Monday, March 17, 2014

Don’t lose sight of that which is most important!

          Years ago, an expert on the subject of time management was speaking to a group of business students. He was talking to them about how they were to prioritize their busy schedules. To drive home a point he wanted to make, he took out a one gallon, wide-mouth mason jar. He then took some big rocks and carefully placed them into the jar, getting in as many as he could. He them asked the class if the jar was full and they said yes. He smiled and pulled out another jar filled with gravel and poured it over the large rocks and shook it until it all settled down and was filled to the top. He asked again if the jar was filled. They had caught on but before they could answer he took sand and poured it in and watched it sift down between the empty spaces of the gravel. Is it full now, he asked? He then poured water into the jar which took up more of the empty space. When he was done, he asked them, “Now, what is the point of this experiment?”
          One eager beaver said, “No matter how busy you may be, you can always squeeze a little more into your schedule.” He said, “No, you missed the point.” Think about it. The point was simply this, “If you don’t put in the big rocks first, you will never get them in at all.” If you don’t take care of the most important things in life, in your schedule, in your day, they will never fit them in.
          So what are the most important things in your life? I am sure we would talk about our job, our education, taking care of our family, helping the kids with home work, etc. These are truly important. I doubt that anyone would debate that. But, it’s not uncommon to let the most important thing in life get left out of the picture or “mason jar” if you will.
          There is nothing more important than knowing that SALVATION IS FOUND IN NO ONE ELSE THAN JESUS CHRIST. When you put together your schedule, be sure he is part of it. Be sure you have time for worship, Bible study, and prayer. Also be sure to make time to teach these truths to your children. And one we might overlook - making time to share Jesus with those around you. Bowling, soccer matches, dance lessons, March Madness, fishing, pursing your education, taking care of your lawn, even going to work – they are all like gravel, sand, and water. The big things, the rocks in life, are the ones that take care of your spiritual life, knowing Jesus as your Savior and having time to share that Savior with others. Be sure to make the time.

God’s love for sinners is clearly seen in all our Lord does for us.

          The story is told of a farmer who once owned a number of hens. Unfortunately one afternoon the hen house burned down. As the farmer picked through the rubble, he came across one hen lying dead near the door of the hen house. Her top feathers were singed brown from the fire and her head lay limp. When he reached to pick her up, he felt something move. The hen’s four chicks came scurrying out from beneath her. The hen’s body had saved them by shielding them from the flames even though she died in the process.
This story or illustration has been around for some time in various forms, but it serves well as an illustration of the love that our Lord has shown to us. Jesus uses much the same picture when he said, ““O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under wings, but you were not willing!
Jesus had come to save all people from their sins and their consequence. The first promise had been made to Adam and Eve soon after their sin of disobedience. That promise was renewed again and again – to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and many others.
Yet, when Jesus arrived, he was rejected. Oh, there were some who believed in him. His popularity went up and down. In his home town of Nazareth, they tried to kill him. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes often sought to discredit Jesus. “He eats with sinners,” they cried. He worked with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners. More important of all, he stole the hearts of the people. The more he was praised by others, the greater their hatred.
Yet he loved him. As he looked at the very ones who would plot for his arrest and cry out for his death, Jesus wept. You can feel it in his words – “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…. how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under wings, but you were not willing!”
Every soul is precious to the Lord. That includes yours and mine. He loves us all. He proved that at Calvary. There the innocent Lamb of God laid down his life for the sins of the world. There he died in our place. There he faced the wrath of his Father and endured the pains of hell. He did it out of love for us.
What a comfort that is for us all. We need a Savior just as much as the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day. Our sinful nature is just as strong as theirs. How often aren’t we rejecting the Savior as they did? We do it when we refuse to listen to him and do our own thing. It happens when we let the activities of life squeeze time for worship and prayer out of our schedules. And yet Jesus loves us. With his love he seeks to draw us back again and again. Again and again he assures of his forgiveness and love. Just as a hen, by instinct, loves her chicks, Jesus loves us because it is part of his nature to do so. Thank God that it is.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lent – a time for meditation, repentance, and preparation

