Mt. Pisgah

Lutheran Church

9379 Hwy 127 North

Hickory, NC  28601

(Bethlehem Community)

Phone:  828-495-8251

Fax:  828-495-8252

Worship:  8:00 and 10:30 am

(Nursery provided)

Sunday School:  9:15 am

(For all ages)

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A Bittersweet Christmas to All

This morning I was struck with an unmistakable directness sometimes necessary to truly get a needed message across. My morning festive Christmas celebrating with Santa cap on and carol singing was abruptly interrupted by a phone call from a woman who had just become a widow, following her husband's suicide. The fact that I had to move my Santa cap tassel just to put the receiver to my ear, made the contrast between the sweetness and the bitterness of that moment all the more ruthlessly stark.

Perhaps it is because in this precious of seasons, where expectations run high for sweet blessings, that the painfully bitter times seem to loom so large in contrast. Ask any orthodox Jew, though, and they will let you know that THE meal is not complete without the Wilderness bitter herb and the Promised Land honey. One without the other betrays the truthful realities of what it means to be on this journey we call life...regardless of what season it might be.

Just in my morning prayer time today, I...

— Gave thanks to God for the sweetness of marriage and a dear wife, but lifted up in prayer a dear couple who just recently divorced.

— Blessed God for the special little church He has called me to serve, but my attention was diverted to offer prayer for those parishes which are struggling.

— Gave heartfelt gratitude for two sons, but was quickly overtaken by the prayer for a family whose son has been struggling for life since the tragic accident.

— Celebrated the sweet comfort of good health, when my mind swells with thoughts for so many, whose lives are preoccupied with the challenges of illness.

The sweet and the bitter... This time of year?

But what is Christmas REALLY all about?

“And this will be a sign unto you that you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Not exactly the sweet experience of a Messiah we were expecting.

In fact, pretty easy not to find any sweetness in that at all.

Born in a feeding trough, under the indifferent gaze of animals, who probably outnumber the gathered human witnesses, not really sweet, but pretty stinky. And, just about as bitter of birth scene as one could imagine. So, what is the message... the Sign?

Don't try to dress it up too much. Don't get too sophisticated. One does not come in such intentionally banal, earthly simplicity just for us to dress it up and adorn it with heavenly pious niceties. It is, what it is. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else needed, than Emmanuel…God With Us. There is no bitterness of life we can experience that He has not been through, or will not be through with us. Nothing we experience on this side of heaven that He will not be there with us. Is there any news greater than that? The One who is with us, Emmanuel wants us to know that the Heaven which awaits us, is nothing but Sweet... No bitter there. No wonder the early Christians were so fond of saying Maranatha, “Come Lord Jesus.” So may your Christmas be bittersweet—always filled with the faithful presence of Emmanuel, as we eagerly await his second Advent.



(Playlist - Amy Grant "Welcome to Our World")

Image result for image of mary joseph and baby jesus



It was an amazing day when the Holy Spirit came to those first Christians.  It touched their lives and made them speak in languages unfamiliar to them, but understandable to those around.  It was a memorable and potentially life changing day for all involved.

I have always wondered about the day after Pentecost.  After the wind died down and the flames of fire ceased, surely not everyone’s life was changed by the event.  There were probably some who went on, business as usual, even in the aftermath of such an extraordinary event.

It is an interesting thing about the Holy Spirit that is often referred to as the “Silent Partner” of the Trinity.  The dramatic action on Pentecost was an uncharacteristic display of power, namely to mark a new beginning—The Birthday of the Church.  As Jesus said, the Spirit is like the Wind that you cannot see but can always notice the effects of its presence.

The Spirit is most often behind the scenes.  The Spirit blows through our lives fill us with a restlessness and a void that only God can satisfy and fill.  The Spirit does not force itself on us anymore than the Father or the Son do, they simply try to win us over by their love and grace.

