These are articles that appear in our Seward County Independent from time-to-time. They are listed by date from newest to oldest.
WHEN THE DOVES CRY
(Article for the 4/27/2016 issue of The Seward County Independent)
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Schroeder, Pastor
Mighty Fortress Ev.LutheranChurch
Most people are aware of what happened this past Thursday, April 21st. 57 year-old Prince Rogers Nelson, better known by only his first name “Prince” passed away. He was a singer, songwriter, and a musician; and he won many awards for his work. People know who he was.
During most of the 1980’s, I lived in Minnesota less than a hundred miles from him. I saw his rise to stardom, and how the people reacted to him. One of his hit songs “When the Doves Cry” appeared on the scene during that time.
But now at his death, the public mourning and outpouring of sympathy has made national headlines. People are gathered around outside his Minneapolis home. They’re leaving flowers, balloons, words of condolence written on cards, and tearfully hugging each other. In various ways, Prince has touched a lot of lives, and he will be missed. Oprah Winfrey and Stevie Nicks were amongst those who said, “This is what it sounds like when the doves cry.”
It’s interesting to see how society deals with the death of a person, especially someone of notoriety. Using Prince as an example, you’ll hear words like, “he’s gone, but his music lives on,” or “he touched many lives.” There’s a lot of emotion, but not a whole lot of substance. And that’s where the Christian has a bright hope that others don’t have.
We have recently celebrated Easter, the day we remember Jesus’ victory over death by physically rising from the dead, a feat that nobody else could accomplish on their own. We didn’t get stuck at Good Friday with Jesus’ crucifixion and death. We aren’t standing at a tomb with a huge stone in front of the entrance. We aren’t mourning and shedding tears of sorrow.
The tomb is empty because Jesus isn’t there. He conquered death, and he won! Jesus says in John 14:19: “Because I live, you also will live.” And that’s a promise! The Christian looks at the grave and sees more than just a six-foot hole in the ground. What lies beyond it in heaven is what’s important. That’s why the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus are so vital to the Christian faith. Paul even goes so far as to say in 1 Cor. 15:17: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
We can’t be Christian and believe that Christ’s body is lying in a grave somewhere in Israel. If it were, then his death would have served no purpose. He would have been just like every other human and not also true God. The price for our sins would not have been paid, and we would have no hope for the future beyond the grave. We would have cause for mourning, and not rejoicing.
The prophet Isaiah writes in 53:5: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
This is hope that only a Christian can truly have because of what God has promised. Jesus paid the price for your sins and mine by giving his life. He suffered the punishment and death that we deserve. But because of God’s grace alone, we don’t get what we deserve. Instead, we have complete and total forgiveness, and the hope that takes us beyond the grave and all earthly sorrow. We have this through faith alone in Jesus, and we can add nothing else to that.
A while back, a local funeral director asked me about the phrase so often used in funeral bulletins: “A celebration of the life of (decedent’s name).” For the Christian, this means we are celebrating the person’s life of faith, their Christian witness, and the promise of the life to come. We give glory to the one who gives this new life, namely Jesus Christ himself. And because of this, we receive comfort for our mourning from the sure and certain promises God gives us in the Bible.
We can certainly honor the memory of someone who has passed away. Back in 2000 Prince himself honored the memory of George Harrison with his memorable and moving rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” And maybe we will gently weep when we hear “Purple Rain” or “Little Red Corvette.” He taught himself to play at least 27 musical instruments, he wrote music for himself and other artists, and he loved what he did. He will be missed.
When something like this happens, we can be reassured of our own hope for what lies ahead of us. Jesus has prepared a mansion in heaven for us, which is ours not through our own merit, but only through faith alone because of what Jesus has done for us out of pure love. So with this hope in our heart, we can exclaim: “He Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed! Hallelujah!”
I LOVE YOU
(Article for the 1/13/2016issue of The Seward County Independent)
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Schroeder, Pastor
Mighty Fortress Ev.LutheranChurch
Within the last several weeks, you have probably noticed what I have when walking through the popular discount and dollar stores. The shelves that once held Christmas candy and decorations are being emptied at incredible discounts, and huge displays of pink, red, and white candy and decorations are being set up. This is a reminder that Christmas is over, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.
Valentine’s Day is one of my earliest school memories. It was 1960 and I was in Kindergarten at the time. In preparation for the day, our teacher (Mrs. Brownell) had set up a table at one end of the room as a “post office.” Then we made a type of “teller window” out of a big cardboard box, and put it on the table. Everybody had to bring a shoebox from home that would be their own “mailbox;” and after we personalized our boxes, they were all put in a row across another table.
When the day arrived, we all came to school with our box of dime store Valentines addressed to each member of the class. We put a gummed sticker on each envelope like a postage stamp. Then we had to give them to the postmaster, who took a rubber stamp and “cancelled” our stamp-sticker, and then our Valentines were dropped into a big bag. After all of the Valentines were “mailed,” they were sorted and put into the individual shoe boxes. And everybody got a turn at being the postmaster, so nobody was left out.
