Monday, August 13, 2018

Lutheran Satire: Best Conspiracy Ever

At our Sunday Night Bible Series last night, we discussed the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus.  Since an empty tomb proves only that there is no one in it (Dr. Maier quipped, "An empty tomb does not prove the resurrection, but you can't have a decent resurrection without one."), we considered other evidence.  

The behavior of the apostles changed from timid to bold, especially as each one of them faced persecution, beatings, imprisonment, exile, and martyrdom for the sake of the testimony they gave of Jesus' resurrection.  Would they really fabricate a resurrection story and suffer so much for a lie?  Is the founding of the Christian faith, based on the resurrection of Jesus, one big scam?  Lutheran Satire gives us some insight to this line of thinking!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sermon -- 12th Sunday after Pentecost (August 12, 2018)

EPHESIANS 4:25 – 5:2


In the name + of Jesus.

     These verses from Ephesians could be summed up rather simply.  You can take them to mean, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39); or you could even take it one step higher and quote Jesus who said, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)  Jesus wants the perfect, selfless love he has for us to be demonstrated among each other too.  “For we are members of one another.” (Ephesians 4:25)  We are to be reconciled to each other.  We are to strive for each other's good.  We are to build each other up, by grace.
     If there is one phrase in here that sounds bizarre, it is this one: “Be angry and do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26)  The fact is that we are all sinners.  Given enough time, we will prove it by sinning against one another.  We each have our own agendas, and we get absorbed in them.  As a result, we either belittle or ignore the needs and concerns of others.  It puts a strain on relationships—colleagues, family, and fellow members of the church.  And when you are sinned against, you will become angry.
     Our Lord knows what it is to be angry.  As much as we think of Jesus as a friend of sinners and as one who loved even the outcasts, he had more personality than a plush toy.  Jesus grew angry.  When the priests had allowed the temple to be turned into a stockyard, Jesus angrily drove out the money changers and sellers of animals.  After frequent attempts to call the Pharisees to repent of their self-righteousness, Jesus finally devoted Matthew chapter 23 to stern judgment against them.  Even Jesus' apostles did not escape his anger.  When mothers were bringing their toddlers to Jesus, the disciples shooed them away, as if to say, “No, no.  Jesus is too important to be bothered by them.”  But Jesus became indignant with them.  He rebuked his disciples and summoned the children to come to him.  Jesus grew angry over sinful assumptions, stubborn pride, and selfish ambitions, but he did not sin in his anger.  Zeal for God's house, God's truth, and God's mercy consumed him.  Jesus' anger was directed at anyone who stood in the way of these things being given to others.
     You and I, however, do not have such pure motives in our anger.  When we we feel the sting of someone's sin against us, we are not motivated by love for the one who has sinned against us.  We do not want reconciliation, but revenge.  We tell others how we were wronged.  Whether our story is accurate or enhanced, we enlist friends to despise the person who wronged us—thereby wronging that person.  Rather than reconcile, we divide.  Rather than build up, we destroy.  Our anger usually turns to sin.  It brings harm to others, and often to ourselves as well.  And it gives the devil an opportunity to lead us into even greater sins.  Repent.
     Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27)  St. Paul reminds us that sins which are left to fester will not go away or get better.  They are like a tick on your leg.  It is a problem that must be dealt with and removed, because once it burrows in, it does greater damage.  Husbands and wives probably know this better than anyone.  When they have a disagreement about something, they may try to pretend it does not matter.  They ignore their issues and their feelings.  But the anger and resentment build until they are having an all-out shouting match about where the toothpaste gets squeezed or which way the toilet paper should hang on the roll.  Finally, neither can breathe right without the other finding fault.  Their sins against God and each other continue to mount.  And while they may want to be reconciled, they would much rather be right.  It happens similarly in friendships and in congregations.
     Holding on to grudges may make you feel superior, but grudges do not cure anything.  Grudges keep the wound open.  Worse, grudges destroy.  They give an opportunity to the devil to seize us.  They grieve the Holy Spirit.  A sinful spirit and the Holy Spirit cannot dwell together in the same heart.  If we allow our sins to fester, take root, and harden us, the Holy Spirit will finally have to depart—for it means that we love our anger and our sin more than we love our neighbor and more than the Lord who calls us to forgive, to seek the good of others, and to build each other up.  Sin that is not dealt with destroys much more than friendships and marriages; it destroys faith.  Repent.
     Dear Christian friends, we are all sinners, but we are also all joined together into one body.  Jesus did not join us to his body because we are justified in our anger.  On the contrary, Jesus has every right to be angry with us for our sinful self-importance.  Jesus could tear us down for exalting ourselves, and he would be right to do so.  But rather than execute his righteous judgment, Jesus seeks our reconciliation.  Rather then destroy us, Jesus seeks to build us up.  Jesus came into this world with an agenda—to save sinners.  Jesus made you his top priority.  Jesus saved you from God's righteous anger.  He humbled himself to exalt you.  He was destroyed to save you.  Jesus took the cup of God's wrath and consumed every last drop.  Jesus prayed over the agony in Gethsemane, and was consumed by this agony at Golgotha.  But even as Jesus suffered in innocence and was punished for sins he did not commit, he did not sin.  He did not get angry that he had to endure this for you.  He does not get angry that you now because you continue to need forgiveness from him.  Jesus' love for you is constant.  He does not hold a grudge, and he does not seek revenge.  He forgives all your sins.  He reconciles you to the Father.  He seeks your highest good.
     Jesus has brought you into his Church, which is his body.  And he has joined you to others whom he has labored to save.  To Jesus, these others are as precious as you are.  For, they have been purchased by his innocent blood.  And that innocent blood is given to each of us to strengthen and keep us in the body together.  The cup which our Lord gives to us now is the cup of blessing, given for our good.  By it, Jesus builds us up—in faith to him and in love for one another.  For, it is by this grace that we are motivated to love each other, as St. Paul says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
     We build each other up, by grace.  For we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25)  If part of your body was in pain, you would not want to dismember that part of your body.  You would want to seek relief for the pain so that your body would be sound again.  In the same way, you should not be willing to cut off those whom God has joined to you.  If one has sinned against you, love will seek his good.  You may put the best construction on his words and actions.  For, you don't know if his thoughts are consumed with an ailing brother or with a lost job.  If someone sins against you, they need your prayers more than your anger.  On the other hand, love may require you to correct him.  It is not loving to say, “Well, my neighbor has stolen from me.  I suppose he needs it more than I do, so I will not bother him about this.”  It is not love to let someone become hardened in his sin.  Love demands that we seek each other's good.  And that includes upholding God's word to him.  It is not love to let your fellow member violate the Commandments and to stand by as if it does not matter.  Love will seek to reconcile your neighbor to God and then to each other.  The body of Christ is not built up by ignoring each other's sins, but by the Lord absolving us of what is wicked and directing us to what is good.  The body is built up by the mercies and grace of Christ alone.
     We build each other up, by grace.  We uphold Jesus Christ to each other as the one who has saved us from our sin and from every emotion that comes from our sins.  We uphold Christ by acting toward another as little christs.  We seek each other's good with our words and actions.  We put away falsehood for truth.  We put off anger for compassion.  We forsake revenge for reconciliation.  And we empty ourselves for the building up of each other.  In this way, you become imitators of God, as beloved children. (Ephesians 5:2)  In this way, you honor your God, even as you reflect his love for one another.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Vacation 2018 -- Arizona & Utah, part 4

