t make excuses. Make a sincere confession.

        Picture yourself in an airport.  You are waiting for your return flight home.  You are excited because your whole family is getting together for the first time in 15 years for a family reunion.  Then you hear that all flights might be canceled because of bad weather.  Suddenly your excitement turns to apprehension.  Instead of thinking about the good time you are going to have, you are nervously watching the clock and hoping that your flight will get off the ground.
When our lives begin to become unstable, we begin to get nervous.  Employees of a company get uneasy when they hear talk about cutbacks.  One becomes rather fearful when the hospital tells us that our loved ones condition is not yet stable.  We know that it means that things could go either way. We may get fearful when we see stock markets going up and down. We worry when we hear about problems in the Middle East. Instability makes us nervous.
When we look around, however, what do we see?  We see the world we live in is anything but stable.  Things are always changing, sometimes out of control. How quickly things change.  One day stock prices are sky high, the next day there is a crash.  One day there is peace, the next a country is embroiled in a war.  One day we are secure in our job, the next we are given a pink slip.  A house fire, a heart attack, an auto accident can quickly turn our life upside down.
It doesn't really matter what the situation is.  Uncertainty is not something we enjoy.  We like things to be secure, certain and stable.  We desire it in our job, our marriage, the economy, in the world.
How comforting it is to know that in this world of instability there are some things that never change.  One thing that is stable is God.  God never changes.  "He is the same yesterday, today, and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)  We can depend on God.  We can depend on his love, on his forgiveness and mercy, on his faithfulness to his Word.
God's Word never changes.  It is also stable.  "The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever." (Isaiah 40:8)  How comforting it is to know that we can put our trust in every word God has given us through the holy writers of Scripture.  From the details of creation to those of Judgment Day, from the prophesies of the Messiah to their fulfillment in Christ, every Word of our Lord is true, trustworthy and reliable.
The kingdoms of this world may come and go at the drop of a hat.  Our health may be taken away in the blink of an eye.  Our job may disappear as well as our retirement nest egg.  But God will always be there.  His promises and Word will not fail.  He gives us the stability we need in a world filled with instability.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Stability – Is that what you’re looking for?

          Picture yourself in an airport.  You are waiting for your return flight home.  You are excited because your whole family is getting together for the first time in 15 years for a family reunion.  Then you hear that all flights might be canceled because of bad weather.  Suddenly your excitement turns to apprehension.  Instead of thinking about the good time you are going to have, you are nervously watching the clock and hoping that your flight will get off the ground.
When our lives begin to become unstable, we begin to get nervous.  Employees of a company get uneasy when they hear talk about cutbacks.  One becomes rather fearful when the hospital tells us that our loved ones condition is not yet stable.  We know that it means that things could go either way. We may get fearful when we see stock markets going up and down. We worry when we hear about problems in the Middle East. Instability makes us nervous.
When we look around, however, what do we see?  We see the world we live in is anything but stable.  Things are always changing, sometimes out of control. How quickly things change.  One day stock prices are sky high, the next day there is a crash.  One day there is peace, the next a country is embroiled in a war.  One day we are secure in our job, the next we are given a pink slip.  A house fire, a heart attack, an auto accident can quickly turn our life upside down.
It doesn't really matter what the situation is.  Uncertainty is not something we enjoy.  We like things to be secure, certain and stable.  We desire it in our job, our marriage, the economy, in the world.
How comforting it is to know that in this world of instability there are some things that never change.  One thing that is stable is God.  God never changes.  "He is the same yesterday, today, and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)  We can depend on God.  We can depend on his love, on his forgiveness and mercy, on his faithfulness to his Word.
God's Word never changes.  It is also stable.  "The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever." (Isaiah 40:8)  How comforting it is to know that we can put our trust in every word God has given us through the holy writers of Scripture.  From the details of creation to those of Judgment Day, from the prophesies of the Messiah to their fulfillment in Christ, every Word of our Lord is true, trustworthy and reliable.
           The kingdoms of this world may come and go at the drop of a hat.  Our health may be taken away in the blink of an eye.  Our job may disappear as well as our retirement nest egg.  But God will always be there.  His promises and Word will not fail.  He gives us the stability we need in a world filled with instability.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Motivating Christians to live as Christians

        We all have someone in our lives whom we would like to change.  I can probably say that there are times when my fellow congregational members and my wife would like to change me (and for good reason). We ourselves wish we could change for the better. But how is it done? In particular how does one get the Christian to do what God wants?
How do we encourage our fellow church members to be more fully dedicated to Christ? How do Christian parents get their children to gladly obey them? What do we use to motivate Christian behavior?
Laying down the law is the usual method people use to produce change in behavior. For example, to increase church offerings, a congregation may try shaming its members into giving more. In such a case the law reads something like this: “A good Christian would give “x” amount of income to the church.” In a troubled marriage, a spouse may lay down the law like this, “I’m taking the children and leaving unless you clean up your act.”  Parents take the same approach with children.
The law, however, often incites our sinful nature to do just the opposite of what it commands. God’s Word tells us this. “When the commandment came, sin sprang to life…” (Romans 7:9)
Want an example? A parent who to their two year old, “Don’t touch that glass vase!” Two seconds later the child’s hand is reaching out to touch the vase or to see how close they can come without touching. Laying down the law often moves us to disobedience. Even if the law’s threats stop us from committing the sin, it can never motivate anyone to want to do the right thing.
So why don’t we use the Gospel to motive and encourage each other? Perhaps it is because we want to see instantaneous results.  From our impatient human point of view, the Gospel doesn’t seem to work fast enough.  The law may get results but only the gospel can bring forth results that please God.
A Lutheran pastor named Herman Gockel gave an illustration of the Gospel’s power to compel Christians to do the right thing. He wrote, “A mother was upset when she saw several suggestive pictures on her son’s dorm room wall. She didn’t say anything at the time, but sent him a picture of Jesus.  He put it on his wall.  In a matter of days, the other pictures were gone.  The mother never once badgered him.  Jesus’ love, as called to mind by the picture, worked in his heart what laying down the law could never do.
       “For Christ’s love compels us…and he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks to God!

