From dust you came….

Ashes on Head

Do you realize that you are created in the image of God? You are wonderfully made, unlike any other creature that has life upon the earth. Our Lord not only formed you from dust at Creation, but He breathed the breath of life into you. Yes, you are in the image of God. That’s what we find in Genesis 1:26. In this season we are reminded that we were formed by God out of dust. That is meant to humble us, but we mustn’t forget that we are more than just dust, but we are special being formed in the image of God with the breath of God breathed into us.

The tragedy is that we are so deceived in our world. That deception began in the Garden shortly after we were formed. It began with the words of the Serpent that deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden beginning with the words, “Did God actually say…?” (Genesis 3:1)Genesis 3 The difficulty of this questions has troubled us ever since the Fall. So much so that the norm of the world is to make this a myth, a tale which has great spiritual implications but is not to be read as being a historical account. In fact, for those of us that believe and trust in the Creation account as being a trustworthy account that is meant to be believed and read as history. This account has been replaced by the ideas that Darwin presented that have boiled all of creation into animals evolved over millions of years in which death and suffering predated the creation of man and the creation of man was not in God but a chance evolution from a lower being. Our status as image bearers of God is removed and replaced with the status of being just another animal.

In this worldly model life is boiled down to the simple elements of usefulness. A baby forming in the womb is just a blob of cells that is only valued to the desire of the mother and to be removed if it is an inconvenience. Daily thousands of babies are killed for the sake of convenience with the words, “This is MY body!” being shouted out for those of us that would speak to the salvation of the baby. We are even seen as being simple-minded if we call the baby in the womb a baby, but are corrected that the baby is a fetus and not yet a baby. Abortion on demand is deemed a right because it is only good for those that desire to have a baby and sex is no longer an act of intimacy to be enjoyed in the bonds of marriage, but a recreational activity that is to be enjoyed between two consenting adults. The sexual revolution has made sex a tool and people as objects of pleasure. As long as both parties consent, do as you please, follow your bliss, and be true to yourself.

Why do we wonder why people treat others like objects? Why does it surprise us when somebody kills another that bothers them? That is what animals do, isn’t it? A common argument that those that deny God and think of themselves as good is this, “If you need God to make you good, you’re not good anyway.” But outside of God, now understand this, God reveals Himself in creation in a natural revelation. He is not fully known by all, in fact, when we look to nature and the violence and volatility we seen within it we find a god that we must appease. In some cultures this was through animal sacrifices, but we also see it in how we treat and care for creation. The survival of the fittest is the norm of the land. How do we define good? Well, outside of the faith that we find in the Bible and fulfilled in Christ Jesus, good is an subjective term based upon what one feels is good for them or a group determines is good for the society. In this mentality it is good to kill those that cannot care for themselves or may place a burden on the group as a whole. Ultimately, good becomes whatever feels good and may be limited by the harm it may bring to larger society. If two people come together and one enjoys pain and the other enjoys giving pain, what business is it of ours unless they cross a line and one dies. If one feels that they no longer want to live, let them take their life. That is the difficulty we live in.

In light of the recent tragedy in Parkland, FL we see the fulness of this as we see a loner feel justified in the taking of life, probably wishing for infamy. Now, I am saddened by the fights that arise as sides become entrenched on the tool of death but what is of greater sadness is how many miss the point completely. In a society that believes in death on demand whether it be abortion or euthanasia (sometimes called death with dignity) why should we expect less? Families are being torn apart for the sake of comfort. Worship of God has been replaced with the worship of self in sport, comfort, and being able to do as you please, self-gratification. Marriage has been recreated as just a contractual relationship that is between two adults as long as they are “in love” with one another that can easily be dissolved by court order. The image bearer title is diminished further and further.

In this season of Lent, we are given a great opportunity to reflect and pray on these things. To reflect on the struggles we face and how we fail and fall short in our care for others, our trusting in God, and our love of our Lord’s Creation. It is a season of penitence, but also renewal. The desire is not to creat guilt or shame, but renewal and rebirth. As we are humbled, we are also reminded of the love of our God and how we bear His image. Hopefully, this will help in renewing faith and help us go out into the world with a renewed purpose to share the love of God with others. That is my prayer. I pray this not only for others, but for myself. As in this season, God lifts much from my shoulders and I seek to reflect Him more in my living. May His light reflect more greatly from you also. Amen.

