Pastor's Update Archive: 2010

  Pastor's Update Archive: 2010  
January 2010
"Spiritual Resolutions"

It happens every year at this time. There's something about passing from the old year into the new year that gives one a sense of starting over. Entering into a new year is like wiping the slate clean and starting fresh. It matters not if our jobs, our situations, and the people in our lives are the same on January 1 as they were on December 31. Behind us are the mistakes of the old year. Ahead is the optimism of the new year. This "fresh slate" thinking is no doubt why so many people make new year's resolutions. Turning over a new year just seems like the right time to adopt new and positive changes in our lives.

There's a part of that "new year's resolution" thinking that isn't all that bad. It's a good thing to occasionally take an introspective look at our lives, and weed out those things which are undesirable, and try to cultivate positive traits in our lives. Who can argue with a person wanting to better themselves?

One of the problems, of course, is that success or failure in being faithful to those new year's resolutions is dependent upon one's will power and determination. For example, a resolution to lose some unwanted pounds in the new year will require a continued determination to keep away from some of the foods the person likes to eat, and to get more exercise. It will take will power to do that. We all know how difficult that can be to do, especially over several months. Or, if a person resolves to become a more organized person, it will take constant effort and discipline to put things in their proper places, to adopt practical filing systems, and to write down appointments. Again, new disciplines never come easy. Or, as the saying goes in German, “Jeder Anfang ist schwer” - “Every beginning is difficult”.

As God's people we also put an emphasis on spiritual betterment—on growing in our faith-relationship with God, and more and more having our lives reflect Christ-like qualities. When it comes to spiritual resolutions, thank God we are not dependent upon our own will-power and determination! There is another dynamic power at work within us, who helps us in our "spiritual resolutions". That "power" is the Holy Spirit. It is he who works in us the will and determination to follow Christ and grow in him, for he causes us to see the love of God in Christ and respond to that love.

You've no doubt seen the phrase "What Would Jesus Do?" Also written as "WWJD", it is found on shirts, bracelets, bumper stickers, and billboards. Unfortunately, that well-intentioned little phrase encourages Godly behavior on the basis of mimicry. "Do what Jesus would do”, it tells us. But telling someone to act like Jesus without supplying the motivation to act like Jesus will finally result in a legalistic performance of duty. You cannot expect sanctification (godly lives) without justification (the message that we are declared forgiven in Christ). It is the heart, not just the outward actions, that needs to be changed. If we change that saying to read “What DID Jesus Do?”, then we have the motivation to lead godly lives.  The Holy Spirit works through that Gospel message to bring people to faith and keep them growing. We see the need to keep hearing the Gospel message over and over again!

As we make the Word of God our companion in life, our faith-relationship with God will grow. Romans 10:17: "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." Not only is this so, but as we let that Word work through our hearts and minds, it will help develop Christian character. Galatians 5:22-25 reminds us: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." 

May all of us resolve to grow, through the Word and with the Spirit's help, in our faith and in our Christian character!

February 2010
"A Wonderful Fellowship Revisited"

In the lead article of the Messenger for March, 2007, entitled, "A Wonderful and Eternal Fellowship", I had written about the fellowship that exists among WELS believers on the island of Maui in the Hawaiian islands. Having had the privilege of returning there last week, I’d like to give you a little update on that group of believers, and some thoughts I had after worshipping with them.

Sunday, January 31, again found us in the living room of one of the elders of this Maui congregation for worship. They had remembered us after three years, and welcomed us warmly. On this particular Sunday morning there were about as many visitors as congregation members (about 6 of each). We used computer-driven Hymnsoft for the worship music. The readings and sermon were read by another elder, who received that sermon via email from a WELS pastor. And there, in that living room, we worshipped and were refreshed by the Word.

Later, I thought about this small group of believers, who for many years have made the effort to join together to worship. How easy it would be for them to say, "We are only a few. Our numbers haven't grown much over the years. We don’t have a church building proper. We could just save the time, effort, and gas money of getting together, and each individually tune into some WELS church's internet podcast in our own homes." But this small congregation of believers recognizes the importance of corporate worship, and the value of fellowship with like-minded believers. They understand that the real emphasis is on hearing the true Word of God and worshipping Him in spirit and in truth, not on necessarily having a lot of "churchy" surroundings. And every week, they make the effort, for the glory of the Lord, for their spiritual benefit, and for those WELS members who visit Maui.

