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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Our Manner of Life

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” – Philippians 1:27a

As Christians our manner of life springs from a well of inner conviction about who God is and who we are. What kind of heart attitude – or manner of life, as Paul puts it – would be appropriate for us to embrace, as ones who have received the gospel of Christ? I would like to suggest that high on our list of desirable attitudes should be a grateful heart.

The Scriptures show us the unfortunate contrasts in the attitudes of God’s

people. The nation of Israel, jubilant at one moment because of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, is murmuring against God only a short time later. The workers in the marketplace are overjoyed to have found a day’s work in the vineyard. By the end of the day, however, they feel the owner has treated them unfairly. In both cases the people of God have enjoyed God’s deliverance, God’s love, and God’s provision. Regrettably, they lack a grateful heart. It is woefully easy for us to forget all the good gifts that God has given us. We have a unique ability to center our minds on the negative and concentrate on what we don’t have.

What is the route away from this angry, accusing manner of life? We need look no further than the psalms. The psalmist writes, “The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds. The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145: 13b,14). When we are assailed by thoughts that accuse God, we need to remember the gifts and the grace of God that have always filled our lives. Praising God will help to lift us out of the pit we dig in our times of self-pity. Somehow remembering and rehearsing who God is helps us to remember who we are – beloved children of a loving and gracious Father. Join me my beloved brothers and sisters in say “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!”

Prayer: Lord, you have always provided for all that I have needed. Grant me a grateful heart, a heart that is always ready to acknowledge your goodness and love. Amen.

In His Peace, Pastor Schultz

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Our Confidence is in the Lord

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. -Psalm 125:1

October brings to mind the Reformation, Dr. Martin Luther, and his courageous stand in the face of death for the truth of his faith. Many have wondered how one man could take such an immovable position in light of great opposition. Surely, knowing the answer could have an impact on our individual and corporate life.

It is in this light we focus on the amazing words of the Psalmist. It says that those who put their confidence in the Lord, who truly believe in him and live in this assurance, are like Mount Zion. It doesn’t say they should be or will be like Mount Zion, but they are like Mount Zion. In God’s sight it is already true.

They are said to be like Mount Zion in two specific ways: 1) they cannot be moved, and 2) they abide forever. A mountain is the epitome of an object that cannot be moved. When Jesus wanted to illustrate something that was humanly impossible, He spoke of moving mountains. Mount Zion was particularly immovable because it was surrounded by other mountains.

Trust in the Lord and his never-ending grace similarly makes a Christian secure, solid, and steady so that nothing can shake him or her. We need not be threatened by the difficult circumstances of life, the sudden changes brought on by tragedy or even natural disaster. Our confidence in God can be that strong. This is especially so if we are part of a group of Christians who trust in the Lord together.

Furthermore, the cross of Jesus Christ proclaims that we will abide forever with the Lord. Our security is not in this life only, but even more in the life that is to come, when our trust will turn to sight and we shall live in his presence forever.

Any mountain would have been sufficient to give this sense of security, but this is Mount Zion. This is “his holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, the joy of all the earth” (Psalm 48:2). This is Mount Zion, “the city of the great King.” It is his dwelling place. We are secure because “the great King” lives in and among us. Through our trust in the Lord we can be individually and corporately lifted up to be the joy of the whole earth.

Again, in Revelation, just when Satan appears to have taken over the whole earth, the spotlight of heaven suddenly swings around and there on Mount Zion stands the victorious Lamb surrounded by the armies of heaven (Revelation 14:1). Mount Zion is where God reveals his overcoming power. It is where Jesus stands ready to accomplish the ultimate victory. If we are “like Mount Zion” then we are the place where Jesus’ victory is secure and where He stands, awaiting the time of His unveiling to the world. This is truly an amazing statement.

Now and again, we need to be reminded of who God is, what he has done for us, is doing for us, and will do for us, and how confident we can be in him. No wonder Peter writes, “the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself establish, strengthen, and settle you” (I Peter 5:10).

