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Saturday, July 19, 2008

CALL RECEIVED

Trinity, Menasha

Please keep my family in your prayers as I deliberate the Divine Call extended to me by Trinity Lutheran Church and School of Menasha, Wisconsin.

This is the congregation I have been serving as Vacancy Pastor for a couple of months and where I have been preaching regularly since February.

They are a very loving and welcoming family of believers with their own set of challenges - just like every congregation. I would be honored to serve them, provided it is the Lord's Will that I do so. Please pray that God would make it clear to us one way or the other.

Thanks!

10:47 am edt

NO OTHER ROCK

Rev. Steven S. Billings
Pentecost 10
Sermon
7-20-2008

Isaiah 44:6-8


6 "Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: 'I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God. 7 And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, Since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come, Let them show these to them. 8 Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.'"

Let me say this clearly and succinctly: There is only one True religion and Christianity is it, because there is only one True God and this is the religion He gave us.

Christianity has always claimed an exclusiveness that the world finds repugnant, but it does so because our Lord claimed it first. Jesus Christ Himself says, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father but by Me" (John 14:6). The Apostle Peter states in Acts 4: "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). And here in our text God says, "Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one."

Christianity is exclusive. It's exclusive in that it worships the only True God and teaches that there is no other way for someone to be saved but by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. It's exclusive because it claims to be the only Truth in a endless sea of myths. It's exclusive because its message is one of grace, while all the other religions in the world offer nothing but salvation by works.

But Christianity is also inclusive, because it's open to everyone. "God would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4); "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16); and Jesus Himself cries out: "Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

So Christianity is exclusive, but also inclusive.

For so many years Godís people mocked Him with their waywardness, with their tendency to seek help in time of trouble from just about anybody else besides Him - from other nations and even from false gods. In their actions they showed how unfaithful they were with God's claim of exclusivity.

In Isaiahís time, it was King Ahaz who promoted this unfaithfulness.

Seeing a threat from both Assyria and Babylon, Ahaz tried to make alliances with other nations, rather than put his trust in God.

But the word of Godís displeasure came to Ahaz and the people through the prophet Isaiah: "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but who do not look to the Holy One of Israel, Nor seek the Lord!" (Isaiah 31:1) "Alas, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him" (Isaiah 1:4) "Is there a God besides Me? Indeed, there is no other Rock."

Here's the thing: God is not willing to share His kingdom with some made-up god.

Israel got the point when God allowed other nations - pagan nations - to be the instruments of His chastening. Despite their efforts to handle things on their own, their enemies marched in, destroyed their cities, ransacked their places of worship, carried their men, women and children away into exile and made them live as slaves. God will not share His throne with anyone, let alone a figment of some spiritually perverted imagination. "The Lord is God; there is no other" (1 Kings 8:60b).

Tolerance is a much-spoken word in our day which makes today's Old Testament so relevant to us. Tolerance, in all things, is said to be a great virtue. How often have you heard - or perhaps even thought - that all religions are the same; they all worship the same God - they just do it in different ways?

Some time ago a letter was written to the editor of The Lutheran Witness responding to a previous letter in which a pastor wrote: "all other gods are false gods, nonexistent, the figment of menís imagination."

The individual responding to that statement wrote: "If Islam and Judaism believe in the God of Abraham, and the God we Christians believe in is the God of Abraham, how can you say the God of Abraham is a figment of menís imagination?"

Well, the answer is: God, as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word, is a Triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All three of the Creeds of the Church clearly confess that teaching, and martyrs have gone to their graves defending it. In other words, God is a package deal; you can't claim to worship the Father - the God of Abraham - and yet, at the same time reject the Son and the Holy Spirit. Does the follower of Islam or Judaism worship the same God as the Christian? What does Scripture say? "We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God" (1 John 4:14-15) and "Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father" (1 John 2:23).

It should be clear to anyone that if you only recognize the Father - whether you call Him Jehovah or Allah - you do not have the same God worshiped by Christians.

But what do you and I do with this notion of religious tolerance that suggests that all religions are the same, or that all religions are equally valid? What do we say about the worldís religions, knowing that Christianity is exclusive and that there is only One True God, and only "one Name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved?"

To begin with, we are, as Isaiah says, "Godís witnesses." "Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one."

As those called out of darkness into Godís marvelous light, we have been given the privilege, and the duty, to declare the wonders of Godís salvation in Christ.

While we might, in the end, respect a person in their belief, we never give credence to that belief, for since God is true, all others will be found to be liars (Romans 3:4). Our place in this maze of world religions is to be faithful to the One True God, to call the world out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ, to say, with all boldness: "there is no Godís besides Him. Indeed, there is no other Rock."

You know, tolerance never brought anyone to faith! Tolerance never rescues a manís soul from the fiery pit of hell! It may bring temporary peace, but it will never bring lasting peace, eternal peace! "Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and His Redeemer, the Lord of hosts; I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God." This is the One who gives faith! This is the One who rescues from hell! This is the One who brings true peace!

God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - is the Rock, and there is no other. On the day when God rescued David from all his enemies, David said this: "The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, My stronghold and my refuge, my Savior" (2 Samuel 22:3).

Godís claimís are exclusive; no doubt about it. But this same God, the Rock of your salvation, calls you even today, to "come to Him" - with your burdens, your troubles, and, most importantly, your sins, and as your Rock, He will crush all that would crush you. He will render powerless anything that threatens to harm you. Indeed, He Himself was crushed for you, and He gives you that broken body and flowing blood today so that you can have His forgiveness.

I suppose that's what it all boils down to: forgiveness. No other religion in the world offers "salvation by grace through faith." In fact, some even find the forgiveness of God to be offensive, something that is beneath the image of the god that they have created.

