Category Archives: Christian Ministry

Treating Pastors with respect by Jerome

“…If we berate or harass our shepherds, we are berating and harassing the Body of Christ…Our pastors exercise spiritual oversight for the sake of our souls so that we might receive the unfading crown of glory. In that relationship there is a mutuality of love.

Be obedient to your bishop and welcome him as the parent of your soul. Son’s love their fathers, and slaves fear their masters. The Lord says, ‘If then I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master where is My fear?’ (Malachi 1:6). In your case, the bishop combines in himself many titles for your respect. He is at once a monk, a prelate and an uncle who has before now instructed you in all holy things.

‘This also I say so that the bishops should know themselves to be priests, not lords. Let them render to the clergy the honor that is their due so that the clergy mayo offer to them the respect that belongs to bishops. There is a witty saying of the orator Domitius (d. 48 BC] that is to the point here: ‘Why should I recognize you as leader of the Senate when you will not recognize my rights as a private member?” … Let us ever bear in mind the charge that the apostle Peter gives to priests: ‘Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the un fading crown of glory’ (1 Peter 5: ) “

Jerome “Letters,” – 52.7 quoted in “A Year with the Church Fathers” p 375 Scott Murray

5 Tips To Keep In Mind When Visiting A Lutheran Church

 OCTOBER 24, 2022 BY GENE VEITH

When my wife and I first attended a Lutheran service, we were impressed with how formal it was, a far cry from what we were used to in the mainline Protestant denominations we grew up in and in the evangelical congregations we attended in college.  So we came back next week, only to find both the congregation and the pastor chanting.  We thought we had been transported back to the Middle Ages.

It turns out, that first service we attended was the one informal service that was held on months with five Sundays.  We came to learn that when Lutherans try to be informal–or, more recently, contemporary–they are still more formal and less contemporary than just about anyone else.  But the definitive Lutheran worship, which we learned to treasure, is to be found in what they call the “Divine Service,” which is called that because in it, Lutherans believe, God serves us.

Patheos has asked its writers to respond to some of the most frequent questions about the various religious traditions that they receive.  What most puzzles Patheos readers about Lutheranism is its worship.  They wonder what they need to know in order to understand what is going on.  Specifically, as the Patheos editors summarize the inquiries, “What should I keep in mind when visiting a Lutheran church?”  So it falls to me to try to explain.

What follows is an account of the traditional Divine Service, which can be dressed up or down, made more elaborate or more simple.  Even contemporary Lutheran services will tend to have the same structure and most of the same elements–from the confession and absolution to the Law & Gospel sermons–so that what I describe here, except for what I say about music, will mostly still apply.

Lutheran worship service

(1)  The Liturgy Consists Mostly of Words from Scripture

The first reaction of many visitors is, “This is Catholic!”  Or, “This is too Catholic!”  Yes, the liturgy goes way back through church history and is similar to that of Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and, among Protestants, Anglicans, whose Book of Common Prayer was greatly influenced by Lutheranism.

But the Lutheran liturgy also shows forth the principles of the Reformation.  Luther wanted to reform the church, not start a new one.  Later Protestants would want to start, more or less, from scratch, but the work of “reforming” means changing what is problematic, but leaving what is good.  For Luther, everything that pointed away from Christ and the Gospel should be eliminated, but what does point to Christ and the Gospel should be retained.

So the Lutheran liturgy leaves out elements in the Catholic mass such as praying for the dead and invoking the saints.  But it retains the overall structure and the ancient liturgical set-pieces, such as the Kyrie (“Lord have mercy. . .”) and the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”).  In fact, those set pieces and nearly all of the responses of the congregation are taken straight from the Bible.  When someone objects to our liturgy, I ask, “Which words of God do you think we shouldn’t say?”

The sanctuary will also demonstrate the Reformation principle of retaining elements that point to Christ.  There will typically be quite a bit of art in the sanctuary.  Lots of crosses.  That will include pictures of Jesus and other representational art.  This is not idolatry, since that means worshiping false gods and Jesus is the true God, who came as a visible, tangible human being discernible by the senses (1 John 1:1).  Lots of crucifixes, depicting Jesus on the cross.  Some Christians say that one should only use empty crosses because Jesus isn’t on the cross any more–He rose!  Well, Lutherans certainly believe in His Resurrection (and also have empty crosses), but we need to keep a constant focus on “Christ crucified”  (1 Corinthians 2:1 and 2 Corinthians 1:2), upon which which our salvation is based and which Lutherans apply in a host of ways in their “theology of the Cross.”

(2)  Chanting Lets Us Sing Prose, Such as Texts from Scripture

The Divine Service is mostly chanted by both the pastor and the congregation.  This may be the aspect that seems the most “Catholic” or “Medieval” or just unusual to visitors.  But chanting, with its flexible meter and flowing melodic line, is simply the way that a person can sing prose.

Most of our songs today–whether hymns or raps–are metrical, with fixed patterns of rhythm and rhyme.  That is to say, they put music to poems.  But it is also possible to sing any sequence of words.  That requires music that flows along with the pattern of speech.  This is what chanting is.

Some of my friends who are Reformed (a term Lutherans never use for themselves), belong to Psalms-only congregations.  Using their principle that Christians may only do what the Bible specifies (while Lutherans believe they are free to do whatever the Bible does not forbid), they do not sing hymns, just Psalms.  But what they sing are really metrical paraphrases of the Psalms, forced onto the Procrustean bed of meter and rhyme.  But we Lutherans sing the Psalms right out of the Bible by chanting them.

Lutherans do sing hymns that will be familiar to most visitors, including some of those metrical Psalms, drawing on the vast and varied musical heritage of the church universal.  Perhaps stranger to some visitors’ ears are the hymns from the Lutheran tradition, particularly those from the 16th and 17th century, often in the baroque style of vivid imagery and achingly beautiful, but complex, music.

(3)  The Pastor Will Forgive Your Sins

What most puts off quite a few visitors is at the beginning of the service when the members of the congregation confess their sins, first reflecting silently and then reading a prayer of repentance, after which the pastor says this or something like it:

Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of the Word I announce the grace of God to all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

I forgive you?” some say. “The pastor can’t forgive sins!  Only Jesus can do that!”  Well, right, only Jesus can forgive sins.  But Lutherans believe that God works through human beings.  That is the doctrine of vocation.  Notice the wording:  “As a called and ordained servant of the Word.”  “Called” refers to vocation, which is simply the Latinate word for “calling.”  God forgives sins through pastors, just as He gives us our daily bread through farmers and creates new life through mothers and fathers.  The basis of the pastor’s forgiveness, also known as “absolution,” is “the grace of God to all of you” and the fact that He “has given His Son to die for you.”   (Lutherans reject the Reformed doctrine of Limited Atonement, so all have access to this grace and atonement.)

And the Scriptural warrant for human beings forgiving sins is pretty explicit.  After His resurrection, Jesus breathes on His disciples, saying,“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:22-23).

(4)  You Will Hear a Law and Gospel Sermon

The sermon may also be different from what you are used to.  There will be no politics, no pop psychology, no Biblical principles for successful living.  (Lutheranism, with its theology of cross-bearing, is pretty much the opposite of the Prosperity Gospel.)  The sermon will be based on one or more of the three Bible readings (an Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel reading as determined by the Lectionary, a plan for Scripture reading tied to the church year), but it will be handled in terms of the distinct Lutheran hermeneutic and preaching paradigm of Law and Gospel.

The moral law in the Scripture will be proclaimed, but in a way that precludes self-righteousness.  Listeners will be persuaded that they do not, in fact, obey God’s Law, with its multiple ramifications, and that they are in sore need of repentance.  Whereupon the sermon will move to a proclamation of the Gospel, namely, that Christ has fulfilled this law on our behalf and has paid the penalty that we deserve for breaking it with His atoning death and resurrection. When we know that we are sinners and cannot save ourselves and believe that Jesus has died for us and offers us new life, we have saving faith, which, in turn, bears the fruit of love for our neighbors.

