Deuteronomy 1:31

_

“There you saw how the  Lord  your God carried your burden, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

_

The picture above is of an area called the Rainbow Lakes, located just over one hundred miles from Billings, Montana high in the Rockies. The small, pristine lakes on this high plateau are strung together for several miles. The hiking is easy and the fishing is great. But it’s not easy to get there. The last leg of a long hike up to this area is a series of switchbacks which gain in elevation one thousand feet every mile.

My first encounter with this area was in the late 1970’s while serving as a youth pastor in Minnesota. The kids in the flat lands always want to go to the mountains! So we put a two week trek together and headed for Christikon Bible Camp in the Galatin range of Montana. Christikon is at the very end of the road, high in the mountains at the foot of the Rainbow Lakes. After a day to get ready, we set out with 20 teenagers to reach the lakes. Things didn’t go too badly until we reached the switchbacks. One by one the train of hikers stretched out as some fell farther behind. Stops became more frequent. Finally one of the kids, Kathy, dropped her pack, sat down and declared defeat. She could not go on. None of the hikes back in Minnesota had prepared her for this.

 

“Isn’t there some other way?”, she asked.

“No”, I replied. If your going to make it to the lakes, there is no other way.”

“But the pack is too heavy. I can’t carry it.”

At that point I could have sent her back to the bible camp where she could have spent the rest of the trip with the on -site campers. Instead I had her pack strapped on to mine and with the load taken from her she was able to make it the rest of the way as the other kids encouraged her on.

We arrived at the top of the beautiful plateau and found a shady spot to rest. After a few minutes I called everyone together. 

“What just happened?”, I asked.

“We almost died from exhaustion!”, one of the boys called out. Everyone laughed.

“That’s for sure!”, I said.

“I also want you to think about this. We just went through something that looks a lot like the life of faith. The way can be very hard. We may even want to quit. But when we come to that hard place, Christ Jesus is always there to take the burden from us. And because He is with us, leading us on, we can dare to push on and support and care for one another. And look around! When he finally brings us to the place of promise it will be awesome!”

 

Postscript: Before that day Kathy was the princess of the group, if you get my drift. After that day and for as long as I was her pastor, she became one of the most helpful and caring kids I have been blessed to know. Funny how that works!

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_

Psalm 118:24

_

“This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

_

The bridge section in the photo above is all that remains of the Ponte Rotto, one of the most ancient bridges in Rome, and the first stone bridge erected there by the Roman engineers.  The shoreline on either side is inaccessible but from its’ top you get a great view of the moment.

As Linda and I  stood there pondering this antiquated rock pile the words of a song came to my mind. ‘The past is past and tomorrow is not here – only what we do for Jesus today will last.’ It’s not the best of lyrics but it does carry a point. Yesterday is gone and no retrieval of its’ opportunities is possible. Yesterday has been written and the ink is dry. Tomorrow is yet to be. I assume it will come but it may not. I may not lean forward to catch a glimpse, nor does a hint of tomorrow come like the first blush of sunrise, long before the rising.

God has designed our lives in such a way that we live in the present moment. Really, faith is not possible under any other circumstance. I am called to entrust my past to God, to believe that it has been carried up into His forgiveness. In a similar way I entrust tomorrow to God’s purpose and look forward in hope. Both directions are inaccessible to me as I live between the already and the not yet.

So here we are at the threshold of a new and untried day. Like someone peering out from the vantage point of that ancient bridge, we have one option, to breathe in the moment and take hold of this day. For people of faith today is enough.

On that October morning in Rome as we stood gazing at the day unfolding around us, another lyric came to mind, that of the Psalmist; “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_

John 3:16

_

“For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son…”

_

I make a habit of striking up conversations while standing in line at the grocery store. It helps to pass the time, provides opportunity to meet someone new and, perhaps, share the faith. Not long ago I was chatting with a woman who, upon learning I was a pastor, made the statement, “I’m very spiritual and religious but  I don’t go to church.” She went on to describe her spirituality. She spoke quite generally about some sort of god and spirit and feeling and nature. It was rather vague and subjective. I replied by saying that although a pastor, I was not very spiritual or religious. She was rather surpised at this. “Then what do you talk about?” , she asked.  “Jesus”, I answered. “Everything we are looking for in what we call religion and spirituality are found in Jesus.” Before she could respond it was time to check out. As she pushed her cart away she looked back at me with a slight smile and a somewhat puzzled expression. I considered it a good days work!

The essence of the Christian message is this; “For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son…”. This ought to be good news to serious seekers after God. The fact that it is not calls into question just how serious all this talk about seeking God really is. Some sort of god on my terms perhaps, but the True God? I’m not so sure.