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The Great Divide

We humans are easily tempted. We are tempted by everything that surrounds us. This picture is a great representation for that. If I were selling wine, this would be an excellent picture. It has many aesthetically pleasing elements that one could find within this simple photograph. In looking at an image all our senses can be stimulated and depending on where your temptations lie a different aspect of this picture will have a different appeal. Ultimately, our nature is tempted to things that are contrary to the will of God. Paul struggled with this in his ministry and he speaks of it often in his writing most notably we can look at Romans 7:15,“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (ESV) He further goes on to speak of how sin binds our flesh, however we are freed through Christ. Now he does not excuse sin with this understanding, but it highlights the need for Christ. On our own the battle is hopeless, but in Christ…there is hope.

I have had many a discussion with Christians about the bondage of our will, being a Lutheran and in agreement with Luther’s Christian understanding, particularly when it comes to the Will, I enjoy the discussion. When I hear the term “free will,” I laugh inside because I have found that left to my own choices I would be without hope and finding myself the fool. I have felt the transforming work of God in my life and continue to be amazed as his hand continues to shape and transform me. Personally, I know that there is a lot more work to be done on me by God. This is not meant to be spoken as self-abasement or false-humility, just a reality that I will not be right until the good Lord takes me from this mortal coil. My hope is that my witness points to Christ and that others come to know Him through my positive witness and in spite of my shortcomings (I do hope that the latter is greater!).

The reality is that in our lives there is a great chasm. A divide in us that we are unable to traverse by our own power.  This divide is what we are and what God reveals that He desires for us to be. No matter how much we strive to cross this divide we will fail on our own. Christ, however, guides us in our lives so that we do not fall in and eventually we will be carried over at the end.

This divide is dangerous because the reality of our fallenness is kept to the forefront of our hearts. The hopelessness of relying upon the concept of “free will” and choosing God is part of the churning waters that much of the world struggles against. When the struggles of life overcome it leads to despair and hopelessness and often masks the love that our Lord has for all of His creation. I see the struggles of this world overwhelm many as the temptations of this world have become too much. Some have taken a permanent solution to a temporary reality in the taking of their own lives, while others have closed the door of faith in Christ and turned to faith in self.  Christ desires for you to know Him, but, ultimately, to understand that you are known by Him. In this realization, there is no loneliness or hopelessness but the eternal promises stand firm in Him. May Christ’s peace fill your heart and your mind in faith to eternal life. Amen.

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O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

wood manger.jpgThat is one of my favorite hymns. The ancient hymn has such a tone that is surreal and set apart. The words, solemn yet hopeful, build up with “rejoice, rejoice!” The words just resonate so deep within me. The thirteenth-century words with a tune from and a cathedral psalter of similar age show reveal a timeless knowledge and yearning. Christ has come, Christ will return, Come Lord Jesus. Christ’s return is long awaited. There are those that wish to rush it, but our Lord will not be influenced by our desires in this. God will return in his time.

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:36–44, ESV)

Though, many times we are impatient, there is a great grace in this. That grace gives us time to share with our loved ones, friends, and others in our communities who do not yet know Jesus Christ or believe in him as Lord and Savior.  This is difficult, though. The struggles that we face day to day inside and outside of the Church make my heart yearn for Christ’s return. Though, I think of the imagery of the Flood that Jesus points to in his parable. Then I think of the horror it must have been for Noah and his family being the sole survivors that God chose as I am sure that there were cries and screams heard by those outside as they were being overwhelmed by the quickly rising waters. Many of those were people that they had known and loved, but had probably scoffed at invitations and warnings presented by Noah and his family over the years of preparation. That may be one of the things that haunted him as Noah overindulged in the fruits of the harvest and became drunk with wine.

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.” (Genesis 9:20–23, ESV)

The punishment given to Ham’s descendants through Canaan may seem harsh, but may also point to something further. Ham also lost much in the flood, it can be certain that friends and family that he loved were also gone and there may have been some disdain that he held against his father for all that had happened. This, of course, is not clear but the response of Noah and, ultimately, God show that there were some great issues in the relationship with Ham that was much more than just he had seen his fathers nakedness. It is about the desire of Ham to reveal his father’s shame.