Prayer: Thank you, Father, that in Jesus you will never fail us nor forsake us. Amen

In His Peace, Pastor Schultz

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Righteousness and Repentance

“I tell you that there will be in heaven over more rejoicing one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
– Luke 15:7

It is clear from the two parables that Jesus uses in Luke – the lost sheep and the lost coin – that he values repentance over righteousness. That may seem strange to us, since the New Testament exhorts us again and again to live god- ly and righteous lives. Yes, as followers of Christ we are to strive to live daily in a manner as free from sin and darkness as possible. In this process of sanctification we need daily help from the Holy Spirit, who helps us recognize our sin, convicts us of it, and gives us the power to turn aside from its alluring temptation.
But Jesus values repentance even more highly, since it is through repentance that we can meet him and he can return us to a close relationship with him. We are the lost sheep, we are the lost coin. We wander away from time to time. We get lost in dark corners. We cannot find our way back. So in his great love, he comes to find us. In his mercy, he forgoes punishment and leads us back to the light, to the security of the sheepfold, and to the place of usefulness.
It is when we acknowledge that we have gone astray that Jesus comes to our rescue. It is then that we rediscover his mercy and love. We are like foolish sheep when we deny that we need his saving. We will remain lost when we fail to be honest about the state of our soul or about our dangerous circumstances. Sometimes he allows us to wander off until we are in danger. He waits for us to call out desperately to him before he reaches out to save us. He is always there. His love is constant, as he waits for us to express our need.

Prayer: Lord, help me to confess my sin and lead me in repentance back to you. Amen

In His Peace, Pastor Schultz

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Keep on Believing

“Do not be seized with alarm and have no fear, only keep on believing.” – Mark 5:36b

Jairus took a considerable risk when he prostrated himself before Jesus and
begged for his daughter to be healed. After all, he was a leader of the
synagogue, a respected man schooled in the law, a righteous man who knew
what God expected of his people and what they could expect of God. In Jeru-
salem the Pharisees and the scribes had condemned Jesus for healing on the
Sabbath, claiming Jesus was possessed by Satan. For Jairus to acknowledge
Jesus’ power to heal was to separate himself from all those other religious leaders who denied who Jesus was. And yet, Jairus found himself in such need on that day, that he forgot all the “right” reasons that would have kept him from bowing before Jesus’ feet. Instead, he chose to hope for healing for his beloved daughter, who was at the point of death.
Nevertheless, Jairus would have bigger battles to face before the end of the day. Before Jesus could reach his home to lay hands on Jairus’ daughter, the news had come to them: “Your daughter has died.” Knowing how much Jairus was suffering at this point, Jesus en- couraged him, “Do not be seized with alarm and have no fear, only keep on believing.”
Jesus knew that the healing that Jairus had sought for his daughter had suddenly become impossible for an earthly mind. It was one thing for Jairus to believe that Jesus could heal his daughter; it was entirely another for Jairus to believe that Jesus could bring his daughter back from death. Yet Jesus told him simply and directly to “keep on believing.”
God, the one who gives us the gift of faith and all that is necessary for us to believe, is prompting Jarius to
use what God has given him. We know that nothing is too hard for the Lord. We can all say those words and our minds can assent to their plausibility. Still, believing requires more than our minds. Believing requires our hearts and our wills. Believing requires that our passions line up with the words we have said and the testimonies we have made. Believing requires submitting all that we are to the one who can transform us into a believing people of faith.
What obstacles are you facing in your walk with Jesus that require him to say to you, “only keep on believing?” Are you discouraged about your life? Do you fear for others? When Jairus cast himself at Jesus’ feet, Jesus took him up and carried him through to the end of his fears. Jairus would never again be the same. Jesus will do the same for you and for me. We must learn to depend on Jesus for the work of faith he wants to perform every day in our lives so we can keep on believing.