           Thanksgiving Day - it's almost here!  I can hardly wait!  Turkey!  Stuffing!  Cranberries!  Pies!  Football!  Family and Friends!  Thanksgiving Day - What a great day it is!  It is truly a wonderful holiday; filled with many traditions.
On Thanksgiving Day we hear a lot about what we have to be thankful for.  It is easy for us to look around and point to the bounty that we enjoy.
What we don't hear much about on Thanksgiving Day is talk about who we are to thank for this bounty.  A few bold commentators on television will mention the fact that it is God who is to receive our thanks.  Others simply hope that their audience will enjoy "Turkey Day" and not eat too much.
We call Thanksgiving Day by that name for it is a day set aside to give thanks.  Why is it that so many don't know whom to thank?  Some merely thank their  LUCKY STARS.  They are filled with thanks that all has gone well, their investments have brought them a profit and they are in good health.  They just don't know whom to thank.
Some simply take the credit for themselves.  "Look what I have done!"  "I've worked hard and it's paid off.  I have a nice home, two cars and I am financially secure.  I have my family and health.  What more could I want?"
But that is not the purpose of Thanksgiving Day.  It's a day to give thanks to God.  God is the source of our blessings!  God is the one who gives us good health.  God is the one who helps us when we are ill.  God is the one who makes the rich and the one who sustains the poor.  God is the one who blesses our homes and marriages, the one who allows our investments to multiply, and gives us every other blessing we possess.  It all comes from God.
The psalmist, David, says it well; "The eyes of all look to you and you give them their food at the proper time.  You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing." (Psalm 145:16)
David knew where his blessings came from and he knew whom to thank for them.  It is the Lord and the Lord alone who is to receive credit.
But, we miss an important part of this thanksgiving if we only thank God for the blessings we can see.  The greatest blessing of all is the forgiveness of our sins.  Forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation!  These are the greatest blessings of all.
This Thanksgiving Day, let us not get so wrapped up in the celebration and the traditions that we forget what this day is all about.  "O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good and his mercy endures forever!" (Psalm 118:1)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Has anyone stolen your identity?

         One of the fastest growing crimes in the United States is called “identity theft.” With the advent of computers, thieves have found new ways to steal a person’s identity. Once get your personal information, your birth date, social security number, credit card information, they can use them to make charges, buy cars, and take out loans. And, they do it all in your name!
After a couple of months, the collection agencies tract you down to get the money they are owed. That’s when you realize that someone has stolen your identity. They’ve left you with unpaid bills, bad loans and lots of debts. Your credit history is in danger and that’s only the beginning. Now you must begin the work of setting things straight.
When we are born, we obtain our identity as an individual. We are a unique person, unlike anyone else. What makes us unique is not our social security number. It is our personality, our intellect, fingerprints, our DNA, etc. All these things become ours when we are conceived and begin our life as a unique person.
We also come into the world as sinners. As innocent as a child appears, when born, it is a sinful human being. Every person comes into the world with a sinful nature that is passed on from mom and dad. The Bible calls it our Old Adam. It is also referred to as our sinful nature, or simply our ‘flesh’. It’s passed on to us at the time of our conception.  The Psalmist David says it well, “Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5) Paul recognized his sinful nature as well. He writes, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.”
When someone agrees to testify against some dangerous or powerful person, the government may put them into the Federal Witness Protection Program. They are given a new name, new identity, moved to a new community to start a new life.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, God gives us a new identity. He does it when we come to faith. Paul sums this up in 2 Corinthians 5:17-18. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.”
God gives us a new identity. He adopts us as his child. Showers us with countless blessings and makes us heirs of salvation. He gives us a new identity, one that we could never get on our own.
God has “stolen” your identity and given you a new one. Thank God that he has! Join John in praising God – “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God!”

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The elections are over. Now what?

            By now we should know who the next President of the United States will be for the next four years. I say, ‘we should know’ since the election results, if close, could be challenged or recounted. It’s happened before.
            More than likely, by the time you read this, it will all be over. Mailers will no longer fill your mail box. Political ads will disappear from television and radio. The unending stream of political phone calls from political advocates will, thankfully, be over. Life may return to normal – at least for a while.
            Given the intensity of the campaigns the side that wins will rejoice and maybe even gloat. The side that loses will wonder how it happened and may even be bitter. There will likely be accusations of voter fraud. The makeup of Congress will receive lots of attention as it will determine what legislation is likely to get considered and passed.
            News commentators, talk show hosts, and political analysts will be looking ahead at the political landscape and making predictions on how things will go down the road. Everyone will stake out their positions and lay out their plans.
            I am writing these words two days before our final votes will be cast. I have no idea who will be the next President of the United States or those who will serve in the many other positions up for grabs across our land. What I do know is the God tells us to honor and obey those who are in positions of authority over us. We may not agree with their political ideology. We may feel strongly about the issues. We have the freedom to voice those feelings and objections.
            What we don’t have the right to do is to show disrespect for the President or anyone else whom God has placed over us. That applies to the policeman, the state trooper, the mayor, all those who are our leaders. Through the Apostle Paul, the Lord says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." Those who lead us are God’s representatives. God may not approve of all they do. They must answer for that. Our job is to obey.
            This same principle applies as we read in Romans 13:7 and following. “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.  8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”
            God’s message is clear. Show honor, respect, obey, be subject to those in authority over you. They have been placed there by God and are his representatives. Keep them in your prayers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

