Great is His Faithfulness

“ . . . for his steadfast love endures forever!” – Psalm 106:1b

In the month of October, we celebrate the Reformation. Many have often wondered what enabled Dr. Martin Luther to be the driving force he came to be, during the Reformation. The answer can be found in our verse this month. Dr. Luther knew the security of God’s love. Sharing in that security of God’s love is the heart of our heritage of faith. It is firm and sure, an immovable rock on which to build, and an anchor to cling to in stormy seas. Vastly different from human love, it is not based on chemistry, feelings, like-mindedness, or performance. We can trust in his love no matter what we do or what happens to us. He simply but profoundly loves us.

God’s faithfulness is not measured by the instability and fickleness of man’s soul. God’s love is based on his nature, and on his faithfulness to himself. In his love, he made a unilateral, unbreakable covenant with his people, no matter what they say or how they act. There are consequences for their choices, but he does not stop loving them, nor does he renege on the covenant. God has a plan to bless and fulfill all of his people. He is faithful to that plan, whether or not individuals refuse or reject His desired blessing for them.

At the foot of Mount Sinai, the people of Israel quickly turned aside from the way of Yahweh, created other gods, and spent their time eating, drinking, and playing. When in his wrath God turned away from them, Moses appealed to him, “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou didst swear by thine own self” (Exodus 32:13). Psalm 106 recounts Israel’s rebellion, murmuring, provoking, and serving idols. Consequences were inevitable, but God never left them.

God continued with his perfect plan to save and bless his people. It is by his steadfast love that we are saved. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: We rejoice, Father, in your faithfulness and steadfast love for us. Help us to grow in that love, that we may reflect it to a troubled and unstable world. Amen.

In His Peace,
Pastor Schultz

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Everything I Count as Loss

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” -Philippians 3:8

Paul could make this statement. Can we? We may sing about it, even pray about it–but as most people know, including me, it may still be too bold a statement to make about one’s own life.

The basis of Paul’s statement can be traced back to his confrontation with the Resurrected Christ. Prior to that time, he, Saul (not yet renamed Paul by Jesus) had been busily defending the old faith and the tradition of the fathers.

It was his pride and joy to be numbered among the most faithful. When he heard of people following this new Way (not yet identified by the name “Christian”), he turned his zeal to their extermination because it was polluting and damaging the faith of the fathers.

It was on Saul’s journey to Damascus to find and bind these “wrongheaded,” deluded souls that he was abruptly stopped by a bright light and an unfamiliar voice: “Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Recognizing that he was being confronted by the Lord, Saul asked shakily, “Who are You, Lord?” And the answer came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”! That did it for Paul. As soon as he regained his eyesight, he turned around 180 degrees. Jesus’ gracious conversion included a new name “Paul” to mark his new life. From that time on, his tremendous zeal was devoted to making known the Good News of Jesus.

Being a Christian in those days was risky, dangerous business. This letter to the Philippians was written years later by Paul who was now imprisoned for his witness of faith. The people who had come to know Jesus Christ through Paul’s preaching at Philippi had not forgotten their teacher. Paul, their spiritual father, wants these young Christians to know that God is still in charge, regardless of what happens to him or to them. I want you to know that what happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel.” Moreover, as he recounts the course of his own life, he can say, “I count everything as nothing compared with the excellency of knowing Jesus as my Lord.”

Only those who have walked with Jesus over the hard ways, the rough roads, and the dark times can make this assertion. The world has nothing compared to what the love of God brings to the human heart.

O most loving Father, You will us to give thanks, for all things, to dread nothing but the loss of You, and to cast all our care on You, who cares for us; preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no cloud of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which You have manifested to us in Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

In His Peace,
Pastor Schultz

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Wet Feet Faith

“But immediately He spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart, it is I; have no fear.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.” – Matthew 14:27,29

For many years I have read the story of Jesus walking on the water and seen Peter’s lack of faith as some kind of sad but understandable weakness. This time when I read the story, I saw something different: I saw Peter take a courageous first step! While all those in the boat would eventually worship Jesus, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God,” only Peter faith had “feet,” trusting that Jesus was Lord of heaven, earth, and also the sea.

Which of us, like Peter, would have climbed over the side of the boat, lowered ourselves to the water, and carefully put our feet down on a heaving sea to risk that first step? How can we gain the kind of faith, imperfect though it was, that Peter displayed? Perhaps a closer examination of this story can help us.

First, scripture records that Peter was the only one who, upon hearing Jesus’ voice, answered Him that night. Peter first of all heard the voice of Jesus’ calling to be able to respond. We can only display this kind of faith if we are hearing Jesus call to us in His word.