Thursday, June 14 was dedicated to Zion National Park.  While I had usually cracked the whip and gotten people out of bed early to get to the national parks before the long lines arrived, this morning I let people sleep in a little bit (but not that late).  It was probably about 9 AM by the time we got to Zion.  We paid for street parking outside the park since parking in Zion is very limited.  Then we walked into the park to wait for the bus which would take us to one of nine stops throughout the park.  By the time we got there, the wait for a bus was 45 minutes already.

We went all the way to the end of the line to Temple of Sinawava where we took the Riverside Walk.  Although it was going to be a rather hot day (100 degrees), our walk was rather comfortable since it was in the morning and especially since we were shaded by the tall cliffs.  Although the path continued through the river, we were not equipped for it, so we returned to the bus for another stop.

We trickled back to the front of the park, making several stops along the way.  However, the heat had really ramped up and we were no longer able to enjoy shady hikes.  So, our hikes were pretty short.  We did manage to find as many water stations as possible and regularly kept filling up our water bottles.

We returned to our campground for another brief swim and got to bed, resting up for several days of long driving toward Minnesota.  Side note: Each trip into a national park (Grand Canyon and Zion) involved some major shuffling and re-shuffling of Faith's stuff.  We had loaded a good portion of her belongings into the back of our Traverse.  But we did not want to pay double entering the national park with two cars.  So, we would empty out the Traverse into the camper before we left, and then had to repackage the Traverse after we got back so that we could go to bed.  We also had to do this when we drove through Custer State park on Saturday, June 16.  Thankfully, we never broke anything.