LEARNING FROM THE PAST

Every year, when October 31st rolls around, we Lutherans who remember our religious heritage look back to the reformation movement which took place in Germany during the 1500’s.  Hopefully, we will remember this event with thankful appreciation for the Lord causing the glorious light of the gospel message to once again shine in all its splendor.
That gospel message is clearly revealed in the Bible. For example, consider Romans 3:24, 28.  “(All) are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus… We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”  Simply put, we sinful human beings have been forgiven of all our sins and eternally saved by God’s undeserved love ALONE, through the redeeming works of Jesus Christ ALONE, and we receive it by trusting in Jesus as our Savior ALONE.  It’s good news indeed.
In spite of the wonderful clearness of the Bible’s teaching, during the years leading up to the Reformation period the gospel message was largely obscured by false ideas and teachings.  Instead of looking ALONE to the Bible for direction, the church looked outside the Scripture to human traditions, and to the pronouncements and decrees of the church councils and popes.
As a result of this flawed human reasoning, all kinds of teachings developed.  People began to look at their own good works or the works of the past saints in order to gain God’s forgiveness and the assurance of salvation. These teachings directed people away from Christ as if Jesus’ saving work was not enough.  Such teachings drained away God’s peace and comfort from souls of people and led many people, including Martin Luther, into spiritual despair.
But God opened Martin Luther’s eyes to see the good news of the Gospel.  When Luther saw it, he said that “it was as if the gates of heaven had been opened.”  God opened Luther’s eyes of faith to see the truth that our place in God’s family is not based upon our own performance or works but rather upon the work of Jesus.  Jesus lived the perfect life and died an innocent death as our substitute so that we could be sure that we are forgiven and going to heaven.  When Luther discovered this good news, he wanted to restore the church so that others could know of it.  Thus began the “reformation” a time in church history when the church was “reformed” back to the simple truth of the gospel.
One of the great blessings that came out of the Lutheran Reformation is that Martin Luther put the Scriptures into the hands of the people. Up until that time, the Bible had been translated into Latin, a language most common people could not read.  Luther translated the Bible into the language of the people. 
Today, we have the Bible readily available.  Make use of it.  Let’s not make the same mistake so many past generations have made.  Let’s keep our ears turned to God’s Word – so that we may keep the wonderful blessings of the Gospel.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Everyday is a great day for the child of God!

Two boys who went to the dentist to have a tooth pulled. They walked into the office and one of them bravely said, “I want you to take out a tooth but I don’t want you to use any anesthetic because we’re in a hurry.” “You sure are brave,” the dentist said. “Which tooth is it?” The boy then turned to his friend and said, “Show him your tooth, Tommy.”
It’s easy to be brave when it’s someone else who has the problem. We often tell someone who is faced with a difficult situation to hang in there. “Things will get better in time,” we say confidently. We give encouragement to those who have lost their job or are struggling financially. “It will all work out in the end,” we quip, “It always does.” It is easy to keep a stiff upper lip when it is someone else who faced with the difficult situation.
It is another story when these problems hit close to home. When it is our phone or power that is going to be shut off because we can’t afford to pay the bill, when we are overdrawn at the bank, when we are waiting for the lab tests to come back, when it is our spouse who has had an affair, it’s not so easy to take things in stride. When it is our child that is sick and in the hospital, when we find out that we have cancer, when we receive word that our loved one has died, we worry and fret. We wonder what we are going to do. “How will we get through it,” we ask? 
It is easy to say that we trust God when everything is going well. When we are healthy and strong, when we have a good job and a happy marriage, when our children do well in school and stay out of trouble, we put our faith in God and trust him to take care of things.  But, when something goes wrong, are we still ready to make this confession? Are we not often quick to show doubts and fears about God’s providence and wisdom? “Why has God let this happen to me?” “What good can come from the loss of my job?” It doesn’t take much for us to lose sight of the promises of God, to forget all that he has promised.
What has he promised?  - to be with us always, to help us in time of trouble, to use his angels to watch over us, to turn every tragedy into a blessing, to provide for our needs every day. Need I go on? God’s gracious promises mean that we have nothing to fear or worry about. Even our sins, as terrible as they might be, have been forgiven. We have been washed clean by the blood of the Savior. As a child of God, everyday is a good day, no a GREAT DAY! Every day you can look forward to another day of God’s blessings. Your day may not be easy but with God watching over you, you need not despair. Just put your trust in the Lord and remember his promises.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Look at how much God has given you!

