The Desperation of the Losing Mentality

We have before us a World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. Neither team has won a World Series in my lifetime. Both teams have been somewhat close before but not this close. You could say both franchises have endured a “losers’ mentality,” that is, both teams have not tasted success in such a long time that all kinds of excuses have been used to explain their ineptitude. Examples: the Cubs blame a goat, Steve Bartmann, and a host of other sad reasons for losing; the Indians blame bad weather, poor location (you know all the jokes about Cleveland), and bad leadership of their team.

Well, things are about to change for one of the teams. One of these two will win (unless our Heavenly Father sends His Son on Judgement Day!).

How do these fans handle this change of events? According to Darren Rovell, of ESPN, they are spending money like there is no tomorrow. Here is what Rovell says:

Chicago Cubs fans hoping to see the first World Series title of their lifetime are driving up ticket prices. And it doesn’t help that most Cleveland Indians fans haven’t seen their team hoist a trophy, either.

The Cubs are hoping to win their first title since 1908, while the Indians have been waiting since 1948.

As of Sunday morning, the average ticket sold on StubHub for Games 3, 4 and 5 at Wrigley Field in Chicago was more than $3,000.

One fan bought four seats in a bullpen box along the first-base line for Game 5 for $17,950 each. A pair of seats was also purchased on StubHub for $16,000 a ticket for Games 3 and 4 — one by the Cubs’ dugout, the other one by the Indians’ dugout.

The highest total transaction on World Series seats on StubHub was for a Game 7 at Cleveland’s Progressive Field. A fan bought four tickets in the first row behind the Cubs’ dugout for $24,500 each, including fees. If a Game 7 isn’t necessary, the sale will be negated, and the buyer will receive a refund for the cost of the seats and fees.

What remains to be seen is whether the hottest ticket market in baseball history will sustain. When the Cubs clinched Saturday night, the cheapest ticket to get into Game 1 in Cleveland on StubHub was $1,090. By Sunday morning, one could be found for $850. Listed ticket prices to Game 3 in Chicago didn’t move up after the Cubs recorded their final out, with the cheapest standing-room ticket hovering around $2,275.

I still don’t care who wins but I do know that some fans are shelling out a whole lot of money to attend. Losers always want to change their ways–even when they are only watching. May the Lord save these people from themselves!

Lessons and Hymns for Reformation Sunday

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Revelation 14:6-7
Romans 3:19-28
John 8:31-36

The Son of God Has Set Us Free from Sin and Death by His Grace

“Wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Matt. 11:19), and the true Wisdom of God, Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, justifies us by His deeds. He prepares His way by the preaching of repentance, but He has suffered the violence of the Law and voluntarily handed Himself over to violent men, that we might eat and drink with Him in His kingdom and “remain in the house forever” (John 8:35). For He is “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt. 11:19), and He has rescued us by His grace from the slavery of sin and death. By the proclamation of His eternal Gospel “to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people” (Rev. 14:6), “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” (Rom. 3:21), “that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). And by hearing the Gospel of Christ Jesus, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:25), “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Built on the Rock the Church Shall Stand (LSB 645)
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (LSB 657)
Lord Jesus Christ, with Us Abide (LSB 585)
Jesus! Name of Wondrous Love (LSB 900)
Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word (LSB 655)

“Some Assembly Required”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Exodus 32:15-20
2 Thessalonians 3:1-5
Luke 17:20-30

Years ago, a Rabbi named Melvin Glaser titled a sermon with a phrase that is very familiar to Americans. It was the little line that appears on many of the items we buy: “Some assembly required.” On some items, the phrase should be prefaced in bold print with “LET THE BUYER BEWARE!” Those of us who are handy are usually happy to save a few bucks and put things together ourselves. Those who are not handy are equally happy to pay the extra amount to have items assembled that life itself is one of those items: “It is up to us to take the raw materials of life and assemble them into works of art.”

