Pastor's Update Archive: 2011

  Pastor's Update Archive: 2011  

January 2011
"Unchanging Hope for an Ever-Changing World"

As one year ends and another begins, columnists and commentators look back at the previous year. What changed? What stayed the same? Whose passing did we mourn? Whose new arrival did we celebrate?

At the same time, we make predictions about the coming year. What will the new year hold? What will change? What will stay the same?

As fun and exciting as it may be to reminisce about the past and dream about the future, it can also be a little sad and scary. Things will likely never be what they used to be. Loved ones who have passed away don't come back. Jobs that are lost seldom reappear quickly. Even when broken dreams and broken relationships are repaired, they rarely return to their former glory. Many times our experiences in an ever-changing world are difficult.

Yet we sometimes look at our lives and see a need for change. Many of us make New Year's resolutions: "I'm going to exercise more and eat less." "I'm going to save more and spend less." "I'm going to love more and hate less." But all too often, our good intentions disappear, and only poor excuses remain.

No matter what (or who) changes from one year to the next, there is one who never changes - Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He always exists, from before time, throughout the course of time, and at the end of time for eternity. Jesus loved you before you were even born. He loves you today, and he will always love you.

That's what Christmas is all about. Jesus loved you so much that he wanted you to experience his unchanging love forever. So he came into the world to live up to God's perfect demands in your place. He took the punishment for your imperfection and gave you the reward for his perfection. That reward is an eternity far away from this world's sorrows and disappointments - the unchanging peace and joy of a place called heaven.

Jesus - the same yesterday, today, and forever - promises to be with us, to love us, to care for us, and to give perfect peace with God to all who trust in him. Only Jesus offers the unchanging hope to an ever-changing world.

February 2011
"Jesus, the Great Storm-Stiller"

The year 2010 was a welcome year for northern Wisconsin in regard to rainfall. For several years we had lived under drought conditions. The waters of the Willow Reservoir (about 45 minuters from here) had receded by as much as 14 feet. But this past year, we had lots of rainfall and we saw our lakes and reservoirs start to fill up again. That was a blessing!

But a few of those heavy rains also caused some water to seep into the parsonage basement. It wasn't a lot of water, but enough to make me have to get out the wet-vac and vacuum up several gallons of water that thankfully stayed on cement areas and didn't reach any rugs. As I vacuumed up the water, I felt a little sorry for those people who from time to time have the kind of basement flooding where they are up to their knees in water and many things are destroyed.

Sometimes, the floods of life come into our lives and we find ourselves knee-deep in a sea of trouble. Not the kind of trouble like the car breaking down or a basement flooding. No, I mean the kind of trouble that turns your stomach into knots. The kind of trouble that weighs you down with guilt and shame. You get caught. You hurt feelings. You lost a friend or a spouse. These aren't the kinds of trouble that just just go away. You can't just vacuum them up and throw them down a sink. These troubles keep you up at night, as our brains like to lay awake and catalog the day's mistakes. Yes, we all face our respective "storms of life."

The disciples faced a real storm one day out on the Sea of Galilee. The didn't know what to do. They didn't know how they were going to survive. They were knee-deep in a sea of trouble and getting deeper. "Master, we're going to drown!" Now, Jesus could have simply ignored them. And, they might have made it through without his help. But as we learn so often in the Gospel accounts, Jesus never ignores the ones he loves or refuses to help.

The same is true for us. The storms of life come. The waves of guilt wash over us and we feel like we're going to drown. But the Lord comes to our aid. "Be still!" He calms our anxious fears. "Be still!" He takes away our guilt. "Be still!" And the storm subsides.

The greatest storm we face is the storm of sin. But even that terrible squall is no match for the rebuke of Jesus. With one act, Jesus did away with sin and guilt forever. He died on a cross and his death paid for our sins. Jesus' cry "It is finished!" rebuked the storm of sin and it went away.

Knee-deep in trouble? We've all been there. But Jesus rescued us. His miracle of calming the storm reminds us of how he calms the great storms we face in life. It's something to celebrate. It's something worth finding out more about by attending church, Sunday school or Bible class. It's worth our investment of time as we have family devotions and read our Bible at home.

Whether it's the storms of life or the storms of the soul, you can count on Jesus to be there for you.


