Pardon the Typos

Something pretty amazing just happened to me. But before I tell you what it was, let me set the stage so that you understand just how significant it is.

As I write this (Monday, December 18), we have six days until Christmas Eve. Over the course of this week, there’s a lot less time available for anything one might consider according to a usual week. There are Christmas pageant practices that take up most of two mornings. I have a special worship service at Independence Village in Brighton on Tuesday after the pageant practice, and by the time I get back to the church, much of the work day will be spent. Among a very many other special things happening on Wednesday, we have a half day of school on Thursday and no school on Friday, which means I’ll need to be home with the kids during those times while Jen is working. And for those of you with children, I don’t have to explain to you how hard it is to get mindful work accomplished with little ones running around and hyped up for Christmas and the break that follows. It’s nearly impossible to do anything of value undisturbed. It feels a little like trying to put together a 10,000 piece puzzle in a room filled with mosquitoes.

My Thursday morning is pretty much already spoken for when it comes to appointments. I have, at a minimum, five home visitations I really need to work in sometime this week. There are folks in need of the Lord’s Word and Sacrament, and I’m the only guy around to bring it.

Thankfully, I don’t have an evening meetings this week—at least none that I know of right now. But it’s only Monday, and the way we roll in the place, there’s always something happening that can easily snatch those open moments away.

Also, I needed to get this eNewsletter out. It’s an important piece of communication in our parish and it’s not something I want to set to wayside.

And finally, the last piece to this—and perhaps the most worrisome part of it: I have four sermons to write. And a sermon is, in an elementary sense, a five to six page paper, each one needing time for study, prayer, writing, and editing. One sermon usually works itself out over the course of a whole week. According to the schedule I just shared, there is no time for one sermon let alone four. (By the way, why four? Well, there’s the sermon for this Sunday, The Fourth Sunday in Advent, and then the sermon for later that night, Christmas Eve. Then there’s Christmas Day on Monday morning. And then finally, if I don’t want to have to write a sermon over the Christmas break, I’ll need to get the sermon for New Year’s Eve accomplished this week, too. Thankfully, Pastor Pies is on the schedule for New Year’s Day.)

Now, don’t take any of this the wrong way. I’m really not complaining. Plenty of weeks throughout the year are equally and impossibly stretched. The biggest difference is that I don’t typically have this much sermon writing to do, and so I’m simply sharing with you that I came into this week a little worried as to how I was going to accomplish it all.

And that brings me back to where I began. Something pretty amazing just happened to me.

Thankfully, I can write a lot in a very short period of time, but usually that only benefits me when I’m writing in extra-curricular ways about things that interest me. Don’t get me wrong. Writing sermons interests me. But sermons take me a lot longer. Like I said, they usually take most of the week to end up in their final form. Sometimes they’re finished getting ripped out of me right before I step into the pulpit. Personally, I don’t like when that happens. Too last minute. Still, the formation and contemplation for any sermon lasts pretty much all week.

But not today.

I sat down at my computer, prayed for the Lord’s help in being a faithful servant of His Word—and most especially that He would bless me with the right words in the right order in the right amount of time. My hope was that I’d at least get a little bit of the Christmas Eve sermon in place and ready. That was around 10:30 a.m. When I got up from my computer at 12:45 to go and get a quick bite to eat, I’d finished both sermons Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Bam and bam.

When I got back from lunch at a little after 1 o’clock, I sat back down and was finished with the sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent by 2:15.

Bam.

It all just happened. I still have one more to go, but still, with the three I finished, God certainly was gracious with His revealing of the threads I needed to follow, and then even more so did He pour out some useable ideas while at the same time fitting them all together.

I still need to do some editing, but I can tell you that I’m pretty okay with what’s on the computer screen so far, and I rarely feel that way after the first go-round with any sermon. What ends up in the pulpit is usually quite different, and I’m often doing some tweaks the morning it is to be preached.

Anyway, the point to all of this… My worrying was in vain. But my prayer to the One who could help me was not. The sermons you’ll hear this weekend are a testimony to this fact. He loves me, and He wants the preaching task to be a joy and not a burden—at least He did this time around.

But since I’m thinking on this and sharing it, this little bit of pastoral commotion also hints to something else of equal importance, and that is that the pulpit here at Our Savior is in place so that at each service that occurs, the Gospel would be preached. In other words, when Walmart is closed, the pulpit at Savior will be open for business. When the Post Office shutters are locked, the Word of the Gospel through the preaching will be unlocked and fashioned especially for you and your family. God has seen to make it happen for going on 64 years, and for this fretting pastor in the midst of a swirl of activity, He just sealed the deal again.