This is not “cheap grace” the pastor is teaching.  A skillful preacher can really make you feel guilty, which tempers our bad behavior.  And, by preaching the Gospel, he really make you feel free.  Lutherans speak of three uses of the Law:  the first, the civil use, is to restrain our external sinful proclivities; the second, the theological use, is to convict us of sin and drive us to the Gospel; and the third, the didactic use, is to teach Christians how to live in order to please God, which, motivated by gratitude, they now desire to do.

You will find no altar call in a Lutheran sermon.  Coming to faith is not a one-time decision.  Rather, the pattern of repentance and faith is repeated throughout the Christian’s life, and is enacted throughout the Divine Service.  The point at which you objectively became a Christian is when you were Baptized, even as an infant, a purely passive experience in which God called you by name and gave you the gift of the Holy Spirit.  But, just as that infant must be fed, be taught, and grow, the baptized Christian must be fed and taught and grow by means of the Word and Sacraments.  Otherwise, faith will die.

(5)  You Must be Catechized Before You Go Up for Communion.

If you are a visitor to a Lutheran church, observe what is happening and, if you want, go up for a blessing.  (Bow and cross your arms when the pastor comes your way.)  But if you are not a Lutheran and if the pastor doesn’t know you, you should refrain from taking the consecrated bread and wine.  The liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) would probably let you, but the more conservative Lutheran Church  Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Evangelical Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and smaller and independent church bodies practice “closed communion.”  Sometimes this is phrased as “close” communion, meaning that those who commune together should be close to each other as in being part of the same congregation or church body, but it means the same, that the altar is “closed” to those who have not been catechized and confirmed in the host church, its denomination, or a denomination with which it is in formal fellowship.

Please, please, do not be insulted, as many visitors are.  Lutherans are not denying that you are a Christian.  Anyone, of any denomination or non-denomination, who confesses faith in Christ is considered to be a Christian, and Lutherans do accept all Baptisms, of whatever mode or at whatever age.  It’s just that Lutherans hold to the Biblical teaching that no one should receive the Lord’s Supper without examining oneself and without “discerning the body” (1 Corinthians 11:28-29).

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“Discerning the body,” of course, means different things to different theologies. Catholics believe the bread is transubstantiated into the Body of Christ and so is no longer bread; Calvinists believe in a spiritual presence that depends on the faith of the person receiving it; most Protestants, again, hold it be merely symbolic.  But Lutherans believe that the body and blood of Christ are really present in, with, and under the bread and wine.  More than that, Christ gives His body and His blood in these physical elements “for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28).  Evangelicals speak of “receiving Christ” at their conversion.  Lutherans believe they “receive Christ” every time they take Holy Communion.

Some say that “discerning the body” refers not to the bread and wine of Holy Communion, but to the Body of Christ that is the Church.  Well, fine, and maybe it refers to both, since the two senses are intimately connected.  But that too is an argument for “closed” or “close” communion, since it requires awareness of those with whom you are communing.

Catholics and the Orthodox also practice closed communion, in line with their similarly high view of the Sacrament.  I have had occasions—weddings and funerals—to attend a Catholic mass, but it never bothered me that I couldn’t take communion. I didn’t want to. If I presented myself for communion, I would be participating with a church body that I don’t belong to and that I don’t agree with.  This is also why most Lutherans won’t commune at other churches that practice “open” communion.  It’s a matter of respecting differences.  And this respect can co-exist with a spirit of welcome and good-will.

So, please, visitors, know that you are welcome to a Lutheran service and don’t let our quirks be an obstacle.  I think you will appreciate, as my wife and I did, the sense of transcendence and holiness that we found there.

If you would like to learn more about Lutheranism, read the book that I wrote on that subject, The Spirituality of the Cross:  The Way of the First Evangelicals; talk to a pastor; and visit the Divine Service.

The World chooses to divide against Christ Luke 12: 48-53 August 18, 2019 Trinity Lutheran Church, Chestertown, Md.

[for the audio of this sermon click on the above icon]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who have known strife and division said … AMEN!

I’ve seen lots of pastors have a real problem with this passage, that it doesn’t fit their concept of Jesus. Their perception of Jesus wrong, it’s presumptuous, just not scriptural but that’s what people want. They want gentle Jesus with the little children, heal some people, make some gratuitous remarks and then go away so that we can live real life. We’ve done our duty, we sit and endure a sermon, some readings, Jesus is the little baby Jesus, nice and harmless and really doesn’t require anything of anyone, let’s just make nice, feel we’ve had a little bit of God and now let us move on to the stuff we want to do and keep us from all the judging stuff. After all I’m a good person, I deserve all the good stuff. Like Sally in a Peanut’s Christmas, “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.” If I were you, I would not be making that demand to God, you may think that it’s what you expect in this world, but expecting what you think is your “fair share” from God? How do you think that is going to work out? I always find it funny when I hear a Christian, I heard this from Roman Catholic clergy a lot in the social justice movement, we expect justice from God!  How do you think that is going to work out? Do you really want justice, or what we do get, grace? I’m very good with grace, please give me grace. God’s justice; Father, Son and Holy Spirit is as we see in this reading. The silly perception of sweet, humble, peace loving is just not realistic. We see His quotes in this passage. We see how He went up against the Jewish leaders. He had no compunction holding people responsible for their sins, certainly forgiving those seeking repentance. We’re not entitled to “forgiveness”, we certainly don’t want what we have coming to us, we wouldn’t like it. So likewise with today’s Gospel. Jesus is serious, He’s not some kind of supernatural Santa Claus dispensing what you want, when you want, good, bad, sinful, that’s not Jesus and you just can’t gloss over this passage. How do we see Jesus in Scripture? Certainly in this passage: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!” So Jesus’ is causing all this division? You’ve heard of the golden rule? He who has the gold makes the rules? Jesus makes the rules, the people who defy Him are causing the division. How is Jesus portrayed in the Book of Revelation? “One of the concluding visions of the Apocalypse pictures the victorious “King of kings, and Lord of Lords.” He is riding triumphantly on a white horse—a symbol of conquest (19:11-16). He is faithful and true, consistent with his holy character, he will “judge” and “make war.” The judging discriminates between the godly and the ungodly; the war signifies the punishment to be inflicted upon the rebellious. His garment is red with the blood of his enemies (cf. Isaiah 63 from which the imagery is borrowed). Those who have served faithfully under his leadership likewise are on white horses and are clothed in white garments, signifying their purity and/or victory. By his word he smites the rebel nations and breaks them with his rod of iron (cf. Psalm 2:9). His enemies will feel the fierceness of his wrath and find no relief ever after (cf. 14:9-11).”[1]Through the Gospels we see Jesus taking on those He has a problem with; the merchants abusing His house, the Jewish leaders who abuse their positions. Those who sin gratuitously. Jesus is telling us in this passage, I wasn’t sent by the Father to be a simple bumpkin, I was sent to take on a very evil world. It’s not Jesus who is causing the division. First off that’s just oxymoronic. How can the person who through all creation came into existence, cause division? He created everything, He makes the rules. If someone choses to ignore the all-powerful Creator of all and make rules and creation in his own image, contrary to Jesus’ image. The culture scoffs at the idea of worshipping idols, when they’ve made themselves an idol, that they believe all creation is made into their image. Those are the ones causing division. Jesus is coming with a sword in order to restore creation, for people to turn back to Him, the one who makes the rules, the one who saves us to eternal life, the One who is to be worshipped, not ourselves. You create division any time you think, despite what Scripture says, that the “fair” thing is for things to be your way, in your image. If you’re breaking the commandments, violating the law that God established, you are the one causing division, and that is called sin! Jesus confronted and defeated Satan after 40 days in the desert and then proceeded in a number of situations. Jesus is about overcoming evil, the ultimate spiritual warrior. He repeatedly confronted demons in Scripture, yes He loves the little children, but there’s one pericope about children, there’s numerous ones in particular today’s reading and most of the Book of Revelation. This is what Jesus is about and not some wimpy, vacillating milquetoast. People should think about when they decide to put themselves on the altar as their idol to worship. Jesus does not tolerate those who simply dismiss Him and conduct their life in defiance of His will and laws. When you really consider all the evil of the world, when we portray Jesus as this kind of nice fella, wonderful with children, I can see why people don’t take Him very seriously. That’s our fault trying to “sell” Jesus as the gentle, benevolent nice guy. Jesus is the ultimate warrior! Sounds like a good wrassling name, doesn’t it? He is! The evil of the world is kept in bounds because of what Jesus does for us. I’ve heard commentators suggest how insufferably evil the world would be without the Holy Spirit keeping it in bounds and He will be withdrawn as the Book of Revelation tells us. Jesus’ angels are with us, it is Jesus who commands the arch-angel Michael the commander of the heavenly host who drove Satan out of heaven. It is Jesus who will be the ultimate warrior as we see in Revelation who will destroy the world. The upside for us who are in Jesus is that He will then restore the world. Not the world tainted by our sin and evil. The world likes to make it about those who are in Jesus who are the ones causing all the strife: if you would just leave people alone and let them do what they want all will be well !!!! Yea that’s why we’re having these ridiculous scenes police officers in New York being doused with water while making an arrest, being hooted and pelted in Philadelphia by a mob, the scenes we’re seeing played out in Baltimore. Should have just let those people alone. There are innocent people in those neighborhoods who have to live there, don’t want to be subjected to the violence and the threat of attacks on their person. Letting people alone is not the answer, that is what is called division. God will judge those who divide and cause the strife in the world and that is what Jesus is talking about in this passage. It is those who do what is contrary to God’s will who cause division. Wes McAdams is on spot when he writes in Radically Christian: “the sin Jesus and the apostles addressed the most might have been division. In fact, did you know the word “heresy” comes from the Greek word that means “sect”? Literally, a “heretic” (Titus 3:10, KJV) is a person who divides from others and forms a sect around his or her opinions. This kind of sectarianism is expressly condemned and I believe every single one of us need to heed the warnings of Scripture. The book of James sheds a lot of light on what causes divisions. And the simple answer is, a lack of wisdom from above. James says, “Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere” (James 3:17). When we are not being peaceable, gentle, and open to reason, it is obvious we are lacking the kind of wisdom James is commending here. He goes on to say our conflicts are caused by our passions which are at war within us (James 4:1). We want and we do not have, which causes us to fight, bicker and quarrel with one another. What we really need, James says, is to humble ourselves (James 4:6-10). Wouldn’t a good dose of humility and some spiritual wisdom (that is peaceable, gentle, open to reason, etc.) go a long way in preventing religious division? If Christians – on both sides of division – would stop pushing their own agendas and humbly stick with what Scripture actually says, there would seldom be division. James also says we need to not speak evil against our brethren or judge them (James 4:11-12). So what does that mean?”[2] This is spot on. Our wants, our opinions, our passions, those are the things that cause division, they put us on the altar, we are our idol. It is all about what we want and obviously that divides us from God.

