Friday, March 13, 2015

Falling off the wagon.

First, I am not an alcoholic. I enjoy drinking way too much for that!

All joking aside, alcohol has never been the problem. I can take it or leave it, and have left it many more times than not.

My problem is twofold: tar and nicotine. I have smoked more years than I am comfortable admitting. And I have, for the most part, enjoyed it. Immensely. Not just the rush, the energy, the 1950's "how cool is this" -ness of the activity, but the comfort and solace.

Many years ago, I discovered that this one habit would always be there to comfort me. Perhaps one day I'll talk about why that is so important...probably not. In any case, when I was fairly or unfairly punished for something I did or did not do, smoking was there for me. It dulled the pain, increased the will to continue on, and sometimes, just showed that I couldn't be kept down. I could always go back, find a cigarette, and find solace.

Cigarettes were also my party buds. If the party lulled, or if I found myself without someone to talk to, (first world ambivert problems) I could hang out with the cigarettes. They were always there, demanded nothing, and provided dependable company.

I am in remarkably good physical condition for someone who has smoked longer than he's been an adult. I have the usual symptoms, but can still do, physically, anything I want to do. But, it has become a hindrance, socially, and in some ways, physically.

Do to a random meeting with a new friend, and (very) short term immersion into a culture foreign to my own, (this is a good thing) I realized that it was time to close the chapter on this habit. Not really being a quitter by nature, and being a frugal German, I finished all of the cigarettes that I had purchased, and decided that I would revel in the money I saved, the lack of the hack, and whatever else might come my way as a result.

I actually smoked the last one on Sunday morning, March 8. Things got interesting. I used a cigar or two that happened to be lying around in order to get over the initial fidgets. Did you know that the tactile sensation of having a cigarette in one's hand is what trips up a lot of quitters? In any case, once I decided cigarettes were finished, the cigars held little allure. I smoked one, part of a second one, then just didn't smoke those either.

Everything was fine until I returned to Fort Wayne. Well, that's a lie. I went through the DT's. I didn't get the incredible munchies, and my caffeine intake went down. (Go look up the interaction between nicotine and caffeine. Fascinating stuff. (Back to the story) I returned to Ft. Wayne, to deal with the mess that was left behind post-divorce and post-children leaving the nest. I realized that for all the people I know in the Fort, I don't "know" that many folks. And finding ones that can hold my hand as I walk through this...mess, well, anyway, moving on again.

In short, I made it four days and four hours. Everything crashed down on me, I caved. And that first cigarette: Holy Crap! I was 4 beers buzzed in two minutes! Of course the second one wasn't as bad, and so on.

I feel bad. I feel like a failure. But it's a new day. And I am out of cigarettes again. And it begins again. My mantra during the bad times, the crushing feeling that I "needed" a cigarette was "I really want a cigarette, but I don't smoke." I am taking it up again. And there will be a longer period before I return to the Fort, and have to address the ghosts and ghouls that await me there. And,  I guess I'll just see how far I go this time.

If you are of a mind to, please keep me in your prayers. Or, get in touch with me. Or both. Company is good, especially if it's good company.

Friday, December 13, 2013

I wear my mask...

I wear my mask everywhere I go.  I wear it to work, to church, to meetings, around my friends, in the shower, and even wear it to bed.  It never leaves, even when I kneel before my heavenly Father.  After all the lives I have saved, the damage I have prevented, the criminals who no longer menace society...they are part of my legacy.  The beautiful children that I have raised, with bright futures, good teeth, and good manners, they are some of the good things I have done.  My GPA is high, despite the setback of the past two and a half years.  Credit rating? Check.  Home ownership? Check.  And I am certainly not as bad as some of the people that I know…

But the mask gets stripped off.  Repeatedly.  “But God…”  “Jesus died for you.”   “Remember when…?” “Jesus had to die for you.”  “But those others…”  “I don’t recognize you, pagan, self-righteous sinner…Jesus died for you, because you are so filthy, I cannot stand your stench.  You were my creation, perfect in every way, and one simple rule I made, one small act of obedience.  And you fouled it.  Your sin is the sin of your forefathers.  How dare you?!?”  With no mask, I see who I really am, how nasty I am, how unworthy to stand even in the presence of other sinners, much less before a truly righteous God.  “Oh, my God, my Creator, what am I to do?”

