Living in Luxury

It was about 3:40 a.m. when I woke up this morning - way too early, even for a morning person like me. At first I was frustrated, but then I realized a healthier perspective. I asked myself, "Could it be that God woke me at this time and was calling me to prayer?"

And then, as my head cleared a little, it all started to make sense. My thoughts moved from the 'negative zone' to look at the opportunity that was being presented to me. And with this I began to pray - focusing upon a variety of people I know who are experiencing challenging times. Then I started praying for a variety of people I don't think I have ever prayed for before (How often do you pray for road construction crews that work at night?)

Around 4:00 a.m., as I found myself dozing a bit in the middle of my prayers, another thought dawned on me. Sleep is a gift from God ... not a right that we have. And being able to doze off, and then wake up a little, and do it over again, and again, ... well it was really like hitting the snooze button, except without the jolt of noise! It was another special gift from God. Mix these gifts with the wonderful invitation we have to come to him with all of our prayer concerns, and suddenly I realized ... here at 'four something a.m.' ... I was living a life of luxury!

Through Saint Paul God urges us in many ways to live this life of luxury. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 5.17-19) "First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be make for everyone, for kings and those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, a testimony at the proper time. ... Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument." (1 Timothy 2.1-8) My added underling speaks, I believe, to living that life of luxury at 4:00 a.m.

If I get a little drowsy this afternoon, or feel like I need to go to bed a little early tonight, I will do my best to say, "It's all a part of living this life of luxury!"

Sleep is a wonderful gift from God ... and gift to be enjoyed, appreciated, and used appropriately. Wakefulness is the same, a gift from God to be enjoyed, appreciated, and used appropriately. And so is prayer, for "This is the confidence we have before him: If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked of him." (1 John 5.14-15) This, my friends, truly is the life of luxury he has given to us!

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken pot pie is much like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, only much better. As a child, it seems like my mother always had them available in the freezer - I believe the brand was either Gordon's or Swanson. This past Monday we picked one up at Costco. I finished it off last night when I got home.

Not only was it tasty and satisfying (both nights), it also brought back memories of my mother's famous "home cooking". "Gordon's in the freezer" is a great example of it ... and a clear illustration of how much she enjoyed cooking. Oh, we were well fed and ate healthy meals every day (she made breakfast for us every morning at 7:00 a.m.), but let's just say Monica never felt any pressure to compete with my mother's cooking.

One year, early in our married years, Monica asked me what kind of cake I wanted for my birthday. I told her that my favorite cake was a lemon cake made from an old family recipe. When she asked my mother for the recipe, she found out it was a box cake to which she added a little lemon juice and sugar!

Monica's mom - as you might guess - made nearly everything from scratch, and had a feast on the table every Sunday right at noon ... about 20 minutes after they got home from church!

However, something that both homes had in common ... and something that continues in our home today ... were prayers connected to every meal, and reading every day from Portals of Prayer. More essential than PB+J, and more substantive than chicken pot pie, prayers and Portals frame our life in the gracious presence of our Lord Jesus. Our world would be in much better shape if every person living in every mansion, home, apartment, condo or wherever would fold these simple ingredients into their daily lives.

"Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Romans 10.17) You will find this passage on the bottom of almost every email I send. These words remind me that it does not take a lot, just a 'constant little' for God to be at work in us, growing faith and making us strong. I believe much of who I am today - and the faith that I have - come from my father reading Portals of Prayer to us every morning during that 7:00 a.m. breakfast.

A great prayer is found in Psalm 107: "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!" (Psalm 107.1) If you have extra time, the entire psalm is worth reading. It speaks of the faithfulness of God in the midst of all of life's circumstances, and then ends with "Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord." (Psalm 107..43)

Less than one minute connected to every meal, PLUS seven minutes folded into every day equals a life built upon a rock (see Matthew 24-27). What is the result? "How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord's instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in it season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." (Psalm 1.1-3)

This is the kind of "chicken pot pie" that provides real, lasting strength and nourishment.

The Sting

It is difficult to hear the cell phone when you are sitting around the pool on vacation - especially when you are watching an approaching thunder storm and sitting in gusty winds. Thus it was nearly two hours after receiving the phone call on Tuesday that I finally saw that I had a voice mail. The voice mail simply asked me to return the phone call of a pastor friend of ours. He wanted to advise me of a situation regarding another one of our friends.

The news was not good. On Monday night, while vising their daughter in South Carolina, our friend's wife suffered a major heart attack. She was on life support while they waited to determine a strategy. The news made me anticipate that we may not be seeing this friend again until Christ returns to create the new heaven and the new earth.