Borrowing his thought, I suggest that the Christian life requires some assembly if we want to get out of it what God is willing to put into it. Two high school students were sitting in a fast food restaurant, talking about whatever 15-year-olds usually talk about. One said, “I can’t wait to get a car.” The other responded, “Me, too, man, the best thing that ever happened to me was getting my bicycle.” “I have a bike, too,” said the first. The conversation continued:

“Mine has 10 speeds, dual hand brakes, high-speed tires, lights, generator, everything.”

“Mine too.”

“I got mine for Christmas when I was 13.”

“Me, too.”

“Yeah, my dad saved all year to get it for me.”

“I got mine from my mom’s brother out in California–I’ve never even met him.”

“Nothing but ice and snow has kept me off mine. It’s right outside. Is yours?”

“Naw, mine’s still in the box.”

Many Christians have had 10-speed lives since before they were 16, but have never had them out of first gear. The Christian lives of others are still in the boxes. Some assembly is required and they’ve never expended the time and energy to put them together.

I’m not trying to be critical, or pass judgment on others. I’m sorry to say that my own Christian life has probably never been past fifth gear. I get about half way to letting God have His way with my life, but then I want to maintain some control–as though I have a better idea of what to do with it than He has. A long time ago I learned something that occasionally I forget. I have done a lot of evil in my life and I’ve come to regret every bit of it. I’ve also done a little good and I’ve never been sorry that I did any of it. In attempting to serve God and other people, I’ve been used, misused and abused, but I’ve never regretted trying to do something good.

Serving God and others is a strange sort of experience. About the time you let go of sin and selfishness long enough to try it, some neat rewards of joy and satisfaction come back to you. Enjoying them, you want more and try to get more. Suddenly, your motives are selfish again and the rewards aren’t there! This is as far as the people in first gear ever get. They find the Christian life to their liking and then try to keep it just that way. Occasionally, they speed up a bit, but find the work to be harder. Fearing a loss of control if they shift gears, they just back off again.

St. Paul once wrote to some Christians who had received the gift of eternal life, but kept it wrapped up with ribbon and bow intact. Some Christians in Thessalonica were perfectly content to become part of the church and then let the church take care of them until Christ returned. Heaven was their home and the church was their meal ticket. It’s bad enough that such people are idle or, as we say today, “moochers,” but these are also the most likely people to find fault with others. They have no business of their own to mind, so they mind everybody else’s. Consult every list of spiritual gifts you can find in the New Testament and I promise that you will not find even one under the heading of “critic.”

St. Paul suggested that the way to separate the sheep from the goats in the visible church at Thessalonica was to set down the simple rule that those who don’t work don’t eat. It should be noted that Paul was a crusader for those who couldn’t work (or as in our day, can’t find work)! This is not some blanket criticism of welfare, although some of the Apostle’s thinking could probably also be applied there. Paul’s society and the situation of the church were far too different from our own to try to apply his words literally. What we need to do is apply them to ourselves and not to others–concentrate on our own work, rather than the worklessness of someone else.

In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus warns His disciples that following Him might mean going to some unhealthy or at least uneasy places, like prisons. He, like Paul, doesn’t pull any punches. His life is not a walk in the park. It takes what He calls “patient endurance.” If that doesn’t sound like work and effort, then try betrayal from your friends and murder from your adversaries!

Feddersen’s Fables has the story of two soldiers eating from tin plates near a battlefield. One said to the other, “Where do you live?” “Well,” said the second fellow, “my home is in Richmond, Virginia, but I live in that fox hole right over there.” Heaven may be our home, but it is not where we are presently doing our Christian living. The big question is: “How are we doing at it?” Are we keeping it in first gear? Is there still some assembly required?

Unlike a Christmas gift that we might receive from a rich uncle, who would never notice the expense and not give a hoot what we did with it, the Christian life is a gift to us from the grace and mercy of God. It cost Jesus everything He had to give–His final resource–His very life. But it is a gift from the greatest bounty in the universe–God’s love for us. It is designed to give us…not just the simple knowledge of having it…but the great joy of living it. If you haven’t found and filled your niche in Christ’s mission–whether it is telling the Good News, inviting others, praying, giving, etc.–there is definitely some assembly still needed.