The main idea here was to teach a rather rudimentary lesson to the children as to how the postal system works. But there was another equally important concept in play as well.
Everybody in the class received a Valentine from everybody else. Nobody was excluded. So I not only addressed a Valentine to my friends; I had to give a Valentine to the kid who pushed me into the mud, the kids who didn’t want to play with me, the kids who teased me, the kid who dressed in ragged clothes, the kid who didn’t smell too nice, and even to that “yucky girl” who sat behind me (remember I was five years old!). And I had to give them a card that asked each one to “be my Valentine.”
Before starting school, I really didn’t know a whole lot about Valentine’s Day and what it meant. But when I had to ask even those people I didn’t much care for to be my Valentine, I learned a lesson in what it means to love other people simply because each individual is a person like me.
When we look at the Bible, we see how God describes “love.” 1 John 4:7-21 is probably the greatest love chapter in the Bible. Consider these verses: “Dear friends, we must love each other because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, because God is love. God has shown us his love by sending his only Son into the world so that we could have life through him. This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the payment for our sins. Dear friends, if this is the way God loved us, we must also love each other. No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. We know that we live in him and he lives in us because he has given us his Spirit.” (vs. 7-13)
If we take an honest look at ourselves, it would be fair to conclude that we’re one of those people that God shouldn’t really love, something like those “undesirable” kids at my school. We have sinned, we have misused his name, and we have not lived lives that give him the glory he deserves. An honest self-assessment is not a pretty picture.
Even though we aren’t the people that God should love, that’s not the message he gives us. God loves us in a way that we cannot earn or deserve. We call this “grace,” which is God’s undeserved love. He loved us so much that he sent Jesus into the world to pay for our sins. Through faith alone, we have a relationship with Jesus our Saviour that will carry us through this life into the life to come. Because God loves us, he asks us to love one another, even if it is in our own imperfect way.
Throughout my primary school years, we always had a type of Valentine’s Day party, and every year I had to give Valentines to everybody, even those people I really didn’t like. From this, I learned a valuable lesson in caring about other people, even as a child. Sure, we always had snacks and Kool-Aid at our parties, and it was a fun time. But nothing sticks quite like my Kindergarten “post office” experience.
As we see the Christmas stuff disappearing from the shelves and the Valentine’s Day stuff taking its place, we can look at the manger in Bethlehem and see the love God has that’s underneath it all. God sent Jesus out of love for you and me. May we always be moved to love others as he has loved us.
GIVE THANKS EVERYWHERE
(Article for the 11/4/2015 issue of The Seward County Independent)
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Schroeder, Pastor
Mighty Fortress Ev.LutheranChurch
The other day, I decided to try an interesting experiment. I had to drive across Lincoln during heavy traffic. That’s better than a half-hour trek, and I thought I would put the time to good use. So I decided to be on the lookout for, and otherwise focus upon things for which I am thankful.
If you’ve driven through Lincoln lately, you know there is always something about which to complain. There are the lane closures, street closures, heavy equipment always in the wrong place at the wrong time, rough pavement, uneven roads, etc. This produces all kinds of traffic jams, mis-queues, tie-ups, and accidents. It can be too wet, too cold, too foggy, or under some other effect of nature. And we can add to the list the problems that other people cause, whether it is another motorist or a pedestrian, or somebody else.
In just four sentences, I’ve probably given you enough separate topics to bring to mind a variety of instances that would be grounds for complaint. In fact, it is relatively easy to find things about which to complain without any prodding at all!
So let’s erase all of that. Let’s strip away all of those grounds for complaint and see what we have left. Let’s see what is out there for which I was thankful.
The first thing I noticed was a street sign. I remember years ago when the street signs were written with white letters on a solid black background. They were smaller and hard-to-read, especially at night. Now the signs are reflective green with white lettering. Driving down an arterial, the signs for the cross streets have become larger. And if you’re at an intersection with a traffic signal, the street sign is huge and hangs right next to the light on the cross arm. I am very thankful for these better street signs!
The street was in good condition too. I didn’t have to dodge all the pot holes that ruined three of my tires this spring. Resurfaced areas were smooth as well, almost like driving on a cloud. Yes, I’m very thankful for smooth streets that are in good repair.
Indeed, there are so many things for which we can be thankful. The autumn colors are especially nice this time of year. The sunsets are gorgeous. The sunny days and warm temperatures are a welcome contrast to the cool nights. And when we take an eraser to all those things that would cause us to complain, we can see that there are a lot of exceptionally nice things that can get clouded over with a negative attitude.
As we look at the bigger picture, we know that God has given us a lot for which we can be thankful. And that’s the way we, as his children are supposed to live our lives. We are to be thankful to God who has provided everything.
