Category Archives: Church

Idols hmmmm, really? Tells me to remember who’s really in charge!

I am the pastor of First Saint Johns Church in York, Pa. First Saint Johns (FSJ) was completed in 1875, as you can see from the featured image, the altar, and the rest of the sanctuary are very nice and very reverent.

There are those who I have showed the sanctuary to and felt that there was just “heavens, too much idolatry”. Rather amuses me. I’ve been in a lot of sanctuaries where you might truly wonder what the space is actually used for. By looking at this picture, there should be little doubt what or, better, Who this space is about. It’s all about Jesus and the people who built his sanctuary 140+ years ago knew it.

The altar is especially interesting in that it shows the most important aspects of who and what Jesus is all about. Underneath the flat part, called the mensa, is a lamb, shows that Jesus is the Lamb of God. Next is a crucifix, reminding us that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Next is Christ ascending to glory in heaven. The top stained glass window shows Jesus as Lord of all creation, at the right hand of God the Father.

The stained glass windows on the sides have various Christian symbols and at the top is one of the apostles.

People have actually told me how idolatrous this is??? Yet I can go into an old Quaker, Calvinist, etc churches and honestly wonder what’s going on there. I can go into a lot of “community”, “independent”, etc and see no indication that I’m in what purports to be a “Christian” sanctuary. There is a lot of symbology on the altar and on the stained glass at FSJs. A lot of visual reminders of what we believe and Who we hold important. Over the ascending Jesus is the motto “Sola Deo Gloria”, yea wow, “To God only the glory”, yikes that’s a first commandment buster, right?

Why do people really object to this? Why do they prefer to have a “church” that is essentially void of anything that is Christian? I would submit that especially with all the “big-box” non-denominationals, that it’s really more about those in the church preferring to kind of push aside all the Jesus stuff. Yea, they sing about Jesus and kind of preach about Him. But it’s not really about Him, if it was why is there a problem about having a lot of visual reinforcement.

My answer. In the world today it’s all about me, what’s good for me. Well Jesus is good for you, the only and ultimate good. But too many people don’t see it that way. Today’s culture says: I don’t want to be reminded of all that Jesus stuff, if I’m here I’m worshiping what I want, “ooo that gory crucifixion stuff”. Well that’s a whole big subject, and well we just shouldn’t have to do that, just make me happy God. I showed up, I should get the big payoff. Doesn’t work that way folks. It is all about God and not about you. That’s why we have all these reminders to reinforce that in us when we are in true worship, lifting up and praising God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

People who built these great old churches understood that and when I stand in front of the altar here I know exactly what and especially Who it’s all about. It’s why we at First Saint Johns are serious about what we do and why we do it, it’s for Jesus who sacrificed all for us and we will be His for all eternity. So instead of mouthing silly platitudes and not thinking about what is important, let’s all do some serious thinking about what and Who is ultimately important. I have all these beautiful and compelling reminders here, maybe it’s time for you to think about why this is all important.  Sanctuary 140th anniversary

Hugs are healthy, whodda thunk?

I will start out by saying I’m just not a hugger. It’s not that I’m somehow neurotic, anti-social, snobby or anything obsessive, just never did. I’ve been taking grief about that for years. Yea, I guess that I am somewhat conditioned. I spent 20 years in the corporate world. Hugging is not an acceptable part of corporate culture, or military where I spent 29 years. A firm hand-shake and steely eyed look in the eyes was considered to be entirely proper and sufficiently familiar.

Not so much in church culture, heck it’s even a quickly referred to topic in seminary. So apparently it’s a generally practiced gesture. My perspective is why would some sweet little lady want an ugly, gnarly ape like me putting my arms around her? Granted it’s become acceptable with guys in the church, but frankly my angle on that is that most guys would also prefer not. Yes, we should be family, more familiar with each other in a church environment. Certainly in those times of emotional distress physical comfort is often more therapeutic than anything I could say to that person, but for the vast majority of time not, in my opinion how you want to go. As I said it’s never a statement on the other person, it’s more about me thinking why would this person want this big, ugly guy that close? I have no problem with pats on the back, shoulder squeeze, physical contact is sometimes helpful in a bad situation. Non threatening touch often helps people come back to reality. So I don’t have some touch phobia. In a way I just have a problem with what I see are gratuitous gestures.

I guess I just have a bashful outlook on hugging, there are way too many that have what borders on hysteria towards it. There are way too may out there who are sure that everyone is somehow out to abuse them, I just really don’t want to give someone like that any impetus to irrationally lash out at me.

