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Rebuke, Exhort! Don’t minimize and “tolerate”

St Paul wrote the largest amount of the content of the New Testament. Certainly the Gospels are specifically about the life and teachings of Jesus. But on the road to Damascus Jesus personally knocked Paul off his donkey and made Paul focus on who Jesus is and what being a Christian is all about. From there the Holy Spirit took Paul in hand and led Paul to be one of the greatest missionaries of Christianity and one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Christian teacher. Many people like to minimize doctrine, but without Paul’s writings on doctrine we would have very little understanding of our Christian faith, a lot of what we accept as normal Christian practice, we would have to guess about, without Paul.

Paul founded a number of churches during his mission trips and he spent a lot of time and ink teaching people the important aspects of being a Christian. His “epistles”, letters, were written to people in Corinth, Thessalonica, Rome, Ephesus, Galatia, Philippi, Colassae, and undoubtedly other groups in the Roman Empire. These were to address issues the churches were dealing with, or to pass on to them important aspects of being a Christian. In addition to Paul’s epistles to the churches, he also mentored, at least two pastors, Timothy and Titus. His letters to them were how to be pastors and how to lead congregations in the difficult times that these churches, all Christians, were going through at the time of Paul’s letters. Much of what Paul writes about is directly applicable to the Christian church and Christian pastors today.

Paul was not a shrinking violet, he had to contend with an immense amount of adversity during his ministry which culminated in being beheaded. As I said, Paul was probably the greatest missionary and pastor in Christian history. But if you really read Paul’s writings most Christians today, would be taken aback by Paul’s straightforward, even abrupt pastoral style. He wasn’t playing around, things had to be done in the church and in confronting a pagan and hostile society. Again so much of what Paul had to deal with we see today. While I’m not telling people to go out and be contentious, look for fights, or not try to be winsome and inviting, I am saying that there will be many times where you have to be straightforward in proclaiming the Gospel and not worry about who will be “offended”, or upset. As Christians and certainly not pastors we are not here to patronize people, or play to the crowd. As a pastor I took vows, to my death, promising to proclaim the Gospel. Many will be offended as Jesus tells us in KJV Matthew 24:10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” The adolescent whining you will often hear while proclaiming the Gospel is just a convenient way for people to not deal with the truth. They will be held accountable for their silly little posturing, but we can’t let them intimidate us into shutting up about Jesus and that’s what they’re shooting for.

Believe me if they had interacted with Paul, they would think that someone like me is a little candy cane. Paul wanted to make it clear to churches, like Corinth and Thessalonica, that the Gospel is not about kid gloves. It’s about people’s eternal life, that is the ultimate issue, even if people don’t recognize it. It’s not up to us to candy-coat it or treat it like entertainment. It’s up to us to proclaim it with great knowledge, great compassion, integrity and urgency. Treat the Gospel in a way that is with utter respect as to its importance, not the way most people treat it which is a secondary issue and why worry about it, God will work everything out. I get that attitude all the time and it is just not true.

 

Paul writes to Timothy, one of his disciples who he is mentoring as a pastor. Timothy is in Ephesus, he is a young preacher and it would seem that he was contending with a lot of different people who were teaching false doctrine. Paul tells Timothy: “ESV 2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

Paul is telling Timothy you know what is important, you know what you need to do, don’t stop doing it just because there are some people who are opposing you and trying to shut you up. We see that in too many young pastors today, “I don’t want anyone to get mad, I don’t want to offend anyone”. I look at it in terms of; “am I worried about upsetting this guy here, or God”? If it’s a choice, I’m sure not going to upset God. Paul makes it clear that it’s about what is in Scripture.

To underline that he goes on to write in the strongest terms: “ESV 2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

Paul is serious and he’s telling Timothy; by all that we hold as holy, you need to go out and teach that. Don’t pull punches, don’t tell people what they want to hear. That’s not your call, your call is to tell people what God has given us in Scripture. Anything else would be to “suit their own passions”, which isn’t God’s intention, is it? Reprove, Rebuke, Exhort. These are not make nice words. Paul’s words are telling Timothy to make sure people understand these words are serious. Don’t let people get away with it if they’re trying to sell nonsense. We see that today with so many false teachers, it’s no less today than it was 2,000 years ago. Today when you’re faithful to Paul’s teaching you’re going to catch all kinds of flak as to how mean, judgmental, unloving, whatever phobic and whatever other adolescent prattle you hear from people who don’t want to hear God’s word and want to wallow in their nasty little sin. But they still expect God to come through for them and save them, do things their way. Bizarre, but people today truly expect everything their way and that includes God. After all, to quote the prattle from false teachers, God just wants us to be happy! Huh!? God wants us to become mature Christian disciples. That’s much more than “happy”.