The True God, however, takes our sin upon Himself and gives us His righteousness. And in that, He shows Himself to be the only Rock. "Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation, Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods." In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

10:14 am edt

PEACE AND STRIFE

Rev. Steven S. Billings
Pentecost 7
Sermon
6-29-2008

St. Matthew 10:34-42


34 "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 "For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; 36 and A MAN'S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. 37 "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 "He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it. 40 "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. 41 "He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. 42 "And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you he shall not lose his reward."

Now, hereís a Gospel message that'll set you back a step or two: Jesus comes to break up families and turn them against each other!

But donít take my word for it; take His: "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household."

See? Jesus Himself declares that He has come to break up families. Just wait 'til your cousin, the skeptic, asks you to explain this one! What are you gonna say?

Let me see if I can help.

First of all, believe it or not, this is good news! Yes, it is, for Jesus proclaims in today's Gospel that He has come to replace bad peace with good strife.

Good strife? What?! Let me explain: When Jesus talks about turning family members against each other, He's actually quoting an Old Testament prophecy from Micah.

In the book of Micah, the prophet bemoans the rebellion of Israel against God and His Word, which had led to some awful circumstances.

On the national scene, rulers were corrupt and judges were easily bribed. And because the authorities were so crooked, there was no justice for anyone.

Locally, friends could not to be trusted. True friendship requires loyalty and trust, but sin had turned people to selfishness and greed.

And on the personal level? Micah mourns that the family structure is being destroyed.

In families where everyone follows the Word of God, there is a kind of spiritual harmony. But, when there are family members who reject God's Word, there are terrible consequences; and this is the verse that Jesus quotes, Micah 7:6: "For son dishonors father, Daughter rises against her mother, Daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; A man's enemies are the men of his own household."

When you've got some family members who are believers and some who aren't, brothers and sisters, you're going to have strife. Lookit, when a believing father goes to correct an unbelieving son for his sinful behavior, that son is going to rebel. And if a daughter-in-law objects to her mother-in-lawís false religion, don't you think that mother-in-law will become more critical than ever? She's going to complain about her daughter-in-law at every possible turn.

It's a timeless truth, my friends: When a family is made up of believer and unbelievers, there will always be strife because there are different gods being worshiped in that household. There's really only two ways for that family to find peace: Either they'll all come to believe in the same God, or they'll decide that religion doesnít really matter.

Now, clearly, giving up on God altogether - or simply letting everyone go their own way and making God a taboo subject - this just isn't an option for believing Christians. So, how do we get everybody on the same page when it comes to faith? Is the religious chaos in your family something you're just stuck with, without any hope of resolving it? Not at all. And that's part of what Jesus is telling us in this text.

Here is your hope: Jesus has come to undo the consequences of sin.

You know we all deserve eternal damnation, because we're all sinful, and the wages of sin is death. But Jesus has come to undo this: He died so that we could be forgiven. Apart from Christ, we face Godís eternal judgment. But, because of His death and resurrection, Jesus has undone this; by giving His life for us, He has been judged in our place and has taken the punishment we deserve.

Jesus has come to undo the wages of sin.

But let's examine how this impacts us on a daily basis. It's not necessarily what you might think. Sin brings death; Jesus gives life. But here's the paradox: Life is often stressful.

As we go through life we suffer all sorts of strife. We get sick, we find ourselves in need, we're often disappointed or saddened by the experiences we encounter. When people die, they often look far more peaceful than they did when they were living. In fact, they often look far more peaceful than we who are still living! But this is the point: they only look peaceful. The reality is: they're dead! This is not a good peace!

If a dead person came back to life, he'd be returning to a world full of strife. He wouldn't appear to be as peaceful, but he would be alive, which is certainly better than being dead, don't you think?

Now let's go back now to the statement Jesus made in our text: "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household."

Here's the point: When the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, it brings people to faith. Often, the person coming to faith lives in a home where no one else is a Christian. Now, prior to this person becoming a Christian, there was no religious strife in that family. In the eyes of many it appears to be a peaceful, happy household. The trouble is, the reason for their peace is that they're all dead - spiritually dead - dead in their trespasses and sins.

But now there's a Christian in that house, and Christians desire to live quite differently than unbelievers. Their actions begin to change, and they try to share God's Law and Gospel with their family. They'll warn other members about the dangers of promiscuity and worldliness. They'll lovingly tell them about God's grace and mercy toward them in Christ Jesus and the forgiveness He earned for them at the cross. They'll try to guide their loved-ones in the way of Truth.

And this is where the battle begins. Sons and daughters don't want to abandon their worldly lifestyle, so they rebel. In-laws don't want to abandon their false religion, so a wall of hostility goes up. Parents - who usually do know better than their children - consign the gospel to merely a ďstageĒ their kids are going through. And this is only the beginning! Things can often get a whole lot worse before they're through.

But we have to ask: Which is better? A dead peace or a lively strife?

There's no doubt that, in such cases, strife has replaced peace, but think about it: The family was peaceful because they were all spiritually dead! Strife has come up because one of them is now alive. Struggle has ensued in that family because one of its members is trying to shake the others out of the grip of death by speaking Godís truth, and when the voice of God is heard through His saving Word, the formerly stagnant ground begins to tremble. The pillars of unbelief are crumbling and the roof is about to cave in. It's terrifying at first for many who huddle in the cramped dank cellar of doubt. Such light as they've never seen is streaking through the floorboards. Through that one vibrant soul God is moving to drag the others into the light of day.

This is the strife that Jesus brings: Deliverance from sin, forgiveness, faith and everlasting life. He raises believers from spiritual death. When everyone was dead there was no strife because nobody cared about God or His Word. But when life enters in, there will be strife as the battle between life and death rages on.