Having said this, turns out that hugs, physical contact in general (and you know what I mean so don’t be getting all hysterical, weird and phobic on me), is very healthy, for both parties. The caveat in the article is the positive effects … only happen when “you trust and love the other person, if not, hugs can raise stress and anxiety levels.”  If OK, then by all means. Since you don’t get Concordia Plan Services newsletter (Winter 2016 Vol 32 Nu 4), which is quoting a U.S. News and World report article. There have been other studies. I don’t have the reference right at hand, but it seems to have a vitally important impact on new-born babies. Hospitals go out of their way to put babies in contact with their mothers as much and as quickly as possible. Babies who went without physical contact, seemed to have physical problems, even dying. It seems to have a very positive physical impact for the baby. There are hospitals who recruit people to come in and sit with babies who can’t otherwise be held by their mother. So yes, it’s important. Within the limits of reason, trust and physical safety.

Anyway, the study shows that hugs are good for both, that there is a release of a hormone called Oxytocin that is released and promotes feelings of trust and bonding, it also influences mood and behavior. The article goes on to list other positive affects; lowers blood pressure, can reduce depression, bolsters immune system and builds up pain tolerance. Yes, it is an issue of commonsense, as always with all of God’s creation, it always seems to an issue of moderation, using the brains God gave you.

In conclusion, if I’ve somehow offended anyone, there was never any offense intended, if anything it was to spare you. However in view of the research and since it would seem to benefit both of us, I would certainly welcome the opportunity. I just hope it doesn’t end up being an issue for you.

Too Comfortable? Amos 6:17 First Saint Johns September 25, 2016

[For the audio click 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 a “good person”, said … AMEN!  Aha, tricked you, now, all of you who are a good person, only and solely in Jesus said … AMEN!

It’s a question I continue to struggle with, how to be “good” in Jesus, especially as we, as a society, draw further away from God, that the perception in our society is that God really isn’t necessary. I often want to ask someone I get into this kind of discussion with: Do you honestly believe that this is all there is? Most of the time it really comes down to they just haven’t thought about it, it’s just not an issue, to the extent that “well, either way God’s just going to work it out for me, and since I’m a good person, well I don’t have anything to worry about.” Seems we’re all “good people”, you know except for like Hitler, Stalin, Alex Rodriguez, ok I’m kidding there because hey even ARod is a “good” person, even if he was a New York Yankee. We just refuse to reconcile the fact that it is about us and our sin. God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are perfectly righteous, perfectly holy/ sanctified, perfectly just and while we like to live in our own little world, with our own rules because we are so smart and can do everything by ourselves, even though what we do is based on me/myself. I have no idea what people are talking about when we get into this discussion, but it’s ok, because they just know that they’ve got it down and they don’t need anyone, up to and including God to tell them otherwise. Until such time as they realize they don’t have it down and then it’s usually a lawyer, a social worker, a school teacher, an accountant etc. None of whom have any guidelines themselves other than professional ethics which too many today see more as guidelines and hindrances if it interferes with their personal agenda. Today the idol is money, comfort, personal satisfaction, basically the Led Zepplin song “Stairway to Heaven”: “There’s a lady who’s sure, All that glitters is gold, And she’s buying a stairway to heaven When she gets there she knows, If the stores are all closed, With a word she can get what she came for, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.”[1]

That’s the way it is, as much in the church as it is for any “None”, garden variety pagan, Buddhist, we don’t have to worry about that stuff because we will work it out in the end. Give a little extra here, do a little something there, badda bing, it’s all taken care of, we’re all reasonable people, let’s move on.

While that may sound good to us, that’s not God’s perspective. Of course when I say that to someone who just doesn’t know/doesn’t care, I get this petulant/ adolescent response “well that’s just your opinion”. If you’re a Christian, to the rest of the world, your opinion just doesn’t matter. Oddly, their completely uninformed, prejudiced, and totally consumer driven mentality does matter and that’s what they’re going with. Critical thinking in this day and age is a rare commodity. It just doesn’t occur to the average person today that a model where everyone is right based on their uninformed opinion is not a workable paradigm. God created everything, God maintains everything and God is going to end everything and He will do it on His timetable. That will leave a lot of your neighbors to condemnation:  “ESV Matthew 7:13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” Jesus wasn’t stuttering, many will enter it, many just because they are perfectly happy in their ignorance. One of the creeds of this society is: “Ignorance is bliss.” You just mind your own business, do what you’re told by those who are smarter than you in business, academia, government, medicine, but heavens no, not ministry, and everything will work out fine. How that works out? No one seems to know, but in this world of the uncritical, “hey I pay my taxes, people are supposed to work those things out for me”. Really? I don’t see how that’s happening.