On Friday, we experienced blow out #3 in Utah.  Since we only had the one spare, a tire change meant no spares, so getting a replacement became a priority.  We found a Wal-Mart which not only would mount a new camper tire for us, but they also had mounted wheels for sale.  So we got a replacement tire mounted and a new wheel purchased.  For the first time on this trip, we finally had two spares (which is standard for us on our trips).  While waiting for the tire to be mounted, we enjoyed our picnic lunch in the Payson, Utah Wal-Mart parking lot.

We later found out that most of our blowouts were our own fault.  We talked to a sales rep at General RV in Wixom after our trip.  When he heard that we had four blow outs on our trip, he had asked how fast we were driving.  Apparently, we were supposed to be driving about 60-65 miles per hour with our pop-up.  Any faster creates too much heat for the tires and they eventually give out faster than they are designed for.  But when the speed limit on the interstate in Utah is 80 miles per hour, how you do not drive 80?  Well, you do -- and then you change a flat.

Another glitch was when Faith got separated from us at Salt Lake City.  I had passed a car heading up to the exit for I-80, and Faith dutifully followed me.  Unfortunately, while I was able to move over in time for the exit, she wasn't.  Cell phones to the rescue!  She got turned around and caught up to us by the time we hit the border for Wyoming.  I had ended up driving slower so that Faith could catch up to us and, by accident, I ended up driving for that stretch at a speed we were supposed to be going all along.

We had our most memorable gas fill-up at Rock Springs, Wyoming.  Pulling in, I saw that someone had put a garbage can by the pump.  Annoying, but it can be moved easily enough.  After pre-paying, I began to pump.  I paid about $1 for what seemed to be only air.  Then the gas was finally getting to the tank.  But Laura noticed that gas was spraying out of the hose.  THAT's why the garbage can was put there.  Perhaps the yellow baggie over the pump hanlde would have been a better warning system.  We alerted the attendant (who said they were never told about the leak by garbage-can-man), moved to a different pump, and did not explode.  The last one was the most important.

By Friday night, we had crossed about half of Wyoming.  We travelled until it was pretty much dark, set up camp at the Rawlins KOA, and had no ambition to get supper going.  So, to Denny's we went.  Caleb had his eye on an all-you-can-eat pancake special.  He was interested in the challenge, but it was only for breakfast.  We toyed with the idea of coming back to see what Caleb could do with that, but decided that putting on the miles was more important.

Saturday was more and more driving--east to Laramie and Cheyenne, and then north to get to the Black Hills.  We found a KOA near Custer, and after setting up, went to Custer State Park to see the bison herd.  We found them--hundreds of them--and drove into the herd to see them up close.  We also got to see a few antelope while we were driving through.  We determined that we need to come back to the Black Hills and make that its own specific vacation.  There are too many things to see (Sylvan Lake, I will get to you yet!), and not enough time to see them.

Our evening ended at the Crazy Horse Monument.  We had hoped to see the light show which is projected onto the monument, but the clouds and the rain rolled in and covered the monument entirely.  So, we left and headed off to bed for a rainy night.

Photos from June 14-16 are below.

Riverside Walk. The sillouhette by the river is Faith.

The closer monolith is Angel's Landing.  The back right is the Great White Throne.

Caleb is there to give it some scale.

The Patriarchs--from left to right: Abrhaam, Isaac, and Jacob.

Blown Tire # 3 out of 4.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Something from ... Luther re: Relying on God's Word

One of the reasons Martin Luther was so fervent, even belligerent, in his teaching and preaching is because he had spent a good part of his life in fear and doubt.  He wanted to be sure God loved him and was merciful to him.  He wanted to know that he was, indeed, saved.  But how could he know?  Where could he turn for assurance?  Sadly, the church of his youth pointed him to many different directions.  But fear and doubt were not ended.

When Luther discovered God had made promises which put an end to his doubts and fears and which gave assurance of God's mercy, love, and salvation, Luther developed a great disdain for all of those other places where he had been told to find them.  Since they did not have God's word attached to them, they were useless.  Worse, they were damning.  That is why Luther preached so strongly against them.  He did not want anyone else to endure the fear and doubt which had plagued him so much.

In speaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Luther noted that the tree killed and cursed only because of the word attached to it.  Likewise, the sacraments are only effective because of the word which is attached to them.  If we desire God's love, mercy, and salvation, we flee to where God says that we will find them.  Any other direction is wrong.  And trusting in practices, feelings, or anything that does not have God's promises attached to them actually brings a curse--for they are idolatry, no matter how religious those things appear.