The good news is: Jesus brings good strife to conquer bad peace. He brings life where there was death. He brings forgiveness where there was only sin. He brings faith where there was rejection and unbelief. The world sees this as causing trouble, but for such "trouble" we give Him hearty thanks!

Now, look at the struggle you are currently in - at work, at home, at church or at school. Understand that Jesus is working in that situation. He is bringing about His will and leading others to a closer relationship with Him. And just maybe, the person who needs to come closer is you.

Martin Luther once wrote that the most troubling times in his life were when he had no troubles at all. He figured he'd gotten so far off track that the devil didn't need to afflict him anymore.

Beloved, where Jesus is, there will be strife, because the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh will oppose Him. But only where Jesus is will you find true lasting peace in the midst of struggle, for it is peace with God, peace which declares that He no longer holds your sins against you, peace that comes from sins forgiven and the assurance that He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

9:59 am edt

SLAVES TO WHOM?

Rev. Steven S. Billings
Pentecost 6
Sermon
6-22-2008

Romans 6:12-23


12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

St. Paul was quite the Lutheran preacher, wasn't he. By that I mean that he preached a thoroughly Lutheran sermon, which is to say that he preached both Law and Gospel.

Such preaching has been a hallmark of the Lutheran Church since the time of the Reformation. We've been known as the singing church, the sacramental church, and the liturgical church. But the one thing that separates us from other churches is our devotion and commitment to Law-and-Gospel preaching.

This is an important distinction. We don't preach the Law or the Gospel. We don't preach the Law at the expense of the Gospel. We don't preach the Law disguised as the Gospel. We preach the Law and the Gospel.

Every Lutheran pastor is taught to preach Law and Gospel; it's one the first things we learn in our homiletics classes. One of the first books we read is one by C.F.W. Walther called The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel. It's a collection of lectures given by Dr. Walther - the founder and first president of our Synod - nearly a century and a half ago, and these lectures have been the standard for good Lutheran preaching ever since.

In Thesis 2 he states: "Only he is an orthodox teacher who not only presents all articles of faith in accordance with Scripture, but also rightly distinguishes from each other the Law and the Gospel," and again in Thesis 4: "The true knowledge of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is not only a glorious light, affording the correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, but without this knowledge Scripture is and remains a sealed book."

Friends, let me ask you: If your pastor doesn't understand the Scriptures, how can he possibly preach correctly? How can he teach the Scriptures if they remain closed to him? And if the Scriptures are closed to the pastor, how can they ever be opened for his congregation?

Luther lamented the ignorance of the pastors in his day. The preaching was so bad they thought the Law was the Gospel! They thought that you were saved just by obeying the Law! Yikes!

Obviously, the problem has not gone away. If you were to examine some of the best-known preachers across the country, you'd find that most of them didn't get to be popular by rightly dividing the Law and the Gospel! Instead, they package the Law in such a way that they entice people to buy their books and send them their life's savings to help keep their TV show on the air. They seduce people into thinking that by doing this or some other "good work" they'll get into heaven.

You may know people who've bought the snake oil promoted by these charlatans. Maybe even you yourself have been snookered from time to time. But Dr. Walther warns us: "The Word of God is not rightly divided when an attempt is made by means of the demands or the threats or the promises of the Law to induce the unregenerate to put away their sins and engage in good works and thus become godly" (Thesis 23). Those who buy into the false theology of today's false prophets have become slaves to the Law, enslaved to the Law's demands and to their own sinfulness, namely, the sin of rejecting the pure Gospel when they hear it, because they don't even recognize it to be the blessed message of salvation that it is.

Now, before we go shaking our heads, we need to understand just how easy this is. Be honest with yourself; how often have you heard sermons with such awful theology - and liked them!? The fact is: we like Law-based sermons - because they tell us what to do. We're not nearly as enthusiastic about Gospel sermons because they tell us what we can't do, namely, save ourselves. We can't save ourselves because Jesus has done that already! It's done. Finished. Completed.

We'd rather hear that we can contribute in some way to our salvation. We're like those people Paul wrote to Timothy about when he said: "The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear" (2 Tim. 4:3 NIV).

This is a big problem in the Church today: Shepherd shopping, looking around for a preacher who will tell us what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear. You know what we need to hear? We need to hear that we are sinners who deserve to die on account of our sins. That's the Law. But we also need to hear that we have a Savior who has set us free from sin. That's the Gospel. We need to hear that God has declared us righteous for His Son's sake, that we are justified by grace through faith, "not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). But we like to boast, so we sin by trying to be our own savior, and in the process, we enslave ourselves even more.

Walther writes: "The Word of God is not rightly divided when one makes an appeal to believe in a manner as if a person could make himself believe or at least help towards that end, instead of preaching faith into a person's heart by laying the Gospel promises before him" (Thesis 13). By being slaves to the Law we are slaves to sin and slaves to the devil and we justly receive our slave-wages, and you know what those are. You heard it earlier: "The wages of sin is death" (v. 23a).

However, when we hear the Law and the Gospel preached in their proper context, we hear the Gospel proclaimed in all its fullness; we hear the cross, that Jesus died for our sins, that by God's grace we will be in heaven for all eternity. As the Law and the Gospel are rightly divided, the Holy Spirit saves us through the Word and strengthens us with the Word, especially when we need to hear the Gospel the most.