Let’s look at what the Bible has to say. The book of Psalms is literally overflowing with words of thanks to God. Psalm 118:1 says it nicely: “O give thanks unto the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endureth forever.” In the New Testament, Jesus gives thanks to God when he fed the 5,000. At the Passover meal, Jesus gave thanks when he gave his disciples the bread and the wine. We can find instance after instance of someone giving thanks to God all through the Bible. That in itself should be a lesson for us.
But we live in a world that is often not pretty or positive. We live with the fear of whatIsismight do tomorrow, or the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. Schools have to keep their exterior doors locked for fear of violence from a sociopath with an assault rifle. Locks, alarm systems, and other security related items have become all too ubiquitous.
That’s because we live in a sinful world. But Jesus came to this earth to change all of that. The best example of God’s love for humanity can be seen in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Through faith alone in him, we find the solution for sin in our lives. When we come to him in faith, we know that he will receive us just the way we are. We will find love, acceptance, and forgiveness in his waiting arms. We can be eternally thankful for that.
The negative things of this world have the tendency to overshadow those things for which we can be thankful; so we need to always look beyond the negative to see the positive. In Philippians 4:6-7 we read: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
May God grant you all a most blessed Thanksgiving!
GOSSIP, RUMORS AND LIES
(Article for the 5/20/2015issue of The Seward County Independent)
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Schroeder, Pastor
Mighty Fortress Ev.LutheranChurch
When I was in college inMinnesota, a nasty rumor began to circulate around campus; and as rumors go, it was blown way out of proportion.
It all started innocently enough. One of the female students worked on the grounds crew. One afternoon after a particularly taxing day, she came back to her room with stiff and sore muscles. After she showered, she laid face-down on her bed, and then she had her roommate massage some lotion into her aching upper back and shoulders.
The door to their dorm room was wide open while this was happening, but the girls thought nothing about it. They weren’t doing anything wrong. However, somebody walking past saw them; and as a result, the rumor spread like wildfire that these two girls were lovers. It spread throughout the dorm, and soon it was all over campus. They were shunned by many as their names were being dragged through the mud.
The one girl was so distraught over this that she attempted to take her own life. And if it hadn’t been for the Academic Dean intervening, she might have died. It was a sad situation indeed that almost had a tragic end.
One of God’s Ten Commandments reads: “You shall not bear false witness (or ‘give false testimony’) against your neighbor.” To summarize what the Bible says about this, Dr. Martin Luther writes: “We should fear and love God that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him or give him a bad name, but defend him, speak well of him and take his words and actions in the kindest possible way (or ‘put the best construction on everything’).”
God knows what problems gossip and false rumors can create. Once this begins, the story gets exaggerated and distorted. And the greater the magnitude, the more people are inclined to believe it. Discrediting a false rumor and restoring a person’s good name can be about as difficult as trying to unscramble an egg and put it back in the shell. It’s so easy for a person to open their mouth, but so hard (if not impossible) to undo the damage that has been created.
Gossip and rumors have been problems for years, even in King Solomon’s day. Here are a few selections from Proverbs: “With their mouths the godless destroy their neighbors” (11:9), “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends” (16:28),” A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret” (11:13), “Do not betray another’s confidence” (25:9), “…the Lord hates…a lying tongue…a heart that devises wicked schemes…a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who stirs up conflict in the community” (6:16-19).
In the New Testament, James 3:6 reads: “The tongue…is a fire, a world of evil amongst the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” And the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:13, “[People]…go around from house to house since they have nothing else to do. Not only this, but they also gossip and get involved in other people’s business, saying things they shouldn’t say.”
Jesus was no stranger to false witness. When he was on trial before the high council, Mark 14:56 records what happened: “For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree.” The false witness against Jesus was coming so fast that the people couldn’t even keep their lies consistent. But in spite of this, they still found him worthy of death.
Jesus not only knows, but he understands too. On the cross, Jesus says: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Since we live in a sinful world, this means that we have found ourselves in this situation as both a perpetrator and a victim. And so we look to Jesus as our only hope for forgiveness and restoration. Through faith in Christ, we are forgiven for our sins; and out of love for him, we are compelled to forgive others just as he has forgiven us.
As we put our Christian faith into practice, we need to think before we open our mouths. THINK is an acronym: T = is it True? H = is it Helpful? I = is it Inspiring? N = is it Necessary? K = is it Kind?
In Matthew 5:16Jesus says, “… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” May all of our words and actions reflect the love of Jesus that dwells in our hearts.
WHOM DOES JESUS ACCEPT?
(Article for the September 24, 2014issue of The Seward County Independent)
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Schroeder, Pastor of Mighty Fortress Ev.LutheranChurch
As I was driving down the street the other day, I spotted the following message on a church sign: “You aren’t too bad to come in, and you aren’t good enough to stay away.” The idea here is to let you know that regardless of how good or bad you think you are, God sees you with an accepting love, and there is a place for you in his family.
