Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sermon for 4/28/19: Second Sunday of Easter

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Scarred for Life

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

            We broke His heart upon the cross. After our betrayal, weak-willed and sleepy, we doubted and we feared. We are not worthy of His patience or His mercy. The sacrifice was too great! It shook creation and blotted out the sun. But even in His anguish and His sorrow, His love was pure. It did not waver. It never faltered. He gently gave what we had no right to demand, what we sought to steal by force and violence. He prayed for us to the very end. And the “prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Our Lord poured out His life that we would have it and live. From His holy wounds—from the nail prints and His pierced side—comes our hope and our life.
Thomas was brought back to faith by the scars in Jesus’ hands, feet, and side. Those holy scars restored faith, but not because they prove that Jesus is the One who was crucified back from the dead, that He who died that brutal and merciless death outside the city gates is risen and lives. They do demonstrate that. But so does His eating broiled fish and walking through stones and doors and across the waves. Those scars restore faith because they are the doorway of grace.
His blameless flesh was wounded. But the blood of God came forth to answer all of hell’s demands. No one took His life from Him. No one could. After all, He is God. But He gave His life. He laid it down as a sacrifice. He appeased His Father’s wrath. He stopped the devil’s accusations. He gave peace and hope to men. From those holy wounds, from the scourging and the thorns, from the nails and the spear, and out of death’s tomb comes the salvation of the world. The Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world, is alive, and we are saved.
Three days after He died, He entered that upper room where He had given His body and blood. He did not come to rebuke them, but to deliver the peace He had won for them. He breathed His Holy Spirit upon them. He sent them out to bestow that Spirit, to forgive sins, to enlighten the hearts of men, to preach the glory of the cross and the beauty of those scars.
The Church, in existence already in Eden, was established in its final form that Easter evening. Its mission and purpose was clear: forgive sins. The Apostolic Office was established so that men would stand in the stead of Christ and deliver His blood—not as a sacrifice to the Father, but as a gift to His people. Now all believers eat the Bread of Life, the flesh of Christ. They are united to Him through that gift. Those sent men speak Christ’s words. They forgive sins. They make alive in Holy Baptism. They preach the Word. They preach Christ crucified and risen. They preach the fulfillment of all salvation. Their preaching forgives sins and reconciles men to the Father.
This is the Ministry that God provides even today. The men who fill that Office are not any better than the fearful disciples who hid behind locked doors. They have their personal doubts, their acts of cowardice and betrayal, their self-centered worries. But through these weak earthen vessels, God’s Kingdom expands. His Word shines forth despite their weaknesses. Sinners are baptized and absolved. God’s people hear the Word and receive the Body and Blood. Their sins are forgiven. Whether these pastors understand it or not, the Word of God goes forth and faith is born. And the gates of hell shall not overcome it, for Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!
Our Lord bears His scars even now. They are not meant to induce guilt or sorrow. In fact, the opposite is true. Those scars testify on our behalf before the Father that Christ has paid the price of our sin with His blood. Those scars are for us the constant reminder of His love. And as they did for Thomas, those scars inspire us to worship and pray: “My Lord and my God!” ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.   

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sermon for 4/21/19: The Resurrection of Our Lord

Due to a technical difficulty—technically, I forgot to hit the “record” button—there is no audio recording today.


Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

It can be hard to believe that Christ is risen from the dead. That’s not just true for Mary Magdalene and the others who went to the tomb that first Easter. It’s hard for us to believe, too. We are surrounded by death and chaos and calamity. We live in a world that hates us for our faith. We so easily give into the cunning deceptions of the devil and the doubts that he raises. We so readily believe that we must get a grip on life, forgetting that Life Himself has a hold on us—that He lives and abides in us by His blessed Absolution and Holy Supper, and that in Him we live and move and have our being.

Ultimately, that is what the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ means. It’s not simply that He lives in the inspiring, fairy tale sense. He lives for us; He lives within us.

He lives to grant me daily breath;
He lives, and I have conquered death…

Because this is so hard to believe, our Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t simply rise from the dead and ascend to heaven. He leaves behind clear and certain evidence that He lives. For Mary Magdalene, Peter and John that evidence sits on the carved stone of the tomb, right before their eyes.