Beloved, we need to hear the Gospel most when the storms of life blow across our bough, particularly when those storms bring death. We need to know that Jesus Christ is our Resurrection and our Life on account of His own crucifixion and death. He took the sins of the entire world upon Himself and carried them to the cross, where He suffered for them and died. It wasn't the nails of iron that held Him to that cross; it was our sins that nailed Him there - your sins, my sins, and the sins of every human being that ever lived, for we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Our Redeemer bled and died so that, through the God-given gift of faith, we would have eternal life. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe in Him, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit we can die in peace, for we know that because He lives we shall live also. We who live and believe in Jesus shall live with Him forever in the mansions of heaven, where we will be reunited with all who have gone before us in this faith.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the Good News. This is the Gospel. Paul bids us to be slaves to God, and this is nothing other than to believe the Gospel and to cling to our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in faith.

It's not Law to ask someone to believe the Good News, as though believing is some sort of work for us to do. Remember what Jesus Himself said: "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:28). Not only is it the work of God, but it is also the gift of God that you believe and have life in Jesus' name.

God grant that we would all be His slaves unto life everlasting. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

9:47 am edt

WHILE WE WERE SINNERS

Rev. Steven S. Billings
Pentecost 5
Sermon
6-15-2008

Romans 5:6-15


6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. 12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned; 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.

Have you ever considered the pervasiveness of God's love? Have you ever thought: How could He possibly love me? With all the things I think, say, and do, why does He put up with me? Why doesnít God treat me the way I treat others? And with the way I treat Him sometimes, why doesn't He just wipe me off the face of the earth? I certainly deserve it, don't you? Of course we do!

Yet, our Lord loves us and helps us as we contemplate His love. For God's love goes against everything that makes sense to us. Who on earth would have dealt with us the way He did when He sent His Son to die for our sins? And in case any of us wants to get the idea that there's something special about us to make God love us so, our text tells us in no uncertain terms that it was only by God's grace that He took such action.

Paul writes: "When we were still without strength . . . while we were still sinners . . . when we were enemies . . ." It's very clear that, left to our own devices, we are powerless to do anything about our salvation, powerless to influence God - in the slightest way - positively toward us, even if we wanted to, which we donít. There's nothing we can do to get on good terms with God. There's nothing that we by nature even want to do to become godly. We are "by nature sinful and unclean."

And let's make sure we understand this: We're not sinners because we sin. It's not like we were walking along one day, goofed up, and said: "Oh, my goodness, I'm a sinner now." No, we sin because we're sinners; we can't help it. We were born into a state of sinfulness, born enemies of God. Contrary to what some want to think, human beings are not inherently good; we're not even neutral. We wage war against God and His holiness. There's nothing good in us that would move God to love us or save us.

So it's in this state of powerlessness, while we were still sinners and enemies of God, that He did something about our relationship. In His great love He sent His own dear Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins. God didn't wait for us to change. He didn't sit back and wait for us to come to Him. He didn't stand by waiting to see something good in us before He took action - because there was nothing good to find! No, God acted when we were unable and unwilling to act, at just the right time, with just the help we needed.

"When we were still without strength, Christ died for the ungodly . . . while we were still sinners, Christ died for us . . . when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son." Every human being from the time of Adam until the end of the world is by nature ungodly. Yet, God's dear Son died for us all, even for those who are eternally lost. Just because somebody is lost and on their way to hell doesn't mean that Jesus didn't die for them. It just means they didn't take Him up on His offer of forgiveness. Which is really sad, because it's not like He doesn't want to save them too. And that is something we often struggle with.

I have to be honest with you; there're not very many people that I'd be willing to lay down my life for. We may be ashamed to admit it, but you probably feel the same way. And if there were someone we'd be willing to die for, wouldn't that person have to be someone worth saving - I mean, as far as we're concerned? Maybe your spouse or your child?

My guess is that there's many a dad in this sanctuary today who wouldn't think twice about throwing himself in front of a bus in order to save his kid. In fact, father's lay their lives on the line in many ways for their families, which is just one of the reasons we honor them on days such as this. Thank God for fathers who are willing to risk their necks for their wife and children!

And I suppose someone might be willing to put his life "in harms way" if it were his duty to do so. There are thousands of our young men and women doing that right now over in Iraq and other places around the world.

And think of the Secret Service agents who guard our President. More than one has "taken a bullet" for the leader of the free world. Though they might be willing to give up their lives, but you have to know that they hope they'll never have to!

But Christ . . . He volunteered to "take the bullet" for all of us when He was nailed to the cross. It's what He came for. His whole life was focused on "taking the bullet" for people who hated Him, for people who were more than happy to see Him dead.

"While we were sinners, Christ died for us." Because of Christ's death, the ultimate sacrifice has been made. But this was no ordinary death; it was the innocent for the guilty, the spotless Lamb of God shedding His blood in the place of sinners.

And it's because of that bloody sacrifice that we are justified, that is, declared righteous and innocent before God. And being declared innocent, we are saved from the wrath of God because it has already been poured out on Christ in His suffering and death. Our status has changed from ungodly to godly through faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice.

"While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Truly this is something to contemplate and to boast about. Really, how can we keep silent? As people reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus we have every reason to boast and rejoice - not because of ourselves, but because of the life that is ours through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters, tell the world! Share your joy! In the name of Jesus. Amen

9:35 am edt

LIVING IN HIS PRESENCE

Rev. Steven S. Billings
Pentecost 4
Sermon
6-8-2008

Hosea 5:15-6:6


15 I will return again to My place Till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me." 6:1 Come, and let us return to the Lord; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. 2 After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, That we may live in His sight. 3 Let us know, Let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, Like the latter and former rain to the earth. 4 "O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, And like the early dew it goes away. 5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of My mouth; And your judgments are like light that goes forth. 6 For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

Today's Old Testament presents a beautiful prophecy of the coming Messiah, the Savior of the world. This Messiah was first promised in Genesis chapter three. God continued to promise His coming as He dealt with Abraham. And throughout the Old Testament we see how He continued to prepare the world for its Savior.