Just think for a moment what you would think if you were to see a list of people’s names posted on the church door under the heading, “These people are not accepted.” If I saw such a list, I would first look to see if my name was included. And if it was there, then I would try to find the person who put it there and demand to know why my name was on the list. I would insist upon some solid and concrete answers as to why I was being rejected.
Thankfully we don’t post such a list because of the promises God gives us in the Bible. Think of how the Pharisees criticized Jesus in Luke 15:1-2: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.'” Jesus also says in John 6:37 & 40: “…whoever comes to me I will never cast out…. that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.”
This certainly doesn’t sound like God is out there creating arbitrary lists of people. In fact, the idea of such a list even existing is about as anti-Christian as you could imagine. The Pharisees did things like this, but Jesus never did.
I think the following paragraph hits the proverbial nail on the head:
“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, filthy rich, or dirt poor. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail, or could afford to lose a few pounds. We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli, or you can’t carry a tune in a bushel basket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up, or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re overdressed, underdressed, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism. We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. And if you are a Husker fan, a Bulldog fan, a Blue Jay fan, or even a Hawkeye fan, come right on in! We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, or junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or are still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems, or you’re down in the dumps, or you don’t like “organized religion” (we’ll try to be more disorganized). If you blew all your offering money at the casino, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who are working or unemployed, who can’t spell, or came because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church. We welcome those who are inked, pierced, or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throat as a kid, or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome those who laughed, and those who gasped at this welcome. We welcome students, tourists, seekers, doubters, bleeding hearts…and you!”
So many times in the Bible, Jesus goes out of his way to show love and compassion to those whom society and the Church in Jesus’ day rejected for one reason or another. They believed that a person needed to show a type of outward perfection in order to find favor with God. They also believed that God’s love was reserved for only a few select people.
But God isn’t trying to create a breed of self-righteous people who think of themselves as being too good to associate with sinners and society’s outcasts. Through faith in Jesus Christ, everybody from all walks of life receive some of the best things possible: love, acceptance, forgiveness, restoration, healing, comfort, joy, peace, and hope, just to name a few. The rewards of faith are just that, rewards of faith and not of good works. These are things that cannot be bought at any price. And God’s promises are for everybody, regardless of sex, age, race, ethnic background, or social/financial status.
In Matthew 11:28-30 we hear Jesus speaking some very comforting words: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Through faith in him, Jesus takes all of those burdens of life that weigh us down. He removes them and takes them upon himself. He carried our sins and burdens all the way toCalvary’s cross where he paid the ultimate price for our salvation. He gave up his life for us out of nothing but the undeserved love he has for each and every one of us.
So we don’t need to go looking for lists to see if we’ve been rejected. As Christians who know Jesus as their Saviour, the only list our names are on is what is recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life, which is indelibly written with the blood of Jesus in his own hand.
KEEP LOOKING AHEAD!
(Article for the April 9, 2014issue of The Seward County Independent)
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Schroeder, Pastor of Mighty Fortress Ev.LutheranChurch
We are nearing the end of a season many Christians know as “Lent.” What is that, anyway? This season dates back to the earliest days of the Christian Church. This consists of a 40 day period of time (not including Sundays), that extends from Ash Wednesday until Easter Saturday, the day before the celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection.
During this time, we focus our attention upon the events leading up to the trial, suffering, and death of Jesus. We remember our great need for a Saviour and the awesome price Jesus paid for our sins. Our salvation is free, but it was not cheap; it cost our God the life of his holy Son.
For many people, this time of the year is depressing, which is understandable. It’s tough to feel upbeat and positive when we are thinking about what happened to Jesus. As our Saviour is stripped naked, beaten, flogged, tortured, taunted and jeered, we watch in horror as he has the crown of thorns pressed into his head and is then brutally nailed to the cross. Jesus is put to death in one of the worst ways possible, which is by crucifixion.
If that’s where things ended, it would be sad indeed. But we know that this is NOT the end of the story! Easter proves that Jesus has secured the victory over the biggest obstacles of all; he is victorious over death, hell, and Satan. Jesus actually rose physically from the dead, and he did so with a promise: because he lives, we too shall live! What he demonstrates to us gives us not just a promise, but proof of that promise.
In my years in the ministry, I can’t count the number of funerals I’ve conducted. Even though losing a loved one is an emotional situation, there is a bright future ahead for the Christian. The true believer in Christ knows that because Jesus lives, they too shall live. The person who knows Jesus as their Lord and Saviour can then close their eyes for the final time with the complete assurance that their sins have been forgiven, and that they will inhabit the mansion Jesus has prepared for them for all eternity. If none of this were true, then a funeral would be nothing more than a bunch of meaningless platitudes strung together. There would be no hope. There would be no future beyond the grave.
Shortly before Jesus went toJerusalemon his final journey, he received word that his friend Lazarus was ill to the point of death. When he arrived at his home in Bethany, Jesus found out that Lazarus had been dead for four days. There were many people gathered there who were mourning his death.
