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4115 Blalock Rd.
Houston, Texas 77080
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Welcome to Concordia Lutheran Church, a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Blog

Concordia Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas maintains a monthly blog covering a variety of Bible versus & topics.

But First, Easter

Dawn O'Hearn

     Easter is a moveable feast. Easter isn't on the same calendar date every year in the way that Christmas is always celebrated on December 25. The date for Easter each year always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox. And once you find the date of Easter, everything else finds its place - Good Friday & Maundy Thursday, Ash Wednesday, & the Transfiguration, the Ascension of our Lord, & Pentecost.

     All this is a long way of saying that Easter determines everything. Easter defines everything. It orders not only the entire church year, but it orders our very lives. It defines & gives meaning to our lives, as well to the things that happen in them. And since Easter defines everything, that means it changes everything too. It redefines who we are & where we stand with God & with one another. Easter makes all things new.

     Without Easter, Jesus would not be raised from the dead. Without Easter, death would still reign, we would still be in our trespasses & sins, & our faith & hope would be in vain. But Jesus is raised from the dead. Easter changes everything. It makes all things new. Therefore, darkness is overcome with light, wrath with peace, fear with hope, angst with rest, sadness with joy, hatred with love, sin with righteousness, & death with life. Easter changes everything, redefines everything, determines everything. Easter makes all things new.

     Thus, Easter also changes our attitude about giving. For if God gave us His own Son into death so that we will live, how will He not give us everything else we need? He will, & He does. He provides for us. He even gives us the gifts that we give back to Him for service in the church. Easter demonstrates that we have a God who loves us, a God who provides for us, a God who presses us into His service, a God who has made us new in the death & resurrection of His Son.

     For when you give to the church, you pass along those things that God alone has given to you. You pass along the message to others that Easter changes everything & makes all things new, even as it has done this for you. This is not a burden, but pure joy. For God has given you a part in the administration of His kingdom. He provides for the needy through your hands. He ensures that the Gospel is preached & the Sacraments are given out through the work of your hands & in the gifts that you give. And He honors & blesses this work & generosity as it rebounds to those around you.

     So when you sit down on the first day of the week to make your offering to the place where Easter is proclaimed & where the gifts of Easter are given out, remember: Easter changes everything. It makes all things new. More than that: Easter has changed you & made you new. Because Jesus, who was crucified for our transgressions, is raised for our justification.

Two Way Street

Dawn O'Hearn

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

     The old expression is that absence makes the heart grow fonder. But, that is a lot of bunk. Absence can help smooth over a lot of rough edges. Distance & time can dull the memory, especially memories of pain & suffering. Ask any mother & usually the travail & effort of pregnancy & childbirth are forgotten, since they have so many new efforts & travails just raising their kids. No, absence doesn't really make anyone fonder or sweeten any relationships, & it certainly doesn't strengthen them.

     What actually makes a relationship stronger & closer is communication. How can anyone truly know anyone else without the side-by-side, give & take of talking, sharing, hashing out problems & concerns, jokes & opinions, news & even (gasp) gossip. The difference between a friendship & an acquaintance is communication. The difference between a couple & two singles is communication. The difference between a loving, close relationship, & a stalk & prey relationship, is communication; both parties must be aware of the connection & intimately involved.

     In our relationship with God, He is always ready, willing & able to keep up His end of the relationship. He is the One who created it (even created us). He is the One who initiated the connection between us. His is the One who refuses to take offense when we do anything & everything to sabotage the communion He wants with us. He is the one who has spoken to us often & completely through His Word. Everything, fully & exhaustively, that we need to hear from Him is printed in those 66 books of His Word. Hi has told us of His love for us, His commitment for us, & even of His sacrifice for us. From the first word of Genesis to the last of Revelation, we have His communication to us about all that He has done & will continue to do for us. But God, our Father, Brother, & Spirit, can only hold up His end of the conversation.

     This is the reason we have prayer. Quite often in my years as pastor, I have been in hospitals & nursing homes, alongside beds with unresponsive people. It is in those quiet moments, with silent, sick, or comatose people that any communication is shown as golden. Even harsh words of anger, pain, resentment, fear, or any other negative feeling, is better than the cold shoulder, the deaf ear, the mute tongue. And it is in those moments of extended silence from aging or impaired family & friends that it is hard to keep the relationship intact. In fact, the spouse who sits for hours on end, for year after year, with the unhearing, mute partner is help us as a hero of love & commitment, because we all know that the bond of even true love is hard to uphold in a one-sided conversation.

     And so, God gave us the gift of prayer, & invited (commanded) us to pray. He wants to hear from us. We have all of His words in His Word, & we need to reply, to talk, & to share with Him. Even when we have nothing is us but the negative, we need to yell, beg, plead, complain, accuse & spill our pain to Him. He has given us this prayer communication, & promises to hear, always, 24 hours of the day, 7 days of the week, 52 weeks a year, until the year's end.

     Why do we need to be commanded to pray? Why do we need to be reminded to pray? Why do we even need to be taught to pray? Speaking is so natural to us, conversing is the simplest way we have to express ourselves. It seems that even the smallest & youngest of us knows how to complain & express our discomfort & pain. It must just be our ingrained sin & Pig-headedness that stop us from talking to God, our Father, from upholding our end of the conversations.

     Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, & rejoice always. Or, to paraphrase St. Paul, just be a good friend, a good mate, a good child talking to Someone who loves you.

In His Peace, alone,
Pastor Red Etzel

The Alliterative Trinity

Dawn O'Hearn

     We've all heard that stewardship is giving to the church of out time, talents, & treasure. This alliterative trinity helps us see that giving is not just about money, but about our whole lives. For God has given us everything we have & enjoy as we confess in the meaning to the First Article of the Apostle's Creed. And what we confess first amont those is that God gives us "our body & soul, our eyes, ears, & all our members, our reason & all our senses". Only then do we confess that he gives us material things. THus the time, talents & treasure trinity places before our eyes the fact that we are to give something of all of these things toward the mission of the church in thanksgiving for what GOd has provided. For everything we have, & indeed everything we are, comes from God's fatherly divine goodness & mercy.

     The problem with this alliterative trinity comes when we replace one little word with another little word - when we replace the word "and" with the word "or". It is always written with the "and," but when we read it, we read it with the "or". Thus this quite helpful trinity, which extolled that everything that we have & are is a gift from God & which is to be pressed into the service of God in His church, turns into a trinity that we can pick & choose which of the trinity we use into the service of God. The giving of our time, talents AND treasures turns into the giving of our time, talents OR treasures.

