Monday, March 29, 2010

What Time is It?

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3)

Let us pray that our Lord would grant us patience while we wait for clarity in this broken world.  We do know, in the end, the victory belongs to the Lord alone.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Be Not Too Quick

Jerry Seehusen read me some of this today from A TREATISE OF THE WHOLE ARMOUR OF GOD by William Gurnall, at the end of Direction 1, the Second General Part.

Be still, poor heart, and know that the contest is not between the church and Satan, but between Christ and him. These are the two champions.

Stand now, O ye army of saints, still, by faith, to see the all-wise God wrestle with a subtle devil. If you live not to see the period of these great confusions, yet generations after you shall behold the Almighty smite off this Goliath's head with his own sword, and take this cunning hunter in the toil of his own policies; that faith which ascribes greatness and wisdom to God, will shrink up Satan's subtlety into a nigrum nihil—a thing of nothing.

Unbelief fears Satan as a lion, faith treads on him as a worm. Behold therefore thy God at work, and promise thyself that what he is about, is an excellent piece. None can drive him from his work. The pilot is beaten from the helm, and can do little in a storm, but lets the ship go adrift. The architect cannot work, when night draws the curtain, yea, is driven off the scaffold with a storm of rain. Such workmen are the wisest counsellors and mightest princes on earth. A pinch may come, when it is as vain to say, Help, O king; as, Help, O beggar. Man's wisdom may be levelled with folly, but God is never interrupted. All the plots of hell and commotions on earth, have not so much as shaken God's hand, to spoil one letter or line that he hath been drawing. The mysteriousness of his providence may hang a curtain before his work, that we cannot see what he is doing, but when darkness is about him, righteousness is the seat of his throne for ever.

O, where is our faith? Let God be wise, and all men and devils fools.

What though thou seest a Babel more likely to go up, than a Babylon to be pulled down; yet believe God is making his secret approaches, and will clap his ladders on a sudden to the walls thereof.

Suppose truth were a prisoner with Joseph, and error the courtier, to have its head lift up by the favour of the times; yet dost [thou] not remember that the way to truth's preferment lies through the prison?

Yea, what though the church were like Jonah in the whale's belly, swallowed up to the eye of reason by the fury of men, yet dost [thou] not remember [that] the whale had not power to digest the prophet?

O be not too quick to bury the church before she be dead. Stay while Christ tries his skill before you give it over; bring Christ by your prayers to its grave, to speak a resurrection word.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chewing on the Word

Image from Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

We're coming down to the end of our Seven Deadly Sins series.  Sloth, Pride, Envy, Anger, Lust, Greed--and finally, this week, Gluttony.  I'll be presenting on this topic tonight using the following scriptures: Proverbs 23:19-21, Luke 16:19-31; Romans 15:15-20; Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 5:6; John 4:34; Romans 15:15. You can read them all by clicking here.

We've been using "dirty rags" to symbolize each of the sins.  The "dirty rag" for gluttony is orange, the color of harvest.  My dictionary says "Gluttony" is "the act or habit of eating too much." Drinking too much fits along with this too.*

As we've said before, there is no list of "Seven Deadly Sins" in the Bible. No sin is better then others.  The wages of sin is ______ [death] (Romans 6:23).  James 2:10 says: "Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking ______ [all of it]."  But this old list of deadly sins, put together by the Catholic church more than a thousand years ago--it does hit on many of the ways we honestly do offend God.  And, with gluttony on it, along with anger and greed and lust, we can see how seemingly "innocent" sin can be.  It also shows us how we need to be guided, not by our natural human nature, but by God's Word.

The truth is that gluttony, along with so many of these other so-called "deadly sins"... The truth is that gluttony seems to be programmed into our DNA.  We are born to eat!  We are genetically programmed for scarcity.  Naturally, by our own human nature, when we see food, we eat.  But just because we are born a certain way that doesn't determine what is right.  Proverbs 30:15 speaks of things that never say "enough" -- I would add appetite to that list.

We have HUGE appetites.  We citizens of the United States consume about twice as much as we really need.  And that hurts us!  50% of Americans are either overweight or obese and this takes years off our lives.  Our national weight problem is a huge public and private health issue.  It adds costs to health care and all of us pay more in insurance because of this problem.

This morning we pastors were up at Daniel's restaurant.  After meditating on the menu... pancakes, eggs, ham, bacon, sausage, french toast, hash browns or American fries... one of the pastors presented a devotion based on Proverbs 13:3a and 22:1a.  He said "half a proverb can be enough to meditate on for the whole day." The fact is, one of those breakfasts, for many people in our world--one of those breakfasts could be enough for the whole day.

God's wisdom and human scientific wisdom are in agreement on this.  Minnesota Public Radio is doing a series on this topic this week.  On television, this Friday on channel 5 you can watch "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" (click colored words for links).

The Lord says this in another proverb:
"Hear, my child, and be wise, and direct your mind in the way. Do not spend your time with heavy drinkers, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe them with rags." (Proverbs 23:20-21)
Gluttony and drunkenness go together in the Bible.  Gluttony is putting too much down our "gullets."  That's where the word "gluttony" comes from.  Our "gullets" are our throats.  Gluttony is lust and greed for food and drink--and whatever else we put in our bodies.*

It's interesting that the first temptation offered to human beings--in the Bible book of Genesis--and the first temptation offered to Jesus--they both involve food.  In Genesis, fruit from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" and, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread.

The monks who put together the list of deadly sins understood why.  Monks and nuns and prayer warriors of many kinds know that when we keep from satisfying our every desire we can become more hungry for God.  That is one reason Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights.  It's one reason we have this 40 day season of Lent.

In his Luke 6 sermon, Jesus says:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
And he continues:
Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
Satisfying our appetites all the time--that often gets in the way of loving God and loving our neighbors.  You might remember this scripture that we read in connection with the "deadly sin" of LUST two weeks ago from Philippians 3:18-19.  Paul writes:
"...Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things."
The truth is, unless we really focus on God's Word, we can love our food and our drink more than we love God.  That's why we look at "gluttony" and the other deadly sins, to examine ourselves and see what we might love more than the Lord.