“Shut up child.  Shut up and listen to me.  While you were yet a sinner, I sent Jesus.  You certainly don’t deserve the time it takes to condemn you, but I want you to come home, to sit at My table, to enjoy My good gifts.  Listen to My Word, to the Living Word, Jesus.  Just as I said, you have been baptized with Him, buried and raised, with your sins gone.  You do not need the mask.  You are as I have created you.  You may not approve of yourself, but you should.  I approve of you.  When I look at you, I see Jesus reflected in you.  Would you mask the visage of My Son?  Discard that foolish mask.  When you look in the mirror and see what you used to be, what you will always be before other sinners, remember that I see Jesus in you, through you, and over you.  His blood is your new image in My eyes. 

“Remember that your faith is My faith within you, that I placed there when you could not even see it, and did not know what it was.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

For the Love of God

Preached to the Saints at Zion Lutheran Church, Cola. City, In., 2.3.13

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic abilities, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child; I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love (remain), these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(I Cor. 13:1-13)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today’s Epistle reading is all about love.  This is a very beautiful passage, and one that has been used in many weddings, and hangs in many houses.  However, St. Paul wasn’t writing it to very beautiful people.  In fact, he was writing to a church that was trying to destroy itself.  In last week’s epistle reading, we heard about how the Corinthian church had fragmented itself, with each member seeking their own satisfaction through their own gifts, without any regard for their fellow Christians.  But this week, Paul gives them a most excellent way—one that is much better than their self-serving gifts which set them against one another in the church.  This much better way is the way of Love; and it’s not just any love—it’s the Love of God.

This Love of God is a very special love.  While we have one word for Love in English, there are at least four that are used in the New Testament.  One type of Love is STORGAY.  This is the love of something familiar, such as chocolate, or your own bed in your own home. 

Another type of Love is PHILIA.  This is the type of love that comes from having respect for each other, and having things in common. 

And still another type of Love is EROS, or the mutual love between a man and a woman.  Remember, though, that with EROS, this is a mutual love, and cannot exist unless both the man and the woman have it for each other.

The interesting thing about each of these types of Love is that each one of them is based on our feelings, needs and desires.  However, none of these is the Love that Paul was talking about in this passage.  The love that Paul writes about is AGAPE.  What, you may ask, makes AGAPE special?  It’s not based on our feelings.  It’s not a Love that is traded for well-being or gain.  You cannot have AGAPE if you are going to receive something back for loving.  All too many times we tell each other “I Love You,” either after we get something that we want, or because we hope if we say it, we will be rewarded.  AGAPE is the Love that Jesus talked about when he told the lawyer “You shall Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  And…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:27,29) 

This AGAPE, it ALWAYS serves the other person.  St. John actually wrote that God is AGAPE, that is, He is Love (1 John 4:8).  We can see this all through the Bible…from the time of creation when God created all good things and gave them to Adam and Eve, His creation, through the Exodus of His people from Egypt, through the prophets that He sent to preach repentance, all the way to the coming of Jesus as a baby, a human, so that He could pay for our sins through His death and resurrection, something that none of us could ever do on our own!

AGAPE Love is foreign to you.  It is not what you were born with, and it is no easier to find than Jesus, without the Holy Spirit bringing Him to you through the proclamation of the Word and Baptism.  But, in the same way that the Holy Spirit grants you the faith to believe, He grants you the ability, the power to show AGAPE love to your fellow man.  The Corinthians had this same ability, the leading by the Holy Spirit to forgiveness and hope for eternal life, and the ability to show love to each other as God had shown it to them.

The Corinthians did not show this Love to each other.  While they were Christians, they certainly were not showing love for each other.  Instead, they were caught up in the gifts that each one of them had.  From our reading, it is obvious that every one of them was certain that his gift was the very best gift, far superior to anyone else’s gift.  And those that had the same gift, well they were grouping together, forming groups that lorded their abilities over the others.  Those who could prophesy were better than those who had faith, and they were both better than some other gifts.

They forgot the Love of God, and became full of love of themselves and what they could do.  Although they had been taught that all of the good gifts of God were from him and existed because of His Love, His AGAPE for them, they fell down and could only see themselves.

Beginning with verse 4, Paul explains to the Corinthians exactly what the love of God looks like, and how it is not like the self-serving love that they felt for each other and themselves.

Love is not jealous of what others have or do.  It does not allow you to envy another person.

Love does not brag.  It doesn’t puff you up because you can do something that someone else cannot do.

Love does not insist on its own way, or serving itself.  It doesn’t cause you to get irritable with other people, or to resent them for who they are or how they act. 