     Then the question arises: Can we give of our time & talents instead of our treasures? Or perhaps it is the other way round: Can we give our treasure & not of our time & talents? But these are the wrong questions. The right question is, can we give of our time & our talents in addition to our treasure? Yes, indeed, we are galled to give of all three. The things that God gives us are not to be pitted against one another. They are given to us & we are to press them all into God's service for benefit of His church & our neighbors in need.

     Thus we give all three. We give our treasure in the form of a generous, first-fruits, proportion of our income. We give of our time in generosity for the benefit of Christ's holy church. We give of out talents in the same manner. Since God gave us all these things, we are called to give generously of all these things in faith toward Him & in fervent love to our neighbors.

     For God has provided all these things to us. Out of His fatherly, diving goodness & mercy, He gives us each time, talents AND treasures as a means to bless those around us. We serve our neighbors with these things, blessing them with the blessings in which God has blessed us. We give of our time, talents, & treasures to our families, our society, & to our church, our local congregations. And we do this because we know that we are not out own. Rather, we belong to God. We have been bought with a price - with the holy precious blood & innocent suffering & death of our Lord Jesus Christ. He gave everything - His time, His talents, & His treasure - to have us as His own & to live under Him in HIs kingdom & serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence & blessedness. We have these things as gifts & blessings from God. Let us then press them all into service for the sake of His love - time, talents & treasures together.

A Testimony - What is Wellness?

Dawn O'Hearn

by Marilyn Coplin, Director of Recreation & Volunteer Services, Lutheran Senior Services at Laclede Groves

     Most folks have heard about "wellness" & talk about it, but WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

     Wellness has been defined in many ways & there are several types of wellness: real wellness, holistic wellness, & whole person wellness to name a few. In addition, there are several dimensions of the wellness spectrum: physical, mental, spiritual, social, intellectual, & vocational. All of which I believe are important & need to be considered when building your wellness framework.

     When creating your wellness framework, consider the following: become more positive in the present, expand your memory, bring yourself closer to your Lord, increase time with friends & family, be creative, & learn something new. All of which will help you perform better in the dimensions of aging.

     Positive people are happy, have less stress, give more than they receive, & try to make someone else's day better. Simple exercise that for positive habits will increase health & happiness.

     Use praise & recognition, write a daily note about what you are grateful for, send a positive e-mail or letter to someone & surround yourself with social relationships. Be that person that friends want to go to when they are having a rough time... My motto is to "Be active, Be fit, Be well."

     Ultimately, you are the creator of your own wellness framework. It will enable you to live an engaged life that is filled with purpose.

WHOEVER

Dawn O'Hearn

John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that He have HIs only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."

     This verse, often entitles the Gospel in a nutshell, gets quite a workout. Not only is it quoted by almost each & every Christian, & emblazoned on numerous banners strewn at sporting events, it is also used as the buoy & life saver for many at times of trouble & strife.

     In the past, I have made comments on the fact that many people do not understand the true meaning of the love of God. How this love that God has for the world is a matter of decision of grace & mercy. God's love for us in Christ is not a matter of butterflies in the stomach or sweaty palms or dry mouth, but a purposeful & deliberate choice of God to refuse to punish & destroy the world for it's rebellion. His choice to love the world is displayed (as in an epiphany) in His sending Jesus to be the Savior & sacrifice for the entire world.

     I have spoken of that in the past, so right now I want to concentrate on a different word: whoever. This statement of Jesus declaring the reason for His coming into the world comes at the end of John's account of His meeting with Nicodemus. This Jewish leader has come to Jesus to have his curiosity & question answered. Nicodemus has heard Jesus speak, has been touched by the Word, & the Spirit is working faith in his heart. He just needs some of the defenses of sin & human will torn down by the power of Jesus' Word. But Jesus never says, "whoever". He says, "all".

     It is the work of the translator, trying to turn good Greek into good English that takes a rough word by word translation, "in order that all the believing in Him may not perish buy may have life eternal." I won't go into technical terms like participles & the like. And it is not a bad translation to take the explicit word "all" & turn it into the indefinite pronoun "whoever". But here, speaking to a leader of the Pharisees, the scholars of the Scripture, & memorizers of the books of Moses, each & every word is very important.

     Jesus has been speaking to Nicodemus about the necessity of rebirth & renewal by the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus needs to hear that simple, sweet news of God's forgiveness & grace, freely offered & freely received. But in tearing down Nicodemus' intellectual defenses to baptism & salvation, Jesus also gives this simple destruction to any emotional or deep-seated ideas of our work for mercy. Pharisees based their ides of God's favor on the merits of their own faithful devotion.

     Pharisees worked & slaved to keep each & every law possible to sway God's favor in their direction, & looked down on every Jew who did not fall into line. They surely deserved God's favor by their study, belief or work.

     Jesus destroys all of these notions by the simple word, "all". It does not matter if the believer keeps the Sabbath perfectly, if they tithed to the nth degree, if they bend & contort their life to keep all the 300 odd minor provisions set down to preserve the original Ten Commandments. The blessings of the Savior go to those of faith, those who believe. All who believe have life. Whoever is given faith in the Messiah is saved. Whoever does not is doomed. All, Whoever, are given the same opportunity. All, Whoever, have the same gift. Anyone, All, Whoever, have heaven waiting. It is not based on Law, on works, on understanding, or on family descent. All is based on Christ. All are saved through Him & Him alone.

 

In His Peace, alone,
Pastor Red

December 2016 Stewardship

Dawn O'Hearn

     Every Christmas present that sits wrapped under your Christmas tree will wear out. It will break or go out of style. This fact was there, somewhere, in the back of your mind, even as you bought them, but you bought them anyway. For you love the person you bought them for; you wanted to see that look of joy it brings to their face.
     So also God gives to you; but greater. What He gives will never wear out, break down, or go out of style. For what He gives is His eternal & only-begotten Son, wrapped in your flesh, & placed upon the tree of the Cross. He gives HIs Son for you. He gives that you may have everlasting joy. He gives because He loves you. This is why the Word became flesh; to dwell among you.
     And that is who is given to you. The Word, who is God, yet was with God from all eternity. The Word through whom all things were made. The Word who is the only-begotten Son of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, being of one substance with His Father. The One who called all things into existence; the One who spoke to Moses from the bush that burned yet was not consumed; the One whose glory filled the tabernacle to swell among His people; God Himself, has taken on your flesh.
     Even though the Word is made flesh, even though God became Man, His Divinity is not lessened. His Divinity is not changed. His Divinity remains, pure & unchanging, but your flesh, your human nature, is exalted. You flesh & humanity is assumed into God. God became man so that you would become like unto God - holy & righteous, without sin, without death.
     And so it is that the Son given to you wrapped in your flesh is placed upon the tree of the Cross. And no tree was ever adorned more beautifully. Its ornaments were nothing less than the Blood of God, poured out as an atoning sacrifice for your sins. Its garland the Body of God, hanged in death that you may have life. Its light the incarnate Light of the World, strung up to call you & all man unto Himself, to enlighten you, to make you His own. He gives you HIs life, He gives you joy & peace - peace with God in heaven & peace with one another on earth.
     And from the tree of the Cross, the Lord Jesus places another gift for you upon the Altar. It is the Fruit of the Cross, His crucified & risen, living Body & Blood, the Fruit of the Tree of Life, wrapped in bread & wine & given to you. He fills you with His Glory. He makes your mouths & your hearts His manger. He abides in you & you in Him.
     The Word became flesh to be placed under the ross for you. You are forgiven. This is why we give. We give because He has first given to us. And just as it was a joy for Him to give all He had to us. It is a joy for us to give to one another & HIs church so that this message of forgiveness, life & salvation may be proclaimed.