Of all the joys of parenting boys, one of the greatest was watching them put something together and take pride in doing it. I watched both of my sons accomplish things in athletics, mechanics, carpentry, etc., but my own pride of them absolutely paled in comparison to sharing their satisfaction at having done it themselves. It is, I believe, a tiny glimpse into what God must feel when we do well at doing good. I watched them put blocks together, repair automobiles and even build their own homes. The joy of their joy is rarely matched in any other part of the rest of my life.

In a small way, I helped them in a few of those things and that helps me to understand why God gives us our Christian lives with some assembly still required. He loves so much to help with the assembly.

The promise of God’s Spirit within us, to help us make the best of the potentials we have, is just one more part of His unquenchable love. If only I could remember–when I want to shake my fist at God for not doing something for me that He could instantly and effortlessly do–how much pleasure and satisfaction it has given Dan and Joel to do something themselves, and how much joy it has given all of us as a result. God already knows more than we can even imagine. He must often want to rush us or force us, but His love enables Him to wait as we finally get part A and slot B together.

Every parent should have the experience of buying an expensive toy, only to have the child unwrap it, unpack it and play with the box instead of the toy. It can give us a glimpse into the patience of God.

Almost everything we buy today that needs some assembly comes with directions in Spanish, French and Japanese, as well as English. Imagine putting it together without directions you can read and then you will know why we cannot live the Christian life without God’s direction, help and enabling.

Apart from faith, God’s way is foreign to us. Don’t be upset that He doesn’t do it for you–how else would the most loving Parent in the universe behave? He wants to help. He has the directions. He knows the language. He can’t wait to show you how to do it. The gift is ours–He already paid the price we couldn’t afford. In the Word and Sacraments, He is giving us the directions. Some assembly is required and “DAD” is waiting for us.

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Giving Is an Act of Worship

In his book Giving to God, Mark Powell writes, “The offering is an act of worship, an instance in which we are invited to give up something that we value—our money—as a sacrifice to God. In many ways, it is the high point of the liturgy. We come to church to worship God and at no other point in the service are we provided with so pure an opportunity for worship as this.”

Obviously, the high point of the liturgy is the reading of the Gospel and receiving Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar, but in terms of our act of worship, our giving is an act of worship, and a very important one at that.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank You for all my blessings. Grant me the faith and wisdom that I need to acknowledge You as the creator and owner of all things. Help me to give to You by sharing with the needy and to extend Your kingdom. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 23 C (Proper 25)

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Genesis 4:1-15
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18: 9-17

In Humble Repentance, Faith Lives by Grace and Mercy and Is Exalted by God in Christ

Jesus tells a parable “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (Luke 18:9). In this parable, the Pharisee unjustly boasted before God on the basis of his own merits, whereas the tax collector intently prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). That poor, miserable sinner trusted Christ, and he went “down to his house justified, rather than the other” (Luke 18:14). So do little children, “even infants,” come to Jesus with their need, and they “receive the kingdom of God” through faith (Luke 18:15–17). For “the one who humbles himself will be exalted,” but “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled” (Luke 18:14). That is why “the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Gen. 4:4–5). St. Paul’s life, “poured out as a drink offering,” was another sacrifice like Abel’s (2 Tim. 4:6). The Lord stood by Paul and strengthened him, that “the message might be fully proclaimed” (2 Tim. 4:17). It is by that Gospel message of Christ that we “have loved his appearing” and as repentant sinners pray to “the Lord, the righteous judge” by faith (2 Tim. 6:8).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Jesus Loves Me (LSB 588)
When in the Hour of Deepest Need (LSB 615)
Glory Be to God the Father (LSB 506)
How Can I Thank You, Lord (LSB 703)
Almighty Father, Bless the Word (LSB 923)

“I will not let go until You bless me”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Genesis 32:22-30
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

We are nearing the end of the high school football season here in Missouri. District competitions conclude this weekend. Sectional and State games will quickly be here and gone. The timing created a bit of nostalgia in me this past weekend and I remembered when my sons finished their high school careers. They were both fortunate enough to have received honors for performances as defensive players. Memories, for me, usually include the more amusing moments rather than some outstanding accomplishment or another. I like to laugh and smile, so my memories may be dominated by those opportunities.