          Lent is upon us once again. The word "Lent" itself is from the old English word which means spring. The German word "Lenz" also means "spring." From what I could find out its basic meaning is to lengthen and refers to the lengthening of the days in the spring time.  Since a part of the pre-Easter season always falls in spring, it is only natural that through the ages this season from Ash Wednesday to Easter should come to be called Lent.
The early Christians remembered Lent with special devotions which were held during the forty hours during which our Savior lay in the tomb. The period of commemoration was later extended to two weeks, and eventually, in recognition of the forty days of our Lord's temptation, to forty days. Since Sundays were never fast days, these days were during Lent but not considered part of Lent. As a result Lent runs from Ash Wednesday up to Easter Sunday.
For many, including Lutherans, Lent is a time of commemoration. The Scripture lessons each Wednesday evening retell the journey that our Lord took to the cross. It begins with his meeting with his disciples to celebrate the Passover on Maundy Thursday, the night he instituted the Lord's Supper. It ends with the Lord’s dead body being placed in the grave to await the resurrection on Easter morning.
Lent is also a special time of spiritual contemplation. Our focus is on the passion or suffering of our Lord but then also extends to the cause for that suffering. That cause, of course, is our sinfulness. Christ came into the world to carry the burden of our sins on himself. Even though he was holy, without sin, he took on our sins and suffered their consequence.  The wrath of the Father was directed toward him. He endured the pain and torment of hell and died in our place.
When we see the dire results of our sins, we cannot help but grieve. It is our sins and those of the world that brought this pain and suffering on our Lord. Lent is a time when we focus our need to repent of our sins and look to Jesus as our only hope and salvation.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this observance. In the Medieval church it was customary for penitents to come to church on this day in sack cloth and bare feet. After finishing their prayers, they threw ashes on their heads - ashes, made from palms blessed the previous Palm Sunday.
The Lenten season ends with the glorious message of Easter morning, "He is risen!" It assures us that his work was done and was complete. The payment for sin had been made.  The wrath of God appeased. The power of sin, death, the devil and the grave were all broken.  What a glorious day and what a glorious promise Jesus gives us - "Because I live, ye shall live also!
So, while Lent is a season of repentance and sorrow over sin, it is also a time when we look ahead to the joy of Easter day. May the Lord bless your meditation this Lenten season!

The key to a good night’s sleep

          My wife and I have a friend who just can’t sleep well if the window is not open.  Even in the winter she opens the window wide and turns up the electric blanket. My dad slept with the covers over his head. It could be ninety degrees out and he still put the sheet over his head.  He’d wake up dripping wet in sweat but he slept like a baby.
The key to a good night’s sleep for me is a good pillow. For years I had the perfect pillow. It was a feather pillow that had gone through many a pillow fight when I was away to school. It was no longer fluffy and full since the feathers had all broken down. My wife said it was filled with quills not feathers. I think she was right. I haven’t slept well since I left it at a motel on a family trip.
A long time ago, a man named Jacob had a rock for a pillow. He was the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham. He was on his way to his uncle Laban’s house to find a wife. The real reason he was making this journey was that his brother, Esau, wanted to kill him. Jacob had stolen Esau’s birth right, then schemed with his mother to get the blessing too. The blessing was no ordinary blessing. It was the promise that a great nation would come from his seed, that the land of Palestine would someday belong to his descendants, and that the Savior would come from his seed.
After all the dirty tricks that Jacob had pulled, he had to be wondering if God would still bless him. He didn’t have to wait long for the answer. No sooner had he started his journey when God came to him at Bethel (which means `the house of God’) and renewed the promises that he had made to Abraham and Isaac.  They were promises that Jacob needed to hear. Now he could take his journey with peace in his heart for God was with him.
There are times in our life when we may wonder if God is with us. Our sins may trouble us. We may not have been to church in a long time. We may simply believe God is not on our side.
In his Word, God comes to us and makes promises just wonderful as those he made to Jacob. He promises to be with us always, to forgive our every sin, to turn troubles into blessings. He promises to watch over us with his angels, to provide for our needs and much more.  Just open the Bible and read a bit.  You won’t be able to read far before you will run across these gracious promises of our Lord.
As we approach the somber Lenten season and our joyous celebration of Easter, we can’t help but think about the promise of Jesus that all who believe in him – “you shall never die but  have eternal life.” What a joy to know that when our life on this earth is over, our dear Lord will gather his children, every believer in heaven and earth, to live with him forever in glory.
As you go through your life, face difficult times, keep these promises of God before your eyes and in your heart. You will sleep in peace each night whether you rest your head on a soft pillow or a rock.

You’re on safe ice when you’re trusting in the Lord!