Now it’s a little easier for them to believe. Now they not only have something to talk about. More importantly, they have something to point to when doubts arise, when uncertainties and qualms and misgivings assail. The shroud at the head of the stone Jesus laid upon—this is physical evidence for them of His resurrection. “You shall be witnesses of Me,” the Lord Jesus had told them. What does this mean? They shall proclaim what they have seen and heard. They shall not only to tell the story, but also deliver its benefits. They shall be the mouth that breathes and voices life into those who were dead in trespasses and sins. Their hands shall baptize all nations into and share with them this resurrected flesh and blood. Yes, they shall share their eyewitness accounts of the shroud, the grave cloths, the stone rolled away, the sight of their risen Lord with His pierced hands, feet, and side. But they also share the promise of His eternal presence. They shall share the news that Jesus won the victory, and that He is giving that victory to them in the waters of Holy Baptism.  

More than a mere shroud, more than grave cloths, more than a rolled stone and an empty tomb, that promise is what we are given. That presence is what we cling to. We believe the message shared by the eyewitnesses. But more than just that testimony of Mary, Peter and John that they saw, we believe in and put our trust in the resurrected body and blood of Christ into which we are buried in Baptism, and which is buried in us in the Holy Supper. That is where our Life is transformed. There is where the mind and love of Christ comes and abides in us. There is where Life gets a hold of us and will not let go and will not give up, no matter what we have done or what has been done to us. He is with us, and He will never leave.

It is there—there in the resurrected body and blood of Christ—that the Spirit gives us both Life Himself and the faith to hold to Him even as He holds to us. For we both know and believe the Scripture: that Christ must rise again from the dead,” so that all those who are baptized and communed in His flesh and blood “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, they may have life in His name.” Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.  

Friday, April 19, 2019

Sermon for 4/19/19: Good Friday (Return series)

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Return to the Lord 
Who Claims You as His Own

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jess Christ. Amen.

There is a children’s game called Hot Potato. Most of you have probably heard of it. Everyone sits in a circle and an object is passed around. That object is known as the hot potato. You don’t want to be caught with it. If you are, then you’re out of the game. The action gets pretty fast and furious, as the object is passed on as quickly as possible. To my knowledge, there is no opposite game, probably because it wouldn’t be much of a game. Whoever had the object wouldn’t pass it on; they would just hold onto it and keep it. 

For us, the hot potato we don’t want to be caught with is our sin. The good news for us tonight is that Jesus wants it. He takes the hot potato of your sin and claims it as His own. He does not pass it on. He will not let it go. But more than that, He lays claim to your condemnation. He lays claim to your chastisement. He lays claim to your death. He is cut off for you. He is crushed for you. He is wounded and oppressed for you. 

When Jesus lays claim to your sin, it He isn’t just holding on to your sin. He’s actually holding on to you. He is taking hold of you and laying claim to you. After all, your sin isn’t just something out there, separate from you. Your sin is in your flesh. And so He takes your flesh upon Himself. The Son of God became man. Your flesh, and all that comes with it, He claims as His own. He wants it. He refuses to let it go, even though holding onto you means He must go to the cross. 

We sit in the darkness of night and try to imagine the darkness of that day, when Jesus hung on the cross, when Jesus hung there in the darkness, when the sun stopped shining. But if you really must know, think about whatever sin you are most ashamed of, the sin that—if known—would make your family and friends distance themselves from you, the sin that would ruin your life. Put it in bold print on a sign hanging from your neck, and walk around in public. Write it in English, Spanish, and whatever other languages are spoken by your neighbors. Knock on your neighbor’s door and make sure everyone sees it and knows it. Make sure they know who you are, what kind of person you really are. Even then, you would be getting just the smallest taste of what Jesus did for you. 

Judas got a taste of this. After he betrayed Jesus and saw that Jesus had been condemned, he went to the priests and confessed. But the horribly, godless priests said, “What is that to us? You see to it.” This is your sin, they told him. It’s your hot potato. You deal with it. And he did. The only way he knew how: he sentenced himself to death. 

It didn’t have to be that way for Judas. And it doesn’t have to be that way for you. Jesus has laid claim to your sins. Your sins are hung with Him on the cross, and He took them to the grave. Jesus flips everything around. So you get to hold onto Him and claim Him and His righteousness as your own. You get His life as your own. Your faith takes hold of Jesus and His death, and in doing so, you also receive His life.

