Roller coasters continually go down'n'up, but those of you who know me well are likely to doubt that I will be talking about them today. And you would be right. A fan of roller coasters I am not. In fact, take me to Cedar Point and I will gladly sit on the bench with your bags while you head for the rides. Give me the music, the food, and an occasional log ride (if they are still around), and I will be satisfied.

I could be talking about the pot holes that are spreading like an infectious disease on our streets ... down goes the tire, and then suddenly up. I could be talking about the temperatures (or the snow piles) in these first few weeks of January ... down'n'up ... down'n'up. But my memory of the start of this week is focused elsewhere.

This past Monday was a day many call "Blue Monday" - the most depressing day of the year (or, perhaps, the Ultimate Blue Monday). Christmas seems a long time ago, and the winter routine has settled in. Cold temperatures ... long nights ... sloppy roads ... and then the credit card bill arrives - reminding you of all the overspending you did in that season that seems so long ago. One might speculate that the only good news is that pitchers and catchers report to Lakeland in less than a month!

It is no small wonder that my inbox on Monday morning included an informative article on depression in church workers, and that one of the devotions I read this morning was entitled "Dealing with Depression - Part Four"!

The notoriety of the day (and time of the year) pushed me to spend a little extra time in God's Word this week, where two truths are clearly described. The first is that people have been dealing with blue Monday's ever since Genesis 3 (Do you think it was Sunday night or Monday morning when Adam and Eve first ate of the forbidden fruit?). The second is that, if we only focus upon life's problems without lifting them up into the light of God's promises, life will be a constant downer ... which is not what God has in mind for us whatsoever.

Yesterday was a tough one for me. It included eight appointments, two hospital visits and most of my travel time spent on the phone. In those visits and appointments I encountered enough different forms of human suffering and distress to make my heart ache and my mind spin.

Yesterday was a great day for me. It included gathering together with over 20 different people around God's Word (and often times, Sacrament). It included laughter and tears, hugs and kisses, prayers, hymns and hope for the future. And when I finally got home, the good news and sightings of God @ Work far outweighed the bad. And, though I am tired this morning because my night was a bit restless, I know that once again today Jesus will be at work in me through all of the downs'n'ups.

He understands the situation of his people and gives us his word of assurance. "As a deer longs for flowing streams, so I long for you, God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while all day long people say to me, 'Where is your God?' ... Why, my soul, are you so dejected? Why are you in such turmoil? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him, my Savior and my God." (Psalm 42.1-3, 5) And then the next psalm continues "Send your light and your truth; let them lead me. Let them bring me to your holy mountain, to your dwelling place. then I will come to the altar of God, to God, my greatest joy. I will praise you with the lyre, God, my God. Why, my soul, are you so dejected? Why are you in such turmoil? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him, my Savior and my God." (Psalm 43.3-5)

Roller coasters ... pot holes ... temperatures ... life ... all filled with many downs'n'ups ... but God's light and truth leads us through them all ... carrying us to countless joys on earth and an eternity with him.

I cannot remember how long ago it was that I noticed the activity, but it certainly was less than a year. A man walked into our church out of nowhere, looking for Jesus. He found him with some men who were sitting around a table with their Bibles open. He has since returned more than once.

Some time later another man with the same desire walked in. And then, after that, another man. Somewhere along the line a woman we had not seen in a couple years walked in. And then, just the other night, one we had not seen in many years gave me a call out of nowhere. I looked at my list this week and discovered that there are over 30 individuals/households on my 'immediate list' of people who recently have come to us in their search for Jesus.

I am not sure how Jesus got their attention (does it matter?), or how they were led to our church (same question), but I do know what Jesus was saying to them. "Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11.28-30) Two other young ladies were responding to these words when I found them praying in the back pew on a recent Monday evening (sometimes, I guess, it is not just one-by-one).