Every encounter with our Lord is marked by this gentle loving Spirit at work.  He gives total freedom of acceptance or denial to the individuals involved, whether it is Nicodemus or the rich young ruler.  Without exception there is not one encounter in which Jesus does not invite change, but it is not always well received.  You cannot make someone love you or graciously accept a gift.  The Jewish Talmud puts it this way.  “The Spirit of God gently surrounds a hardened heart so that when it does crack, the Spirit will seep in.”


Take my hard heart and soften it by your Spirit.  Make me always open to your Spirit of gentleness and love.  Fill me up with Yourself so that I may be an overflowing vessel spilling grace and love to all those around me.  Amen

“God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force.  He can and will alter them—but only if the people will let Him.  In that way He has really and truly limited His power.  Sometimes we wonder why He has done so, or even wish that He hadn’t.  But apparently He thinks it worth doing.  He would rather have a world of free beings; with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else.  The more we succeed in imagining what a world of perfect, automatic beings would be like, the more, I think, we shall see His wisdom”

--C.S. Lewis—“The Trouble with ‘X’  God in the Dock”



The message of Easter is the exclamation mark of love, which God made for us on the cross.  Both Scriptures and Christian tradition are clear in reiterating that Jesus “shared with us” His victory over sin and death.  I believe the reason for such an emphasis, is in large part due to the fact that quite frankly, He did not have to share at all.

Our natural inclination towards revenge, retribution and justice were denied by Him on the cross.  We, who put Him on the cross, should not take this act of generous, forgiving love for granted, anymore than we should take His setting His face towards Jerusalem lightly.

Both were premeditated acts of love against all human compulsion to do the opposite.  Can you imagine having all the power in the world at your fingertips and not using it before or during the ordeal of the cross?  Or can you imagine death on a cross, then descending to the dead, then rising again to pleasantly share the peace with those who left you in the dust to save their own skin?  Easter, like Good Friday, exemplifies a love this world has never known.  After being betrayed, denied, left in the Garden and left at the cross utterly abandoned by those closest to Him, is it any wonder the Risen Lord’s triune question to Peter stung to the heart when Jesus justifiably asked, “Peter, do you love me?”

At the end of this season of Lent that question, I suppose, is our Lord’s question to each of us.  If we truly have been touched by His amazing love, we too responsively break out in sharing.  Perhaps Isaac Watts in the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” says it best.  “Were the whole realm of glory mine, that were a present far too small, Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul my life, my all.”

“God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them.  He creates the universe, already foreseeing…the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up.  If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites, caused us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him.  Herein is love.  This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.”

 ---from C.S. Lewis “The Four Loves”


Holy Week

"Prayer is the heavenly repose for earthly empathy which has no place to go but up" 

Today we had to take our dog to the vet. Now before you stop reading, for fear that you may be in for  just one more of those overly detailed, what I did in my day "net" dribble, please read on... I assure you there is much more.

Our 13 year old Westie, Chandler has stolen our hearts. I pray that I will get more sweet and lovable with age as he has. We walk him at 5:30 every morning, in large part because he so enthusiastically embraces each daily venture, as if it were his first and perhaps his last. With a vet appointment today last night we had to start a fast for him beginning at midnight.

It was rough this morning with those little eyes and cocked head looking at us wondering why there was no food this morning. As if he was to be punished or somehow forgotten. First please know that without apology we spoil Chandler with human food, from pizza bones to Clementines, which he loves. He lives to eat. So this morning was not much fun. We found that our empathy for him made us unable to enjoy or even finish our simple breakfast. 

It got me thinking about the Ugandan children who came to our church, who barely have enough to eat, and who welcomed our hospitality and sponsorship for their future needs. But is that action really not just a token, a sympathetic gesture of good will? True empathy would make me uncomfortable to eat until all God's children had something. It makes me appreciate and love our Lord all the more when He said, "when you do it to the least of these, you have done it to me." He is not just saying by the way don't worry about me this Christmas,  I don't need any gifts do something for someone  else. He is saying if you ever want to truly do something that pleases me take care of those least likely to be considered. Though I confessed such lack of compassionate empathy this past Ash Wednesday, this Holy Week I will once again come to the cross admitting that I have a long way to go. I need to be careful in my praying, "Lord break my heart for what breaks Yours," as my heart is not quite big enough.