From Luther:
          "It is certain that the tree did not have this power by its nature but only through the efficacy of the Word.  In the same way also the tree of knowledge of good and evil did not kill because its fruits were poisonous and destructive, but because a word or kind of label had been attached to it with the warning written on it: 'On whatever day you eat from this tree, you will surely die.' ... The tree was not poisonous; but, as we said above at great length, it was a tree of divine worship, for man to bear witenss through his obedience that he knew, honored, and feared his God.
          "Therefore the Word must always be taken into consideration and honored as that by which God takes hold of and, as it were, clothes the creatures; and a difference must be made between the creature and the Word.  In the Sacrament of the Altar there are bread and wine; in Baptism there is water.  These are creatures, but creatures apprehended by the Word.  As long as the creature is apprehended by the Word, so long it is and does what the Word promises.  ...
          "Always consider here whether God has added His command and promise.  If there is no promise and command of God, decide at once that it is idolatry and a desecration of the name of God. ...  But do not concern yourself with prayers, with examples, or even with the intention.  Consider only whether there is a promise and a command; for this is what imparts to the creatures a new power beyond that power which they have through their nature." (Luther's Works: American Edition, Vol. 1, pages 226-229)

Monday, August 6, 2018

2018 Vacation -- Arizona & Utah, part 3

On Sunday, June 9--one week after we left--we went to Emmaus Evangelical Lutheran Church where Pastor Else (ELL-see) preached the gospel and fed us with the body and blood of Christ.  We also enjoyed his Bible Class on Revelation.  (They had just started the series.)  After the late service, the congregation of Emmaus held a special Farewell for Faith.  Although she filled in as an emergency teacher for 1-2 grades, she had apparently made a lot of wonderful connections with the people there.  And I know she will miss them, too.

After that, we went to our hotel (Faith's apartment was emptied of all furniture) and spend the afternoon there.  I took a four hour nap.  I guess the time on the road had caught up with me.  Caleb, Philip, and Peter enjoyed the pool.  After Sunday-Monday's efforts to have oil changes and last minute clean up of Faith's apartment, we departed shortly after noon on Monday.  North to Flagstaff, and then to the Williams, AZ KOA campground.

Flat tire #2 happened just as we were coming to the campground.  Also, a bone-headed move by me was mercifully spared of serious consequences.  Caleb helped again with the tire changing job.  The result of me not doing everything (for which I should be grateful, right?) is that I had skipped something on my mental checklist.  I tightened the lugnuts while the tire was in the air, but failed to tighten them completely once the tire was back on the ground.  We drove with the wobbly tire (Caleb said it look bad as he and Faith rode in her car behind us) for about one mile.  Then, at the KOA, I actually did tighten the lugnuts appropriately.  There was no real damage to see, but we were probably one more mile away from losing that tire and wrecking the bolts on the axle.  God's mercy overruled my negligence (for which I AM especially grateful).

On Tuesday, we went to Grand Canyon National Park, mainlly spending the day hiking along the South Rim from the Visitors Center to Grand Canyon Village.  We all took lots of photos.  Some are below.

On Wednesday, I got up early to the tire place in Williams to get our blown-out camper tire replaced.  While there, the tire guy let me know that we were destined for a blow out on our Traverse really soon.  I knew that the tire was in need of replacement, but I was hoping to get back home before we took care of it.  When he told me that he could see the steel of the steel-belted radials, I decided that I did not want to risk a blow out in the middle of the northern Arizona desert, MILES from anywhere.  (And from what he told me, the blow out was not merely a risk; it was inevitable.)  So, after we broke camp, we travelled to Flagstaff and got new tires for the Traverse.  It was not an expense we had planned on, but it was absolutely necesssary.  And obviously, we made it home, so it was a good call.  While we sat waiting for the tires (and the Firestone guys in Flagstaff were outstsanding in getting us taken care of quickly!), we met a Dutch couple who was travelling throughout the western US.  It was really nice visiting with them, and they were thoroughly enjoying the USA.  They were also surprised how far we had travelled from Detroit.  (When we are outside of Michigan, we are from Detroit.  It is just easier than trying to tell anyone where Novi is.)

After leaving Flagstaff, we travelled north and then west through Arizona on US Highway 89, then ALT US Highway 89, and finally on Arizona State Highway 389.  We passed through some rugged, yet beautiful, country.  We stopped at Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River.  Late in the afternoon, we finally entered Utah.  After passing through Hurricane, UT, we made our way to the St. George KOA campground, which is actually a bit north of St. George, UT.  After lounging for a little bit with the putt-putt golf course and the pool table in the rec center--air-conditioned rec center!--we went to bed to rest up for Zion National Park the next day.

Photos of June 9-12 are below.

Faith's Farewell at Emmaus Lutheran School.

Pastor Else (pronounced ELL-see) had nice words to say about Faith.

