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Monday, June 29, 2015

06282015 4th Sunday After Trinity - We are adopted as sons and daughters!

Sermon Audio (Will be posted soon!)

June 28, 2015
We are adopted as sons and daughters!

The year was 2002.  Having been married for nearly three years and trying to have children the news we heard on September 13, 2001 from the fertility doctor was still raw.  It would cost us upwards of $40,000 to attempt to have a child.  And with a job in education, the cost was way more than we could afford.

We prayed after that faithful day and determined there may be other ways of having a family.  We thought, there are plenty of children in the world who do not have parents, why not adopt and create an instant family?  It would be easier we thought, but then it happened.

After filling out all the paperwork, making sure all the required forms were complete, the medical exams were complete and the background information about our past lives was complete, we thought we were ready for the next step.  Then it happened that faithful day in April 2002.  I was rushed from a routine doctor’s appointment and instantly put into the Intensive Care Unit.  For the next three days I was hooked to blood pressure cuffs, oxygen sensors, pulse and heart monitors and had more blood taken than I can imagine.  I walked on a treadmill and was stressed to see what was wrong with me.
With that one stay in the hospital the hope Michele and I had of having a family of our own was dashed upon the rocks of reality.  During some of our preliminary information sessions, they said, if one was ever hospitalized, for other than routine procedures, that would be an automatic disqualifier.  So we even by adoption would not be able to have a family of our own.  It was a tough pill to swallow and one that wasn’t fully and completely resolved until March 14, 2009 and you know the rest of that story.

During those next seven years, I was reminded of the passage we have heard this morning from Paul in our epistle.  Paul, writing to the Romans explains a truth we need to hear and clearly understand as Christians.  We are promised that in our baptism, we are adopted as sons and daughters of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ claims us and since we are adopted we become children of God in and through our baptism through Water and Word.

With the Water connected to the Word of God, we are intimately connected to the love that Jesus Christ has for all of mankind.  Just as we have been reminded since Pentecost that God is a God of love and He loves us unconditionally, Jesus Christ as God’s Son loves us just as much even to giving Himself on the Cross in order that we might have eternal life.

Since we who gather here today are adopted into the family of God, we are also heirs of eternal life.  And as heirs we cannot earn God’s love, nor can we earn our salvation, but each of these are gifts freely given unto each and every one of us without cost.  God’s love for us is clearly shown by Jesus Christ life, death and resurrection.  What we get to do is share it.  Not just share it with our friends, but share it with everyone we meet.

This week we have had Sky Ranch here at Emmanuel for our Vacation Bible School.  Like in years past the staff has been high energy, high octane and high impact upon the kids we have coming for Day Camp.  This year 54% of the kids here for our day camp were from families of members of Emmanuel.  That’s 20 of the 37 who attended this year, both pre-school and school age kids.  The theme for this year was “A Love That Never Ends”. 

In one sense all of the kids that came this week were adopted and loved by the leaders, counselors and you the people of Emmanuel and have been taught about God’s Love.  This sharing of God’s love is not only clear and manifest in the children, but has impacted our church.  We have had fun and have made fun of ourselves, from my being given the gift of a cow bell to help people know I was coming, to enjoying the kids faith development, this has been an awesome week.  But the greatest opportunity is adopting each and every one of these kids and each of us gathered here and showing all of us the love of Jesus Christ.

May we as a congregation continue to show love for one another and share what Jesus Christ has done for all of mankind.  For God’s love never does end as we are adopted into His family and feel and share the love of God with everyone we meet.  AMEN.

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

06212015 3rd Sunday After Trinity - Hold Firm in Your Faith

Gospel Audio (Will be posted soon)
Sermon Audio

June 21, 2015
Hold firm in your faith!
Have you ever seen a ships captain looking out from the bridge of a large ship.  The best tool the captain has are his eyes, but like most of us, our eyes can only see a short distance unaided.  This is why most ships carry a pair of binoculars.  The binoculars help the captain as well as the officers on the bridge to scan with their eyes both close to the ship and all the way to the horizon.  This increased vision allows decisions to be made by the captain and crew to insure not only the cargo he is carrying on the ship will be safe, but to insure that others will not come to any harm by getting in the way of the large ship. 