Journal about what are the idols that you are obeying, worshipping that are dividing you from God. What divisions are you causing because of your opinion, in what you do to deliberately misunderstand Scripture to twist it to your desires? This is what causes divisions. We want God to be the great benevolent enabler because our sins are OK, and they’re not. They separate us from God. Jesus causes division when He comes with the sword, from those who battle against God. It’s going to be His way, no matter how far in denial we are. So we can continue to live in this idea that it’s everyone else’s fault and I should just have my own way. Then we’re shocked when people in New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore attack for no reason, just for a hoot and we know the only way it will get better is when we start getting serious about God and are bringing Him into the world.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom  Christ is risen! He has risen indeed Hallelujah

 

[1] https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1484-jesus-christ-in-the-book-of-revelation

[2] https://radicallychristian.com/the-sin-of-division

Faith Hall of Fame Hebrews 11 August 11, 2019 Trinity Lutheran Church Chestertown, Md

[for the audio of this sermon click on the above icon]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son + and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are blessed with faith in Christ said … AMEN!

Today’s readings are certainly interwove. The Gospel reading, follows on last week’s reading of the man who had plenty. He had neither fear nor faith, he didn’t have to, he’s rich. He was an American because we know wealth solves our problems, that is if you ignore the recent spate of celebrities and millionaires who have committed suicide. I’m sure they would say something different, now that they have to explain themselves to their Creator, the one who made them and gave them life. How would I explain to God how, while He has given me so much and there may not be millionaires here, but we are all blessed with so much. I wouldn’t want to explain to God my lack of faith, after all He’s blessed me greatly.

Going through serious personal trauma for the last few weeks, I am getting a powerful lesson in dealing with anxiety. I wish I could say that I’ve been doing just smurfy. That would not be true, maintaining faith under difficult circumstances has been very difficult. It is instructive when I was in Marge’s room at the Neuro Critical Care facility at the U M Medical Center in Baltimore, I did know one thing. No matter what, the Holy Spirit was closer to me than anything I could imagine. He knew more about me than I did through this time of trial. With Margie mostly unconscious, being in a city I had only been in three other times, I certainly felt alone, isolated, fearful. When concepts like Sola Fide are drilled in your head, in the depths of fear and uncertainty, God reaches through the Lord’s Prayer, Apostle’s Creed, the sermons, the discussions, the teaching, through these God spoke to me in that dark room, where the uncertainty of Marge’s situation hung over my head. Dr Luther writes: “Faith makes God real to us and real in us. Without faith, God’s honor, glory, wisdom, righteousness, truth and mercy cannot be within us. Where there’s no faith, God has no majesty and divinity… When we honor God, his divinity remains complete and intact – he has everything that a believing heart can give him. When we honor God in this way, we are showing the greatest wisdom, the highest justice, and the best worship, while offering the most pleasing sacrifice.”[1]

After Jesus relates the parable of the Rich Fool, ESV Luke 12:22 “And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.” There is nothing wrong doing your best and earning money. If you are successful good for you! Too often those who put their faith in what they earned, that it’s all about what they store in the barn and silo, and “…who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21) There is a lot of people who have plenty and found it did not satisfy. We regular folks, have anxiety, stress, worry, about those things, Jesus tells us there’s not much point. In fact, the guy who thought he had it all found at the end of the day, he would be in the presence of the Lord. His full barns, silos and smug attitude won’t help when you’re in the presence of the Lord.

The contrast then in our readings is between the self-righteousness arrogance of the farmer, to the “Faith Hall of Fame” described in the Book of Hebrews. The Book of Hebrews is interesting in itself. Dr Luther describes it as “… a marvelously fine epistle… who wrote it is not known and probably not be known for a while [500 years ago Luther wrote this, it’s been “awhile”] it makes no difference… he discloses a firm grasp of the reading of the Scriptures and the proper way of dealing with them…” It is telling in the fact that that writer knew the Old Testament, even things we really don’t accept as canon/Scripture. It’s not to say we don’t consider these books as acceptable history or relating of some truths at the times they were written. They are just not considered to be inspired by God. There are a number of “apocryphal” books that were considered for the New Testament, one in fact was Hebrews. Big problem on Hebrews is, as I quoted Luther, we don’t know who wrote this book. There is some interesting suggestions. Tertullian quoted from an epistle to the Hebrews under the name of Barnabas.”[2] I favor that, Barnabas was a really great disciple, it would be very appropriate if we had writing from his hand. “Tertullian goes on to write: “The author, furthermore, calls his document ‘my word of exhortation’ (13:22) and Barnabas means “son of encouragement/exhortation (Acts 4:36)…”[3] Luther nominated Apollos mentioned in Acts 18:24, Paul and others have been nominated, maybe in 500 more years the name of the author will be discovered.