The Sky's the Limit

Dawn O'Hearn

     As a pastor, I have the great privilege & pleasure to go to hospitals right after, sometimes during (& right before), babies are born. I have sat with expectant grandparents, paced with worried fathers-to-be, why I have even been there to hold the hand of a mother in labor. (I'll just say, a woman having a contraction will crush your hand without knowing it, & I get excited to be in the waiting room before the delivery.) But, an incredibly memorable time with a happy couple & their baby happened about 14 years ago in Bryan, Texas.
     The new-born boy was the first for the pair. The mother, of course, was beaming, & the dad was almost hopping about the room, but the baby drew everyone's attention because of his attire. You see, the father was a third generation farrier. His grandfather & father had spent many years around the bottom of horses, donkeys & mules with hammer & tongs, shoeing the animals. Heath, the new father, grew up around hearths, nails, hoof knifes, & old twisted horse shoes. Even though the shoeing trade could not support him & his new family, & he had to have a full time job away from horses, he was very proud to say that he was a farrier, first & foremost. And so, he had secretly made his son a present for his very first birthday. While his wife slept, he dressed his new son in a brand new leather apron & placed beside him a baby-sized pair of tongs & miniature hammer. He wanted his son to know from his earliest hours that he was born to shoe horses. It was, & is, a family tradition.
     Most of us at birth are not given a profession that we must carry through life. In fact, when a baby is born, most people see only the limitless possibilities of this new life. He is going to be president. She will be the doctor who cures cancer. He's going to have that major league baseball career that his dad missed out on. She is going to be the beauty queen that her mother wanted to be. No matter the aspiration or the dream, the sky is the limit. The future is infinite, because this life is new & unwritten.
     All of this is possibly true with one exception. There was one boy born who had no choice in the course of his life. His life was chosen & mapped out for him before his great-great-grandparents were born. HIs only choice in life was either to live out his allotted path, or say, "No".
     Jesus already knew, from day one, that He would not follow in Joseph's footsteps to be a carpenter. He knew from before HIs first day that He would work & preach, heal & free, argue & suffer, bleed & die for the world. His Father had mapped out what His life & death were to be thousands of years before. His Father had promised that Jesus would be born, would live that perfect life, would help & heal & free His people, & would suffer & die in shame on a cross. It was all planned & cut & dried long before He drew His first breath in that stable in Bethlehem, & Jesus agreed to it all. He did it all for us.
     The Bible says that Jesus set aside His throne, His power, His prestige, even His will to come & be our Messiah, our Savior. But He also set aside what each human baby has from the moments it is born, possibility, untold destiny, a future of probably happiness & peace. He even gave up the hope of earthly rest, contentment, satisfaction, & long life, to give us the better gifts of heavenly peace, eternal rest, & a limitless life of happiness with the Father in a new heaven & a new earth. We know this because the Bible says so, just as our Father promised in His word:

"For to us, a Child is born, to us, a Son is given: & the government shall be upon HIs shoulder, & His name shall be called, 'Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Gather, Prince of Peace.' Of the increase of His government & of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David & over His kingdom, to establish it & to uphold it with justice & with righteousness from this time forth & forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."
- saiah 9:6-7

     The sky is not high enough now to be the limit because He restricted Himself for us. He gave up HIs rights for us. He denied His own will to spare Himself for us. He delivered Himself to death for us. He rose & declared an open heaven & a full adoption for us. This is our Savior. This is our newborn Son of God.

Merry Christmas!

In HIs Peace, alone,
astor Red Etzel

POBLO Adds Converts As New Member to LCMS Congregations

Dawn O'Hearn

     Through POBLO (People of the Book Lutheran Outreach) missionaries, former Muslims, now Christians, are impacting local LCMS churches as new members. Serving at their new church home is important for them & for the church. For new believers, their involvement in Christian witness & service help them exercise their new faith & grow in it. For their home congregation, their witness & service is an inspiration for other. Baptized a few short weeks or months before, the zeal of these new members causes some "old members" to sit up & take notice.
     What do these new believers love about their church?
     
They find wonder in worship. Worship is special. It's not old hat, or yawning their way through the service. No, they are excited. They are thrilled. They want to be there. Worship is a wonder for them - to be accepted, welcomed, & forgiven by a loving heavenly Father! Wow! And so, worship is far from routine. It is their lifeline, & they love it.
     Secondly, they want to tell their story. They want to tell others Jesus' story, & what He has done for them. And so, they have a zeal for the lost, & especially for those still Muslim.
     Thirdly, they want to get involved. They want to serve & help in the church. They want to be part of "their" church, attending Bible study, helping & serving. And so they are also zealous volunteers. They are often asking, "What can I do?" This is "their" church, & they are making a difference in it.
     ...The beautiful thing about many of these converts is that they don't want to sit! They want to serve! And their zeal is making a difference in the life of the local churches. What a blessing!
     POBLO missionaries spend hours & hours meeting with people, sitting, talking, helping seekers, showing them the way, speaking the truth. Now, these converts are LCMS members who themselves are spending hours to love, serve & witness to others. They are impacting the local church. And that's the way it should be. Disciples making disciples making more disciples.