So to on the farm, farmers always when on the tractor or going to check wells always keep an eye on the horizon in all directions to see if there is rain coming or if a thunderstorm with hail and high winds is bearing down on our winter wheat crop or stand of corn that could easily be blown over.  Everyone always is looking to make sure what we have will not be damaged or destroyed.
Since Trinity Sunday we have heard the clear message from God that “God is love” and our opportunity and calling is to love as God first loved us.  The vision that God has of all events far exceeds our own and He doesn’t need binoculars, but the sentiment and lesson we can take away from our lesson this morning is that we need to be like the ships captain and you the farmer here in Northwest Kansas.  It doesn’t mean we need to get a pair of binoculars, but it does mean we need to “be on alert”.

Peter one of the authors of the New Testament lived his life in love for his brother’s and sister’s in Christ.  He preached and proclaimed, “God is love” and taught constantly as he travelled and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And His message was clear, “Be of sober spirit, be on alert”.  The reason for being on alert was that he knew the devil was seeking to ‘wreck’ and ‘destroy’ the life of anyone that would fall victim to his leading them astray.  The devil is closer to leading us astray than we might like to think.

Peter wrote, “Your adversary, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”.  The devil is trying to get all of us to question God, question God’s love of us and even question that God is love.  The devil is filling our heads with lies, deceit, questions and desiring us to lose interest in God.  For some he is clearly succeeding like the young man who took nine lives in Charleston, South Carolina this week.  Closer to home, in recent visits members of the congregation have even noticed how our worship attendance here at Emmanuel is being affected.

You might say, how can the devil do this?  Easily, when we place our own wants and desires above God’s glory, we fall victim.  When we chose activities that bring us satisfaction to our human longing, or our own glory instead of God, we fall victim.  When we spread rumors about friends, neighbors or even about our church family, we fall victim.  All of us daily fall victim, because we are in a constant battle to do what is right.  Hence why Peter said, “Be on alert” and why I began with the image of binoculars.

Peter continues with what we need to hear and do, “But resist him [that is the devil], firm in your faith”.  We need to resist the draw that the devil has on our time, our talents and even our treasure.  We can resist, but we cannot do it in and of ourselves.  We are incapable of resisting the arrows of deceit, the arrow of want, the arrow of being known and seen as an expert.  In and of ourselves we are incapable of overcoming evil.  But God has the cure.

The cure Peter states clearly for us to hear, mark and inwardly digest and lay claim to because of our baptism into Jesus Christ life, death and resurrection.  God in His great love for us through Peter consoles us with this truth, “the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”  That statement, though a mouthful contains the greatest measure of grace we need to hear and remind each other of each and every day.
God is a God of grace.  God has called each of us in and through our Holy Baptism into Jesus Christ.  We are connected to Jesus Christ for all eternity and He will not let go of us.  And God makes us the promise to “perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish” each and every one of us.

We are perfected in Christ, we are confirmed in the faith given to us from generation to generation, we are strengthened for the daily battle with the devil and established as God’s children.  When we lay claim to these four truths we then can follow God’s call on our lives.  We can hear clearly Peter’s desire for us, we can stand “firm in your faith”.  God then can work through us and we then can cast “all our anxiety on” God and as His children trust Him in all aspects of our lives.

But our society daily questions, how can we trust God?  How can we see God at work?  Our society even asks if God is real or exists?  And this is what the devil wants to get us to do, to question God.  So I stand here today to remind all of us gathered here this morning of the truth.  God is love, He loves us unconditionally.  God wants us to ‘hold firm in our faith.’  And God gives us the strength to do this.  The proof we need we have from two very distinct places.

First, it comes from God’s Word that we have heard read today in the lessons.  And second it comes from the meal we are about to partake of from the altar.  When we receive Jesus Christ precious Body and Blood, we receive the food we need to ‘stand firm in our faith’.  And God’s gift of His Son, Jesus Christ promises to each of us to enable us to stand firm in the faith that has been passed down from generation to generation.