Probably the biggest threat to our spiritual health as Christians is the comfort and privilege that we live today. Certainly that is what God is telling Israel through Amos in our reading today: “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria,” Scott Schilbe writes about this passage, the Hebrew: “yAh… Translated as ‘Woe’, this word interjects the idea of God’s judgment. Amos uses this word as a way to capture his hearers’ attention. ‘Woe’ is a warning.”[2] That is God basically saying I’m not playing around, you need to shake off this lethargy, this idea that you’re somehow entitled to just sit back and enjoy what you have and ignore God’s will and the things that you know you should be doing in order to serve Him. While we’re not where we should be today, there is much more being done for those who are poor and oppressed. I understand getting caught up in the headlines and other people’s agenda. We still have a long way to go for social justice, but we also need to back up to where we left the church of Jesus Christ and become a lot more motivated for our eternal life in Jesus. While there is much being done for social justice, and justice in the left hand kingdom of the world is important. But in Christ and to the eternal life of the resurrection we don’t get justice, that’s a really good thing, we get grace, and we get the Lordship of Christ in this world.

Your Christian church is about serving others, we continue to serve all who are here. In my role as a pastor, as a Seel Sorger I serve as a soul healer and if there’s something that the world today is in desperate need of is soul healing. We have, like the Israelites of Amos’ time, become way too comfortable and complacent, leaving the church to gather the crumbs, while we get way too caught up in the headlines and our own comfort. While there is need and we should apply ourselves to that, and your church does, we also have to make our Christian life, as the Body of Christ, His church, a priority in terms of our prayers, our financial support and our mission to continue to reach out to a world whose “god” is its pleasure and in subjection to social engineering while the only true remedy for the strife of the world is in Christ. There will always be a church of Christ, in some form. There will always be a remnant who will continue to enable the church to carry out its mission as God’s apostle. The issue is whether we who profess Christ and His mission will continue to see that as a priority, will we be that remnant? Last week I asked you to reach for that journal and to work out how that will be in your particular case. Will you reconfirm, renew and increase your support for your Christian ministry, for the church that provides you with healing, with presence, and works in our community to provide what we can. Please take out the pledge card from your bulletin and consider increasing your current offering, making a special gift, making a commitment to providing your time to the work of the church, where you can serve your church in order to help us to continue to be a strong and giving presence in our community.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Jimmy Paige, Roger Plant performed by Led Zepplin  1971

[2] Rev Scott R Schilbe, STM  Concordia Pulpit Resources Vol 26, Part 4, Series C p 30

Cathedrals are as important now as ever in Christian witness

First Saint Johns Evangelical Lutheran Church in downtown York, Pa. It is an historic and majestic glory to God. Christmas church sanctuaryAnytime I get the chance to show someone the sanctuary, the instant they walk out from under the balcony they inevitably let out a low reverential “wow” and rightly so. OK, I wouldn’t call FSJs (First Saint Johns) a “cathedral” but for a small city like York, Pa., it’s as close as you will get. Keith Anderson in his book “The Digital Cathedral” writes: “…according to Oldenberg’s criteria, cathedrals tend to function as more of a classic third place. Their doors are typically open throughout the day to visitors and pilgrims. People come and go as they wish, remaining anonymous if they choose. They are welcome to admire the architecture, art, or music; participate in worship; or just sit and be present in the space. The experience is not prescribed and there are lower expectations regarding participation and affiliation. As Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, writes, ‘There is clearly something about a cathedral … which breathes an unconditional welcome, allowing people to use its sacred space as they wish.'” (p 136) Well of course use it within reason. But the point is sill the same. FSJs sends an unconditional message of being a Christian church and rightly so. Me and Timothy in worshipI would love for FSJs to be such a cathedral where people could come and go. Add to that our minister of music or our emeritus musician playing the organ on a regular basis would create a magnificent environment of glorifying Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Certainly I would see that as an opportunity to witness to Christ. The building itself is certainly a witness to what the Christian faith community can do to send a very visible witness and message to the community, but when it’s locked up the vast majority of any week, that witness does tend to send a message of isolation and exclusivity. That’s not the message that should be sent.

Having said that, there is the reality that it is in a part of the city that is a little problematic. There have been items that have, well let’s just say grown legs. That would be minimized if we could have regular supervision, but providing that supervision at least 40 hours a week would also be problematic. It certainly would be a tremendous faith statement to leave those doors open without supervision and I’d like to try, but needless to say that’s going to be a tough sell.

I think that you can tell from the pictures (and they frankly don’t do justice) that this is an impressive space and was made that way for a reason, to show that the builders took the church of Jesus Christ very seriously and would sacrifice time, treasure and talent in order to properly celebrate that. Too often such magnificent testimonials are kept locked away. I try to take advantage of every opportunity to at least hold worship, leaving the church open to all who want to attend. All are welcome to worship. OK, if we have the Lord’s Supper you do need to be a Lutheran. There’s a good reason for that and for anyone who wants an explanation I will be glad to provide it. However, worship is important and if you are willing to be flexible, not so dogmatic in terms of feeling you should be able to do whatever you want, you will get a lot out of worship.