Titus was probably an older man, another of Paul’s disciples and he was the pastor of the church on the island of Crete. Ever hear the expression “Cretans”? Not a flattering expression. Titus apparently had to deal with some pretty crude actors.

Paul gave Titus the same direction. Don’t be bashful, preach the truth of the Gospel: “ESV Titus 2:15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” The last part “Let no one disregard you.” Don’t be brushed off or ignored, don’t let people patronize you, and wow you see a lot of that in the world today dealing with Christians. No! This is the truth, you may not like it but don’t be cavalier about it either, this is serious, treat it as such.

Paul goes on to write: “ESV Titus 2:1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Yes doctrine does matter, don’t play around or minimize it, preach it. “7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,” Have Christian integrity, stick to what you know is the truth, be faithful and strong. But do it with dignity too. Don’t look silly and get all emotional and flakey. Assert the truth and move on. People too often don’t treat Christians seriously, make them take you seriously know what you’re talking about. Now more than ever we need to take those words seriously and stop putting on shows of “tolerance” or accommodation. “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) There is no other truth! You may disagree with me, but you have to take Jesus’ words seriously.

As Christians we get a lot of just straight out stupid messages from the world. Too often we make the mistake of trying to dignify them, of being too gracious. Paul, Timothy, Titus and us, we don’t have that luxury. We need to be serious strong disciples and evangelists and witness in a way that we will be taken seriously. It’s not always going to result in conversion, but, Paul told both his disciples, don’t be bashful, rebuke wrongful teaching. Don’t get defensive about someone telling you you’re being judgmental. Say what you want and try to use weenie words to avoid the truth, I’m telling you the truth, and it is judgmental. If you disregard the truth of Jesus Christ : “ESV John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” I’m telling you the truth, if you chose to ignore it or minimize it you’ve “judged”, “condemned” yourself, not me.

God places us in our vocation

C.F.W. Walther was the first president of the Lutheran Church in the United States. The following is from a collection of his sermons from Concordia Publishing House. He talks about how we are placed in and used by the Holy Spirit in the vocation we are in for a reason. Dr Martin Luther made vocation an important part of his issues with the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Church had been teaching that those who are in “religious” vocations are on a higher level than the rest of the worldly vocations. That somehow priests, nuns, monks, do work that is more important. Luther took issue with that in that we are all placed in our vocation by God for His purposes. Therefore since we are in those vocations at God’s behest, we are serving Him to the best of our abilities in that vocation.

As a good Lutheran pastor, Dr. Walther certainly is in tune with Dr Luther’s views. The following is from a sermon he gave based on Luke 5: 1-11:

“In today’s reading, we encounter Saint Peter working diligently in his earthly calling. He explains to Christ that he has worked patiently through the entire night. Although he has caught nothing [no fish], he does not give up the difficult vocation of fishing to seek something more rewarding. Instead, we find him the next morning washing his nets with his partners and preparing to try again.

Every true Christian will work diligently and untiringly. He will not leave his chosen vocation without real cause, recalling the words of the apostle Paul; ‘So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God’ (1 Corinthians 7:24). This is not, however, a distinguishing mark of the Christian since unbelievers can also pursue a vocation with dedication and endurance. In some cases, a non-Christian may even surpass a Christian in his devotion to his work.

How, then, does the true Christian show himself to be such by his earthly work? The first thing we notice from Peter’s example is that, although he was very industrious, he laid his net aside and carefully listened to Jesus as soon as He began to preach. Moreover, he permitted Jesus to use his boat as a pulpit when the people on the shore crowded Him from all sides. Finally, when Jesus called him to be a fisher of men, Peter immediately ‘left everything and followed Him’ (Luke 5:11)'”

In the midst of his earthly work, a true Christian shows that it is not the principal activity of his life. Indeed, he places his heavenly calling above his earthly one. He seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He does not let his bodily work be a hindrance in caring for his soul. He would rather interrupt his bodily support than be without nourishment for his soul from the precious Word of God.

