Press On

I wish I could remember where I heard the following quote. I heard it a week or two ago and it returned like a boomerang to my mind today.

Being an adult means being tired but continuing to do what you need to do anyway.

I might have some of the wording wrong there — but you get the idea. I know sometimes I just feel *tired* all the time, and I frankly don’t *feel* much like doing what I know I need to do. But, because I’m an adult, I do it anyway.

This thought occurred to me so forcefully today because I actually worked out this morning. Now, that’s not so impressive; lots of people work out, all the time. But me? Not so much. It’s never been my favorite thing. Actually, that’s a towering understatement: I hate working out. Ok, maybe not *hate*, but I do not like it. 

But there I was this morning. Right when I got up, I did my excercise. Not because I *felt* like it, but because it was the right thing for me to do.

This reminds me of the way authors in the Bible refer to living out our faith. Paul says it well in Philippians:

**I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.** Philippians 3:14 

We press on in our faith, living out that faith in our thoughts, words, and actions, not because we always feel like it. As a sinner we often won’t. We don’t live out our faith in order to save ourselves: our works could never do that. In fact, even trying to save ourselves with our own works goes against the very heart of the gospel itself. No, we press on because Christ Jesus has called us heavenward. He has already taken care of it all. Now, out of thanks, out of love for him, with his power worked by the Holy Spirit, we press on.

I pray that I can continue my adulthood — both physically and spiritually. I pray you can, too.

Water Droplet

It’s almost December, and we live in Wisconsin1. I think everyone here knows what that means: it’s cold outside. It’s either snowing or it will be snowing soon. It’s the time of year when we get used to warming up the car for a few minutes before actually riding in it. We’re so used to this cold at this time of year that yesterday’s 40 degrees felt like a heat wave. There was actually that split second of time outside where I had the thought: Do I even need a coat?

As warm as it was yesterday, though, there’s something I definitely would not have done: go swimming in an outdoor pool. It was too cold. But just a little over a week ago, I did get to swim in an outdoor pool. I was thankful then to be able to spend a few days in Florida with my family, so it was warm enough for the pool to be an option.

But even though it was warmer in Florida, even though I got to swim in a pool there, there were still times even there when I felt cold. Walking outside to the swimming pool? No problem. Getting into the water of a heated pool? Felt great. But when I would come out of the water, even just a little bit, suddenly it was freezing. I had to go back into the water for that coldness to go away. It was just cold enough outside, with just enough of a breeze, to make wet skin feel freezing.

So as I spent time at the pool with my family, I went back and forth between two extremes. Every inch of me shuddered when I had to be out of the water, but I got a warm comforting blanket of water when I went back in. So when I was out of that water and cold, one thought kept going off like an alarm in my head: Get back in the water! And when I did, all was well.

When you think about it, the water was really responsible for both extremes. It was the water on my skin that made me feel cold in the breeze, but it was the water all around me that warmed me up afterward.

Today in our text from 1 Peter, we also see water doing double duty. In fact, we see the connection of water and the coming of Jesus in Advent. Water reminds us how Jesus is coming to do two opposite things. He’s coming to save, and he’s coming to destroy. Which one do we want to be a part of? To save us, right? We eagerly wait for Jesus to come and save us at the end of the world. But actually, for right now, we need a little of both. In this sinful world, we need Jesus every day to both save and destroy us. For that to happen, we need to get back in the water. That might sound confusing now, but let me explain. Continue reading

Get Back in the Water!

Crushed

I wish it weren’t so easy to be crushed. Bugs, they should be easy to crush. But we’re supposed to be stronger than that. We’re tough. We’re like steel. We should be able to brush things off and keep going. If someone you love dies, fine. Be crushed then. If your house burns down you’ve earned the right to be crushed. Otherwise, it just means you’re weak. It just means you can’t cut it.

Then I guess you can call me weak. Maybe I can’t cut it. Because it seems like it doesn’t take a heck of a lot to crush me. Oh, I probably wouldn’t have used that word, crushed. Other words came to my mind today: frustrated, anxious, angry. And it didn’t even take much.