(received via e-mail, from "The POBLO Connection")

Stewardship Corner

Dawn O'Hearn

     Christ died for out sins, was buried, & rose again. If you believe this gospel, if you stand upon it, & cling to it, you are saved. Trust in this is the dividing line. It defines, either positively or negatively, all men. It separates & divides Cain from Abel, Job from his so-called friends, Abraham from Abimelech, Issac from Ishmael, Jacob from Esau, David from Saul, Daniel from Belshazzar, Joseph from Herod, Lazarus from the rich man, & the tax collector from the Pharisee. What defines men is not whether they are good or bad, but whether or not they believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
     The problem with man is his heart. Our hearts are fallen & predisposed to think that we can impress God. We think that if we do all the right things, God will reward us, & we will escape evil. We think that God will be impressed with our gifts, that our prosperity & goodness is evidence that God loves us or that it should motivate God to love us.
     But we know better because God has blessed us with the faith of Abel, Job & Abraham. We know that God's grace in Christ saves us, not our works.
     We know that God is not impressed with our giving. He is not impressed when we give Him that which is already His. God doesn't benefit from our giving, & He doesn't need it. But our neighbor does need it. And God delights in us growing more & more like Him. He blesses us, & He invites us to bless one another with our giving: so that the Gospel may be proclaimed, so that the poor may be fed, so that all God's work through the Church may be done.
     So consider God's priorities in comparison to your own. And be honest. Reevaluate where you are & where God has called you to be. Look into your own bank statement. Would any accountant think that the Church was your priority? He would see a spreadsheet filled with where your money actually goes: into house & clothing & cars, into eating out & beauty supplies & entertainment. Indeed, much of it wasted on frivolous things. But would He find great percentages going to the church? Figure up the percentage. Put it in relation to the proportion of your income. What percentage of your income do you give for the mission of the church: the preaching & teaching, the baptizing & communing, the help for the weak & poor brothers of Christ? Is it even enough for a deduction when you file your income taxes? The widow gave all she had & thought nothing of it. She was glad to do it. The rich man gave what to him was a meaningless, trifle amount, & desired a plaque in his honor. Why is it that the less we give, the prouder we are, & the more credit we expect?
     All your works, even your monetary gifts, done in faith, please God now for Christ's sake. no matter how great or small, frequent or infrequent. They are all washed & cleansed by grace through faith on account of Christ. Whatever you do from faith in God pleases Him for the sake of the Son. So reevaluate your generosity in the light of the grace of Christ. Freely you have received - freely give.

Stewardship in Action

Dawn O'Hearn

"Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift" 2 Corinthians 9:15.

     This is St. Paul's exclamation upon hearing the Corinthian church's response to the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ & his request for support for the Church in Jerusalem. The Christians in Corinth heard & received God's mercy in Christ, & they responded to St. Paul's call to support Christians in Jerusalem with a collection. The Corinthian's joy filled Jerusalem's need.
     This is the reality of stewardship. Because of God's generosity in the giving of His Son to die on the cross for us, we are to be generous with all that we receive from Him. What do we receive? Everything. All that we are & all that we have is the Lord's. He is the creator & the giver. We are His creatures & those who receive what He gives.
     It sounds easy. And it is. But then again it isn't. Stewardship is easy because it's God's work. Through what God gives, we give to others. Through what God gives, we support the work of the church for the life of the world. He gives; we receive. And like our generous Father in Heaven, we, as His children, use what He gives us to love & serve others.
     But stewardship is also difficult. That is because if goes against our natural inclination to think that what I have is mine to do what I want with. This is our sinful nature. It is our selfishness & our greed. How can we who have been given everything - life, food, clothing, house, home, forgiveness, divine sonship, an eternal inheritance - be so stingy with what we give to the church, the place where we hear about & receive all that God gives us & does for us? We are all guilty of this kind of thinking. And the only godly response is to repent & trust in the Gospel.
     For if God has given you His own Son, will He not give you all things? Yes. He will. This is His sure & certain promise. God provides for His people. He provides everything we need for this body & life & for the life that is to come.
     The church is a mercy place. It's a place where God's mercy in the death & resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, is given & received. For we who believe in Christ, it means forgiveness, life & salvation in the face of sin, death, & the power of the devil. Here in the church, we inhale God's mercy in Word & Sacrament, & exhale this same mercy in love & service to our neighbor. And that is an enduring, joyful thing to do. Our joy fills our neighbor's need because His joy filled ours (Hebrews 12:2). Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!

The Problem with Fighting

Dawn O'Hearn

"And Jacob was left alone. And a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the Man saw that He did not prevail against Jacob, He touched his hip socket, & Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with Him. Then He said, 'Let Me go, for the day has broken.' But Jacob said, 'I will not let You go unless you bless me.' And He said to him, 'What is your name?' And he said, 'Jacob'. Then He said, 'Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God & with men, & have prevailed.' Then Jacob asked Him, 'Please tell me Your name.' But He said, 'Why is it that you ask My name?' And there He blessed Him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, 'For I have seen God face to face, & yet my life has been delivered.' The sun rose upon him as he passed Peniel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day, the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob's hip on the sinew of the thigh."
- Genesis 32

     As a Pastor, I have been privileged & honored to sit with families at the best & worst of times. The best of times have been teh easiest to handle. Who doesn't enjoy births, baptisms, birthdays, confirmations, weddings, anniversaries, even retirements? It hs been the worst times that try everyone's souls: sicknesses, surgeries, firings, crime, death,  sometimes, worse, cancer. During the best of times, the same things are said. Words of happiness & wonder are spoken: look at that face, what a cute little baby, many happy returns, & a few more, but people seldom come up with anything new to say. It is terrible, but also true, that the same things are said during the worst of times. Why does this have to happen? Why did this have to happen now? Why do these things happen to good people? Where is God when these things happen? Why is God doing these things? I know God doesn't want me to be mad at Him, but I can't help myself.
     It's the last few statements that leave people feeling even worse sometimes. They have a normal feeling that God has let them down when something bad happens, & then they make themselves feel even worse by thinking God will now be more upset & cause more evil to befall. They think they have to just keep all of their fear, hurt, & pain in because if they say it out loud, God will punish them more. But, let me tell you what they really should do.
     I would tell them to get angry with God. Yell at Him. Spill your guts. Question & rant & rave & cry. Point your face to the sky, or toward the cross, or wherever, & shout to the Lord how much the pain, suffering, upheaval, & trouble is destroying your heart & your soul. Then say that you want to blame Him because He is God. And I promise, when you are done, there will be no lightning bolt, there will be no crushing thumb, & there will be no condemnation because God wants to hear from us. God wants us to fight with Him. Jacob proves just that.
     Jacob was sitting on the banks of the Jabbock River dreading the coming day. He knew he would have to face his brother Esau. Even though a few years have passed, Esau still had cause to hate & kill his brother. Jacob had conned Esau into selling his inheritance for a bowl of lentil soup. Jacob had tricked their old, blind father, Isaac, into thinking he was Esau to get the blessing. Jacob had run & left Esau to care for mother & father aft the deceit. Jacob had every reason to think Esau would shoot him on sight. He was afraid & needed to vent that fear because God was making him see his brother.
     So God wrestled with Jacob. He could have been angry with Jacob & killed him outright. Jacob deserved death (& not just because we all deserve death from our sins), for what he had done to his father & family. But God came down & took the form of a man to wrestle with Jacob & gave him a fighting chance. God wanted to be with Jacob, face to face, side to side, holding him tightly. Jacob may have considered it a fight to the end, or even to the death, but God saw it as holding onto His son when he needed to work out his fears. That is why the name Israel, the man who wrestles with God, is a blessing, because to wrestle with someone you have to be intimately close to each other. (IF you don't believe me, watch a tape of a wrestling match. You will see two young men in a tighter embrace than they would ever try anywhere else.)
     Let me add this as well: God became a man to wrestle with Jacob, & where else does God become man, but when He took human flesh to be our Savior, Jesus Christ. As Jesus, He became man to get as close to us as possible, to live with us.
     The old adage is 'bad publicity is good publicity because any publicity is good publicity'. god feels the same with us & communication. Any time we speak with God is a good speaking with God. He wants to hear our good words, our well wishes, our praises, thanks & good news. He also, however, wants to hear our fears, our failings, our pains & sufferings. He wants to hear that we are mad at Him, that we want to fight with Him, as any good father would. It is when we are at our angriest & fighting Him, that He can hold us the closest & let us wrestle with Him & His will. The only bad thing to do when angry with God is to give Him the cold shoulder. How can he help when we walk away & won't try to listen?
     So, follow the good example of our father Jacob (I mean Israel), & don't let go of God. Get Him in a bear hug & scream in His ear. And just like Israel, He will not throw us off or put us on the mat. He will hold us all night long if necessary, & leave us with a blessing. The blessing of God made man.