Jesus ordered that the stone be removed from his tomb. Lazarus had been dead long enough for there to be the strong odor of decomposition. There was no doubt that Lazarus was very dead. But Jesus calls him from his tomb, and he emerges! Lazarus was now alive! And the people gathered were in awe of this miraculous event.
News of this spread quickly. So when Jesus made his final trip toJerusalemon Palm Sunday, many people gathered and gave him a hero’s honor. They knew he was true God. So they shouted “Hosanna!” (which means “Lord save us.”)
This began a very busy week for Jesus. He celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. He was betrayed and denied. Many cruel things happened. Then he was tried, convicted, and executed. Things seemed to be coming to a dismal end.
When Jesus was comforting the family of Lazarus, he said these words in John 11:25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live; and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
That’s the very same promise Jesus makes to you and me. When we come to Jesus and accept him through faith alone, we know that our sins are forgiven and we are guaranteed a blessed eternity. As true believers, we can trust the promise that Jesus makes to us. Heaven is our future home, and we shall live forever in paradise.
When a loved one dies, we can get all caught up in the mourning and sadness of the event. We can be blind to what lies beyond the grave, because we don’t look ahead. The grief we experience now can be so overwhelming sometimes, that the message of hope God gives us is drowned out by the message of despair we tell ourselves.
Even though we might feel sad during Lent, we keep looking ahead to the resurrection of Jesus and his victory over sin, death, the grave, and Satan. We look beyond the crucified Christ and see the living Christ. When we look ahead, we see hope and a glorious future.
An old southern preacher put it well when he said in a sermon: “It’s Friday; but Sunday’s a comin’!” So just keep looking ahead. You can be assured that the somber mourning of Good Friday will soon give way to the celebration of Easter, when we all can shout: “He is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!”
WHO IS JESUS?
(Article for the 2/26/2014issue of The Seward County Independent)
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Schroeder
Pastor of Mighty Fortress Ev.LutheranChurch
If you ask the general population this question, you’ll get a variety of answers. Some will say that he was a good teacher, a moral person, an honest and an upstanding individual, just to name a few. Others will call him a radical, a maverick, an anomaly, or a revolutionary person. Usually people will agree that he was someone who appeared on the scene with a new and different way of doing things.
For those who are Christians, this question seems to be a “no-brainer.” The Christian recognizes Jesus as the central figure of their faith; otherwise they wouldn’t call themselves Christians in the first place. Dr. Martin Luther answers the question this way: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten from the Father from eternity, and true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.” That is a very concise way to answer this question.
Back in Jesus’ day, people were asking this question too. And like today, people were inventing answers and arriving at their own conclusions based purely on their own ideas, and not upon the facts. Jesus asks this question in Matthew 16:13-16: “…’Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And [the disciples] said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'”
Here, and in other places in the Bible, Jesus affirms the fact that he is indeed true God. One of the more dramatic examples of this is an event the Bible calls “The Transfiguration.” This account is recorded for us in Matthew chapter 17 and Mark chapter 9.
For this event, Jesus takes three of his disciples with him, namely Peter, James, and John. They go up on a mountain; and while they were up there, Jesus literally morphs right before their eyes. He changes his appearance in a way the Bible describes: “…his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” And then God the Father appears in a bright cloud as he spoke from the heavens: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
The three disciples saw all of this, and of course they were completely awed by it. According to Jewish law, it only took two witnesses to establish a matter as being factual. In this instance, there were three witnesses. That was more than enough to establish that Jesus was who he claimed to be. He demonstrates in every way to be true God who took upon himself human flesh and form when he came to the earth.
Knowing who Jesus is won’t do anybody any good if they don’t have a clue as to what he did. Jesus came to keep God’s law perfectly. Even though he accomplished this, he suffered the pain and death that we by our sins deserve.
Jesus came to us because he loves us and wants us to share eternity with him. But as sinful human beings, we cannot attain the perfection that God requires for entrance into his eternal kingdom. And that can be a real source of frustration for people. There needs to be reconciliation.
Since Jesus is true God, he was able to do something nobody else could do. As the sinless Son of God, he was able to keep God’s law perfectly. He never sinned, not even once. But yet, he was condemned by the Jews and put to death by the Romans. He was treated like the worst sinner that ever was. And he did this willingly, just because he loves us. It’s only through faith alone in Jesus that we are reconciled to God in heaven.
There were and are many people in the world who we can describe as being good teachers, moral people, honest and upstanding individuals. And there is no shortage of those who fit the description radical, maverick, anomaly, or a revolutionary. And almost daily, we hear about someone who appears on the scene with a new and different way of doing things. That’s the way it has been, and we can expect the same in the future.
We can use a lot of adjectives to describe Jesus. But he is the only person to actually be true God in the flesh. When he went up on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, he revealed his true glory to them. They heard the voice of God from heaven confirming his divine identity.