Tonight, you receive in your hand and your mouth the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He grabs hold of you and your sin and claims it as His own. He dies your death. He is buried in your tomb. And the third day is coming: the day when He rises from the tomb, still holding onto you. But the sin is gone, the condemnation is gone, and the death is gone. Jesus is clinging to you and not letting go. Sin, satan, death cannot have you, for Jesus has claimed you as His. “It is finished.” Salvation is accomplished. And because you belong to Him, salvation belongs to you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sermon for 4/18/19: Maundy Thursday (Return series)

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Return to the Lord 
Who Washes You

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

They had often wondered who among them was greatest. James and John had asked for places at our Lord’s right and left, and the others had been indignant. But Jesus would teach them a lesson about greatest and least. Jesus grabbed the bowl and the towel, dropped to His knees, and began to wash their feet. When Peter tried to stop Jesus, our Lord told him, If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.” Peter didn’t understand why this foot washing was so important.
And then Jesus gave the lesson. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.” That was a dagger into their proud hearts. For all their desire to be the greatest, none of them could believe that the Lord, the One who had told them that He was the very Son of God, would want His chosen disciples to be common servants, much less that God Himself would be a servant.
We should not be surprised at their reaction. We should not be surprised because none of us do what we should. If we had been in that room that night, who among us would have jumped up to wash everyone’s feet? Jesus told His disciples that night, “Love one another as I have loved you.” But we can’t even love God as we should. We can’t love our neighbors as ourselves. How can I love others as Jesus has loved me?
So it’s not just about foot washing; it’s about how Jesus demonstrated His love—to His disciples and to us. Jesus knew what was coming. He has said to them: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  That was a love and service even greater than foot washing. He was about to lay down His life on the cross. He was about to serve us by dying for us. There is no love greater than that.
And because He lay down His life for you, you have been washed. You have been washed by His the watered blood that flowed from His side. You have been Baptized, a washing that has made you clean. Every time you hear the words of Holy Absolution, you return to those bloody waters. Jesus offers to wash your feet every day. He wants to speak that word of forgiveness to you constantly. He wants to feed you that blood along with His body every time you gather in His name. Washed by Him, you have a part with Him. You belong to Him. Forgiveness is the key to everything, every day of our lives. The people would know that those twelve men were His disciples by the forgiveness they would proclaim in His Name. They know that we are His disciples by the forgiveness we receive in His name and by the forgiveness with which we love and serve our neighbor.
We will also receive that forgiveness here tonight as we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord in His Supper, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. “As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” We proclaim His undying love in the shedding of His blood that washes us clean from every sin. Maybe you think you are unworthy of this gift. Maybe you think that you might be more worthy of it if you receive it less frequently. But think of it: those twelve disciples, wondering who was greatest among them: they not only have their feet washed by Jesus; not only do they hear His word of forgiveness; they eat His Body and drink His Blood. He does not withhold this from them. They are not worthy. Neither are we. But Jesus gives us this Supper because we are sinners in need of forgiveness. We need this gift. We need His forgiveness and life in us and upon us.  
It is time. Your feet have been washed. You have returned to those bloody waters today. The Supper is ready. His blood has been shed, His body given. This is His loving service for the life of the world. This is His loving service to you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sermon for 4/14/19: Palmarum--Sunday of the Passion