March 2011
"Lives Changed by the Story of Lent"

"For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." 2 Cor. 5:14-15

During our country’s Civil War, a farmer named Thomas Blake of Hallston, Kentucky, was drafted as a soldier.  He was deeply concerned about leaving his family, as his wife had recently died and there would be no one to take care of his children in his absence. The day before he was to leave for the army, his neighbor Charlie Durham came to visit him. "Blake," he said, "I've been thinking. Your children need you here at home, so I've decided to go in your place." The farmer was so overwhelmed that for a few moments he was speechless.  The offer seemed too good to be true.  He grasped the hand of the young man and praised God for this one who was willing to go as his substitute.  

Charlie went to the front-lines and fought nobly. But sad to say, he was shot and killed in the first battle. When the farmer heard the news, he immediately saddled his horse and rode out to the battlefield. After searching for some time, he found the body of his friend. He arranged to have it buried in the churchyard near the spot where they had often stopped to talk after worship services. On a piece of marble he carved an inscription with his own hands. It was roughly done, but tears fell with every  blow of the hammer on the chisel. He placed the marker on the grave of his devoted substitute. Many villagers wept as they read the brief but touching inscription:  HE DIED FOR ME.

During Lent we listen with humble gratitude once again to the greatest story ever told—God becoming man’s substitute to do for him what man could not do for himself. The God-man Jesus as our substitute lived a perfect life and fulfilled all the requirements of God’s Law, where we could not. As our substitute he endured the full storehouse of God’s wrath over the collective sins of mankind. As our substitute he was forsaken by God, experiencing in that forsakenness the very pains of hell. The living and dying merits of our substitute Jesus, God attributes to us. We simply believe the truth set forth in Scripture that this is so. How you and I are led to marvel at the mercy and love of our  God for lost sinners! The question is, how will you and I respond to that wonderful love? Will you live for him who died for you? Will you dedicate your life to the one who became poor so that you could be eternally rich?

An eagerness to hear more of God’s Word...a zeal to grow in our faith-relationship with Him...a firm resolve to turn away form our "pet sins"...the willingness to serve Him by serving our congregation and others...the burning desire to tell others about our Savior God and what He’s done for us...these are all appropriate responses this Lenten season from people who are grateful to their Substitute, people who look to the cross and say with solemn yet joyful hearts: HE DIED FOR ME. Lent is the story of God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrifice. Your life is the story of your response.


April 2011
"Easter - It's All About YOU"

“Happy Holidays!” Does that sound out of place in April? It doesn’t have to. This month marks arguably the most important holiday of the year—Easter. And Easter is all about YOU. That sounds kind of strange to hear it said like that. After all, isn’t Easter all about JESUS? Isn’t it all about Him coming to life, about Him conquering death, about God declaring us justified through Jesus’ resurrection? Yes, we do focus on all that Jesus did, and give Him the glory for it! But let’s also consider why Easter is all about YOU.

Our Lord Jesus could have chosen not to die. He had the power to stop his murderers. He had the power to walk away from the cross, to shut the mouths of all who cried out “Crucify him!”. At any point he could have simply left earth and returned to the glorious heaven he left. But Jesus willingly chose to live as one of us. He who is true God, who made the set the laws and parameters for the physical universe, willingly chose to subject himself to those physical laws and take on a human body, with all of its limitations and weaknesses. That One who orders sinful man to obey his laws, himself took on a body so that he could obey those very laws perfectly in our place. Jesus never sinned, not even once. He was determined to suffer and die. Why would a God go through such humility and effort? The answer is simple. He did it for YOU.

God looked down from heaven and saw mankind mired in his sin and filth and rebellion...but chose to love us anyway. We have not loved God perfectly and we have not loved our neighbor perfectly, For that, God should have made us pay with our physical death and with our eternal torment in hell. Instead, he sent his Son to take our sins upon himself and be punished in our place. Why would God take on a body so that he could feel pain and suffer the punishment his rebellious creation deserved? Again, It’s all about YOU.

And the best part is, Jesus rose from the dead! And just who are the real benefactors of that resurrection? It’s YOU! Because Jesus rose, YOU are declared righteous. Because Jesus conquered death, YOU shall conquer death. Because God declares you righteous for Jesus’ sake, YOU have a place in heaven waiting for you. Perhaps it is best said in Jesus’ own words: “Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19).