“A cathedral is an immersive experience of faith formation, with the images, architecture, people, music and ritual all serving to form those who enter that space.” (Ibid p 166) Yes, faithfulness to those who were motivated by God to build this tribute and the accompanying unique ritual will affect people. We are serious about worship at FSJs, you will get a genuine worship experience in Christ here. We are not about the world, we are about true Christian worship and everything in that sanctuary is a tribute to that. Not just the history, but the faithfulness of today. What too much contemporary worship lacks is any real connection to the rest of the church. It is connection to the rest of the church, all over the world, as well as to the historical church, all down through Christian history that demonstrates true faithfulness. We are here to be a faithful part of the entire church, vertically and horizontally. Someone from the Lutheran Church in Africa (which is growing explosively, there are more Lutherans in Africa than in North America) could come to worship at FSJs and understand what is going on. They may not get the language or small provincial tweeks, but overall they would feel welcome and part of the worship. The same for a Lutheran from 400 years ago. That’s a good thing, not to be denigrated, the church is all about relationship and true worship. Not entertainment and playing to the crowd. “Part of the genius of cathedrals is the way they affect and shape us simply be being inside them. Even as you trace a particular stone carving with your finger, stare up at a certain stained glass window, walk by a labyrinth… the environment itself is shaping you. As Marshall McLuhan reminds us, ‘Environments are not passive wrappings, but are, rather, active processes which are invisible.’ The space we inhabit (just as the media we use) affect us in ways we don’t always notice.”(Ibid p 166)

The cathedral is always intended to remind us of the ubiquitousness of God, His infinite power and glory and that He focuses all on the individual believer. It’s built to give us the tiniest hint of the glory of God and eternal life in Jesus in the resurrection. Too much of today’s church architecture is made to make people comfortable, a pleasant environment. That’s not what it’s about, it’s about challenging you, wowing you, giving you just the slightest glimpse of the presence of almighty God, Creator, Sustainer, Savior. “That kind of reaction is just what the architects intended… the overall feeling she had was one of weightlessness, as if being lifting heavenward.” (Ibid p 167)

While too many try to emphasize taking over abandoned retail stores for worship, and sure that has its place, too many are also trying to minimize the great monuments to God that can still be maintained and stand as a tribute to the Triune God, to Christ whose church this is, He built the church and as much as possible we should build churches to truly honor Him. My hope and vision is that we can build the ministry of these churches, truly have a cathedral that will be open to any, available to those who want to have worship on Thursday nights at 5pm because they just can’t get to worship any other time. To be a place where people are free to inquire and search and I can be there to help them in that inquiry.

I get the point of Rev Anderson’s book, in this new age we should be a part of all the places where we can reach and connect with people. I have no problem with that and do that to the best of my ability. However, what better place to give people a genuine experience in Christ in a place that was built to honor and glorify Him and genuine discussion and inquiry can happen?

The world does want to undermine your morals.

This nonsense that the secular world doesn’t care what you believe, “you do what is right for you”, but don’t tell us if we’re doing somthing obviously wrong , particularly in terms of messing up their lives. Let me put it this way P.T. Barnum was right the world is talking total nonsense, the world is very much determined to undermine everyone and really wants everyone to be a rutting animal. Hey, I have my own issues, I don’t need some of the real characters that have somehow made it almost obligatory that people should be having sex and despite their rhetoric, seems as people should be as young as possible, to have sex. Yea, look it up, there are attempts right now to lower the age of consent in some states to as low as twelve years old.
We have Tim Tebow and Olivia Culpo. Ms Culpo decided that Mr Tebow wasn’t getting her into bed and broke up with him. Apparently this isn’t the first time that she’s broken up with a man who would not have pre-marital sex on the basis of moral and religious scruples. Good for both of those very manly men. I wouldn’t mind in the least if my son were Tim Tebow, someone want to give me grief because my football star is still a virgin? Well let’s just say I don’t think it would be a wise move on their part, I will happily let them know what I think of their morals, “men” who are just out to use women. Of course the idea also occurs to me why more women’s rights types would be like that, but frankly I really don’t think they’re that concerned with the welfare of women in general. “You do what you want”, they say, “but, if you get in trouble, don’t come running to me.” Single parent women led households are almost all under the poverty level. God set it up for a man and woman to committ to each other, over and above their children to marry and support each other. When they do, poverty is far less likely, children are raised in an environment where they are supported, protected and cared for and they do have a chance to live a Tim Tebow life. Doing it the worlds way, usually just creates hate, bitterness, “my baby’s mommy, my baby’s daddy”. Money, time, blah, blah, all this hate and bitterness because two people couldn’t wake up to the fact that they were not capable of taking care of themselves no less a child. They love the drama but “eh”, to the responsibility. and believe me I’ve been dragged into enough to know.
Then there’s Sheldon Cooper. I sure don’t agree with the character a lot, but I gave him credit, again based on principles, (although I’m not sure where they were based), but nonetheless, despite intense pressure, also finally gave in. (I think that’s after ten seasons of the Big Bang Theory?) Yea, the main-stream media had to make sure that their character was dragged down into the moral abyss.
My other example is even more obvious. These middle-aged frat boys on WEEI radio in Boston, the morning drive time pontificaters, were absolutely excoriating a woman Olympic athlete who was a virgin at thirty years old. It is apparently the only problem they had with this woman, who they otherwise commended for being a tremendous athlete, obviously an Olympian, but were highly indignant that an unmarried, attractive, 30 year old woman should have the colossal temerity to not have sex before she was married.
So any delusion that you had that the schools, the government, media, video games aren’t trying to undermine you, your spouse, your children, grandchildren, I strongly suggest you get over your delusion or your so open-minded high-mindedness. The world is positively indignant when someone says that sex is only in terms of marrying a man and a woman. Sure, people won’t like it, because they will feel the sin on them. That’s not your problem, that’s their’s. Luther once said to preachers: “Preach until they hate their sin or they hate you.” Yea, that’s really the way it is. If they hate you, they hate you, it’s not your problem it’s theirs. But we can’t continue to go along with this naive idea that the world is not trying to undermine us. It is turning too many people into just callous, indifferent, stumps, they just don’t care. They want you you in the same moral sewer and to endorse their sin and if you don’t it’s because you’re mean and bigoted. And frankly the resulting social problem is supposed to be handled by the church. This goofy idea that’s evolved that it’s all about the relationship? I’m not saying break relationships, but I am saying the most important relationship any of us has is with Jesus. If someone asks you to compromise your relationship with Jesus in order to condone their unacceptable sexual relationship, it’s time to let that person know in no uncertain terms where you stand. If they cannot accept it they will dump you and you should let them go.

