With the 4th of July on Sunday this year we have opportunity to do some serious reflecting on what we enjoy by way of our citizenship. It’s a great time to count our blessings and realize that there are too many of them to number. How about the beauty and abundance of our land. The stores and our fridges packed with good food. How about medical science and the miracles that become part of our lives to fight covid and cancer and so on. We are blessed with freedom and liberties (my writing this message and our gathering to worship on July 4th) that many throughout the world are denied. Americans have every reason on the 4th of July to sing about how God has “shed His grace” on us all!
It’s important for us to be reminded of these many blessings because we so easily take them for granted or use them selfishly. What we do with what we have is a reflection of the kind of people we are. God did not give us all of these good things just to serve our own needs and wants. As we use them for the good of others we show and share the heart of Christ.
Take to heart the words of Galatians 5:13 — “You … were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” We are the ones called to freedom: freedom from a way of life that is self-serving, freedom from a way that leads to death and destruction, freedom from sin and pain that makes life so hard to live. May we who have been freed by Christ from sin and death now live as the servants of others! Have a happy and blessed 4th of July! Pastor Craig
You know the experience of “the morning after,” right? The celebrating is over, the challenges and burdens and disappointments are back, what a headache… we have to face the world as it really is! It’s the same with our celebration of Easter, the great victory of new life when God raised Jesus from the dead. We have been rejoicing in that message throughout this Easter season. But alas, the Easter season is over and we’re right back in the world, as it were, “the morning after.”
It reminds me of a cute story I came across recently. It seems a farmer’s best mule got sick, and the farmer called the veterinarian. The vet examined the animal and then gave the farmer some extremely large pills with the instructions to give the mule one three times a day until the mule recovered. The farmer was puzzled as to how he would get the pills down the mule’s throat. “Easy,” replied the vet. “Find a piece of pipe wide enough to fit the pill into. Then, put one end of the pipe into the mule’s mouth, put the pill into the pipe and give it a blow. Before the mule knows what happened he will have swallowed the pill.” It sounded easy enough, but shortly after, the farmer walked into the vet’s office looking terribly sick himself. The surprised vet exclaimed, “You look awful. What happened?” The farmer replied, “The mule blew first!”
That’s what “mornings after” are like; even for disciples of Jesus who celebrated the victory of life over death. Our mornings and days are filled with times where our neat plans and carefully worked out lists of things to do run into “mules” which blow first. And then we have some large and bitter pills to swallow.
But all is not lost. It never is where God is concerned. Our Risen Lord is also our Ascended Lord, to whom has been given “all power in heaven and on earth.” That means that while our Lord Jesus Christ has the power of heaven at His disposal, He exercises it on the earth, right in the midst of disappointments and problems and things that go wrong. And He has promised to be with us always. Easter morning has made it possible for us to face “the morning after,” with faith and courage and even joy!! Pastor Craig
Scarlet ribbons encircle me,
Tie me close yet set me free,
Scarlet ribbons, around my soul,
Release my sin yet gently hold,
Scarlet ribbons, with a loving touch,
Cleanse and heal and mean so much!
Scarlet ribbons, by JESUS shed,
To purchase me He freely bled.
Scarlet ribbons that tie you and me,
Tethered to CHRIST but Finally free,
Scarlet ribbons of perfect love,
Unite our souls to God above!
One of the stories told at the Nurnberg war trials was that of a group of Jews who had escaped from the gas chambers and had taken refuge in a cemetery. They lived in the pits that had been dug to serve as graves. One night a baby was born in one of those pits with the grave digger, an old Orthodox Jew, assisting in the birth. When the baby uttered its first cry, the grave digger exclaimed, “Great God, have You finally sent the Messiah? Who but the Messiah would be born in a grave?”
Little did that Orthodox Jew know that the real Messiah has come and has been reborn in a grave. Jesus died, laid in a grave for three days, and then was born again. He has done it for us so that we may be born again to new life!
Teaching from Luther’s Small Catechism
And lead us not into temptation. What does this mean?
God indeed tempts no one, but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us nor seduce us into disbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them, that still we may overcome and obtain the victory.
The cross was drawn into the original blueprint. It was written into the script. The moment the forbidden fruit touched the lips of Eve, the shadow of a cross appeared on the horizon. And between that moment and the moment the man with the mallet placed the spike against the wrist of God, a master plan was fulfilled.
What does that mean? It means Jesus planned his own sacrifice. It means Jesus intentionally planted the tree from which his cross would be carved. It means he willingly placed the iron ore in the heart of the earth from which the nails would be cast. It means he voluntarily placed his Judas in the womb of a woman. It means Christ was the one who set in motion the political machinery that would send Pilate to Jerusalem.
And it also means he didn’t have to do it – but he did!