Ironically (or was it a 'God thing'?), at the time of these phone calls, I was reading a theological article on "The Reformation of Dying and Burial." The scripture passage under discussion was 1 Corinthians 15.54-57: "When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Shortly before his own death, Martin Luther had commented on this passage, writing "Death lies on the ground. It has lost its kingdom, might, and victory. Indeed, it had the upper hand. The entire world was subject to it because of sin, and all people have to die. But now it has lost its victory. Against death's rule and triumph our Lord God, the Lord of Sabaoth, has his own victory, the resurrection from the dead in Christ. For a long time death sang, 'Hooray! Triumph! I, death. am king and lord over all human beings. I have the victory and am on top.' But our Lord God permits himself to sing a little song that goes, 'Hooray! Triumph! Life is king and lord over death. Death has lost and is on the bottom.' Previously death had sung, 'Victory! Victory! Hooray! I have won. Here is nothing but death and no life.' But God now sings, 'Victory! Victory! Hooray! I have won. Here is nothing but life and no death. Death has been conquered in Christ and has died itself. Life has gained the victory and won.' ... This is the song that will be sung by us in the resurrection of the dead when this mortal covering becomes immortality."

Then Luther goes on to write "Now death is choking off our life in many ways and making us miserable, some by sword, others by plague, one person by water, another by fire. Who can count all the ways death is strangling us? Death was alive, ruled, conquered, and sang, 'I won. I won. I, death, am king and conqueror of the whole world. I have power and rights over everything that lives on earth. I strike with death and strangle everyone, young, old, rich, poor, of high and low estate, noble, commoners. I defy those who want to protect themselves against me.' But now death will soon sing itself hoarse and to death. Then his cantata will soon be laid to rest. For on Easter another song came forth, that goes, 'Christ is arisen from all suffering. We shall be joyous, Christ will be our comfort.' Death, where is now your victory? Where do you find him who lay in the grave, whom you killed on the cross?" Luther found him - that is, Christ Jesus - as we find him: alive, present in his word, and ruling his people with grace and mercy.

Death's sting remains nasty. It is invasive, insulting, and painful. Sometimes it strikes suddenly. Other times in creeps in slowly. Still, at other times, it seems to be a combination of the two.

But, as Luther reminds us ... and as 1 Corinthians 15 states so clearly ... death is defeated. Easter is coming. And in our baptism we have been raised with Christ to walk in the newness of life with him in victory. "I want to make clear to you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand and by which you are saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you. ... Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried, and he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15.1-4)

It is now Thursday morning and we have heard no additional news. We have been praying for Ruth, Arnold, and their family. Many, many others have been doing the same. We wait and watch. We pray and hope.

Which, of course, is always the story of our lives. "Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven. ... Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Matthew 24.36, 44) These, as you well know, are the words of Jesus.

In the same chapter I have quoted earlier, Paul reminds us, "If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone." (1 Corinthians 15.19). In this world we hope and pray constantly - and all the more so when life stinks or stings - knowing God will supply all our needs in just the right way. Yet, at the same time, we know that a time is coming when we will say with finality, "Where, death, is your sting? Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15.55, 57)

Stepping Up

We did not get back from our winter vacation until Saturday afternoon sometime after 3:00 - the day before Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. In hindsight, it probably was not the smartest thing in the world to do. I thought I had things all lined up for all the activities and worship services, and that our getting back on the eve of my busiest week of the year would be no problem.

However, on Monday morning, I realized there were three roles in the Good Friday service I had not filled! Thankfully, by Wednesday evening's rehearsal, three individuals had 'stepped up' with affirmative responses to my last minute pleas. And then, just as the rehearsal was about to begin, someone pointed out another glitch. I walked out of the sanctuary and into the front hallway ... and came face-to-face with the fourth individual who said, "No problem" as she stepped up and into filling a vital character position for Good Friday.

Additionally, during Sunday morning's announcements, I heard of the food items we still needed for Saturday's distribution of Easter dinner baskets to our community. The list was long, and I feared we would need to buy the supplies with funds that the food pantry really did not have. Then, around 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning I received a phone call. With apologies for calling so early, the individual was looking to make arrangements to bring their food donation in a little late - because their mother had just been put in the hospital. Talk about stepping up! Wednesday night came, and I was told, "We are all set for Saturday - we have received all of the food we asked for." While I know the financial resources for the Food Pantry remain low, once again people had stepped up.