But is gluttony really a "sin"?  Does eating too much really offend God?  It may not be wise, but how can this be a deadly sin?  After all, there is no commandment saying "You Shall Not Overeat."  And, besides that, we need to eat and drink.  First Timothy 4:4-5 says:
"For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer."
Obviously, it's not "eating" or "drinking" itself that is bad.  In fact, it's just as harmful to eat too little.  Whatever hurts our bodies, the "temple of the Holy Spirit" as it says in First Corinthians 6:19... Whatever hurts our bodies is an offense against God who made them (see Psalm 139). 

In fact, when we keep mistreating our bodies we can even disobey God's command against murder!  Gluttony--and other harmful things we do--no matter how addictive they are--these things can be a way of gradually killing ourselves.

I have always understood that eating too much is a problem, but until I started studying for tonight's presentation, I hadn't thought of it as a deadly sin. At least not to the level of other sins.  After all--I know a lot of very nice people who overeat!  Pastors, for example, are not very good examples of self-control when it comes to food.  I heard a presentation once saying that if pastors were "average" in health instead of being less healthy than usual churches could save a lot on health insurance expenses.

And I can't set myself up as any kind of example.  Honestly, one big reason I'm not overweight is because I'm selfish.  I need to feel good if I'm going to do my work.  Some people can, but I can't seem to do it.  If I don't feel good it's hard for me to do anything--so, because I want to feel good, I exercise and watch what I eat.  It's not because I'm better in any way... It is really self-centered to the core.

So, gluttony is sinful because:
  1. It gets in the way of a deeper relationship with God.
  2. It damages the bodies God created for good.
    and, finally
  3. It hurts other people and God's good creation as a whole.
Gluttony is not only is it waist-filling it is wasteful--and what it wastes is the lives of people all over the world--people who simply can't afford to eat what they grow in their own countries because, as we demand more and better food, it changes the way food is available and affordable.

Here's another way my self-centeredness comes in.  I like meat.  In fact, I've been on a high protein - low carb diet for 10 years.  Animal protein makes up a high proportion of my diet.  And, the truth is this: most meat in our country is fed on grain--and this is one reason why almost a billion people in our world cannot get enough to eat.

We use our land to grow grain to feed animals--it is very inefficient and very unhealthy for us.  And our taste for meat, especially beef, our taste for meat is one reason almost 1 billion--really it's about 800 million--our gluttony for meat is one reason people in our world go hungry today.

About 30 percent of our calories come from animals in comparison with 15 percent for the rest of the world.  All the feed we grow and import makes prices go up, and this makes it hard for people in other parts of the world to afford food. 

If we're going to obey God and love our neighbors, we need to pay attention to this.

In Proverbs 30:8-9, the Lord says:
...Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with only the food I need, for if I am full, and deny you, and say, “Who is the Lord?” or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.  (Proverbs 30:8-9)
Let's go to the cross and confess our gluttony.  Jesus died for the sins of the whole world.  He is ready to take this sin too, and to give us a new heart for him, for ourselves, and for the world.

*I would put drugs in this category too.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Oh, How I Love Jesus!

Here are notes from today's message based on John 12:1-8 (with a bit from Philippians 3:4b-14). 

You can listen to the 11:00 a.m. version of this sermon by clicking here (mp3).

Six days before the Passover. Those are probably the most important words of our gospel. The Passover was when the Jewish people celebrated and remembered how God had brought them out of slavery and set them free—and on six days before one particular Passover, Mary, the sister of Lazarus—she was so grateful—Mary poured out a year’s wages’ worth of perfume on Jesus’ feet—preparing him to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Jewish people celebrate Passover in the spring. They remember how God sent plagues down on the slaveholding Egyptians, blood and frogs and lice and flies, animal death, boils, hail, locusts, darkness—and the death of the firstborn—and how God provided a substitute for the sins of the slaves—a young lamb was killed for them and its blood was put on the sides and the top of the door so the death angel would Passover their homes. And then the slaves left their slavery behind, traveling to the promised land.

The wages of sin is death. Sinners like me always get death in return. It’s just a question of when and how… but on that Passover a lamb was offered for sacrifice instead—looking ahead to the sacrifice Jesus would make that particular Passover celebration—six days after Mary poured a years’ worth of perfume on his feet and wiped them with her hair.

Every year Jewish people celebrate God’s gift of freedom—this year Passover begins on the evening of March 29… and that’s what was about to happen…” Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany…” Bethany was a town right next to the capital city—a very dangerous place for Jesus to be.

Jesus had last been in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, another Jewish Festival—you can read that in John 10:22—Jesus was almost killed then—but in John 10:34 it says “…They tried to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands”… verse 35 “he went away to the place where John at first baptized, and there he remained.”

So, Jesus stays there, safe across the Jordan river, teaching and healing people and pouring out God’s love… but then he hears some news.

This is John 11:
1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go into Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any one walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if any one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 Thus he spoke, and then he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead; 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
So Jesus goes, from a safe place across the river, Jesus goes back to where he was under the threat of death. And when he is there… when he is there… Jesus does the most incredible thing. He raises Mary’s brother, Lazarus, from the dead. He had been dead four days.

There are people right now in 2010 by the way who claim to have been raised from the dead by the power of God—look up “The Finger of God” on the internet… God does wonders when we trust him--even today.

In any case, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. And that’s one of the things that accounts for Mary’s over-the-top thankfulness… we don’t know how Mary came to have a pound of incredibly expensive perfume, imported, probably from India—… maybe that’s how she and Martha made a living… maybe they were perfume merchants… but still, she was so possessed by gratitude that she did something that to me seems just crazy… she poured a whole year’s wages worth of perfume, tens of thousands of dollars worth—she poured it all on Jesus’ feet, and wiped her feet with her hair.

