Do you want a Savior? Yes!

Midweek Advent 1 – Genesis 3:1-21

Every few years or so, there is a hot new toy that everyone wants and that normally ends up being impossible to find.  When I was growing up, the hot toy was the Cabbage Patch Doll.  In the 1990’s, the hot toy was Tickle Me Elmo.  This year?  Well, time will tell what toy everyone is demanding.

Needless to say if you had asked most any child if they wanted a Cabbage Patch Doll or a Tickle Me Elmo, or even today, if you ask most people if they want the latest iPhone or the newest video game, the answer will be a resounding yes!, without any hesitation or qualification.

Its genius on the part of the stores really: they come up with an amazing product, keep production low and the price high, and then stand back and watch as customers trample over themselves for the desired new toy at the grossly inflated price.

But what did those boys and girls, or teens and tweens, or even adults do to deserve the item they so deeply desire?  What gifts do you rightly deserve to receive this Christmas?

The common question at this time of year is: have you been good?  The answer?  Well, let’s just say Santa must not have a very good long term memory; or at the very least does not see and hear nearly as much as the song claims.

The reality is that you have not been good; in fact you have been bad; very bad; very very bad.  As St. Paul says, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; and the wages of sin is death.  And that means no Cabbage Patch Doll, no Tickle Me Elmo, no iPhone, no nothing for you, just the punishment that you truly deserve: eternal death and hell.

But what if someone came up to you and offered you a way out?  What if they looked at what you did and said while it’s not good, we can fix this, we can make things better.  What if they asked you: Do you want a Savior?

Because that is exactly what happens in the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve sin; they break the one rule that God gave to them.  God clearly says: Do not eat of the fruit of that tree.  Adam and Eve understood this command, they knew what the rules were.  And yet, they both eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree.

There is no second guessing here; the law and the punishment are clear.  They sinned, they should die.  The Hebrew is a little nuanced here, in that when God says they will die what He really means is that they will begin the process of dying, which is our lot in life today.  No matter how young and healthy you are, the reality is your dying.

But the truth is Adam and Eve’s crime does not deserve the slow decaying process of old age, rather they deserve the earth opening up and swallowing them whole right there in the middle of the Garden of Eden; they deserve the hellfire and brimstone sent upon Sodom and Gomorrah; they deserve a lightning bolt striking them dead in an instant.

Adam and Eve are fully aware of this; that is why they hide.  They know they screwed up; they know they deserve the full wrath of God poured out upon them; they know that there is no means for escaping the punishment they rightly deserve.

And yet, God looks around at what they have done, and He asks Adam and Eve: Do you want a Savior?

The options are certain death and eternal separation from God, or a Savior.  The choice is that you can pay the ultimate price right now for the wrong you have done; or someone else can pay the price for you.

What do you think Adam and Eve said?

Or maybe the better question is what would you say?

Adam and Eve broke one command and are staring down the barrel of God’s full wrath and anger; you have broken a lot more than one command; how much greater should your punishment be?  How much greater is the anger of God now directed at you?

The true gift of Christmas is found all the way back here in Genesis 3: Adam and Eve fell into sin thus ushering death into the world, and by the sin of one man, Adam, all have now sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.

And yet, just as the firing squad is about to fire, God says Do you want a Savior?  And Adam and Eve, and you yourself, give a most resounding yes!, without any hesitation or qualification.

Now the details are sketchy to say the least here in Genesis 3 as to what the Savior will look like, when He will come, and how exactly salvation will present itself, but for right now, that does not matter.  What matters is that God offered you a lifeline, He offered you a means out of the hole you dug yourself into, He offered you a reprieve from the death and hell you rightly deserve; He offered you a Savior, and you said Yes!

Now you might be wondering when you said yes to a Savior, and the answer is no, you were not specifically asked to accept Jesus into your heart to be your Savior.  Rather Christ kicked down the door of your cold, dead heart and planted the mark of salvation upon you.

But each time you remember your baptism; each time you confess your sins, each time you come forward to receive the body and blood of Christ, you are saying yes, you want a Savior; yes, you need a Savior; yes, a thousand times yes is your response to the offer of a Savior.