Love certainly does not rejoice at wrongdoing (that’s sin, by the way).

Love is actually the exact opposite of all of those.

Love is patient, some would call it longsuffering.  This means that Love is willing to wait, and to forgive while waiting.

Love is kind.  It isn’t harsh with others when they don’t look or act in just the “right way.”

Love rejoices in the truth.  Remember Jesus said “I am the way the truth and the life.” Love realizes that this Truth is the better way.

Love bears all things.  This includes the shortcomings of our families, our friends, our teachers, and our employers.

Love believes all things.  Love is not gullible, but it is trusting.  This is putting the best possible construction on the actions of others, and taking them at their word.

Love hopes all things.  This hope comes from faith, believing that the other person will do the right thing, regardless of how they have acted before.

Love endures all things.  This love does not die, and it does not give up.  AGAPE cannot die. It is the Love of God, and it is God Himself, providing for us, not for His benefit, but only for our benefit.

The Love of God never fails.

The love of the Corinthians did fail, though. They spoke in tongues, prophesied, and were given all the great Christian doctrine of their day.  And they strutted around pointing to themselves and others like them saying look at what I can do.  They pointed out the ones that could not do those things and made fun of them.  They were so caught up in doing the Good Christian works, showing off their abilities, that they forgot that they were given these things because of the Love, the AGAPE, of God.  They enjoyed their gifts so much that they did not use them for the church, only for themselves.  

Today, we are not gifted in the same ways that the Corinthians were.  We still have gifts and talents that God provides us, and He even shows us the best way to use them for each other, both to strengthen our faith and to grow His church in the ways that He wants to grow it.  But to look at these gifts, and how we misuse them, we are nothing more than 21st century Corinthians. 

What are we to do then?  Repent, seek His forgiveness, given through His AGAPE for us, and seek His will, that we will Love and serve Him just as He has loved us and served us.  This morning, even before the service began, we confessed our sins, and our inability to have AGAPE toward God and our fellow man, before his altar. And as He promises in His Word, He forgave us.  We remember our baptism, when He first showed His great Love for us, by instilling faith in us through water and His Word, by the Holy Spirit. 

As we prepare to come to His table, where we will consume the body and blood of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, we know that our faith will be strengthened, and we rejoice in the hope of our salvation, granted to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.  And through these gifts, we can Love anew, because He first loved us.               Amen.

Friday, October 26, 2012

our God AND our Father

The First Commandment:  “You are to have no other gods.”  That is, you are to regard me alone as your God. 
What does this mean, and how is it to be understood? What does “to have a god” mean, or what is God?
Answer: A “god” is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart…The intention of this commandment, therefore, is to require true faith and confidence of the heart, which fly straight to the one true God and cling to him alone. What this means is: “See to it that you let me alone be your God, and never search for another.” In other words: “Whatever good thing you lack, look to me for it and seek it from me, and whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, crawl to me and cling to me. I, I myself, will give you what you need and help you out of every danger. Only do not let your heart cling to or rest in anyone else.”
…you lay hold of God when your heart grasps him and clings to him. To cling to him with your heart is nothing else than to entrust yourself to him completely. He wishes to turn us away from everything else apart from him, and to draw us to himself, because he is the one, eternal good.
…mark well and remember the sense of this commandment: We are to trust in God alone, to look to him alone, and to expect him to give us only good things; for it is he who gives us body, life, food, drink, nourishment, health, protection, peace, and all necessary temporal and eternal blessings. In addition, God protects us from misfortune and rescues and delivers us when any evil befalls us. It is God alone (as I have repeated often enough) from whom we receive everything good and by whom we are delivered from all evil.
Let each and every one, then, see to it that you esteem this commandment above all things and not make light of it. Search and examine your own heart thoroughly, and you will discover whether or not it clings to God alone. If you have the sort of heart that expects from him nothing but good, especially in distress and need, and renounces and forsakes all that is not God, then you have the one, true God. 
Book of Concord, Kolb/Wengert, pp 386-390.