On March 2nd, churches all over the world will celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus. This (along with other events) confirm Jesus’ identity as true God. Three of Jesus’ disciples were eyewitnesses. Knowing his true identity is important for us to appreciate what he did. Jesus loves you so much that he wants to make entrance into heaven as easy as possible. We enter through faith alone, faith in Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, who is our only Saviour.
THOSE MAGIC WORDS
(Article for the 10/30/2013issue of The Seward County Independent)
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Schroeder,
Pastor of Mighty Fortress Ev.LutheranChurch
“What’s the magic word?” I can remember my mother saying that to me when I was young. When she said that, it meant one of two things: either “please,” or “thank you.” That was how my mother taught me etiquette, and it is something that I’ve never forgotten.
As the calendar turns to November, we all start to think about Thanksgiving, which this year falls on November 28th. The things that automatically come to mind are turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, pumpkin pie, etc. Many people think of watching football. Lots of people will be traveling as families get together to celebrate the holiday.
This all sounds well and good; however, there are a lot of things that tend to overshadow the spirit of the day. For example, one gentleman bitterly complained about having to go to his in-laws home because his mother-in-law would physically remove the television from the house before the guests arrived. She felt people were just supposed to visit at Thanksgiving, and watching football was not a “proper” family activity. Unfortunately, the visiting usually turned into bickering and arguing. So for this gentleman, Thanksgiving was more of a prison sentence instead of a time to give thanks and be grateful. How sad.
In the Bible, Jesus talks about giving thanks in Luke 17:11-19. Jesus encounters ten men that had the dreaded disease of leprosy. They knew that Jesus could heal them, so they plead with him: “Jesus, have mercy upon us!”
As they were going along the road, they were healed. Jesus worked a miracle in their lives! They were all very pleased with what Jesus had done for them. However, only one man thought it was important enough to go back to Jesus and thank him for what he had done. Jesus asks, “Weren’t ten men made clean? Where are the other nine?”
Considering the miracle, the other nine had a lot of things going on in their mind. They had family and friends to tell. They would have been very excited! But with all of the excitement, they overlooked the most important thing of all. They forgot to give thanks to the one who healed them, the one that was responsible for all this joy and excitement!
I mentioned before that my mother taught me to use “those magic words.” Any time someone gave me a gift, my mother made sure that I thanked them properly. But I don’t think this lesson could have been demonstrated any better than what I saw as my mother neared the end of her earthly life.
When my mother was in hospital, she would always pleasantly thank the nurses, the orderlies, the techs, and even the housekeepers when they emptied her wastebasket. Sometimes what they had to do to her wasn’t pleasant for her; but she still thanked them anyway.
Over the last several years, my mother had a lot of caregivers for various things, and she was always ready with a “thank you.” The candy dish was sitting on the table, and she would say, “Thank you for your help; now please help yourself to a piece of candy.” It wasn’t much, but I know it meant a lot to those looking after her.
When the nine lepers didn’t return to thank Jesus for what he had done, he didn’t reverse the miracle. The nine lepers remained healed just like the one who did return to Jesus to thank him. God’s blessings weren’t contingent upon how thankful they were; he loved them just the same. Even so, Jesus lets us know that when we say “thank you” to him, he does appreciate it. And we certainly have a lot for which we can be thankful.
So think about what actually happens. Mother is all stressed out with meal preparations, and getting the house cleaned, and a thousand other things that completely block out the real meaning of Thanksgiving. Mother-in-law is more worried about making people act the way she thinks they should, when all she actually does is make people resentful and unthankful. And dad’s attitude is anything but grateful.
You can plug any person or situation into this story that you want to. I find it very sad indeed when attending church is pushed aside at Thanksgiving simply because people are “too busy” or other things seem more important. We become like the nine lepers who have been richly blessed by God, but we can’t be bothered to take this special time once a year to say a heartfelt “thank you” to God.
The hymnwriter says, “Forgive us Lord for shallow thankfulness,” because we’ve all been in that same boat in one way or another. But Jesus loves and forgives us for all of this, and blesses us all the more. He promises us that we are forgiven through faith in Jesus our Saviour, and that he has an eternal mansion in heaven awaiting us. Regardless of how thankful or thankless we are, Jesus will never take that promise away from us. And for this, we certainly owe him our thanks and gratitude.
My mother’s lesson in saying “thank you” really hit home a couple days before she passed away. I did some small task for her; what it was, I don’t remember. But with her weak and raspy voice, she turned and looked at me and said “thank you.”
So whatever things may arise to make you lose focus on this day, look beyond to the blessings God has given you. Eat your meal at a restaurant if the preparations are too much. If you can, stay home and avoid those situations that cause you strife. Focus yourself on God who has blessed you beyond your wildest expectations. Think of Jesus who died for you and who has forgiven your sins. Take time to say, “Thank you Jesus!”
I MADE A MISTAKE!
(Article for the August 7, 2013 issue of The Seward County Independent)
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Schroeder, Pastor of Mighty Fortress Ev. Lutheran Church
Oops! Uh-oh! Boo-boo! My bad! Error! Whoops! I goofed up! Blunder! Flub! Slip up! Faux Paus!