Chapter 11 of Hebrews starts: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” (vv 1,2). From there the author describes those in the Old Testament, notable for their faith. Abel, Enoch appears in Genesis, he’s only described in Genesis as who was his father and who he was the father of, that he walked with God, meaning he was faithful and that he was taken. The author of Hebrews interprets that to mean: “ESV Hebrews 11:5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him.” In particular he describes Abraham. Rev Dr Carl Fickencher on Issue’s Etc said: God created this faith in Abraham to believe God’s Word and according to Paul the Lord counted this to Abram as righteousness, believing that God honor’s His promises, that God cares for us, is the way we receive the righteousness of God Himself. This opened the way to the Reformation when Martin Luther understood God accounted His righteousness to us, when we believe it was given to us in Christ, that opened the door for Luther to change the world, it opened his heart to see that heaven was opened before him, rather than for him to trust in his own works, his own laboring, his own hope which we know will always be fruitless.”[4] If we picked the leading example of faith in the Old Testament it would be Abraham. Most of us know what it’s like to pick up and move from a familiar place to the unfamiliar, I’m still learning my around this area. Abraham picks up from a place he had grown old in, to a place completely foreign to him in Canaan, the promised land of the Old Testament. Abraham is called to wait into extreme old age for the son God had been promising him. When that child came, when he was about twenty years old, God called him to sacrifice that son. The Hebrews author writes: “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from the dead.” (v 19) C.F.W. Walther writes: “Before the world, faith appears to be so humble, but before God, it is the most precious thing one can offer. Through faith, man begins to fulfill the first and highest commandment to make God his God and to trust in Him above all things. … ‘Without faith it is impossible to please him.’”[5] Whether in that hospital room an unfamiliar place, not as unfamiliar as Abraham in Canaan, but still imposing, praying to God that He heal and restore Marge praying over her all night. It is in faith that we trust what Christ did for us. God gives us the faith we need in order to not just function through the trials of our life. He gives us the faith we need that 2,000 years ago a man hung on a rude, rough cross in that same Canaan Abraham had been led to 3,000 years earlier. That Jesus died in order, by faith, to save us to eternal life in the resurrection. God gives us that faith. He does not expect us to have the faith necessary to move through life on our own. He knows we depend on Him for everything as Jesus tells us in the Gospel lesson. Certainly clothes, food and also the faith to trust, the same way Abraham, Abel, Noah, Enoch, all those who lived in faith in God and all pointing to Jesus. Dr Luther writes: “…faith is a power that comes from God. When God gives faith, the individual is born again and becomes a new creature.” Take some time to really think about those times that you simply had to turn over to God the trials we experience. How did God lead you, how did you cope waiting on Him? There is one Hall of Fame we can qualify for, the Faith Hall of Fame through Christ.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom  Christ is risen! He has risen indeed Hallelujah

[1] Martin Luther quoted in “Martin Luther Through Faith Alone” September 26

[2] Concordia Self-Study Bible p 1873

[3] Ibid

 

[4] Dr Carl Fickencher on Issue’s Etc with Todd Wilkins Aug 9, 2019

[5] Translated by Gerhard Grabenhofer “God Grant It” Daily Devotions from C.F.W. Waltheh

Ascends as Lord of all creation Acts 1 Trinity Lutheran Church,

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We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know Jesus’ sits at the right hand of all power and all glory said… AMEN !

We use the “Common Lectionary”, when people come up to do the readings, they traditionally read out of the service book, that has the daily readings assuring that we observe the important, formative, enlightening events of the Bible. It usually guides our worship. Sometimes the pastor has a good reason to deviate from Scripture, but usually we want to stick to the lectionary. This keeps the pastor focused. Too often in non-liturgical worship, preaching and teaching is more about the preacher’s hobby-horse versus, trying to teach the entire Bible. The entire Bible is important, we need, at the very least to be familiar with the various parts and be able to describe different parts of the Bible and what is going on in those parts. The entire Bible points to Jesus being active before His incarnation, the events Jesus lived through in the incarnation. When we understand that, we have an even deeper appreciation of the entire Bible. People will often tell me how “boring” the Book of Such and Such is. Yet that Book, all of Scripture describes Jesus, God the Son who has lived eternally, John writes in his Gospel: “ESV John 1:3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” As much as the Father was through all eternity, so is the Son and the Holy Spirit. They may not have been revealed until the New Testament, but they very much existed, all eternal God. I’ve had people who claim to be Christian “pastors” say, I don’t preach on the Old Testament, it’s the Gospels and the epistles that really matter. Nothing could be more wrong, and someone who claims to be a pastor, and believes that, is not a qualified Christian pastor. All this is to say that the lectionary keeps us all honest, on track, having a thorough understanding of Jesus, and all of Scripture as possible. While Ascension Day may seem anticlimactic, OK, He rises up into the air and disappears, time to move on… Daniel Marrs writes: “I wonder if our tendency to let Ascension Day slip past uncelebrated has more to do with the simple fact that it feels anticlimactic? The Christmas story tells us that God purposed to be with us, joining himself to human nature and walking among us as a man. And we know how Jesus’ life culminated with the world-shaking significance of the cross and the resurrection. But then he just…leaves. Why? And what does it mean for us?[1]

Jesus is not unique in being bodily taken to heaven, Elijah was lifted up into heaven in front of his student Elisha. ESV 2 Kings 2:11 And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” It does seem that God’s intention for Elijah that he would be the one who would announce the Messiah’s return. We know he was with Jesus at the Transfiguration. Moses was also, some people believe Moses was also bodily ascended into heaven. Elijah and Moses are thought to be the two witnesses in Revelation 11: 3-12, because they were bodily raised to heaven for these purposes. While Dr Luther stipulated that the Bible did not say anything about the bodily assumption of Mary, he didn’t deny the possibility either. Lutherans have rejected that view, I’m not trying to convince you of it, but just that Mary is included in the list. Isaiah may be also, he was brought into the presence of Yahweh, but the intention was not to keep him there, same for St Paul.

While it might make an interesting discussion, how many angels dancing on the head of a pin, kind of discussion, we know this for sure. Elijah and Enoch may have been raised up to somewhere by God in heaven, and Paul says that he was raised to what he called the 3rd heaven, Jesus was raised to the right hand of God. In His Ascension into heaven, Jesus became the entirety of the universe. Elijah, Enoch, Paul, Mary(?) if God did raise them bodily into some level or part of heaven, Jesus was raised to the right hand of God. Being at the right hand of any ruler was always understood as the person being at the right hand had the power and authority of the ruler. Peter Mikhalev offers this pointed quote: “St. John Chrysostom: “Elijah ascended as if into Heaven, because he was a slave, but Christ ascended into Heaven itself, because He was the Lord.”[4][2] This is generally to be understood as the man who carries out the will of the ruler. Enoch, Elijah, Mary (?) may have bodily ascended to heaven, but to be sure no where near the right hand where as we profess in the Apostle’s Creed: “seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.” By virtue of this position of power Jesus is He whose rule is in complete glory: John Calvin writes: “Christ was invested with lordship over heaven and earth, and solemnly entered into possession of the government committed to him — and that he not only entered into possession once for all, but continues in it, until he shall come down on Judgment Day” [3](Institutes 2.16.15). Mikhalev quotes St Gregory: “…by His own Divine power the Creator ascended into Heaven, because He was returning to there from whence He descended. He entered there where He had habitation from the ages: for, although He ascended as man, as God He possessed both Heaven and Earth.”[14][4]

R C Sproul writes “God’s right hand is the place of “highest favor with God the Father” (WLC, Q&A 54), and the phrase is used throughout Scripture to indicate His power and sovereignty (Ex. 15:6Isa. 48:13).  This means that He is ruler over all and that the kings of the earth rule only according to His sovereign permission. As such, Christ alone is worthy of our highest allegiance, and it is to Him that we must render obedience, even if it means, at times, defying the rulers of this world. Jesus’ kingdom alone is eternal, and His rule is above all others.”[5]