Prayer: Jesus, you are bigger than my unbelief. Build within me a heart of faith I believe help my unbelief. Amen.
Pastor Schultz

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Pastor’s Pen: Heavenly Interruptions

“At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and his family were baptized.” – Acts 16:33
What an amazing story we find in the Philippian jail. The miracle of the earth- quake and the open doors is only a small part of the work that God was doing. The larger miracle involved the changed lives of those who believed that night. The same source of water that the jailer offered for the washing of the evangelists’ wounds proved worthy for his baptism once he had believed. And the Scripture records that “he was filled with joy because he had come to be- lieve in God – he and his whole family” (Acts 16:34b).
This story reminds me of the “one the way” stories: the ten lepers who were healed on the way to show themselves to the priests; the disciples who met the risen Jesus on the way to Emmaus. In this story, the Philippian jailer who experienced a miracle at the jail immediately began to care for Paul and Silas, and, on the way, he and his whole house discovered the love and mercy of God.
Most of our lives are spent on the way to somewhere else. We often think our starting points and destina- tions are the important places, but we find that the journey is the place where we encounter God. It often isn’t when we’ve arrived safely and have unpacked and are getting comfortable that God intervenes in our lives. Instead, it’s when a Samaritan encounters a wounded traveler beside the road, or when a man named Simon visits Jerusalem and finds himself forced to carry a cross to Golgotha, or when a man named Saul is on the road to Damascus, that God chooses to enter lives and change them forever.
It shouldn’t surprise us that God uses times like these to enter our lives. They are probably the times when we’re not in control, times when God can show us that he can be trusted to order our lives in ways we never
expected. They are probably times when we don’t want to be interrupted, but times when God wants us to see that our lives will never suffer from the imprint of His will.
I’ve never cared much for interruptions. I like getting things done on my own schedule. Too often, I throw up a quick prayer requesting God’s blessing on an itinerary I never submitted for His approval. As a re- sult, my plans often require interruptions when God lovingly intervenes, reenters my life, and reminds me of His love.
I recommend these heavenly interruptions to you. Upon immediate consideration, they become but one more task in a long line of things to do. But as we begin to see them for what they are, they become recognizable opportunities for growth and conversion. In retrospect, they are the moments when we feel clos- est to God and to others. Learn to recognize them for what they are – miracles of God’s grace when He shares a little more of Himself with us on the way.
Prayer: Help me, Father, to give myself to you contin- ually, especially when my busyness would keep me separated from you and from others. Amen.
Pastor Schultz

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This Is Living!

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die’.” – John 11:25-26

We get confused about the word life. “That’s life” often means “too bad, that’s the way it is.” Or we might say, “What a life,” meaning, “this is wonderful.” We all value life. We hold onto it as long as we can, and we mourn its loss. Sometimes we are under the mistaken idea that life consists of who we are, what we have, what we do, and whom we know. If those are our thoughts, then these words of Jesus make no sense. Earlier in this Gospel he told his disciples, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). He was speaking to people who were full of physical life. So obviously he meant something else when he used the word.

Jesus, in claiming to be the source of life, is talking about another kind of life. It is not limited to tangible or physical things, but rather to those defined by the spirit. There is an eternal or spiritual life that we can live while we are continuing to live in this present world. That kind of life comes from a close relationship with the source of life – Jesus. It can be described by its qualities – inner peace, honesty, hope and expectancy, a sense of the constant presence of God, direction and purpose, fulfillment, contentment, joy.

While telling Mary and Martha that their brother would physically rise from the dead, even more important, he was offering spiritual life to them.

Lent is a time for Christians to see how sin has made our earthly life empty and shallow. Holy Week reveals the depth of God’s love as he ransoms us from our lives to give us his life. Easter is our celebration of God’s gift of new life.

This month as we begin our Lenten journey may it lead us through the awe of Holy Week to the shout of Easter “THIS IS LIVING!”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I receive your offer of life. Fill me with your life today. Amen.

In His Peace,
 
Pastor Kurt

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