My watch broke. Well, the clasp that holds my watch onto my wrist broke. Shouldn’t have been a big deal. It can be fixed. But it’s frustrating. It’s angering. Then when the kids forget to bring what they need to school and my schedule gets tighter and tighter and it seems like everything is happening outside my control no matter what I do… Then the word fits nicely. Crushed

But then, funny enough, God spoke to me. He did. He didn’t whisper his voice into my ear or thunder a shout from the clouds. He spoke to me in words that were written long ago and printed in a Bible. He spoke to me with an ordinary psalm. But he spoke what I needed.

**The Lord is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit.**

Psalm 34:18

God reminded me: “I am near you. I have saved you.” It doesn’t matter if it was something big or something ridiculously puny that crushed me. God is still there. He’s already saved me. Jesus lived, died, and rose for me. He’s made me his own. He’s washed my sins away and booked my eternal home forever.

So as I start this day, I realize: I’m not really crushed. I’m not brokenhearted. I live in a sinful world and the sins I deal with most are my own. But God has already taken care of them. He’s with me, and he’s not going anywhere.

May he be with you today, too.

The Verdict Is In

judge-gavel

When the judge came back into the room, the whole crowd got quiet1. Not just quiet, they became silent. Everyone could hear their own breathing and their own beating heart, which was beating faster now. The accusations had been shocking, the trial had brought out all the evidence, and now, finally, the verdict was in.

There were only two ways it could go. Either the defendant would be found guilty and would face punishment, or he’d be found not guilty and be free to go. The first verdict meant the end; it meant death. The second verdict would mean life, hope, and possibility.

So the crowd listened in the courtroom. An even bigger crowd listened outside, with people stretching to try to see into the court or straining their ears to hear what would be said. Reporters were waiting to tell the story; dozens of news vans with tall satellite-dish towers were parked outside.

But now the waiting would end. No more wondering or speculating. Now we would know for sure. And the judge opened his mouth to speak.

We tend to be fascinated by courtroom trials. The sheer amount of movies, television shows, and plays that are about trials or that at least contain a trial are staggering. They’re everywhere! Most of us know courtrooms from these shows more than we know about real courtrooms.

There’s something so dramatic about a trial. There’s right and wrong on display. There is evidence brought forward. There’s a decision. There’s a verdict. Sure, we know real life has things like appeals and mistrials and hung juries. But most of the time, when that verdict comes in, it’s going to be interesting.

It was over 19 years ago that the verdict came in for the murder trial of former NFL football player OJ Simpson. The reading of that verdict was broadcast live on television, and at the time, it was the most-watched event in television history, with more than 150 million viewers. So, yeah, people are interested in verdicts.

But what verdict would we be most interested in? I think that’s pretty obvious: it’d be your verdict. If you were on trial, well, I can’t even imagine what that verdict announcement would feel like. Especially if the case was life or death.

But that’s really what we’re getting at today. That’s what our text from the book of Daniel is about, that’s what this whole service is about today. Judgment Day, the end of the world, it’s all about a verdict. A decision is going to come down about your life — your very soul. The consequences couldn’t be higher; the two options are life forever in heaven, or death forever in hell. There’s no in-between.

But here’s the thing: we don’t have to wait. We don’t have to gather around a tv or wait outside a courthouse. We get to find out right now. The Judge is God, the defendant is you, and the verdict is in. Continue reading

Last Judgment

Since I moved to Wisconsin from New York 3 years ago, I have served at a church as one of two pastors. This means I don’t preach every week. Because of this, every once in a while I have to preach on a topic that hasn’t come up on “my week” in quite a while. This weekend is one of those.

This coming Sunday we’ll be focusing on Judgment Day. I haven’t had to preach directly on this topic since 2010, which feels like a long time ago at this point.

It strikes me how harsh these appointed readings for this day are. They’re the kind of Bible readings that make you squirm a bit. There’s no wiggle room; no politically correct, everything’s-ok-for-everyone vibe here. <!–more–> 
 
Take the first reading, Daniel 7:9-10. It’s short, but it packs a punch. 