You need community and it is only found in the truly Christian Church

Community, one of the most overlooked aspects of Christianity today. People will honestly look me in the face and tell me that they don’t need the church, they don’t a pastor, they don’t need a fellow Christian, and here it is “because it’s all about me” and then, almost incidentally, and God. Often times not even bothering to define what/who “God” is, but whatever makes me happy. At the same time describing the 12 with Jesus as His “ Apostals” (sic) vs the correct context would be disciples, students. Apostle is actually a messenger, almost in the sense of an ambassador. Henry and Richard Blackaby wrote a great devotional on Christian community. “Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion, But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. (Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10) (Experiencing God Day by Day p 327) As the Blackabys point out we were made by God to be in community and for those that God chose, starting with the nation of Israel and then progressing to Jesus and those saved in Him, God’s church has always been the community of His believers.

Certainly the Trinity is the original “community” God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Godhead working together to fulfill their roles and guide the people of God. The Blackaby’s note: “…the success of our endeavors depends upon our interdependence. This is why He established His Church and released His Holy Spirit to empower the community of believers to spread the gospel. We are to be a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9).” Obviously we can only support and build each other in the context of community. One thing that always bites me is someone telling me that they can worship God on their own. Certainly we can come to God and lift up our prayers, we are certainly, in Jesus, in relationship with the Father. But that is done through the church of Jesus. When we baptize we baptize as the Body of Christ, His Church, in the presence of the Body and through the authority of His ministers who administers the sacraments. I didn’t invent baptism, that was given to us in the Bible and passed down through His church. We only become a child of God in baptism, we become that new creation in Christ. If that is not done in and through His church, sorry, but it isn’t baptism. Can we as Christians, in extremis, baptize? Yes, and we should. If someone is right there dying and aren’t baptized in Jesus, we can’t wait for them to get to church for the normal baptism ceremony, absolutely baptize that person. But that baptism is still recorded in His church and done under the authority of the church.

The Blackaby’s write: “…if we have cultivated supportive friendships, we will find strength in the comfort and encouragement of those who care about us. Interdependence is also a safeguard for us when we are lured by temptation. The consistent testimony of those who have fallen to temptation is that they isolated themselves from other believers and were not held accountable by Christian friends.” The attitude today seems to be: “I will do whatever I stinkin’ want to do and if you do like it too bad for you.” Yea well the downside is that their particular sin finally bites them and who do they turn to? Or, in many cases they just let that sin drag them down and condemn them. Name it, being the pastor of a downtown church I see pretty much the whole span. People who have sunk in their sins of drugs, alcohol, sex, gluttony, covetousness etc. Always seem to mess them up and then they expect someone to be there to pick up the pieces for them.