In this I have not even mentioned the great administrative team - staff and lay leaders - who week-in and week-out step up and 'get things done' for the Lord at STL. This week has been no exception. And I know there are tons of "little things" getting done that go virtually unnoticed ... as individual after individual steps up to serve, donate, and pray.

Hebrews 12 starts with the words, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." That's what all these people are - a great cloud of witnesses - as they are 'stepping up' in service to Christ and his mission on earth. They are walking, step-by-step, with Abraham, Moses, Rahab, and all the witnesses listed in Hebrews 11. And I thank God for them every day.

I will never be comfortable with my shortcomings, failures, and inadequacies. It is likely that I will continue to make mistakes and see, in hindsight, the peril of my decisions. "Woe is me! For I am lost," I say with Isaiah (Isaiah 6.5). Yet I pray that I will never stop seeing - because I know it will not stop happening - God raising up individual after individual, family after family, to 'step up' and serve in his kingdom.

My prayer is actually the continuation of the direction we receive in Hebrews 12. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." (Hebrews 12.1-3)

I will never be able to make it on my own ... but Jesus keeps coming to me ... in Word and Sacrament ... raising me up ... and through individual after individual stepping up ... picking up the loose ends ... doing their part ... recognizing the needs and responding ... walking step-by-step with that great cloud of witnesses ... saying, "Here am I! Send me." (Isaiah 6.8)

In the midst of it all, all I can say is, "My God is faithful." Time after time, without fail, he is the one who 'steps up' and provides for me, and all his people. This is true, in spite of how many times I fall so miserably short of his expectations, and mine. Now, I wonder what 'forgotten detail' will arise today?

Being Lutheran

My Saturday night was different ... the time would be changing long after I was in bed ... Monica and I were together at the home of our older son and his wife, watching our granddaughter ... Law and Order was on TV (after Basketball) ... Jimmy John's (#10 and #11) provided the meal ... and I had the opportunity to read a book entitled "Being Lutheran" (A. Trevor Sutton, Concordia Publishing House: 2016). Now we all know that the time changes twice each year (even though I think we should stay on daylight saving time year round). You also would be safe in assuming that Monica and I have watched our granddaughter before (and always with great delight), and that Law and Order, basketball and Jimmy John's were nothing new for us (even on a Saturday night). What made the night different was the book - "Being Lutheran".

You might say I have been Lutheran my entire life, though an argument could be made that the time lapse between February 16, 1953 and March 6 of that year found me outside looking in. And not just a little bit Lutheran. The fact is, it was not until I entered high school that my world expanded to knowing more than one family that was not Lutheran!

It was the back cover of the book that got my attention - after, that is, I heard that Pastor Rick's Sunday FHL group was going to be reading and discussing it. The back cover said, "Throw out all those notions you might have about what it means to be Lutheran. When it comes down to it, being Lutheran is really very simple. It's about following Jesus. We go where Jesus goes, we listen when Jesus speaks, we trust what Jesus promises. And we live because Jesus lives." And then in the introductory pages an old college friend of mine wrote, "(This book is) both a delightful and helpful look at the depth and the riches of the biblical faith." Wow - after that I had to read it.

And, though I will want to read it again (and take the time to highlight), I breezed through the 250 pages right while all those other things were going on! For today I plan to simply share with you a conclusion to one of the chapters, followed by some verses from Psalm 37. I hope these words give you something to think about today.

"Life is messy. God is not. Creatures have boundaries. God does not. Unresolved tension is simply part of being a creature living in a world messy with sin. Being Lutheran is admitting creaturely limitations and living with unresolved tensions.

"We proclaim paradoxes: sinner and saint, Law and Gospel, now and not yet. We tolerate tensions: Holy Communion is fully Christ's body and blood while also fully bread and wine. Scripture is fully the Word of God while also the work of fully human authors. Other traditions try to resolve these tensions with philosophical speculation, lofty reason, and historical proof. Lutherans tolerate the tension of God's revelation.

"Being Lutheran is not made for TV. We refuse to resolve every theological question, fit our faith into tidy doctrinal packages, or chase after philosophical symmetry. We refuse to treat the mysteries of our faith as if they are riddles to be solved. Instead, we live faithfully as creatures of God. We cling to God's revelation of love in the cross of Jesus Christ." (pp. 196-197)

Or, as the fully human, sinner-saint David writes, "Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! ... Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked." (Psalm 37.3-7, 16)

I like this Word of the Lord given us through David ... as I also like how Paul says the same thing differently, "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." (Galatians 5.13) I believe this is what Sutton is talking about in "Being Lutheran." And why I feel so free and joyous in my life.