At the time of the prophet Hosea the Kingdom of Israel was divided. Hosea was a prophet in the northern kingdom.

Israel had developed a rather nasty habit of rebelling against God, who would then bring difficulty upon them so they would seek His help. Throughout the Scriptures we see a cycle that repeats itself over and over again: Israel rebels, God puts them through tribulation, they repent, God restores them, they enjoy a period of peace, but then fall away, and the whole thing starts all over again.

Sounds kinda familiar, doesn't it. You know, people haven't changed all that much since the days of Hosea. The pattern seen in the Children of Israel can be seen in our world today - even in our own country, even in our own lives. We rebel against God, do things the way we want to - never mind what God thinks - then He puts us through some experience that wakes us up and brings us back to Him. We repent, He restores us, we enjoy peace and harmony with Him, then sin enters in and the cycle rolls around again.

When today's text was written Israel was in a state of rebellion. Through His prophet, God had been calling them back, to repent of their rebellion, but they wouldn't listen. Now there was the threat of attack from the powerful Assyrian army, an attack which was sure to obliterate them. Still, they wouldn't repent. So, God said, "I will return again to My place Till they acknowledge their offense."

He had tried and tried to get them to turn from their rebellion, but now He was going to have to allow trouble to come so they would remember Him and worship Him again. Sometimes God has to hit us over the head with a two-by-four to get our attention, doesn't He. Sometimes He has to put us flat on our back to get us to look up. It's not something He enjoys, but He knows it's necessary, as He says: "Then they will seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me."

What follows is a beautiful prophecy of what God will do for Israel. Even though He is going to make them endure affliction He will not leave them forever. Hosea writes: "Come, and let us return to the Lord; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up."

Yes, God does allow difficulty to come into the lives of His people, but He does not allow it to continue forever. When His purpose has been fulfilled, when His people have turned back to Him, He removes their trouble. "He has torn us to pieces but He will heal us; He has injured us but He will bind up our wounds."

My friend, if you've been rebelling against God and now He's got you in a situation where you have no other option but to trust Him, maybe He's trying to wake you up. Maybe He's saying, "Look, all I want is what I alone deserve: worship, praise, honor, obedience." Maybe it's His way of telling you that He wants to be back in your life, to be included as a vibrant, active part of your life. If this is the case and you're realizing it today, be of good cheer, the end is near. God has promised that He will bring healing; He will bring restoration.

Now, understand: God brings affliction into our lives for many different reasons; this is just one of them. A rebellious attitude toward God may not be the reason for whatever trouble you're in. But it might be, and that's something you should consider. We know it was the case for Israel, and thanks be to God, they knew it wouldn't last forever. God would deliver them, and you can be assured that He will deliver you as well.

By now you may be wondering what all this has to do with the Messiah. Well, in the beginning of Hosea's book, God instructs him to go out and marry an adulterous woman and have children by her. As the Lord puts it, "For the land has committed great harlotry By departing from the Lord" (1:2).

The Bible often speaks of the relationship of God to His people in marital terms. When His people have turned away, He often - as He does here - calls it adultery.

This marital relationship comes up again in connection with Christ and the Church. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the ten virgins who prepare for the bridegroom, referring to the church preparing for the coming of the Lord. In Revelation 19, we read about the marriage feast of the Lamb, also referring to Christ and the Church. Ephesians 5, which speaks of the relationship between husband and wife, is all about Christ and the Church. With this imagery in mind, Hosea's whole life is seen as a Messianic prophecy. He goes out to woo and win an adulterous woman, making her respectable; Jesus suffers and dies for His bride, the Church, making us respectable in the eyes of God.

And look at the specific prophecy in our text. This is clearly Messianic. Though we all have turned from God and deserve the punishment and injury mentioned here, it is not we ourselves who have endured it, have we. By virtue of being sons and daughters of Adam, we are born into a state of rebellion against God (original sin) and live out that rebellion day-by-day (actual sin). The punishment for this sinfulness is death.

But, someone else has paid that price, hasn't He. Israel was unfaithful - the adulterous woman. Hosea stands in the stead and by the command of God, marries a harlot, and thereby indicates that God Himself will reconcile the unfaithful nation as a groom purifies his unfaithful bride.

Beloved, though we have deserved the wrath and punishment of God on account of our sins - individually and collectively - our Bridegroom - Jesus - has taken that wrath and punishment on Himself. Jesus was torn to pieces for us. Jesus was injured on our behalf. Jesus is the one to whom this text points. Indeed, Jesus is the one to whom the entire life and ministry of Hosea the prophet points.

How clear this becomes when our text says things like: "After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up!" Jesus, the Messiah, was the One who was revived after two days. He was the One restored on the third day.

Jesus took upon Himself what we so obviously deserved, and because He took our punishment, because He was torn, because He was wounded, we have been spared the pain of eternal death.

All the benefits of this passage are now ours. Because He was revived we shall be revived. Because He was restored we shall be restored. We have been healed; He has bound our wounds.

This would make a beautiful ending. But, our text does not end here. It goes on to answer a very important question: "So what?" So we have been healed. So what? So He has bound our wounds. So what? So we have been revived. So what? So we have been restored. So what?

So, now we "live in His sight." We live, walk, do everything, say everything, in His presence. As Paul said to the men of Athens: "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).

We Christians are taught from a very young age - are we not? - that Jesus lives in our heart. You graduates have most likely heard this your whole lives. Count it a blessing that you've been raised in a Christian home and had the immense privilege of attending a Lutheran school. Here you have been reminded again and again that you received the Holy Spirit in your baptism and that He is always with you.

But that sort of makes you re-think the way you do some of the things you do, doesn't it. Sometimes I have to ask myself, "If Jesus were walking beside me, would I go to some of the places I go? If He were listening, would I say some of the things I say? If He were watching, would I do some of the things I do?" You know what? He is!