Faith, leaving her apartment for the last time.  Good-bye, Phoenix.  On to Minnesotra!

There are too many photos from the Grand Canyon.  Here are a few.

Laura, Faith, Caleb. Philip, and Peter are in the middle, dwarfed by the size of the Canyon behind them.

Yep, it's big.

The Colorado River, taken from the Navajo Bridge in northern Arizona.

Landscape in nothern Arizona on State Highway 389.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Sermon -- 11th Sunday after Pentecost (August 5, 2018)



In the name + of Jesus.

     Christians are different.  You don't need to feel bad about saying so, and you don't need to apologize for it, because Jesus did say so.  To say we are different is not to say we are better.  We know better than that.  We confess what the Scriptures teach: There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:22-23)  We are no better than anyone else; for we are sinners, just like everyone else.  But by acknowledging that you are a sinner, you are different.  You make confession of your sins, but not merely to acknowledge them.  Most people will say that much.  “Nobody's perfect.”  But that is not a confession; it is an excuse.  Your confession is not an excuse.  God is not pleased with our sins.  Neither are we. 
     We confess that we are by nature corrupt.  Our sinful nature displays itself when we do what is evil and fail to do what is good.  We confess that we deserve God's wrath for our sinful condition and our sinful deeds.  God does not find our sins acceptable.  We do not find them acceptable, either.  In fact, we want to be rid of them—forever. 
     God has rescued you from your sinful condition.  Jesus has come to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)  In that way, you are not different, either.  God does not love a few.  God loves the world.  But “whoever believes and his baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16)  These are the ones who benefit from Jesus' saving work.  Jesus suffered what you deserve so that you will not suffer for your sins.  Jesus died the cursed death at the cross so that you will have a blessed death.  Death does not mean hell; for Jesus overcame the grave by his resurrection.  He promises that you, too, will rise from the dead with a glorified body to live in glorious freedom forevermore.  You will not merely be free from aches and pains and sorrow, but you will be forever free from your sins, from shame, from regret, and from every other thing that vexes us because of sin.  Though “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), much of the world rejects God's love.  You are different.  By God's grace, you believe in Jesus.  You are baptized into him.  You are saved.
     Your salvation, however, is not limited to what will come down the road someday.  Jesus not only pardons your offenses, he has also rectified the very corruption in your nature sinful.  Jesus has renewed your very heart, mind, and soul from which all thoughts, words, and deeds arise.  In your baptism, your sinful nature was put to death with Jesus.  He drowned your Old Adam in the baptismal waters and he raised you up a new creation.  He has wrapped you in robes of righteousness so that you are holy and blameless before God, and he has renewed your heart and mind so that you are no longer devoted to this world, but rather you are focused on heavenly things.  This is not what you will be someday; it is what you are now.
     We are continually being renewed, by grace.  You are a new creation, and St. Paul urges you to live like one.  He writes: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (Ephesians 4:17-19)  
     Our world has always been tolerant of evil, and even celebrates it.  If you go to a concert and the rock star boasts about his most recent sexual conquest, the audience will roar with approval.  Movies have trained us to cheer for the adulterous affair and feel good when the marriage gets destroyed.  Binge drinking is considered admirable.  Living together outside of marriage is considered wise.  And we build our own virtue in seeing the faults of others exposed.  In short, wickedness is common, it is commended, and it is celebrated.  If you play along, the world will praise you.
     But you are different.  God has enlightened you to see that this worldly thinking is futile.  The world promises happiness for giving into sensuality, for being greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (Ephesians 4:19)  Whatever gratification you may get does not last.  What does last is guilt, regret, shame, and the fear of the death you deserve for what you have done.  This world seeks to enforce its perverse values on us.  The pressure is great to give in to worldly ways.  It is expected of you, and you are mocked if you are different.  But you are different.  You don't need to feel bad about saying so.  You should not be ashamed for living like it.  And you surely don't need to apologize for it.  You have been set apart by Christ to be different.
     In our struggle to be faithful, and because of our weakness which results in giving into worldly pressures and pleasures, we need Jesus who continually renews us.  Day after day, we live a life of repentance.  Day after day, we flee to our Savior for mercy, comfort, and strength.  St. Paul reminds us that this daily renewal is not optional.  He writes, “You … were taught in (Christ) … to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:21-24)  
     We are continually renewed by grace.  The Lord renews our hearts and minds so that we agree with God's word.  What God calls evil, we recognize as evil and despise it.  We flee from it, and we root it out of our lives.  But it is more than that.  It also means that what God calls good we recognize is truly good, and we strive to do it.  This is what it means to put on the new self.
     If you had a garden full of weeds, you would rightly want to pull every weed out of it.  Weeds make for a useless garden.  However, after you uproot every weed, it doesn't mean you have a productive garden.  You would only have a plot of dirt.  To have a productive garden, you need to plant good seed and cultivate it.  You need to keep removing weeds and to keep on tending and watering the good seed so that it produces good, useful food.  In the same way, putting off the old self in repentance is only part of our daily life.  It is right to repent of sins, but we also need to put on the new self—to cultivate our lives with good works, and to labor to continue in them.  Our Catechism also teaches this.  In his explanation of the Commandments, Martin Luther teaches that God's will is both to avoid and to do good.  “We should fear and love God that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, or give him a bad name, but defend him, speak well of him, and take his words and actions in the kindest possible way.” (Small Catechism, Explanation of the 8th Commandment)
     We are continually renewed by grace.  Day by day, we return to our baptism to drown the Old Adam who desires what is sinful, and God raises us up anew.  This is how we put on the new self.  Day after day, the Lord assures us that we remain his redeemed and that we stand before the heavenly Father as holy and blameless.  He not only calls us holy and blameless, he also calls us to be holy and blameless.  In this, we struggle.  The Lord, however, does not grow tired of our weaknesses, or that we never live up to status of saints.  Instead, the Lord renews us.  He keeps us in his kingdom.  He encourages us to fight against sin and temptation.  He fills our hearts will a love for what is pure, what is noble, what is good, and what is pleasing to him. 
     We are continually renewed by grace.  We drown the Old Adam in repentance, and the Lord restores and renews us in his forgiveness.  By his word, he continues to conform us to the likeness of Christ.  He teaches us to love him and his word more deeply.  And as the Lord conforms you to Christ, he guides you to love what is good and to love your neighbor and to do good to him.  While the world may recognize that this makes you different, you recognize that it makes you more like Jesus.
     Christians are different.  You don't need to feel bad about saying so.  You should not be ashamed for living like it.  And you surely don't need to apologize for it.  You have been set apart by Christ to be different—set free from sin and death, and set free for a new life of good works and, finally, glory everlasting.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