In His Peace, alone,
Pastor Red Etzel

We Live to Give of Self

Dawn O'Hearn

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son" (John 3:16).
"God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep" (John 10:11).

     Love means sacrifice. Sacrifice means a humbling of oneself for the good of another. And this is what the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us: Love means sacrifice.
     We love our families. And we love them by sacrificing ourselves for them. We put their needs before our own. We sacrifice our own wants & desires for their good & for their needs.
     We love our country. And we love it by pledging our lives, our fortunes, & our sacred honor to defend her. We ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. We make sacrifices for our country's good & we do it because we love her.
     We love our church. And we love our church by giving of ourselves, by sacrificing our time, talents & treasures in service to it. We volunteer to teach Sunday School, VBS, & other various boards. We help out cleaning & fixing what needs to be cleaned & fixed at the church property. And we give a portion of the income God has given us, so that the lights will go on, & the heat & air conditioning my run; so that a pastor will preach to us both law & gospel & administer baptism & the Lord's Supper; so that the Word will go forth into all the world through the missionaries we call & send out.
     God has called us into these three spheres of family, country & church. He puts the solitary into a home. No one is an island unto himself. Everyone is put into a family, a country, & a church. In these spheres, God cares for all our needs of body & soul. He employs other members of these spheres to ensure that we have everything we need for this body & life & for the next.
     These callings place a claim upon us, a claim upon our presence, our prayers, our time, talents & treasures. They give us a duty. That duty is to love. And love means sacrifice. And sacrifice means that we humble ourselves for the good of another.
     So then, 'let us love one another, for love is from God, & whoever loves has been born of God & knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us & sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:7-11). And love means sacrifice.

The Problem With Love

Dawn O'Hearn

Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful!
Your eyes are doves behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of short ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which
     bear twins, & not one among them has lost its young.
Your lips are like a scarlet thread, & your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil.
Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hand a thousand shields, all
     of them shields of warriors.
                                                                                                      Song of Solomon 4:1-4

    What lady does not want the love of her life speak words such as these into her ear? What bride would not give anything to have her groom whisper sweet nothings like this to her as they take their first dance at the wedding reception? Well, maybe not these words. These words might just illicit a slap on the cheek or a questioning look. The first line is fine, & even the doves are still appropriate, but all the sheep talk is lost on today's modern urban reader. But still, the message is clear: here is a man truly in love with his bride, & doing his best to let her know of her importance to him.
     Most everyone can appreciate this sentiment, even identify with them, but they do seem out of place in the Bible. I even stopped my quotation from this book because the next verse goes on to praise more intimate portions of his lady's anatomy, & that, surely, is not something we should be talking about in church. We are all for love, especially the love of husband & wife, but what happens when that love turns unseemly? That's the problem with the book of Song of Solomon - it's just too physical. It's too intimate. The only people who seem to love the book are youngsters who want to read something racy under the facade of reading Holy Scripture.
     But that is the problem with love in all of its power. Love is always too messy. It is always too intimate. It always intrudes into the safe & polite face we want to place on life. We have to restrict love to times of solitude, when we lock ourselves away from the world, so it doesn't see us at our most vulnerable. Or we restrict it to specific times & places, wedding chapels & receptions, maternity wards & nurseries, candle-lit dinners & quiet nights behind your own locked doors. When love is shown in broad daylight, when it intrudes up on the drudgery of daily life, we get uncomfortable & feel a little bit shamed at having to see it. We turn from seeing love expressed, & even in its most innocent & appropriate (say at an airport when a family member returns from an extended parting) it often gets comments of "Get a room!"
     And so if our expressions of love for each other can cause us so much discomfort & even pain, it is not strange that the true Love of God is just beyond uncomfortable for us. If we cannot handle to see people show love, how can we stand to see the source of pure Love, in all its strength & power, show us His love for us. That is why people can be comfortable with a plain cross, but so scandalized at a crucifix, with the suffering figure of Christ hanging on it. This is the power of love in its purest & most concentrated form, a literal self-sacrificing love. The Love of Jesus for the entire world, a Love given with the knowledge that many (the vast majority) will never know, appreciate, or even attempt to return it. That Love is always unseemly, inappropriate, & uncomfortable.
      Love is always messy because it is always giving up of itself. True Love is always one that suffers for the one to whom it is given. True Love always disrupts the daily drudge, the common troubles & trials, the familiar gloom of life with the true Light of care & devotion. We get so used to the self-centeredness, the isolation, the pain & aches of life that any relief from that grind is more of an annoyance than a joy. So we try to contain love to safe places & quiet contained times, lest it seep out & contaminate the rest of life. And to this God says, "You can try".
     God is Love. His Son was born, lived, died, & rose to display that love. The Spirit rejoices to pour that Love in ever growing torrents across the world. Our Lord takes great pleasure in His Love stopping, interrupting, inconveniencing, & drowning the status quo because the status is not quo in our favor. We need to read that Book of Solomon's Song again & again, not to give ourselves a romantic jolt, but to see the depth, the warmth, & the strength of God's Love that will make us uncomfortable with its ardor, knowing that we can never return such a Love, but only marvel at the One who loves us just that much.