With that, let me encourage you to take advantage of the effort. Come and hear the preaching of the Gospel. Be fed by His glorious Gospel promises of the forgiveness of sins won for you by the life, death, and resurrection of the baby born in Bethlehem. By virtue of your baptism, it is your birthright. And I can tell you for a fact that what you are hearing is from Christ, Himself, and He most definitely wants you to hear it!

Now, as fast as I can, it’s on to the news… Pardon me if the notes are abruptly shorter than usual… or if they have a lot of typos.

I Pray For You – December 12, 2017

As always, I pray all is well with you and your family, namely that you know the peace of Christ and His great love for you.

Literally. I pray this. I go into the nave, kneel at the altar rail (or sit in the first pew on the pulpit side), and I pray for you—by name.

I do a lot with social media these days. It’s one of the main forms of communication that I use for the various groups that I interact with on a regular basis—synodical, legislative, and the like. I posted on Facebook a few weeks back, not long after a foreign tragedy, that I think it’s rather telling in our society when the commonplace shaping of our condolences in the face of calamity is to say that “our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the tragedy.” Thoughts maybe, but unless you actually take action and share your thoughts of condolence with those who would be served well by hearing them (through a greeting card, an email, or some form of personal communication), even that commonplace sentiment sounds empty, and maybe even a little weird, as though our thoughts are going to somehow rise into some ethereal space and descend in a graspable way to those who need to know we’re thinking about them or that we’re concerned for their well being.

But there’s something else we should consider in this regard.

We don’t send our prayers out to people. They go to God. And again, when someone in the midst of struggle tells another person his or her story, and that listener responds by saying, “I’ll keep you in prayer,” personally, I hope the person means it. I hope it hasn’t devolved into a substance-less response that we give to folks when we just don’t know what to say. I really hope that at the next opportunity available, he or she will actually petition our faithful God for the care of the person in need.

Yes, God already knows all things. And yet, He commands for us to pray.

I’ve thought a lot about this over the course of my life, asking myself, “If God knows all things—that is, He knows all things before I even ask—why does He want me to pray?”

By the Word of God, I’ve come to two conclusions. The first I’ll explain this way.

When my son Joshua was little, unprompted, he would tell me all the time how much he loved me. He’s seventeen now. As he’s gotten older, he still tells me that he loves me, but it’s not as often as before. Do I know that he loves me? Yes. But oh how I love to hear it. What father wouldn’t? In a sense, God loves to hear his children speak their love to Him. It isn’t a narcissistic thing, but rather it is something spoken in the midst of a relationship built on love—real, genuine, long-lasting familial love.

The second is that God knows our sinful hearts, and with that, He knows we won’t pray unless he tells us to. But again, this isn’t a hard command, but rather it is an encouraging opportunity He establishes for our good. He wants us to know the joy and importance of having complete and total access to Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus, through prayer. And why? Well, it comes back around to where the thought started. Because He loves us, plain and simple.

Having said all of this, I want you to know that when I tell you that I’ll keep you in prayer, I really do. I appreciate talking with God. And again, even though He already knows everything I’m going to say, that doesn’t stop me from telling Him your name and explaining to Him what’s happening and why I really want Him to act on your behalf. Most importantly, just as Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32, being unwilling to let his divine opponent go until He blessed him, I hold God to His promise to bless you—to accomplish His holy will in your lives by virtue of the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord. In all of this, I know He hears me. I know He responds. I know He will act—and is, even now, already acting—to bring to completion the good work He intends, which in its core is your eternal salvation!

The Color of Advent

Advent is upon us, and with that, Christmas is just around the corner. Also, you probably noticed that we’re using the blue paraments again this year instead of the violet ones. We’ll probably do it again one more year and then switch back.

Violet is a great color for Advent, and it’s the more traditional one when it comes to LCMS congregations. When the guys in the confessional circles in which I swim begin to hassle me about it, I just start singing the Magnificat. I think it makes them itch. This is true because when folks see the blue paraments—especially Lutheran folks—sometimes they attribute the color to the Roman Catholic Church’s choices with regard to liturgical colors. I get that. Blue has sort of been hijacked to reference, among other things, adoration of the Virgin Mary. But if you were here in worship this past Sunday, then you know that’s not what we’re doing here by this selection. In fact, blue has been used by the church for a good long while. And one interesting fact is that since violet was the color of royalty, it was very expensive and harder to acquire by the poverty stricken Christian churches. Blue was more accessible. In a sense, it was a very pragmatic choice, and so naturally, it was incorporated.

