Friday, August 04, 2017

A Word From Pastor Mike - The Love of God



The foundation of the Christian faith is that God is love. You heard it in our lessons today:
  • The lord has set his love on you and chose you..... Deuteronomy 7:7
  • The Lord loves you..... Deuteronomy 7:8
  • The Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love to those who love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations..... Deuteronomy 7:9
  • Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? ..... Romans 8:35
  • No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.... Romans 8:37
  • Nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our lord... Romans 8:39


It is there in the Old Testament. It's there in the New Testament. God loves us. God loved Israel. John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

What's not clear? God loves Israel. God loves the world. Case closed, right?

Well, sometimes people don't feel loved by God for one reason or another, but the Bible is clear. God loves us.

This past week Sue and I were in Montana for my Aunt Eleanor's Memorial Service.  Eleanor was 101 years old, close to 102. She died peacefully in her sleep. The foundation of her life was the love of God.

Eddie and Eleanor Harmon were my godparents. Eleanor was there when Sue and I were married and when I was ordained. She made the red stole I wore for my ordination. She was going to make them all but found it was so hard that she gave the rest of the material to Sue and said, "You can do it."

I said the foundation of Eleanor's life was the love of God. I want you to know that she held that conviction throughout her life but it wasn't always easy for her. 

Eleanor was born in Norma, ND.  Her parents were in banking when the Great Depression hit the U.S. in the 1930's. Her family moved West. She had to live in a tent in Hogeland, MT for awhile until a house was moved to town. 

My Mom said that she thought that Eleanor would never marry but then Eddie Harmon came along. He was a great guy. They got married.

Later, when I was in grade school, Eddie died while driving the tractor. Eleanor relocated and eventually married Bill Bickel and moved to Hamilton, MT. Later Eleanor would have an encounter with breast cancer and survived.  Eventually Bill died.


The last years were difficult for Eleanor. She was in assisted living. It was hard for her to converse but she could listen. Even so, I would say that Eleanor lived a good life, held to her faith and now rests in God's peace.

Although life wasn't always easy for her, she kept faith. She kept her foundation, that God is love.

Alvin Rogness was the President of Luther Seminary and many years ago he wrote, "The Bible is God's love letter to you...From the Bible, the most important thing you learn about God is that he loves you and is trying to reach you. God is searching for you. He loves you and you can't stop him from loving you and from running after you. You can try running away from him but you can not stop him from staying on your trail."

The problem is not a deficiency of God's love. We've already heard John 3:16. In Romans 8:31-32, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will we not also with him graciously give us all things?"

The grand conclusion of this section of the Book of Romans and perhaps of the whole Bible is this, 
"Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

So the problem is not a deficiency in God's love. The problem is sin, the devil, the world, our sinful self. We live in a fallen world. There will be struggles. Yet Paul reassures us, "For God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

When I listen to people like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer they say that people are always telling them that "God could never love me; you don't know what I've done." Then they proceed to tell them their list.

The problem is in us. The reality is God knows every bad thing we've done and still loves us. The reality is God is good at forgiveness. God is good at 2nd chances. God is ok with leaving the past in the past and starting over but we aren't.

One of the best things we can do is trust in God's forgiveness. "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

The way forward is to build on the foundation of God's love, like my Aunt Eleanor and many other believers in the past. They knew they were not perfect but they confessed their sins and trusted in God's forgiveness and love.

Recently when I was back on our farm. I noticed this old building. It's listing now just a little bit. How much longer will it stand? I don't know, but you know what will remain even if the building falls? The foundation will remain.  You see it all over the homestead areas, the buildings may fall but the foundations remain.

How does Jesus end the sermon on the Mount?  With a story. "Everyone who heard these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on the rock, and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on the rock."

I started this sermon with a bunch of verses about God's love for us. That's our foundation. God loves us. Come what may, God loves us. The way forward is to build on the foundation of God's love, keep trusting. Then, like my Aunt Eleanor, we will die in peace and awaken to God's glory.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A WORD FROM PASTOR MIKE - Good Friday...What Does This Mean?

"But he was wounded for our transgressions.  He was crushed for our iniquities.  Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace and with his stripes we are healed.  And we, like sheep, have gone astray.  We have turned everyone to his own way and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."  Isaiah 53:5-6

What is so "good" about Good Friday?  Jesus is unjustly tried and convicted, tortured, put to death on a cross.  It's a bleak story, a dark story.  It's definitely not a "good" Friday for Jesus.