These stories take me to a story Matthew tells a little earlier in his gospel. Jesus "saw a man named Matthew sitting at the toll booth, and he said to him, 'Follow me,' and he got up and followed him. ... When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' Now when (Jesus) heard this, he said, 'It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy not sacrifice. For I didn't come to call the righteous, but sinners.'" (Matthew 9.9-13)

It does not matter if we are weary (like the crowds in Matthew 11) or if life is rolling along pretty well (like the man in Matthew 9), the words Jesus speaks to us all are the same, "Come to me. Follow me." And, one-by-one, day-by-day, people hear, and respond. And, as they sit in the presence of Jesus, they discover the simple truth that "man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." (Matthew 4.4; Deuteronomy 8.3)

Ever wonder why some phrases in this weekly publication are printed in blue? Read Matthew 4.4 again. Ever wonder why I send this to you each Thursday with those blue words all over the page? Go back to Deuteronomy 8.3. Ever wonder why I am constantly praying that those who read this - even once - will walk into our building (or one like ours) and join others as they all, together, get to know Jesus better? You know the reason.

In this day of preventative medicine and proactive healthcare, efforts that rightly compliment surgical centers and intensive care units, the words of Jesus from Matthew 9.13 take on additional meaning. "It is not JUST those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick, TOO" ... for "NO individual lives on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." Thus, one-by-one, Jesus is saying to us all, "Come to me ... and I will give you rest."

And I pray that somewhere, one-by-one, we all find ourselves in this story.

Some headlines are more provocative than others. Some days are better than others. And the weather, well, it quite possibly could be a mater of perspective.

What did you notice about yesterday's weather? Do you expect your conversation to be similar today? Is it B.S. or F.?

I, personally, have been enjoying the BLUE SKY. It may summon the FRIGID temperatures, but the sunlight is gorgeous. And, my oh my, how good it feels to be wearing sunglasses again. You may disagree with me on my assessment, but there is a truth hidden in the cloudless sky.

FRIGID temperatures we experience through feelings, sometimes leaving us so cold we never get around to seeing the sky. The BLUE SKY is noted as one looks up. And I find that the more I look up, the less the FRIGID air bothers me.

The psalmist David seems to share this perspective. He pens, "Lift up your heads, you gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle!" (Psalm 24.7-8)

Do you see the progression? "Lift up your heads" pairs, for me, with "I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." (Psalm 121.1-2) Proper perspective on life begins with the action of turning to the source of all wisdom and truth, as opposed to relying upon our (FRIGID) feelings.

What happens when we turn to him? "And be lifted up, that the King of glory may come in." The promise is clear. "You shall go out in joy (even into the FRIGID air) and be led forth in peace." (Isaiah 55.12)

The promise then remains true through all types of weather, and all forms of havoc, for this King of glory is none other than "the Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle." He is "our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble." (Psalm 46.1) He may not work according to our time schedule, but "they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles (BLUE SKY); they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40.31)

Now, I know that this is a very difficult time for many friends of mine ... for many of you, and your friends, too. Many are missing loved ones ... others are facing hospice, hospitals or home-care. Many in our communities are homeless, or hungry ... or hopeless. This is a FRIGID world in which we live, but, even on the cloudiest of days, there is BLUE SKY to be found, just "Lift up your heads, you gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle!" (Psalm 24.7-8)

In other words, God's Spirit would have us choose to focus upon the B.S. instead of the F no matter what the weather may be.

I think (for me) it all started a few years ago with "Downton Abbey". This week it was "The Crown". Our binge took in all ten episodes of the first season in less than three days. I am not sure which was the driving force - our need to crash or being absorbed into the drama. Or, perhaps it is some sort of British conspiracy!

This binge, though, may only be one in a flurry of many. First it was a binge of church services - four in 25 hours. Then came a 'family binge' - with 8 from out of state joining the 6 here for 6 days. And, speaking of flurries and binges, how would you describe first the snow, and then the cold that we have had so far this winter?