Yes, I should try to help those who’ve really become lost in their sin. But on the flip side, I have a congregation of people who faithfully supported their church with their time, money and talents. Only so much time and how do I justify to them that I have to put ministry off in order to pay attention to someone who, by the sin of presumption, thought they had it altogether and could sin nice and safely and now they’re knocking my door down for attention? We are supposed to take responsibility for ourselves as adults and not engage in things that are inevitably going to hurt us. Yet in today’s world everyone is a smart guy and is sure they can handle drugs, alcohol, fornication, adultery, etc and then when the consequences hit them, as they will, “well someone’s got to bail me out”. That is what community is for. Pull that person back from the edge, pick them up when they fall. Not when they’ve created a situation that’s going to require extensive attention, or when it really is too late, but at the outset. We love to think that we know it all, but over and over I hear the same thing: “I should never have gotten involved and now I regret it, but now you have to help me.” News flash, I don’t have to help you. There are plenty of those have faithfully live their life and do innocently fall into difficulty. Have to tell you, there’s barely enough in resources to help those I really have to help. Why would someone compound their sin, with the sin of presumption and assume I’m just waiting around to jump through hoops for them? And quite often I just don’t have any way to help. Sorry, but there are times when I just have nothing.

Of course the whole “don’t judge me” attitude so prevalent in society plays into this condition. Not only that, but the attitude seems to be do what I want, enable me in my sin and then I will go on my way. Yea, no, that’s just not going to happen. The attitude of the world seems to be that the church is only there for their individual convenience. Because of this attitude that “it’s all about me”, more and more church’s just don’t have the resources to be there to provide. I have to hoard my meager resources just to make sure I have something to provide for those in the church who have faithfully supported the church. Why would someone presume to tell me that I have to just hand over what others have faithfully given to me to be a faithful steward of? The answer of course is that because “it’s all about me”.

It’s not to say that we don’t have individual lives that God has a plan for. God certainly wants us to live the life that He has made us especially suited for. But that life is always in the context of the church and how God puts the pieces together in His church to effectively serve. If people punt on that responsibility and expect to be served, but to never serve, how effectively do you think that plan’s going to work? Too many people just don’t seem to grasp, or probably more likely, don’t want to because they might have to do something for someone else, how God tries to pull each person together so that together we grow in the synergistic impact of the church. One person punts on their part and everyone loses. Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that by choosing to do only live for yourself and ignore those in Jesus’ church that the person that rides off alone gets picked off by the world and makes things a lot tougher for those who stay and faithfully serve? That also goes for those who are part of the church, but expect that the church simply entertain them and just hand over the benefits.

An article in Christian Counseling Today (vol 20 No. 4 pp 34-39) certainly does convey the impact of community, the context being in terms of healing community, generally 12 step programs. These programs certainly have grasped the concept of healing and support in community and many have not just benefited from that community, but have also paid back by becoming an active part of that community to support others. I have seen in my own experience a very effective community, and one that is effective, but is also abused by those who, again, expect to just have it handed it to them and still expect to live in their one way life and continue to be abusive to others. My life has been made a little tougher because some who participated in a 12-step program thought that everything was there for their convenience unnecessarily stepping on the toes of others and of those who were trying to help. I don’t mind the extra effort, but I get tired of having to answer for those who think that the world is there for their convenience.

As I said I’ve seen those groups do great work and it should be supported. Henri Nouwen is quoted in the Christian Counseling Article: “’When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares”.[1]

Certainly that is the look that the church should have, but on the other hand, how far can the church go with that when everyone wants attention and few want to support. When the church was being supported, pastors could truly care for those who genuinely needed attention, there was the time and resources. But now with the attitude that “I know better, I’m going to do what I want, when I want”, there’s only so much, so far. In the same article Dr. Henry Cloud is quoted: “’It is interesting to compare a legalistic church with a good AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) Group. In the church, it is culturally unacceptable to have problems; that is called being sinful. In the AA group, it is culturally unacceptable to be perfect; that is called denial. In one setting, people look better but get worse, and in the other, they look worse but get better … The sad thing is that many of us come to Christ because we are sinners, and then spend the rest of our lives trying to pretend that we are not!”’ (Changes that heal). OK, point taken, and I think that is one reason why the church has wounded itself in the past. But I also think that the cultural paradigm has changed so much that churches today are putting up a fence is because there are so many who have decided that the process should be the other way around. Before the paradigm was, I’m part of a church, I support the church. But at some point I fall and need help and those in the church help me. Now it’s I don’t do anything for anyone and when I need help everyone’s supposed to jump to my aid.

Absolutely, we are all sinners and we need the church and none of us is going to come into the church perfect. We absolutely should stipulate that we are there to help each other grow and overcome those things in our lives. The Lutheran Church is certainly different than other Reformation churches in that we start worship with Confession and Absolution. Yes, we are sinners, we are here because we know that, and we are in need of continual forgiveness. So yes, in terms of “big-box churches” that I think Dr Cloud is referring to, we in the Lutheran Church all start from the same flat-footed start, we are all sinners, now what?