Actually, it hasn't always been called Good Friday.  In some places Good Friday is called Black Friday.  In fact, that is the color in the church year calendar for Good Friday.  But now, in our culture, Black Friday has become the big shopping day after Thanksgiving.

Sorrowful Friday was another name for this day.  This emphasized our "great sorrow" over Jesus' death for us.

God's Friday  was another term used.  God is doing His work repairing the damage of sin.  Jesus became the one sacrifice for all time.  Some scholars believe that God's Friday was then transformed into Good Friday

What does Christ's death mean for us?  The suffering and death of Jesus, as terrible as it was, marked the dramatic culmination of God's plan to save people from their sins, which is good, at least for us... not so good for Jesus.

Human beings are God's good creation but we are also sinful.  We need to own both parts of this.  We are saints because of God's righteousness in us and we are sinners at the same time.

Sometimes we like to put a good spin on this. One boy came home from school before Christmas and told his Mom that he had good news and bad news.  The bad news was the he goofed around a lot and didn't work very hard, resulting in poor grades on his report card.  The good news was that he still got to be one of the 3 wise men in the Christmas Program!.

Even though we like to put a good spin on our sinful human nature, the Apostle Paul doesn't sugar coat our situation.  In the book of Romans he writes, "None is righteous, no not one.  No one understands.  No one seeks for God.  No one does good, not even one.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

The bad news is that God despises sin because sin causes pain.  We are sinful; we cause pain through our words and deeds.  The wrath of God comes against sin and wants to destroy it.

The good news is God is love.  God loves His creation.  God loves us in spite of our sin so He sent Jesus to take care of the sin problem, once and for all time.


I don't know if you've ever thought about the cross this way before, but it's the place where God's justice and God's love meets.

What kind of God would He be if he didn't care about sin and injustice?  What kind of a God would he be if he didn't love us?  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

God took care of the sin problem for us.  Martin Luther calls it "The Happy Exchange".  Christ takes the sins of the world on himself - our sins.  And then, he gives us His robe of righteousness to cover up our sinfulness.  So that when God looks at us, he doesn't see our sins. He sees us clothed in Christ's righteousness.  He sees us as part of His good creation, no longer slaves to sin but part of His Family.

Why did Jesus die for us?  Jesus endured the cross, knowing that it led to our redemption through his innocent suffering and death.  He bought us back from sin and set us free from both sin and death.

Now the future is opened for us.  Now we have new life, new beginnings every day because of Him.

So, Good Friday is good for us.  We are free.  Our sin debt is cancelled by the love of Jesus.

In John 15 Jesus speaks to His followers, "This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."

Jesus laid down his life for his followers, for the whole world, for you and me... that we might be free from sin.  What wonderous love is this?!  And so... What does Good Friday mean?  It was a bad day for Jesus but good for us.
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Sunday, March 05, 2017

A Word From Pastor Mike - AGAINST AND FOR

Another one of Mike's sermons from the past...



AGAINST AND FOR

We are a debating society.  We are encouraged to "weigh in" on issues or matters of importance.  Of course, we don't have to be an expert.  We can just have "strong feelings" about something  In our modern age technology allows us to get our opinion out into the world.

On YouTube you can watch something , see how many times it was viewed, and then give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down.  I've never weighed in.

You can watch a news report and then you are invited to be part of the poll...  Are you for or against this issue? 

A few weeks ago I tried to get interested in Facebook. I looked on Sue's Facebook page and Yikes! Some people were spewing out some awful stuff!  I didn't need to read that! I haven't been back so I hope Sue will let me know if something important happens.

So, surely it's safe to look at your favorite hockey team and read an article about the St. Louis Blues? They didn't resign their captain to a contract...ok, that's fine.  Then I looked at the "comment section". Two Blues fans were going after each other.  "The team's going in the right direction." "No! it's not and by the way you are a jerk!"

It appears that we aren't always civil with one another in our society.
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The truth is, we all have opinions.  Sometimes we get worked up over certain hot button issues.  We might not like a person because they hold a different view.  Maybe it's someone close to us who is the arbitrator.  Who gets to declare the winner?  Is it important?

During the Civil War President Abraham Lincoln was asked if God was on his side.  Lincoln replied, "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side.  My greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."

In our lessons today God weighs in.  God has some opinions and really, that should be the most important thing.  What does God say about a thing?  Culture may have an opinion.  The "experts" may have an opinion. But if we are believers, what God thinks should be our primary concern.

The intro to our first lesson in Amos tells us what God is against.  The Word of the Lord came to Israel and chided them for their feelings of superiority over other nations and peoples.  Woe to those who make their beds in comfort, eat sumptuous meals and sit idly enjoying all the good things in life. They didn't make changes.  They simply didn't care while their country was ruined.