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Beautiful Blood

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

No one ever left one of our Lord’s sermons saying, “Well, that was nice. Good job, Lord.” Either it changed their lives, like Zacchaeus and Mary Magdalene; or they hated what they heard and wanted to kill Him, like the Pharisees. There is no in-between place, no comfort zone. All those who would ride the fence, all those waiting to see which way the wind will blow, all those who are lukewarm in faith—they already belong to Satan.
To a certain degree, this is the problem of the modern Church: Too many times we leave the service, too many times we hear the sermon, and we say, “Well, that was nice.” And not only have we done that and liked it, but we have even hungered for it and demanded it. We have thought and sometimes even said, “Preacher, don’t rock the boat! Don’t challenge us. Don’t teach us. Don’t open up the Word of God for us. Don’t tell us we need the body and blood of Jesus more often. Just fill the offering plate with pious platitudes and quaint moral lessons. But don’t hit us where we live. Our prejudices suit us just fine. We’ve outgrown our need for the Law.”
Repent, for you have not outgrown the Word. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, for the hour of salvation is here, and no man knows when the last hour will come. Repent while it is day, before the night comes when no man can work. Confess your sin. Acknowledge your wretchedness. Kneel before your God. Throw yourself upon His sure and certain mercy. Look to Him and find healing and rest. Turn to Him for forgiveness and life.
This life is hard. This struggle against the forces of darkness is real, and it wearies the soul. But the fact of the matter is, you’ll never get out of the Church Militant alive. Either you give in to Satan and the pleasures of the flesh, until the time comes when you must endure the eternal torments of hell; or the Lord brings you home into the Church Triumphant, where sin and temptation will harass you no more. Faith is a life-long struggle against the powers of darkness. Confession and absolution are the constant and consistent rhythm of our lives in Christ. So our Lord enters Jerusalem on the Sunday before His sacrifice to pick us up, bind our wounds, and love away our grief.
He rides that day knowing full well what is in store for Him. He knows what our rebellion will cost Him. He will drink the cup of wrath from His Father’s hand. He will suffer in the agony of His soul for the sins of the whole world. He who knew no sin will become sin. Justice will be met in Him. The Father will forsake His Son. Jesus will die. And then—let us never forget this part—He will rise again, triumphant over the grave. The Lord of Life will defeat death by submitting to its dark clutches. Death could not hold Him. In that victory, from that glorious cross-shaped throne of grace, the reign of the Lord of Life will begin. He lives. It’s not nice or pretty as the world counts such things, but the blood and death of Jesus gives life to those who are marked with His name.
Our Lord Jesus Christ—He who rode into Jerusalem by lowly donkey and her colt that blessed Sunday before His death—He rides again today. He comes into our midst by similarly lowly means: this time in the bread and wine in which He hides the glory of His holy and precious body and blood. With this celebration we embark upon our holiest observance, our holiest week. May it be unto us a call to repentance and life, for those are His gifts to us. May it be a call for us to return to the Lord our God. May His blood be on us and on our children. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.   

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Sermon for 5/10/19: Midweek Lent 5 (Return series)

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Return to the Lord 
Who Calls You Endlessly

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

Our Lord is relentless. He does not give up. He is tireless in calling you to repentance. He wants to forgive before judgment takes place. Prepare to meet your God,” Amos said tonight. But how? Prepare by repenting. When you repent, you meet a merciful God. When you do not repent, when insist upon your own works, you meet a merciless God who will judge you as you want to be judged. God doesn’t want that; He knows how such judgment will turn out. He is a God of love, a God who wants show mercy, a God who redeems and restores.
The Lord is calling His people, working to bring them back to Him. And yet, over and over we hear these sad words: You did not return to me.” Amos records all that God did to call His people back to Him in repentance. First, He says, He gave his people cleanness of teeth.” Teeth are clean when they have no food to dirty them, no food to get stuck between them. The Lord provides our daily bread; when we turn away from Him, we deserve to lose our daily bread. God takes it away—not in vengeance, but so that the people remember Him and turn back to Him as the giver of all good gifts. Yet you did not return to me…”
Next the Lord withheld the rain” from them. Throughout Israel’s history, the people were tempted to worship and trust in Baal, the god of their neighbors. Baal was believed to be the god of the sky, of lightning, and of rain. But a false god can produce and provide nothing, and the true God withheld the rain so that they would know that He is the one true God. Yet you did not return to me…”
 So the Lord tries a third time, sending the devastation of blight, mildew, and locust. When the Lord brought His people into the Promised Land, He gave them a land with an abundance of everything. It was a land flowing with milk and honey! Why leave the God who provides such good gifts? So the Lord takes them away, that the people return to Him. Yet you did not return to me…”
On and on it goes. He sends the nations to strike Israel with the sword. He struck some of them down as He did at Sodom and Gomorrah. All of this He did out of love. And yet they did not return to Him. He loved them relentlessly. How thick and dull and ignorant and unseeing the people are! “What’s wrong with them?” we might ask. But that same thing is wrong with us. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that these things in the Old Testament were written for our learning, to instruct us, that we do not make the same mistakes. But have we learned?
 Examine your life according to the Ten Commandments. In fact, just look at the First. Do you truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Do you fear the perils of this world more than you believe He will deliver you from them? Do you love the things of this world more than you love Him? Do you trust the things of this world more than Him? So often we think our sin is inconsequential. But every sin is a turning away from God, a breaking of the First Commandment. We, too, must repent. We, too, must return to the Lord.
In his 95 Theses, Martin Luther wrote, When our Lord and Master Jesus said repent, he willed that the entire life of the believer be one of repentance.” Repentance is not just a once in a while thing. Your whole life must be a constant turning away from yourself; a turning to God; looking to Him for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. He wants to give you everything you need.
 That includes sending His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus took your death for you, in your place. The judgment of God you deserve, the Father placed firmly on His Son. He gives you faith to look at the Son and see your sin nailed to the cross. He gives you faith to look at the Son and see your salvation. He gives you faith to look at the Son and see the forgiveness He died to give you. He gives you faith to look at the Son and meet your God and return to Him.
So return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful. He has redeemed you. He has restored you. He will raise you up. He does not tire of calling you. He is your God. And you belong to Him. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
            The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Sermon for 4/7/19: Fifth Sunday in Lent