God has taken the guesswork out of religion and spirituality and has revealed Himself with pinpoint accuracy in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is the human face of God. In Jesus and His gospel God seeks us. What Jesus says and does are the words and deeds of God. Read the gospels. See for yourself. Here is a man passionate about justice, set firmly against evil, eager to be with the outclassed and the outcast, available to all, full of grace, determined to make all things new, brimming over with truth, so much a part of God they are one, big enough to carry suffering, even death, so committed in love to the sinner that even death could not hold Him. What’s not to like?

So, you can have a vague spirituality cobbled together out of, well, whatever. Or you can have Jesus. Friend of sinners, Prince of Peace, the Living Water, the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd, the One who seeks the lost. I could go on but you get the point. There is nothing vague about Jesus. The faith, hope, love, grace, mercy and forgiveness that are in Him are as real and refreshing as rain. And they are for you!

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_

_

Philippians 4:13

_

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” 

_

Sociologists tell us that much of life is reactionary. Life comes at us at point blank range and we must react. Under such circumstances fatalism emerges as an explanation of events. We have no real control of anything.

There is something to this. The impacted character of the modern world reflects formational and dominational forces that are akin to the principalities and powers of which the New Testament speaks. They are on the loose and on our hands. And because the enlightened, scientific world has decided that the spiritual is bunk, we are left to ourselves to invent ways to describe and attempt some kind of control of events and the forces that are their causes. if you haven’t noticed, this self-management project isn’t going too well.

Jesus said to His disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” This wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of humanity’s competency apart from God. It is a flat statement of a sobering truth. The human project, broken from its’ moorings to the Living God, will inevitably be shipwrecked. This is among the clearest lessons of history. But it’s only part of the story.

The one who made this statement, pointing out our powerlessness, is also the one who has committed Himself to us in love, who gave Himself on the cross and was raised for our justification. Knowing this, St. Paul could say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The Christian life is proactive because it is rooted in the God who “seeks and saves the lost.” All the verbs in the New Testament which describe the activity of the Church and the individual Christian, have one subject…God in Christ working through the Holy Spirit.

Apart from this God the world and the Church have no prospects. With Him, all things are possible and a gracious, hopeful future is assured.

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_

Hebrews 12

“Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

_

Every day our noses are rubbed in the calamaties and arguments playing out on the world stage. Closer to home the brittle conflicts in our own society are driving people farther apart as the melting pot boils over in rancor and mistrust. Our personal lives struggle with faltering financial assumptions and the pressures and stressses of a too rapidly changing, even chaotic life. The current state of affairs brings forth a question; dare we be joyful? 

I am not referring here to those experiences or possessions with which we temporarily maroon ourselves from the world and its’ troubles; happiness, pleasures, having fun or good times. These, after all, are not synonymous with joy.  The use of joy within the Christian family is something different.

When the Scriptures refer to joy it is always to be understood in relation to God. But are we speaking here of an invitation to or an imperative to enter a kind of monastic life where we may escape the seething, hurting world, and have a life of meditation and prayer with God where we achieve a kind of inner tranquility and joy? Is that what our Lord wants?

The book of Hebrews points to Jesus,  “…the pioneer and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” The motif or context of the crucifixion was in a joy that was held for Him.

Writing from his imprisonment in Rome, St. Paul encouraged the Philippian congregation to “Rejoice in the Lord always,” so that there must be on the part of God a hope, an invitation, even a command to be joyful in the fact that he has come to us in Christ Jesus.

The joy of the Christian is in God Himself. St. Paul could write joyfully from his imprisonment because his consciousness of the Lord was greater than his self-consciousness. He would not treat his sufferings as if they were greater than His Lord.

Yes, the Christian may dare to have joy. Not because life is easy and everything is coming up roses but because our Lord is with us. By His cross and resurrection He has reconciled us to God, the source of true joy and our everlasting hope.

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_

1 Corinthians 15:3

_

“I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”

_

In this political season I commend to you the following article by Pastor Rolf Hanson. I served as Rolf’s youth director during my last year at the seminary and learned much from him about ministry. This post is a bit longer than usual but worth the read. There is much wisdom here…and a challenge to those who use the puplit to advance political agendas.