Early in their football training, I taught both sons that the most important thing you can do as a defensive player is fairly simple. Once you get your hands on the ball carrier, don’t let go until the whistle blows. Even if you can’t bring him down yourself, you can hang on until help arrives from the rest of your team.

When they were younger, this practice made for some amusing moments. I recall several incidents when big, heavy running backs dragged the boys’ lighter frames along until another tackler arrived to finish what they had begun. Occasionally it was funny. It wasn’t pretty or impressive defensive play, but it got the job done and it made a “Pop” proud. Later, their size, weight and strength increased to the point that additional help was seldom needed. Once they got hold of a runner, the play was over. They seldom let go.

One time, however, when Joel was a senior, one of the biggest running backs in the area plowed across the center of the line and Joel was caught in a huge pile of helmets, pads and bodies. The runner had somehow gotten over, through or around the pile, but not without Joel’s hands still clinging persistently to his jersey. He was thrashing and twisting every which way but loose. The crowd burst into laughter at the comic sight. Suddenly, a whistle began to blow furiously and repeatedly. One official decided that forward progress had been stopped.

The ball carrier was upset about the decision. He thought the whistle was premature and that he could have gotten away. But it was a good decision. Three or four of Joel’s bone-crushing friends, big linemen and fierce linebackers, were running top-speed at that fellow and were about to arrive simultaneously. The player was concerned with the game and with getting away. The referee was concerned about his life and limbs.

This Sunday’s Old Testament lesson tells a story about a different sport with a similar situation. It is a wrestling match between Jacob and a “man.” He was actually wrestling with God in human form or an angel who was clearly God’s representative. The similarity comes in verse 26: “Then the man said, ‘Let me go for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let You go until You bless me.'” I never participated in wrestling or coached it, but it seems that not letting go is a good move in that sport as well.

There is a wordplay on wrestling with God throughout the early life-story of Jacob. He wrestles with his brother Esau. He wrestles with Laban and he wrestles a birthright blessing away from his father’s wishes. Before he re-enters Canaan, it becomes clear that his real wrestling match was with God all along–his destiny was in God’s hands, not his own. In football and in wrestling, there is a legal use of the hands in gripping the opponent tightly and not letting go. In life, there is a similar use of the hands–gripping them together in prayer–and not letting go of God until His blessing comes.

This last part is the theme of Sunday’s Gospel lesson. It is one of several parables that Jesus told about being persistent in prayer. Luke made the point of the story clear before it was even told: “Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” The story has only two characters–a widow and a judge.

The woman had a case. We don’t know what it was, but she apparently knew which judge to see about it. We are told twice, perhaps for emphasis, that the judge neither feared God nor cared about people. It is Jesus’ initial description of him and the judge’s own statement about himself later in the story. The woman kept coming to the judge until she wore him down. He granted her judgment before she wore him completely out.

Some people mistakenly think that Jesus was suggesting we should nag God and wear Him down in order to get a good answer to our prayers. Actually, it is clear from the story that He was setting up a stark contrast between the judge and God. God does care about people! That is why we should keep praying to Him and not give up. He wants to help us. Our persistence in prayer comes from believing that. The answers to our prayers often come through that faith.

The Old Testament lesson tells of Jacob holding on to God until He got a blessing. The Gospel lesson tells of holding on in prayer until we get a blessing. We expect to find something similar in the Epistle lesson. The most thorough examination you make of that lesson, however, will not reveal the word “prayer” or any synonym. You will find that Paul urged a similar persistence in faithful living. Perhaps the people who chose the lessons were suggesting a connection between faithful praying and faithful living. There is no “perhaps” about it. Jesus concludes the parable with these words: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”

There is a kind of “keep your hands on” persistence in the lesson from Second Timothy, but it has to do with the Scriptures. Paul urged Timothy to hold on to and continue in what he had learned and believed from the Scriptures. Our English word “tenacious” comes from the Latin noun and verb that mean “hold or hold on.”