A little girl once asked her grandfather, "Grandpa, is God bigger than us?" He was sort-of surprised by the question; they can come up with some real winners, you know. "I suppose you could say that," he finally answered. "Well," she replied, "if He's bigger than us and He lives inside us, shouldn't we be able to see Him?"

Come, let us return to the Lord, for He has prepared the way, and stands ready to take our hand. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

9:21 am edt

THE BIBLICAL NOTION OF FAMILY

Rev. Steven S. Billings
Pentecost 3
Sermon
6-1-2008

Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28

18 "Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 19 "You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 20 "And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 "that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth. 26 "Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 "the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; 28 "and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known."

It seems fitting as we begin the month that contains Father's Day that we would be blessed with a passage such as this which seems to focus on what the father is the head of; namely, the home. As head of the household, what is it that follows his leadership? When we recall that each of the chief parts of the Small Catechism bears the heading: "As the Head of the Family Should Teach in a Simple Way to His Household," we begin to scratch the surface of the Biblical notion of family.

We celebrate educational accomplishments today, and well we should! But we must remember that such achievements are not purely individual in nature; they are family achievements, as each family member is supported and encouraged by the others. Parents and children should indeed be proud of what they, together with God's help, have accomplished.

And let us not forget that the home is the most important element in providing a solid background for our culture. When homes break down, churches break down and nations break down. What's happening in American homes today is, needless to say, not a good sign for the future. Most of the ills that are trickling into the stream of our civilization are the result of weak spots in the home.

Make no mistake: the footprints of Satan are all over our homes today. Discord and strife, bickering and contention - these all have a way of spilling over into our church and society. The devil sees the great things God has planned and is doing everything he can do to chip away at the very foundation upon which our church, our community, and our nation are built - and that's the family - the family gathered around God's holy Word and sacraments - the family bound together by the blood-bought forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

To create such Gospel-centered families, God gives a great deal of instruction about the home. You might be surprised, if you started with Genesis and continued through Revelation, to see how often God speaks of children, of the home; how often He admonishes, exhorts, invites, and pleads, in order to convince us of the basic truth that the home is of absolute primary importance.

But it's like pulling teeth to get people to understand this. They'll get all excited about their house, their lawn, their flower beds, the way their neighborhood looks. They'll complain if their street isn't plowed in the winter or if the trash is left sitting on the curb.

We read all "better living," but what's usually meant by that is: better menus, better furnishings, better landscaping, and so on.

But these things don't make a home. It's not a matter of housing; it's about converting the home - whether it's a mansion or a tent - into a place of Christian learning and living. What truly makes a home has nothing to do with its physical appearance. Regardless of how humble your house may be, your home has to do with the spirit of the people who live there - the heart they have, the character they possess, the idea they have of life, what their attitude is toward one another, the love they have for God and for mankind - that's what matters in the home. If a house is to be "home, sweet home," it must be devoted to helping its occupants respond in faith to the love of God in Christ Jesus.

To have such a Godly home, parents need to accept what God says about the home. You know, you can't tell your kids to go to Church if you don't go yourself. Eventually your child will say: "Hey, why should I go if Dad doesn't?"

It's to parents that God says: "Lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul." Children learn by example. Parents need to make sure God's Word is in their own hearts first, to pray that their own souls are renewed by the power of Holy Spirit so that they don't become the blind leading the blind.

If children hear coarse language from their fathers, if they hear their mothers gossip, if they see abuses of gambling, drinking, you name it, they're going follow in the footsteps of their parents. They don't always "get" what their parents say, but they always "get" what their parents are.

God wants to be at home in your home. That's why He says that His Word is to be as "frontlets between your eyes," bound as a "sign on your hand," written "on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." Parents, you are to speak God's Word to your children "when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up." There is no spiritual power in the world more effective than the Word of God. Through His Word He brings us to faith and keeps us in the faith.

Of course, nowhere does Scripture say this will be easy. You can bet that the devil will try to keep you from bringing God's Word into your home. He will whisper: "We don't have time for family Bible reading and prayer." He'll try to get you to think: "God's Word is too hard to understand; we've tried reading the Bible, but we don't seem to get any good out of it." He'll trick you into believing: "You know, you can overdo this religion thing."

When you find these thoughts rattling around in your brain, remember where such ideas come from and learn to recognize the fangs of the old evil serpent lying just beneath the surface. Don't be fooled. Do you think such notions come from God? If you think you can keep things together without God's Word, just remember what Jesus said: "Without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Parents, I urge you, don't let anything keep you from daily Scripture reading and prayer!

And even when you do bring God's Word to your children, that doesn't mean they'll embrace it and cheerfully follow your teaching. Some are going to rebel against it for awhile. But don't forget God's promise: "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).

One of the most frightening things I hear a lot of parents say these days is: "I want my child to make up his own mind about religion." The fact of the matter is, such a parents has already the decision for his child and has taught him that his relationship with God isn't worth pursuing. Dear friends, it's vitally important that you raise your children to be Christians - dare I say, to be Lutherans. Youth time is seeding time. We have to mold the formative spirit children while they're still young, and we do that by bringing God's Word into the home and by bringing the members of our home into the church.

Thankfully, God doesn't expect you to tackle this problem on your own. He promises to be with you. He tells you to pray to the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance, to pray daily for the right attitude, the right approach, and the right judgment.

Our text speaks of the rich blessing that will come to those who maintain Godly homes. So, parents, be resolved to bring God's Word into your homes every day. Above all, bring into your homes the Biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord, which has the power to win our trust and fill us with joy. Keep in mind the Biblical record which speaks of the life and sacrifice of our Savior. Only through God's Word will we have the true picture of our Lord, who gave Himself as a ransom for us and by whose stripes we are healed.