That Jesus raised Himself to heaven, to the ultimate glory of His ruling over all of Creation eternally, also is another demonstration of His Lordship overall creation. Arator writes: “…let us commend the manner of his rule though the powers that are subject to him: born of a virgin mother, rising again by treading upon death, seeking the scepter of heaven He announces such deeds by these angelic servants. Nor do the elements cease to serve their thunderer. In his honor as he is coming, a star does service as a soldier going before the magi. A cloud waits upon him in obedience as he goes.”[6] As He is about to be lifted up, unbeknownst to the disicples, He gives them the great commission, we quote Matthew 28 more often, but Acts starts this way, reminding us we are His disciples, His witnesses to the end of the earth, everywhere. As He says that He is lifted up, the disciples stand there [wide eyed] The angel sitting there had to be amused what you guys doing? He’s told you what to do and He will return in the same way. In the meantime it’s time to turn to for Jesus.” They certainly did in the power of the Holy Spirit whose intentional introduction will be made at Pentecost that we will observe next Sunday.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom. Christ is risen! He has risen indeed Hallelujah

[1] https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2019/05/its-ascension-day-heres-what-it-means-for-you/?utm_source=bg&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weeklybrief&spMailingID=59440308&spUserID=MjgzMzMxOTk1NTAS1&spJobID=1644181925&spReportId=MTY0NDE4MTkyNQS2

[2] Did Enoch and Elijah ascend into heaven? Deacon Peter Mikhalev

[3] R C Sproul quoting John Calvin https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/seated-at-gods-right-hand/

[4] Op Cit

[5] Seated at God’s Right Hand   RC Sproul

[6] Arator quoted in Ancient Commentary on Scripture NT 4 p 10

We are a kingdom and priests Revelation 1:6 Trinity Lutheran Church April 28, 2019

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We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know that they are priests in the Royal Priesthood of believers said … AMEN!

I am not about the mystical issues surrounding the Book of Revelation, I had the opportunity to hear lectures from one of the foremost authorities on the Book of Revelation, Dr Brighton who was brilliant, fascinating to listen to, also tell stories about living in sub-zero temperatures in Saskatchewan where he grew up. Dr Brighton starts his commentary where Jesus started His revelation with the Greek word Apoka,luyij which means a revelation, a disclosure. What English word comes to mind? Apocalypse… Which has come to us to mean end times, what will happen in the end times. This is what Jesus is revealing to John in his vision of what John discloses to us of end times, what we call the apocalypse. Dr Brighton writes: “…the revelation comes from Jesus and it is a revelation about Jesus Christ. Through everything that Jesus Christ reveals, he reveals (that is, unveils) his exalted glory and dominion … the unveiling of Jesus Christ in his glory at the End…” God had always intended His people to be a chosen people, a Kingdom of priests. ESV Exodus 19:5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” Israel has always been? …Jesus! The Church is the Body of Christ, that means that those in the Church, the Body of Christ are Israel and Jesus is making it clear in the reading His revelation is for His people, His priests and we are responsible for proclaiming Christ and His revelation.  In October, I preached on Jesus being the “Great High Priest”, Hebrews 4:15. If Jesus is our “Great High Priest” He must have junior “priests”. All in Jesus are “priests”, you and I equally priests before the Father. Jesus is our great High Priest, intercedes for His people, equally before God. We have people in authority over us in the church. We trust those people to “minister” to us according to church doctrine, and Christ’s Word in Scripture. In their vocation they are trained and ordained in order to properly serve Jesus’ church. We want people like that, we need people who are properly and sufficiently trained in Scripture and in the church to properly serve Christ’s people in His Church. There is a lot of nonsense out there by people who either don’t have a clue, really don’t care, have made it up to what they think makes people happy and hang a shingle saying they’re preachers. In York, I had a lot of people who were never around unless something serious happens, then there they are expecting I’m supposed to turn and burn for them. They knew I was well trained, that what I said was true Gospel, and when they needed authenticity they came to me. Otherwise, they preferred the church that told them what they wanted to hear, made them “happy” and convinced them everything was hunk-dory with Jesus. They had no intention at all to serve, certainly not as a priest, it was what they wanted, when they wanted it. One of the highest accolades I received was in my time in the York Police Dept as a chaplain. There were usually 9 serving as chaplains and we rotated duty, on 24 hour call. Both the police lieutenant and chief of chaplains said they had such confidence in me and my training and experience they would sometimes call me, even though I wasn’t on call, to come and minister. They knew I had the best training. I was called for a homicide on Good Friday, number of suicides, one involving a police officer in a town outside York, a number of overdose deaths. As a “minister”, qualified and responsible for teaching, preaching, administering the sacraments to serve you to the best in order for you, as priests, to grow in Christ and serve those around you as priests in Jesus.

The difference between a priest and minister a Roman priest, Greek Orthodox priest. You come to a priest, in confession, you tell the priest your issues. He takes those “issues”, raises them up to God on your behalf, asks God to forgive you in Jesus, God forgives you. He also tells you what “penance” you are to perform in to show true contrition, pay for your sin in some sense. This was one of Dr Luther’s major beefs with the Roman Church. Do I need someone to mediate for me before Jesus? No. We are all priests, we should all go before the Father for forgiveness. We are told, Matthew 5:24, before we go to the communion rail we should leave our gift, reconcile our issues, come back and offer your gift. We understand that to mean that you come before a minister, in confession and work out some of your sin issues. It is helpful to sit with someone be accountable to in Jesus. Either way, you’re the one, as a priest, who has to reconcile your issues before God the Father. I help you do that, as a doctor would help you deal with a physical issue, but in both cases, you have to do the consultation, “confession and absolution” in this case, and have to perform the treatments. All to your spiritual health as a “priest of Christ”, as being a part of the priesthood of believers. Dr Luther writes: “All this …proves that those who serve people with Word and the Sacraments may and must not be called priests. That they were called priest stems either from the custom of the heathen or was drawn from vestiges of the Jewish people and adopted to the great harm of the church. According to the evangelical writings, they should more correctly be called ministers, deacons, bishops and stewards…” I am an ordained minister and by virtue of that bishop of this church. We don’t normally refer to a pastor as “bishop”, we do have people in higher authority usually referred to as bishop. We are all priests, my priesthood consists of serving the congregation in a way that is to build you up, support you in Jesus. In your vocation you are called to be a “priest” to those around you. They won’t know you are, but the Holy Spirit will. Often you are the only Jesus people will ever see. How are you representing Jesus in your vocation, being His priest? Many people think that the pastor is supposed to be the “church evangelist”. American culture with its bizarre idea that people in the parish are there to take in, be entertained, maybe leave with one good thought of the day and bang, out into the real world. Based on my experience, ministry, done properly is as real as it gets. Second, my primary job, as Paul writes to the Ephesians, 4: 11-12 is to “equip the saints”, that would be you fellow saint and priest. Give you grounding and support to reach those around you, most I will never meet or know. Isn’t the Holy Spirit using you, in your vocation where you work, as Jesus’ priest to reach that person who might otherwise be lost?

We are a Royal Priesthood. In our life in Jesus, He serves us, saves us, mediates before the Father for us, constantly in prayer for us. Jesus is the One who will pull you across to complete the race, to be with Him in the eternal Resurrection, where we will live our life and life more abundant. In our life on earth, we are His junior priests and responsible for serving Him and others as His priests. Take some time this week, pull out a notebook, start a journal of your life in Jesus. How are you serving Him, His church and each other as His “priests” as a member of the Royal Priesthood of believers in Jesus?  ESV 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom  Christ is risen! He has risen indeed Hallelujah

Christ, David’s Son Psalm 9

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We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are uplifted by the Psalms said AMEN!

We are in the season of Lent, we know that we try to “sacrifice” something for Lent. Some Lent news; “It was just announced that chocolate maker Hershey is reportedly expecting to cut its global workforce by about 15 percent. Seth Meyers observes: That’s right, for the first time ever, chocolate is giving up people for Lent.” For the Lent season, I’m “planning”, I would like to, do a sermon series on Psalms. We really don’t hear many sermons on Psalms and that really is a shame. I like to just settle in to the Psalms and take it in. Certainly all of Scripture is about the human experience. That experience is with God, and some of it is to show how things get messed up when we try to cut God out of what is going on.