9 “As I looked,   

“thrones were set in place,  

and the Ancient of Days took his seat.  

His clothing was as white as snow;  

the hair of his head was white like wool.  

His throne was flaming with fire,   

and its wheels were all ablaze.   

10 A river of fire was flowing,   

coming out from before him.  

Thousands upon thousands attended him;   

ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.   

The court was seated,   

and the books were opened.  

Nothing cuddly or warm-and-fuzzy to grab on to here. The end is coming. There will be flames and fire. There will be a judge, *the* Judge, in fact. The books will be opened and the judgment will be made. This is the text I’ll be preaching on.

The second lesson, 1 Thessalonians:5:1-11, has a different emphasis, but it also paints our lives now into a bit of a corner. 

4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.

 

1 Thessalonians 5:4-6

It’s easy to think of ways that we haven’t lived like a “son of the light,” but instead like someone who “belongs to the night.” Definitely gives us pause when we realize that the end will come “like a thief.”

Thankfully, though, this lesson also brings the fantastic *gospel* application of Judgment Day in full force. 

9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.

1 Thessalonians 5:9-10

The end of the world is scary, but Jesus has already won! This is a reminder I need every day.

Finally, the Gospel for this Sunday is Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus’ famous parable of the sheep and the goats. In some ways, this reading can be the harshest of all. It *could* lead someone to the conclusion that it is our *good works* that get us into heaven. But the reaction of those who did good works shows otherwise:

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 

40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:37-40

Believers don’t do works to save themselves. They do good works because God has given them faith in Christ. This faith leads us to want to do good works, to produce those works whether we realize we’re doing it or not. We do works because we’re saved, not in order to get saved.

All in all, I look forward to preaching this Sunday. I’m praying I can put Jesus and the comfort of what he’s accomplished for us front and center for this service.

Now back to my sermon work!

 

The Gospel in Hebrew: How Ten Hebrew Words Preach Christ and His Work

pastorwalters:

Check out this post by Pastor Chad Bird. It combines two of my favorite topics: the Hebrew language and the Good News of the Gospel! (But you don’t need to be able to read Hebrew to appreciate it!) Give it a read!

Originally posted on :

hebrewWhen the Christian church began, virtually every believer knew Hebrew. It was the language of prayer, song, and faith among the first followers of our Lord. It was the language in which the vast majority of their Scriptures were written. In Hebrew the prophecies of the Messiah were preached, the psalms of His suffering composed, the hope of coming redemption spelled out.

Journey with me then, if you will, through these ten Hebrew words to hear this story of salvation told in Jesus’ native tongue. These words sum up the whole person and work of our Messiah. Here is the Gospel in Hebrew.

Yehoshua

We spell it Joshua, but this Hebrew name is pronounced Yehoshua. It means “the LORD is salvation” or “Yahweh saves.” When Mary needed a name for her infant, she didn’t page through 100,000+ Baby Names to find one that tickled her fancy. She left the name-choosing…

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Grace Alone

This coming weekend my congregation will celebrate Reformation Sunday. This is always a special Sunday in a Lutheran church. It’s not special because we’re celebrating the man, Martin Luther. It’s special because of God’s grace. We celebrating going back to God’s Word and rejoicing in the fact that on our own, we’re lost — hopelessly and eternally. But God doesn’t leave us on our own; he sent his Son to do what we could not, to suffer what we should have suffered, to die that we might live. That’s why the Reformation is worth celebrating.

I realized that this is the first time since 2007 where I won’t be preaching for Reformation. My associate pastor will be doing that this time. I look forward to hearing from someone else about God’s grace to me. 

I also found a quote from Martin Luther himself where we see his emphasis on grace.

All who seek entry into His kingdom must seek it by nothing but grace. Christ has regard for no one because of his pile of gulden, his beauty, his wisdom, his golden hair, or because he wears a garment embroidered in gold or silver, or a gray coat. No, it is grace alone that counts. His is to be a kingdom of grace, belonging to those who are wretched and poor, whether they be men or women, rich or poor. 

