“Suffer the little children…”

My wife and I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with some friends of ours on Sunday. We got to sit and laugh and talk with them about all topics great and small. One of the rather interesting things we discussed was our children. They have two wonderful little boys, and we have one of our own, and of course, as parents, we all want the best for them. But the conversation turned to the idea of how to help the children to grow outside of our overprotective nature as parents.

The word that came out in the discussion was “suffering.” Not suffering in the sense of painful agony, or torment and torture, but rather, suffering as a struggle to proceed through life. We all know that type of suffering. The grind of work, the frustration of relationships with other, or the issues we have to work through with ourselves are all examples of suffering. Our friend told the story of moving in the summer before his 5th grade year, and how hard was to be in that situation with new friends and a new school. I think of the death of my grandfather, and how my son learned about the loss of a loved one. Then there are the times when it’s just tough to be a kid (or an adult), and learn about consequence and disappointment when things just don’t go the way they should.

We always want to protect our children, and to help them to understand the world. We don’t want them to experience the harshness that life has until we think they are old enough to handle it. Which is the protection that parents should give to their children. The world is not a happy and nurturing place, like Sesame Street. But it is important to temper the understand children have of suffering the pains of a sinful world with the message of the Gospel. We all do things that are wrong. We all “sin and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And still Christ has made atonement for our sins. He has taken away the power of the evil one and given us life and salvation. That is the message that our children should learn about suffering. It is a time to teach about faith, and to build faith in a child through the Word. “Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). And that hope is the faith we have in our Lord Jesus, who has taken away the suffering of this life by His suffering on the cross.

At the end of the conversation with our friends, we agreed that the kids would learn suffering soon enough. But we can take comfort and hope in knowing that they will have their Savior to lean on when they do suffer.

The Simplicity of It All

The simplicity of the Gospel is this:

We can be more sure of our salvation in Christ than that the sun will rise tomorrow.

Consider that. It is more likely that the world will end in the middle of the night tonight and the sun will not rise tomorrow than salvation in Christ will not happen. And that is because our salvation has already been assured by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. We are saved by our faith in Christ’s work, not our own. And to get this salvation, all we must do is believe in Him. That faith is given to us through the hearing of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. So, it is this and this only:

Come, listen, believe and live!

Unanswered Prayers – For Richard Phillips

Garth Brooks wrote a song called “Unanswered Prayers.” For those of you unfamiliar with this song, it talks about how the narrator thanks God for not answering a prayer that he had prayed a long time ago. He was thankful because his life turned out great, even though God didn’t do what the narrator thought best at the time. Often I’ve wondered about this song. How is it good that God doesn’t always answer our prayers? Doesn’t it say in Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you?” How can it be that God does not give us what we ask?

Then I turned to Proverbs 19:21, which states, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” And Proverbs 16:9, (my one of my favorite Bible passages) “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”

How can it be that I can ask God for something that He will not give to me? Many, many times I wonder, worry, and fret over this fact. “Will God give me what I want?” “Is this what I need?” “How can I get what I think I need with THAT?”

God is all about TRUST! I know that that is a big word for some of us (especially me!), but think about it. Don’t you think that the CREATOR of all things can figure out a plan for us? Sure, I don’t want to accept the fact that I don’t know what’s going on in my existence. Maybe I WANT to be in control. But, I know in my heart (and maybe NOT my head) that God knows what’s going on. He’s got it all under control. That’s the great part about God. He got it all in the palm of His hand. Like the song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand.”

The omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God that we love and believe in has it all together. How great is THAT!? We don’t have to overstress or overwork ourselves, because we know in our hearts that someone GREATER than we will EVER(!) be has it under control. I don’t know about you, but that makes ME sleep soundly at night.

Now, here’s the funny part. Don’t worry! No, this is not a repeat of the advice Bobby McFerran gave us in the 1990’s, or the words of wisdom spoken by animated characters in a Disney movie. This is God, straight-up and true, in Matthew 6:25ff, “Do not worry about you life…” He tells us outright. How wonderful is it that we do not have to overstress about the things of this world? He’s got it under control. Remember this, when you hear the Garth Brooks song. Yes, we may not get what we want, but we have the assurance that someone greater knows exactly what we need, when we need it. Patience is a virtue (Galatians 5:22-23).

Psalm 90:4a “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by.” God works on His own time.

May He give us the faith to wait for His time, too.

For more help, see Psalm 25, Psalm 23, and Psalm 139 (the Psalm of my late Step-Grandfather, Richard Phillips).

Civility and the Pundit

On Being Civilly Obedient, or How I Learned to Turn Off the Political Pundits and Love the Government.

It’s amazing what a good class on the Book of Concord can remind you of, and teach you, in a 57-minute class.

We were reviewing Article XVI of the Augsburg Confession, and discussing who grants the government authority, and who gives the government to us.  And, oddly enough, the answer is quite clear.

Government is from the Lord.  Not the individual politicians mind you (although we are all God’s children), but the role of government is God-given as the authority over our lives, the protector of our society, and the institution that God established.

What a difficult concept to comprehend! Our government, made up of the sinful humans (as we are all well aware of many days) who make decisions that drive us crazy and make us question our sanity for electing them, is a blessing for which we should be thankful.

It is an American right to decide on the direction and purpose of our government, and to choose those who would lead us.  It is NOT our Christian right to criticize, denigrate, and hate our politicians.  As much as politics can upset and frustrate us, we are not to look down upon or disrespect those in authority.  The meaning of the Fourth Commandment in Luther’s Small Catechism says it well, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”

Can you say that you cherish the President, or Congress, or the police officer by whom you were caught speeding?

