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For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…

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The Prophet Jeremiah writes these words in chapter 29, verse 11, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”  How does one discern God’s call in life?  Does the Lord call us once to a vocation of work, or, over and over issue many calls to serve Him through a variety of life’s opportunities?  How does one hear that “still small voice” of God who whispers to us His loving wisdom, and, provides us direction and purpose in life? Most often that call of God to hear, to receive and to follow has come to me through the invitations of others, and now from a brother pastor and good friend, Jeff, who has invited me in his stead, to serve his congregation for a summer at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in San Clemente, California. I am grateful to the President and Board of Trustees at Newberry College in their graciousness to allow me this time for renewal and reformation of spirit and inspiration of heart.  I am further grateful to Pastor Jeff and the good people of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church for their warm and loving welcome this past week. Of course my greatest thanks, and eternal joy goes out to my beloved Annie, who is always there for me wherever the Lord sends me.  God is so very present to me in the faces of His children, and the faith we share.  The sojourn of summer has begun…  I shall attempt to use this blog to give voice to joys, wonders, questions, and musings that come along as together we share the journey.

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Peter Pan

Do you remember the story of Peter Pan?  Pan was the boy from Neverland who never wanted to grow up.  His best friend was the fairy, Tinkerbell.  As the story goes, in his nocturnal travels about London Town, Peter meets the love of his life one evening, and after that, his growing up is inevitable. Sure, there is a lot of story in between meeting his lovely young friend and marrying her, but the point is, that the love of a good young woman caused a substantial change in this young man’s behavior, causing him to choose to grow up into a good man. Peter Pan is a great story, it has pirates and flying boys and crocodiles and mystery and so much more.  Read it if you haven’t, you will appreciate the fun. I think the author is J.M. Barrie?

Another film that struck a cord within me is titled, “One True Thing.”  This one is a pretty serious movie tackling many difficult topics, but, my take away is the value and power of a true and lasting love between two people.  I guess I am just a hopeless, old romantic.  My favorite scene in the film is but a very short 30 seconds in length, but it is a simple gesture of kindness and forgiveness and love from one to the other; the kind of gesture that is often taken for granted, but, oh, so powerful.  

It is coming up on my annual celebration of marriage to my beloved, decades and decades ago, but, seems only moments.  We have travelled miles and miles over the years, moved more often that I would ever have imagined, raised amazing children, and discovered and rediscovered hardship and true love again and again.  There were valleys to traverse, rivers to ford, and mountains to climb along the way, and we did it together, sometimes well and others not…always together in spirit and heart if not side-by-side. 

All I know is this; I once was wandering aimlessly,  but then was found, in the smile of my beloved and her open heart filled with love and hope and kindness and possibility.  She did then, and does now, make me want to be the very best that I can be, every day.  Any so-called achievement that I have made in this life, I owe to my beloved’s open arms, and reassurance.  I was her Peter Pan and she is my One True Thing.  She taught me that God is love, and every loving action we share is divinely inspired and eternally sweet. Thank you Beloved.  


  

Martin Luther: The Idea that changed the world

So yesterday, three of us were discussing the film, “Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed the World,” when suddenly in the midst of the conversation, my partner in ministry noticed the light coming through the window and shining on the carpet.  

There it was, a cross, shining brightly on the carpet.  We all stopped speaking and looked at the cross on the floor.  The cross reflected on the floor was there for only a moment or two before it was no more.  We wondered, was it coincidence, neither of us had noticed anything like this before, or, was it part of our conversation, with the Lord chiming in to make His point.  Either way, we stopped from our discussion, and remembered Martin Luther’s quote, “Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura.”  The Word of God reminds us, that, “We are saved by the grace of God through faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ.”  It is amazing to me how often moments like these occur whenever two or three gather in His name.  Coincidence; I think not.  

I call to you, Lord, Come quickly to me…

As I sit at my desk the news scrolls across my computer to remind me of the terrible devastation by wildfire in the west, Los Angeles area, and Montana and Oregon, while Hurricane Irma wreaks havoc across the islands in the Caribbean, and, heads towards the Florida Keys, Miami, and the U.S. East Coast.  Questions arise in the pathway of nature’s fury, evacuate, or shelter in place?  The authorities in these locations effected by the storms and fires work tirelessly to prepare their people to survive the fury, and, the meteorologists put everything they have learned into the science of their craft, an impossible task, to predict what nature will do.  For me and many others, prayers are in order.  Prayer gives me peace in the midst of the unknown, it makes me take a moment out of my human need to be worried and scared, to stop, think, and to share, my hopes and dreams and needs with The Holy One who created me, [us] and, whose love for me, [us] goes far beyond that which I, [we] can experience with my, [our] five senses.  My prayers today are informed by Psalm 141: 1-3.

A psalm of David,  I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me; hear me when I call to you.  May my prayer rise before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.  Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.  NIV.  