There is 150 Psalms, most, not all were written by David ben Jesse, also known as  King David, husband of Michal, Abigail, Bathsheba, father of Solomon, Absalon, Amnon and Tamar. These were his, let’s say more notorious children. He had 19 sons total, and 1 daughter. I’m not sure what the odds of that happening naturally are, but… I’m sure it made jockeying to be David’s successor a lot more of a story in David’s palace during his lifetime.

The book that Jesus quotes the most is … Psalms. First the Book of Psalms is very long 150 books, second because David wrote most of the Psalms, and that Jesus is often referred to as the “Son of David” and that is because Yahweh promised that the Messiah would be in David’s line, one of David’s descendants would be the Messiah. This is referred to as the “Davidic Covenant”, 2 Samuel 7: 10-13: “…ESV 2 Samuel 7:12 “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” Of course “His” refers to Jesus and His Kingdom. What He established in His first coming and what will be fully realized as it is described in the Book of Revelation.

Father Patrick Reardon, who was the pastor of a church in Butler, Pa where our son Timothy is living, writes this about the Psalms: “From the very beginning of her history, when the Church of God turns to Him in love and devotion, the words of the Psalter form the expressions that spontaneously, as by an impulse of her nature, rise from her heart and take shape in her mouth.”[1] If you look, starting at about page 219 in your hymnal, you will see the “Daily Offices”. Those were the daily worships, roughly, in monasteries going back to sometime on or before the sixth century. Check the references to find that most of what is there are various recitations of Psalms. At least back to the sixth century Saint Benedict of Nursia, … prescribed the weekly reading of the Psalms, all 150, and basically called the monks at that time sissies because they didn’t recite them everyday as earlier generations of monks had done.[2]

This Psalm, Chapter 9, was written by David. It appears that this was for some sort of public declaration of victory. The Lutheran Study Bible notes: “The praise of God in the Psalter is rarely a private matter between the psalmist and the Lord. It is usually a public [that is, at the temple] celebration of God’s holy virtues or of his saving acts or gracious bestowal of blessings.” Where he proclaims God’s glorious attributes, righteous deeds, joyfully celebrate God’s glory. Probably where David is declaring victory over an enemy of Israel and proclaiming the power, might and glory of Yahweh.[3] The note in the Concordia Study Bible goes on to point out that: “This aspect of praise in the Psalms has rightly been called the Old Testament anticipation of New Testament evangelism.”[4] That is that what was written in the Old Testament was also intended for us to praise God now. Praise is the reason why we should more regularly refer to Psalms in worship, which we’re supposed to do in our personal and in daily worship in church. Worship is not just limited to Sunday morning, or once in awhile on Wednesday evenings, but intended to be regularly through the day and that is what Psalms have been. Not just about what David did 3,000 years ago, but what God is still doing today that we should be praising Him for now, daily. I’ve always thought it would be great to have a regular Daily Offices, where people would know they could go all through the week and share in worship and prayer. I think we could take such Psalms of victory, such as Psalm 9 that we’re reading today, and there are a lot of “victory psalms” out of the 150 psalms, and proclaim them as God’s victory against our enemies today, understanding that our enemies now aren’t the Philistines, but the powers of evil that are all around us. Whether that evil is demonic and all its different manifestations, spiritually or what we can actually see in the world. Not only has God defeated them but quoting the Concordia Study Bible, God has redressed the wrongs committed by them against David (and Israel).”[5] Again that is for us today. God has certainly defeated the powers of evil all around us, we who are in Christ, that we are certainly subject to demonic attack and are protected by the Holy Spirit from those attacks. Also that God does restore to us that which might be lost or destroyed, if not in this world, certainly in the world of the eternal of the resurrection. Tremper Longman writes: “It is impossible to date the psalm to a certain period in David’s (Israel’s) history. The characterization of the enemy is purposefully ambiguous so as to permit the individual lament to be used as a community lament.”[6] Again to say that while David probably wrote it for a particular occasion, it has come down to us through Jewish history and since the beginning of the Christian church. It’s interesting how both writers conflate David and Israel. David is very much Israel, Jesus certainly is Israel, and since we are in Christ we are Israel. Praise to God then, is as much praise to Him today, from His children in Jesus.

Undoubtedly David knew Who Jesus is, I have to believe that God the Father revealed to David who his descendant was and what He is. That David knew that while it was His throne that was promised to his Descendant, his “Son” by the power of His deity, would make that “Throne” the universal Throne of all power in creation. That the Name of Christ on the Throne, from all of creation to the end of all of creation was and is the power of Jesus. Reardon writes, kind of a long quote: “… particular attention should be paid to that of the “name”: “’I shall sing to Your Name, O most High,’  and ‘Let all those who know Your Name hope on You.’ This is that name of which St Peter said that ‘there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). This, truly, is ‘the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow’ (Phil 2:9, 10). The praying of the Psalter, in fact, pertains to our sharing in that universal genuflection ‘of those in heaven, and of those on earth…’ As the only name by which we have access to God, the name of Jesus is the proper exegetical key to praying the Book of Psalms.”[7]

So you might wonder why we’re conflating Jesus and the Psalms at this time of the year on the calendar, but certainly Jesus is being proclaimed, praised and given thanks for our salvation in Him from the time of His “father” David to the present. He is known from everlasting to everlasting and we praise Him and bless His Holy Name for His sacrifice, His suffering, His separation in order to bring us to the Father, to give us the hope and promise of everlasting, life and life more abundant in Him in His crucifixion, His resurrection and the marriage feast of the Lamb that is that eternal life in Him.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.

 

 

[1] Reardon, Patrick Henry Christ in the Psalms   p xv

[2] Ibid

[3] Concordia Study Bible footnote 9:1 p 794

[4] Ibid

[5] Concordia Study Bible 9:3-6 p 794

[6] Longman, Tremper “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary” p 143

[7] Reardon, Patrick Henry Christ in the Psalms   p18

Resurrection

We Christians talk about heaven as if that’s the ultimate goals. Many non-Christians, certainly the “nones”, use that as their cop out, because wow is that generation, ah heck the whole culture today, all about excuses. Doesn’t matter, what happens, happens, I’m entitled anyway, it’s all about me, yada-yada!

Well no, sorry, but your ticket is punched for hell. What you thought was reality, i.e. it’s all about me, well you will find out that it’s not true and that is tragically and eternally.

On to the actual, ultimate reality. It’s not heaven. Many will never be in heaven. They are saved, but if Jesus returns tomorrow, and you and I are around, we will never be in heaven, we go right to the eternal resurrection. For the non-Christian reading this, sorry, doesn’t apply to you, you will be eternally condemned in hell and that’s just the way it is. I sincerely do hope that the Holy Spirit uses this to save the reader who is not a Christian, but as a Christian minister, I’m required to live in the actual real world, and the ultimate reality in that world for me is the resurrection. For the non- believer, the ultimate reality is eternal condemnation and torment in hell.

Kind of separate, but interesting how our Christian holidays have become more about who we are in Jesus. The world is all about Christmas because it’s me-me-me, all about me, and that’s what the world is about. As Christians we know the deeper meaning and can still celebrate and observe Christmas in a genuine way. For genuine Christians (by that I don’t mean the people who call themselves that, because they grew up in that culture, went through the motions, but really have no clue, and live very much in the world. Too many of those people are in churches, don’t get it and don’t care. Like those in the world, they’re entitled, and well God has to come through for them.) Moving along, Easter is where it’s at if you are genuinely in Jesus. Easter Sunday and every Sunday we remember the resurrection, that is what being a Christian is all about. The new-perfect-eternal life in the new world. The world will look very familiar, but it will be perfect, no evil, no sin, no death, no illness, full of genuine life, of infinite potential. We will have the whole picture, understand completely what God did in creation, in history, in salvation and will understand that it was and is completely perfect and understandable. We will see what a truly evil, debased world the world around us was. We will see the spiritual warfare that went on around us, the constant attempts to undermine our relationship with Jesus and tear us away from Him to eternal  condemnation. The Holy Spirit and all the spiritual warriors all around us fought hard to keep us focused on Christ and fit for eternal salvation in the resurrection.