Through faith in Jesus parents and children alike are led to imitate His character. God grant all of us the resolve to do what Joshua did when he said: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15). Strive to make your home a place where God will be at home. This will bring your family closer to Him and closer together than ever before. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

8:41 am edt

TWO MASTERS

Rev. Steven S. Billings
Pentecost 2
Sermon
5-25-2008

St. Matthew 6:24-34

24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. 25 "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 "Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 28 "So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 "and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 "Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 "For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

Dear friends in Christ, when you pray for daily bread, as you do in the Lord's Prayer, shouldn't that be enough? I mean, we know the Catechism teaches that daily bread means everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, and it's not like you won't get your daily bread if you forget to pray for it. In fact, you don't even have to be a Christian for God to meet your daily needs. He does that for everyone whether they believe in Him or not.

So you'd think it would be enough that Jesus taught us how to pray for daily bread. After all, we're really praying that the Holy Spirit would lead us to realize that it's God who gives it to us in the first place, right? And that we would receive our daily bread with thanksgiving? So you'd think that praying the Lord's Prayer would be enough for us.

But, apparently, it's not. It's not enough to be reminded that the One who taught us the prayer is the very Son of God, by whom all things were created and by whom all things continue to be sustained. Why? Well, there are two reasons, actually. One has to do with you, and the other has to do with Jesus.

First of all, let's talk about you. God knows your heart. Do you think He would plop you here in this world without taking care of your earthly needs? Now, I know you're initial reaction is to say: "Well, no, of course not!" But the reality is: we don't always trust Him to come through for us when we need Him, do we. No matter how many times He fulfills His promises, no matter how many times He meets our needs, no matter how many times He proves His faithfulness, when things get tough, when the money gets tight, when we face the many challenges in our day-to-day lives, we find ourselves getting anxious, fearful and maybe even a little angry at God because things aren't going the way we think they should. And so we look elsewhere for the solution to our problems.

And you know what Jesus says about that? "No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and Money."

Listen, nobody likes absolutes; they're so unforgiving. It's far more popular to say that something can be right for one situation or one person, but not for another. But, if you throw out any kind of standard by which things ought to be judged, what are you left with? Everybody marches to the beat of his own drum (Judges 17:6). Have you ever heard a high school band try to play without its director? Man, what a mess!

Every band needs a director and every life needs a master. If God is not the master of yours, what is? If you're not ruled by God and His Word, what is it that governs you? There's really only one other choice and that's money and everything that money can buy.

And it's not like money makes you give up your religion. I seriously doubt you've ever seen someone actually take out a dollar bill, bow down to it, and start praying. But the thing is, there's a whole bunch of people these days who turn their Christian "faith" into an excuse to amass worldly wealth. They read where it says: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you," and take that to mean that Jesus is promising them all kinds of worldly "perks." They claim to be serving Jesus but they're really after money and possessions.

Their thinking goes like this: "God wants me to be happy. And I, for one, feel a lot happier when I have nice things, when I don't have to work so hard or worry so much. It seems to me the more I have and the happier I am the better Christian I'll be. So of course God wants me to have a Cadillac or a Sea Ray or a 50-inch plasma TV. God wants me to be thankful, right? Well, then, why shouldn't He give me more to be thankful for?"

You see? You don't have to say that you love money - you may not even think you love money - but when your happiness is tied to the things that money can buy, the security that money can buy, the love of money is there - just under the surface - and the Christian faith is called upon as justification for it. You may not have taken that last critical step, but that other master is so close, so ready to grab the reins of your life away from your heavenly Father.

The danger comes into view when the pathway of your life starts to get bumpy. You begin to think: "Maybe God doesn't want me to be happy. Maybe I did something wrong. Maybe there's something I should've done that I didn't. Maybe I'm not working hard enough or believing strong enough. Maybe my faith is lacking. Maybe God is punishing me."

And you find that you've made your faith and your relationship with God dependant on you - your works, your faith, your strength, your abilities. In truth, you've made love for the things of this world your master - and that is a cruel master indeed! It makes demands that you cannot fulfill. It lays burdens on your shoulders that you cannot carry. It locks you in a prison from which you cannot escape.

That's why it's not enough for you to know the Lord's Prayer. You need the Author of that prayer to turn your head in the direction of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. You need Him to show you how He takes care of them so that you can be convinced that He'll take care of you. As Jesus says: "If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" In the end, serving that other master just eats away your trust in Christ.

The other reason that it's not enough to ask for daily bread in the Lord's Prayer is that Jesus wants to be the One who comforts you when your faith is weak.

Whether your faith is big or little, great or small, it comes completely as a gift of the Holy Spirit. It was planted in your heart when you were baptized. It came from outside of you and saved you by the Blood of Jesus Christ. Whatever else you have or own, salvation is your most precious possession.

Jesus isn't saying that you can't have nice things. But giving too high a priority to them weakens your faith and trust in the one and only thing you truly need. When He says: "Don't worry," remember: this is Almighty God speaking to you. And with these simple, Gospel words, He forgives your sin, changes your heart, and creates the very faith you so desperately need.

After all, what is this "kingdom" and "righteousness" He encourages you to seek? Nothing other than Jesus Himself!

Thank God for the faith that you already have, because without it you would never seek Him. Without it you'd spend your life chasing after "stuff" like the pagans and putting tomorrow's worries on today's agenda. My friends, eternal life is yours today, though you'll experience the full joy of it later. To be convinced that you have it now takes the faith that only the Holy Spirit can give. And though it cost Jesus His life, for you, it's completely free. Jesus fulfilled all the requirements needed for you to get it and once you have Him as your Master your life is never the same.