2018 Vacation -- Utah & Arizona, part 2

Thursday, June 7 had us heading early into Arches National Park.  As much as people may have wanted to sleep in a bit, I have learned from experience that a liesurely morning also means a LONG wait to get into a national park.  We took some short hikes, spending most of our time at the Windows.  But we had tracks to make to get to Phoenix by Thursday night.  We also had to get back to our KOA and get checked out by noon.  I think we pulled about about 12:05.

We drove south, making it a point to hit US Highway 163 and drive through Monument Valley which has some of the most iconic out-west scenery there is (photo below).  We entered Arizona, found a Pizza Hut in Flagstaff, and got to Phoenix as the sun was getting low.  We tried to find camping in Phoenix so that we would be close to Faith, but nothing worked for us--mainly because the campgrounds wanted only people 55 and older in self-contained RV's.  Since it was getting dark, we called Faith and arranged to sleep in her apartment.  The down side?  Some had to sleep on the floor.  Upside?  Air-conditioned!

We got to see Emmaus Evangelical Lutheran Church and School where Faith had been teaching for the past year.  (Laura had seen it in July 2017 when she helped Faith move in.)  Besides packing up her apartment, we enjoyed a Mexican meal with her faculty.  Pastor Else, my friend from college days and fellow lineman on the football team, picked up our bill.  (Thanks, Ross!)  Then we went to tour the University of Phoenix Stadium where the Arizona Cardinals play.  We missed the tour on Friday by minutes.  And while we did make the tour on Saturday, it was full.  Only three of us got to go.

On Sunday, June 9, we went to church at Emmaus who put together a nice Farewell for Faith.  More on that in Part 3.  Here are some photos from Thursday - Saturday.

Turret Arch

Turret Arch, with a person standing at the bottom of the arch so you can appreciate the size of it.

South Window

Caleb, Philip, and Peter, climbing up to the end of North Window.

North Window.  To give some idea of the scale,
the three people clustered in the middle are Caleb, Philip, and Peter.

Double Arch

Iconic out-west scene!  US Highway 163 in Utah/Arizona.
Greetings, from Faith's apartment!

Pat Tillman memorial statue.

University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals.

Faith taught 1-2 grades at Emmaus Lutheran School in Phoenix, AZ.

Faith's desk and classroom for the past school year.

This is the tunnel onto the playing surface.  Notice that there are risers right at Caleb's waist level.
That's because the turf, which is kept outisde in the sun, is rolled in on railroad tracks for each game.
The playing surface is one meter above the concrete floor.  So, the risers are actually at field level.