And on Christmas, that request is fulfilled.  Here is your Savior.  This is what you wanted, this is what you get, this is how God undoes the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, for by one man sin came into the world, so also through one man does life come into the world.

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Do you want a Savior?

First Lutheran Church  Plainville, Kansas

Peace Lutheran Church  Natoma, Kansas

December, 2018

More than a few times over the years, I have torn off the wrapping paper on a Christmas present and gazed in horror upon the contents, and wondered to myself: what were they thinking?  Why would they think I would wear this, eat this, or want this thing?

I imagine this is a common occurrence for you as well; the brave among us ask for the receipt so that we can return the monstrosity from whence it came, while others grin and bear it, and re-gift it next Christmas, or just throw it out come the first of February.

What inspires such instances of Christmas gift giving disasters?  A disconnect between the giver and the receiver.  The giver sees an item in the store, and imagines that it is just what the recipient needs in their life.  The receiver obviously has a much different idea about what they need in their life at the moment, and it is often not what the giver had in mind.

The ultimate giver of gifts is of course God Himself; and Christmas is the annual celebration of His greatest gift in the coming of the Christ child into the world, to redeem us from sin, death and hell.

And this gift comes not just once a year on the 25th of December, but each and every Lord’s Day in the Word and in the Sacraments.

And yet, how often do you say to yourself: this is not what I wanted at all.

Indeed, when things are going bad, you most certainly do want Christ and all that He offers to you in whatever form He offers it in.  You so desperately want Him to answer your prayers, to take away your problems, to come to you and make everything better, because you have so royally screwed everything up.

But what about those other days, when you do not really want Christ in your life?  Never happens?  Oh, I bet it does happen, far more than you want to admit.  For when you are enjoying your sins, when you are looking around and thinking that your life is going great without prayer or church attendance, what you are really saying is that you have no need for Christ in your life, and you are rejecting the gift of God.

Of course, life is rarely lived in the extremes, instead it is far more often in the middle gray areas, where life is a muddled mess.  Do you want a Savior?  Do you want all that He offers?  How often is the answer maybe?  Maybe, but you want to hear all the requirements first; maybe but only if it is on your terms; maybe, but you’d like to hear how exactly God is going to make it all happen first.

But like the giver of that horrid Christmas gift that you can’t wait to put up for sale on eBay, God refuses to take no for an answer; whether you want it or not, whether you admit you need it or not; here is your gift of a Savior, who has come into the world for you so that you might have forgiveness, life and salvation.

The gift of Christmas is here for you, it lays before you in the manger, it hangs before you on the cross; it comes to you in the waters of Baptism, in the bread and wine of Lord’s Supper, and in the words of the absolution; may this gift ever be treasured in your heart, for it is Christ the Lord.

As part of this Advent season, join us on Wednesday evenings at 7PM at Peace Lutheran, Natoma for worship, reflecting on this gift of a Savior.  Also, please make use of the daily devotionals for Advent available from Lutheran Hour Ministries.

God Bless!

Pastor Schmidt

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What are you waiting for?

Last Sunday of the Church Year – St. Mark 13:24-37

The December church calendar and newsletter are available today.  For what it’s worth, the calendar portion normally takes about 15 minutes to set up, and then a few text messages or emails to get any other dates or events that should be listed.

But there is always a caveat to whatever is on the calendar: the birthdays and anniversaries won’t change, but everything else is subject to change.  Even Sunday morning worship, which is set in stone, still has a notation, that especially now, it is only if the weather is permissible.

And that really is the story with any calendar that you rely on: whether it be school, work, doctors, or whatever.  All dates are ultimately pending; nothing is absolutely certain until it all happens.  The weather, personal health, the wellbeing of others, everything is a constant changing cascade of unknowns, that could change everything in a moment’s notice.

And in the midst of all of these moving schedules, there is our Gospel text today where Jesus declares that the day and the hour of His coming in glory have been set.  And unlike our schedules that change constantly from one minute to the next; the day and the hour and the year and the century and the millennium of Christ’s return are immoveable.

In a world where everything changes based on weather or emotion, you can take comfort in the sure and certain promise that Christ is coming, and the day and the hour have already been declared.

Now here is the problem: Jesus words are also clear in our Gospel text: no one knows the day or the hour of His return in glory.