In connection with Easter, when it comes to giving thanks and praise and honor and glory, then it’s all about Jesus! But as to the question of who benefits, it’s all about YOU.


May 2011
"The Force is Still With Us"

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”  — 1 Corinthians 2:12     

If you are old enough to remember the movie “Star Wars”, then you probably remember the popular catch-phrase from that movie, “May the force be with you.” When spoken to a person, this phrase was a wish that “the force”—a vague, cosmic aura of power—would be with and strengthen the person as they faced the evil powers of darkness.

As Christians, we also have a force working for us and in us. This force is vital for spiritual and eternal life, and aids us in the struggle against the powers of darkness. But this force is not a vague, cosmic aura. This force has a name. He is the Holy Spirit. He is the third person of the Godhead. And instead of saying “may the force be with you,” you will hear Christians say both privately and in public worship, “The Lord be with you.”

God’s people have always possessed the Spirit of God. Unless the Spirit resides in your heart, you cannot believe in the true God. This was true in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. In the Psalms, for example, King David often acknowledges the involvement of the Spirit of God in his life. Nevertheless, in fulfillment of the words of the prophet Joel in the Old Testament, a time would come when God would give a more complete outpouring of his Spirit on his people. This “fuller outpouring” began on the Day of Pentecost. And from that Day of Pentecost on, what wondrous power was evidenced by that Spirit, and what wonderful things were done by his power!

It was seen immediately on the Day of Pentecost. Timid disciples who were unsure of how they were to carry out the Great Commission Jesus had given them, were transformed into fearless witnesses with a purpose that no power could deter them from. It was seen in the conversion of 3,000 people on the Day of Pentecost alone. And that was just the beginning of the “Gospel explosion.”

In less than 100 years after Pentecost, the Gospel of Christ was carried as far as Spain to the west, India to the east, and Ethiopia to the south. It took three more centuries for the Gospel to arrive in the northern reaches of Europe, but it did. The Christian faith gained and its ranks grew because people who were attracted to Christ had their lives changed. When people were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, they came to know that peace that passes all understanding. The followers of Christ were known to demonstrate enormous courage under persecution. Roman authorities tried to stamp out the Church by persecuting those who claimed Christ as Savior. The plan backfired. Those who were torn apart by wild animals in Roman arenas for the entertainment of the emperor and his guests faced their deaths so courageously that others were attracted to the faith rather than repulsed by it.

The power and work of the Spirit is seen today in bold confessions of faith under persecution. It is seen in great concern for—and zealous efforts in behalf of—Christ’s kingdom. But how few those concerned, courageous, and zealous people are! If courage, conviction, and zeal is lacking in the Church today, the fault lies in the apathy and laziness of kingdom members and their unwillingness to invite the Spirit into their lives through the means he has given us to do that—Word and Sacrament. The Spirit’s gifts and grace are not irresistable—they can be rejected. But make no mistake—the “Force” is still with us! The Comforter and Counselor of God, the Giver of life, is there, waiting to pour out his gifts of a stronger, more mature faith, and the boldness and zeal with which to proclaim it. God grant that we tap into the Spirit’s vast storehouse of power, that we may see Pentecost’s power revisited in our lives!


June 2011
"Be Thankful for New Life"

I just love this season of the year. As spring progresses, everything that once seemed to suffer from the “death” of winter’s cold has now come to life. Trees that once looked bare and dead are now exploding with buds and new growth. Dark and silent winter mornings have given way to mornings where the sun rises early, and the sound of singing birds is heard as the day dawns. Butterflies now grace the air, and bugs and small creatures of every kind are scurrying around. And if one takes the time to notice all of these things, and see the new life that God causes to arise every spring, one is moved to praise God from a joy-filed heart.

No less a miracle—and no less a cause for praise to God— is the way God raises us up from the darkness of spiritual death to spiritual life. In the miracle of baptism the power of God’s Word used with the water creates saving faith in the heart of a young child, so that the child now has faith in Jesus as its Savior and therefore, spiritual life. In those who come to saving faith later in life and then are baptized, the miracle of conversion is no less wonderful, for only the power of God’s Word can change a heart that is by nature sinful and  opposed to God into a heart that trusts in that same God for salvation. This is being “born again” to a new life. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” Jesus reminds Nicodemus and us in John 3:6.