This banner is for Lions' fans.  The Detroit Lions last championship was in 1957.
This is a noticably longer drought.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Sermon -- 10th Sunday after Pentecost (July 29, 2018)

EPHESIANS 4:1-7,11-16


In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul encourages us to do two things in our Epistle lesson.  The first is that we maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  (Ephesians 4:3)  The second is that we “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:14)—in other words, that we grow in the faith.  Ironically, we can't do either of these things.  Both are gifts of God which he delivers to us in Christ.  Both are aspects of the Church which the Holy Spirit works in us and sustains among us.  We are united and strengthened by grace.  The unity we enjoy with one another is what God has worked among us through his word.  If we are growing in the knowledge of God's word, if we are maturing in both our understanding of God's truth and in lives that reflect God's good will, that is also God's work in us through his word and by his grace. 
     Nevertheless, St. Paul's encouragement stands.  While it is true that the unity we enjoy is God's work among us, it is also something that we strive to retain.  St. Paul directs us this way: “I … urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3) 
     We are united to each other by grace.  Our unity is based on God's word; so, our unity remains as long as our faithfulness to God's word remains.  Our Lord has united us in a common confession.  We are not all individuals who are exercising our Christian faith as we see fit.  Nor do we live our Christian lives independent of each other.  There is no such thing as one's own personal Jesus.  We do not make our own personal confession.  We confess what our Lord has made known to us.  While the Nicene Creed is your confession, it is because it is the confession of the Christian Church.  It expresses what the Bible teaches.  There is one hope that we all share, based on one truth which is revealed in sacred Scripture.  We are united in one Lord Jesus Christ who has suffered and died for sinners.  We are united by one Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets and the apostles to give us the very word of God.  Our Father in heaven is the same loving, merciful Father of us all. 
     By grace, our Triune God has united us to each other as the body of Christ.  This does not rob you of your personality.  It does not take away what is unique about you.  Rather, it takes what is unique about you and joins you to others who have been blessed with different gifts and abilities.  We all serve each other and seek the good of one another; for God has given us all to each other and united us for our good.
     We are united to each other by grace.  St. Paul also encourages us to be strengthened in the Christian faith—to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13)  Once again, this is not something that we do.  You cannot make yourself grow any more than you can go into a farmer's field and make the corn grow fuller or taller.  Strengthening and growth are both God's work.  God carries this work out through his word which is preached, read, and studied.  When we come to God's house to hear and study his word, or when we read our Bibles at home, we are giving God the opportunity to work in us through that word to increase our faith, our knowledge, and our maturity.  In that word, God reveals who he is, what he is like, what he wants, and what his will is.  And the more we are strengthened in those things, the more we are conformed to the likeness of Jesus.
     We are united and strengthened by grace.  It is God's will that you grow in the knowledge of his word and become more mature in your faith.  St. Paul gives you a most significant reason why: “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:14)  To nelgect the word of God is to open yourself up to being deceived by false teachings.  Satan has not stopped being crafty, and he seeks to lead you astray.
     St. Paul reminds us: “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14)  Satan's lies are cloaked in godly-sounding language.  If Satan told you a bald-faced lie, you would be smart enough to recognize it for what it is.  But Satan tries his hardest to sound like Jesus.  He distorts God's word just a little bit so that you will turn away from God's truth to trust in something else.
     There are too many examples of these deceitful teachings to consider, so we will limit ourselves to one.  It is quite popular to hear people say, “I just felt that the Lord wanted me to do this or was telling me to do that.”  But, how can you know that the Lord is the author of your feelings?  In an extreme example of this claim, there have been Christians who have murdered doctors who perform abortions.  They know that abortion is murder, and that those who commit such murders are sinning against God and taking human lives.  They claim, “I just felt the Lord wanted me to put a stop to their horrible actions.”  Do not doubt their sincerity, but they are horribly wrong.  The Lord has not assigned us to take the law into our own hands and to prevent all of society's ills.  The God who decreed, “You shall not murder,” does not sanction the murder of anyone, even criminals, no matter how much you might feel compelled to act.
     God's name is invoked on much smaller issues, too.  We just feel God wants us to do something.  How do you know that it is God who makes you feel that way?  How do you know it isn't the devil?  Or is it perhaps something that you really want to do, but it sounds better to put God's approval on it?  Even if your desire to do something is helpful, by saying “I feel that God wants me to do this,” it also means that you are sinning against God if you change your mind or find out your plans won't work.
     If you put your faith in your feelings, you have abandoned God's word—no matter how pious or powerful your feelings are.  If you want to guard against being deceived, then devote yourself to God's word.  God has spelled out very clearly what his will is in the Holy Bible.  He tells you what is good so that you can devote yourself to it and do it.  He exposes what is evil so that you can rid yourself of it and flee from it.  In many places, God remains silent, granting you the freedom to do what you like.  God does not dictate what kind of car you should drive, who your favorite team should be, or what color you should paint your bathroom.  But when God's word directs you, you don't have to wonder if you are being deceived.  You have the confidence that your life and your faith are firmly founded on God's word.
     We are united and strengthened by grace.  We join together at church for the benefits God prepares and gives to us.  For “he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12)  The Lord does not give you a Bible and tell you to do your best with it.  He joins you to a church where his ministers preach that word to you—to instruct you, admonish you, enlighten you, and comfort you.  He joins you to fellow Christians who make a common confession for mutual consolation, encouragement to walk in a manner worthy of your calling, and to bear with one another in love and prayer.  These things do not happen by accident.  God has graciously worked in your lives to bring you together for each other's good.  God has united you to himselff and sustains and strengthens you by his word.  That word is where you will know God's saving truth.  That word makes you sure of his grace.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Monday, July 30, 2018