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The Subtitute
John 8:42-59

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

The faith that delivered righteousness to Abraham wasn’t easy. He was an old man, and old men know how life disappoints, how dreams fizzle, how promises are broken, and how the best days are already gone. Abraham knew about death. All old men do. Yet God had told him that he would be the father of a great nation. His descendants would number more than the sands on the seashore. But he was old, and He had only one son according to the Promise: the miracle son, the small glimmer of hope that somehow his family line would continue, that God can cause barren women and virgins to give birth. Then God told him to kill his son, to sacrifice his hope. Isaac could not survive being a burnt offering. Abraham knew of the resurrection, but this still didn’t make sense, and it would be painful beyond what fathers can endure. But by grace, Abraham believed. He knew that God was good, that God was merciful, that God would provide. So he suffered this indignity. He submitted to the will of God.
By grace, Abraham believed. He waited. He trudged up the mountain with that awful knife, hoping against hope. He held God to His Word. He is a man of faith. In light of that, there is nothing worse that could be said of him now than that he is dead. We know better. Abraham is not dead. He believed. It was reckoned unto him as righteousness. The Lord provided. Isaac went free. Abraham sees our Lord’s day because Abraham is not dead. He passed through death and into life.
Before Abraham was, Jesus is. He is the One who is, who was, and who is to come. He is without beginning and without end. He took up our flesh to be our Sacrifice. He humbled Himself to suffer what we suffer, to be tempted as we are tempted, to die as we die. But Isaac was spared to Abraham by the gift of a substitute ram; Jesus is the substitute Lamb. Jesus obeyed the Father’s will. He was without sin, the perfect substitute and payment for sinners who could not save themselves. Abraham passed through the gate of death into life. That is the reward of the righteousness reckoned unto him. Jesus went to hell on the cross. He was forsaken by His Father. He felt the bitter agony of guilt alien to Him in the depths of His soul. He is the ram caught in the thicket. He is the innocent One who dies for the guilty. His death is our life. His flesh is our bread. His blood sustains us. He clothes and feeds and cleanses us by giving up all He is for us.
Jesus is not dead. He came through death also. But righteousness was not reckoned unto Him; righteousness is who He is. He is the Righteous One, the Lover of  souls, the Beloved of the Father. He rested in the tomb for three days. Then He took up His life again and rose from the dead. He has completed His Father’s will. And He has sent His Spirit to all the earth to make us His. He reigns as a Man at the right hand of the Father.
What has all this to do with you? First, He died and rose for you. You believe. You are baptized. He has called you by name. It is reckoned unto you as righteousness. He declares you to be His child. He recreates you as a reflection of His holiness, a saint of God. And just as Abraham is not dead, neither are your loved ones who have preceded you in the faith. They live. They kept our Lord’s Word in their hearts, and now they sing Hosanna, loud Hosanna, with the Holy Innocents. They are not dead. Our Lord’s Word is fulfilled in them. They have passed through death and have joined the Church Triumphant. Now they join their praise to that of the angels and archangels while they wait for you. For that day will come to you as well. The Lord has provided your substitute Lamb. You will live. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Everbook: Modular Planner

Organization has never really been my strong point. I've always kept a calendar of some sort, and I usually do a weekly to-do list in my pocket notebook. That being said, it seems like things always get lost in the cracks of life. I always say, "If I don't write it down, it won't happen." There's more truth to that than I like to admit, because people tell me things, and they disappear into the black hole of my cranium.

