and give no opportunity to the devil. Eph. 4:27
The Bible talks about our enemy the devil prowling around looking for someone to devour. If you’ve ever seen one of those nature documentaries you know exactly what that means. The predators prowl around the perimeters of some flock or herd just looking for opportunities, any slip-up or mistake. The prey are generally safe as long as they make no mistakes. The first hint of a mistake, though, could spell their doom.
Other translations of Ephesians 4:27 talk about not giving the devil a foothold. There is another striking image, that of a mountain climber. The devil is trying to maintain footing to have some kind of ground from which to maneuver. Without a foothold a climber cannot last long. So the idea here is that the devil needs for us to give him something in order for him to be able to work on us. He needs a beachhead, a foothold, an opportunity. He can’t defeat us by force because we belong to Christ. But he can bide his time and wait for us to do something that lets him worm his way into our hearts and minds and from there into our behavior and relationships.
The context of Eph. 4:27 is that of anger. When you stew on anger and hurt it gives a foothold to the devil. But it could just as easily be jealousy, self-pity, lust, pride or any sinful trait. We are all sinners and all experience the effects of other people’s sins. We all have to allow for imperfections in this world. What matters is what we do with our sin and sin of other people. We’re tempted to stew on it, gnaw on it, feed on it, and let it fester in our hearts and minds. This simply invites rottenness to infect everything. Dealing with it quickly and thoroughly via confession and absolution and/or reconciliation makes all the difference. If you don’t, it gives opportunity to the devil.
Think about handwashing during the pandemic. Nobody says you can keep your hands clean. You’re going to get them dirty going about your day. You have to touch stuff. The key is to wash them regularly and thoroughly. Then the dirty stuff or the bacteria can’t get a foothold, so to speak, and has no opportunity to grow. But if you don’t wash your hands over a period of time, something that would have been easily dealt with at first becomes very hard to deal with later on.
How is the stress of the election returns, the pandemic, and other aspects of life tempting you toward giving an opportunity to the devil? Where do you find him seeking a foothold in your life? How is spiritual staleness, which is simply lack of refreshment, festering into a spiritual dirty contagion?
This weekend the readings will focus on remaining vigilant and keeping our lamps burning. Nobody knows the day or the hour. We must heed St. Paul’s admonition not to give the devil a foothold or opportunity. However long the times seem, however old and tedious things feel, come be refreshed by Word and Sacrament. Be reconciled to your neighbor. Be renewed and rededicated. God’s gifts rob the devil of his opportunities in your life.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. Gen. 11:9
Living in tents vs. being rooted in a particular place. That tension dominates the history of God’s people. Temporary vs. permanent, portable vs. fixed—Abraham dwelt in tents and moved around. The people groaned as sojourners in Egypt. They wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. In fulfillment of all of it, Jesus said the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.
There is a famous second century document called the Letter to Diognetes, which contains a lengthy description of Christians. A famous quote from that letter says, “Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.” Our true citizenship is in heaven, which means we can be at home anywhere in this world, even when far from home. But it also means we can’t really be at home anywhere in this world, even in our own house.
This strange tension hit home to me this morning. As you know from the announcements this past Sunday, my phone died recently and I was cut off from my normal means of communicating with people. The broken phone ended up being unsalvageable, so I got a new one a few days ago. But the flaws of the old one were such that my saved contacts reverted to the beginning of 2014. That means precious few people here in Munster were in my list of contacts, but all kinds of people were in there with whom I hadn’t communicated in years. So I’ve been going through and trying to rebuild a functional contact list, which involves deleting a lot of dated contacts and trying to find good numbers for the current contacts.
But here is the rub; when you decide to clean up the rolls, the phone double-checks by asking you, “Delete contact?” That’s a harsh way to think about it. Do I really want to cut myself off from someone? It seems weird to still have all these old contacts from a place where I wasn’t born but lived for 14 years, but where I no longer live. But it seems even weirder just to delete people from my contacts. At issue is where do you live? Where are your roots? What do you consider home? Is it really wise to delete old contacts? Is it really wise not to?
The same sort of feeling comes when you consider where you will be buried. In your hometown as in where you grew up? Where you retired? Where you spent the bulk of your career? People are mobile. Contacts come and go. Rootedness is the exception. If Heidi and I bought cemetery plots today, where would we buy them? At Concordia in Hammond? It is a hard question.
Learning to live as though at home is wherever you are, while also learning that you will never really be at home in this world—that is one of the hardest lessons of the Christian life. It is a lesson you can ponder as you visit a loved one in the cemetery, as you go through the contact list in your phone, as you look at your Christmas card list, or ponder where you will retire, or where your children and grandchildren will think of as “home.”