2018 Vacation -- Arizona & Utah, part 1

I have been overdue in posting some photos for our vacation, and now that I am finally on it, I am discovering that there are too many photos to consider.  Since I cannot bring myself to limit the vacation photos to only the best of the best of the best, I am breaking up our vacation into parts.

Part 1 covers Monday, June 4 - Wednesday, June 6.

When I make plans, I am pretty sure I can hear God laughing.  Our intent was to hit the road from Laura's parents' house in Indiana pretty early.  I wanted to put in about a 15 hour day on the road so that we could get out west and enjoy it for as long as possible.  Instead, I spent hours at their house replacing an adapter for the electic hookup, and then buying and replacing the springs on the camper.  What was supposed to be a 5:00 AM departure time ended up being a 1:00 PM departure time.  If there was good news to be had, the repairs were done safely in the Schmidt driveway and not on the side of the road somewhere.

Even with the abbreviated day on the road, we got almost as far as Kansas City, MO on the first day.  On Tuesday, we hit Colorado and began our trek through the Rockies.  That is where we lost our first camper tire.  We always bring two spares.  (Did I hear God laughing again?)  We found out that one of the brand new spares we had brought had five holes for the tire.  Our camper has four holes for the lug nuts.  So, one spare was absolutely useless.  We put on the other spare, but now we had no spares.

After a few hours of driving around Silverthorne looking for a tire place, or at least a place that sells trailer tires, we were told to try the next town up, Frisco.  Good news: We found several tire places in Frisco.  Bad news, they were closed for the night.  But by this time, it was getting late anyway.  We settled in at Heaton Bay Campground in the White River National Forest in the Rocky Mountains.  It would have been nicer if we had stayed their on our own volition instead of as a necessity.  Nevertheless, the setting was a beautiful.

Wednesday morning meant breaking camp and getting our flat tire replaced.  We stopped at Big O Tires where Denis was going to do his best to get our tire replaced fast so we could hit the road again.  Unfortunately, despite what his computer told him, he did not have the tire in stock.  He sent us over to another tire place where we bought the tire (it would have been hours there for them to mount it).  We brought it back to Big O Tires as he instructed us, and he mounted it for us immediately -- and for FREE!  Denis went above and beyond the call for us.  Big shout out to Denis!

We were back on the road before Noon.  We drove past a brush fire on the opposite side of I-70.  (We are pretty sure an RV blew a tire and the time, scraping the road, ignited the dry, dry grass on the shoulder.)  It was not a big fire and it seemed that it was going to be quickly contained.  But to say that we endured a brush fire makes our trek sound like much more of an adventure.

We enjoyed lunch at the welcome center in Grand Junction, Colorado and then we got to Utah.  Our hope was to get all the way to Zion National Park.  We had asked Faith which National Park she wanted to see with us--Zion or Arches.  She had chosen Arches.  (And God laughed.)  But too many late starts and delays meant there was no way we would get to Zion and actually see anything.  So, we drove to the closer of the two, Arches.  After we enjoyed a lot of the scenery along the Colorado River (state highway 128) along the way to Moab, we settled in at the KOA in Moab.  We even got into Arches in the late afternoon to see some of it.  The remainder waited for Thursday.

Photos from Monday, June 4 - Wednesday, June 6:

I-70 into the Rockies

Utah state highway 128, heading to Moab, UT.

Stopping along the Colorado River

Moab KOA.

Landscape Arch

Skyline Arch
Sand Dune Arch

Fiery Furnace