Such intimacy, such overflowing love. Such gratitude. Have you ever been possessed by such UNCONTAINABLE emotion that you ended up doing something that later on you think might have been just stupid? Something out of joy? Or have you seen someone else, dancing or singing for joy and you just think, calm down and grow up?

Mary was so joyful that she could not be self-contained or careful. She had to let her thankfulness flow. She didn’t care what anyone thought—she didn’t care what anyone might say—she was just needing to say thank you, thank you, thank you… to Jesus her Lord.

But it wasn’t all about Lazarus. Mary had very deep appreciation for Jesus’ teaching. There is a story in another place about Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet and just listening to him—listening to him teach—soaking up the wisdom and the peace and the love of God. When we get to know Jesus personally—when we come to know what he has done for us, then we want to learn from him too… and when we do learn from him our gratitude flows even more, beyond the thankfulness for the little and big miracles that happen every day to so many of us—protection from danger and illness, gifts of freedom, the provision of food and work—we give thanks for all those things and for the big miracles—healings from cancer—I’ve seen that happen—blessings of forgiveness and the renewal of hope… to thankfulness for Jesus’ teachings and the Word of God.

Comment about how Alpha has helped people appreciate God's Word.

But remember—it was six days before Passover. When we LEARN from Jesus we can know he comes not just to do the amazing thing in my life now, and not only to teach me wonderful truth, but especially to rescue me from slavery to my sinful self—to give himself as a substitute for the death and hell I deserve, to rescue me from all the terrible things I have done and the guilt I carry … to rescue me from what I deserve because of it… in fact, to rescue a whole world of sinners.

It was six days before Passover. Somehow, when Mary poured out that perfume on Jesus’ feet, it was not just about Lazarus being raised from the dead or just about being thankful for Jesus teachings—it was about the thankfulness of the whole world—the thankfulness of the world that Jesus was going to suffer and die for—at the festival of the Passover—six days from that time.

Oh, How I Love Jesus! (3x) Because He first loved me. There is a name I love to hear, I love to sing its worth, it sounds like music in my ear, the sweetest name on earth!

What would get you to spend a year’s wages out of gratitude? What would it take for you to step outside the common religious expressions of thanksgiving and just let emotions flow with praise? For Mary, it was her brother being raised from the dead, it was all that time spent listening to Jesus, hearing his heart for her and for you and for me, his wisdom, his love, his peace and his power that does not give up. But, though she may not have known it intellectually, it was really about what was going to happen six days later—when Jesus would give us life for us, rescuing every repentant sinner from the prison of sin and death.

One year’s wages? How about a WHOLE LIFE? Everything is a loss except what Jesus has done for us. So we pour out all for him—our bodies and souls, our wealth and talents, our work and our prayers… Our whole lives are an offering of praise.

Mary challenges me to let others know how much I love Jesus so they can love him too. Mary challenges me to think of my whole LIFE as an offering… poured out in jubilant thanks… because all who know Jesus—precious Jesus—all who know him are rescued from sin and despair, and brought to new life. Oh, How I love Jesus!

(At both hours of worship this sermon was followed by the song "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" -- a link to the audio is at Friday's post "To Make A Wretch His Treasure.")

Friday, March 19, 2010

To Make A Wretch His Treasure

This is a follow up to Sunday's post "Loving Jesus."  I encourage you to click on "Loving Jesus" and read that post before moving on to this song, one we will sing after the message here on Sunday.  Please come.

How Deep the Father's Love for Us
(click colored words above to watch and listen to the song on a video; clips are graphic and bloody from The Passion of the Christ)
How deep the Father's love for us,
how vast beyond all measure;
That He should give His only Son
to make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss,
the Father turns His face away.
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
bring many sons to glory.
Behold the Man upon a cross,
my sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life
-- I know that it is finished.
I will not boast in anything,
no gifts, no pow'r, no wisdom.
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from his reward?
I cannot give an answer.
But this I know with all my heart:
His wounds have paid my ransom.

“How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” words and music by Stuart Twonend.
Copyright 1995 Thakyou Music. Used by permission CCLI License #46661

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Should We Vote?

Last Friday I wrote a piece for this blog called "Beyond our Control."  In it I said that our local church council would "appoint a committee to examine our denominational affiliation" at its meeting on Tuesday of this week.

Well, the council did settle on members for such a committee, but then decided to hold a special congregational meeting to, in turn, decide whether (1) the committee should go ahead and begin work or, on the other hand, whether (2) the congregation should hold a vote to stay with or leave our current denominational affiliation, that is, with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  The meeting will be held at 10:45 on April 11, the Sunday after Easter, after Sunday School and before the 11:00 hour of worship. An official notice of this meeting is being prepared.

As I understand it, the purpose of the meeting will not be for discussion but to simply read the options, pass out the ballots and vote.  As I understand it, some think that there is no point to examining our denominational affiliation if there is not a strong desire in the congregation to leave the ELCA.

I have not wanted to bring the denominational affiliation issues to a vote because I think such a vote would be divisive.  I grieve now that it seems we are coming to that.  But I have never been, and am not now, in "charge" of what our church will do.  I have had major reservations* with and objections to the ELCA's August decisions but I have thought that, as a congregation, we could take a position** and delay any such affiliation issue for quite some time.  I have been proved wrong.

Questions about the upcoming April 11 meeting can be addressed to any member of our church council, or by emailing the church office.  Please come and talk with me or comment or email me with questions or comments about my position on this or any other issue.

* My "major reservations" and "objections" can be most easily found by doing a search for the word conscience in this blog.  An article on this subject can also be found on  Comments on that Crosswalk article can be found by clicking here.  Click the colored words for links.
**A position such as articulated in the Common Confession which failed to be adopted in a December vote at our church.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Greedy Night

Here's are my notes and order of worship from tonight -- topic: The sin of GREED.