I’m deleting old contacts and re-entering updated ones. But we all have the same citizenship, we all have the same home. We’re all sojourners in this life. And by an added gift of grace, we get to share it with other people on our respective journeys home.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deut. 8:3
Some things you do over and over because they have to be done over and over. They don’t stay done. Mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, etc. Other things you do over and over because you enjoy them, like playing dart ball or doing a daily crossword puzzle. You don’t have to do those things, but they become part of your personal routine.
Most things in our routine fall into a category of things we have to do and things we want to do. The former category includes tasks that would vanish if you had a magic wand, and the latter includes things there would be more of if you had a magic wand. The things you find draining you would do less of, and the things you find fulfilling you’d do more of.
God doesn’t intend for our lives to follow those categories. Ideally, the things you have to do and the things you enjoy doing would be the same things. He told Adam and Eve to tend the garden. But it would be enjoyable gardening. He told them to be fruitful and multiply, but He made doing so enjoyable. Sadly, the curse that followed the Fall made the work toilsome for Adam and procreation painful to Eve. But there are some things that echo God’s original design and intent—that what we have to do and what we want to do overlap.
Consider your meals. You have to eat. But you probably enjoy eating. Mealtimes should be a part of your routine that falls into both categories. Of course, in a perfect world junk food would be good for you, but even apart from that perfect world you probably enjoy a good meal and know that your body needs the sustenance. Only when you are ill or when your priorities are way out of order do your meals become a chore.
When God spoke to Moses in Deuteronomy He said that one of the lessons of manna was that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus quoted that verse when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness. Mankind is body and soul together. Yes, we need bread. But not bread alone, as though we were animals. Our souls need food, too—every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Worship and Bible study—daily being in the Word—feed your soul. We should treat them the same way we treat meals, as something that defies the categories of work and leisure. Too often Christians don’t treat Communion like manna for the soul, or Bible study and sermons as bread to feed our faith. Like ill bodies treating eating as something we have to do rather than something we get to do, our ill souls can start to lose the appetite for God’s Word.
Sometimes Bible study might seem like a chore. Do it anyway. It is good for you. Hopefully it is not like a food you have to eat but don’t feel like eating, but something spiritually delicious and satisfying. That’s the goal. But eat it either way. Like someone trying to get a cancer patient or sick person to eat, I’m not going to stop coaxing, badgering, and admonishing you that your soul needs sustenance.
This week I’ll be leading Bible studies on Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. on Hebrews 4, at 10:00 a.m. on Isaiah 28, and at 7:00 p.m. (zoom only) on Revelation 5. Thursday at 10:00 a.m. we’ll be looking at 1 John 2. Don’t tell me there is nothing on that menu for you. I won’t believe you.
Don’t try to live on bread alone. You won’t find that life fulfilling to the whole person, body and soul together. Rather, taste and see that the Lord is good by taking in His Word.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” 1 Sam. 7:12
One of my favorite hymns, called Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, features the lines
"Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by Thy help I’ve come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home."
Those words refer to the 1 Samuel verse. Samuel set up a pillar of stones and called it Ebenezer to remind the people, who were in the ongoing campaign of trying to occupy the Promised Land and encountering a lot of obstacles. What they needed was something they could look to that would remind them in tough times that God had been with them in the past all the way to the present moment. That would encourage them going forward when they faced challenges; they could count on the God Who had always been with them to continue to be with them. His faithfulness would endure. That’s what an Ebenezer assures us all.
Today is my 51st birthday. I think birthdays can be like a calendar version of an Ebenezer. This morning I talked in chapel with the school kids about this verse. Unfortunately, we were unable to livestream the chapel service like we normally do. But I used memories from each of my own grade school years to tell the story of my own life (from age 6-14) in terms of God’s faithfulness to His promises in good times and in bad. Reminders like that matter going forward.
Along the trail near church there are rocks painted with encouraging words on them like “You can do it!” or Keep it up!” Those words are supposed to encourage people running races and feeling so tired that they just might give up. The encouragement really helps people running a race, and St. Paul often refers to the course of a person’s life as a race. Milestones can encourage us. But unlike the phrases on the painted rocks along a marathon or 5k route, the real Ebenezers that matter are those that point not to you and your own willpower, but to God and His faithfulness.