Because of this, a wonderful irony takes shape: God assures you of the "added" things that will be there for you in abundance when you are ready to give up everything else and seek Him. All your daily bread falls into place for you morning by morning like Manna in the desert once you've laid hold of Jesus, the Bread of Life. He's not against you having stuff, but He is clearly against your stuff having you!

Beloved, I encourage you: pray for your daily bread, and use the Lord's Prayer to do so, but not so that you'll get it; rather, pray that you'll receive your daily bread with thanksgiving. And if praying the Lord's Prayer isn't enough, listen to what your Savior says in this text: Consider the birds of the air and the flowers of the field - how well He takes care of them! - and be assured that your heavenly Father will take even better care of you. In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

8:19 am edt

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

CALLING ALL FANS!

Do you own a video camera? Do you enjoy making your own videos?

If so, I invite you to enter the Steven S. Billings Concert Video Contest!

I am currently putting together a series of videos to accompany my live performances. Submit the winning video, and people who attend my concerts will see your video!

So, pick a song - any song - and make a video!

Then put it up on YouTube and send me the link. If yours is the winner, I'll ask for the footage, and give you on-screen credit when I perform!

So start shooting! And God bless your efforts!

In His service,

Steve

7:49 am edt

NASHVILLE REFLECTIONS

My experience in Nashville yesterday was enlightening, to say the least.

It was great to hear some of the other Christian bands perform and to watch them in action. I also learned a lot about myself.

For one thing, I need to log some more stage time. Being pretty much a studio artist at this point, I found being up front awkward at first. It took me into my third song before I found my comfort zone. Live and learn, I guess.

I also learned to read deeper into the promotional materials before signing up for an event such as this. I probably wouldn't have participated had I dug a little deeper.

I don't mean to knock Austin Cook personally or his Band with a Mission's intentions, but the event seemed pretty disorganized.

Frst of all, I was not introduced to the people who be evaluating me (they were simply listed in the promo materials as "recording industry professionals"). I still don't know who they were or what their credentials are.

Secondly, the sound man didn't have the equipment to play my accompaniment CD (how can this happen??), and the computer he borrowed to play it totally distorted the tracks, so much so that I thought the stage monitors were blown.

To make matters more confusing, when I got the email "assessment" from Austin, many of his comments had nothing to do with me. For one thing, he said I played all my instruments well, but needed more practice (I sang to recorded tracks and didn't play any instruments). He also said I needed to interact more with my other band members (I was the only one on stage).

Band with a Mission may have had some success "discovering" Rush of Fools, but how this qualifies them as "the leading independent A&R company in the world," I'm not sure.

Now, this is not to say that they won't discover a new dynamic talent again this year, but it will be interesting to see if lightning strikes twice.

But as for me, I know I will do my homework better should I decide to try this sort of thing again.

Like I said: Live and learn.

12:42 am edt

Monday, July 14, 2008

NASHVILLE TODAY

Hey, everybody!

Liz and I are in Nashville today for the Band With a Mission Showcase. Band With a Mission is the leading independent A&R company in the world. They help you find a company to aid to your specific career goals. Out of all of the bands and artists they see in Nashville this summer, at least one will be guaranteed a spot to work with Fervent Records!

I get to sing three songs from my album for them, so I'm doing "T.G.I.F. (Thank God I'm Free!)," "The Spirit In You," and "Big Little Man." I picked these three because they are really strong songs and "showcase" my diversity of styles.

Please pray for me today, that God will enable me to perform to the best of my ability - that I'll remember all the words, that my voice will be in tip-top shape, and that my nerves won't get in the way. Please pray, too, that God will open the hearts and minds of the record company executives so that they will follow His will concerning whether or not to sign me.

Thanks!

Steve

11:07 am edt

Saturday, July 5, 2008

BILLINGS MANSION

I was going to ask for my key when we visited the Billings Mansion in Woodstock, Vermont, but I decided the commute to and from Wisconsin would be a bit much.

Instead, Liz and I, together with my brother Jim and his family, contented ourselves with the standard tour of the mansion and farm. Liz and I love looking at old houses, so the tour of the mansion, as well as the home of George Aitken, the farm manager, was a delight to us both.

It was a very pleasant day, despite my episode of gout, which left me hobbling from place to place.

We had embarked on our trip north via Penn Station, expecting about a six-hour train ride. Unfortunately, severe weather stalled our train about an hour from our destination, and after waiting several hours on the train, we were eventually bused the rest of the way.

The train ride back was uneventful, but tiring. Yesterday - July 4th - we spent quietly at home. Jim cooked some wonderful burgers and hot dogs, Stephanie (Jim's wife) prepared a delicious fruit salad, and we dined like royalty - or perhaps like the ancestors, whose home we had visited just two days before.

Today we are lying low. I am battling quite a headache due to allergies, and, as I write this, Liz is resting contentedly.

I must say what a joy it is to make my annual sojourn this year with my beloved bride, and to share my family with her and her with them.

God is so very good!

Billings Mansion

Historical Marker

9:49 am edt

MURRAY

I lost a dear friend this week. His name was Murray.

Murray and I spent a lot of time together this Spring, usually on Fridays. I could tell he wasn't feeling very well. He was a bit out of balance, and not nearly as sharp as he used to be. One day I noticed that he also had a broken foot.

So I called an ambulance, and they came and took Murray away. I thought they were going to make him well again. But, alas, it was not to be. Murray was too far gone.

I'll miss you, Murray, and the time we spent together. Yes, I will find another, but I will always treasure the time we shared.

Rest in peace, dear friend.

Murray

8:40 am edt

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For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21)

Be sure to get in touch so I know you're out there!