The rancher was very poor, and life was hard. Many times he shook his fist at God and said, “God, if you really loved me, you would see my poverty and send some blessings my way.”  The years went by, and eventually the man died in poverty and bitterness. After a while the property was sold, and the new owner decided to have the land tested. Specialists were called in and soon confirmed the rancher’s hunch – there was oil under the barren soil, barrels and barrels of oil! The new owner became a millionaire overnight.
It was rather ironic. The first rancher had been so angry with God, while all along he was living on top of incredible wealth. The wealth was there he just didn’t realize it. 
I recently read this story and don’t know if it is true. It is not hard to imagine that this or something like this event has taken place. People often complain to and blame God when they think that he has not given them as much as they want or feel they need. Very often, they have what they are looking for and it’s only their shortsightedness that keeps them from seeing it.
God may have given them many opportunities to do something with their life. Hard work or getting an education may be just what we need to get the things we want out of life. But, we passed them up so we could take the “easy way.”  We weren’t ready to do what really needed to be done.
It may have been a job that we passed up because we wanted a better job. One with more pay. We weren’t willing to work our way up the ladder so we let the opportunity slip by. Unfortunately, it never came back. 
It is also true that we often waste so much time complaining about what we don’t have that we fail to see how many blessings God has sent our way. 
The greatest blessings are certainly the spiritual ones. Ironically, they are often the ones we overlook. When you and I were born, we were separated from Christ by our sins. He is holy. We are not. Our sins stood as a giant wall between us and God. 
That wall came down when water was poured on our heads and these words were spoken, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  At that moment, God said to each one of us: “You are mine. You are a member of my family. All the blessings of my Son, Jesus are now yours, not just today but forever.”
Look away from the problems and frustrations of your day, and focus on the blessings that God gave you when you were baptized and made his own. These blessings are yours now and for all eternity.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Marriage is a gift from God

With the presidential elections coming up, candidates are always concerned about hot button issues. Making changes to Social Security and Medicare, the abortion issue with the right to choose set against the right to life for the unborn, taxes, what to do in Iraq, Afghanistan, and how to deal with the conflict in Syria, and nuclear issues with Iran. 
Over the last 8 years or so, one of the issues on voters’ minds has been the subject of marriage. It has become a political issue since some states have passed laws to recognize the marriages of same sex couples putting them on par with traditional marriage, a marriage between one man and one woman. While many states, in fact a majority I believe, have passed legislation protecting and defining the traditional definition of marriage, it still feels like we are losing ground in this regard. 
Marriage is certainly under attack or at least not respected. I keep hearing that the divorce rate is around 50 %. More and more couples are choosing to live together as husband and wife without the blessing of being married. While legislation to protect the estate of marriage is useful, the real solution to having a nation that respects the institution of marriage is by changing hearts, by letting the Holy Spirit through Word of God do its job. 
That’s what are lessons are about today. They are God’s reminder to us of his will regarding marriage, the home, and the raising of children. All are blessings from Him and will be blessings for us when we live our lives guided by his Word and will. These truths can be used by us to make our marriage better if we are married, equip us for the day we will marry ,if that is our situation, or equip us to be in a position to help and encourage a friend, co-worker, family member with their marriage. 
God’s record of creation, how this world came to be, is recorded for us in the book of Genesis. In chapter one God tells us what he did on each day and then how he ceased creating and rested on the seventh day which is called the Sabbath (the Hebrew word for ‘rest’. We tells us that the man and woman, male and female he made were the height of his work for he made them in his image and gave them a soul, something the animals were not given. 
In chapter two, verse four, God then begins the story of mankind. He begins at creation, Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and man others. It is the story of salvation. The fall into sin and the promise of the Savior. In the New Testament we see those promises fulfilled as Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, came into this world, and laid down his life on the cross as our Savior.
In chapter two we find more details on the creation of man and woman that were not given in chapter one. As we review the events that took place during creation, one thing stands out. In a very orderly way God created the universe, world – all things. First he created light, made the continents, the fish, birds, animals and so on. At various times in the creation account, God stops and looks at what had been done and says, “And God saw that it was good.” He says it three or four times. Then something strange happens. It says he saw what was made and “It was not good.” Something was missing. 
Adam had been made by God from the dust of the ground. He took Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden. He told him to have dominion over all that was created. In other words, the world had been made for him, to be used by him. But Adam was alone. 
Instead of just making someone for Adam, he helped Adam to see that need for himself. God gave Adam and job to do. He was to give each of the animals their name. As Adam did his job, he would see first hand all the creatures God had made. He would see them all, male and female. All had their companion counterpart but not Adam. 
That’s when we hear God say, “No suitable helper was found.” And instead of hearing the Lord saying, “It was good,” we hear God say, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” He then made woman, Eve, from one of Adam’s ribs and brought her to Adam to be his wife. 
When Adam saw her, he said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; and she shall be called “woman” for she was taken out of man.” 
God had made light by the power of his Word. He simply commanded it and it was done. He did that with the sun, moon, and stars, with the birds, animals, and fish. But man was different. He formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life. Then, in a similar way, he made Eve, forming her after taking a rib from Adam. God then brought Eve to Adam to be his wife. This was the start of their life together as husband and wife. Adam would not be alone. He and Eve would have each other. Through this relationship, through marriage, as husband and wife, they would be richly blessed by God.
One of the main purposes of marriage is companionship. God established marriage so we would not be alone. 
I need to add here that Scripture makes it clear that not everyone will get married. Jesus never married; nor did Paul as far as we know. Some, as Scripture says, have the gift of being able to be happy as a single person. There are advantages as well. 
Anyone who is married understands what companionship is all about. Those who are happily married know what it means to be around their spouse. That does not mean we are around them every minute of every day. Yet when we are not with them we look forward to the time when we will be. That companionship keeps us from being lonely. It gives meaning to our lives as we share what goes on in our lives. If a spouse dies or a marriage breaks up, one of the hardest things to deal with is the loss of our companion. 
I also need to comment on the words, “a suitable helper.” These words are often misunderstood and misused. They are not meant to imply that man is the king and the wife his helper or servant. Husbands and wives should serve each other.  The idea of ‘helper’ carries with it the idea that Eve supplied the things Adam was lacking. His life would not have been complete without her. Married people often use the term “better half” to describe their spouse. Maybe a better term would be “perfect half” for they would be the perfect complement to each other.
You can find many passages from Scripture that use the word help or helper. It does not carry with it a negative connotation or a subservient role. When I am doing plumbing or electrical work, which I am not very good at, if I get in trouble, I call for someone to help me. That person is far more gifted and qualified than I am. So it is in marriage. Each partner is meant to compliment the other. 
Our text concludes “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” Adam rejoiced over this gift from God. 
Some have defined marriage as “leaving and cleaving.” Those words come the KJV. They fit pretty well. When a man and woman get married, a new family is formed. While that means that they still honor their mother and father but their primary concern now will be to their marriage and the new home they have started. 
Sometimes marriage problems come up when we forget that. I read one story about someone newly married who had moved away with their spouse. After their first big fight, the wife called her Mom and Dad wanting to come back home. The reply she received is that she was home. Her home was now with her husband and they needed to work things out. 
It only takes a few moments to get married but it takes a life time to make a marriage work. We could spend weeks talking about the things that help make a marriage work. We can’t do it all today. Today we are simply reminded of some precious truths. God established marriage when he made Adam and  Eve and brought them together. Through that marriage, he gives us many blessings, the greatest of which is companionship. Blessings will flow into their lives as they live to love and serve each other and their Lord, treasuring the gift God gave them in their spouse. Since the Fall into sin, remember your spouse is not perfect. When you become disappointed in them because they aren’t everything you hoped they would be, take a look in the mirror. If you want your marriage to be a good one, work at being a good spouse. Remember you are both sinners. Be ready to forgive and ask for forgiveness. 
Ask God’s help to be a good spouse and seek his blessing on your marriage. To the glory of his name. Amen.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Speak the truth in love.