Click on the colored words for links and multimedia.
In my welcome and introduction, I went to the cross and took up the yellow stained cloth that symbolizes greed.  Yellow like gold.  I mentioned how Greed makes us look good, but how dangerous it is, referring to the legend of Midas, who turned everything to gold by his touch, including turning his daughter to unfeeling metal.  How much are we willing to give up for our greed, to get more and more "stuff" for ourselves?
Hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus

First Chronicles 29:10-13
Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, forever and ever.
Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.
Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all.
And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.
Hymn #104 “In the Cross of Christ I Glory

OFFERING - As a sign that all belongs to God, we release a portion of what God has first given to us.

Luke 12
13 Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


We played the first part of
Pink Floyd's 1974 music video "Money."

Money, get away.
Get a good job with more pay and your O.K.
Money, it's a gas.
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.
New car, caviar, four star daydream.
Think I'll buy me a football team.
Money get back.
I'm all right Jack… Keep your hands off my stack.

We then cut the video and just played the video with no audio as I shared part of my message.  Here are some of my notes.
Where is your treasure?

Where is your heart?

GREED has got a hold on us that is SO tight…
We’re afraid so we HANG ON to what we have. We’re so afraid of the future that we can’t trust God… so we gather more and more for ourselves.
The problem is that the STUFF of this world belongs to God—not to us. God gave us STEWARDSHIP responsibility for the earth, not ownership. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it…” Psalm 24:1
But we don’t treat our stuff as if it all belongs to God. Instead, we want more and more and more… more money so we can get more stuff…
Greed hangs on—Greed is the sin that puts a price on EVERYTHING. It is the “excessive and rapacious desire for wealth and possessions.” It is covetousness, acquisitiveness, avarice. It leads to hoarding, cheating, corruption and theft. Our possessions control us.
The Bible tells us something different. Love your NEIGHBOR as yourself! Do not pile up things for you. Share—and trust God.
As we get more and more stuff, we not only hurt ourselves, we hurt the earth God has given us.

Here’s a clip from a video called “The Story of Stuff” – this video is VERY CONTROVERSIAL. Fox News and Glenn Beck call it dangerous… but I think we need to pay attention to what it has to say, even if we can debate the details. Let’s take a look at the first clip.
The Story of Stuff video
begin at “We’ll start with extraction”
stop at “You don’t have value”
OK… when we talk about LUST and the need for sexual purity we’re accused of being puritan and fundamentalist—and when we talk about the sin of GREED and the fact that NOT ALL SHOPPING is good, not all THINGS are good—then we’re accused of being communists or, God forbid, democrats…
Yes, Annie Leonard does have a political agenda, but that doesn’t mean there are not truths important to understand. Besides, I think her drawings are really clever.

The Bible is NOT in favor of GREED!
First Timothy 6 says this: 6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
Is greed responsible for hurting God’s good earth? It’s a question worth considering. Is Capitalism all good? Or is it full of sin just like every other human enterprise
Greed has brought us slavery and sweatshops, gambling and child trafficking. Greed may have an upside in getting us to be ambitious, but it’s downsides are huge.
Of course, greed is not something that is easy to put aside.
Let’s play the next video clip from the STORY OF STUFF—it focuses on the GOLDEN ARROW!
The Story of Stuff video
begin at “The Golden Arrow”
stop at “We can just STOP”

How do we get off the wheel? 

I can't do it.  I am stuck. 

Stuck with this Greed

This Greedy, fear filled acquisitive life.
Pause and look at the Cross covered with dirty rags of sin.
Jesus didn't live to accumulate.  He lived to give.  He gave himself.  He GAVE everything for us... He sacrificed himself for greedy, selfish people like me.
So that's what I will do.  I will look at JESUS and the sacrifice for us.
He GAVE himself…  for me... because of his love... for me... for you...
Can we look to him and pattern our lives after his, a GIVING life instead of a TAKING greedy life?
And, when we catch ourselves doing what we shouldn’t--being selfish, accumulating more "stuff" for me, for my family... then I can bring it back to the cross.
Jesus died for the sin of the WHOLE WORLD – and that includes all we do to God’s good earth, and to ourselves and oru families as we pursue STUFF, as we get greedy and just want more and more…
Then we took time for silence...

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Listening for God’s Voice

How is “Greed” in the Way of God’s Love, Joy and Peace in my life?
How does this sin offend God and hurt others?

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Our youth director and seminarian, Nate Bendorf, read
Luke 23:26-34
as I knelt and prayed.

Then Matt Maher led us by video in Love Will Hold Us Together
Chorus: Love will hold us together, Make us a shelter to weather the storm. And I´ll be my brother’s keeper. So the whole world will know that we´re not alone.
It don´t have a job, don´t pay your bills, Won´t buy you a home in Beverly Hills. Won´t fix your life in five easy steps. Ain´t the law of the land or the government. But it’s all you need.

It´s waiting for you, knocking at your door! In the moment of truth, when your heart hits the floor. And you’re on your knees.

This is the first day of the rest of your life. (2x)
’Cause even in the dark, you can still see the light
It´s gonna be alright, it’s gonna be alright. (repeat)
Copyright 2009 ThankYou Music. Used by permission CCLI License #46661

1. Share and a high and low from your day or week. (If you haven’t met get to know each other!)
2. What was the theme tonight?
3. How do you see this theme in every day life?
4. What are some ways that this is present in your own lives?
5. What attitude does God put in its place?
6. Spend a few minutes praying for one another, lifting up to the Lord whatever concerns or worries may come up, and giving thanks for God’s good gifts.
7. Consider planning to do something enjoyable with your mentor partner outside of church.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sharpening Time

"...The Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone." (Lamentations 3:31-33)
This is going to be a very full day.  I don't have much time to write.  Just a thought or two that have come to mind as I've been in prayer today, given by the Lord, that will hopefully be of help to someone else.
God is the master designer, and he allows adversities into my life to see if I can jump over them properly--"By my God I can leap over a wall" (Psalm 18:29).  Rise to the occasion--do what the trial demands of you.  It does not matter how much it hurts as long as it gives God the opportunity to manifest the life of Jesus in your body. (from Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest)
When we become sure of God's everlasting love, we can receive trials as ways in which God sharpens our character so we become more effective in His service.  It's not that God wants us to hurt us.  Many trials come at us because of the sin and evil in the world and in ourselves.  But when we love God, everything can be used by him for good in and through our lives.