Into this void comes the Everbook. Everbook is a modular planner designed by Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller and Pastor Jonathan Fisk, and it is based on the principles set forth by David Allen in his book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. I actually purchased this book back in 2016, I believe at the recommendation of Pastor William Weedon, but the fatalistic perfectionist in me decided that I couldn't organize my life in such a regimented fashion. The planner suggested by Pastors Wolfmueller and Fisk (henceforth known in this post as "W&F"), however, intrigued me. So I decided to give it a whirl. As you will be able to see (especially when you compare my Everbook to ones you see on the website), adaptability is the main feature of the Everbook.

The planner that W&F assembled is sized 5.5" x 8.5". I tried that, but it just wasn't working for me. It was too compact for me. So I decided I would go with a letter-sized planner, 8.5" by 11". So far this is working for me. I serve two congregations about 25 miles apart. Last week I had to pick hymns for the second quarter of 2019, assemble bulletins and sermons for our midweek Lent service and two funerals as well as writing my sermon for Sunday worship. Usually so much would feel overwhelming. But I put everything on a to-do list, turned my to-do list into a calendar for the week, and got to work. While I still stressed over it--I jokingly say that worry is my spiritual gift!--everything on the weekly to do list was completed on time.

Anyway, if you want to see the original design of the Everbook, look at the website. There's lots of good stuff. But here's how Everbook works for me.

I'd bought a planner a few years back with a leather cover. Up until I adopted Everbook, I used it just as a calendar, though I would store things in it for transport. As you can see in this picture, this particular padfolio has a zipper closure, and the ability to keep your papers together and safe is an important aspect of the Everbook. This is a 9" by 12" padfolio and planner, and I bought it a few years back because I really liked the calendar it contained. Well, that, and I really (REALLY) like the look and durability of leather.

When you open the planner, you see a number of aspects. This particular planner comes with a pocket on the left side, and it has a zipper pocket built in for holding pencils. This is important for me, because I color-code my calendar: red for one congregation, blue for the other congregation, green for my Circuit Visitor activities and any district activities, and a regular lead pencil for personal items. These are mechanical colored pencils imported from Japan through Amazon, because I don't carry a sharpener around with me, but I like a nice sharp point on my pencils at all times. Anyway, there are also pockets for business cards, which I try to keep with me at all times because I try to remember to write the date on the back of them and leave them with my shut-ins so they and their family members remember when I was there.

When you look at the right side of the opened padfolio, you see file folder modules. I have cut them down to exactly 8.5" by 11" so full-sized sheets fit into them but the folders fit nicely into the padfolio. The original Everbook design uses 5.5" x 8.5" sheets folded in half for each module, but I have obsessive compulsive tendencies, and paper folders are too flimsy for me. Manilla folders give me more stability. I have a number of modules, each of them labeled for their use. I always keep "This Week" on top, because that is where all my imminent action items are kept. Under that is the "Blanks" folder in which I keep blank pieces of paper and templates for my weekly calendar, my worship planning pages, and baptism and funeral information forms. I use forms I've either adapted or unabashedly borrowed as is from W&F, Pastor Rick Cody, and Pastor Sean Daenzer. Because I like to use my Lamy Safari and Lamy Al-Star fountain pens, I use a 24lb. paper instead of plain copy paper, and I put lines on my blank sheets because I can't write straight otherwise, and it bugs me!

My "Calendars" folder contains my completed hymn picks sheets for the quarter, my junior catechesis assignment sheet for the school year, and a calendar with blanks for every day of next year. As you will see later, I keep a full 24-month calendar in the back of my planner, as I just can't seem to let that go. The "Workstation" module contains action items that will be dealt with beyond this week. For example, I had a filled-in baptism information sheet in that folder last week, but since the baptism is this coming Sunday, I have moved it from the Workstation module to the This Week module. The "Inbox" module is where I put items that have been handed to me. If someone writes down information and hands it to me before or after worship, it goes in the Inbox folder. Whatever goes into the Inbox folder will later be moved into either the This Week module or the Workstation folder.