It is a sad state of affairs, and I thoroughly dislike talking about negative things, but I have found that most of the really tenacious people in the world are holding on to the wrong things. I have probably stated that incorrectly. At times we are all at our most tenacious when we are holding on to the wrong things–things like gripes and grudges, hurts and wrongs, mistakes and misunderstandings, weaknesses and failings, angers and resentments, disagreements and disputes, omissions and everyday sinfulness.

When we are caught up in such things, there are two pieces of advice, or simple questions, that we usually choose to avoid–they happen to coincide with this Sunday’s lessons. The first is: “Have you prayed about that situation, for the other person, etc.?” The second is: “Have you searched the Scriptures to see what you should do?”

On a purely “rational” day, I can’t imagine anyone blaming his or her own failure to do something good on someone else’s bad behavior, but then, rational days are more rare than mud-free political campaigns. Jesus and Paul are of the opinion that the children of God should have “spiritual” days. If you are upset, disappointed or angry over persons or situations, you cannot pray for them without coming to grips with the fact that God wants the best for them and from them. That belief couples immediately and firmly with the fact that He also wants the best for you and from you.

Stated simply, Christian people, like any people, can get so angry at others that they blurt out: “I wish they’d drop dead.” Christian people cannot, however, pray to God, “Make them drop dead.” We know better than the first, but say it anyway. We also know better than the second, but wouldn’t pray it for anything.

Searching the Scriptures to find what God wants you to do creates a similar problem. We find immediately that there are no Scriptural mandates for the person we believe has wronged us and situations cannot be mandated. The Scriptures will tell us that, when we feel someone has wronged us, we should pray for and go to that person. Paul’s words to Timothy are just one example of the Scriptures telling us to persevere, hold on and persist at doing God’s will, no matter what the situation.

We usually don’t want to pray for our enemies–they might change and become our friends. Then we will have to treat them well. We don’t want to confront them with our complaints–we might be wrong or, worse yet, they might repent and we will have to forgive them! If we are going to persist at the wrong things, maybe we had better pray that Jesus not return soon. If the Son of Man did return right now, we would have to explain our lack of faithfulness and it is not likely He would buy our excuses.

We don’t have to search the Scriptures to remember that Jesus did love His enemies and pray for them. We can’t forget that we are among them and that we desperately need the forgiveness He bought for us with His lifeblood. We can’t dismiss His tenacious grip on the cross for us or His holding on to His Father’s will even when He prayed that He would not have to do it. “Lord, decrease our rationalizations and excuses. Increase our faith and faithfulness. Help us not to let go until You bless us in eternity. Amen.”

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

A Quote from D. L. Moody

“A great many people are wondering why they don’t grow in grace; why they don’t have more spiritual power. The question is very easily answered. You have got your treasure down here. It is not necessary for a man to have money to have his treasure down here. He may have his heart on pleasure; he may make an idol of his children; and that is the reason they don’t grow in grace. If we would only just be wise and do as God tells us, we would mount up, as it were, on wings, and would get nearer to heaven every day. We would get heavenly-minded in our conversation, and have less trouble than now. And so, my friends, let us ask ourselves today, ‘Where is our treasure? Is it on earth, or in heaven? What are we doing? What is the aim of our lives? Are we just living to accumulate money, or to get a position in the world for our children? Or, are we trying to secure those treasures, which we can safely lay up in heaven, becoming rich toward God?’ ”

Prayer: Dear good and gracious heavenly Father, thank you for the great Bible leaders such as D. L. Moody who you have equipped to preach Your Word. Grant me an open and receptive heart and mind to the reading and preaching of Your Word. Use me as an instrument of Your grace, love, and mercy. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!