The only thing God is for is for them going into exile.  And that's exactly what happened in 722 B.C. The Assyrian Army conquered the North Kingdom of Israel and hauled them away to become slaves. They had stopped caring about what God thinks.

In Paul's first letter to Timothy we find that God's Word is for good leaders who are held to high standards.  God has been FOR that throughout the ages.

Moses was a good leader for Israel.  He had high standards but he wasn't perfect.

There were many good and noble things about King David.  He was Israel's greatest King.  He had high standards and tried to follow God but he didn't always succeed.

I think the second reading is telling us that we want our Christian leaders to have high standards, but that should be true of all Christians.  I think God wants us all to have high standards.  Always considering, always asking what does God want me to do?

In our Gospel reading in Luke 16 I think it's pretty clear that God does not want us to neglect the poor.  God is AGAINST that. The rich man is a terrible example of not even helping one of his own.

It's interesting that in all the parables that Jesus tells, only in this parable does a character have a name.  His name is Lazarus, or "God is my help."

Lazarus is a pitiful figure.  He's laid at the rich man's gate; he can't even get there himself. He's a beggar. He has terrible sores. Dogs are licking him and he doesn't even speak in this parable.  Yes, he is part of the great reversal that Jesus talks about, "The first shall be last..."

So, God is AGAINST neglecting the poor but I heard in this reading that he is all FOR listening to Moses and the prophets.  And what were they saying... "love God with all your heart soul, mind and strength and be a good neighbor."

You and me, we are the 5 brothers of the rich man in this parable.  We are still here in this world. Lazarus won't come and pay us a visit but we do have Moses and the prophets.  We do have Jesus rising from the dead.  So, what are we going to do with that?  I hope we can do something beautiful  for God.

Let me explain what I mean.  Mother Teresa was a Catholic Nun who went to Calcutta, India, one of the poorest cities in the world.  Mother Teresa started orphanages and hospitals to care for the dying. She was greatly admired for giving her life to care for the poor.

As Mother Teresa became famous, people from all over the world came to Calcutta to meet her. When journalists would finish interviewing her she would look at them with a twinkle in her eye and ask, "So, you want to do something beautiful for God?"

Her point was not to be admired but to ask, "Why don't you join me in this quest to be a good neighbor.  Help these people.  They are struggling.  When you go back home, help the struggling people there."

The interesting thing in Mother Teresa's story is that she started out in Calcutta as a teacher in a nice, beautifully manicured convent.  At night she would look beyond the walls of her second story apartment.  She would see the poor and dying.  At first she would throw bread and money over the wall to the poor gathered there.  She finally asked her Mother Superior if she could do face-to-face ministry with the poor.  She was granted permission.  She walked across the street and touched the skin of a dying man.  Her life was never the same.  She did something beautiful for God.

Last week I said we probably won't christen a ship, have lunch with the queen, convert a nation or be burned at the state.  But the world of our neighbor is all around us.  It doesn't have to be a big thing but let's DO SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL FOR GOD in the world of our neighbors.  I think God is all FOR that.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Word From Pastor Mike - BEYOND DESPAIR AND MATERIALISM

This is a sermon Mike gave a while back...



Beyond Despair and Materialism

Rabbi Harold Kushner is best known for his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, but he has written other books, too.  One of these other books used the Old Testament writing of Ecclesiastes 1 as its foundation.  The book is titled When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough. 

In one part of this book Kushner writes about a depressed man who came to see him in his study.  The man told the rabbi he had attended a funeral for a man from his office who had died rather suddenly. The man told Rabbi Kushner that they had already replaced the man at his office and his wife had moved out of state.  He said, "Rabbi, I've hardly slept at all since then.  I can't stop thinking that it could happen to me; that one day it will happen to me.  A few days later I will be forgotten as if I had never lived.  Shouldn't a man's life be worth more than that?

The Book of Ecclesiastes takes on the deep questions of life. "I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see all is vanity and chasing after the wind.  What do mortals get from all their toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is vexation. Even at night their minds do not rest.  This is also vanity.

Ecclesiastes is a thinking person's book.  It wrestles with questions of meaning and despair:

  • Why am I here?
  • What should I do with my life?
  • Does it matter?
  • Who will remember me?
Ecclesiastes is a book that raises a lot of questions, but it is woefully lacking in positive answers and hope.  It's not a good book to read when you are depressed but it gets you to think and take your life seriously.