The "Projects" module contains long-term items, things like my notes on the second edition of Lutheran Purgatory, any progress or ideas for the eventual publishing of my hymn texts in a book, or even notes on whatever hymn text I'm currently contemplating. And finally, the "Journal" module contains completed tasks and calendars. These will eventually be moved into storage outside of the Everbook, once I'm pretty sure I won't need to review them or use them for a report for one of my congregations or the district/circuit. Behind that, I keep my full-sized monthly calendar.

I am grateful to W&F for bringing this highly adaptable planner into existence. It's all common sense, which means it was far above my ability to assemble on my own! *wink* I highly recommend Everbook to you, particularly if you struggle to keep your life organized as I do. Peruse the website and see how others have adapted Everbook to their needs. I believe this could be a worthwhile project for you.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Sermon for 4/3/19: Midweek of Lent 4 (Return series)

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Return to the Lord 
Who Does Not Change

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

            So far, we have focused on our Lord’s faithfulness, our Lord’s promises, our Lord’s work for us, and His desire that we return to Him and receive these gifts from His hand. Those are wonderful things. But all these words and promises, all this work, all of this would be of no use and no value to us, were it not for the fact that our God does not change. What good would be a God who speaks a word to us, but later takes it back? What good would it be if He says He will do something for us, but later changes His mind? You cannot count on a God like that. That is a God you cannot know, a God who is one way today and tomorrow may be quite different. Such a God says one thing today, but tomorrow He may speak something completely different. Which is real? Which is true? You could not know.
The good news for us is that God is not like that. When He speaks, it is true and sure. What He promises, He will do. You can count on Him and know Him. That is exactly what we need. We need a God we can depend on in an undependable world. We need a God who is steadfast in a world of change. And Malachi reassures us that this perfectly describes our God.
Malachi was the next-to-last of the Old Testament prophets. John the Baptist was officially the last, for he is the last prophet leading to Jesus. But after Malachi, there would be scriptural silence from God for some 400 years, before God would speak again: first through John, but then, even more importantly, through God in the flesh, our Lord Jesus. That fact makes these words of Malachi even more important, because the people would cling to those words during that 400 years of seeming silence. God does not change. His Word and promises don’t change. He says to you, “Return to me, and I will return to you.”
At the time of Malachi, Israel was no longer giving tithes. It’s not that God needs what we give Him; the truth is, tithes and contributions are for our benefit. It’s not that we give so that God will give more. Instead, we give to acknowledge that our Father has given us everything, and this is our response. We give because we believe that God will provide for our every need. We give to loosen our grip on the things of this world. We give so that we cling by faith to our God. Failing to give shows us that not all is right with us in our hearts; it says that we do not trust in Him to provide as we should. Malachi is pointing out not just a behavior problem, but a heart problem and a faith problem. With these words from Malachi, God is calling Israel back to faith. God wants His children to believe in Him and trust His goodness as their loving Father.
Try me in this,” God says. Test Him, and see if He will not provide. This is who God is. If they give, they will not lack. The widow made a loaf for the prophet Elijah from the last of her flour and oil, but the flour and oil did not run out. Jesus provided food for groups of 4,000 and 5,000 men who gave of their time to listen to His Word, who trusted that “man does not live by bread alone.” He does this, not because Israel was so faithful and good, but because God is love.
Satan is always tempting us to unbelief, to doubt the goodness and love of our Father in heaven. The devil wants us to turn away from our loving God. But God cries out, “Return!”  Return in repentance for your unbelief. Return, believing in His promises. See how God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers. They preach to you of the goodness and love of your Father. If He cares for them, will He not much more care for you? Of course He will. He always has, and He always will.
This doesn’t mean life will be easy. Sin is still in this world, wreaking its havoc, just as it did in the Garden. But it has an end, when our Lord returns and sets us free from sin and death. Our bodies are transformed for everlasting life. We have that promise, too, which God will not change. In the midst of a world of change, of changing bodies, of changing people, we have a changeless God. We have a faithful Father you can count on. Return to Him, and He will return to you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.