The truth hurts. Boy, don’t we know it! Think back to a time when someone bluntly pointed out some flaw in us or some deficiency in our work.  How did it make us feel? It really hurt, didn’t it? You may have tried to defend yourself, even if the accusation was true. Human nature is always ready to fight back, perhaps with something equally hurtful.
These kind of verbal exchanges are unlikely to produce anything worthwhile – quite the opposite! They usually damage or even destroy relationships. It is certainly not the kind of love that Jesus wants to see among his followers.
When it is time to speak, we dare not speak less than the truth. However, we don’t want to use the truth as a hammer. Christians want to speak the truth in love as Ephesians 4:15 reminds us, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is the Christ.”
Among Christians the truth must be a commodity regularly traded, even when it results in confrontation. For many confrontation is uncomfortable, unpleasant, and to be avoided at all costs. Confrontation can feel like applying antiseptic to an open wound. It may sting, yet it is better than leaving the wound alone and letting it get infected.
Yet, Christian confrontation must start and end with love. You cannot lovingly confront someone if you have a chip on your shoulder or if you expect the worst. Loving confrontation is not nagging. Instead, it states the issue of concern and seeks to deal with it in a timely manner.
There is no surer way of turning a discussion into a fight than to start off by accusing the other person. A far better approach is to use “I” language. When using “I” language, I am expressing how something makes me feel. If I use “You” language, the other person immediately becomes defensive.
Communicate the truth in love. Remember our spouse, our children, or our fellow Christians are our friends not our enemies.
One way to help remember this is to focus on the behavior of the person rather than the person’s character or self. Since we can’t read each other’s heart, concentrate on the facts rather than the motive. Few things are as hazardous as jumping to conclusions about what a person thinks or feels.
We want to understand each other, so it is important to speak clearly and listen patiently and carefully. To resolve the matter, we always want to turn to the Scriptures for guidance and seek God’s help in prayer.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Submit yourself to God

“Submit yourselves, then, to the God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:7-10

Several years ago, I recall reading about a pastor who had served his whole life in the ministry. During those years he had to deal with all kinds of situations, some good, some not. As he lay on his bed close to death, he reflected on what had transpired over the years. Worn out, tired of dealing with the squabbles and conflicts that never seemed to end in his congregation, he had but one request. His death bed appeal was that the members of his church would stop fighting and learn to love one another. He spoke as if he knew the congregation believed in God, love and trusted in their Savior, but did not let that faith and love reflect itself in their lives.
As one reads through the book of James, you come away with the feeling that James was dealing with a similar situation. His letter is not about Jesus and his work as our Savior. He doesn’t deal with doctrinal controversies. He doesn’t talk about reaching out to the loss with the Gospel, the work of the Holy Spirit, about being ready for Judgment Day, or the glories and bliss of heaven. His focus, pretty much so, is on how we are to live as children of God. It is about the doctrine of sanctification or living a holy and sanctified life. 
From reading his epistle it seems as if his readers, while being Christians, were not living that way. They were showing favoritism to the rich. They were saying things that were unkind, untrue, and hurtful to others. They were spreading gossip and ruining people’s reputations. Their hearts were filled with sinful pride. They were boastful of what they had done and planned to do never once incorporating God and his will come into their plans or asking for his blessing. 
James’ letter is an appeal for these Christians to live, not like the unbelieving world, but in a way that was pleasing to God. His letter is filled with one exhortation after another on how this was to be done. The reading before us, taken from chapter four, is key to understanding how this how this can be done. 
The opening words of this section set the tone for this entire portion of Scripture. James says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James had just finished talking to them about wisdom. He had asked, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom (v13)’. That wisdom comes from God. Worldly wisdom comes from the devil and leads to sinful pride. James summed it up by saying, “God opposes the proud but give grace to the humble.” (v 6). 
In contrast James says, “Submit yourselves to God.” Our attention cannot help but be drawn to the first word, ‘submit.’ It is a word used often in Scripture. The Lord, through the Apostle Paul, tells us to ‘submit’ to the government for they have been placed over us by God (Rom 13:5). Maybe the most notable use is found in Ephesian 5 where the Lord says to wives, “Submit yourselves unto your own husbands as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22). What is often overlooked is the verse before where it says “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’ (Eph 5:21). 