I'm clinging to that promise today.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Always Mine

Here are my notes from yesterday's sermon focusing on Luke 15's story of the Prodigal Son. Some early thoughts were posted last Tuesday in A Hug From God.

As you read this, consider commenting on it...
  • What do you think?  
  • When we are honest, is it true that we are always the younger son?  
  • What difference would it make if we really believed that was true and lived with gratitude and praise for God's unreserved and undeserved love every day?
  • How would that make outreach to others more effective?
You can read the scripture this was based on by clicking here: Luke 15:1-3:11b-32

There are three main characters in Jesus’ story – the Father, the younger son who spends his inheritance, and the older son who just hates it when his younger brother is welcomed home.

Who are you?

I hope I will always know that I am the younger brother in this story. I hope I will always know that I am one sinner among many and that I have no rights when it comes to my relationship with God, except the rights God the Father gives to me as a gift.

Every time we come to the Lord we should say what we have in verse 21: “Father I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son…” I am no longer worthy to be called your daughter.

That’s how we come to our Lord every time.

And every time we come he welcomes us: “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—put it on him—[put it on her]. Put a ring on his finger… put sandals on his feet.”

Slaves—and hired workers—they went barefoot. They had no robe and no jewelry. What this Father—what GOD is doing—HE IS WELCOMING this sinful son—and because this is God’s Word we know it’s not only about him—it’s about EVERY son and every daughter—it’s about you and me and the welcome WE get when we come home to him.

Let’s read the younger son’s words from verse 21—let’st read them together and change the word “son” to “daughter” if you are a daughter—let’s make it personal:
Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
I am no longer worthy to be called your _____.
Notice how the returning son can’t even make his whole speech. He can’t even get through the part he planned… look at verse 19… he had planned to say "...I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands..." But this Father—this DADDY God—he is SO ready to welcome us that he cuts us off before we get our planned apology done with. He sees our hearts and knows when we are ready to come home… He interrupts us with the robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), the ring of commitment (Hosea 2:19-20) and the sandals—I can’t help but think of Jesus, stooping to wash his disciples feet and of Ephesians 6:15 where sandals or shoes are part of the armor of God.

So the younger son receives the Father's welcome.  The older son pushes it away. Sometimes we might be tempted to think of ourselves as that responsible elder brother—the one who has stayed home and worked all his life. But that son doesn’t have his Father’s heart. He’s like Martha in the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 who just doesn’t take time to sit at Jesus’ feet. He’s just too busy being a good person that he doesn’t do the most important thing—to listen and learn from God’s heart. And there is NOTHING better for God than when one of us comes home.

Jesus aims his story directly at you if you are one of those busy responsible ones who thinks that you have some kind of rights with God. We talked about this two weeks ago when we addressed the sin of pride. If we are feeling prideful because of all the good things we’ve done for God we need to come in from the field, lay our tools down, and come with the younger brothers and sisters—“I am no longer worthy to be called yours… I am no longer worthy at all.”

And when we come that way, Jesus comes to us, the Father comes to us, and he says YOU ARE ALWAYS MINE—not because of what you do, but because I love you as much as the strays that I welcome. These others—these new people—they are your brothers and sisters—see my heart as I welcome you in spite of your pride—and then come and join the party of grace alone.

So there is a temptation for us who have been around the church for awhile to think of ourselves as deserving something from God, as if we were the dutiful elder brother and believe that I “never disobeyed [God’s] command.”

But there is another temptation too—a temptation that I have fallen for—to my shame—and that’s the temptation of taking the role of God in this parable—to think of myself—to think of ourselves—to somehow put ourselves in the place of the Father who waits and is ready to welcome those who come home.

In this church—in this building—in this gathering—it is not our job to welcome the lost souls home. There are lots of reasons for that.
  • It’s our job to tell other people—you and I—you and I are brothers and sisters—equally desperate for God’s grace. When we lead someone to the Lord Jesus, we never do it from a position of superiority or privilege. We simply let people know—I am a sinner—a dirty sinner—and I’ve found a welcome that I could never imagine… I’d love it if you could know that welcome too.
We’re not God. God’s love may be poured into our hearts—but we are very imperfect vessels for that love—the love never comes through us without being stained and selfish! Besides that...
  • ...You and I don’t know people’s hearts. If we think that somehow our church or our denomination is somehow responsible for checking people in, we will make terrible mistakes.

    We’ll either be legalists—thinking we can tell a sinner from a saint… OR we will be antilegalists - - - an “anti-legalist" is technically known as an "anti-nomian”... and that someone who doesn’t think the LAW of God is important. Nomos is the Greek word for “law.”
But when we look into the Law of God and see ourselves for who we are—full of pride and anger and laziness and all the other deadly sins—lust and greed and gluttony and envy—when we see who we are and who we continue to be as long as we live—and when we recognize that we are the YOUNGER SON in the parable—the one who has spoiled it all but is STILL welcomed, then we can come alongside the worst and the best of sinners and with humility and tears celebrate GOD'S welcome—not OUR welcome—no—it’s GOD'S welcome!—and God will never make mistakes with his law, or with his perfect gospel love.