It is true that God commands us to follow Him first, and to submit to authority when it does not conflict with His commands.  But how many times do we use that argument to speak poorly about the members of our government?  Political pundits on television, radio, and the Internet skirt, bump, and sometimes run over with a Mack trunk the Fourth and, many times, the Eighth Commandment.  Have you?  Is it regular water-cooler discussion for you at the office, when you are with friends or family?

Always remember to pray for those in authority, who make the difficult decisions when leading us, for the families of those who serve us, and for ourselves that we may be loving and patient with them, and that we may cherish them in their God-given duty.

“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior.” – 1 Timothy 2:1-3

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” – Romans 13:1

Jesus is Immediate

As a followup for the Gospel of the Week for August 7th, here’s the sermon on Jesus walking on the water by Pastor John Shank of Trinity Lutheran Ministries in Edwardsville, IL.  I found this to be an excellent sermon.  It was also very interesting to sit at the very front of the church, per my son’s request this morning.  He liked it because he could see everything and was quiet and attentive for most of the service.  I think we’ve found our new pew.

You are Mine

It’s difficult to get to Saturday night, take a look around the house, and have so many things remind you of your sins of the past week.  The promises made and not fulfilled, the thoughts of anger and frustration, the mistakes and the sadness and the guilt.  You count the Commandments you’ve broken and realize that it takes all ten fingers to enumerate them.  Not a single one is left untarnished by the filth of your life.

Right then, in that moment, God sits before you in the judgement seat.  He looks upon your life and points down to you and prepares to cast you into the realms of damnation for all eternity.  A fit and deserved punishment, to say the least.  For how can we stand before God in our evil ways, our sinful flesh, and not be guilty?

And yet, before the Lord strikes you down, Christ steps in front of you and says, “I will take the punishment.”  He turns to you, and shows you His hands and feet, pierced for you.  He takes your hand and places it on His side and says, “See, I have paid for you.”

You then look around your room and see no more sin, no more pain, no more fear.  All that once brought you shame is gone, and now brings you peace in Christ.  You hear Jesus whisper in your ear, “I have held you to My Heart since your baptism.  I have kept you close when you ate and drank at the Supper.  You are saved by the faith you receive in My Word.  You are Mine.”

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1b

Why is Life Always a Struggle?!

Struggle is a hard thing.  A hard and wretched thing that constantly trips us up and pulls us down into the depths of doubt and despair.  The path is slow-going, full of potholes and traffic jams, things that tie us down and pull us backward.  These things make us have to fight and claw our way forward.  It seems a never-ending battle.  The quarrels with family and friends, the lack of emotion or contempt we find in relationships, the misguided or ill-spent time and effort on plans that don’t come to fruition.  The pains, the anger, the sadness, the tears and fears and struggles seem to rise up out of the dust of the earth and pull on our hearts and minds, trying to drag us down into the dust from which our bodies came.   This struggle is not against our own bodies, though, or our hearts.  It is against Satan and his power.  Paul, in Ephesians 6:12, states, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

But where do we find help in this struggle?  The psalmist said, in chapter 121, verse 1, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?”

That answer is direct and true in the next verse: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”  God is our Hope in struggle, our Strength in trial and tribulation.  David, when he was delivered from his struggles with Saul, sang these words, as a reminder to us of our comfort in distress: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation.  He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior – from violent men you save me.” (2 Samuel 22:2-3)  How true do those words ring, especially in our own times of pain and suffering?  It is that comfort in our struggle that allows us to go on, free from the burden of hopelessness and fear.

And still we know that these struggles have a purpose and plan, even though we cannot see it.  “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3b-4)

So, do not wallow in the pain of struggles, do not become downtrodden in tribulation.  Instead, hold your head high and look to heaven, to our Strength and Shield, our Hope and Comfort, our Joy and Peace.  God’s Power will overcome even the lowliest of days and the darkest of nights in our lives.  Cling to your faith in Christ and the promises of the Gospel.  The struggle is just part of the ride.  But it doesn’t last.  Love does

For comfort and strength, also see:  Ephesians 6:10-18 (The Armor of God), Psalm 27 and 31, 1 Corinthians 13:8a, Luke 9:57-62 (The road is not easy).

First My Wife was Right, and Now My Son…

“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” –Romans 10:17

I started reading The Story Bible from Concordia Publishing House to my son in the evenings at bedtime.  It’s a wonderful collection of Bible narratives geared toward children.  There are life-like pictures, rather than the cartoonish images in many Bibles.  They help my son to understand that what happened in the Bible is true, instead of a story that someone made up to get a message across like the other books on his shelf.

He’s starting to ask for Bible readings every night.  Just another example of the Word building faith!  We know that the Holy Spirit works faith in us when we hear God’s Word.  It is God’s Word that drives us to Him who is The Word, Jesus Christ.

My son is becoming to me a model for this belief.  We read the narratives and he asks questions sometimes about what happened.  He likes to hear about Samson (he’s into superheroes right now, so I think there’s a connection).  But he always listens, and then tells me why reading the Bible is important.  “So we can know about Jesus and go to heaven.”  What a proclamation of the Gospel!  Mark 10:15, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

He believes the Bible because, to him, it’s true.  Not because I tell him so, although we certainly have taught him about Jesus.  He believes the Bible is true because his faith tells him so.  I find that when I don’t think so hard about God and Faith and eternity and Sacraments and Confessions and Commentaries and Catechisms, and instead listen like a child, the sweet message of the Gospel, of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, gives me more peace than I could ever seek in books or the so-called powers of my mind.  Sometimes, just sitting down with my son to read a story about Jesus is all I truly need.