The word ‘submit’, as it is used here and in several other passages, is an interesting one. The original Greek makes it clear that this is not a forced submission like what happens when one nation defeats another and makes them submit or surrender. The submission referred to here is a willing submission. It is one that comes from within. I think its meaning comes through most clearly when we talk about a Christian’s submission to the Lord. When we submit to God, we place ourselves under God and his direction. We give ourselves over to him willingly and completely. It implies trust. It also means looking to the Lord for direction for our lives. We pray, “Let your will, O Lord, be mine.” It means making God and his will the focus of our life instead of focusing on me. 
The world with its sinful pride says, ‘I am the master of my fate; the captain of my soul.’ The world chimes in with Frank Sanatra and says, “I did it my way.” This is how sinful man has thought since the fall into sin. Adam and Eve, instead of submitting to the Lord’s will, did it ‘their way’ or should I say the devil’s way. When Adam and Eve sinned, sinful pride replaced humble submission. That’s the way it works every time we sin. When we sin, we are saying no to God and yes to the devil. James makes it clear that submitting to God means saying no to Satan. 
James goes on to say, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” 
What James is talking about here is sincere confession of our sins. It means making no excuses. It means approaching God in sincere humility for we know we deserve nothing from God but his wrath. We should not be “double-minded” thinking we can have it both ways, doing what we want when we want and doing the will of the Lord when it’s convenient. 
Over 50 times in this short letter, seven times in the verses before us James calls his readers to repentance, to leave behind their life of sin and to walk in the ways of the Lord, to do his will. Stop living in sin! Forsake the ways of the world! Resist the devil and his temptations! Submit yourselves to the Lord! “Grieve, mourn, and wail” because of your sins. 
Then ask God to forgive you. Don’t be afraid. “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” “Submit to God!” Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Here James brings us the encouragement of the Gospel, the message of God’s love and grace. 
While James does not spend time on it, Scripture makes it clear that faith in God, humbly submitting to him, confessing our sins, changing our lives, resisting Satan, are not things we can do on our own. They are not only difficult but impossible. It is God, through the work of his Holy Spirit, who took us from sin and unbelief and made us his child. Faith is not something we muster up from within. Faith, as Paul says in Eph (2:10) is a “gift from God, not of works.” A sincere confession of our sins, is not something we do on our own. “It is God who works in you both to will and to do his good pleasure” (Ph 2:13). 
The people to whom James was writing forgot this. They were leaving God out of the picture, doing it on their own, listening to the devil, walking in the ways of the world, thinking it didn’t matter. James wanted them to know that it did. He was calling them to repentance, to come back to God, live their faith, and be blessed by God. 
Whenever I read the book of James, I think that he is speaking right to me, that he sees how I would live, hears what I say, and what goes on in my heart and mind. So many of the sins James mentions I have committed not once but over and over again. All too often I let the temptations of the devil get the best of me. I go my way, make my plans and leave God out of the picture. I get proud, thinking I am leading a good life only to have my sinful nature pop up and get the best of me. And it happens over and over again.

I can’t help but think that you’ve experienced the same thing. It really doesn’t matter if you are a preacher or the person in the pew; we are all sinners who need the Savior. We need to  confess our sins; see the need for God’s forgiveness. We need to be chastised for walking in the ways of the world instead of on the path of righteousness, for leaving the Lord out of our plans, for our sinful pride, our rebellious nature, our love of the world, and so much more. We need these reminders every day for every day we sin and fall short. We need to humbly submit ourselves to the Lord.
Every day we need to thank God for his forgiveness which is ours through faith in Jesus Christ.  Every day we need to hear from God’s Word that he loves us even though we don’t deserve that love. We need to hear over and over the promises he gives us, to take care of us, protect us, and in the end deliver us from sin, death, and the devil and take us to glory to live with him forever.
“Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will life you up.”
To God be the glory. Amen.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

“I will make you fishers of men!”