Most likely these words are very familiar to you, and you know the meanings all too well. These are but just a few synonyms for making a mistake. The reason we are so well acquainted with terms like this is because nobody’s perfect. And because it happens so often, people will get creative when it comes to finding appropriate terms to describe making a mistake.
But there are people out there who wouldn’t utter any of these words even if you paid them. Although they might realize their own imperfections, they will never acknowledge it. For some reason, they see making a mistake as a sign of weakness and inferiority. So these are the people that always have to be right, even if they are dead wrong.
For example, I know of a person who very clearly made a mistake. This person immediately got very angry and blamed someone else. This caused a lot of hurt and upset. And when this person was clearly shown that the mistake was theirs, they still blamed somebody else. They refused to admit that they were the ones who made a mistake. They couldn’t accept the responsibility for their actions. And so there were no apologies, no amends, and no attempt on their part to fix the situation. Being right was the most important thing to this person.
People like this can be really frustrating. Nobody is perfect; and when people act like they know everything and never make a mistake, then it becomes difficult to even be around them.
The reason people make mistakes is because we are imperfect people who live in an imperfect world. This is what happens when we are under the influence of sin. Because there is sin in the world, things will go wrong and we will make mistakes, regardless of who we are or what we think.
When God created the world, he created a perfect world. Adam and Eve were essentially living in paradise without a care in the world. So what happened?
The man and woman made the first mistake that changed the whole world. When Satan tempted the woman and she ate of the forbidden fruit, she made a decision to disobey God. And when the man ate of the forbidden fruit, he made the same bad decision. Suddenly God’s perfect world was forever ruined because man invited evil into the world.
Right away, the blame shifting started. Adam blamed Eve for his bad decision, and Eve blamed Satan the serpent for her bad decision. But that didn’t do any good; each one had to bear the responsibility for their goof-up. Nobody got off the hook; and we are still living in the after-effects of the blunder and sin of our first parents.
In 1 John 1:8-10 the Apostle John gets right to the point. He writes: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and his word is not in us.”
Owning up to our errors and mistakes is important, because it shows that we are being honest with ourselves. We aren’t perfect, and we know that. And if we aren’t honest about the way we are, then John reminds us that we are in effect calling God a liar! To deny our sinful condition as God has described is like saying God has made a mistake; and that can never be!
But God has done something about our sinful condition. God make a promise to Eve back at the beginning that he would be sending a Saviour from sin. And John reminds us that God is indeed faithful and just, and he will forgive us and cleanse us from our sinful condition.
Through faith in Jesus Christ, we have this forgiveness. Through faith, God’s promise becomes our own, and there’s no mistaking that. But we have to be honest with ourselves too. We have to see ourselves as sinners needing the forgiveness Jesus offers us because of his grace, or his undeserved love for us. Faith in Jesus Christ alone is what saves us.
When I was in college, one of my professors used to tease me a bit by telling me that he lost count of how many red pens he wore out on me. So on the last day of class for the semester, I presented him with a whole box of brand new red pens.
We’ve all experienced the red pen of a teacher or professor. It’s a subtle reminder that we all make mistakes, goofs, blunders, boo-boos, etc. We’re not perfect. That’s why they put erasers on pencils. But we can give thanks to Jesus our Lord because he paid the price for our sins and has given us this free gift of forgiveness. Through faith in Christ alone, our sins have been removed and our record is wiped clean.
MAKING A CHOICE
(Article for the May 22, 2013 issue of The Seward County Independent)
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Schroeder, Pastor of Mighty Fortress Ev. Lutheran Church
“I’m sorry! Will you forgive me?” I’m sure that you are familiar with these words, whether you’ve spoken them yourself, or someone has spoken them to you.
When somebody speaks these words to you, it means that they have wronged you in one way or another. Maybe they bumped into you while you were holding something to drink, and some of it splashed on your clothing. Maybe they forgot an appointment. Maybe it was no more than a social blunder. Or maybe it was something far worse.
Just a little over 32 years ago, Mehmet Ali Agca fired four rounds from a Browning high-powered semi-automatic pistol into Pope John Paul II as he entered St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. Even though the Pope was critically wounded by the would-be assassin, he made a full recovery from the injuries. Two bystanders were also hit by stray bullets, and they too made a full recovery.
As for Mehmet Ali Agca, he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment by an Italian court. The Pope issued a statement saying that people needed to pray for Agca, and that he had sincerely forgiven him for what he had done. Two years later, the Pontiff arranged to meet Agca face-to-face in prison, and personally forgave him for what he had done. Then in June of 2000, at the request of the Pope, Mehmet Ali Agca received a full pardon from the Italian President and was deported back to his native Turkey.