Here at Christ Lutheran we have a nice facility to worship and fellowship in. That’s a real blessing of God! But it’s that focus on the Word of Truth and the real life, real strength, and divine guidance it gives us, that is most important. May we never take that for granted, or make anything more important than that!

Also, right before the service, a phone call was made to some members of the extended family of one of the elders, who lived on another island where there are no WELS services. The phone was set down close to where the music and the readings were taking place, so that that family could also take part in worship with their fellow believers. After the worship service, that same phone was passed around to everyone so that the "regular" members could all say "Hi", and so that we new members could introduce ourselves. Now, in most other situations, I might have felt awkward introducing myself to a perfect stranger over the phone and telling them things about myself. But not here. I didn’t even know what the person on the other end of the line looked like, but this I DID know—they were my brothers and sisters in Christ, who believed as I did. They valued my being there, and I valued them making the effort in being there—even by phone.

Do we value each other’s fellowship, each other’s presence at worship? Do we remember that, when we come to worship, we are also doing that for the mutual encouragement and spiritual benefit of our brothers and sisters in Christ? I hope we do.  "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching." -- Hebrews 10:25

March 2010
"How Can I Be Happy When I'm Crying?"

Be happy while you’re crying? I don’t think so. Most tears come because of sorrow. People usually cry because something bad has happened to them or someone they love.  But Jesus says that Christians are happy even when they’re crying.

To understand what Jesus is saying, one must first understand why Christians cry. Christians cry for  many of the same reasons everyone else cries. They cry at funerals. They cry when someone has been cruel to them. They cry when they hear a very sad story.

Christians can cry when they realize how horribly they have hurt someone. The burden of guilt weighs heavily on their hearts and brings them to tears. Christians cry when they think of bad things they have done. They know that they deserve nothing from God but a punishment that never ends.

So where is the happiness?

Happiness comes in knowing that, while se deserve only the worst from God, he has given us only the best. When we mourn because of guilt, our Savior dries our moist eyes. When hearts are heavy with sadness, Jesus puts his hand under our chins and lifts our eyes to see his cross, where he made all of our guilt and all of the sorrow connected to that guilt his own. Jesus looks at you and me and says, “Be at peace. Your sins are forgiven. Your sins are gone.”

Sure, Christians still cry, but Christians find comfort in the midst of their tears. This comfort is for you, too.

It is a comfort that brings calm in the face of all kinds of tears. Jesus gives you the peace of knowing that death is not a final defeat, but a doorway to much more glorious and perfect existence. Jesus assures you that being mistreated by others does not mean that God has abandoned you. Jesus assures you that when you are lonely and feel unloved, you have a God who is always with you and loves you more than you can imagine. Jesus fills you with the sure hope that all of the hurt and evil in this world cannot rob you of the forgiveness, salvation, and hope that you have.

Can there really be happiness even when you are crying? Yes, because Jesus is our comfort. How he feels toward us, what he’s won for us, what he’s promised to us always gives us a source of comfort—an “inner smile”, if you will— even in the face of circumstances that cause our tears to flow.

April 2010
"Death is Defeated! We Will Live Happily Ever After!"

Many things are scary. Watching your infant wiggle out of the car carrier that you had momentarily set on the table - that's scary. Having a car swerve in front of you in heavy traffic - that's scary. But of all the scary things, death for many people is the scariest.

It's scary because of what we know and don't know. We know death is certain. Its cloud hangs over us at every intersection, or every consult with our doctor, and during every violent storm. What we don't know is what dying is like (people don't get to do it over and over again and share their experiences with others), or when the exact hour of our death will come. We don't know if it will come quickly or if it will be painful.

If there is no God, then death is the end and that's it. If so, the death may be final and sad, but it's hardly something to be afraid of. However, if there is an existence after death and God waiting to judge us for the things we have done, then death is more than sad. It's scary.

God does exist - there's no question about that. The Bible pinpoints the greatest fear about dying and facing God: "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). Yes, that's scary.

