Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rest in Peace Tim Stephenson

It's been a hard emotional week for everyone at Mount Olive, and especially the family of Tim Stephenson, who died in an automobile accident last Friday morning. His funeral was particularly well attended, which provided great comfort to his family. It is always an honor to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to people, and I think yesterday was the largest crowd I had ever preached to. Here are my words:

Text: our Epistle, Paul’s second letter to the man in the New Testament named Timothy
2 Timothy 4:6-8 ESV
6For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
There are several places in the New Testament which present the Christian life in the image of a race. This is one. Another is in Paul’s letter to Corinth a city with a history of athletic contests, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 ESV Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
Tim was a runner from his youth. He raced in Grandmas numerous times. I was amazed how well he did in those races—once not even training specifically for the race. I think he thought running 26 miles was easy compared to the sport of ultimate Frisbee.
These passages highlight the importance of giving all we’ve got, no matter what, and that includes in our faith.
And yet, I have to ask, spiritually, what will that get us? How far will it get us? Is this what God demands of us? To give all we’ve got? Well, in a sense it is, but is God satisfied if we are able to give it all we’ve got? Many people think so. Many people think that’s all God can ask of us. But we look at God’s word and find out that God has firm demands. His law, his demands on us are serious, and high, and we simply can’t meet them on our own efforts, no matter how much we try.
That is why another passage involving a race is helpful. The book of Hebrews tells us not only about our own race, but also the race run by Jesus. It starts with the image of an arena:
Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus was God’s Savior for us, the savior promised to us throughout time. Jesus finished the race of this life, and did so as God demanded, in full. On the cross, he said, “It is finished,” and died for us.
That finishing of the race that Jesus accomplished he then credits to us. He makes us partakers of that accomplishment through our baptism, where we are connected to Jesus’ death on the cross. But there is more than that, when we are connected to Jesus, we are also connected to Jesus’ resurrection.
In our Gospel reading today, we heard Jesus call himself by a special name. He said of himself, “I am the Resurrection and the life.” Now I want to point out that there are two resurrections of which we can speak. Usually, when we talk about resurrection, we think of the resurrection from the dead. We truly believe that this life is NOT all there is, that when Christ returns for us, as He promised, the trumpet shall sound, and all people will be raised from their graves, including Tim. But there is another resurrection we talk about, a resurrection mentioned by the gospel writer John.
John speaks of Two Resurrections. The first resurrection is the resurrection of faith, the resurrection from spiritual death to spiritual life. Those connected with Jesus, those who have been joined to him in their baptism and have shared in the first resurrection have this quality—the second death has no power over them.
Concerning the first death—the physical death in this life—we don’t have any promises that we won’t face that death. And as we have all experienced in Tim’s sudden death, it can come at any time. But in the long haul, in eternity, it is not really all that important. What we really want to avoid is that second death, eternal death, eternal separation from God. And we CAN be certain about that, because of God’s PROMISES that have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Another name Jesus gave to himself is found in the verse given to Tim at his confirmation here at this altar 11 years ago, in John 8:12 ESV where Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Six nights ago was a dark night, dark for many reasons. That night, Tim lost his physical life in this world. But there was never ultimate darkness for Tim, just as there is not for us, because where our Lord Jesus Christ is, who is the light of the world, there is not darkness, there can never be darkness, but only the light of life.
And God is faithful. We can’t make God unfaithful by our own unfaithfulness. He makes promises to us, and he will keep them. Not that we can’t refuse God’s grace, God’s forgiveness. We can deny God, we can refuse to cash the check, as it were. But the check is never bad because of our faithlessness. And even when we are faithless, God stays faithful, he stays faithful to us and faithful to his promises.
Earlier in his second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote:
2 Timothy 2:11-13 ESV The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.
God is faithful. He keeps his promises, to us, he kept his promises to Tim, and even though this day we certainly grieve over Tim’s death, we do not do so as people who have no hope. Because we DO have hope, a sure and certain hope of eternal life and a resurrection, a physical resurrection, in which Tim and every one of us who believe in Christ will see our savior with our own eyes.
God have mercy on us. Lord, forgive our sins, and take us to you, the Resurrection and the Life.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Beautiful Reminder in Prayer

In my daily prayers, I often utilize some prayers from a hard-to-find book titled, The Daily Office by Herbert Lindemann. (I add them to my use of the great resource, The Treasury of Daily Prayer.)