Last year, during Lent*, we had people from our church get up and tell their stories, confessing their broken and sinful lives. I heard that some from our church thought that was inappropriate—that people should keep their problems to themselves. But if we do that—if we keep our problems to ourselves, and if we try to welcome sinners as if we were somehow all put together and clean, we will come off as judgmental legalists—or we will think we have to say there is no sin at all -- antilegalists -- that we are somehow accepted just as we are with no sorrow, with no repentance, with no change. But if we can tell the stories of our lives, about how God keeps finding me and you out in the far country, or out in the field where we think we are doing so well, and has come to us and has looked us in the eye, seen our filthy hearts and says “YOU ARE ALWAYS MINE!," then we can come and rejoice together with all our lost brothers and sisters—we have to celebrate and rejoice—because this brother—this equal brother—and this sister—I am the same as that lost sister—we have to celebrate and rejoice because they were dead like we were—and they have come to life—they were lost—just like me and you—and now they have been found.

For the rest of the Lenten season, let’s consider how we are just the same as all the lost ones out there… that we have no privileges that come with church membership or any so-called good deeds that we have done… let’s consider our brokenness and our sin—and rejoice at the welcome of a God who says to us—and to all those others who repent—you are ALWAYS MINE.


* I'd encourage you to go back and listen to John's testimony and other comments from last year's Ash Wednesday worship... You can find it at Not Proud - Except of My Lord.  Other testimony's from Lent 2009 can be accessed through Testify to the Lord.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Loving Jesus

Time to look ahead toward the Fifth Sunday in Lent. On Sunday, March 21 we'll be reading a Bible story (John 12:1-8) that is filled with embarrassing, overflowing thanks--embarrassing, that is, until we know how much Jesus loves us.

Just before this story Jesus performed the most incredible miracle, raising a man named Lazarus from the dead.  Six days before Passover--a real historic date on the Jewish calendar--Jesus comes to Lazarus' home where he is the guest of honor.  One of Lazarus' sisters, Martha, served the meal, Lazarus was a the table with Jesus, and Mary did something unexpected.  She took some perfume worth thousands of dollars and poured it out on Jesus feet and wiped his feet with her hair.

Such extravagant, intimate love.  Understandable because Jesus raised her brother from the dead.  Even more understandable because, by pouring out this perfume, Jesus says she is preparing him for his burial--for his sacrificial death and burial--and his resurrection--the price Jesus pays to set us all free from eternal death--so someday we too might be raised and given new life.

Jesus--God in human flesh--He pours his whole life out for us on the cross.  That's how much he loves us.  Mary's heartfelt and expensive act of love reflects his love back to him.

How do you love Jesus?  How do you let others know?  When others know Jesus' love, and how much we love him, they will love Him too.

Christians celebrate Passover as "Holy Week" which includes days such as Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, the highest festival of all--the day when we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord.  This year, Holy week begins March 28 and continues through April 4.

Note added Friday, March 19
- a follow-up to this was posted today at To Make A Wretch His Treasure.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Beyond Our Control

NOTE: See my post of Thursday, April 18 for an important update.

After I was called to serve as pastor here in Cokato, I was privileged to talk with a more than one member of the "call committee" who let me know that the "call process" was quite a personal challenge for them.  It was enough of a challenge that some of the members felt very discouraged along the way.

Something good happened through the process, however.  They grew in their personal faith life.  They became desperate enough to pray and search the scriptures for help.  They grew more dependent on our Lord.

This is the same thing that happens whenever Christians face situations and challenges that are beyond our personal ability to handle or control. When we become discouraged or broken, we can become willing to cry out to the Lord.  We can become willing to follow wherever He leads.

I am praying that something similar will happen to me this year, and also among our church council members.  At the council meeting on Tuesday, they will appoint a committee* to examine our denominational affiliation.

This is a seemingly impossible task.  Some members of our local church have said that they will always be members of our denomination, the ELCA, and are upset that we are even thinking of examining that relationship.  Other members will leave our local church if we stay in the ELCA, and no amount of discussion will persuade them to change their minds.

How will we proceed?  I honestly do not know what our local church will do.

But, one thing I know: If we are willing and desperate enough, God will use the process to draw us to himself as we come up against what seems to be impossible.  If we are willing, God will bring us to our knees in prayer and we will pray and listen for his voice, calling us to himself.  If nothing else positive happens from call committees or denominational evaluation committees, at least those concerned will be forced to deepen their faith.  If not, I honestly think we will despair.

On the call process website of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod, you will find this prayer.
Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Are we willing to pray this prayer and honestly expect God to answer?  Are we willing to cry out to God, asking Him to "make us" follow our Lord no matter where he leads? Please pray that I will be broken before the Lord and be willing to do whatever He asks of me.  Let's pray that our church council and committee members and indeed all of us here at Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato will do the same.  Let's pray that the Lord will use this time so we can do nothing but cry out to Him for help.  Let's pray that this process will deepen our faith and trust and willingness to follow our Lord.

We cannot do this any other way.

* The committee is being established according to a resolution that was approved at our congregational meeting in late January.  The resolution came from a congregation member and I was unaware of it until that morning.  Last night I found out where it came from -- it is from the "Faithfulness Gathering" website.  I had never heard of this group until last night.  The resolution we adopted as a congregation (in PDF form) can downloaded by clicking this link.  For another perspective, go to the website of Lutherans Concerned.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How God Deals

This world is a painful place.  Suffering is not equally distributed and people have a variety of helpful and unhelpful ways to cope or "deal" with pain, but no one with eyes and ears and heart open can deny the pain-filled truth -- so many are constantly crying for a new life.

Scripture tells us that the root cause of pain is humankind's rebellion and sin. When we look out at the world we can see so much human sin that is the direct cause of evil in people's lives. Seeing and hearing the cries of those who suffer, we get angry!  And that's okay!  After I preached last Sunday one of our perceptive 8th graders asked "Is it okay to be angry at injustice...?" and, in response, I wrote a sequel to my sermon on anger.  You can read it by clicking here.