If it were up to us to find the happiness in the face of death, we would be on an impossible journey. What we need to calm our fears and to find happiness is for someone to do something about death. The good news at the heart and core of the Christian faith, of course, is that someone has. Jesus has!

God, who awaits you after death, sent Jesus to destroy death's fear. Jesus began that work by perfectly obeying God's law for you. Then he traded places with you. He gave you his perfect life in exchange for your sins. And so, with your sins laid on him, God punished him in our place. Jesus suffered a most horrible death, which satisfied God's demand that sin be punished. With sin completely punished and paid for, we are forgiven of that sin. With sin forgiven, death loses its power. "The wages of sin is death", but if sin is forgiven and gone, death is no longer our punishment. To top it all off, Jesus rose from the dead, an act which proclaims our justification before God, because by raising Jesus from the dead, God declared that Christ's death had fulfilled its purpose, that sin was atoned for, and that he had accepted that atonement. "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification." (Romans 4:25)

Jesus' resurrection likewise shows that Jesus has overcome death for us as well. Death could not hold him under its power then, and death will not hold us under its power on Judgment Day, when, with one almighty command our Lord will release our bodies from our death-sleep once and for all.

Believe this good news, and know for sure that God waits for you with open arms to welcome you into his heaven. That is why God tells us in Revelation 14:13: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on."

The unknown experience of death may still be scary for you, but because death has been conquered by Jesus Christ, you can live happily. In fact, you will live happily every after!

May 2010
"A Historical Look at Confirmation"

On the first Sunday in May we will once again observe the Rite of Confirmation in our church. This year, five young people will vow to remain true to God and to the Christian doctrines which they have come to know. It will be an important day in their lives. The vow they take on that day is no less serious a vow than that taken by couples in marriage or a pastor at his ordination.

Unlike Baptism or the Lord's Supper, which are sacraments, there is no command in Scripture to have a Rite of Confirmation. Of course, Christian training of the young, general instruction of God's people so as to bring about maturation in the faith, the importance of being able to examine one's self spiritually and "discerning the Lord's body" when taking Holy Communion - these things Scripture does direct us to do. In the first century, before new converts were baptized, they went through a course of intensive instruction and observation of Christian life and worship lasting anywhere from one to three years. In that time they could worship with the Christian congregation, by they could not partake of the Sacrament. Now, this was the procedure with unbaptized converts to the faith, not those previously baptized into the faith as infants. Nevertheless, it shows the importance the Church orginally placed on instruction before becoming a communicant member.

In connection with the practice of "confirming" those who were baptized as infants, some claim that this practice had its roots in a 5th century ceremony involving a "laying on of hands" upon the person some time after their baptism, accompanied by a prayer for the Holy Spirit to continue to work in that person's life. In the late 10th century, a different rite appeared in some regions (and unheard of in others) wherein the local bishop laid his hands on the young person (as young as five years old) and prayed for and encouraged the child to become "God's champion." A rite of dedication more than anything else, it was a "pact" between the child and the Church.

This "confirming" by the Church continued through the Reformation era and beyond, but it was in the Reformation era that Luther and others changed the practice of Confirmation to make it A) a ceremony signifying the end of a period of Catechetical instruction, B) a public and personal declaration by the young person of their baptismal faith (a "confirmation" of the faith that began in them at baptism), C) a rite which ushered the youth into a responsible participation in the Lord's Supper and active membership in the congregation. The "laying on of hands" in blessing was a part of the ceremony. Reminiscent of the laying on of hands in the ordination of a pastor, it signified the young person's "ordination" into the universal priesthood of believers into which the child was called in Baptism. Our present-day rite of Confirmation is very similar to that of Luther's day, both in the ceremony itself and in its significance. One thing is for sure - it is a great spiritual milestone in the lives of these young Christians! Let us all pray that the Lord would help them remain true to their Confirmation vows!

June 2010
"Satisfying Your Hunger"

Have you ever been really, REALLY hungry? Not as in, "I missed breakfast this morning," but as in you went days without eating and weren't sure when you would eat your next meal? What a terrible, desparate feeling that must be. People who go on diets can't say they know that kind of hunger, but they speak of feeling hungry all the same. Being hungry is not a pleasant feeling.