Imagine how eagerly you anticipate the dates and times on the calendar that all could change at a moment’s notice; and imagine how much you wait for them and want them to arrive sooner than they are actually scheduled.

Now imagine that same thing, a date on the calendar that you are eagerly anticipating, a date that you know will be good for you and for all believers, a date that will vault you from this earthly vale of tears and into the eternal glories of Paradise forever with Christ; but there is a catch, you know the day is coming, you just don’t know when it is.

Your birthday is on the calendar, and is the same day every year.  Your wedding anniversary is likewise at the same time every year.  You even know when church events happen, both those on the liturgical calendar like Christmas and Easter, and those on the local calendar like soup suppers and voters meetings.

But now there is a date that you don’t know when it will be.  You have no idea when Christ will return, just that He has promised to return.

Now on the surface, you’re okay with this; or at least so you say.  You say, at least while you’re in this building, that whenever Christ comes, you are ready, that you really can’t do anything about it anyway.  And so if He comes today, great.  If He comes in a year, we’ll take it.  And if He doesn’t come for another century, well, so be it.

Yet you would never allow such leeway to anyone else.  Everyone else you demand to know down to the exact second when they will arrive, when they will leave, and what the schedule is in between.  You hate it when your airline flight is delayed.  You despise sitting in traffic.  You detest anyone who cancels long anticipated plans.

And eventually the same happens with Christ.

Notice how you are always ready for Christ to come right now, often because it would remove some burden from your life.  If Christ could come right before the big final exam.  If Christ could come before the next set of bills is due.  If Christ could come before life got too unpleasant with continuously deteriorating health.

And when Christ doesn’t come?  You shrug and quote these verses from our Gospel text, that no one knows the day or the hour.  And yet deep inside, you begin to wonder when will He ever come in glory.  Because if He hasn’t come yet, how do you know that He will ever come?

A not uncommon problem at all.  In fact the early Christian church, the New Testament church had to deal first with people assuming Christ would return within a few years of His ascension, and then when He didn’t that Christ would not come at all.

Modern day Jews, who of course deny Christ, have largely given up on the idea of a Messiah at all, because they have been waiting so long.

And then modern day Christians, who have been told their whole lives about the imminent return of Christ, have also given up; after all, it has been a very long time since the words were first spoken that no one knows the day or the hour.  And if no one knows the day or the hour, how do you even know the day or the hour?

And so perhaps you also are tempted to give up.  It has been a long time; and even when you say that you would be perfectly content with Christ returning at any moment, do you truly think in the back of your mind that it would be great if Christ returned, but that it’s not actually going to happen.

The question directed at God by so many today, and yes, even we ourselves is: what are you waiting for?  What part of Christ returning soon do you not understand?

The response is not what you might expect.

For God’s response is not the pious answer that we often tell ourselves that God is waiting for one more person in some far off and pagan land to repent and hear the Gospel, rather the response is what are you waiting for?  What part of be alert do you not understand?

Our calling as children of God is to be alert; which does not mean sitting around and watching the clock and wondering why Christ has not torn open the heavens yet, but rather means to be faithful.

To be faithful is to live as one who is truly ready for Christ to return at any moment; not with suitcases packed and ready to go, but simply to be faithful, to be in the word, to be in the Lord’s house at any and every opportunity to receive the gifts here offered.  To be alert is to be faithful; not apathetic; not neglectful; and not as those who have given up.

For the ultimate failure of the faithful is to fall asleep; to walk away from the faith because God is not working on your schedule and on your timing.  To reject the faith is to be asleep; and it is to be separated from God for all eternity.

But there is good news for you.  God never sleeps; He never lets down His guard; He never takes His eyes off the calendar, fast approaching the day when Christ will come in glory.  That is your hope and confidence: that in the midst of so many who have given up and walked away from the words and promises of God; God has never walked away from you, who provide ample reason for Him to do so.

The day is in fact soon coming when Christ will return to judge the living and the dead; and make no mistake about it, He is alert and ready; not sleeping in a recliner while the world commits its slow suicide; not staring off into space because another deadline has come and gone; not twiddling His thumbs in wonder at how things could go so far off the rails.