The problem with 12-step programs is that the person’s presenting issue is what constitutes their entire life. Well we in the Lutheran Church would say no. We are all sinners and we all need to deal with issues. Sure some of us need a particular way to deal with that, and if having someone who has gone through that experience helps you in that, great. The problem is that you become so immersed in your narrow issue, you really begin to lose real world perspective. The entire world is not in terms of your alcohol problem. The attitude of these 12-step programs is that only an alcoholic can help another alcoholic. I would submit that the best thing for a person is to be discipled in the church by a faithful, godly person of the same gender, who has lived their life as a Christian. They’ve had to deal with the sin, the world, all the stuff, but they’ve had a much more well-rounded life, that hasn’t consisted of only primary issue. The whole world is not about alcoholism. It is about being saved in Christ. We all have a sin issue and that is what we need to confront, not how do I deal with alcohol, or whatever is the besetting sin. I would submit that for most people who abuse something, and yes that’s all of us to some degree, being a part of a Christian community and dealing with a real world of all kinds of sin is more realistic than your little 12-step enclosed culture. The 12-step program is a good initial answer, but that should only be for a very short time and then time to get back and deal with the real world. Despite what you think that real world was made by God and is all about Him. Not about the places and people you used to hang out with as an alcoholic.

The same article quotes Richard Rohr: “’Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change.”’

Amen, couldn’t agree more, but is that change going to effectively take place in a very narrow demographic of people dealing with a particular 12-step issue? No, I really don’t think so. It’s going to be more effectively addressed in a community that includes Grandma and Grandpa Schmidt, and the Hispanic kids, the folks who live here, work there, people who have really lived the life or are trying to get up to speed in the life. A genuine slice of contemporary society. The guy in the Men’s Group that works at the Insurance Company, the Computer Company, the auto dealership. Yea, they have issues to deal with too, but sorry, too often in 12-step programs it is more enabling someone in their particular sin, then genuinely giving them the help that will be life changing in a genuine Christian community.

I can hear the objection now; “they’re going to be so judgey”. Yea, that immediately tells me, that they’ve been more enabled in their very close 12-step program, instead of having to deal with the reality of the world. Sorry folks, time to be a part of genuine diverse Christian community. I get it, too many big box churches are fairly affluent, pretty much lilly white and do, as Dr Cloud claims, tend to exacerbate people’s sin problems. However, a church like First St Johns, that is slowly becoming very diverse, is still, white, but has been in a downtown location for many years. It is a community that fully gets the fact that there are people out there with serious sin and abuse problems and accepts them, because those same people don’t live under some goofy delusion like the big-box churches that everyone there has it altogether. While serving in the Coast Guard I would once in awhile be rotated down to a sub-station that was in a very affluent community. I got the chance to talk to the local police officers down there and I once made the observation to one of them that it must be really nice being a police officer in such an affluent community. He understood what I meant, but he quickly pointed out that their biggest problem was dealing with domestic issues. Physical abuse, substance abuse, sexual on and on. As much as we would like to think otherwise, the police there were expected to keep such situations under very confidential wraps. They were expected to basically cover over the issues and make everything nice and pretty. I agree with Dr Cloud that there are too many big-box churches that are like that. “Don’t you worry about that sin thing dearie, you’re a good person, just keep plowing money into the ministry so we can keep providing expensive entertainment and maintain an expensive facility and everything will be just fine.”

Yes, just by virtue of being a down-town church does not necessarily make you a spiritually healthy one either. There are too many who let their churches dwindle down to a couple of dozen, actively resist anyone different from being a part and expect it to be all about them.

I submit that there is a movement, especially among the denominational churches, admittedly still very much in its infancy, but to turn around churches so there will be genuine Christian ministry. That people can be a part of a church of people who are very much aware of the world around them in many aspects, not just the narrow aspects of substance abuse or some other 12-step program. Who want to reach people for genuine Christian ministry. Who are trying to grow as Christ’s disciples and who are ready to disciple others, effectively/real world, as well as be discipled. That is in a true Christian model, based on the Acts church, the churches that Paul describes in his epistles. Has the church messed up and been messed up? Absolutely. Is that a reason to shun the church? Absolutely not. Sorry, but more and more we are all realizing in society that we can’t go it alone, that there are not any institutions that will genuinely reach out to people and be there for them as well as have others be there for you. You can use all the hypocritical justification you can think of, but the only way to salvation is through Jesus. It is only through the Body of Christ that salvation and true life can come through. Otherwise you become lost in your sin and become a part of the ever growing angry and bitter world, that thinks that everyone else is supposed to be there for them.

As the Blackabys write: “If you are not a part of a caring community of believers, you are missing out on what God designed you for. You are also in danger of falling into sin. You must link your life with others who are seeking God’s will. Seek to be a person who willingly joins others in carrying out God’s assignments. Strive to be a source of support and encouragement that those around you need.” And I would add that you need too. The church is the only place that is going to do that. And a church that lives in a very real environment like First Saint Johns, is going to be that truly diverse group of people who will welcome you regardless of where you’re at, so long as you’re willing to serve and be served. Live in denial if you want, but serving and being served will only happen in the church of Jesus Christ. Being a lone ranger is only going to make you an easy target for the sin and death of the world to take you down. As smart as you think you are, you will go down.