         I grew up in Michigan only a few miles from the lake. A few days ago I heard that Lake Michigan had frozen over for the first time in twenty years. It brought back memories and reminded me of a story I heard long ago.
In the early days of our country a weary traveler came to the banks of the Mississippi River for the first time. There was no bridge. It was in the middle of winter, the surface of the mighty river was covered with ice. He wanted to cross over to the other side but did not know if the ice would be strong enough to support his weight.
Night was falling, and it was urgent that he reach the other side. Finally, after much hesitation and with many fears, he began to creep cautiously across the surface of the ice on his hands and knees. About halfway across he heard the sound of singing behind him. Out of the dusk came another man, driving a four-horse load of coal across the ice and singing merrily as he went his way!
Here he was, on hands and knees, trembling, lest the ice not be strong enough to bear him up! And there, as if whisked away by the winter's wind, went the other man, his horses, his sleigh, and his load of coal - upheld by the ice on which he, the weary traveler, was creeping on hands and knees.
Some of us have learned only to creep upon the promises of God. Cautiously we venture forth upon his promises, as though our step might make his promises more secure. We need to cast our fears aside. Our faith is founded on the unchangeable and unbreakable promises of God.
As we face troublesome times, God says that he will always be with us and that he will protect us from harm and danger. That promise is more certain than that ice which carried the weight of the wagon loaded with coal. God's promises are founded on his faithfulness to his Word, his almighty power and divine wisdom.
It's only when we trust in ourselves do we find ourselves on thin ice. How frail we are! How helpless to solve the problems we face! What can we do to solve the problem of sin? What can we do to make up for the countless times we have broken God's law and will continue to do so? Without the Lord's help our situation is hopeless.
It is only when we put our trust in the Lord can we be certain that all will turn out well. This is not only true when it comes to the problems we face day in and day out. More importantly, it is true when we are face to face with the consequences of our sin.
"Commit thy way unto the Lord. Trust also in him and he shall bring it to pass." (Psalm 37:5) Turn your problems and troubles over to the Lord. Put your trust in him and you need never be afraid. He is our Rock and Fortress. We have no reason to be afraid as long as we have him to rely on. With him as our foundation, we are never on thin ice.

Jesus is the Key to Winning “the Gold.”

          In Sochi Russia, athletes from countries all over the world have come to compete in winter sports.  Most are young. Some are older. All are the best at what they do. Getting to the Olympics, for most athletes, requires a life of sacrifice and hard work. Between the work-outs, training, and competing, athletes work long and hard to get their chance to win the gold. That’s the goal of the Olympic athletes - win a medal, gold, silver, or bronze, preferably gold. They want to do the best they can and hope that it is good enough to win one of the coveted medals. Along with it, would come the satisfaction and pride of a job well done, the glory of being number one.
Whether we realize it or not, we are all striving for something. It is likely not an Olympic gold medal but something much closer to our grasp. It might be gold in the form of money, success, or worldly possessions.  Our goal might be to retire early and comfortably. We might wish to travel the world and see exotic places.  Or our goal may be simply to have the good life – good friends, good health, and a loving family. We all have our goals in life. We may pursue them vigorously or let things just happen but we have goals none the less.
As a child of God, we have many spiritual goal as well. These goals are much more important than money, retirement plans, or even our health.  Our goal as God’s child is to live a righteous and holy life. It is a goal that is unattainable until we are freed from the sinful nature that clings to us. Our goal is to worship our Lord, to love our neighbor as our self, and so on. We may not succeed in reaching these goals here and now, as God’s child we embrace them.
There is another goal that we have which we would call “A Spiritual God Medal”. That goal is to spend eternity in heaven with our Lord. From John 3:16 we learn how this goal is reached. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Now that is a goal worth pursing! Unlike the Olympic gold medals which can only be given to one person or one team in each event, this prize is available to all. When Jesus died on the cross, he took away the sins of the whole world.
God wants us to put our faith, our trust in Jesus as our Savior from sin and remain faithful to him until our life on this earth is over.  That’s when we, as God’s children, can claim the prize – the gift of eternal life. It’s a reward that is not based on our works, how good or bad we have been.  The Bible states clearly that we are sinners. Salvation is a gift from God.
If everyone could walk away from the Olympics with a gold medal, there would be little interest in pursuing such a goal. How different with salvation!  Oh, that all would seek out the Lord Jesus as their Savior and put their trust in him.  And let us, who know him, remain faithful until the end and we will receive the “Crown of Life” (Rev 2:10).