Second, Peter asked Jesus to strengthen his faith. Peter asked, “Lord if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” His answer was, “Come.” Jesus will give us the strength of faith we need to heed His Call.

Third, Peter trusted Jesus. Peter’s experience of Jesus’ faithfulness enabled him to trust the Lord in this new circumstance. In trust he obeyed. It is only God’s gracious, loving, eternal, faithfulness to us that enables our trusting obedience.

Last, when in his weakness fear overcame him and began to sink, he called out to Jesus for help and he was saved. It is not the strength of our faith that saves us. We are saved when we call out in helpless weakness to Jesus, the only one who can save us.

Peter was a simple fisherman with an extraordinary God given faith. Like Peter, we will, in every circumstance, find Jesus to be faithful to His word.

Lord, grant us the grace to listen for Your voice, the courage to ask in faith believing, the faith to trust in Your goodness, and the knowledge of Your presence in our every need. Amen.

In His Peace,
Pastor Schultz

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The Fruit of the Spirit

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
(Galatians 5:22)

The Holy Spirit is the means by which we grow in Christ. If the Holy Spirit is working in us through the means of grace, there are certain evidences of fruit that should be manifested in our lives. Paul describes these in Galatians 5. This fruit is a portrait of Jesus, and it is also a picture of the Christian’s life.

The first three of these evidences – love, joy, and peace – describe our relationship to God. The Holy Spirit puts God’s love in our hearts, God’s joy in our souls, and God’s peace in our minds. Everything a Christian does is, or ought to be, conceived in love, undertaken in joy, and accomplished in peace.

The second three – patience, kindness, and goodness – describe what should be our relationship to others; the patience that bears the rudeness and unkindness of other people and refuses to retaliate, the kindness that turns such tolerance into a benevolence that is not content with indifference but insists on love, and then the goodness that turns the wish into deed and begins to take the initiative in serving other people according to their need.

The final three – faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – describe our relationship to ourselves. Faithfulness is dependability that always keeps a promise and completes a task. Gentleness is not a quality of the weak, but the strong and energetic who have their strength and energy under control. Self-control involves mastering the tongue, the thoughts, the appetites, and the passions.

This fruit taken together is kept in balance. The Holy Spirit is not satisfied, for example, if we display plenty of love for other people but don’t have control over our lives: if we display much joy and peace but no kindness: if there is gentleness in our lives, but no firmness or dependability. We need all of these.

The fruit of the Spirit is not something that we can produce by our efforts, resources, and ingenuity. The Spirit, through the means of grace, is the divine gardener who cultivates this fruit in the life of believers. We need to note that Paul deliberately contrasts the fruit of the Spirit with the works of the flesh (what we can produce with our own efforts). We need the humility to acknowledge that we cannot produce these fruits by ourselves. So, we should invite the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, as we receive him in word and sacrament, to work God’s will through us.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and KINDLE in them the fire of your love. Amen

In His Peace,
Pastor Schultz

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God is Able

“He (Abraham) grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.” (Romans 4:20-b21)

Two thousand years after his death, Abraham was remembered as a man of faith, “fully convinced God was able to do what He had promised.” It was not that he was perfect that he was remembered. In fact, Genesis records that he was very human. For instance, when God told him to leave his family and travel to a far land, he disobeyed and took his nephew Lot. Later he paid the price for that decision. Yet his mistakes were not counted against him, and God was faithful to His promises in spite of Abraham’s weaknesses.

The emphasis of the Scripture is on God’s faithfulness. Their testimonies constitute the evidence and encouragement we need to build our faith. In spite of incredible odds, impossible situations, and physical impossibilities, God honored His promises to Abraham. He gave him the land, and made him a great nation, and he has become a blessing unto generations. God is God, and He is faithful.

God is not limited by natural law, nor by traditionally accepted religious law. The Pharisees are appalled that Jesus would deign to eat with tax collectors and sinners. No self-respecting rabbi would tarnish his reputation by socializing with the outcasts of society. Yet Jesus is being faithful to His promise made in Nazareth when He read from Isaiah in the synagogue that He would preach to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and set at liberty those who are oppressed.

He went with the ruler to attend to his daughter even though the distraught father reported to Him that she was already dead. That father believed in a physical impossibility, and Jesus was faithful to that belief. It says in Matthew that the people laughed at Jesus. They must have thought the father was absolutely crazy. Think of the consequences if the father had succumbed to public opinion and Jesus had been sensitive to ridicule from people.

Along the way a woman who had been ill for twelve years physically weak, emotionally drained, and spiritually discouraged reached out in faith, “fully convinced that He would do what he had promised,” and touched his garment. Jesus sensed her presence, turned, spoke to her, and she was healed, body, soul, and spirit.