It's also okay to pray for God's vengeance.  Psalm 28, for example, is of the many godly prayers that cry out for God to DO SOMETHING about the evil in the world.
Repay them according to their work, and according to the evil of their deeds; repay them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward!  (Psalm 28:4)
The "wages of sin is death."  That's the first part of how God deals.  He does not let us go on sinning forever.  We meet our maker and the judgment!

BUT WAIT!  You must hear this!  In the end, God pours his righteous wrath out on himself, on the cross!  And God says "COME TO ME!"  Come under my blood!  You do not need to take revenge on yourself or on anyone else.  I love you so much that I would rather die than lose you.  And then he dies and rises again to give us sinners the promise of a new and perfect life.

This was the theme of last Sunday's preaching.  Click here to listen to 11:00 a.m. version or here for 8:30.  You can also read a short summary posted Friday at "Angry?".  May the Lord deliver us from his wrath and allow us to see his justice and his peace in this suffering world.

P.S. - our Lenten series on the Seven Deadly Sins continues tomorrow night here at church with a message from Nate Bendorf.  Come if you can!

A Hug from God

God is SO faithful.  God has hung on to me even though I have been so often confused, weak and wrong.  I know that because God has revealed himself to me in Jesus Christ.  Jesus comes into our broken world, not to rally the faithful and good people, but to seek and save those who are lost (see Luke 19:10).

And who are the lost?  Primarily -- and each of us may say this -- primarily the lost one is me.  We get in trouble when we think WE are the ones who do the seeking and saving.

For example, in the story of the "Lost" or "Prodigal" Son from Luke 15, we can get tricked into thinking that we are the Father or the Elder Son when really, in truth, we are the Younger Son who is continually going off to the "far country" where we become desperate because we have foolishly spent what the Father has given.  None of us are primarily the faithful, waiting and loving Father nor the faithful Elder Son who as "never disobeyed [God's] command.

By God's grace alone, God may choose to use you or me in that process or helping or even "saving" someone else.  And we can rejoice when we get to see God at work in our lives. But if you or I ever think we are mainly saved people who has been sent to a lost world to good things for God, we are in trouble.  When I do that, I have just fallen into sin by putting myself in God's place.  God is the ONLY one who is faithful and the only human being who was always obedient was Jesus himself.  How DARE I think that I am anything other than a sinner alongside every other human being in this world?

This coming Sunday I get a chance to preach on that prodigal son story.  Other texts assigned for the day include Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, and 2 Corinthians 5:16-21.  Please pray that I would remember who I am as I prepare.

Father God, I pray that you would always remind me of my brokenness so I am always in need of your embrace.  For it is only through your grace that I am saved.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Asking God for Help

The following was shared by a staff member at this afternoon's meeting. Written by Michael Lane, is was found on the Delve Into Jesus website. Click here for the original posting.
"So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you." (1 Peter 5:6-7)

I think we sometimes miss the point of petitioning God. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking God for things we need or even things we want. The important thing to keep in mind is that actually getting the thing we're asking for is the least important part of the whole process.

This seems counterintuitive. Why ask for something if you don't care if you get it? I'm not saying you should not care about the issue which is troubling you; I'm saying you should not be concerned with the exact outcome. We need to trust God to solve the problem His way.

Suppose you're having trouble making ends meet and you're not sure how you will pay this month's bills. You may ask God to send you some extra money. You may ask God to help you find a better paying job. In all likelihood, God is not going to do either of those things, though it's certainly possible. The point is that it really doesn't matter how God decides to solve the problem. By asking God for help, you have admitted that you need Him, and that is what really matters. How God decides to deal with the issue is immaterial, but rest assured He will intervene in the best way possible.

God does not want you to depend on a particular solution; He wants you to depend on Him.

Asking for God's help in all situations is a very important part of our relationship with Him. When you ask for God to help, you are indirectly saying that you trust Him and that you need Him. You are admitting your weakness and acknowledging His strength. You are submitting and surrendering to Him.

But what are we saying to God if we never ask for His help? We are saying we don't need Him. We are sending the message that we have no need of His blessing or protection and we want to go it alone.

Another reason to ask for God's help is not to seek a specific outcome, but rather to receive His comfort, support and peace. God may not provide a direct resolution to every difficulty in our lives, but He will comfort us. When you seek God during times of trouble, large or small, you are saying, "God, be with me during this time. Let my thoughts be with you and let me feel your presence."

Fail to bring your cares to God, and you are not only saying, "I don't need you" but also, "I don't want you around right now. I'm busy dealing with this problem."

As is so often the case, Jesus provides us with the example.

Then Jesus brought them to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, "Sit here while I go on ahead to pray." He took Peter and Zebedee's two sons, James and John, and he began to be filled with anguish and deep distress. He told them, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me." He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground, praying, "My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine." (Matthew 26:36-39)

Let's first take note of the fact that the night before His greatest trial and suffering, Jesus wants nothing more than to spend time with the Father. Though He must be weary and worn out as His disciples are, there is no greater priority for the Lord than to pray.

But what is perhaps more surprising is that Jesus is asking for something He knows He cannot have. When Jesus asks, "Let this cup be taken from me", He is perfectly aware that it is the Father's will for Him to proceed, so why even ask?

Jesus speaks these words not to seek a result, but simply to express His anguish and anxiety. Jesus is not asking for a reprieve; He is asking for comfort. Just as we must do, Jesus is asking His father to be with Him, support Him and give Him the strength to endure what must be done.