 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. (Ephesians 3:14-15, ESV)

It is before the Father I bow my knees. That I call Him Father, this is not just a metaphor, not just some poor attempt to borrow an earthly concept and an earthly experience in order to attempt expression of that which is not easily expressed.  Men will, of course, declare all our statements about God vain attempts to say what cannot be said, or maybe only some empty projection of human need, human experiences of fatherly authority and the security of childhood, out in a space that in reality is empty.
But here the Bible tells us it is the opposite, that the only reason we can say something about God is because God reproduced something of His being down here on earth and lets us see it as in a mirror.  God's invisible being, His eternal power and divine glory, have been visible since the creation of the world.  They can be understood through His work.  They shine through all of creation, and it is man's mark of nobility that he can perceive it.  In the same manner, some of God's being shines through in all that deserves the name father on earth.  God has created the relationship between parents and children and everything of which that consists.  He has given it a particularity, a task, a possibility, and when some of this is realized, then it mirrors some of God's being. In all that father means on heaven and earth, in everything that gives basis for the mane, in all fatherly love, the tenderness of a father, fatherly care, fatherly worry, and fatherly joy, some of God's being is mirrored.  As He is in relation to the Son, so He is in His relationship to His children on Earth.  We know, that it is only a matter of a glimmer, something we conceive in glimpses and capture as a reflection.  And yet, it is a way for God to make Himself known, a piece of His revelation.  And He has given this revelation to every generation and to all people in the same manner as the revelation in nature and conscience that He has declared and confirmed in the revelation of His Word.  So He is.  We know it, for He has Himself said it.  As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.  Your Father in heaven, He knows that you need all this.  The Father Himself loves you.  
And now I begin to understand what it means to be able to bow one's knees before the Father.  When the pastor does this and prays for his congregation, he speaks to the Father, who, as a matter of fact, is already out there among the people, who holds all creation in His hand, who lives and works in a hundred ways even in the natural life, in the love of parents and the trust of children, in loyalty and concern.  It can never be hopeless to work in a world that God holds in His hand and where His being is mirrored in so many ways.  Men may try to get away by whatever means, they may appear crazy and possessed by an insane desire to push God away at any price; still He is there among them.  He is the Father who gives them their lives and who still seeks after them.  It can never be hopeless to work in such a world.
And then, He is also our Father.  He knows all, knows what we need, long before we say it.  We are reminded of Luther's explanation of the Lord's Prayer; "God desires with these words to invite us to believe, that He is our true Father, and we are His true children, so that we should ask Him boldly and with all confidence as dear children as their dear Father."
It is before this Father that [we bow our] knees, before Him from whom all that father means in heaven and earth has its name. Therefore [we dare] to say, "Abba, Father, for You everything is possible."  Therefore [we] can also say, "Then not as I will but as You will."  No one can know better; no one can grieve more faithfully; no one can deal more certainly than the Father of all that father means. He is the Father of mercy and the God of all comfort.
Then Fell the Lord's Fire, Bo Giertz, pp 97-100.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Until you have knelt by your own bed, alone in the presence of God, and had everything good thing that you have ever done revealed to you as nothing more than folly, a straw-man before your righteous Creator, you cannot understand the need for repentance.

To kneel there, broken, alone, soaking your bed with your tears, and speechless, is to know just how much YOU have done for the kingdom of God. Then you realize just how much YOU deserve God’s mercy, and to spend all eternity with Him in His heaven.

Only then can you know the terror of being in His presence, of all of your unrighteousness, of seeing and feeling every good work you have ever done go up like a puff of smoke. Before others, you clothe yourself in your reasons, wear your good works, and all of the right things that you have ever done proudly before your brothers and sisters, but before God, they all vaporize, and you are left naked before your God, your Creator, your Judge, in all of your depravity and inadequacy!

Before God, there are no words. There is nothing that you can say that will make a bit of difference. You know, fully and completely, that you have failed. Parts of you that you did not even know existed tremble and quake in fear. “Wrath of God” does not begin to describe what you see and feel.

Yet, you are not standing alone. Another stands beside you, it is Christ. Beyond your terror stricken comprehension, you become aware that this righteous Judge in front of you, full of wrath, cares so much for a pitiful creature such as you that He sent His only son, Jesus the Christ, to die, for you. Christ stands there with you, and answers for your pitiful, shaking self, and says, “I payed for his sins, Father. Although he has no reason to expect anything other than damnation and eternity in Hell, away from the light of Your presence, I paid for his sins."

If, and only if, you have believed that this Christ is your Savior, will you experience this. And, having been forgiven, all that is left is to crawl away from there with relief, awe, and thanksgiving. There are still no words, because none will do. As you drift off to sleep, and the ability to speak returns, perhaps you can pray:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me, the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your free spirit. AMEN.

(it was all that I could do...)

Rom 3:21-26 Jn 3:16-18, Rom 5:8-11, Ps 51:10-12