Frankly, at times like these I’m not sure what to pray, what to ask of the good Lord?  The storms that devastated Houston brought neighbors together looking out for one another, rescuing one another, and showed what we can be as a people when we are all about the common good.  Now, other storms are destroying homes, neighborhoods, and cities on the islands and making it’s path toward the coastline of our southeastern cities.  We have no power over the winds that stoke the wildfires, and the storms at sea, but we do have the power to work together for our common welfare as neighbors.  I think that I shall ask the Holy Spirit of God to do my praying for me with sighs too deep for words as the Christian Scriptures say, oh sure, I’ll be praying, but, asking the Holy Spirit to take my words and make them Holy and useful.  I’ll be praying that the Lord will open the eyes of my heart to see new ways to serve my neighbors as we prepare to weather the storms that come our way this week.  I’ll be praying that my neighbors remain safe in the midst of the storms. 

Life is definitely a challenge to be embraced, to be lived and cherished.  No one said life would be easy, and it is not, easy.  “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12b.  United in purpose, with God’s help, we can, and we will, stand together to brave the storms that nature puts before us.  Like the baby sea turtle born high up on the beach, who must withstand time, tide and foes, he sets his sights on the mighty ocean, and one stroke at a time moves with confidence to the sea.  It is such a huge ocean, and he is such a tiny creature, life won’t be easy; I’ll pray for him too.  Lord, watch over everyone in the paths of the storms and fires.  Be a strong deliverer for our first responders who put their lives on the line for our safety every day.  Calm the storms and still the winds that stoke the flames. Bering us together when all is past and help us help each other.  Amen.

Celebrating life even as we mourn death

I attended a funeral yesterday and was fed in the Word of God better than any Sunday morning service I have ever attended or lead. The young woman to be celebrated who had recently passed from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant was only 28 years old.  She was a beautiful life cut too short by the ravages of disease. However, after attending her funeral, I am certain this Angel of the Lord had fulfilled her earthly mission in such a way as to have lived more wonderfully in her 28 years than many of us do in 60 plus years of living.  Witness after witness recalled this young woman’s courageous statement that she was going to “ride this thing called life until the wheels fell off, ” and she did.  I was so encouraged hearing stories of incredible faith and courage and wisdom in a person so young.  I met her only once, but, I did work with her husband for two years, a marvelous man in his own right.  Attending this funeral made me wonder what an unbelievably wonderful couple these two young people must have been if only for a short time?   This couple changed lives for the better of that I am certain.

Pastor after Pastor got up to speak the Word of God to the grieving families and friends, and, each one was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit in ways I’ve not heard.  God’s amazing grace and never-failing love permeated the room as we celebrated the life of this young woman.  God’s promise of resurrection and eternal life in His loving light was proclaimed with such assurance and energy that I felt every fiber of my humanity was being lifted up in newness of spirit and renewal of faith.  

I’ve attended many funerals, preached and lead many funerals, and my beloved wife says that I do them well because of my strong belief in the Word of God and His promises of new life in Christ.  Yesterday, I left a funeral knowing with absolute certainty that God was in that place and His love was showered upon the people present.  I thank the Lord and those 8 preachers who took part in that funeral for their amazing faith, strength of belief and power to share the Gospel message.  I am honored and privileged to have been allowed to be a part of celebrating this young woman’s life.  O death where is thy sting? As the modern Christian song goes, “Death was arrested and [her] life began.” Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted. 

Today is a new day and all I can feel is a very strong desire to be at least half as good a Christian person as the young woman we buried yesterday.  In the movement from life to death to life eternal this young woman’s example of Christian love has inspired the faith of this old man.  Lord, make me an instrument of your peace! Amen. 

“When I look at your heavens…”

I witnessed a true natural wonder yesterday in the solar eclipse.  My fantastic college is located right under the path of the eclipse, where we saw the totality of the eclipse for 2 minutes and 40 seconds or so.  Hundreds of men and women of all ages gathered on every portion of the campus to see the marvel that is a solar eclipse.  My beloved spouse and I gathered with a few hundred people in the football stadium where there was music and dancing and joy and hope abounding. When the time was upon us for the totality of the eclipse there was loud cheering and clapping as if our home team had won the championship game.  The eclipse was something to see alright, a magnificent reminder of God’s supreme creation both from the view of faith, and, science.  We cheered as though we had seen a miracle, but it was not a miracle, it was as planned in the Lord’s creation of the heavens and the earth, and, as our best scientists had predicted using the tools of modern astronomy.  Faith and Reason side by side, and, maybe it is a bit miraculous in our ability to predict the path of such an event, the science used to build glasses to protect our eyes as we stare at the sun, and, to understand the how and the why of such a wonder.  Amazing as this solar eclipse was, scientists tell us that the next solar eclipse is August 8, 2024.  What was it the Psalmist wrote?