St. Paul’s as a congregation also needs encouragement in this time of the pandemic and other major challenges facing the church. We don’t want to live in our own past, but we do want to remember that the God of our own past is the God of our future. We are in good hands. The
Lord has helped us until now. And He will always help us.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Ps. 119:105
One of the most frustrating things for me personally about the ongoing reaction to the pandemic has been the inability to make plans with any degree of certainty. I like to plan ahead. I like have our services and programs on the calendar months in advance. Obviously, Christians know that all planning is always tentative, with or without a pandemic. We don’t know the future. Everything we do is a matter of “God willing.” But normally even when we allow for the unexpected or God having other plans, we can be reasonably sure enough about the future to plan.
As of right now, our Advent service are not planned. We hope and plan to have services, but usually we have them all mapped by this time in the year. This year we’re still waiting to see what the situation will be like before deciding how (not if, but how) the school kids will be involved. We’ve also had to postpone our compass event until sometime this Spring due to the travel restrictions in place in that affect our speaker coming in from New York.
When you have to live with uncertainty, you feel like you’re walking forward in the dark. You can’t look ahead into the future and see anything through the fog of maybes. You wish you could use reason and predictive powers like fog lamps to navigate by. And since you can’t, you become hesitant. For me, at least, that becomes frustrating, and then everything can start feel like a grind, even things that normally are no problem or even enjoyable.
Today’s verse, however, enlightens that situation (pun intended). God might let us live with uncertainty in order to get us to use something else than reason and our predictive powers as our guiding light. The real fog lamp is the Word of God. The only thing you need to know about the path in front of you is whatever is illumined by the Word, which is a lamp to your feet and a light to your path.
Unfortunately, God’s Word does not tell us about the nuts and bolts of our upcoming schedule. You don’t decide whether or not to make hotel reservations or how long your car is going to hold out before you need to replace it by reading the Bible. And too often those are the kinds of questions that occupy our minds and frustrate us. But thankfully, God’s Word does take away the fear of the future. It puts forth promises that guide us according to what matters. When we walk confidently despite the darkness and fog, we find the frustrations and anxieties that hold us back dissipate like fog in warm sunlight.
We have several Bible study opportunities coming up this week. We offer Portal of Prayer to everyone. We link to various Bible and catechism resources via the website. And of course we offer churches services in person and live-streamed. May God’s Word be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path this week.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8
The entire history of creation hinges on the death and resurrection of Christ. His accomplished mission is the fulfillment of God’s purposes from all the way back in Genesis and to the end of time. The proclamation of that fulfillment began in earnest with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which is usually seen as the birth of the Christian Church as we know it. This mission continues throughout time and across the globe.
The presence of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit apply to us in Munster in A.D. 2020 just as much as anywhere or any year. The same Church that began in Jerusalem and spread throughout Judea and Samaria has long since come to Northwest Indiana, and we enjoy all the blessings of faith and salvation that God has to offer.
It is important to remember, though, that the Christian Church and the faith each one of us has personally in Jesus Christ are founded on a concrete event in time and place. It isn’t an idea of forgiveness or an abstract concept of grace and love. It in the Incarnation, the coming of God into Creation and His literal death and resurrection in which we place our hope. There is a perfectly worldly, seeable, tangible history and geography to the story of God. These are real places on a map. You can go there. It happened.
Christians have always made pilgrimages to see places and things that God used in important ways in the history of Christianity. Luther objected strongly to the pervasive idea that one could earn points with God by making pilgrimages. He didn’t object to the desire to see Biblical and historical things and so be built up in faith by a pilgrimage, but he insisted we bear in mind that doing so is not anything that earns salvation or that anyone has to do in order to be a good Christian. We have all the spiritual gifts we need right here in Munster.
Seeing the places the Bible tells us about can help us understand the Scriptures and the history of the faith in more concrete terms and bring the story to life, so to speak. Just as a Civil War buff might want to visit Gettysburg just to be able to picture the things he or she reads about, so a Christian might naturally want to see Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria even though what began there—the proclamation of Christ in Word and Sacrament-- is now available here.
I have been to Israel several times and have found the experience profoundly enriching. Pastor Stock is planning to go with a group of Circuit Visitors and district officials in January, and I suspect his experience will be similar. Not everyone gets a chance to do it. It is expensive and requires time and planning, and sometimes by the time people have the time and money to make it possible they no longer have the health, energy or desire to travel. But those who do get the chance to do it tend to feel very blessed by the opportunity.
Heidi and I are planning to lead another trip in a couple of years. If you think you might want to join us, the time is now to start planning. The plan is to do the Holy Land via Jordan, so we’ll see what Moses saw when he looked out over the promised land before he died as well as seeing the Promised Land itself, including Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. We plan to depart on March 21, 2022 (about 18 months from now) and be gone 10-11 days, much of which will likely be spring break here and in Munster schools.