Christ is alert and on His throne; He is ready; just as He was when He first came into the world to redeem the world by His death and resurrection; so is He now when He will come to judge the world and rule in glory everlasting.

The command to you is to remain faithful.  There is no calendar to watch, no hour glass to monitor, no timetable to go by; there is only the command to remain faithful: to remember your baptism; to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ; to confess your sins and receive the absolution.  Do this, and you will be ready whenever Christ should come, whether it be today, or tomorrow, or not for some time.

But make no mistake about it: Christ is as alert and ready as He has ever been, and He is coming soon; just as He has promised.

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Thanksgiving 2018

Thanksgiving – Deuteronomy 26:1-11

About a month ago, when the lottery totaled over a billion dollars, there were a variety of articles published talking about people who had previously won the lottery, and how history shows two very interesting trends among those who win large sums of money.  Just a few years after they won, a disturbingly high number were either dead, or they were broke.

Now the first of those is somewhat understandable.  People who win tend to die because they tend to get robbed, and are shot and murdered for the money.  Their face is all over television and the newspaper, and while some of us don’t really care who wins, because it wasn’t us, others are very interested, because they know now who they can steal money from.

But the other trend is a little harder to imagine.  How can someone who just won millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, let alone a billion dollars go broke?  That is utterly amazing, that someone who wins such a huge amount of money, can in 5 years have less money than they did before winning the lottery.

And yet despite the amazement, there is actually a fairly reasonable explanation for it all: if you are not used to having a lot of money, and you suddenly have a lot of money all at once, you are not going to know how to handle it; and you will eventually lose it through neglect and waste and mismanagement.

It is true of lottery winners, and it is true of professional athletes, and it is true of a whole lot of other people who go from rags to riches overnight.

Now you can likely breathe a sigh of relief right now, because you do not find your name on that list.  You did not win the lotto, nor did you just sign your first professional contract, nor did you just inherit a massive amount of money.

But what have you been taught about money, and possessions, and all the things you have in your life?

Our reading from Deuteronomy this evening offers some guidance for us.  Moses writes very specific instructions for what the people are to do when they enter the Promised Land, including how they are to respond when they harvest their crops, and present a portion, the first fruits, to the Lord.

The method for presenting includes declaring the harvest for the Lord, and then recounting the history of Jacob going to Egypt few in number, and then being treated harshly in slavery by the Egyptians, only to be brought out with a mighty hand and the outstretched arm of the Lord, who then provided for them during the wilderness wanderings, and finally brought them to this Promised Land.

The offering of first fruits to the Lord, was not just to be a drive by drop off, but was a full history lesson in how God has provided for His people from the very beginning.

And when done properly, the goal was to teach the next generation that they were to do the same thing.  That this God who provided was not a far off distant God who had just helped His people long ago, but that this was a real and present God, who provides today just as He did in Egypt and in the wilderness.

The offering was not just something on the checklist of things to do, but it was a teaching moment, and when it is a teaching moment that means the whole household is involved in the action.

David Green, the founder of Hobby Lobby, wrote a book called Giving it All Away.  You would likely expect that his kids and grandkids will be getting a whole lot of money when he and his wife die.  But the point of the book is that he is teaching his children and grandchildren not just basic financial principles on how to grow and expand an already successful business, but also the idea of giving and generosity; because while they will get some money when he and his wife die, they are not getting all of it.

You may not ever win the lotto, sign a huge professional sports contract, or inherit a huge amount of money, so the need to learn how to manage tens of millions of dollars may not be a priority for you.  But the offering, the act of giving thanks is required of you, no matter how many zeros are in your bank account.

What does this look like?

It looks like quite simply giving generously and regularly to support the work of the Lord.  It looks like being grateful for what you already have.  It looks like loving and serving your neighbor.  It looks like gathering to pray, praise and give thanks.  And doing all of this as a family, so that the next generation might do likewise.

You may ask yourself why?  What is the point of teaching others the act of giving thanks to God?

Well, you can already see the answer to that on the news this evening, and all day tomorrow and Friday.  What you will see is that Thanksgiving is now more of a shopping holiday than an actual time to give thanks.  And that is in fact because a generation, in fact many generations, your generation, have not been instructed in what it is to be thankful, and to take part in the offering of giving back to God the first fruits that He has given to you.