In His Peace, alone,

Pastor Red Etzel

Spring Stewardship

Dawn O'Hearn

     The greatest surprise about Easter is not that Jesus is alive, risen from the dead, out of the grave, that He conquered death & hell, & comes to meet you as He promised. The greatest surprise is that He did all that & is not angry. There is no fear for us in His return because He is not angry. He bears no grudge. He seeks no vengeance. He comes to give peace, with mercy & forgiveness & salvation.
     Jesus lives & is not angry. Imagine that. He is not angry. He doesn't blame those who killed Him. He doesn't blame you. For no one takes His life from Him. He lays it down of His own accord. He gives Himself into death to win us back from sin, death & hell. He does it willingly without coercion. He does it sacrificially, Him for us. He gave what was His to give. Thus His petition to the Father from the cross, "Forgive them" is granted to you in His resurrection. He comes alive out of death to forgive & to give His life to you.
     There is nothing to be afraid of because Jesus is raised from the dead & is not angry. Thus we are free - free from worrying about how to make it up to Him, & free to give as He has given to us. He gave Himself as a gift, His life in exchange for our death, willingly & sacrificially. And so it is that we are now free to give in like manner: willingly, sacrificially, with what we have been given.
     We give to the church because it is in the church were our eyes have seen & our ears have heard that Jesus lives & is not angry. It is here where we learn of God's mercy & forgiveness in Christ. It is here where we continually receive that message of life, where He visits us to give peace, with mercy & forgiveness & salvation.
     So do not be afraid. Jesus lives, & He is not angry. The sacrifice has been made. The debt is canceled & forgotten. Righteousness is declared. Jesus lives. He lives, & He is not angry. You are restored. You are reconciled to the Father in the Son. Your future is assured: Jesus lives. It is not just death & hell, the devil & his demons, that are undone. Your sins, your fear are undone. They are gone, forgotten, destroyed. Jesus lives. Hallelujah! Jesus lives. And because He lives, you are just. You are right with God, pleasing & delightful to Him. You are forgiven, clean, pure, holy, & filled with His good works & with His Name. He is not angry. He is glad to have you. He wants you. He loves you. He gave everything that is His to & for you, willingly & sacrificially. In faith & trust in Him, let us do likewise.

Choosing Well

Dawn O'Hearn

"Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 'Before I formed yo in the womb I knew you, & before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.'" - Jeremiah 1:4-5

     Every four years in this wonderful country, we are tasked with voting for a president. The actual vote for me is not very hard. I walk into the fire station near my house (or the sheriff sub-station if voting early), lay down my identification, & then push a few buttons to choose the person I believe is best qualified & equipped to serve. The voting is the simple part, but living through the two years of build-up to that final vote can wear anyone out.
     It is in that extended preliminary that we have to listen to speech after speech, debate after debate, attack & defense, accusation & refutation, statement & clarification & clarification of the clarification. So many words are spit out into the atmosphere that if they were all aimed in the same direction & spoken at the same time, they would knock our planet out of orbit. So much information is related & studied that one person could not begin to know all of it in one lifetime. So much scrutiny is narrowed on the candidates & their families that it would be the more logical stance to run screaming away from any mention that anyone would want to run for the office. In the face of this gargantuan amount of data, news, information, gossip, & even slander, how do you make your decision?
     You notice that I am not giving you any hint as to whom you should choose. I will not even guide you toward any political party. I just want to draw your attention to the effort we, as a country, take to make this one choice, & ask how you make yours. Do you study & fret & weigh every option you can find? Do you just go along with one political party because you have always done so? Do you just pick the one that looks like a president? Or do you flip a coin, hoping God will let it land on the right one? I ask, because the choice is important. God lets us know that in choosing people, the decision is always important.
     Our Father shows us this even in picking His prophets. He even goes to the trouble of making up His mind long before the man is of the right age to serve, even before his is born. Think how important Jeremiah is to God, how essential he is to serve as God's mouth-piece in his day & time, that God would make up His mind while Jeremiah was still incubating in his mother. God would wait to accomplish His goals. He would wait to have His word spoken for Jeremiah. God would even steer Jeremiah's life to make sure he was prepared & ready to do the job.
     This should not come as any surprise to us. God does many such miraculous things to make sure His people receive His words of admonition & forgiveness. He will even move time & space to see to it that those whom He has chosen to be His sons & daughters are given salvation & adoption into His family. He even makes sure we know to what extent He will go to save us when He says, "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4-5).
     So did God choose you because you were the best qualified to be His child? Were you the best equipped to serve Him here on earth & there in heaven? Were you just so unique & special that to be without you would have been a burden? Are you important in some hidden way that you don't even have in inkling of? NO. He just loves you. He chose you because He loves & cherishes you, even though you don't have anything special about you. Even though what you do will never be able to qualify for His family, or deserve His affection. Even though you (& I & everyone else) think & do numerous things each day to make us unworthy, unwilling, & totally unacceptable, God, our heavenly Father, chooses, takes, & cleans us up. His love & care makes us worthy & equipped, just like Jeremiah.
     The prophet even lets us know how this works:

"Then I said, 'Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.' But the Lord said to me, 'Do not say, 'I am only a youth'; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, & whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.' Then the Lord put out His hand & touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, 'Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations & over kingdoms, to pluck up & to break down, to destroy & to overthrow, to build & to plant'" (Jeremiah 1:6-10).

     God makes His decision & then gives us His word. His Word makes us His own children. His Word makes us qualified. His Word makes us acceptable. His Word forgives, redeems, & transforms us into who we should be, & not as we are. His Word, who was with Him in the beginning & is God Himself, is Jesus Christ, the living Word, who lived, was crucified, & lives again forever. He is the One who makes us able to be loved, & chosen.