At least these seem to be binges that are on the healthy side of life (we need the cold and snow, right?). I can think of many others that could damage or destroy both health and relationships. Merriam-Webster defines a binge as "an unrestrained and often excessive indulgence". Illustrations include eating, drinking and buying.

So, the question arose in my mind, "Is 'binging' a godly activity?" And, for that matter, what about indulging? My research took me to Ephesians, and the results were somewhat surprising.

We have a God who, in Christ Jesus, behaves with "unrestrained and often excessive indulgence!" "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ." (Ephesians 1.3) "He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One." (Ephesians 1.5-6) "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding." (Ephesians 1.7-8) "that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God's love, and to know Christ's love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3.17-19)

Our God binges in Christ Jesus. He is indulgent, ... and excessive, ... but - and here is where the difference is made - there is not a selfish bone in his body ... He does it all FOR US! How are Jesus' actions described? "For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame." (Hebrews 12.2) And what was that joy? The opportunity for us to spend eternity with him in heaven. We live in an unending binge of blessings from our indulgent God.

But what truly sets him apart is his heart. He does it all out of love for you and me. What also sets him apart is his wisdom. He always knows what is best for you and me. What sets him apart is his strength ... for nothing "will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8.39)

Thus we are free to enjoy life ... even to go on a binge here and there ... especially when done with the heart and wisdom of Christ. Or, as Paul puts it "But as for you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing good." (2 Thessalonians 3.13)

I wonder what will take place in season two? And then there is another series, "AD: Kingdom and Empire" that I must check out ... God save the queen ... and Lord, in your love, wisdom, and strength, have mercy on me.

"97, 98, 99, 100 ... Ready or not, here I come." And so the game of hide and seek began.The forsythia bush was always a favorite place to hide ... until Uncle Walter came around the 4th to trim all the bushes. I don't really know if children today still play this game, but I know I enjoyed it as a child.

"Ready or not, here I come," is what our oldest son said to us on this day in 1980. It was a Sunday morning, and I was not really ready. Then, again, are we ever truly ready for anything, I ask myself?

Christmas is how many days away?! Are you ready? What does it mean to be ready? Gifts purchased and wrapped? Cookies baked? Menu prepared? House cleaned and decorated? Bags packed? Christmas sweater on? Cards and letters mailed? What am I missing?

Ready or not, Christmas will arrive the beginning of next week. Ready or not, tomorrow will start at midnight tonight. Ready or not, today will be today, and next week will be next week. Ready or not, time rolls on ... like waves on the sea shore ... and we can either catch the wave and sail with it, or be caught by the wave and pulled under (and pray there is a life guard on duty).

When the angel Gabriel gave Zechariah the news that he would have a son, and that he was to name him John, he spoke of John's purpose in life. "He will go before (Christ) in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people." (Luke 1.17) When he began his ministry, what was his message? "Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!" (Matthew 3.2) And then, pointing toward Jesus he said, "Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1.29)

How do college football teams get ready? Recruitment, conditioning, practice, planning. Do things always go as planned? Perhaps a better question is, "Do they EVER go as planned?" In Homiletics class my professor always said that we should know our sermon so well that, if a bird flew into the sanctuary in the middle of the sermon, you could make it an object lesson. Conditioning, practice and planning do not control everything that happens, but they do make a person ready to manage the circumstances.

The message of Gabriel on Christmas and John on the banks of the Jordan are one and the same. And their words are what we need to hear to be ready. "Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." Whether we are ready for him or not, he comes. He comes on Christmas to give us hope and a future. He comes as Immanuel (God with us) to turn us (repent) into his word and church to give us strength and guidance. He comes in Word and Sacrament, giving us what we need to be ready ... making us into people prepared for whatever is to come ... molding us into people who can help others manage whatever comes their way.

And the best news of all? Christ never stops coming to us, seeking to make us a people prepared ... even when we say we are too busy, or our priorities are different, or we know it all already, or whatever, ... because he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world ... ready or not!

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