This is the pattern our prayers must follow. Tell the Lord everything you need and share with Him every care and worry that is on your mind. Don't seek a resolution, but seek God instead and you will receive peace and comfort, along with God's best solution thrown in for free. It almost certainly won't be the solution you had in mind, and it may not be easy to endure, but it will be the right solution in the long run.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Good Anger

Just a quick sequel - anger is properly directed against sin and evil, not against the people who do the sinning.  Through the gift of repentance and forgiveness any sinner can be made new.  So, the old phrase, "love the sinner but hate the sin" is correct.  We do not need to cover up anger but redirect it toward the sinful thoughts, words and actions while still caring about the people who do those things.  We human beings get confused on that.  We get angry at others or even at ourselves.  The only way out is the cross, where we learn what God does with sin--punishing it ruthlessly in his own body, in the body of Jesus, sacrificed for sinners like me and you.  Amazing love, how can it be, that you, my God would die for me.  Properly, the anger belongs to God.

Friday, March 5, 2010


If you are tempted by anger today, read the gospel for this coming Sunday, Luke 13:1-9

Pontius Pilate was a horrible governor. We know from the crucifixion of Jesus that he would rather have an innocent man tortured and killed than lose his job.  The first verse of Luke 13 tells of another atrocity - it seems that some men from the area where Jesus grew up (Galilee) were killed on Pilate's orders while preparing their offerings at the Jerusalem temple. 

When Jesus heard this, he did not speak angry words against Pilate.  Instead, he took the righteous law of God and pointed it right back at the crowds who gossiped to him about the governor:
"Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did."
Jesus answers anger with a call to repentance.  James 1:20 says "Your anger does not produce God's righteousness!"  If you or I find ourselves possessed by anger, it's time to return to the Lord, confess the sin of anger, and receive his wonderful forgiveness.  For God is full of grace and mercy, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love because all of God's anger against sin was poured out on himself, on Jesus, on the cross.  Jesus took it all for me and you. 

During Lent--and at all times--we remember the cross--where Jesus suffered and died in our place.  And when we recognize what that means, that God would rather die than lose us, we will know how abundantly God loves and care for sinners like you and me.  Then perhaps we can learn some patience and back off the anger with one another.

Let's pray that will be true among us.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Feedback Please

Some who have followed this blog for awhile have noticed that I haven't been writing as much lately.  Partly it's that I've been busy with other things, but that can't really be the reason.  My "busy-ness" hasn't really changed.  What has changed is that I've learned recently that I'm not getting as much feedback from folks as would have been helpful.

Back on September 2, 2008 I wrote this:
What is "Sharing Ministry and Faith" about?
  • It's a way for me to explore thoughts and topics that come up during typical days as a pastor.
  • I use it to do some preliminary work on what I'll be preaching about soon.
  • Mainly, and this is my real hope, it's a way to get feedback and comments from you.
I believe ministry is shared equally among hired hands such as myself and the great group of so-called "lay people" out in the community. No one is "above" another. We simply have different roles.

My role, as a pastor, as I see it, is mainly to equip people for ministry. One way to do that is to help people think and talk more about Christ-centered topics. Maybe sharing in this way, on the internet, will allow that to happen more often.

I hope, if I say something you appreciate, you'll let me know. Or, if I say something you think is crazy or not in line with God's truth, please come at me with how you see things.
What's been happening though, is that the conversation has been mostly one sided.  I thought I would hear from people if they disagreed.  For a long time, however, there was very little feedback except that which was appreciative and favorable.  I guess I assumed then that my readers were pretty much accepting of what I wrote.  In mid-December and after, however, I've learned that some are reading and not liking some things but have not been responding right away.

I'd like to encourage everyone to respond.  Favorable or unfavorable, it's good to get the conversation going.  Comment below or email me.  If what I say is particularly offensive to you, I'd encourage you to use Jesus' admonition in Matthew 18:15 as a guide.  Come and talk with me personally.  I'll do my best to listen and learn.

I do want to get back to writing more often.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The God of Forgetting

The following is from Jerry Seehusen's blog "Beef on the Grill":
Who would want a God who is forgetful?
The story is told of a rural Minnesota couple in their early sixties enjoying each other’s company one fine winter's evening. They were discussing something they had just seen on television which suggested writing things down so that you would remember them better. Then the wife said, “I’d really like some ice cream.” The husband said, “I’ll get you some ice cream.” The wife said, “You better write it down so you don’t forget.” The husband said he would remember. She then asked for strawberries on the ice cream and suggested he should write that down but he insisted that he would remember. The wife then announced that she would like some whipped cream on top and that he really should write that down. Again, he assured her that he would remember. After about 20 minutes in the kitchen, the husband returned with a plate of fried eggs and bacon for his wife. She looked at him and said, “Where’s the toast?”

Ah, forgetfulness and growing old seem to go hand in hand. Forgetfulness is a trait we humans dread. We want to be alert, in control, on top of everything even if it is just ice cream and strawberries.

Both Jeremiah 31:34 and Hebrews 8:12 say: "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." I love what scriptures say. It’s good news but then I must admit, I have a big problem getting my insignificant human brain wrapped around such a magnificent thought. How can the God who names each one of the stars, forget our sin? Psalm 147:4 "He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name."

How can the God who numbers the hairs on our head “remember our sins no more?” I don’t believe this struggle is a lack of faith, but a struggle with the complexity, magnificence and goodness of our God and Savior.

It seems to me that God just can’t forget my sin and remember the names of all the stars and number of hairs on my head. He must be storing them some place in an old bag to pull it out and beat me over the head when I screw up.

The devil loves to harass and discourage us with memories of our past sin, even the sins forgiven through the blood of Christ and remembered no more. It’s the devil’s lie.

We are blessed to have a God who knows the name of all the stars, knows the number of hairs on my head and knows exactly where each sparrow falls. This same God remembers all this and more and yet forgets all my sins forever. Ah, this is good news for this sin-laden but forgiven country boy. I praise God that He remembers and forgets. I don’t understand it but I sure am blessed. This is good news; very good news for all of us who believe.
Posted by Jerry Seehusen on Thursday, February 25 at 3:41 PM
Our all powerful God can choose to forget.  We can't.  The best we can do is to forgive, and remember that all the sins we remember have been forgotten by our Lord.