The flood did not remove sin from creation because sin is something deep within us on this side of paradise. God had foretold of this,

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, ESV)

Sin would only be covered through his own work by entering into his own creation. Each year we celebrate this miracle on Christmas and in Advent we sing our praises as we await his return. It was in that rough wood of a manger that we find our Lord, which points us to the rough wood of the Cross that would be the fulfillment that is realized in the Resurrection.

During this season of Advent, may your heart be filled with a renewed vigor to share the Good News of our Lord and his first coming as we await his second. “O Come, O Come,  Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”

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To be Redeemed

No Storm - small.jpgSometimes during a study interesting things come out. I want to share a recent interaction focusing on sin, grace, and redemption. It ultimately centered addressing sin and the fact that we, as Christians, still sin. Some may not agree with this understanding, but, as a Christian who loves the Theology of the Cross, it is a reality that cries out to me.

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:7–8, ESV)

It is humbling to realizing that, though I sin and fall short daily, I am redeemed in Christ Jesus. I don’t celebrate my shortcomings, but realize that that is a reality and Paul even shares this reality as he wrote,

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:15–20, ESV)

This is not an excuse, but a reality that we struggle against. This struggle is a daily struggle that requires daily renewal. A killing of that old, sinful Adam so that Christ rises up in me. This reality begins at baptism and ends in the fullness of redemption received when we enter into glory with our Lord when we are made into the fullness of God’s original intent for us as his creation. We bear his image, and in the end, we will be returned to the fullness of that glory. That is a part of the journey that all who call themselves Christian are upon. It isn’t a process that ends at baptism, but a struggle against that which causes us to not do that which, if we were right with God, we would do.

Now, this does not excuse willfully sinning, meaning that if we are to go out and make a plan that makes it alright. By God’s Word we may be forgiven of those sins when we repent, but if a person truly believes in God why would one willfully sin? It is an injury upon self to sin, so in the realization of that sin, it causes pain. The scar of the past wounds from sin, though being redeemed, remain as a reminder of what Christ has truly done. The beauty of this knowledge is that Christ washes it ALL away. He does not hold any of it against anyone who cries out to him. Personally, that is the driving force of the proclamation of the Gospel because in the realization of the fullness of that forgiveness promised in the redemptive waters of baptism. It is the reason. The reminder to give to those who are dying, which we all are daily. Words of hope and promise because God loves us that much. He never gives up and never let’s go.

For me to remind us of that is the reminder for those of us that know our salvation is in Christ Jesus the importance of sharing the love of Christ with everyone. We aren’t to walk in guilt and shame but with joy and hope. At the same time, we are not called to guilt others for their short-comings. We are called to come with Christ’s own restorative words.

Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.'” (John 4:10, ESV)

Drink deeply!

 

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Holy Conversations

Lamp & CoinAs a pastor, I am given a great many opportunities to talk to people especially about faith. This is often much to the chagrin of my family because they don’t always occur at the most convenient of times. I would say that most often they are not at convenient times. Usually, when I say that something shouldn’t take long that is when something happens and these conversations occur. Last night, I came home from a meeting that I had told my wife shouldn’t be long. Well, I ended up having a great conversation and faith issues came up and I ended up home about an hour and a half later than I expected. It was with a grandmother and her granddaughter. The conversation ended up with some faith questions of the granddaughter, a teenage girl with questions. In the midst of that some great and deep issues came up and it just felt good. I came home and apologized and shared with my wife my thoughts on the conversation, but a comment my wife brought up that I said has struck me, “I jinxed myself, every time I say it shouldn’t be long it’s like God says, ‘Nope, I’ve got something more in store for you.'” Well, never before has a conversation had a greater importance in my recollection because as this grandmother and granddaughter were driving home the car they were in was struck and both were killed. I have a great many mixed emotions about this, but my prayer is that the faith affirming words I shared with the granddaughter prepared her for when the Lord called her home. One part of the conversation that sticks with me now is when I shared with her Romans 10:13, “All who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” I am thankful for the opportunity and sad that two lives were lost, but am more emboldened in not allowing for moments for God conversations to be missed. You never know what impact words may have in the lives of another, especially if the last conversation they have is with you.

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Worship On Wednesday

Worship-on-Wednesday

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Ark Encounter

If you are able to go! I would highly recommend this! It is awesome!

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