Excerpted from Max Lucado’s God Came Near.
Teaching from Luther’s Small Catechism:
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. What does this mean?
We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins, nor on their account deny our prayer; for we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them; but that He would grant them all to us by grace; for we daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment. So will we also heartily forgive, and readily do good to those who sin against us.
The season of Lent begins with the memory of finitude and mortality, the symbolism of dust. On Ash Wednesday, Christians are marked with the sign of the mark of dust. Looking foolish, with ashes on our foreheads, we confront our own mortality in the midst of a culture which tries to deny death’s reality. The mark of dust identifies us as foolish. Yet the sight is also of the cross of the crucified and risen Christ, the highest wisdom of all. And so that mark speaks of His Kingdom of Glory!
Kenneth Leech from We Preach Christ Crucified.
Teaching from Luther’s Small Catechism:
Thy kingdom come. What does this mean?
The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself; but we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also.
How is this done?
When our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead a godly life, here in time and hereafter in eternity.
Why do we pray? Our prayers flow from trust in our loving God!
O Lord, what can I trust in this life?
And what is my greatest comfort on earth?
It is You, O Lord, whose mercy is without limit.
Where have I ever done well without You?
And when have I ever been harmed when You were present?
I would rather be poor with You, than rich without You.
I would rather be a wanderer on earth with You,
than to be in heaven without You.
For where You are, there is heaven.
And where You are not, there is death and hell.
You are all that I desire; therefore I will earnestly pray to You.
There is no one who can help me except You alone, O my God.
For You are my hope, You are my trust, You are my strength, You are my comfort, and my most faithful helper in every need.
(Thomas Kempis, 1380-1471. Quoted from his book, “The Imitation of Christ.”)
IT’S BABY BOTTLE TIME! Take a moment to play the above video. Pray for Today’s Choice and our support of their work lifting up life in Jesus’ name. Next Sunday each family will have the opportunity to offer hope & help to anyone considering abortion in our community! EITHER take home a baby bottle and fill it with a check (made out to Today’s Choice) or cash, and bring it back on February 7, OR fill a VIRTUAL BOTTLE by clicking the image below. If you would like to know more about Today’s Choice, click “Reaching Out” on our main menu, and click “Today’s Choice.” May we choose LIFE as we live for Jesus! Pastor Craig
A New Year – a new beginning – finally – 2021! I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the words: “Come on 2021! 2020 was so awful, the only way is up from here!” Without a doubt, the Covid virus has made this past year almost unbearable! Yet with a vaccine on the horizon, with all we have learned about the protection of masking and sanitizing, we look forward in hope. Maybe we are even making many physically healthful resolutions to improve other aspects of our personal lives. Certainly we pray for a better path in the year to come!
But there’s another kind of infection that plagues our lives and world. It’s a spiritual infection called sin that can spread and isolate and drag us down in the way God and we want to live. The Good News is there’s a cure already available, a spiritual inoculation of sorts. God developed this life restoring medicine by sending His Son. What a joy to celebrate again the birth of Jesus this past Christmas. Jesus came into this world to bring the virus of our sin into Himself, paying for the effects of this virus in His body as He suffered and died on the cross. From Him flows the antivirus, the forgiveness, the undeserved love that surrounds and destroys the virus of our sins. This serum flows through God’s Word, the Holy Spirit’s forgiving power in our Baptism, and the life of Christ which becomes ours as we in faith receive His body and blood. The year ahead will be filled with so many opportunities for us to live spiritually healthful lives. So why not include a few spiritual healthful resolutions for 2021? Here are a few:
I resolve to put Christ before my church and my church before my secular schedule.
I resolve to put the spiritual before the material and the eternal before the temporal.
I resolve to put God’s Word before the opinion of others.
I resolve to put prayer before pleasure.
I resolve to walk more by faith and trust, less by sight and reason.
I resolve to live in order to give rather than to get.
I resolve to be good rather than great.
I resolve to put more of God and less of myself into what I do.
I resolve to walk with Jesus, part of His mission, sharing Him in simple ways each and every day through what I say and do.
The Good News for Christians as we resolve to improve our spiritual health is that we do so by God’s power working within us. The Holy Spirit will mold and shape us in the coming year. Each day He offers us a “new beginning.” We can unload the fear and burden of our sin – the guilt and sorrow and pain – knowing that Christ has already carried them for us. In the forgiveness He has earned we can start fresh. Our past is forgiven! Yes, we pray the Lord to bring on the shot to keep Covid away! But may we also pray that the Lord would provide an IV of His Spirit through Word and Sacrament so that we have a health-filled year spiritually as well! May we trust in and live for Jesus, placing Him first in our lives!
A blessed and Christ-filled 2021 to all! Pastor Craig