Some people's lives revolve around fishing.  They spend hours and hours taking care of their boat making sure everything is in good working order.  They get out their tackle box and poles and make sure they are all set putting on just the right line, hooks and lures for what they want to catch.
After that is done, they head for the ocean, lake or river to fish.  Sometimes fishing is good and they come back with their limit but there are also times when they come back with nothing.  They use the same bait and hooks as they used when they were successful but this time not so much as a nibble.  There may be days where a fisherman will wait for hours before the fish finally start to bite.  Fishing requires lots of patience and lots of work.
When Jesus called His disciples to follow him, a number of them were fishermen.  They didn't do it as a hobby but as a way to make a living.  To these men Jesus came and said, "Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men" (Mk 1:17).
‘Fishers of men’ is a term Jesus used to talk about the work of evangelism, reaching out to the lost with the gospel.  He obviously used that term because there were similarities between fishing for fish and doing the work of an evangelist.  It's not hard to understand what these similarities are.  Just as a fisherman goes out to catch fish so we are to go out and seek to "catch men."  God wants us to go out and seek to win men and women for Christ.
We know from Scripture that it is God who brings people to faith.  I Corinthians 12:3 says, "...and no one can say that `Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit."  But we also know that someone can't believe in Jesus if they don't hear about him.  Paul makes this clear in Romans 10:17, "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ."
Catching a fish, I mean winning a soul for Christ, is not something we can do.  Bringing people to faith is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Our part or should we say, our privilege is to bring the good news of salvation to others.  God says that they cannot believe in someone of whom they have not heard.  
Fish don't just jump in the boat.  Neither do people simply believe in the true God unless someone share the message of salvation with them.  That's what God wants you to do.
We are not all called, like Peter and Andrew, to do this work full time.  But we are all called to be his witnesses full time.  We may not be called to be a pastor or foreign missionary but let us never forget that God wants each of us to be ready to share the Savior with those we meet.  We never know when one of these fish will take the bait.  I mean, we never know when someone, by the grace of God, will come to faith.
We all know how exciting it is to catch a fish.  Just think of the joy we would have if someone came to know the Savior through our witness! Let your light shine!  Share your faith!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

“Is there anything too hard for the Lord?”

The Republican convention is being held this week and the Democratic national convention will take place in early September. The political polsters are hitting the phones. The political ads on TV are ever-present. Soon we will be electing our President to serve the next four years. 
As election time nears we are not only bombarded by thousands of adds, paid for by candidates and their supporters, we will also hear lots of promises made by the candidates. Each one will tell you what things they will do to make our nation better and stronger. “If I am elected, I promise to……” Then comes their commitment, one which is meant to entice you to give them your vote. 
If this election is typical, we will hear promises to reform the tax system, fix social security, Medicare, and Medicaid. We will hear talk about cutting spending, balancing the budget, getting rid of the deficit, reducing unemployment, and addressing the subject of illegal immigration. 
We all know how much stock we can place in such promises. They are not worth much. Seldom are such promises ever kept. This is true for many reasons. They may be unrealistic, face opposition of the opposing party, or simply be too ambitious. 
What a difference it with the Lord. When God makes a promise, he keeps it. When he says that he will do something, you know that it will get done. It may take a while but it will be done when the time is right. What also makes God’s promises so amazing is that from a human perspective the things he promises to do would be impossible for us to accomplish.
Take God’s promises to Abraham. God told Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation; that all people would be blessed through him, and his seed would be as numerous as the stars of the sky or sands of the sea. How could this be since Abraham and Sarah had no off-spring. 
Finally, when Abraham and Sarah were “old and well advanced in years and Sarah was past the age of child bearing” (Gn18:11), God told them that within a year Sarah would give birth to a son. How could this be? The answer is found in verse 14a, “Is there anything too hard for the LORD?” This was a rhetorical question. The answer was not up for debate. There is nothing too hard for the Lord.
What a comfort it is to know this truth as we face the problems and challenges of each day. The Lord has promised to help us in time of need, to answer our prayers, to use all things – even trials and troubles, for our good. He has promised to return on the Last Day, to raise the bodies of all people who have ever lived, to take those who believe in Jesus as their Savior to glory for all eternity. As impossible as it may seem God has kept and will keep every promise he has made. 
“Is there anything too hard for the LORD?” The answer is no. Trust in his promises. He’s given you his Word.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Confession is good for the soul.

I recently read this story which makes a good point. Four preachers met for a friendly gathering. During the conversation one preacher said, “Our people come to us and pour out their hearts, confess sins and needs. Let’s do the same. Confession is good for the soul.” In due time all agreed. One confessed he liked to go to R-rated movies. He knew it was wrong but went anyway. The second confessed to liking to smoke cigars. The third said that he liked to gamble and play cards. When it came to the fourth one, he wouldn’t confess. The others pressed him saying, “Come on now, we confessed ours vices, so what’s yours?” He resisted for a while but finally confessed, “I like to gossip and I can’t wait to get out of here and tell everyone what you guys just said.”
It’s a funny story, isn’t it? Yet it reveals a truth about us that is not so funny. The truth is that we are all sinners. Every single one of us sins in one way or another. We have sins that are evident to others and those that aren’t. Aren’t we all ready to admit this truth? That doesn’t stop us, however, from trying to find an excuse for our sin. We want, in some way, to excuse our selves from responsibility for the sins we commit.
Over the years I have done quite a bit of marriage counseling. The couples begin to talk about the problems they are having and then it starts – “The blame game.” Each will confess that they have done something wrong. “I know I lose my temper but…..” “I know that I am not working as hard on my marriage as I should. I would if my spouse…” “I want to change but…” Then comes the excuse. “I would if my spouse wasn’t so ……” “I would if I they would listen to me.” 
What’s the common denominator here? There is the confession of sin, of failing to do what should be done. Then comes the excuse which is given to relieve them from responsibility. “I would do it if…” In other words – “It’s not my fault.” Not a very good confession as far as I am concerned.
How often haven’t you heard some politician, movie star, or pop singer, come on TV and make a confession. Maybe they’ve gotten a DWI, made racial comments, or visited a prostitute. They appear on TV to do ‘damage control.’ “I’m sorry,” they say, “for hurting my family,” “for disappointing my fans,” “for letting down my supporters.” It sounds good but there is no real confession of wrong doing, no admission that what they did was wrong, only that it hurt others.
God wants our confession to be sincere, to accept responsibility for our actions, and make no excuses. We are sinners. Admit it. Then ask God for his forgiveness. God’s already told us we have it. When Jesus went to the cross, he was punished in our place and died for our sins. For his sake, God has forgiven our sins. They are forgiven. 
Listen to what the Apostle John says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8, 9). 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Who is the wisest person you know?