Jesus once said that it's actually great to be hungry all of the time.  In fact, it makes you happy. But listen to the "hunger" he is talking about: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (Matthew 5:6). The only hunger that makes someone happy is the hunger for righteousness.

Jesus used the word "righteousness" to talk about two related blessings for his followers. First of all, righteousness is being declared "not guilty" by God. It's an acquittal. Righteousness means that God the Judge looks at you and declares you not guilty of all your sins because Jesus covers you in his holiness.  Jesus' holiness becomes your holiness in God's sight. That's righteousness and it's a gift that is received by those who put their trust in Jesus their Savior. Flowing from this gift is another one. When you know that God has forgiven your sins you want to respond by doing things God's way. This too, is righteousness. Jesus says that when you long for God's "not guilty" verdict, you will also long for ways to say "thank you" with your life. You will hunger for righteousness in the sense that you will hunger to live righteously.

There's lots of spiritual junk food out there, and it may seem like your soul's hunger will be satisfied by it. What about the idea that if you're pretty good or just try a little harder or are better than the next guy, then God will have to accept you? That's not real righteousness. It's self-righteousness and it's a spiritual Twinkie that can never truly satisfy your spiritual needs.

Instead, by hungry for Jesus' righteousness. Yearn for the forgiveness only he can supply and receive it by trusting in him. And then stay hungry. Stay hungry for making the words and deeds of your life a big "Thank you" to God who sent his Son Jesus for you. To be hungry for righteousness is to be happy... and satisfied.

July 2010
"Freedom in Christ - The Only Way to Live"

July 4th will find Americans celebrating our country's independence. Perhaps they will get together with friends or family and have a backyard barbecue. Maybe they will watch a parade or fireworks. Maybe they will hand Old Glory on a pole outside the house. And I'd like to think that at least once during the course of the day, each American will take a moment to reflect on the freedoms that are ours in this country, and the price tag of sacrificed lives that goes with that freedom.

Freedom... liberty... democracy... the words make us thankful and pround to be Americans. Yes, even in the face of rumored terrorist plans.  Even in the uncertain years after 9/11.  Even though the threat of terrorism is still out there and it still has the potential to cause pain and sadness - we know that we are still a free people. And we rejoice in this! And we encourage other countries to strive to ensure the same freedoms and rights for their people. We do this because we are confident that, despite abuses and imperfections in our own government, a government by the people and for the people, rich with personal freedoms, is still the best government there is.

How very similar to our lives as Christians! As people who see Jesus as our Savior, we are secure in our liberty from sin, death and hell.  This makes us happy and grateful, even though sin - the Devil's form of terrorism - continues to plague us. To be sure, sin causes pain and sadness in our lives. But it can NEVER take away our freedom. When Jesus cried out on the cross, "It is finished!", our eternal freedom was assured. Nothing can reverse that divine decree. We are liberated from sin also in this, that as new creations in Christ, sin does not have to dominate our thinking and doing. And as we reflect on the "price tag" associated with our freedom, and God's love for us that that sacrifice demonstrates, we are moved to love God back and motivated to obey his will for us and carry out his kingdom work.

Are there problems and imperfections in Christ's church? Most certainly! But the problem lies not with Christ or his Word. The problems arise from sinful human beings. While the sinful human nature does not have to dominate our lives, some do let it carry them away. False doctrines, hypocrisy, sexual abuse by clergy, churches and televangelist ministries that focus too much on money, and ministries which have replaced the real Gospel with a social gospel - these are but a few of the "problems and imperfections" besetting Christ's church today.

And yet, we encourage others to become Christians, to see Christ as Lord and Savior, because we are confident that being a Christian is the BEST way, the ONLY way to live. There is no other path to heaven besides Christ. And there is no other life that offers the freedoms and blessings that life in Christ does. Freedom in Christ is the only way to live!