~Luther’s Works 22:190

 

 

 

Press On Toward the Goal

goals

When home is in sight, you just want to press on and get there1.

That’s how I felt last weekend. My family had been in Minnesota for a wedding, and the day after we climbed into the car for the 6-hour or so drive back to Two Rivers. (That might sound long, but 6 hours is still pretty nice since you’d have to add a good ten hours of driving time on top of that for when I used to live in New York.)

But then, as we started our drive, we ran into some delays. Some roadwork was being done on the interstate before we even made it across the border to Wisconsin. That probably added another hour to the trip. It was frustrating, but we had to press on.

So by the time we were making our way down 147 through Mishicot, I was ready to be home. Sure, I was tired from driving and from the weekend, but it’s amazing how you get that little burst of energy. You know home is near. You can practically see it. So you press on to get there.

I’m not much of a runner; in fact, I pretty much despise running. But I’ve done it enough to know how sweet the end, the finish line, looks. As much as I would like to give up and stop running, seeing that goal ahead does something. It reminds me that I’m close; I can do this. So I press on.

But what does that look like in our lives as Christians? Heaven is our goal; it’s our true home. It’s the reward Jesus earned for us where we get to spend all eternity. But it seems pretty far off. Unless we’ve received some sort of terminal diagnosis or are going in for major surgery, our entrance into heaven is not likely to be the first thing on our minds.

So instead of pressing on, instead of pushing forward with that heavenly goal in our sights, we just kind of exist. Maybe we go to church once in a while. And it’s really easy for our faith to not feel particularly urgent or even important on a day to day basis. After all, we’re already saved, right? So what’s the big deal?

But here’s the thing: we are all a heartbeat away from eternity. We don’t know when we’ll get there, but we need to be ready. We don’t want to be wandering aimlessly away from our faith and into sin. We want to focus on our goal. We want what Jesus won for us — heaven — to be in our sights at all times. And we want to press on toward it. We want to stretch out like a runner leaning into the finish line. We want to live every minute of our lives for the one who gave his life to us. And thankfully, we can do just that, because God gives us the strength. So press on! Press on toward the goal! Continue reading

That’s Not Fair!

its-not-fair-2

A little boy just celebrated his sixth birthday. He got 5 presents from his family1. But he remembered very clearly that his older brothers had each received ten presents at their last birthdays. This did not make the boy happy, and he let his parents know about it. That’s not fair!

A girl is in the seventh grade. One of her classmates keeps making noise and interrupting things, though that doesn’t stop this girl from working. Once, though, when one of her classmates asks her a question, this girl turns and whispers an answer. The teacher gets furious: Why are you making a noise and interrupting class like this? This is unacceptable behavior! The girl remembers the noise that her classmate usually makes and doesn’t seem to get in trouble for, and she’s pretty upset that she gets in trouble for something so minor. It makes her want to shout out: That’s not fair!

A seventeen year old boy wants to spend some time on Saturday afternoon with his girlfriend, but his parents have other ideas. You need to be at your little sister’s volleyball game that afternoon, they tell him. Why would they force him to do this? It’s not like the whole family made a point to be at all of his games for different sports! It’s not like this volleyball game was going to be more important than all the other games he’d already been to this year! This was ridiculous and his parents were about to find out what he thought about it: That’s not fair!

A young woman was about to graduate from college. She’s spent so many years of hard work to get to this point. Her grades were always good. She had what it takes to make it in her field, and she had been excited when she started applying for jobs and going to interviews. But with each job opening, after each interview, she got the same frustrating answer. No. Some of her classmates had already gotten jobs, so why hasn’t she? So when she’s all by herself she breaks down, and all she can manage to say is, That’s not fair!

The young couple has been married for several years now. They’ve always loved kids and dreamed of when they would start their own family. But it’s just not happening. Family and friends keep asking them why they’re waiting so long. Birth announcements keep coming in the mail for friends of theirs having kids. Even their doctor isn’t sure why and says they’ll have to do even more tests. In frustration the couple confides in each other how they really feel: That’s not fair!