But it wasn’t used without purpose. And as was preached yesterday, you’ll notice that the traditional blue of Advent isn’t the bright baby blue most folks associate with the Roman Catholic images of the blessed virgin mother of our Lord. Advent’s blue is a deep, dark blue. It is reminiscent of the deepest, clearest blue that can only be seen for those few moments just after the darkest part of the night and just before the sky changes and softens and begins to glow with the new sunrise. This midnight blue color symbolizes that while the light of dawn is coming, and in a sense, we are still in the dark, nevertheless, the rising sun is only moments away. Christ is coming—both at Christmas and at the Last Day.

In my opinion, the midnight blue does more to teach the two-fold heart of Advent than most other colors. That is, as long as you get the right color blue and you know why it’s the right color.

In the end, I think it’s grand that everything in the nave is designed to hone our senses and direct our attention to the One who has given His life that we would have life in His name. That’s pretty great. Even the color of the paraments plays a part in the proclamation of this wonderful drama revealed by the holy Word of God!

Type 1 Diabetes is No Big Deal?

(This was a Facebook response to the suggestion that my daughter’s affliction with Type 1 Diabetes was nothing in comparison to the other childhood diseases out there.)

I mentioned in a sermon a few weeks back that Jennifer had shared with me that Michigan is number two in the nation for child abduction and sex trafficking. She also told me about a recent attempt at a local gas station by a group of men from a trafficking ring. One tried to distract the mother while another tried to snatch her daughter right out of the car.

There you have it. The truth about the planet upon which we dwell. This world eats kids.

Why do I say this? Because it is a reflection of a very real, very personal experience with an ungodly disease that will haunt my daughter (and therefore us) for the rest of her life. It’s a disease that, left unmanaged or untreated, would kill her. It’s a disease that shortens the average lifespans of even those who manage it superbly, and can be surprisingly fatal much sooner than that.

I suppose to answer your question… If I sat down with God to choose a disease, before I did, I’d be sure to thank Him for sending His Son to conquer everything that would make this a world where not even children are safe. The next thing I’d say to Him is, “You choose.” From a theological perspective, that’d be the only way to keep my daughter safe from diabetes, cancer, or any other predatory disease that stalks the littlest among us. I say this because I’m not so sure that God chooses these things for us. He certainly allows them. Sometimes He even moves to cure them. Either way, He is always working all things for the good of those who love Him. It is all being managed according to His good and gracious will—which is that we would be saved. Still, in the end, the Devil ushered sin into this world, and he did it through man. These things are our fault. We’re the cause for Sin and the resultant diseases that emerge as its fingerprints in this life.

That’s why we need Jesus.

I struggle with my daughter’s Type 1 diabetes. No, I hate it. I think I hate even worse that I sometimes find myself in the middle of it all seeing it as God’s fault, and in that moment, I see Him as my enemy. But He’s not. The Gospel is the proof for this. My book, and the chapter above, gives folks a little insight into this reality, and the insight certainly isn’t limited to my daughter’s disease. Any parent struggling with such a thing would receive this book well. Yes, it is from the perspective of a Pastor, but I think it’s important for folks to realize that even pastors wanna throw a punch at God every now and then. In the end, however, I know by the Gospel that God can handle these things and that He can be more than trusted to care for us no matter what we are facing and no matter how ticked off with Him we may find ourselves. The book is in place to walk folks through these emotions and then give them the Gospel, which is the hope that can be found even in the more dimly lit places.

I suppose I’m rambling on. So, sure, in a mortal sense, we could put the various diseases on a scale and say that some are easier to handle than others, some are worse than others—but if their end result is an untimely or unnatural Death, then they are by default horrible. Still, we’re all gonna die, and on our way there, no matter the situation, people are going to be facing off with God and asking Him “why?”. I don’t want to ask that question anymore. I don’t want to think that a choice was made by anyone in this, unless I’m thinking of the events from Genesis chapter 3. I’m going to look to Christ and know that He has it handled—all of it. And when I get tired—when I look at a pile of syringes and know that the pile is only going to continue to grow, to continue to stack higher and higher, and all along the way each of those needles is going to pierce my precious child, and that the piercing is necessary to keep an even more ferociously prowling beast at bay—I’m going to look to Jesus and pray “Come quickly, Lord, for this world is not only seeking to swallow me, but is watching and waiting in the weeds to snatch my children, too. Come quickly, Lord! I need Your help! We need Your help!”