Singer Paul Simon is a thinking man's songwriter.  He's written positive things like "Bridge Over Troubled Water" but he also seems to have a dark muse.  In the song "Slip Sliding Away" he writes, "God only knows and God makes his plans. The information's unavailable to the mortal man.  We'll work at our jobs, collect our pay...believe we're sliding down the highway when in fact, we're slip sliding away."

Despair lurks nearby for those who have never established a healthy center of life.  Despair can run people over when bad things happen.  That's why we need a firm foundation, a strong center, that we can return to when things get tough.  We need to hear the positive promises of God's word like, "Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."

The book of Ecclesiastes also talks about going after possessions to find meaning in life..."I also had great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem.  I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces...I kept my heart from no pleasure...Then I considered all that my hands had done...and behold all was vanity and a striving after wind and there was no thing to be gained under the sun."

I served a 3-point parish in Montana many years ago.  Every Sunday I drove past the Bair Mansion. The last member of the Bair family died sometime after we left the area and the home was opened for tours.  I went on one of those tours as we traveled back through and found out more about the Bair family.  Back in the 1800's a man named Charles Bair came out West with 14 cents and 7 green apples.  He came to earn his fortune in sheep and cattle ranching, as well as gold, coal and oil interests.  Charlie Bair knew how to make money and he could be very generous with his money. But, his money seemed to have a strange effect on him and his family.

Charlie would shear sheep and brand cattle in  his finest suits.  Why? Because he could afford to. So he did.

Charlie had two daughters but to him no one was good enough to marry them.  Charlie was afraid to turn his money over to a non-family member.  One day the oldest daughter, Marguerite, rebelled and eloped with the ranch foreman.  When they came back, Charlie still made the husband stay in the bunk house!

Alberta Bair was the youngest daughter and the last surviving member of the family.  A member of one of the congregations I served worked for Alberta.  I asked her to ask Alberta if she would like me to drop by since I was the only pastor in the area.  Her reply was, "No, he's probably after my money."

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us an obsession for possessions is a futile struggle.

Jesus tells us "One's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions...Instead, seek his kingdom and all these things will be added unto you."

So, what are the alternatives to despair and materialism?  

Our second reading from Colossians 3 offers this advice, "Seek the things that are above - where Christ is...Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth."

The Christian faith provides meaning for this life and the life to come.  God gives us life.  God gives us gifts.  God gives us each other.  Got wants us to have an abundant life now, but also in the age to come when our lives are done.  Our hope, our meaning comes from God who loves us and sees each one of us as valuable.

Questioning is good and natural.  Good questions lead us to the discovery of a good God.  But, sometimes questioning can lead us to endless questions, despair or even anger.

Posessions aren't necessarily bad, but they don't always lead to happiness.  I look at the Bair family. Were they happy because of their wealth and possessions?  No, they seemed guarded and a little afraid of people.

Posessions and wealth can be a good thing.  They can bless you to be a blessing to others.  They can bring security.  But, they are not to be the primary thing of life.  Meaning and hope are found in the Christian faith, in setting our minds on things that are above.

I'd like to tell you about a couple of pastors in my life who reflected the joy of living with meaning in life, and a living faith.

Ermin Lunder was a retired pastor living in Issaquah, WA.  He lived in a retirement community next to the Lutheran Bible Institute where I was going to school.  He became a part of our "Life Group" on the LBI Campus.  He had his burdens to bear.  His wife of many years had health problems and the beginning of Alzheimer's Disease.  Still, he had a very joyful and encouraging spirit.  He knew the sufferings of this life were temporary.  He set his mind on things above.  The joy of the Lord was his strength.  He was an excellent example to young people of how to carry on in faith in spite of suffering.

Another pastor of influence was Lowell Satre.  He was my Greek Professor at Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary.  We didn't always know what to make of Professor Satre.  He had the most outlandish clothes.  He was the King of  Polyester.  We didn't know if this was his trademark, if he was fashion challenged or just poor.  But, we did know that he loved the Lord Jesus Christ.  He wanted us to succeed as pastors.  He wanted us to bring the good news to the world.  At the bottom of our papers he would write encouraging things and invite us to "Press On!"

There are things in life that are worrisome or depressing.  Things don't always go right or as we planned but we don't live for this life.

This life isn't about knowing all the right answers.  Nobody knows all the answers to the mysteries of life.

This life isn't a contest to see who can get the most possessions.  The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that's like trying to catch the wind.

Paul wrote to the Colossians, "So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.  For you have cried and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory."






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