Now you can shop if you want, there is no law against doing such a thing, but also give thanks.  Give thanks for all that God has done for you.  Recount the history of the wonderful things God has done for you; in providing His one and only Son, who saved you from the slavery to sin you endured and has brought you to the cusp of the new Promised Land that is heaven itself.

The explanation for why lottery winners go broke and why people are already lining up to shop is the same: they have not been instructed on what to do when they receive great blessings from God.  And in 5 years, they will both be broke; if not financially, then spiritually.

As you gather round your tables this weekend, and as you recall what you are thankful for, remember why you are thankful and to whom you are thankful, and remember also to instruct the next generation on what it is to be thankful.

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Future Ministry in Western Kansas and Beyond

First Lutheran Church  Plainville, Kansas

Peace Lutheran Church   Natoma, Kansas

November, 2018

On October 7th, a number of us went to Hoxie and heard a presentation about the future of ministry in western Kansas.

It’s a long story as to why this is an issue, but the short version is that the number of people in church on Sunday morning is not what it used to be.  And as simple math will tell you, declining numbers and increasing costs are not a good combination.

So what does the future look like?  Well, eventually, something will change, either because we as a group bring about the change, or because time and circumstance force the changes.  What does that change look like?  Well, here are some options, although to be sure, these are not the only options.

  • Multi-point parish. This is perhaps the most familiar in that we are already doing this; but think beyond 2; think of what a 3 point parish might look like, or even a 4 point parish.  This would hearken back to the olden days of a circuit rider.
  • Hub and wheel model. In this option, one large church would call additional pastors and staff, and serve multiple churches in a given area, each of which would chip in on the cost of the pastor and staff.
  • One church would have the pastor present with them, and then other churches would watch on a screen at their location.  The pastor would rotate around from church to church each week.
  • Meet in the middle. Everyone would come to a central location and meet for worship.

Questions likely abound in your minds; let me try to answer some of them:

  • Can all this happen on Sunday morning? In some cases, yes; but otherwise not really.  Church might need to be on Saturday night or on Sunday afternoon, or at other times depending on time and travel.
  • What about Lord’s Supper? Well, again that would depend, but likely you would only celebrate Lord’s Supper when the pastor was present with you, which might be only once a month (think Circuit Rider model).
  • What about all the other stuff pastor does? Ultimately it would likely be a situation where the pastor does the Word and sacrament ministry, and all else fell to the leadership of the congregation (bulletins, calendar, etc.)
  • When can we expect this to happen? Not today; and maybe not for a while; but in the next 5-10 years, you should really expect this to be an issue as population continues to decline and costs increase.
  • What’s the good news? Glad you asked!  The good news is the same good news that we always have; the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and risen.  The good news is that the lifesaving Gospel of Christ crucified and risen, and the Word and sacraments that grant forgiveness of sins and eternal life still work; whether there are only 2 or 3 gathered or 200; and whether they gather on Sunday morning, or on some other day of the week at some other time.  The Gospel is still here for you, and it still does exactly what it says and has always done.

If you have more questions, or if you would like to discuss these options further, please feel free to contact me, and I would be happy to discuss them further.

God Bless!  Pastor Schmidt

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Gosnell

‘It’s not about abortion.’

That line was spoken several times in the Gosnell movie, and it was spoken several times in various news reports that I recall when these events were happening in real time just a few years ago.

And when I left the movie theater Monday afternoon, I too would have said that this movie is not about abortion.

And the facts back this up: Kermit Gosnell was tried and convicted of murder on 1 woman who died as a result of a botched abortion, and of killing several babies who were born alive after the abortion, whom he then cut their spines with scissors.

While Gosnell did perform abortions after the 24 week mark, illegal in Pennsylvania, those charges were lesser and are not the focal point of the movie, nor the reason he is in prison for the rest of his life.

So the movie is not about abortion, and in fact one of the witnesses shown in the trial is another abortion doctor, who is supposed to be the ‘good abortion doctor’, to show what a sick and deranged monster Gosnell really is.