In His Peace, alone,
Pastor Red Etzel

Demolition

Dawn O'Hearn

     Now great crowds accompanied him, & he turned & said to them, "If anyone comes to me & does not hate his own father & mother & wife & children & brothers & sisters, yes, & even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross & come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down & count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation & is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build & was not able to finish'".     - Luke 14:25-30

     Ash Wednesday is early this year. Lent will begin while the cool breezes from Canada & the Arctic are sill wafting through the Bayou City. Easter may arrive to find a day that is cool & pleasant, & not humid & sticky. The weather may be nice & comfortable, but the season of Lent was never meant to be nice, pleasant, or comfortable. In fact, it was designed from the beginning of the church to be as unpleasant & uncomfortable as possible.
     Lent, if you pardon a labored & strained metaphor, is like a complete home renovation. Jesus speaks of counting the cost for discipleship, in order to impress upon His disciples just how important & costly it is to earth-bound mortals. But He did not mention what is the shattering of the steps in building, & that is the destroying. Rehab starts with demolition, the destruction & removal of all that is old, cracked or useless. It fills the house with dust, dirt & debris. It brings everything to a halt. And even if you start with an open lot, construction can only begin after earth-moving equipment has scraped, graded, graveled, & prepared for a foundation. Yes, even before the first inch of concrete is poured, before the first nail is driven into wood, & before the first stone is mortared to another, things must be torn down, ripped apart, & thrown away.
     Jesus doesn't mention these things when He speaks of building a tower. He zeroes in on the expense of foundation, stone, & labor, without a singly syllable wasted on sledge hammers, shovels or dumpsters. He doesn't talk about any form of dismantling because we are all too familiar with the mess & He is the one that takes care of the cost of demolition.
     Our Lord speaks of denying everything in exchange for following Him. He even talks of hating family & life to hold onto Him. And even after all other earthly things & relationships have been placed behind us, it is a cross that awaits our shoulders. That is a lot of cost to be His own. All of that given up to meet the pain & suffering of our cross, just to have a place beside Him in His kingdom. But all of that apparent expense is nothing compared to what He has paid for the destruction of the old, useless, & broken lives we leave behind.
     You see, Jesus is not just the great Architect that plans out our future life with Him. He is more than the almighty Carpenter, who constructs our eternity with Him day by day, & joy by joy. He goes beyond being our great Leader, Savior, Brother & Friend, who vies us more love to share with family, friends & the world. He is also the ultimate & awesome Wrecking Ball of our past, sinful lives. He is the one who destroys the sins & guilt we have built up, along with clearing away the consequences of all that rebellion, green & self-centeredness. We could not have done it alone because we had lived in it so long, we had grown accustomed to it. We would actually miss our faults & failings & weaknesses if we ever had a rest from them. Like a family of hog farmers that live right next to the pens of swine, they no longer smell the pigs in all their mud- & manure-filled splendor, we had lived since before birth in our sins & could never imagine living without them.
     And so Jesus needed to do the destruction, the ripping out, & the removal of all the filth we had become so comfortable living in. He dismantled our sinful, hurtful lives in order to build us clean, new, & working futures. He picked up all of the junk & detritus of our souls & carried them to the cross, so they would never be able to hurt & hinder us again. He bore the price & the pain of our rehab because it was all too much for us. He did it for us because the renovation would have ended in our death & not new life. He gives us all that new life free, but expensively free, paid for at the cost of His life.
     That is why Lent is so uncomfortable, because we must ponder on the truth of our sins, & what they led Christ to do. We must fully know why He came, He suffered, & He died, so we can see the true miracle of His resurrection & the true glory of His gracious gift of life eternal. We enter this early this year, but here's to wonderful razing of our life, so we can enjoy His life.

In His Peace, alone,
Pastor Red Etzel
     

December Pastor's Corner - If He Had Not Come

Dawn O'Hearn

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the aw, so that we might receive adoption as sons." Galatians 4:4-5

     Every year we are assaulted by the ads, the announcements, & the hullaballoo surrounding Christmas. And each year we are flooded with all the pomp & circumstance of the holiday season earlier & earlier. What once began with Black Friday (no, not Good Friday, but the Friday after Thanksgiving), now begins right after Halloween, or even earlier.
     With every sale, however, with every silly song, with every gaudy decoration, & with every extra worry & care, have you ever stopped to think what the would would be like without Christmas? I don't mean what would we do with the coming winter season, would we still find a reason to have parties & celebrations & give gifts. I mean, what truly would the world be like if the birth of Christ had not happened?
     First, there would be no Christian church, for there would have been no Christ to worship. We would still be living under the old covenant, & still in hope of the coming Messiah.
     Without Christ, we would have no hospitals, hospices, nursing or convalescent homes. These places of care & healing come directly from the church. Before the middle ages, churches were places of refuge, care & comfort for all the people. When the sanctuary itself became too small for all the people who needed physical care, the faithful built & trained people to offer care & healing. But these would not be here, or be vastly different, if Christ had not come.
     Without Christ, there would have been no orphanages, no adoption services, no child protection agencies, & even no SPCAs. These, as well, were created by the church & its faithful who wished to see that orphans were cared for, not just fed & kept until they were adults & could fend for themselves. The followers of Christ wanted to care, nourish, educate, comfort, & give the Word to the very least of our brothers, the smallest & most helpless. And the love of Christ flowed out from the church to even embrace the welfare of animals & pets that God paced under our governance & care.
     Without Christ, we would not have the true basis of compassion, mercy, & grace that still flows through the world today. Only through the life, death & resurrection of Jesus do we have not only the perfect example of grace (perfect grace that proclaimed, "Father, forgive them", even to the ones carrying out His execution & the ones cheering on His death), but the power of that forgiveness that re-creates us to be carriers, conduits, & minister of that grace & forgiveness.
     But we do have Christ. He was born. At just the right time in the history of this world, the Father sent His Son, born of a woman, born to fulfill the Law, born to suffer our death, born to save us from our sin. His birth, His beginning, is our beginning. His life accomplished to be our life. His death is our death. His resurrection is the beginning of our new life, new eternal life.
     So we celebrate because we know the true glory of this time. Not the gory of mistletoe & holly, nor the glory of lights & tinsel, nor parties & presents, but the glory of a weak baby boy lying in a feed trough, the brilliance of a perfect life, the splendor of a sacrificial death, & the glory of a resurrection into heavenly light.