This new life that we have in Christ is just that—a NEW life. Not only is there a change in our status before God, but our very lives themselves change. No longer are our lives governed only by the sinful nature, but now the Spirit of God living in us continues to urge us to keep in step with the beat of God’s drum. We grow both in our knowledge of God’s will for our lives and in the desire to do that will of God. Therefore, the new life we have in Christ is a new life on the inside that will also show itself on the outside.

As redeemed children of God, this new life is ours right now. "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).  Nothing, not even physical death, will be able to interrupt this life. As spring turns to summer and we see the renewal of life all around us, and praise God for it, may we also praise him for the new spiritual life that he has given us!

July 2011
"Surfside Lessons on God's Blessings"

“The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”

On our recent family vacation to the San Francisco area, we had the opportunity to spend some time looking for sea shells on beaches in the Bay area. One particular beach washed up more shells than the others, so we spent lots of our “shelling” time there. This little excursion brought to mind some lessons about God’s blessings.

As each wave would roll in, and then recede, suddenly a nice shell would appear, seemingly out of nowhere.  There was no rhyme or reason as to when a shell would appear—it seemed to be simply at the whim of the ocean. And yet, we knew that they would eventually come, if we were patient. God’s blessings to us are often that way. When we are in need, we must be patient (James 5:7-8). God has promised to bless us and take care of us. But we must let the “when” and the “how” to Him. Unlike the ocean, there IS a rhyme and reason to God’s blessings for us—they will be EXACTLY the right blessing we need at the right time, with each and every one of them thoughtfully planned out by a God who knows our every need (Matthew 6:32), is absolutely reliable (Psalm 145:13-16), and gives only good and perfect gifts (James 1:17).

Often, we would see a wave bring up a good shell, but before we could run over and get it, a new wave would come in and take it away. It was funny to watch my daughter yelling “NOOO!” as a new wave would wash away a shell she was running after. Often, we see things in life that we think are good for us, but God withholds them or removes them from us. In His wisdom, God knows best what gifts to give us—and which ones to withhold from us, knowing that they would be harmful for us in our walk as Christians.

Sometimes, we’d see a small portion of the shell sticking out of the sand, and mistake it for a broken piece, which we would ignore. But then another wave would come in and recede, pulling more sand away, revealing the “insignificant piece” to be in reality a nice, large shell. God’s blessings are like that, too. Sometimes those blessings seem small and even insignificant at the time. But then a following series of events come which reveal the true worth of that blessing. A brief “chance” conversation with a stranger that later results in them coming to our church and becoming a member. Or another example. I was hauling something in my trailer behind my truck last week, and noticed that one of the tie-down straps had come loose. Oh, bother! I hate pulling over on the side of the freeway! But, when I went back to take care of the tie-down, I notice that I had carelessly neglected to securely latch the trailer hitch to the ball on the truck! Whew—glad I stopped! Rather, I’m glad God turned the broken shell of the inconvenient stop on the freeway into a nice shell of blessing in averting a loose or lost trailer!

The beach we collected shells on was not a swimming beach. The waves were large and pounding, and there were all kinds of warning signs about deadly undertows in the area. About 20 feet out, the sand sloped abruptly into about four to five feet of water. If you “slid down” that drop off, there was no telling what the waves and current would do to you. But I could see so many nice shells just off that drop-off! I wanted to chance it, but common sense—and love for my family—kept me from doing something stupid. In our lives, too, so many things that seem “fun” and “fulfilling” are just outside of the boundaries of God’s Law. They are sinful—but they seem so appealing! What a blessing we have in God’s Word, which warns and teaches us about the folly and inevitable bad end of following sinful paths! What a blessings that we are compelled by the love of Christ and the urgings of the New Man inside of us to obey our God and turn away from things that anger and displease Him.

Surfside lessons on God’s blessings—may we thank Him for all his goodness to us!


