Traveling on the Low Road

Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor.” – Luke 6:20b

I have a friend who once noted in surprise, “When I first believed, I thought I understood the kingdom of God – but now that I have entered more deeply into my Christian walk, I realize I was looking at a negative: the blacks are white and the whites are black. Everything in this life is opposite of what I expected.”

Is this not true in what Jesus says in the Gospel for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany? “Blessed are you who are poor…Blessed are you who are hungry now…Blessed are you who weep now…” (Luke 6:20-21). One would have expected the opposite: misery for the poor, the hungry, and the sad. With money we can buy what we want, with a full stomach we can focus on other matters, with diversions we can forget our problems and enjoy life. What a contrast between Jesus’ goals and those of the world we live in!

The poverty of which Jesus speaks is poverty of spirit, as Matthew interprets it (5:3). The poor are those who know their need of God, their dependence on his grace, his guidance, his love. The hungry are those who long for God’s goodness in their hearts, and his way to be observed between nations in our world. Those who weep are the earnest hearers of others, who listen without condemnation and enter another’s pain, offering a hand up, a word of truth, or questions whose answers lead to God.

The way of Christ is not one of triumphalism, nor of winning, not of being on top. It is the path of serving, of allowing others first place over oneself. Instead of climbing a ladder of hierarchy, Christians dance in a circle of peers. Rather than putting others down, we put others up. These are the ways to the blessings of God.

Grant us your gracious Spirit, O Lord, that we may find your way none other than the way of blessing and of peace; in Jesus’ name. Amen

In His Peace,

Pastor Schultz


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A Prosperous New Year

“Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, everything

he has belongs to you.” – Galatians 4:7

Many of the cards we have received this past Christmas have included not only and “Merry Christmas” but also “A Happy New Year”. Some well-wishers even add “Prosperous” to their blessing of our New Year. St. Paul shows us the connection between “Christmas” and “A Happy Prosperous New Year”. He succinctly reviews what Jesus has done for us, and how we have been brought so close to God that we are adopted into his family. God is our Father, not a distant authoritative father of rules and stipulations, but one who cares for us, his precious children, the same way he cares for his Son, Jesus.

Part of letting God care for us and allowing ourselves to be open to his moving in our lives, is realizing that not only what we have is his, but what he has is ours. The more literal translations say that we are heirs with him, but being an heir means much more than waiting for a future inheritance in heaven. As children of God and heirs we can fully take part right now in the ongoing life of the kingdom of heaven. As heirs we are actively included in God’s family, so that when our inheritance is fully received, we will be comfortable with it and ready to use it responsibly. The father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son said it very clearly to his eldest son, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31).

It is quite astounding to realize that everything God has is ours, and since he is God that means there is no end to what he has in store for us. Of course we can handle only so much now, given our earthly limitations, but what we do receive is given in preparation for our receiving the whole inheritance. In the meantime, we need to take advantage of the heavenly wealth which belongs to us and which is ours for the asking. Our maturity in the faith depends upon it, because the more we explore what God has for us, the closer we are led to him. The more we know him truly as Father, the more we become liberated from our old patterns old isolation. The more we discover the riches of heaven, the more we have to give freely of ourselves.

Yes, it is hard to believe that everything that God has is ours and that God wants to give us as much as we can accept. His generosity knows no bounds. The proof of it is that God gave his Son, who gave his life, so that we might be one with God and be brought into the loving circle of his family.

We have a “Happy and Prosperous New Year” ahead of us!

My Father in heaven, thank you for your love and care and gifts which keep me aware that I will someday enter into my full inheritance. Help me to live more in the reality of the boundless wealth of your kingdom each day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

In His Peace,

Pastor Schultz


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Christmas Blessings

“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was
spoken to her from the Lord.” – Luke 1:45
Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary was a spontaneous expression of bursting joy and gratitude, for in her young cousin she saw the handiwork of God, and on her face she saw the unmistakable signs of trusting faith. Mary was God‘s favored one, a chosen instrument for his work of salvation. But Mary was also hardly more than a girl; one of countless Jewish girls whose simple lives were lived in the homes and villages of Palestine. Nothing unique. Nothing profound. Really quite ordinary. Just the short of “earthen vessel” through which God often works out his most astonishing miracles.
 
Among the other wonders of Christmas, we remember that God does not bypass even the weakness of human
frailty in order to work out his purposes. In fact, the message of the Incarnation is that it is often precisely through
finite and fragile human nature that God reveals the splendor of his eternal being. Christmas is a day to rejoice,
for no person is despised by God, no person is useless in his hands; no person is too sinful and flawed to be the
“blessed of God.”
 
Only one thing was required of Mary in order that she might bear the Son of God. Faith – the gift of faith in the
love and power of God. No Super-human strength was necessary and no extraordinary level of belief. The angel
Gabriel was sent to one who, in answer to God’s call, would believe and utter a simple “Fiat” (“Let it be”). This
Christmas let us greet with our own burst of joy and gratitude the God who came directly into our midst to save
us, and may our hearts be lifted by the remembrance that he used one just like us in order to do so. How “blessed
of God” we are.
 
Why lies he in such mean estate, Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear; for sinners here, The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through, The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, The babe, the son of Mary!
 
In His Peace,
Pastor Schultz

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Thanksgiving Beggars

“Oh give thanks unto the Lord for his mercy endures forever.”

– Psalm 136:1

To celebrate true thanksgiving is to get everything in proper perspective. It is to admit that ultimately we are not self-sufficient but totally dependent upon the grace of God. It is said that some of Martin Luther’s last words were: “We are all beggars”. That is for sure. If we believe that God is the Creator and Owner of all of the earth, then we are in a sense “beggars” indeed. That is to say that ultimately we own nothing. We leave this earth with empty hands.
 
And all that we have even now is really owned by God and given to us as good stewards if we would but acknowledge it. Gratitude is a natural quality in every person who is not entirely given over to selfishness, and the expression of gratitude is the simplest and surest way of giving honor and paying respect to another person.

It is to be expected, then, that expressions of gratitude to God should be among the most basic aspects of our relationship with him. It is all too easy for us to overlook the ordinary, everyday blessings that we enjoy: food and clothing, shelter, friends, health. Too often these things are taken for granted as though they were our due. But the fact that so many of God’s good gifts have been with us all our lives is a circumstance that ought rather to increase our sense of thankfulness.

It is good for us to pause and recollect, for the comforts and blessings of our lives always outweigh the unpleasant things, and, for this very reason, we tend to overlook them. Yet, even things apparently undesirable or evil can be made occasions for thanksgiving to God, since he never fails to extract from even the most unpromising situation some element which can be turned to our good.

We give thanks to God for his many blessings, and not the least for the opportunities he has given us of learning patience and forbearance through our adversities, and learning to know ourselves better; of learning, perhaps even in failure or neglect, that the only ultimate value in our lives is the love he has for us.

Thanksgiving Day offers us an opportunity to stop and express our appreciation for the preciousness of life, the goodness of life, the bounty given to us by God “Good measure: pressed down, running over.”

“Oh give thanks, unto the Lord for his mercy endures for ever.”

In His Peace,

Pastor Schultz


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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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