August 2010
"The Ultimate Comfort Through Jesus"

"In the midst of life we are in death. Of whom may we seek comfort but you, O Lord?" So reads the opening sentence of the order of service entitled “At the Grave” in my Lutheran liturgical book. Whenever I have read those words before, it was always at a graveside service, where those who are gathered at the grave are painfully aware of the reality of death. I remember visiting a church cemetery in Minnesota where my father-in-law’s only brother—a stillborn—was buried in 1938. The "old section" of that cemetery has a memorial marker that displayed some sad statistics. In that section of the cemetery, the graves were as follows: 32 graves of children who died at birth; 37 graves of children who died at the age of 1-10 years; and 39 graves of adults. Almost 2/3 of the graves were children! We saw one double grave where two sisters, ages 7 and 14, had died 3 months apart. Evidently, there had been a series of severe epidemics which claimed so many young lives. Yes, even at those times when life seems so vibrant and sure—childhood—death was right there.

Truly, "in the midst of life we are in death." It's a reminder that death may come for us at any time. We need to be ready. We are "ready" when we look to Jesus as our only Savior, and we remain in a state of readiness by actively reinforcing and reaffirming that truth in our lives.

Let's be sure to emphasize and rejoice in the positive here—we ARE ready for death through Jesus! Thank God for that! We don’t have to be afraid of death, for we know what awaits us on the other side—a face-to-face relationship with our Savior. A wonderful, eternal feast! A final and eternal reunion with family and friends who died believing in Jesus! Sure, in the midst of life we are in death. But so what? Jesus has robbed death of its sting!

"Of whom may we seek comfort but you, O Lord?" I remember standing in sober contemplation at the graves of those children in that Minnesota church cemetery. As I stood there, I thought of all of the intense sadness that must have accompanied the death of each and every one. The grief shared by parents and siblings. The emotional scars that would probably last a lifetime for those people. As a parent, it made me very sad to think about it. But this was the cemetery of one of our Lutheran churches, and I also could not help but imagine how every one of those surviving family members sought comfort in their intense grief, how they clung in faith to the only One who could dry their tears with the certainty that their loved ones were with Jesus, and the certain hope of a resurrection. No one else can comfort us in death as can the Lord of Life and Death. Sooner or later, all of us will need to cling to that comfort. Thank God he gives us that comfort through Jesus!

September 2010
"An Invitation to GROW"

"Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17).

With these words, the Apostle Paul under inspiration of the Holy Spirit reminds us that if we want to grow in our faith lives, in our spiritual maturity, if we want to have an increasingly close walk with God, we must spend time with God’s Word. Hearing, reading, and studying the Word are what we mean by “spending time” with God’s Word. Of course, after we hear, read, and study that Word, we need to submit to that Word and meditate on how we can apply that Word to our lives for it to effect the changes God wants in our lives.

When we think of hearing the Word, the first thing that comes to mind is attendance at worship. That’s where we are most used to hearing God’s Word. It’s an important part of our faith lives, to be sure. When we think of reading God’s Word, we generally think of reading the Bible on our own or reading something like Meditations on a regular basis. This is also important, because spending a little time with God’s Word every day helps keep us spiritually alert and strong against temptations, which don’t take a break or come to us only on Sundays. When we talk about studying the Word of God, we generally think of Bible Class.

It’s this last one—Bible class—that I’d like to promote in this month’s lead article.

Bible Class is a wonderful opportunity to do all three of the above—hear, read, and study the Word. In addition, Bible class allows us to share spiritual insights with each other. It’s comforting to know that others struggle with the same things you do! Bible class gives a person an opportunity to ask questions of the pastor—an opportunity that doesn’t come during the worship service or in one’s personal devotions at home.

One can participate as much or as little as one wants to in Bible class. Some of our members like to read the Scripture passages and are open about sharing things. Others in the class prefer to mostly sit and listen. Either way is fine! No one will pressure you to read or offer anything if you don’t want to. Here’s a great Bible class fallacy: Bible class is for “mature Christians” only. Bible class is for EVERYONE, no matter what level you feel your faith life is at. In fact, one could argue that Bible class is exactly where one should be if they feel insecure about their knowledge of God’s Word and its teachings. Remember, every mature Christian was at one time an immature Christian.  They grew in maturity only as they spent time with God’s Word. So, don’t let “my faith and knowledge are weak” excuses keep you from coming to Bible Class. Come with an open mind and heart, and let the Holy Spirit help you grow in your faith.