Politics in the Pulpit: A Way to Supplant the Gospel

Word and Word, 1988

Rolf G. Hanson

In the branch of Lutheranism where I was raised, instructed, and ordained, the sermon was an exposition of the Word of God that declared the forgiveness of sins. The gospel was the message of the love of God in Jesus Christ, of Jesus’ gracious and merciful act which has purchased, freed, and redeemed people from their lostness and guilt. It was a message that called forth faith. The gospel was not an appeal for a budget, a report from a church convention or church auxiliary, an environmental, political, social or educational commercial, or a travelogue by the bishop or a missionary on furlough; nor was the pulpit time to be taken over by a clown show, musical presentation, or some other form of show and tell.

My preachers and teachers believed that people were created to be in a certain relationship to God, and they wanted everyone to know assuredly how that relationship came about. They knew, as St. Paul has taught, that if a person were in that right relationship with God the right relationship to one another would inevitably follow.

My mentors were not isolated or insensitive to the ills and meanness of life on this planet. They lived in it. One set of my grandparents lost seven children in five weeks to diptheria. My grandfather found his greatest consolation in his belief that Jesus, as the Scriptures told him, had ascended to the right hand of the Father. He could never understand why the Lutherans he knew in America didn’t make much of a fuss over Ascension Day.

My father left seminary to join the Navy medical Corps in W.W.I and spent his time with the wounded and dying. In my childhood home my parents provided shelter for an uncle ruined by the depression, numerous girls who were moving out into society from a Wisconsin orphanage, and an invalid grandmother whose witness to the gospel had great inspiration for our lives. My father believed the pulpit was too important to discuss anything but what St. Paul told the Corinthians: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.” My father and my professors believed the point of departure in time was the cross and not the amoeba. The call of Christianity was not first and foremost a call to good works, to do away with evil, to straighten out either Caesar or Caiaphas, not even a call to faith. The call of Christianity was a call to what St. John fingered as the Life – Jesus the Life of the people.

I have never seen, read or heard anything that convinces me that politics has any place in the pulpit. I do believe that it is the church’s assignment to make conditions in this world as good as possible and to so so by honorable means. It is also the church’s assignment not to associate those conditions with the Kingdom of God. I recall C.S.. Lewis once remarking that political sermons teach the parishioners nothing except what newspapers are taken at the rectory.

The gospel has exclusive rights to the Sunday morning pulpit. The preaching of the gospel is important because it is the power of God unto salvation. In every assembly of hearers there may be one or several who will be in a traumatic situation or be dead before the next Sunday. They need to be clearly reminded of the comfort of Christ’s resurrection.

On a recent Good Friday I went to a church home for the infirm to visit several parishioners. In the worship space of that place a congregation had gathered. The preacher was reminding them of the evils of illiteracy in the inner city; but the gospel declares the liberation from the enslavement to sin and death. That gospel of liberation is good news to those who know they are dying and great comfort to those who suddenly realize it. It is also courage to those who survive.

The preaching of the gospel is in total contrast to political opinions concerning justice. It declares, as Lutherans are supposed to know and as all should hear, the marvelous doctrine of grace. We receive forgiveness and righteousness before God by grace for Christ’s sake, through faith. That’s the theme in glory. The preaching of the gospel brings an eschatological emphasis which is not the same as what the politicians have in mind. It is like the assurance that my grandfather had – the final victory is Christ’s. Angels called this “Good News of Great Joy,” and it went far beyond a fair price for mutton.

The concern of the pulpit is not between a preacher and government, or a listener and antagonists; first and foremost it is about Christ and the sinner. The pulpit is too important for anything else.

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_

 

 

Isaiah 29:16

_

“You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding?”

_

He sat in my study filled with guilt, clutching his Bible. He wore repentance like a thorny crown. Out poured the anecdotes as he gave evidence against himself. He seemed earnest, even sincere. But this was no confession. This was the perverted pride of self-loathing. He sought confirmation of his guilt, not his innocence in Christ.

I can think of nothing more wearisome or graceless than the piety of self-deprecation. When the New Testament says that Christians should not think more highly of ourselves than we ought, it is not prohibiting the healthy self-regard that accompanies a living faith. When we circulate around our sin and nurture our deficiencies, we miss the point of the Christian life. The promise of baptism is that we are in God’s hands. He has taken hold of us in Christ and has promised to keep us together with Him, making His life our own, giving us all the gifts of the Gospel.

In his wonderful book, Diary of an Old Soul,19th century author and pastor George MacDonald put it this way;

 

‘Tis that I am not good–that is enough;

I pry no farther–that is not the way.

Here, O my potter, is thy making stuff!

Set thy wheel going; let it whir and play.

The chips in me, the stones, the straws, the sand,

Cast them out with fine separating hand,

And make a vessel of thy yielding clay.

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_