More details to follow, but if it is something that works for you, we’d love to have you join us for what we hope will be an extremely enriching experience.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
But all things should be done decently and in order. I Cor. 14:40
St. Paul was very familiar with the logistical issues of holding worship services. He addressed issues like how communion should happen and who should be preaching and teaching. So it comes as no surprise that a church named after him should encounter some of those issues and take his advice on how to address them—decently and in order.
This coming Sunday at 9:00 we will be holding an ushers’ meeting to make sure we’re all on the same page in terms of how we come forward for communion, dismiss the sections, and even how we help people find a suitable place to sit. That’s because we’re encountering the joyous difficulty of dealing with bigger crowds. We want as many people as possible to come to church, but we also want everyone to be (and feel) safe while they are here.
Yesterday at the 9:30 service we had a large crowd. We had space available toward the front, but few people willing to sit there. We also had several families who were back in church for the first time in a long time and who were therefore unfamiliar with the communion process. We definitely want to continue having greater attendance, so we’re having the meeting to make sure we can do everything decently and in good order.
Some things you can do to help out if you are able and so inclined:
Also, listen for the following in the readings for this Sunday—“Do everything without grumbling or complaining.” An usher might ask you to move to a different seat in order to accommodate others. You might be asked to wear a mask. You might not agree with the procedures we have in place. But it is all doable by people of good will. But those who are contentious or obstinate will make everything uncomfortable for the larger group. It comes naturally to all of us sometimes, but especially in trying times we have to resist the urge to have a bad attitude.
We have holiday services on the horizon. We all want to be able to celebrate in church with Christ as the center. And do so decently and in good order, we’ll need to hone our procedures and policies. Everyone has a role to play in that that blessed, ongoing process.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Now in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had cleansed the land and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz, the recorder, to repair the house of the Lord his God. They came to Hilkiah the high priest and gave him the money that had been brought into the house of God, which the Levites, the keepers of the threshold, had collected from Manasseh and Ephraim and from all the remnant of Israel and from all Judah and Benjamin and from the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And they gave it to the workmen who were working in the house of the Lord. And the workmen who were working in the house of the Lord gave it for repairing and restoring the house. They gave it to the carpenters and the builders to buy quarried stone, and timber for binders and beams for the buildings that the kings of Judah had let go to ruin. And the men did the work faithfully. Over them were set Jahath and Obadiah the Levites, of the sons of Merari, and Zechariah and Meshullam, of the sons of the Kohathites, to have oversight. The Levites, all who were skillful with instruments of music, were over the burden-bearers and directed all who did work in every kind of service, and some of the Levites were scribes and officials and gatekeepers.
II Chron. 34:8-13
Probably many of you merely skimmed the above paragraph from II Chronicles. It is one of the many boring paragraphs in the Old Testament that people who want to read the Bible stories tend not to pay much attention to. It is filled with humdrum details about the nuts and bolts of religious life. It reads like the minutes of a church council meeting, which is sort of what the Chronicles were. This paragraph never comes up in church services. Plus, it has a lot of names of people that most people have never heard of and that are hard to pronounce, so nobody ever volunteers to read these paragraphs aloud in Bible studies, either.
What the above paragraph does for us, however is to help us realize that God works in both wondrous and tedious ways. God uses famous people and obscure people. His people do dramatic things in amazing ways, and they do everyday things in a workaday manner. Even Solomon’s Temple faced the people with organizational issues. They had stewardship campaigns, job descriptions, committees and organizational charts, and had to deal with payroll issues involved with hiring laborers to do basic things like make general repairs. It might disillusion us to think of people serving the Lord by punching a clock, but those people made serving the Lord possible for everyone.
The Temple and its purpose was fulfilled by the death and resurrection of Christ. The Romans utterly destroyed the building (per Jesus’s prediction) about forty years later, in A.D. 70. Our churches today are not exactly the same kind of thing as the Temple in Jerusalem about 2650 years ago as described in this passage from Chronicles. But worshiping God and receiving the fulfillment of the Temple in His gifts of Word and Sacrament still involves committees, organizational charts, stewardship campaign, payrolls, building maintenance, and so forth. Sometimes we might get the impression that such things have no place in a truly spiritual, religious life, but the fact is that they do and always have.
Kings and Chronicles explain how Temple worship went through all kinds of ups and downs of disrepair and restoration through the centuries. The same is true of congregations and church buildings. Right now, of course, we face a lot of uncertainty as we go through the regular fall routine of trying to put together a budget for next year. We’re going to have stewardship emphasis this fall as we seek to emerge from the pandemic without having to curtail our ministries or let things fall into disrepair.