Allow me to share a personal note with you. Every Sunday when I step into the pulpit, as the hymn is ending, I pray the same prayer every time. It goes like this: “Lord, bless the words of my mouth, that your will be done: the beginning of faith, the strengthening of faith, the salvation of our souls, and the glorification of your name. Amen.” As that prayer indicates, your spiritual growth is one of my greatest concerns as your pastor. I’m conscious of that when I prepare and deliver a sermon. But that’s also why I’m inviting YOU to Bible class.     

Won’t you please come?

October 2010
"Biblical Truth - Ours to Have and to Hold (and to Humbly Rejoice in and Share!"

You know, it's easy to take for granted the things that are near and dear to us. We see them every day, and we somehow feel as if they will always be there. The reality is, however, that they may not always be there. Whether it be people that we love, our health, our jobs, our homes - there is no guarantee that any of these things will be here one year from now. Loved ones die; health can be lost due to injury, disease or old age; people get laid off and sometimes have no financial recourse but to sell their homes. Any of these can be "here today and gone tomorrow."

Do we ever take our faith and our Lutheran heritage for granted? When was the last time you truly thanked God for the gift of faith he gave you so long ago and which he has kept alive inside of you? When was the last time you thanked God that you belong to a fellowship of believers in the WELS where the entire Bible is understood to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God, where the focus is on Law and Gospel, where Biblical truths are proclaimed and not clouded by so much "fluff and entertainment" as we see in many churches today?

I understand that my last statement above may sound a bit arrogant - you know, the old "my church is right and yours is wrong" thing. No, the WELS isn't perfect in its every effort to carry out Kingdom work. And much good is done for the Kingdom by church bodies outside of the WELS. Nevertheless, the true litmus test of a fellowship of believers is whether their beliefs are truly Biblical. And when I examine the teachings and practices of the WELS and our congregation, I cannot but help say, "we've got it right" (if I didn't believe that, I would be in some other fellowship, right?). It is not arrogance to acknowledge a clear blessing from the hand of God when we pray, "Thank you for putting me in a church body that proclaims your Word in its truth and purity."

God has graciously preserved the truth to us. As we later this month celebrate the Reformation, we will give him thanks and praise for his grace, and ask him to help us be mindful of and grateful for that grace throughout the rest of the year, so that we respond with hearts and lives that seek to do his will and carry out kingdom business always.

We are benefactors of generations of people who made great effort and sacrifice to ensure that the truth was passed down. Truth so carefully preserved and passed on to us, by the grace of God, obligates us to do the same. We start by praying that we ourselves won't neglect or take for granted those truths in our personal lives. We make every effort to hang on to the truth and not let go. We won't hang onto it for more than a generation if we don't help ensure that our children know it well (do I need to make a pitch for Christian education, Sunday school, teen Bible class and home devotions here?). Truth given is truth to share. First in our homes and then with others. This is at the heart and soul of Jesus' Great Commission, "Go and teach all nations..."

We dishonor our Lutheran heritage - and worse, our God - if we take for granted or neglect the great truths of the Reformation: "grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone." To lose these through neglect is to fail as Christians, and to fail in regard to our salvation. So we strive to never take this wonderful blessing from God for granted, but rather seek to apply these truths and share these truths in the way God wants us to. Let's be humble, thankful recipients of Reformation blessings, and be people of God who are eager to perpetuate the truth by sharing the truth.

November 2010
"Are we there yet? Soon..."

"But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief."  — 2 Peter 3:8-10 

Every parent, I think, has experienced it...You’re taking a trip in the car with the kids in back. The trip will be a few hours, and the kids get antsy. Their excitement over the anticipated destination only fuels their impatience. And finally one of them says it: "Are we there yet?" Before the trip is completed, this phrase might be repeated several times, by more than one child. Young children don’t seem to “get” the concept of time when travelling, and so they keep asking this question (often to our great annoyance!). When our family used to go on a several hour drive, and our children would ask "Are we there yet?", we would try to get them to understand the concept of time by relating the time until we got there in "Barney time". The popular children’s show "Barney" would last one-half hour, so if our destination was 90 minutes away, we would tell them that it would be "about 3 Barney shows" before we’d get there. That would help them relate to about how long it would take. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces when, on one particular trip, we told them that our destination was 8 Barney shows away—I thought they were going to faint!