And today we Emmanuel Lutheran embark again upon our passing down this same faith.  You see, Emmanuel Lutheran Church was one of the founding churches for Sky Ranch just over 50 years ago.  Two years ago three members of our congregation celebrated up at Sky Ranch the Year of Jubilee.  Peyton and Powell Sieck and Autumn Mays joined with youth from across the United States to celebrate the legacy that Sky Ranch has been fulfilling in spreading the Gospel message.  The following week, we as a congregation joined together with staff from Sky Ranch and our own children here at Emmanuel to celebrate the year of Jubilee.  And today we embark again on another week of Vacation Bible School here at Emmanuel with the Sky Ranch counselors.

Today we as a congregation ‘stand firm in our faith’, proclaiming the love of God for all of mankind, and inviting all to join us in spreading the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is the legacy that our congregation continues to proclaim, because of God’s grace and love offered by His Son Jesus Christ.  May we continue this legacy and be the church that God can use to reach Goodland proclaiming God’s love for all of mankind, including God’s love for all of us gathered here today.  AMEN.

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06142015 2nd Sunday After Trinity - Let us love in deed and truth!

Sermon Audio

June 14, 2015
Let us love in deed and truth!
One of the favorite past times of some in the congregation is to go target shooting.  Matter of fact, two of our members compete in target competitions.  I enjoy target shooting as well with both handguns, rifles and shotguns.  While in college my best friend whose Dad reloaded both shotgun and rifle would invite me over and we would shoot for hours and our sore shoulders would be proof of a good time.  When shooting there would always be a target, whether pie tins, pencils or if we wanted proof the paper targets.  When we would use paper targets they were meant as a means for focus, both for the shooter to concentrate on and for after one was done shooting to see if we could hit what we were aiming at, whether clays with shotgun or orange targets for rifle.  When we would go and get the target it was very clear if we had ‘hit the mark’ or missed.  This was before I wore glasses full-time and I was a pretty good shot.

Unlike target practice, Christians who want to tell what Jesus Christ has done, don’t have a clear ‘target’ when it comes to the opportunity we have to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the main message of love.  Last week we heard clearly three important words, and I repeat them today, because as I said last week, we need to daily hear them.  “God is love”!  Since God is love we have the opportunity to love one another.  But this is a challenge no matter if you are retired mechanic, school teacher, husband or housewife, a farmer, someone who works in an office, a parent or a child.  Loving others is hard work.  So hard of work is ‘love’ that some people don’t even try.  They relegate relationships to things they will do later or only with select people, because it requires ‘work’.

In the church at-large, we are not immune to not wanting to have the ‘talk’.  There have been many times and situations in the history of the church at large and Emmanuel that a ‘talk’ or simple phone call or conversation would have resolved the issue and changed the direction of not only the chat, but ultimately the direction of the church. 

Because of the belief that God is love and doesn’t give us a ‘cognitive recalibration’, Christians at times chose the path of least resistance of not engaging when someone either gossips or spreads a falsehood.  And we the church have paid for this, from the time of Constantine when he legalized Christianity to today.  When we take the path of least resistance or say things in a tone, but are hurtful, we destroy the potential and possibility of having the trust needed between brother’s and sisters in Christ.

What occurs is that the society we live in, therefore says, ‘I want nothing to do with being a Christian’, because Christians are hypocrites, gossips and what occurs is that Christians lose credibility.  Society says, ‘they talk about God and forgiveness, but don’t treat people decently, I want nothing to do with organized religion’.  A recent Barna poll stated that “51% of North American Christians…possess attitudes and actions that are more like the Pharisees than they are like Christ.” [Carey Niewhof “The Top 10 Things Pharisees Say Today”, July 1, 2014]  We cannot dispute polls, but how can we Christians and especially the church respond?  How can we respond and emulate the love of Christ for all of mankind?

First, we can even though the world hates us as John says, still love in deed and truth.  We are called to love as God first loved us and gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  When we love unconditionally and without spreading gossip or heresay we then can place our head on the pillow at night knowing we have loved not just in thought, but clearly in word and deed.

Second, we can tell the truth in love, but without the attitude and tone.  Just as when sworn in at the court when we are called to testify, we can make the pledge to in love for God and our fellow man.  We can keep tone out of our voice.  So easy do we lapse into a tone, that all of us need to talk to the person next to us as if we are talking to Jesus, the author of our faith.  When we do this our conversations, attitudes and tones will be transformed.  And our conversations will be joyous and loving and emulate God’s desire for us to tell the truth in love. 