August 2011
"It Won't Last Forever"

Last week my wife and I and some friends attended a concert given by “The Beach Boys”, a rock group that is celebrating 50 years of existence since they began in 1961. Now, the Beach Boys are my all-time favorite music group, so it was a real treat to see them. But, after 50 years, what is left of the original 5-man group are two men (ages 69 and 70) whose voices and energy level are obviously not what they used to be. Two of the original band members have died, and one no longer tours with the group. The trademark falsetto harmonies of the group are mostly done by “other” band members.

One of the hit songs that the group sang at the concert was “When I Grow Up To Be A Man”, and speaks of the changes in thought and attitude that often happen as one grows older. Throughout the song the background vocalists continue to count the years “21...22...23...” etc. And there is this refrain in the song: “It’s kind of sad—it won’t last forever.” As they sang this song and I heard that refrain, I got a little lump in my throat as I was watching these once young music idols now turned old men. I’m sure my feelings of sadness were enhanced by my own awareness of my own advancing age and the changes they are bringing to my own life. “It’s kind of sad—it won’t last forever.” Indeed.  Not for the Beach Boys. Not for me. Not for anyone.

How true are the Words of God in connection with the passing things of this world! “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:24-26). Sure, often people’s accomplishments (leadership, heroism, sports, music, etc.) will be remembered long after they are gone, but what of it? On Judgment Day this world as we know it will be destroyed. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” Everything we ever knew of this world will be forgotten, as “the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

We often feel sad to know that the things of this world, including us, will pass away. Our carnal side wants to hang onto the things of this world with iron grip, for they are the only things our flesh focuses on. But with God’s people, it is different. Faith looks beyond the here and now of this world, to better things. Thus, in the face of our own mortality, and things fading and passing away all around us, we have optimism, joy, and peace. That’s because we look forward to heaven! In the verse right before the one listed above from 1 Peter, the author writes: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God.” Because we by God’s grace have been born again through the Word, “we” will never die the eternal death of the unbeliever. We will live on forever in heaven in the presence of God.

Our knowledge of that fact determines how we live and where our priorities lie and where our energies go. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21). “It won’t last forever.” Nope, not here it won’t. But with God, in heaven, it will.

September 2011
"An Invitation from Your Shepherd"

“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.

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. It’s an important part of my being your spiritual shepherd. 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? Consider this both an invitation from your earthly shepherd, and from your Good Shepherd.

October 2011
"Have 'Salvation Anxiety'? The Gospel Gives the Certain Hope of Heaven!"

Life has its anxious moments. UNCERTAINTY causes a lot of that anxiety. When your teenage children aren’t home an hour and a half after their curfew—and they haven’t called...You hear that there are going to be lay-offs at work, in YOUR get lost in the woods without a compass (now, which way is the hunting shack..??)...A loved one is rushed into emergency surgery—will they make it? Some wonder where they will spend eternity—will it be heaven or hell?

All of these examples of uncertainty can cause anxiety. We become anxious because the possibility exists that something bad has or is about to happen. But one of the above-listed situations can cause more anxiety than all the rest, because unless the proper solution is found, the uncertainty never goes away—it can be life-long. And the potential “bad” that can happen will last for eternity, and is a suffering that nothing else can come close to matching. It is the uncertainty of where one will spend eternity.

This was the uncertainty which gripped the vast majority of people—even those who called themselves Christians—in the time of Martin Luther. The theology of that day focused man’s hope of heaven on “work-righteousness” (the idea that it is possible to “earn” your way into heaven by doing enough good works in the course of one’s life). As a result, in the heart of every human being was the burning and unanswerable question, “Had I done ENOUGH to merit heaven?” On this point, no one could be certain. And therefore, everyone who subscribed to this theological system suffered spiritual and emotional anxiety.

Praise God that Martin Luther and the Reformation Movement restored these truths to the Church: 1) God declares the whole world of sinners “not guilty” through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ; 2) This salvation is made known and freely offered through the Means of Grace in Word and Sacrament; 3) Salvation becomes an individual’s personal possession when he trusts in Jesus as his Savior from sin, death, and hell; 4) One can be certain where they will spend eternity.

Sure, non-Christians try to get rid of the anxiety which this uncertainty causes by denying the existence of hell (or even God), or just not thinking about it. But none of those solutions ever really totally erases that nagging, haunting uncertainty. The ONLY solution to this spiritual and emotional anxiety is found in Jesus Christ. God’s free gift of forgiveness and eternal life give us freedom from “salvation anxiety”. The Gospel assures us that the matter of our salvation is a “done deal”. We can be certain of heaven! As we celebrate the Festival of the Reformation this month, may we praise and thank our God for this enduring legacy of the Reformation!