Certainly one way we resist in this spiritual warfare that is going on around us is through prayer. Continual prayer on our part keeps us connected to the spiritual, to God’s guidance to the beings around us that are protecting us. We are tuned into God’s direction, guidance, what He is doing in our life. Failing in prayer is to cut yourself off from God, to be tuned in only to the world and its direction. The world is condemned, and if that’s where you are tuned, you very much risk being condemned. Prayer doesn’t save you, that’s not the point. None of our works save us, we are only saved in what Jesus did and does for us. But if we are not connected to what God is doing in, for, through and around us through our prayer, we lose that connection, we eventually just buy into the constant blah-blah from everything around us in the world, decide that it’s the world’s message that’s most important and fade off into eternal separation from God.

The resurrection is the ultimate destination, the Holy Spirit guides us there, Jesus makes us fit to be there by His righteousness imputed to us and the Father assures us of that eternal life in the resurrected, perfect, eternal new world, New Jerusalem.

Millenials, long on fault finding, short on doing

I shared a post by a “millenial” who wrote, essentially, that the problem with the church was that it was too focused on being the church and wasn’t “serving”enough”. The research today says that “millenials” are motivated to “serve”. OK, they may believe that, but I see little evidence of it and what I see is not very well thought out and is more of a social event and well short of any effective service. Further, it seems as if society as a whole is convinced that the church is just another social service agency.

Well no it’s not.

It is the Body of Christ and is, at least supposed to be, supposed to teach about Christ, how we live the Christian life and how we grow as disciples. Yes, that certainly means to serve, but not to some end that is to self satisfaction, but in how the Holy Spirit moves the disciples of Christ to serve.

The writer had a problem with how too many churches do conduct their ministry more in terms of being a social club. I would agree and the church has been doing that for decades. It’s not so much the church, but telling people what they want to hear, pat them and send them back into the world as clueless as ever. The problem is that such a superficial generation takes every opportunity to deny reality, play the system and not assume any real responsibility, because everyone else should take on responsibility.

So I just wanted to post my comments about the church I’m the pastor of. Surprise, didn’t receive any response. I raised a bunch of questions that I really don’t think the superficial millenial mentality wants to deal with, because then, they’d actually have to do something:

thank you very much for the opportunity to answer you and this blog this is like throwing a dog raw meat. First I did not grow up in the church and yes I’m an old guy and yet I get stereotyped by the culture in general and get shut down without so much as a how do you do. First I have to laugh at the supposition that the church has millions of dollars. Oh I get the accusation but I assure you at least First Saint Johns is living hand to mouth. And yet unlike the critics we are standing on our ear to serve. However we are not a social service agency. We are here to give hope and promise of Jesus to a world with no hope and promise and getting worse. As a pastor of a downtown church I spend a large amount of my time trying to help people, millennials included, whose attitude is just gimme. We have a food bank, we have Grief Share, I’m a chaplain for the police department and have had to comfort people as the result of suicide, victims of crime, parents on the scene of a child who died of a heroin overdose. I am the chaplain at the Lutheran Mission Society that gives clothing to people. We started a community radio station at great time, expense and emotional expense. For a small group with limited resources we have done an enormous amount. We have started an afternoon meal program, a workout area and offer classes in martial arts. We started an employment support group. You know what the response has been from the community? Crickets! I’ve made a few efforts with the public schools and York College to get involvement at a great expense of time (frankly my wife thinks I should spend more time at home) and I assure you I’m a long way from making my first million. I’m sure I was making more in the business world hour to hour and actually had days off and vacation. We have been an open door for so much and again crickets. I’ve had to get up in the middle of the night to be with members and nonmembers undergoing duress. I’m sure the teacher writing this article never had to get up in the middle of the night for a math emergency. Oh I get it there are plenty of pretty suburban, happy clappy churches out there who are just about themselves but sad to say that’s pretty much the way of the society. I wish I had half the time off of a school teacher. I’ve averaged fifty hour weeks 52 weeks a year for seven years in ministry I am regularly exhausted and stressed at less pay then school teachers. Speaking of which we have begged the school dept here to give students the educational opportunity of the radio station that we spent a lot of money we don’t have. We are right across the street from William Penn HS. There’s been talk, but it’s easier for them to just say no. There’s a lot of people out there who love to wag their finger and just don’t know what they’re talking about and don’t care. I would love to have an open forum but I know what would happen. I’d spend a lot of time organizing and being there and no one would show up. I will do it since I’ve been challenged. I’ve been thinking about a “grill the pastor ” for First Friday but like the rest of our attempts no one will show. I was at church at 8:30 this morning went to about 1pm, went out at 4pm to support the Sheriffs canine program who have to raise money they don’t get any government funding, typing this message out at 10pm missing the All Star game and I’m on call for the police dept and what I get for all my trouble is why aren’t I doing more. I will compare my social service and DayTimer with any secular and Christian critic. Oh and we’re also setting up to be a Safe Space for the city and also have Spanish ministry and we’re doing it all on a shoestring budget. Maybe it’s time for the Millenials to put up. What I see from most of society is a lot of complaining and criticism, but very little in terms of action. Anyone who wants to come and talk I welcome the opportunity. But they need to listen too because I have a Masters Degree and extensive life experience. My experience with the culture is there is little background but don’t want to give and take but just want to lecture. I frankly believe they don’t want “give and take” because they have very little background and are used to getting their way, don’t want to give and have very little capacity for critical thinking. I felt this was important, missed most of the basketball game and need to get some sleep because I have an enormous amount to deal with on Monday my “day off”. But hey if someone tells me they will be at First Saint Johns to really talk tomorrow I will be there. And then go home to my wife who will be upset that I’m taking time away from her and not getting any rest. She cares about the stress and fatigue that ministry has been putting on me. Feel free to share this with anyone interested. God bless you and thank you for this opportunity.
…a big issue with church the pastor is supposed to do everything. I’ve been in corporate, operational in the military and ministry has just been a revelation very little support. The 80-20 principle. There are lay people who do provide physical support about 20 percent and the rest attitude is “it’s the pastor s job”. This is usually from people who work 9-5 5 days a week, have no concept of what it’s like to get a 2am phone call to go out in nasty weather to a bad situation for members and nonmembers. It’s the pastors job. People need to get real and lose the attitude and expect someone to come running to them at a moments notice. Maybe there will come a time where you need that attention. Who else comes running out in the middle of the night? But at some point they just might say “can’t do it, exhausted ” I will try to get there by noon. Why not? Every other profession does it or gets paid a lot of extra money for extra attention!
…Oh and if someone wants a mentor I will mentor the heck out of them. Check out my background not many out there with my breadth and depth of life experience and I would be thrilled to share that with anyone. But like all the other things we’ve been doing no one will take me up. It’s easier to criticize and complain then do something. Oh yeah another on my “wish list ” would be to train and coach a triathlon team high school, York College HACC, but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting. Michal Helfreich took a local television station thru the church for them to tape what we’ve been doing and offer. Results? Nil. We have a Men’s Group having an overnight retreat at a lodge here. All guys are welcome but they won’t. Their noses are buried in their phones.

Bullying, the church is not immune, too often it’s the passive-aggressive kind.

Thom Rainer has become one of my go to guys in Christian church research and he has really hit on the theme of church bullying. I have some personal observations to offer, that Rainer is pretty right on with his observations.

First, I have spent most of my professional life in the world of corporate finance and military. Yea, there was bullying, but… when it comes right down to it, it really wasn’t tolerated. Frankly, I’ve seen far more bullying in government, public schools (no not just students), unions and other not for profits and ya, even churches. Let’s face it, more passive types of environments generate more fear and more boundary guarding. The perspective in these environments is that there is only so much to get and you have to just grab for all you can. It’s an attitude that is just not tolerated in the private sector and I have twenty years, or the military 29 years. There’s too much to do and too much to earn and too much at stake for people to be quibbling as you see in the other sectors of society.