And finally, we can firmly believe we are following what God is calling us to accomplish for His Glory.  Loving our neighbors as ourselves, loving by leading lives of honor and integrity we honor God more fully and honor Him and the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary.  We then both in deed and truth and by our tone can be clearly heard, understood and feel love from and for each other.

When we love each other we then change not only the trajectory of our conversations, we change our relationship and clearly emulate what Jesus Christ showed us on the Cross of Calvary.  In today’s world we need more of this, not just here in Goodland, Kansas, but all around the world.  One example of loving in spite of circumstance was related recently in an article I read.

With recent events in the Middle East and the continued threat of ISIS a story was shared by Jim Denison of the true impact of love by a Christian.  Denison tells of an ISIS fighter who enjoyed killing Christians.  This isn’t any ordinary story, but one that shows how the love of Christians can and does pay eternal dividends.  Denison writes:

“An ISIS fighter who says he "enjoyed killing Christians" has told missionaries that he has been having dreams of a man in white.  The man told him, "You are killing my people."  Before the fighter murdered one Christian, the believer said, "I know you will kill me, but I give to you my Bible."  He killed the Christian, then took his Bible and began to read it.  Jesus appeared to him again, calling him to become a Christian.  Now the man is asking missionaries how he can become a follower of Christ and be discipled.

Muslims the world over are having such dreams of Jesus.  God is miraculously at work around the world”.  [“ISIS Fighter  Who Enjoyed Killing Christians Dreams of Jesus” Jim Denison, June 9, 2015]

God is at work in our world today.  God is at work right here in Goodland and especially here at Emmanuel.  When we ‘love in deed and truth’, God uses us to change people.  God can use each and every one of us to change the world.  Let’s be the agents of change and allow God to use us as His missionaries to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  For Jesus Christ message is simple that He came lived among us, died on the Cross and rose from the dead in order that all could have eternal life out of His great love for all of mankind.  Including all of us gathered here today who believe God loves us and we can ‘love in deed and truth.’  AMEN.

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Sunday, June 7, 2015

06072015 - First Sunday After Trinity - God is Love!

Gospel Audio (Will be posted soon!)
Sermon Audio (Will be posted soon!)

June 7, 2015
God is love!
When was the first time you heard, “I Love you!”  Was it from your elementary, middle or high school sweetheart?  Was it from your Father or Mother?  Was it from your child?  No matter where or from whom you heard first, “I love you” it affected you.  Whether your pulse began to race, your palms started to sweat or your face turned either pale or a bright red.  When you heard those words, “I love you”, you reacted.

On the polar opposite, when was the last time you heard or said, “I love you”?  Was it on the phone with your child, grandchild or spouse.  Were those the last words that were spoken and clearly heard from your child, spouse or parent?  Were those the last words you heard as they went out the door?  Or entered the church triumphant?

Undoubtedly when we hear those three short words, totaling 8 letters and 2 spaces, the meaning can and is vastly different and profound no matter the situation.  It is clear those words not only can quicken our heart beat, but also fill us with regret, because we didn’t say those three words often enough.  Or we would do almost anything to hear or say those words just one more time.

The first time I took the opportunity to say those words to Sarah was when I first held her in my arms after her birth.  Michele was still in recovery from surgery and I was able to go up into the nursery in the Neonatal ICU at Duke University and hold her for the first time.  Surrounded by the sounds of monitors and many baby bassinettes holding small little miracles, I was able for the first time as I held her say as a Father “I love you”.  Those words changed me and daily, I try and tell both Sarah and Michele, “I love you.”  But I didn’t learn this from just my parents, nor my spouse, but from none other than God Himself.

You see, simply, “God is love!”  And we daily need to hear those three simple words from God Himself.  Helen Musil in our Mark bible study one day gave me a very good and gracious gift, it was a cognitive recalibration.  Out of her great love for God and I hope and pray her love of me as her pastor she reoriented me to the reality that we need to hear daily and every Sunday the message from God to us His children, “I love you”.  God loves us clearly and unmistakably.  John, the Son of Zebedee, one of the 12 disciples and Apostle’s of Jesus in his letter of 1st John clearly relates this fact and truth for his readers and for us today.