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?  Yet you have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.  You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.  O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”   Psalm 8:3-9.  

This picture is from my phone without a special filter during the total eclipse of the sun.  Even a sliver of light overpowers the darkness. The corona of the sun overcame the total blocking of the sun by the moon.  It only takes one candle to dispel the darkness.   By the way our temperature in town dropped 11 degrees for the 2 minutes and 40 seconds of eclipse totality. 

Blessed are they who mourn…

I’m grieving!  It’s true; I cannot focus on the work in front of me, my thoughts are all over the place, and sorrow comes over me in waves at the strangest times of the day.  The odd part in all of this is that I am blessed to have returned to the College campus community that has welcomed me for 9 plus years.  I am the Campus Pastor, students are returning, faculty are here and we are just one weekend away from the start of the fall semester.  The fall semester on campus is AWESOME!  Fall semester is like the birth of a child, filled with hope, and joy and possibility.   I really enjoy being a part of our College Community, and yet, the grief?  

Well, I’ll tell you.  If you look up definitions of grief they will describe the experience of  loss, personal loss, relationships lost, etc..  That’s great, but, I have lost nothing, and I have gained everything. This summer my beloved and I spent 89 days as the sabbatical pastor and spouse for Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and School in Southern California.  We met the most wonderful people at OSLC/OSLS.  Every single experience from worship to confirmation retreat, to fellowship and Bible Study, meals together and hospital and home visitations, every experience was a blessing to us.  We are different now, my beloved and I, inspired, motivated and blessed, and it is because we were welcomed into this Christian community.  So why the grief?  

I don’t think I am grieving because I lost something in having to return to my College Campus and leaving the congregation in Southern California.  I adore being a member of the College family as I have mentioned earlier.  But, now I am filled with new joy, and the hope that comes from faith renewed, empowered by experiences that were provided in the Holy Spirit of God, and maybe what I am feeling is not grief, but a Pentecost experience?  Could it be a Pentecost experience? 

Perhaps the Lord is speaking to me and through me in new ways as a reformation of ministry, a refreshing of the calling to which God has lead me, and beginning to open my eyes and ears and heart to the ministry that lies ahead which only He can see clearly.  I spent the summer filling in as the summer pastor while the regular pastor went on and educational sabbatical.  I guess I had a sabbatical as well.  After all sabbatical refers to the Sabbath or seventh day, a day of rest and inspiration and worship.  

Praise God from whom all blessings flow, it is not grief, but a Pentecost experience.  Come Holy Spirit!  Only 130 days till Christmas!

Father, Son and Holy Spirit

In this month’s Living Lutheran, a magazine of the ELCA, there is an article written by the Reverend Mark Ellington titled, REFORMATION 500, 50 things Luther taught that you may not know.  His reason number 18 reads thusly, “The reformer [speaking of Martin Luther], spoke of the three persons of the Trinity as speaker, sermon, and hearer (LW, Vol. 24), or as the mind, intellect and will of God (LW, Vol.1).

Remembering back to seminary preaching classes; I was told that as a preacher I needed to be sure of my words, phrasing and usage in my sermons so to be as clear in my intent and message as possible, and, that just because I knew what I had said in a sermon did not mean that what was said is what was heard by the hearer of the sermon.  Every Sunday, in my experience, while shaking hands with parishioners at the door of the church after worship, it has not been uncommon to hear a person say to me, “Well done Pastor, I enjoyed the sermon. Just what I needed to hear.”  One day long ago I stopped a parishioner who had said such words and asked him, “what did you hear?”  To my surprise and amazement this man proceeded to tell me of a sermon I don’t believe I gave, yet, we were in the same worship and heard the same words spoken.  That was my epiphany moment, God had taken my words [you might argue; His Words], and using the power and mystery of His Holy Spirit made it into a message that this particular man needed to hear.  Well that makes sense now doesn’t it.  After all, even as this person’s pastor I could not know what exactly was in his heart and what of God’s truth he needed to hear that day.  Only the Creator knows what is in our hearts.  I continued to muse, if this works for one man perhaps it works this way for everyone in the congregation?  One preacher and one spoken sermon but many messages heard.  Fantastic.  Absolutely fantastic.

So for years now when I shake hands at the door, to share greetings and thoughts, when someone says, “great sermon pastor,” I say to that person, “If this sermon had meaning for you then praise God from whom all blessings flow, but, if it meant nothing to you that is my fault for failing to preach my one sermon faithfully and clearly.”  

Trinity; Speaker, Sermon, Hearer.  The Father speaks.  The Son is the spoken Word incarnate and sent into the world to be the living sermon of The Father.  The Holy Spirit opens ears and hearts to receive God’s love and Truth.  God is magnificent and reveals what once was hidden and brings it into the light.  Thanks to Reverend Ellington for reminding me of Martin Luther’s thoughts, number 18.  You can read many more of Luther’s thoughts at livinglutheran.org.