When discouragement strangles enthusiasm, and hopes are dashed by lack of faith, we need not tumble into the depths of despair. We have testimony, that God is faithful to His promises. He is faithful to His people, and we can exercise our faith in Him (though it might be the size of a mustard seed), and He will be there.

Prayer: Great is Thy Faithfulness 0 God my Father, There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not; As Thou has been Thou forever wilt be. (Thomas 0. Chisholm)

In His Peace,
Pastor Schultz

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A Psalm for All Seasons

[Jesus said,] “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11a)

This month’s Scripture readings continue to echo the great themes of Jesus’ Passion, as God’s people continue their pilgrimage from the feast of Easter to the outpouring of God’s Spirit at Pentecost. What a joyous time of the year, as the church continues to celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death! This psalm is the focus of our thoughts today.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. What a grand introduction to all that follows! Because Jesus is our shepherd, we have at this moment, and will have for the rest of our days, everything we will need. There are times when we should stop and rest with him, but will not want to. At such periods, he will, in effect, make us to lie down in green pastures. When we do recognize our need for quiet and rest, his promise is that he will lead us beside the still waters. At other times we undergo deep emotional hurts, injuries to our very selves. While such wounds may be beyond the reach of psychotherapy and counseling, there is one who can heal us: He restoreth my soul.

In a world of conflicting direction about the right path to take, Jesus has promised his Spirit, who will lead us into all truth (John 16:13). He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Some claim they are unable to hear God. It has been the experience of many that a willingness to do whatever he wants enables them to discern his leading.

Suffering and periods of darkness are a part of every life. We have his promise: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. “Jesus is there with me.” At the darkest time of my life this verse proved true. I found the Lord in a person-to-person relationship that has now grown only deeper. I know nothing now can separate me from him.

Protected from enemies by his rod and guided by his staff, surely our heads are anointed and our cups overflowing. His goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Or, as another translation promises, His house will be our home forever.

Shepherd of our souls, guide us safely through the joys and trials of this life, until we are gathered to you in the safety of our home on high. Amen.

In His Peace, Pastor Schultz

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Pastor’s Pen – Getting to Know God

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding, no one can fathom.” (Isaiah 40:28 NIV)

Have you ever complained to God, either verbally or silently, and accused him of not taking care of you, and failing to notice the difficulties that surround your life? Leaders like Moses and Isaiah often heard their people’s dissatisfaction with God. In verse 27, the prophet asks, “Why do you say … and complain, 0 Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God?”‘

We shouldn’t be too hard on the Israelites. At least they were being honest. They were away from the Promised Land in exile in Babylon. They were far away from the temple and the beauty of Mount Zion. In the stresses of exile and foreign captivity, they voiced their feelings regarding God. They complained that God had abandoned them. They felt that he did not know their plight and was unaware of their dire situation. Not too long ago, there was a project in which I was deeply involved. After a few years of fruitful work, it appeared that the work might be stopped and left unfinished. I felt that God had forgotten me and my plight. My complaints were deep and bitter. So were the people of Israel’s!

It may surprise us to realize that when we complain about God’s lack of care, the real dilemma lies in the fact that we really do not know the character of God. Isaiah is quick to point out both the ignorance and the short term memory of his people. In verse 28, he reminds us that our God is never plagued by fatigue or memory loss or confusion. Our God is never “asleep at the switch.” He is never afflicted by indecision or caught unaware by troubling circumstances. These are very human shortcomings. But God’s character is never reflected in human weaknesses.

Who does God help and strengthen? Does he come to the aid of the strong, the competent, the clever, the eloquent, or the self-reliant? Isaiah reminds us that those who know God’s strength are the weary, the weak, the stumbling and those who are falling. God delights in equipping those who acknowledge their need and vulnerability and flaws. We should spend time with this passage and reflect on the God it reveals to us. When we are at the end of our abilities, we should resist the desire to complain that God’s abilities are equally limited. Instead, our weakness is the entrance way to discovering a God who is ready and able and aware of our need. Indeed he delights in giving us the strength necessary to replace our pint-size efforts.

Dear God, free us from accusing you of abandoning us and not caring. Help us to know and trust you, so that our lives might bear testimony to your strength and constant care. Amen.

In His Peace,
Pastor Schultz

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Light for What Ails Us

“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” Isaiah 9:2a

There are intensities of darkness. A number of years ago I visited Ruby Falls, which is deep under ground in a cave. I was led through a series of caves illumined by hidden spotlights. I’ll never forget the last one we entered. It was the deepest in the whole series, the “farthest from the light,” as our guide phrased it. After he had the grouped us all together, he turned off every light in the cavern – and we where in the dark. Perhaps it was no darker than other places in the world, but I could not see my hand in front of my face—and I still remember the sensation of being in that total obscurity far beneath the surface of the earth!