Full disclosure, the town we moved to when I was ten years old, was the home of Rocky Marciano, the only undefeated heavy weight boxing champion of the world, he had died that same summer. Also,  I grew up with Marvin Hagler a middle weight world boxing champion. The culture was very much boxing and football. And yea, I was relentlessly bullied from sixth grade until about tenth. But I dealt with it, created my own niches, played football, not well, but stood up for myself, i.e. if you want to bully me you will pay a price, and overcame it. So if I have a personal sensitivity to bullying, I will stipulate to that, but it doesn’t make the bullying any less that’s going on now, especially the more pernicious “passive-aggressive” bullying we so see much of today.

The distressing thing about bullying is that it’s not just about throwing punches, overt insults, just over the top actions. There is very much passive-aggressive bullying. Now I don’t have a lot of experience with it, although it seems to me that it’s a way of life for way too many in the church. Seminary professors and staff, pastors and church goers, it seems to be the preferred go to and it’s often an effort to generate active push-back which ipso facto, become evidence of aggressiveness on the part of the person who is really innocent and is being goaded by the passive-aggressive behavior, just an effeminate way to avoid the real issue. Seems that for those in academia, church, not for profits, other rather passive sectors, a profound inability to actually confront issues and actively resolve them and prefer the passive-aggressive, a clearly more effeminate means of bullying. So yea, those in these sectors, especially in academia, all levels, who like to pat themselves on the back as to how they are so unaggressive, no, it’s really more about your inability to confront and resolve issues. One reason most of you wouldn’t last in professions that require results is that you’re not really interested in the results, you’re simply interested in maintaining your little fiefdom.

So, ya, I’ve been victimized by church bullying also. Interesting findings though, when you do actively confront those who are trying either the active bullying or the passive – aggressive you usually end up with the proper/positive result and you usually tear down someone’s little bastion that they’ve been bullying people from, probably for years.

So the moral of this is you do have to actively confront, no it won’t be pleasant, and yes, people are going to see you as mean and nasty, but in short order people will realize that the confrontation was necessary and it allowed everyone, the organization, to move along. I’m not saying fist fights, yelling screaming, although it might come down to some animated discussion, but it has to be done.

I’ve seen it a few times now that churches really do tolerate the bullying, aggressive and passive-aggressive. Of course the issue in the church is to be nice. Not to really stand up and do what’s necessary, but to be nice and everyone should “understand”, in other words, a sort of effeminate, passive way of handling issues, which translates, they don’t get resolved.

Interesting because in my experience with church bullies of both stripes, while everyone is supposed to indulge them, they’re not the least bit concerned with anyone else or how the church is supposed to function. It’s either the status quo, i.e. them in charge, regardless of how deep they’ve run the church/organization into the ground, to their benefit or else they will do what they can to blow things up. How that will effect anyone else, the church’s image in the community up to and including the national church, non-believers perception of the church, on and on, doesn’t matter to them, it’s their way or the highway.

I certainly stipulate to the fact that the process of “debullying” will also cause discomfort for the current members and church leadership, up through to the national church, there also needs to be recognition for all concerned that if this person is creating a negative environment for those immediately concerned, the impact has to be huge on prospective members. They certainly do see the bully, whether overt or passive-aggressive, they see the nonsense this person causes (it can be a man or woman), the lack of focus and results of the organization and quickly realize that they just don’t need that kind of grief. That person’s agenda is only about maintaining the status quo and they will bully who they have to in one or even both ways in order to maintain their status quo. If that results in the failure of that church, in all respects of failure of a church, well, either bully will say that it was obviously someone else’s fault.

While leaders at different levels may not appreciate the upheaval, there clearly needs to be pro-active action towards those who are bullying and are at least partially responsible for the hard downward trend of the church overall. Should also remember that church leaders, all the way to the top, really have little, if any, training or experience in dealing with leadership and will usually default to what they’ve seen in the church for the decades that the church has been their only environment, i.e. passive-aggressive bullying by everyone.

Rainer lists out the ways to identify the bully, I’m taking them a little out of order, because I think this indicator is my indicative of the rest. “They are famous for saying ‘people are saying'”. When you confront them as to who, when, “oh well they asked me to keep that confidential”. You start doing your own checking around and don’t find anyone else saying anything about the perceived compelling “issue” of the bully. Rainer goes on to say; “They love to gather tidbits of information and shape it to their own agendas.” Another personal observation is a lack of discipline, they’ve never really done anything that requires discipline, they’ve blown off any kind of school, military, serious business environment, nothing in their background indicates that they really can plan out, execute and work with people to carry out a necessary plan.

Rainer says that they will tell you how much they love you, the pastor, but so long as you’re toeing their line. They do have strong personalities, but as Rainer points out, that does not necessarily make a bully. They are highly opinionated and all that entails. It’s their way or no way, so just turn to and get moving on their directions. It’s interesting because so many of these bullies really have no idea what they’re talking about, they don’t have any real training, experience, to make the decisions they’re making, they’ve never felt the need because they’re not going to listen to anyone about anything, unless it’s another bully. They do seem to respond to being bullied and roll over pretty easily to an overt bully. They build unhealthy alliances, frankly in a church? The Body of Christ is one, if you have any kind of alliance going on, it’s by definition “unhealthy”. They gossip, work in the dark, have been to many churches.

In addition to “people are saying”, they of course don’t see themselves as bullies. Again they’ve never had to function in a “results oriented” environment, they’re amateurish attempts and attitude are all about how it’s everyone else’s fault, and even that they’re being somehow unfairly persecuted. Of course their, usually, uninformed agendas, forming alliances particularly among weaker members, they tend to have intense and emotional personalities (yes, more feminine emotions, versus being able to rationally address issues), they are usually part of mediocre/low expectation churches (i.e. the go along church, easier just to take it then deal with issues).

Rainer has a number of suggestions, but I want to insert a personal observation, especially if I might be coming across a little belligerently, I am not suggesting that anyone look for or pick a fight. But before push comes to shove you have to confront the bully and either exercise discipline or make it difficult for him/her to stay. Hey better someone else puts up with their nonsense and allows you to do genuine ministry. I have a downtown church where people have real issues and there are a lot of them. I don’t need a self – appointed enforcer making my ministry impossible and continuing to destroy, at least, this Christian church. To continue with Pastor Rainer;

  • “seek to have an Acts 6 group in your church.” Basically a group that will address “murmuring and complaining” in the sense of the Greek widows not being cared for.
  • “Have a high expectation church”, quit with the mediocre thinking, the cowering, whimpy safety in the herd mindset. Let’s start doing some real ministry and making some real effort.
  • “Encourage members to speak and stand up to church bullies”. No more playing, if you’re not about the mission of the church and moving to true discipleship and Christian integrity, you don’t have a place here.
  • “Make sure the polity of the church does not become a useful instrument to church bullies.” “Many churches have ambiguous structures and lines of accountability… Bullies take advantage of the ambiguity and interpret things according to their nefarious needs.”
  • “Be willing to exercise church discipline”. My church has excommunication and in the case of a bully, they are certainly guilty of being divisive. Not that they had an honest disagreement or working for the best interests of the church, but disciplined because of their attempts to pit people against each other and create divisiveness.
  • “Have a healthy process to put the best-qualified persons in positions of leadership in the church.” Bullies angle for power, create buffers against that possibility. Jesus’ church deserves the best, most qualified, those who will act with Christian integrity, not those who are playing political games.
  • “Have a healthy process to hire church staff. “
  • “Encourage a celebratory environment in the church.” I would go on to say a pro-active, striving for high ideals and goals with true Christian integrity. A bully is the person who keeps trying to drag that down to his/her level and mature Christians recognize such a person and start to isolate them from the rest of the congregation that is healthy.

I’m really not trying to be contentious and I’m not encouraging anyone to go out and pick fights. But on the other hand it is the pastor’s responsibility to create a positive, uplifting church that is responsible to Christ to grow as the Body of Christ. Allowing such people to undermine the church and it’s mission for their personal satisfaction and ego gratification is irresponsible on the part of the pastor, the pastoral hierarchy above the pastor, the rest of the church governance and all genuine Christians. We are not, as Christian disciples, entitled to surrender the church who will undermine it for their own purposes.