Your own spiritual life probably goes through ups and downs as well. Sometimes your prayers uplift your soul, other times you feel like you’re just going through the motions. Sometimes you can almost feel the Spirit’s presence in worship, and other times you’re bored and checking your watch. But God never gives up on you. His gifts are real and true no matter they feel like, and the Spirit works through them. And your participation, your input, and your offerings make this ministry possible for everybody whether it seems like you’re part of a bold, amazing story, like some parts of Kings and Chronicles, or just keeping things clean and helping to make payroll, like other parts of Kings and Chronicles.
Christ is King, and all of history, the exciting and the boring, is the chronicle of His salvation and grace toward sinners like you and me.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col. 3:17
The day after Labor Day used to be a smaller version of New Year’s Day, at least in terms of the cultural calendar. It marked a distinct change from one season to another. Traditionally it is/was the first day of the school year. It marked the end of “the season” in touristy and resort areas. It was the day after which fashionable people no longer wore white and changed over to their earth-toned, autumn wardrobe.
Of course, some of those traditions no longer apply. We start school in August. We tend to vacation earlier in the summer, and wear whatever colors we want. There is no right or wrong to these traditions and our observance of them or lack thereof. But we ought to know why we do what we do. And this shows how there can be spiritual, Christian significance to a perfectly secular holiday like Labor Day.
Labor Day got started in the late 19th Century as a celebration promoted by the labor movement, which was behind the unionizing of the labor force in the aftermath of last stages of the Industrial Revolution. Therefore, when we think of it in deeper terms than a three day weekend and chance to barbecue, we usually think of it in terms of blue collar labor particularly. And in secular terms the holiday does focus on large scale manual labor in factories. But what we Christians can celebrate, should we choose, is better understood as our vocations. Our labor is whatever God has given us to do—as individuals, family members, church members, employers and employees. Maybe we should call it Vocation Day.
Most of your vocations get covered in the Table of Duties in your catechism. That is, what does the Bible say about how you should be clergy or laity, a husband or wife, parent of child, government official and/or citizen, employers or employee, neighbor, and so forth? It references various verses that talk about how to fulfill those roles in God-pleasing ways. But I really like the catch-all phrase from Colossians—“whatever you do.”
God doesn’t send you a daily to-do list, at least not with any specificity to it. We all have different jobs, interests, and obligations. But whatever we do, we are to do in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. You can’t cheat people, insult them, belittle them, take advantage of them, ignore their needs, or anything like that in the name in the Jesus. Whatever your job is, and whomever you interact with, you are to speak and act as though you are sent to bring Christ to the situation. You’re doing it for Him, in His Name.
As you head into a new season and year (sort of, in a way) celebrate the work God has given you to do. Give thanks for the opportunity to serve. Look at even the most boring or mundane parts of your routine as a means of serving the Lord. We have a holiday called Labor Day, the real labor of being Christians takes no holidays; it is the thing the holidays celebrate.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?
This summer we’ve been looking at the stars with a scope from our driveway. Amazingly, with a bird scope on a tripod one can see the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. It is a strange experience, actually. Isn’t it interesting that the constellations as we know them are mentioned in the Old Testament? These words, spoken by God to Job, speak to the constancy of the stars. If you can get far enough away from the city’s ambient light, you can look up to the heavens just like Abraham did, and it looks the same. Poets and painters use the stars to represent eternity because they just aren’t subject to the winds of change that govern this world.
But it is also a rhetorical question. God is contrasting his own infinite power and knowledge as the Creator with Job’s powerlessness and ignorance. The implication is that Job can’t do anything to affect the stars, but God can whenever He wants. The stars are not eternal. Like everything else, they exist and keep their assigned places at the pleasure of their maker.
We, like the stars, are God’s creatures. But it wasn’t for the stars that God Himself became incarnate and submitted to death. It was for us. From our perspective in this life, the stars seem eternal and our own lives seem so transient. But the real truth is that the stars aren’t eternal, and your life is guaranteed forever. You will outlive the moon and the stars.
With that in mind- that your real home and citizenship is in an eternal city—the chances and changes of life in this world seem less threatening. Yes, change and decay in all around we see. That isn’t a function of our times, it is a function of time itself in a fallen world. But it is not our ultimate doom. The stars might well look at us and wonder at the fact that we will live forever, long after they are gone.
The little frustrations, the complications, the changes that keep changing, sometimes overwhelm us. But the Gospel gives us peace. Fear not! The God Who can loose the cords of Orion has promised to bring you to Himself. Nothing can change that.
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana