Vacation

We’re leaving on Wednesday for a 2 week vacation.  For 2 weeks I will read books, visit with our daughter and son-in-law, go to a Revolutionary War battlefield, tour a plantation and eat out a lot.  I’m sure I will enjoy myself and I pray I will come back rested and ready to take up ministry with new vigor and enthusiasm.

The idea of taking vacations is relatively new in our world.  I’m pretty sure that my ancestors who came to these shores in 1737 never had one–they were too busy just trying to stay alive.  That’s the way the most people lived for most of history.  Some still live that way.  I think about that and feel sort of lazy for taking time off when there is still work to do.  And then I remember Jesus.

Now we couldn’t say that Jesus took vacations as you and I understand that term, but Scripture does give us more than one instance in which He went off to be alone with His Father in prayer and meditation.  And while the Lord taught His disciples whenever He could, He did take them away on several occasions from the crowds and the ministry they did among them.

Don’t get me wrong–Jesus doesn’t tell me to go take 2 weeks at the beach.  But what He does model for me and for you is the need we all have to put down our tools and rest in the arms of God.  The Lord who made us and shared for a brief time this body we inhabit, understood the importance of rest for anyone who has hard work to do–whether that is physical labor, mental labor, or simply showing love to our neighbors.  Without rest our work will be subpar and it will end early.  The word “burnout” was coined in the 20th century, but it existed long before that.

So I encourage everyone to find a place and a time where you can relax and feel the presence of the Lord anew.  And when He has refreshed you with the living water that will never dry up, then you can be His good and faithful servant.

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Filing

I hate filing.  It’s boring and I can always find an excuse for doing something more “important.”  So for quite some time, rather than filing my sermons neatly in appropriate folders I’ve just been dropping them in a drawer, rendering them fairly useless if I want to look up something that I may have already said–or just about anything else for that matter.  So I’ve hired my granddaughter to put my files in order.

This got me thinking about what else I may be failing to keep in order.  Is my spiritual life organized and in the process of deepening?  Are my prayers as full as they ought to be?  Is the rest of my labor at church focused or is it just a hodgepodge like my files were?  Am I being the type of pastor God wants me to be to the people here at St. Paul’s or am I failing to be that which I should be just because I’m too lazy to do what needs doing?

My wife and I are going on vacation next week and I want to spend some time pondering how I can be a better servant, a better pastor, a better subject of the King of kings.

Now I suspect many who read this are just as likely as I am to avoid unpleasant tasks.  No one wants to do boring things and no one, especially, wants to do hard things.  But putting them off just makes more trouble down the road, and there won’t always be someone like my granddaughter to pick up the slack.  So here are a few questions for you to ask yourself this week:

+How go things with your soul?  Is your life a good reflection            of the life of a follower of Jesus?                                                            +What work for God and His people have you been putting              off?                                                                                                                  +Are you simply drifting in your spiritual life, showing up on            Sunday for church but not doing to much else?                              +Are you praying for anything other than your self and your          immediate loved ones?

There are a lot of other questions you could ask, but you get the idea.

Coming Home

Last week my wife and I were at our national conference in Minneapolis.  It was a good conference, a chance to catch up on what is going on in the AFLC at large, and an opportunity to touch base with old friends and make a few new ones.  We drive to the conferences because flying became such a hassle–long lines, TSA searches, 3 inches of leg room–that the time savings isn’t worth it to me anymore.

Unfortunately, driving has its own issues.  We got a flat tire going around Chicago which I managed to keep inflated by stopping frequently on the way to South Bend.  That’s when I had to stop and buy a new tire.

Right now you’re probably asking, So what?  We all have problems every day.  And that is most certainly true.  But sometimes those problems seem to have a cause that isn’t necessarily random acts of irritation–and my flat tire might be one of those.

Sven Oftedal, one of the founders of the Lutheran Free Church wrote that our annual conference is “the great powerhouse of the LFC.”  In other words, the conference is where those who attend get recharged and ready to go for another year.  It does have that effect on me quite often.  So I’m driving back to Maryland thinking about all we could do here at St. Paul’s and the possibilities ahead of us and suddenly those thoughts are driven out of my head by this irritation.  It is possible that Satan did that, for our enemy hates the Church and any thoughts of making it better.  It’s also possible that the problem was satanic in origin but simply another event in life.  I don’t know.

But what I do know is that for a short time, I took my eye off the ball and stuffed all the good things from the conference into the back drawer of my mind and focused on the bad thing in front of me.

I think we do that all the time and it is not good for us.  Yes, of course we have to solve our problems and deal with the irritating things in life.  But too often we let those things take over and create grumpiness.  Too often we lose sight of the big picture and focus on the little smudge in the corner.  It would be far better for us to look at all we have and all we are and all that God is doing around us and save our mental energy for the things of eternal importance.

My wife read something really cool last week as we were driving.  Someone wrote, if you woke up tomorrow and all you had were those things you thanked God for today–what would you have?  Think about that a bit.

Laughing in the Heavens

My readings this morning included Psalm 2.  The psalmist touches on something that is important for Christians to remember–God will always have His way, no matter the vigor with which people oppose Him.  I thought I’d share some thoughts about this psalm.

The Western world is a mess.  If you don’t believe that, then you haven’t been looking.  Of course the great problem with the world is sin–believing that we can do a better job than God in the ordering of creation.  Mocking the Lord will always get a laugh on television and holding His people up to ridicule will always find its way into the editorial pages of our major newspapers (and not a few minor ones too).

But look how God responds to those who despise Him and His people.  “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” (v.4)  The mighty of this world, the powerful men and women, the cultural leaders, the haters of all things holy–God does not try to make excuses to them or explain His will.  He does not call on His people to alter what has been taught amongst them from time immemorial, He does not bend to the fashions of the world and seek to seem relevant in the eyes of secularists.  No friends, God laughs at them for He knows who is in control of the universe.

The next time someone attacks your faith or attempts to tell you God is simply a myth we have created to make ourselves feel safer–well, you can just smile at them because you know exactly what God thinks of them and what that will mean in the long run.

Oh, and in case you’re unsure about God’s victory, you can believe it because I looked in the back of the Book, and He wins.

Motivation

What makes you get out of bed in the morning? (please don’t say the alarm clock, you know what I mean).  Seriously, why bother to get up and face this world we live in?  Well, I think there are some pretty good reasons.

First, we get up because God exists.  Simple as that sounds, it’s profoundly true.  If God didn’t exist, neither would we.  But for any agnostics out there, if God didn’t exist there would be no reason to get up and go out into a world which would so very often give us pain.  If God didn’t exist, why would we want to go through all the terrible things that happen in our lives, knowing that we were just animated carbon on our way to being inanimate carbon and that ultimately there was no meaning to life?  If I didn’t believe in God I would have killed myself long ago.

Second, we get up because God has given us a new day.  It’s unfortunate that we so seldom recognize that important fact.  God, who holds all existence in the palm of His hand, who wills everything’s existence, has chosen to give us another day here on the 3rd planet from a minor star in a corner of the universe (okay, so the universe doesn’t have corners–you still know what I mean)  We are here today because God wants us to be here.  And with the new day come new opportunities to do the work He prepared for us before the beginning of time.

Third, we get up in the morning because we have sure and certain hope in our future and we have that hope because Jesus Christ died upon the Cross, enduring the punishment we deserve for the sin that clings so stubbornly to us, and He rose from the dead on the 3rd day that death might be forever defeated for His chosen people.

Finally, we get up in the morning because we just might meet someone today who needs to hear the Gospel and that there might be joy in heaven.

Go in peace and serve the Lord.

What’s A Preacher To Do?

I’ve heard a lot of sermons in my life and I’ve preached a lot of sermons too.  Any preacher who is serious about his calling spends a lot of time each week preparing for those 20 or so minutes on Sunday morning.  Sometimes we get feedback on how we did, sometimes we don’t.  So we don’t always know if the words of our mouths or the meditations of our hearts have been pleasing either to God or to the congregation.  We can only pray that something good will result from our efforts.

The question that always stands out, though, is what makes a good preacher.  Some people have honed the art of public speaking to such a sharpness that they are bound to surpass your average run of the mill speaker.  I’ve read that Patrick Henry was such a talented public speaker that people would often lose track of time during his orations, thinking only a few minutes had passed when it was actually over an hour.  Must a good preacher have such a skill?  Or maybe a good preacher is a man whose knowledge of Scripture astounds even other pastors and who fills his message with a list of supporting passages almost too long to follow.  Or maybe a good preacher is a man who can, in the pulpit, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Well, in my opinion, there is only one way to measure whether or not a preacher was good on any given Sunday—did he proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for you?  I don’t care how clever the argument, how well delivered the sermon, how sonorous the tone of his voice–if a preacher doesn’t tell you that you, yes you, are a sinner deserving of eternity in hell but that Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, bore your punishment on the cross at Calvary, rose from the dead on the third day and promises salvation to all who confess with their mouth that He is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead–if you don’t hear that the preacher wasted 20 minutes of your life.

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he came among them determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  That is what matters in the pulpit.  It is a message so profound, so filled with meaning that every preacher ought to be able to find 60 different ways to express it every year of his ministry.  I pray God shows each of us who dare to speak to His assembled people in any congregation how to do this small but immeasurably great service.

 

As One Approved

I am working now to refocus my ministry.  I’m doing a number of things to help me in that–rereading my ordination vows, reading books on pastoral theology, focusing my prayer life on this effort and reading what Scripture has to say about the work of those called to pastoral ministry.  Paul’s second letter to Timothy is of particular importance in understanding what a pastor’s role is to be.  It was most likely Paul’s last writing and in it he encourages his protege Timothy and all the others who have followed him in ministry.

There’s a lot in the short letter but I want to write today about an encouragement that isn’t meant just for pastors, but for everyone who serves in ministry in the Church–in other words to every Christian.  It’s the 15th verse of the second chapter.  “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of truth.”

Paul wrote elsewhere that he was not ashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1:16).  And his encouragement to Timothy and to us also carries this message.  Don’t be ashamed of being a Christian in a pagan world.  The Gospel is the only true good news in this present darkness and we are called to witness to it everywhere we go.  Sometimes this will be uncomfortable, for us and could lead to difficult situations in our lives.  Indeed Paul writes a bit later in 2nd Timothy that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” But that doesn’t change the charge Christ has given to all His elect people.

Another aspect of this charge not to be ashamed relates to what we will experience on the Day of Judgment.   On the day of the Lord’s return everyone will be judged–even those who are destined for salvation.  We will see and know all that we have thought, said or done that is contrary to God’s will.  We will know in a extraordinarily powerful way just how great our Lord’s atoning sacrifice was for us, how much we deserved eternal separation from the Holy God.  I am sure that shame will fill our consciousness as we look back on our sins.  But Paul tells us that one thing that should not cause us shame is the work we do in handling the Word of Truth.

I read recently that only 17% of self identified Christians in this country actually live out a Biblical worldview.  The influence of our secular culture seeps into our lives and teaches us to deny the plain teachings of Scripture about so many things.  Everything from divorce–a violation of the 6th Commandment–to the common desire of Americans for more and more material things–violating the 9th and 10th Commandments–to even qualified approval of abortion–violating the 5th Commandment–to whatever else you want to list–all such opinions represent a failure to rightly handle the Word of Truth and will cause us shame on the last day.

If the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God it is our responsibility as His witnesses in the world to proclaim what it teaches, even though it’s teaching is an offense to the world.  Just because the world around us doesn’t live a Christian life–that is no reason why Christians ought not live as true followers of the eternal Word–Jesus Christ our Lord.