So Merry Christmas, Joyous Celebration of Christ's Birth

October Stewardship

Dawn O'Hearn

"Soon afterward, he went on through cities & villages, proclaiming & bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, & also some women who had been healed of evil spirits & infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, & Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, & Susanna, & many others, who provided for them out of their means." Luke 8:1-3

     There were many who provided out of their means for our Lord's work of proclaiming & bringing the good news of the kingdom of God while He was on earth. Think about that for a moment. These pious women gave to God in the flesh for Go the Father's work of bringing the good news of God's kingdom. Their generosity, which was moved by the generosity of God Himself to them in the healing of their infirmities & evil spirits, was employed so that others could benefit as they had. The means they provided was put into God's service to feed & clothe & provide shelter as Jesus & the twelve traveled preaching, teaching, & healing.
     That's amazing. These women were widows who had been oppressed by demons. They were forgotten, though of as nobodies. The world didn't think much of them, or perhaps that they were just in the way. Regardless of what the world thought, God forgets no one. No one is a burden to Him. He cares for the widow & the fatherless. He puts the solitary into a home. An more than that, He brings them the good news of the kingdom & lets them be a part of building it by their giving of what He has provided them. He presses their gifts into His service to His glory. And they are not forgotten. They are inscribed in the Holy Scriptures as a monument of what giving from out of their means does. It helped to turn the world upside down, which happens to be right-side up, reconciliation & healing through what Jesus accomplished on the cross (Acts 17:6).
     This is what your giving to the church does also. It provides the ministers of the Gospel food & clothes, house & home, all that they need for this body & life sot hat they may preach & teach, & bring the healing of the Gospel of Jesus' death & resurrection to those who need it, those who are home-bound & infirm, those who are sick & suffering, those who are bedeviled by evil spirits, depressed, & plagued by guilt & shame. Your gifts are put to use for God's work on earth to bring the good news of His kingdom which has no end.
     Who wouldn't want to be part of that? And you are! Thanks be to God. And it does not go unnoticed. Your pastor gives thanks for it & prays for you. And so does your Lord. And the angels rejoice over one sinner who repents & believes. You help to make that happen. You do it because someone else has made it happen for you.

Pastor's Corner - Remembrance of Blessings

Dawn O'Hearn

"Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, & he will show you, your elders, & they will tell you. When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, He fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord's portion is His people, Jacob His allotted heritage." Deuteronomy 32:7-9

     Elizabeth has always told me that no matter where I go, people seem to want to talk to me. That was no truer than Monday, when I was grocery shopping. They are remodeling the Kroger I normally trade at. (The manager says that it will make everything much easier & more convenient, but how can it be easier to switch things when I know where everything is now?) I came across an older gentleman in the soup section. He was cursing out the dry soup for being so expensive, but he was doing it in German. When he noticed me, he turned & apologized for being in the way, & I told him (also in German) that he shouldn't use that kind of language in public. He just smiled & said that is why he was speaking in Germany.
     The gentleman, Mr. James Jones, wore a ball cap with the insignia for the USS Hornet, & he began to tell me how his grandmother taught him German when he was a boy, & how it came in handy during World War II, when most of his fellow sailors on the carrier sent letters home to parents & grandparents written in German. Over the next 30 minutes, he let me know about that great ship, how he was on the deck crew that saw off Colonel Doolittle & his men on the first bombing of Tokyo, how they didn't know until days after that the US won the battle of Midway, & how he finally go to fly a dive bomber during the battle of Guadalcanal. He spoke of the injury to his eye that ended his flying career, & how he still loves to attend reunions & talking about being a 17-year-old boy on the deck of an aircraft carrier. At 92 years old, he looks back at it all & thanks God that he made it through all the bullets & bombs when so many friends & fellow navy men did not return home.
     That kind of meeting will remind anyone of the blessings that God gives to each & every one of us. We may never stand on the deck of a giant steel ship in the pitching sea & wonder whether the plane in front of us can even lift off, much less return from its mission. We may never see more than 60 years, much less see 90 with our children, grandchildren & great-grandchildren. We may never be able to meet again with people we knew in our teens, when our teens were half a century ago. But we can all stand where we are at this very moment & thank God for bringing us safely to this day. We can look back on our years & see how the love of God has guided us through our victories & failures, our good days & sickness, & see the love of Christ that has held us.
     I am glad that I can get held up by strangers, & sometimes old friends, in the most mundane places. I am truly happy that God seems to have given me a face that people want to talk to because I have often heard from so many different people how God has helped, guided, & loved His people through the years. I have heard how the Gospel of Jesus Christ has saved some from addiction, seen some through disease, even taken away anger & vengeful wrath from past persecutors. All of these remembrances show how our Lord has, & still, will hold each & every one of His sons & daughters in the palm of His hand. Each encounter is like a living page of a book of Scripture still being written on how our Lord continues to care for us, whether we are a pilot flying in the midst of battle, r just the man on the deck of the ship clearing the way for the planes to fly.

Stewardship

Dawn O'Hearn

     Busyness is the new black. It's stylish. We spend an inordinate amount of time comparing how busy we are with everyone else. We compare our schedules, our kids' schedules, how productive we are, & how much we have because of it to everyone around us. And if we don't do or have what the next guy does or has, we just get busier & produce more so that we can.
     This consumes our conversations & thoughts. And this should give us pause: Who is consuming whom, here? Are we the consumer or are we those consumed? It's no accident that our adversary, the devil, is described as a lion prowling around seeking to devour us, to consume us. He gives us the liturgy of this world, the liturgy of productivity & consumption. For if he can keep us busy in "muchness" & "manyness", he can be satisfied.
     And this is why the Lord, after finishing all His work of creation, rested on the seventh day. This is why He established the Sabbath day - to give His people rest from all their work. As they rested, He continued to work for them, to satisfy them, to fill them with His gifts - food from heaven by His Word & Promise.
     That day came when from our Lord's cross & in His death, He proclaimed, "It is finished" (John 19:30). And so His work of redemption was complete. And so His body rested int he tomb, the belly of the earth. Though He is the Lord God who always works, yet as the Lord rested on the original Sabbath, now Jesus kept the Sabbath by resting in the tomb & rising from the dead to live forever. For this is why he came. This is why He became man; to draw all to Himself so that He could give rest & refreshment to the weary & the heavy laden.
     The Sabbath is a gift, not a burden. It is a gift of time free from the liturgy of this world, the liturgy of productivity & consumption. Sabbath is time for rest & refreshment, a time free from anxiety to enjoy the gifts God gives, all of them - His Word, His Promises, His Sacraments, His creation, everything. It is a foretaste of the rest we shall enjoy in heaven.
     Sadly, for many of us, rest has become work. It's become drudgery. We long for it but we aren't able to do it because there's so much to be done & so little time to do it. But really, what's the rush? Why are we so hurried & harried? Have we forgotten that Jesus is raised from the dead & lives forever?
     Sabbath is God's gift of time free from all of the anxiety & hurry of this world so that we can rest, be refreshed by the gifts God gives. Society won't do it for us. They are addicted to the liturgy of productivity & consumption. Though we are in the world, we are not of it. We are the people of God, His own children by water & Word, joined to the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus lives. And so shall we. So rest in the promise of our Savior that sin, death, & time have no hold on you because Jesus is raised from the dead. Jesus lives. And so shall we, forever.