In a different way, I have been in various levels of non-physical darkness at times in my life-my hopes destroyed, the future I had designed destroyed, little guidance for the next move. Has not each of us, however, similarly, experienced the darkness of life’s twist and turns?

Isaiah reminds us that “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light”. When Matthew echoes the words of the prophet he tells us that the light is Jesus, who by simply being with us has brought us our dawn.

At the time of my darkest gloom faced with fear and the isolation that deep darkness brings, God has recalled his word of promise to me that Jesus is with me giving me his light of life. I cherish those times of darkness where the presence of Jesus was my only light. They have persuaded me that anywhere I go, no matter how deep the darkness becomes, Jesus, is with me. Nothing can persuade me to the contrary. Light, by its very nature, dispels the gloom. Jesus, by His very nature disperses the confusion and death we encounter in darkness.

The Son of God comes with His presence in word and sacrament-guiding, correcting, admonishing, forgiving, and loving. He uses every means to lead us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Come, Bright and Morning Star; illumine our darkness and lead us from night to never-ending day. Amen

In His Peace, Pastor Schultz

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Epiphany Moments

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1)
Can you remember a time when you were routinely having your devotions, or were sitting in a worship service, or perhaps contemplating the word of God in prayer, and suddenly you were made aware that you were in God’s presence? You knew that you were actually in conversation with God himself, and after momentary embarrassment at being caught so off guard, you were quickly transformed into a true time of Epiphany.
A grieving Isaiah, going about his routine priestly duties in the temple, was overcome by an unexpected revelation of God’s presence. He was transfixed by a vision of heavenly worship. He knew he was in the presence of a holy God. He could only stand there, out of place and unworthy, until, in answer to his dilemma, God reached out, cleansed him, and included him. That day he knew with Habakkuk that “the Lord was in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before him.” A lonely John, exiled to the island of Patmos, “alone” on the Lord’s Day, was overcome by a booming voice coming from behind him like the sound of a trumpet. He turned to look and fell at the feet of the risen Lord, because he felt strangely out of place. Encouraging him not to be afraid, the Lord laid his hand upon him and raised him up, and then called him into the heavenlies where he entered into the great worship scene before the throne of God. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Now and again we need to have our eyes lifted from the routines of our life and to look again at things from the perspective of eternity, to be reminded that we worship and serve a holy God before whom we can only confess our unworthiness – who loves us so much that he overwhelms us with his gracious presence. Thank God for his gift of Epiphany moments!
Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee, Casting down their golden crowns around the crystal sea. Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee, Who wert and art, and evermore shalt be. – Reginald Heber
In His Peace,
Pastor Schultz

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God’s Gift

“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign; The virgin will be with a child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14
Prophesying over 700 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah spoke to King Ahaz of Judah about the deliverance that God would provide that besieged kingdom. This prophecy has provided the world with one of the clearest declarations of the Christmas miracle. God would come in the flesh to dwell among us. He would enter our world through the womb of a virgin. What a wonderful sign God gives to us to behold and believe.

It may be difficult to identify with King Ahaz of Judah. As reflected in 2 Kings 16:24, he was a young, arrogant king of “detestable” ways. In spite of this, the prophet Isaiah went to Ahaz to offer him spiritual strength in a time of national crisis. Because of his godless ways, Ahaz did not merit a sign or a faithful prophet. Yet despite these evil ways and his phony spirituality, a covenant-keeping God gave Ahaz a clear sign of what he would do, not only for Ahaz but for our sin-darkened world through the Immanuel prophecy. What can we learn from God’s actions?

We learn about the character of God. He is a God of tremendous mercy and tenderness. In the midst of the dilemmas that were entirely of Ahaz’s doing, God came to deliver the king and his kingdom. We should never underestimate the depth of God’s love for any of us. None of us is worthy, and still God comes. He comes into our lives with signs that are clear and understandable to us. He is not a God who would stay hidden and unnamed from a people he loves. As we worship him, he extends to us a cup, the bread, and a cross. At Christmas we are presented with a star, a manger, a virgin, shepherds, and kings. As Jesus takes on our flesh God presents us with tangible proof that he is indeed among us, to be known by us, in a personal relationship.

At Christmas, through signs and the messages, God continues to seek after us. Will we be onlookers who stroll past these familiar words and signs with casual interest? Or will we stop, open our eyes, ears and mouths, and dare to believe that a loving heavenly Father is here to cut through our fears, and to draw us to himself? Ahaz. You. Me. God still desires that we believe and be saved. Christmas is a gift for such as us.

Dear God, you know of no hopeless ones in this world. Help us to stop and realize that you are truly there for us. Enable us to believe. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

In His Peace, Pastor Schultz

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