An older couple were thankful just to have had their son. They knew you couldn’t control these things. Still, they wish he could’ve been around longer. There was so much they wanted for him. And having him taken away so soon, well, it left them feeling upset. Sometimes they even wanted to yell at God and tell Him what they thought. They wanted to shout, That’s not fair!

The man wasn’t even surprised when the tests came back positive. After a lifetime of doing everything right, things seemed to be going wrong. I mean, he never smoked, he didn’t really drink, he’d been healthy and active. So how could God do this to him now? How could it be one thing after another, one more thing he didn’t deserve. It’s like God didn’t even care, and no one else seemed to understand. And now he was stuck suffering for it. That’s not the way things were supposed to go in his life. That’s not fair!

No matter what your age, no matter what your position in life, no matter what you do, there are times when it becomes abundantly clear to us that life isn’t fair. Sometimes our frustrations are directed at the people who should know better, the people that could’ve made things fair. Sometimes we get angry at our circumstances, wondering why they didn’t work out differently. Other times, we take our anger out at God. Maybe we express it in words, or maybe we bottle it up. In the end, though, the thoughts are the same: God messed this one up. He gave me the raw end of this deal. Maybe he’s just not so great after all. Continue reading

Forgiveness Sets You Free

Forgive

Scene: two toddlers stand facing each other at the insistence of an adult nearby1. One of the kids has been crying and is still visibly upset. The adult talks to the other one. You hit him and took his toy away, and now it’s time to say you’re sorry.

The child hesitates a moment, but then: Sorry. The adult turns to the other one and says, Ok, he is sorry, what do you say? The answer comes: I forgive you. The adult only has one thing left to say. Give each other a hug and you can go back to playing. And that’s just what they do. The kids give a quick hug, then run back to play. The hitting-and-toy-taking incident is never mentioned again. End scene.

If you’ve spent any time around young kids, this story won’t be surprising to you. Of course kids are going to hit or take things or otherwise hurt other kids. Of course they’ll say sorry when they need to. Of course the kids will “make up” and go back to business as usual. This is how it’s supposed to work.

Did you ever notice how much harder this process is the older people get? It’s much more difficult, even with older kids, to get that initial sorry said. The forgiveness might not be expressed very often. And the hugging and going back to play, well, that’s probably the first thing to go.

As adults, we’re supposed to get better at things as we get older. We’re supposed to improve. But it doesn’t always work that way, because we’re still sinful. We sin every day. We hurt others. We make mistakes. Not only that, plenty of people sin against us and make mistakes that hurt us.

So with all that sinning, with all that hurt, you’d expect to see all sorts of scenes like the ones I mentioned before with the kids, except with adults. One says, I’m really sorry I said those things to you. The other, I forgive you. They hug. Wouldn’t that be great?! It’s not that things like this never happen, but I think they’re more rare than they should be considering the things wrong we do every day.

Instead we tend to let our problems fester and grow. If we hurt someone, maybe we’ll apologize — or maybe we’ll just not bring it up and hope it goes away. If someone hurts us, well, we’ll just see how they act to us in the future. Maybe we can just ignore them. Maybe we can just be rude to them, see how they like it. And forgive them? Well, if they are good enough, if they can make it up to us… maybe. But they’re going to have to earn it.

Friends, I want you to realize today that forgiveness isn’t something you earn, it’s something you need. Without forgiveness as a gift, our relationships become prisons. We lock one another up with our past mistakes. We’re locked in the cells of anger and grudges. The only way out is forgiveness.

Forgiveness sets you free! True forgiveness can never be earned. It’s a gift. God showed us that. He proved it in the free forgiveness Jesus won for us. His forgiveness sets us free from hell itself. It gives us eternity. And, it lets us show forgiveness in our lives. So don’t stay locked up in guilt and anger. Forgiveness sets you free. Continue reading