Regardless of your religious affiliation, the Pope has taught us a valuable lesson in forgiveness. He could have lashed out in anger, or sought revenge, or demanded that he be persecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and he would have been perfectly justified in doing so. But instead, when the Pope opened his mouth, it was to solicit prayers on the behalf of his attacker, and to speak words of forgiveness.
In our lifetime, we’ll probably never have the occasion to forgive somebody who has tried to assassinate us. Even so, we’ll still experience wrongful actions from other people. And when they come to us and say, “I’m sorry! Please forgive me!” we have a choice to make. We can either refuse to forgive them and harbor a grudge, or we can offer them the words of forgiveness they are seeking.
When Jesus was suffering on the cross, he looked at the Roman soldiers responsible for his crucifixion. And then he spoke the words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Could you or I speak those same words under those conditions?
In Colossians 3:13 we are instructed: “…as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” And how does the Lord forgive us? Jeremiah 31:34 gives us a concise answer: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” And in Psalm 103:12 we are told: “…as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Finally in Psalm 130:3-4 we read: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”
Through faith in Jesus our Saviour, all of our sins are forgiven. That’s the good news of the Gospel! And God not only promises us forgiveness for our sins, but complete removal of those sins. Furthermore, God promises that he will not even remember our sins! This is a choice God makes on our behalf, and promises us in the Bible. Therefore we can take comfort knowing that our sins are removed from us for Jesus’ sake, and that God won’t keep recounting our sins and throwing them back in our face all of the time. What a comfort that is for us, who daily sin much.
But we have a choice to make. When somebody sins against us, what do we do? Do we lash out in anger and seek revenge, or do we offer words of forgiveness? Just because somebody doesn’t act like a Christian to us is no excuse for us not to act like a Christian to them.
Pope John Paul II forgave his would-be assassin from the heart, and it was a life-changing event for Mehmet Ali Agca. A friendship developed between the two, and they kept in contact. The Pope even met with Mehmet Ali Agca’s mother and sister. The act of forgiveness is powerful indeed, which is more powerful than hatred could ever be.
So when somebody sins against you, what choice are you going to make? Make sure you have your facts straight first, because there’s always two sides to every story. Then be ready to offer the hand of forgiveness, forgiving others in the same way Jesus has forgiven you.
LET’S SING SOME CHRISTMAS CAROLS!
(Article for the December 19, 2012 issue of The Seward County Independent)
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Schroeder, Pastor of Mighty Fortress Ev. Lutheran Church
At Christmas time, there are usually a variety of different Christmas gatherings. Frequently when people get together, someone will say: “Hey! Let’s sing some Christmas Carols! What shall we sing?”
Then somebody suggests, “Let’s sing Jingle Bells!” Others agree that this is a good idea, and so everybody begins singing: “Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh, o’er the fields we go, laughing all the way….”
What would you think if somebody had suggested singing “In the Good Old Summertime,” or “Hot Town, Summer in the City?” You probably would have thought that their suggestion was completely inappropriate, or perhaps they were out of their mind. What do these songs have to do with Christmas?
Just think about it for a minute. People tend to associate songs like “Jingle Bells,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Frosty the Snowman,” or “Let it Snow” with Christmas. But if you look at the words, these songs have absolutely NOTHING to do with Christmas, religious or secular.
Of course there isn’t anything wrong with these songs. But they’re seasonal songs about winter, just like “In the Good Old Summertime” is a seasonal song about summer.
I must confess that I have always associated Christmas with winter; that is until I moved to Australia. During my 5 1/2 years there, my Christmas celebrations were quite different than what I had ever experienced in the USA. Since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, December 21st is the Summer Solstice. So on Christmas, it’s hot outside!
We had a lot of the familiar things in Australia, such as Christmas trees, lights, decorations, and presents. But Australian families would get together for outdoor barbecues and activities. At church, we would have an evening outdoor “Carols by Candlelight” service, where we would sing all of the traditional Christmas Carols, like “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” etc. Even though the celebration activities were different, they were still every bit as meaningful. And if you had suggested to an Australian that “Frosty the Snowman” is a Christmas Carol, it would have been just as inappropriate as if somebody had suggested to you that “In the Good Old Summertime” is a Christmas Carol. Seasonal songs are NOT Christmas Carols.
Throughout the world, many things are overshadowing the meaning of Christmas. We often lament the over-commercialization of the season. We experience attitudes of selfishness and greed. And the winter season is often given more prominence than the reason. As a result, the babe in the manger gets shoved further and further into the corner, almost unnoticed.
It is the purpose of the Christian Church to bring things back to reality. God sent Jesus to this earth, born of a Virgin, born in Bethlehem’s manger, becoming true man as well as true God to be our Saviour through faith alone. Jesus came to save us from our sins, and to reconcile us to God. Indeed, Jesus is the “reason for the season,” and not a fresh blanket of snow or a huge pile of presents.
This year, when somebody wants to sing a Christmas Carol, suggest singing “Away in a Manger,” or “O Come All Ye Faithful,” or something that will echo the spirit of the Angels’ song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”