As we enter the last month of the Church year, our worship services and sermons focus on the End Times. And we admit—sometimes, the waiting gets long also for Christians who wait for Judgment Day. And for those whose lives are full of pain and suffering, or for those who long to be reunited with their departed Christian loved ones again, the waiting can be almost unbearable. I’m sure every believer has imagined—and hoped—that Judgment Day might come during their lifetime. In the heart of every believer there is the longing to be really “home”. "For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life." -  2 Corinthians 5:4.

And the critics of the Christian faith and of God’s Word often smirk when they hear talk about "Judgment Day coming soon." They interpret the fact that Jesus’ promised coming hasn’t happened yet as a broken promise by God. They see it as a sign that God isn’t powerful enough to make good on his promise, or that he isn’t truthful, or maybe that he doesn’t really exist at all—and that Christians, consequently, are mislead and foolish. Even Christians can, in weakness, ask themselves the question, “When is He ever going to come?” But the Lord isn’t slow in keeping his promise. In fact, when that great and awesome day comes, there will no doubt be many an unbeliever who will be saying, "I wish it hadn’t come so soon! I needed a little more time to get my act together!"

We obviously don’t know when Jesus will return. He will come "like a thief", that is, when we least expect it. Until then, our Lord wants us to be faithful, watchful, and joyful. Faithful, monitoring and feeding our faith-relationship with God, and busily using our time and talents to further his kingdom interests. Watchful, taking care not to let anything distract us from our heavenly goal or jeopardize our salvation. Joyful, as we are certain that he will keep his promise and will come again and take us to be with him in heaven’s glory. And whenever our hearts impatiently ask,"How much longer, Lord?" , we must always have the mindset: "Soon."

December 2010
"How to Keep Your Checkbook Full At Christmas"

“All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.” Those of you 50 years old and older probably remember that song by Don Gardner. The main goal of the young child was to have his two front teeth back, which he had lost, so that he could wish you a “Merry Christmas”, instead of  “Mewwy Chwithmath”. The little boy’s request seems so simple, so stress-free, so undemanding.

Do you remember a time like that? Do you remember a time when the world seemed so stress-free? Do you remember a time when life was so simple?

Christmas is right around the corner (like, no one knows that, right?) The coming of Christmas has been advertised even before Thanksgiving—decorations have been up in stores since October. For the first time this year, I heard Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Television and radio commercials have been reminding us that we only have “X” number of days before Christmas. There’s so much for all of us to do!

Decorations! Parties! Presents! And children don’t just ask for their two front teeth anymore. They want an X-Box 360, PS3, and IPods to keep them happy. But can I be happy when I’m busting my budget for Christmas?

For help this Christmas season, remember the Bible verse from Psalm 118:26: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” There was a time when God showed us something so simple, so stress-free, so undemanding. It happened about 2,000 years ago.

Shepherds went to visit a newborn baby. No kings, no queens, no rulers—just lowly shepherds. And when they got there, this baby did not seem so special. No fancy hospitals, no doctors, no nurses, no fanfare. Just a young Judean couple of lowly means, and their infant son Jesus wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. While it wasn’t exactly a stress-free time for Joseph and Mary, hurrying to find a place of shelter in a crowded city in which to have their baby. But from our undemanding.

Here is the place where you find your answer when you seem to be busting your budget for Christmas. Do what the shepherds did! Go to Bethlehem this Christmas season. Look in the manger and see your Savior.

No, you won’t find some extra cash there to restore your checkbook to a healthy balance. OK, I’m sorry if the title to this article was a bit misleading in that sense! BUT... you will find happiness, peace, and contentment for your soul. You will find a Savior who loves you and will never leave you. You will find a Savior who will fill your spiritual checkbook with many blessings that can never be depleted. Forgiveness. Spiritual life. Heaven. Promises for living and dying. And keeping that spiritual checkbook full is more important than anything else.