The little bit of empathy I had this morning for my dog's momentary plight also reminded me of the saying, usually before the proverbial punishment, "this is going to hurt me more than you."
With one look at my dog this morning I understood that as a broken heart is worse than an empty stomach. 

This Holy Week as the Son sets His face to Jerusalem, I realize that the Father is most grieved. Though the pain of the cross will be experienced  by the Son, the dreaded appointment, which needs to happen, and the ensuing separation must tear at the Father's heart. The mutual hurt is inseparable and unimaginable. No wonder the more I focus on the cross the less  I can be so self absorbed and the more I want, in some pathetically small way, to share for a world desperate to know, this amazing passionate Love of His.

And this Holy Week I am so grateful to this One. For the One whose sympathetic realization of our plight changed to an empathetic reality that took on our flesh so that He could enact the supreme example  of Love on a cross.

As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "He who knew no sin took on our sin, so that we might be the righteousness of God." Or in essence - He who knows nothing but empathy took on our apathy so that we might know of and share His true love.
Easter is indeed the exclamation mark of the plus sign of His Love on the cross.

A blessed Holy Week to all



This "Glorious Season" of Lent


  John goes out of his way to let us know that Jesus was not a victim caught up in the strong will of Rome or the debauchery of the Jewish religious hierarch.  Jesus was, from his betrayal, denial, flogging and crucifixion, always in control.  He was the Good Shepherd whose life was never taken, but was laid down of His own accord.  The way of the cross is the Groom willfully and lovingly coming down the aisle to His Bride, the Church.  As a seminary professor was fond of saying, “this was not a shotgun wedding!”

            In John’s Gospel, we miss some of the physical agony of this walk to the cross.  There is no mention of the sweating of blood in Gethsemane and other gruesome physical details are left out.  John, whose heart was particularly close to His Lord, wants us to know that as awful as the physical pain of those days was for our Lord, it was nothing in comparison to the spiritual pain of the separation of the Son from His Father.  The Word which had been in perfect harmony and unity with the Father before time began is now to be separated by our sin which He Never knew.  It is this pain of loss and separation from the Holy Father, as the Son takes on the sins of the world—ours—past, present and future---that deserves our real attention and gratitude.

             Then there is that recurring word of glory, which particularly surfaces in these latter chapters of our Lord’s passion; so what is glorious about this time?  John, who, compared to the other Gospel writers, seems to have a monopoly on the understanding of love, wants us to know that behind every step to the Cross is a heartbeat of our Savior’s love.  When Jesus “sets His face” to Jerusalem it is you and me He is really focused on.  It is perhaps those who have lost loved ones and have been at their bedside in those difficult hours that know His love best.  The love and compassion given by them is not done begrudgingly or with hesitation.  But rather, it is done in love that has its own special glory that appears in those last tender moments.  So it is with our Lord; it is not His obligation or duty to go to the cross, as much as His loving joy and glory.  No one else could do it and He would not want anyone else to.

             It is the Groom gloriously making His way down the aisle to literally rescue and save His Bride (us). The Church. John wants to make sure that in the blood and seat of the cross we do not hear so much a heavy sigh with the thought that, “some one has to do this for these sinners” as much as a smile and an unrelenting drive forward, as Hebrews 12:12 says, because of “the joy that was set before Him.”  Whenever and however we begin to realize that you and I are that very joy that was set before Him is when the cross makes life changing sense.

             His love for us would never let us go and it is that great love that captures our hearts and will never let us let go of Him.  It is that love that makes us say with the hymnist, Bernard Clairvaux, “what language shall I borrow to thank thee dearest friend, for this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me thine Forever and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never, outlive my love for Thee.”


It is on the cross where the Groom Jesus Lets His bride, the Church, know that He would rather die than live without us.