Hence, why John said, “God is love”!  Hear that clearly, “God is love!”  Let’s let that sink in a minute.  “God is love!”  Remember John continues, “and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”  Simply we, Jesus followers are called to love.  I know there are individuals who call Emmanuel Lutheran their home church, because they grew up here, have been members here their entire life and expect to be buried from here.  As members of the Body of Christ, we are “Called to love”.  We don’t have to agree all the time, but we are called to love one another.  Jesus said it clearly, we are called to love one another and be willing to die for each other in order to save our brother or sister in Christ.  This is sometimes a hard pill to swallow.  But if we are to ‘abide in love’ and we want to ‘abide in God’, and the truth that “God is love”, then it is clear, we are then called to love no matter the circumstance and no matter the disagreement nor the person.

When we accept this challenge and opportunity of ‘loving one another, as Christ loved us’ God offers us a gift.  The gift we receive from God when ‘God abides in us’, is our “love is perfected with us”.  God makes our love that flows from Him through each of us perfect.  As part of the gift from God, God makes our love perfect.  Though we are weak and cannot by our own reason or strength do what we want, God makes us and our love for others perfect.  Hence we are ‘perfected in love’.  And this love is perfected, not when we reach heaven, but when “we are in this world”.  Though we are in this world as Christians, we are not ‘of’ this world, because our home is heaven and we are preparing for our entrance to be with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And our love is perfected by God as the greatest gift to us to share with others.

And Jesus Christ makes it very clear for each of us that we are “commanded to love”.  Jesus command isn’t to strike fear into our lives, but to help us to walk in faith in Him and His love for us and we then can love one another.  We are commanded to love, because sometimes we have a problem doing what we should and love one another.  We let our worries crowd out God’s command.  We turn from God and don’t trust God and we even sometimes think we know better than God Himself.

In most families, children at a young age are not only learning from their loved ones the ‘ropes’ of the family, but clearly what to do and not do.  When children start to do something they shouldn’t most parents immediately respond with either a stern look, a harsh word or a command ‘not to do’ what they are doing.  Jesus in similar fashion is issuing a command to us Christians.  Jesus is clearly telling us what we need to do.  We are commanded to love our brothers and sisters in Christ!  Love everyone no matter the cost, no matter the pain, no matter even if you are right or wrong.  We are called to love as Christians and disciples of Jesus Christ.

For when we heed the call to love as Christians and God’s love is perfected in each of us because of His command, we receive the greatest blessing.  And this blessing is not only found in what we receive from the Altar of our Lord’s precious Body and Blood, but what we receive from God Himself.  We receive the love of God, from God and are showered with the love that surpasses all human understanding.  A love so deep and profound that it overcomes all things and connects us intimately with Him.  When we make this connection of God’s love for us like the power lines that give us electricity that ‘runs our lives’, we are offered the greatest opportunity to make a deeper and more profound connection not only with Him but with one another, our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

There is no better place that the love for our fellow man is emulated than a place that I visited while on vacation.  In Pueblo, Colorado, the Center on Values borders the river walk.  At first when I heard about it, I thought it would be a great place to possibly visit, but wasn’t sure if we would be able to on our vacation, so I put it out of my mind.  As we walked down by the river we happen to pass by and saw it was open.  When I walked into the building I was shaken to my core.

The Center on Values tells stories, but not just any stories.  Encapsulated on the walls that surround the entire room are pictures of all the Medal of Honor heroes from any action.  Unlike most monuments to heroes of our time each of the pictures showing the individual were taken by one photographer and tell and portray the individual and their story in the most unique and poignant way.  Each story is one of love, for their fellow soldiers and their country they served with honor and distinction.

As I gazed upon each photograph and statement under each picture, it was clear that each individual who wore the Medal of Honor was an individual who loved, not only their family, but especially their brothers and sisters in arms and their country.  I left the Center on Values in awe of the heroes honored there, but also with a clearer picture of Who I believe in and Whose I am.

Upon further reflection, I have two simple, but profound questions that I would like for we the members of Emmanuel to consider in the coming week.  Clearly, we the members of Emmanuel call Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, Who died for all of mankind and love Him.  What if we loved our neighbors, friends and even our God as much as the heroes who earned the Medal of Honor?  What would we be capable of here in Goodland, Kansas?  AMEN.

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