So one must ask, if this movie is not about abortion, why the media blackout?  Why is the movie playing is so few theaters (I had to drive 3 hours to see it, past the 2 large theaters I frequent that normally get most major movies)?  Why all the challenges and roadblocks to even get the movie made?

Because this movie is about abortion, no matter what anyone tells you.

Allow me to illustrate.

When I was in Seminary, a video was shown in class one day about women who had had abortions.  The method detailed was the vacuum method, in which the baby is dismembered and then sucked out with a vacuum.  There was no video shown of an actual abortion and no body parts were shown, there was only an occasional vacuum sound effect.

That video truly opened my eyes to the horrors of abortion; that this was not a safe and humane procedure, but that this was so gruesome and horrible, how could anyone stand for it?  In fact a friend who grew up on a dairy farm recounted how they had used that same procedure on a baby calf that was dead in the birth canal of its mother, and how he and the vet were sick to their stomachs performing this on a big dumb animal, so how could you stomach it on a live human baby?

What that video did for me is what the trial and this movie are going to do for so many others: expose the horrific reality of abortion.

If abortion is described as a safe medical procedure, done in safe and healthy environments, then everyone is happy.  But if abortion is shown as the horrific experience that it truly is, with live babies being killed outside the womb just the same way that they would be killed inside the womb, well than that is a much different story.

Even the ‘good abortion doctor’ comes off horribly in this movie, when she admits that if a baby were born alive after the abortion in her clinic, that child too would be left to die.

Don’t kid yourself, this movie is about abortion.

And that is why no one wants you to see it.

And that is why you and everyone else should see it.

Because abortion is not just a theological belief, or a political talking point; but this is a real procedure that murders real babies.

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Taking out the garbage

First Lutheran Church   Plainville, Kansas

Peace Lutheran Church  Natoma, Kansas

October, 2018

Growing up, my brother and I always had a fascination with the garbage truck.  On Saturday mornings, we would eagerly sit by the window and wait for the garbage truck to come and pick up the trash.  Occasionally, we would even try to run outside and help throw a bag onto the back of the truck.  A favorite game we later played was to take the couch cushions and pretend that we too were garbage men.

What prompted this fascination with the garbage truck?  Who knows; but perhaps in some part it was the wonderment that you could collect all this trash in the house all week long, and then one day put it out on the curb, and someone would magically come and take it all away, never to be seen again.

Where did the trash go?  We had no clue; all we knew is that if it went in the trash and if it was placed on the curb, it was gone forever.  Old food, torn clothes, broken toys, dust, no matter what it was, it was gone by Saturday morning when the garbage truck pulled in front of the house.

It struck me the other day, that this was in fact a wonderful analogy for Matthew 11:28, where we read: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

We are called to cast all our burdens, all our anxieties, all our cares and concerns on the Lord, and trust in Him to give us rest and peace of mind.

In a sense, Christ is the garbage truck that comes by, not just once a week, but every day, and He takes upon Himself all the things that trouble you, all the things that concern you, all the things that are causing you to worry, and He takes them away.  He leaves you with a free and clear mind, knowing that you do not have to worry about those things anymore.

Now unlike my younger self wondering where the trash on the truck went, you know where Jesus takes all the things that you cast upon Him: He takes them to the cross.

At the cross, Jesus suffers and dies for all your stress and concerns and problems.  They are all absorbed into Him, and you are set free from the bonds of sin and death and anxiety and all that troubles you.

At the foot of the cross, you lay all your burdens, and you walk away with a free and clear conscience.  At the foot of the cross, you put all that troubles you, and you walk away knowing that you will never see those troubles again.  At the foot of the cross, you put every dark and depressing thought that has entered your mind, and you walk away.

Jesus asks no questions, He simply bears those burdens for you, so that you can walk in the light of your Savior without any thing to weigh you down.

And you can do this every time you go to the Lord in prayer; every time you remember your baptism; every time you hear the words of absolution spoken over you.  Jesus comes, and He takes your burdens upon Himself, so that you no longer have to worry about them anymore.

That is the true wonder: not that someone for a small fee would take away your dirty napkins and broken toys so that you can have a clean house for a few days; but that someone, Christ Jesus, would come and take your sins away, solely out of His great love for you, so that you can spend eternity with Him forever.

God Bless!  Pastor Schmidt

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