November 2011
"A Thankful Heart Comes As We Look to the Cross"

An employee of the Dead Letter Office in Washington, D.C., reported that annually hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa Claus are received. Having read thousands of such letters over the years, this employee stated that he has found only one letter which said "thanks" for the gifts received!

This illustrates the sad truth that gratitude is not an inborn trait. Little children must be taught to say "Thank you," and must be reminded again and again to do so. Often, adults are no different. And God's people, too, are not immune to ingratitude. Like the ungrateful lepers who were mercifully healed by the Savior, we sometimes fail to return to give thanks to God. The Lord Himself declared in Isaiah 1:3 that even the irrational beasts put His people to shame in the matter of returning thanks: "The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand."

There is no question that God is deserving of our thanks. The problem is, we simply forget to tell Him. But what causes our forgetfulness? It is simple ingratitude—that is, a failure to acknowledge God's goodness. Perhaps we have become so accustomed to receiving divine bounties, so intoxicated with unbroken success, that we forget to thank God for the ordinary and simple. Instead, we often complain when there is even the slightest interruption of those blessings.

The key to having a heart inclined toward thankfulness is to focus on God's Law and Gospel. As we consider what God expects of us in His Law, and how we have failed miserably to keep it, we recognize that we have sinned. Our ingratitude is also a sin. We ask God to forgive us. And since true repentance over our sins always includes the sincere desire to stop doing that sin, we'll strive to correct our sinful thoughts and attitudes, and become more thankful people. We'll also pray for a more thankful heart. But since only the heart renewed by the Gospel and filled with the power of Christ has the ability and the desire to do this, we must focus our attention, as always, on the cross of Christ. As we focus on the forgiveness of sins, rightness with God, and the heaven that is ours through the cross, our hearts will naturally want to respond to God's goodness with praise and thanksgiving. Knowing that God forgives each and every one of our sins, any of which could keep us out of heaven—yes, including our sins of ingratitude—certainly gives us cause to be grateful. And while we must still contend with a human nature which would have us remain ungrateful, yet thanksgiving will come much easier.

This month we celebrate Thanksgiving. It's a special day set aside for thanking God for blessings received. But as you and I reflect often on the blessings that are ours in Jesus, may that reflection cause us to have thankful hearts the year `round.

December 2011
"A Salvation as Powerful as it is Surprising"

     “To us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  —  Isaiah 9:6

     Trapped! An enemy army behind them and the sea before them. Where would this nation of former slaves—men, women, children and cattle—turn? I suspect you know how the story continues: At God’s direction Moses extended his staff and the waters of the Red Sea parted. The people of Israel made an impossible escape on dry land. We worship a God of power and surprises.

     Trapped! A world in darkness and sin. Behind us the devil and his accusations and the guilt that comes with them. Before us Judgment Day when we will have to face our holy God. Where to turn?

     He’s still a God of powerful surprises. He provides deliverance in the last place we’d look—a young mother lays her newborn to rest in a cattle shed in the little town of Bethlehem.

     I suspect you know how the story continues. The baby grows up. If we evaluated him by earthly standards like wealth and social status, we’d say that he never went much farther than the cattle shed. We know better. Powerful words and deeds testify that he is more than Mary’s son, but the Son of God himself.
    The story continues with surprise after powerful surprise: the people who should have embraced him reject him. They twist his words of love into the shape of a crime and have him executed. Surprise! That was all part of God’s plan since long before Bethlehem. Surprise! He lives again, and still does.

     We’re no longer trapped. Jesus sacrificial death on the cross means that the devil can no longer accuse us and guilt can no longer master us. The final Judgment has been transformed into a joyous welcome home party.

     Friends, it’s a time of year for surprises. The baby that adorns our Christmas decorations has worked a powerful salvation for us all. In him we have freedom to live free from guilt and shame. We have freedom to forgive one another and make our holiday gatherings a joy. We have good news, and good news to share. Good news about a God whose salvation is as powerful as it is surprising.