Thursday, 26 June 2014
Face to Face

Have you ever experienced the effects of a poison? It may have been an accidental contact with an unknown substance or food poisoning or a brush against a plant (like poison ivy). We have probably all been poisoned to greater or lesser degree at least once in our lives.

Poisons are all around us. I suspect that I have enough toxins in my garage to wipe out my entire block. We may keep them in child-safe containers, but the devastating potential effects are sitting on shelves in our homes, our basements, and garages. We really can't get away from the danger, so we manage it to the best of our abilities.

It is possible for your soul to be poisoned. Just as there are toxins in our environment that can disrupt our nervous systems, irritate our skin, and take our lives. So also there are poisons that can hurt, maim, or destroy our spiritual well being.

Every week we come face to face with the venomous substances that would poison our souls. We admit that these toxins aren't in our environment, but are already in us when we say to God and each other that "we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone."

To stop with just admitting our sin, however, is much like calling a poison control center and failing to do anything with the information we receive. The good news is this: God has done something about our toxic thoughts, words, and actions in Jesus Christ. We can't do anything to deserve God's forgiveness because Jesus did it all for us by dying on a cross.

To put this in very theological terms: God's Law brings us face to face with our sin its monstrous effects and its relentless hold on our lives. The Gospel of Jesus Christ then brings us face to face with all the good gifts God gives, chiefly the forgiveness of our sins.

The practical side of this is that we are confronted with the Law, but we need to live in the Gospel. The grace of God in Christ is the only thing that can change us for the better and it is the only antidote to the poison in our hearts. So, may that grace predominate in our thinking, our speaking, and in what we do.

May God's grace dominate how we treat each other. I know that it can be difficult to live with other people. I pray that you can bring some grace into the world by reflecting God's goodness to people (like you) who don't deserve it.

Posted on 06/26/2014 3:25 PM by Daniel P. Czaplewski
Tuesday, 10 June 2014
June 9, 1974

Forty years ago today (June 9, 1974) I graduated from Martin Luther High School here in greater Milwaukee. I guess that makes me officially old, but it gave me cause to reflect on the past four decades.

I remember parts of that day like they were yesterday. I recall that Dr. Walter W. Stuenkel, the then President of Concordia College in Milwaukee, was our commencement speaker. I have no idea what he said, but I know he spoke.

I remember saying "good bye" to my best friend in High School, Chuck Wolf. We were going to different colleges and I guess we knew that this would be a transition in our friendship. Charlie died very suddenly less than five years later of an undiagnosed heart ailment. I guess that "good bye" took on added meaning through the years.

I remember receiving as a graduation gift the full set of the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. In the years that followed, I think I read every major work by Lewis, but Narnia was my gateway to his thoughtful approach to the Christian faith.

Looking back, it seems that so much has changed. One could hardly do justice to the changes in our world's political changes, the changes in cultural values, or the changes in technology. Most of all, I've changed.

I am embarrassed to remember how foolish and naïve I was in 1974. My thinking was far too simplistic everything was black or white and my life experience was narrow and parochial. I'm not sure I would recognize the person I was. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like that person very much.

I am older and, I hope, wiser today. I would like to believe that I am also better. But I came across a cautionary tale in my personal devotions this morning. It is the story of king Josiah of Judah.

Josiah began ruling Judah when he was 8 years old and he was king for 31 years. He was one of the kings that "did what the LORD considered right." (2 Chronicles 34:2). In fact, few kings did as much "right" as Josiah. But his rule and his life ended because he sinned.

Josiah's sin was not one of the usual suspects neither a woman nor money were involved. Josiah's sin was that he failed to discern God's direction and went to war with Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. (See 2 Chronicles 35: 20-27.) Josiah rode into the valley of Megiddo in the battle of Carchemish in disguise. In that battle a random arrow struck and killed Josiah. From Josiah's death forward things went from bad to worse for Judah until the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. All of this was because Josiah failed to recognize God's leading.

In Josiah's defense, God was speaking to him through the Pharaoh Neco, which was hardly the way I would expect God to give me direction. Pharaoh worshipped other gods and his own interests were best served by keeping Judah out of the fight.

I bring this up because it reminds me that, no matter how much experience I have or how much I accomplish, I can still miss what God is doing in this world and my life. I am just as dependent on God's grace in Jesus Christ today as I was when I received my High School diploma 40 years ago.

I am also reminded that God is good even when I am foolish, naïve, or fail to discern His direction for my life. In Christ, I find forgiveness for all my embarrassing actions and attitudes. The Holy Spirit, working through God's word (the Bible) and the Lord's Supper is at work in my life to open my eyes to what God is doing.

These words encourage me as I look back and when I look forward. I hope they encourage you.

            "Trust in the LORD with all your heart,

                        and do not rely on your own understanding.

            In all your ways acknowledge him,

                        And he will make your paths smooth." (Proverbs 3: 5-6 GWT)

Posted on 06/10/2014 4:56 PM by Pastor Dan Czaplewski
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