Who is the smartest person you know? That’s a tough question, isn’t it? If you asked someone in grade school, they would likely say that it is their teacher. If you ask a five year old it is likely Mom or Dad. If you are older, you might pick some scientist who has done groundbreaking research in genetics or came up with the plan to put the latest explorer vehicle on Mars. 
A tougher question is this – who is or was the wisest person in the world? If one does an intranet search on the subject, you find names mentioned like the philosophers Aristotle and Plato, or men like Ben Franklin or Confucius. Who can question the age tested wisdom of old Ben’s maxims. ‘A penny saved is a penny earned.” “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
One name that comes up is one we might not think of at first. It is the name of a man who lived several thousand years ago. Yet, he is still known for his amazing wisdom. His name is Solomon. Solomon was the third monarch of the nation of Israel. He followed his father, David, who was famous in his own right. 
Shortly after Solomon became king the Lord came to Solomon in a dream and told him to ask for anything he wanted, anything at all. Solomon could have asked for wealth, victory over his enemies, peace for his nation. Instead Solomon asked for wisdom. 
“O  LORD  my  God,  you  have  made  your  servant  king  in  place  of  my  father  David.  But  I  am  only  a  little  child  and  do  not  know  how  to  carry  out  my  duties.  Your  servant  is  here  among  the  people  you  have  chosen,  a  great  people,  too  numerous  to  count  or  number.  So  give  your  servant  a  discerning  heart  to  govern  your  people  and  to  distinguish  between  right  and  wrong”  (I  Kings  3:7-9).
God gave Solomon what he asked for. Listen to what the God says in I Kings. "God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand of the seashore.  Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt.  He was wiser than any other man....(4:29-31)."
God blessed Solomon with wisdom and because he made a choice pleasing to God, God blessed Solomon with great wealth, prosperity, and peace as well.
The wisdom Solomon possessed was not just his ability to know what to do, to solve problems, and make good decisions. Solomon’s wisdom went beyond that. He rightly says in the book of Proverbs, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov 9:10). 
The greatest wisdom one can possess is knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Such wisdom understands that we are sinners who cannot save ourselves. Doing good works can never make up for our sins. True wisdom come from God through the Holy Spirit. True wisdom looks to the cross and the Savior for salvation. 
Who is the wisest person you know? It is one who knows and trusts in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin. It may be someone who became a champion on Jeopardy or one who never finished grade school. It may be a seasoned senior citizen who has lived a long life in the service of the Lord or the small child who sings, “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”
Like Jesus says, “The wise men builds his house on the rock” (Mt 7:24). That ‘rock’ is Jesus and all he stands for. Seek such wisdom. It is found in God’s Word.  Pray for such wisdom. The Holy Spirit will give it to you. Treasurer such wisdom and you will be blessed now and forever more.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Don’t underestimate the power of prayer.

I've read that standing on the South Pole is like being in the ye of a hurricane - it's deceivingly calm.  As you stand on that frozen tundra, there is no wind, no severe weather.  The quietness seems inconsistent with the fact that mighty winds originate there.  How is this possible?
Warm air from the equator cools over the ice and descends, becoming cold and dense.  Gravity then violently pulls the heavy air down the slopes toward the oceans, picking up tremendous speed.  Eventually it is heated by the sun and begins to rise, creating a circular pattern which drives our earth's weather machine.
I'm no meteorologist, even though weather phenomena have always interested me, so I don't no how reliable this information is.  But the phenomenon given here is in some respects like that of prayer.
When a person prays it may seem like nothing is happening.  We offer our prayer.  We look around and everything seems to be the same.  As a result, some wonder if prayer even does any good.  These feelings may no only be expressed by the critic of Christianity but may also be felt by the believer.
Maybe it is something like this; "God, help me" or "Lord, protect me."  Yet many give up on prayer because nothing seems to happen.  We want action and we want it now!  It's hard to wait to see what God's answer will be.  The end result is that we often worry and fret over that which we have committed to the care of our Lord.
Prayer is like standing on the South Pole.  Try it sometime.  Find a quiet place and calmly offer a prayer to God.  Then get up off your knees and listen.  What will you hear?  Nothing, right?  But the unbelievable winds and power originating from the South Pole are nothing compared to the prayer you just prayed.  For even though it seems as if nothing is happening, that things are quiet, God is powerfully answering your prayer.  Many times you won't hear it or see it, but things are happening - awesome things!
Jesus Christ, God's Son once said, "If you have faith and do not doubt... you can say to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done.  If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."  With a faith in Jesus as Savior and a real belief in the power of prayer we can move mountains in our lives that we thought were immoveable.  God listens to and answers our prayers.
Prayers are powerful when placed before the almighty Lord of heaven and earth.  Don't underestimate their value. Don't be fooled because it appears, at first, that nothing is happening.  God's workings are often behind the scene but He works none the less in His own time and in His own way.  But let there be no doubts in your mind - prayer does work.  It works powerfully!