[1] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life).

The Joy of Church

This really is kind of a plea, please, please really hear me out. In this world, that is just so temporary, so phoney, so wrong, so lacking in hope, in promise, please consider a genuine alternative, the church. I think we’ve all see more than enough to show us that there is nothing that the world can offer that gives us any long term promise. Clearly the church of Jesus Christ does, everything around us fails, disappear, just let’s us down. The Christian church, for 2,000 years, has been the only hope and promise for eternity. I know, we all have to function in the world, we do, I worked in corporate America for 20 years and I served in the military reserve for 29 years. I’m not asking you to be a monk, I am telling you what you are painfully aware off, none of these things last, Jesus told us “I’m am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” Coming to the Father means eternal life. Jesus was crucified, rose  from the dead, ascended into heaven and promised that for those saved in Him, they would be resurrected to life eternal. This is true life, the life that God had intended for us until we messed it up with our sin.

Being in Jesus means being part of His church, the one He said He’d build on the rock of His disciples, the church that is His Body. To be in communion with Jesus who is our only promise, our only hope, means being in communion with His Body, His church.

So I submit the following, this is from Matthew Harrison, Dr Harrison is the President of the Lutheran Church and I wanted to share his thoughts on the Christian church. Being a part of the church, serving each other, being served, living life in Jesus and eternal life in Him. If you would like to see the blog site which includes this and other similar posts check out  lcms.org/president :

The Bible teems with joyous, paradoxical truths. God is three in one. God is man. God dies on a cross. The God who visits His vengeance upon trespassers has mercy only on sinners. We die to live. We live to die. The sinner is righteous .The weak are strong. Saints are sinners. Sinners are saints. Afflictions are blessings. The word of man is the Word of God. The poor are rich, and the rich are poor. The first are last, the last first. Law and Gospel. It is a hallmark of Lutheranism that it does not, as a matter or principle, try to resolve these paradoxes. Is it bread, or is it body? The texts simply state that it is both. If salvation is God’s act alone, and faith is a result also of an eternal election to salvation (Ephesians 1), and god wants all to be saved, then why are not all saved? Must not God then have determined to condemn some from all eternity? No. The Bible says, “God wants all to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). Lutheranism lets the paradox stand. . . .

The maladies in the life of the twenty-first century church, and in the Church in every age for that matter, are the result of missing “the narrow way” (Matthew 7:13–14). It is for me a paradox itself, that the “high” road of orthodoxy—right teaching and right praise—is freeing! For ortho-dox-y is both right doc-trine and right dox-ology (or praise). It also leaves plenty of space for us to rejoice in God-pleasing differences of gifts, emphases, practices, and even personalities.

The Church is a paradox. She is the Bride of Christ, “spotless,” “holy,” “washed” (Ephesians 5:25–27), the “[pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:1ff). And yet she only appears in this world hidden under the guise of poor sinners, flawed leaders tensions, divisions, and even false teaching. This is at once both disturbing and comforting. It is disturbing because we find ourselves in such “spotted” congregations, denominations, and Christendom. It is comforting because—despite its outward appearance, despite the fact that there have been times in the history of the church when the pure teaching of the Gospel all but disappeared from the public confession of the Church and its practice—nevertheless, the “gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The Church endures because Christ endures, and he will never let his Gospel go un-believed, until the end of time. That’s worth rejoicing over, especially in the times in which we live. And there is also comfort in knowing that because the Church exists well beyond the genuine Lutheran Church, we will also find truth spoken by others. And when we do, we are free to heartily and gladly acknowledge it as such. . . .

The secret of living a good news life in a bad news world is knowing that despite our manifold weaknesses and sins, precisely of Christians and the Church, Christ remains wherever, so far and so long as, Christ and his Word are heard and to the extent that true Baptism and the Lord’s Supper remain. That is the expansive joy of generous, faithful Lutheranism. Thus genuine Lutheranism is simply genuine Christianity. And Christianity, with all its manifold weaknesses and sins, is far broader than genuine Lutheranism. . . .

That’s the joy of a generous, faithful Lutheranism – generous in recognizing the Church wherever the Gospel is, and faithful in recognizing its sacred duty to be faithful to the truth of God’s Word. It may be a paradox, but it’s a joyful paradox, nonetheless.”

Yea the church is important for the individual person, for those who come together to support each other and to be supported. It’s important to come together to support those around us, many rely on the church in times of trial, inside and out, of the church and when we come together to support each other and others, we truly serve God who serves us and gives us the promise of true hope in our earthly life and our life eternal in the resurrection of our bodies and the real world.

As Adriane Heins points out in the same issue: “You are a part of something greater than yourself – the true Church. You are loved in christ, and you are not alone.” (The Lutheran Witness August 2015 pp 2, 3)