Anyway, from the Daily Office for this week there were these great words, under the title, A General Thanksgiving:

Because through suffering and weakness Thou hast taught us patience and given us the sense of dependence upon Thee; because in health and strength Thou hast given us to share Thy joy in being active; and because in sorrow Thou hast revealed to us the glory of others’ kindness:
Glory be to Thee, O Lord.
For the discipline of life; for the endurance which is learned through drudgery; for the work which is its own reward; and for the difficulties which are the materials of victory, Thy victory in us:
Glory be to Thee, O Lord.
Because through the turmoil of life we find Thy peace; because for the challenge of life we need Thy strength; and because in the adventure of death we have Thy blessed hope:
Glory be to Thee, O Lord.
For the laughter of children; for pure mirth and kindly wit; for the jest of gallant souls and the cheerfulness of sufferers, which puts to shame our self-concern:
Glory be to Thee, O Lord.
For Thy church on earth; for the comfort and encouragement of the blessed company of all faithful people; and above all for the sense of Thy companionship in sacrament and prayer:
Glory be to Thee, O Lord.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Longer Summer

I think for most people, unofficial "summer" is from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day weekend.

Well, if you like summer, I've got good news for you.Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday of May, is as early as it ever can be, May 25. (Note: that means that there is a Sunday in May after Memorial Day, May 31.) AND, Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is as late as it ever can be, September 7.

That means that there are 15 plus weeks of "summer" to enjoy. So get out there and enjoy it. And hopefully, we'll get some warm weather up here in Duluth to go along with it. :)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Summer "Convertible"

Wow, the month of April was busy for me, between Holy Week and Easter, and then other events. Now things are getting better. Warmer in Duluth, too. Time to get out the "Convertible."

Well, it doesn't really "convert" from anything, but it is a great outdoor vehicle for nicer weather in Duluth. I bought this a few years back, and have been very happy with it for getting around Duluth. It is a recumbent tricycle, and has served me well. It is geared down pretty well for getting up the Duluth hills. Sure, it is work going up hill, but you can go slow and not worry about tipping because of the third wheel. (Also, when I stop at lights or stop signs, I don't tip.) The wide padded seat is very comfortable, and I can pull a trailer with kids or groceries. From my home it is less than four miles to ust about anywhere I want to go, along nice streets or even the lakewalk. And when I'm running various errands, the miles can add up without seeming tiresome.

Last year the lakewalk was extended to 36th Avenue East, so I can get to or from downtown pedaling right along Lake Superior. (The only disadvantage is that coming home from downtown I end with almost a mile straight up the hill.)

Most of the winter I work out on recumbent aerobic machines, so those particular muscles stay in pretty good shape.

One fun trip I took a few years back included packing some camping gear in the trailer and biking to Jay Cooke for an overnight. I've taken this up to the Willard Munger Trail up the North Shore, too. I hope I can take this out camping this summer, one way or another.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bible Bowl trophy

This past Saturday, March 28, was the Minnesota State Bible Bowl. LCMS Churches throughout the State of Minnesota sent 34 teams to Concordia University, St. Paul, to show off their knowledge of this year's topic, the Gospel of John, and compete for the top six individual and team trophies.

My own church sent a team for the third year in a row, each year improving, and this year coming home with the sixth place team trophy. Congratulations! In fact, we were the only church from the Minnesota North District to get a trophy this year.

We went down on Friday night and spent the night all sleeping on mats at University Lutheran Chapel's library. For fun on Friday night, we walked over to Mariucci Arena where the University of Minnesota--Duluth's hockey team was playing in the NCAA Division 1 tournament, so we were there when UMD scored two times in the last 40 seconds, sending the game into overtime and eventually winning in OT. Wow.

On Saturday morning, we had to get up pretty early, and the kids had been up late playing games and studying. Josef roused us all with the words, "Arise, take up your mat, and walk."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Love is an Active Thing

There was a great interview with Robert Gagnon, author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice, on Issues Etc. back on March 4. There was much in that interview, but what struck me was a quote from Augustine.

Gagnon pointed out that someone opposing his point of view and arguing for a more open point of view towards homosexual practice was quoting Augustine as saying "Love, and do what you want." However, Augustine uses this quote in the immediate context of rejecting homosexual behavior, and in fact shows the need for us as Christians to speak up and be more active in rejecting all immoral behavior. True love for the neighbor must not be lazy and let the neighbor do whatever, but must be active in helping that neighbor be what God wants him to be.

Here is more from Augustine: "If any of you perhaps wish to maintain love, brethren, above all things do not imagine it to be an abject and sluggish thing; nor that love is to be preserved by a sort of gentleness, nay not gentleness, but tameness and listlessness. Not so is it preserved. Do not imagine that . . . you then love your son when you do not give him discipline, or that you then love your neighbor when you do not rebuke him. This is not love, but mere feebleness. Let love be fervent to correct, to amend. . . . Love not in the person his error, but the person; for the person God made, the error the person himself made."

That's sometimes hard to live out. It is so much easier to say nothing. But that's not real love, either. I'm not sure who coined the phrase, "Hate the sin and love the sinner," but this quote from Augustine comes awfully close.