Today’s text tells us even more about Peter. When he let down his net and caught such a great number of fish that the net tore, he did not in any way attribute the success to himself, his diligence, his wisdom, or his worthiness. Instead, ‘he fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ (Luke 5:8). He regarded his great success as a blessing of Christ alone that he did not earn. Here we see the second way a person reveals in his earthly work that he is a true Christian. He does not believe he can preserve himself by his work, his diligence, and his wisdom. but only be awaiting his daily bread from God’s faithfulness. He does not lose heart if his worked proves fruitless, but instead places his reliance upon God. If his work is crowned with success, he receives it as a gift of grace from His heavenly Father. He does not bind himself to earthly things, but separates himself from them that he might be drawn to Christ all the more.

There is one more way in which Peter demonstrated in his work that he was a true Christian. When Jesus had stopped speaking, ‘He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch”’ (Luke 5:4). His command was completely contrary to the rules of fishing and Peter’s own experience. The best fishing is not in the depths of the open sea but close to shore; it is also not during the day but at night. How does Peter respond? ‘And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your word I will let down the nets'” (Luke 5:5). This is how all true Christians work. They are motivated by God’s command because His Word says, ‘By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread’ (Genesis 3:19). Christians therefore daily say, in the conviction of their heart, ‘But at Your word I will let down the nets.”‘

“And gently grant Thy blessing That we may do Thy will, No more Thy ways transgressing, Our proper task fulfill, With Peter’s full assurance Let down our nets again. Success will crown endurance If faithful we remain. Amen (The Lutheran Hymnal p 544:5)

(Translated by Gerhard P. Grabenhofer “God Grant it: Daily Devotions from C.F.W. Walther” pp 551-553)

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

Suicide, please, please don’t

For the suicide prevention hot line Call 800-273-8255 or you can Text 273TALK to 839863

This has been pushing on me for a while now. As a police chaplain I have had to minister to the families of a total of 4 suicides, 3 in the last 4 months. In addition it seems as though it comes up over and over. I get it, I really do. There are times when it just seems really hopeless.

As a police chaplain I have a very unique perspective in regard to a suicide. I spent 29 years in the Coast Guard, I’ve had to deal with death in so many forms. The difference between an accidental death, a person who dies after a long and loving life and the person who chooses to end their end life is enormous.

The scene of a suicide and yes that includes things like heroin overdoses, which I’ve also had my share of, is absolutely horrific. A Christian man or woman who’s had a good life, surrounded by family, friends, with the promise of Christ, the promise of new life in the resurrection, I’m not going to say it’s pleasant, it’s not, but there is an entirely different atmosphere. It’s been a good life (and that doesn’t mean it has to be great or without difficulties, every life has difficulties). The person was faithful, they lived their life guided by the Holy Spirit, I can tell the people there, there’s no doubt that person is in the presence of the Lord.

The horrific contrast to that is the death of someone who committed suicide. I’m not going to name names, or do anything that would violate the seal of the confessional (ever, God willing), but I can speak in generalities and there is nothing whatsoever pleasant or this goofy romanticism that has crept into the subject of suicide. It’s horrible. You either have a very few, sometimes 1 or 2 people survivors, and all of a sudden they have to deal with this horrific scene, that someone they cared for, in their household, took their own life. Have you ever dealt with someone who died violently? I doubt you have. Why on earth would you want to inflict that on someone, anyone, especially a member of your family? I’m not going to be graphic about it, frankly I just can’t bring myself to do it. But if you have some goofy idea that it’s somehow like in the funeral home the person who has died is in this pristine setting, you are just so horribly wrong. Finding someone who just committed suicide is a devastatingly traumatic impact on that person. They will never forget the scene they had to deal with. You want to talk about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? There you have it. Use your own imagination who is it that might find you? Do you really want to inflict that on that person?  I will answer that for you. No matter how much you may want to hurt, push back, punish someone, if you knew the actual result, you wouldn’t do this to your worst enemy. Trust me you just wouldn’t.

There are so many better ways to move on in your life, there really are, please let me or someone you trust help you. I know I’m going to get this pooh-pooh thing from people, “what do you know Jim?” But there is one thing I can offer to you. We do have one God, the only God, God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Despite the other opinions and other uninformed or others unthought out talk (and that’s just what it is), God the Father of Jesus, true God, really does love you and really wants the best for you and does not want you to hurt yourself. He made you, He really wants what is best for you. Unlike other beliefs, suicide as a Christian is never acceptable. The only exception is, as Jesus did, you genuinely directly sacrifice yourself to save another. If you’re a firefighter and rush into a house to save someone, if you throw yourself on a grenade to keep others from being killed, if you sacrifice your life to give birth (either in terms of how your life will change, or literally) then that is commendable, it is not suicide. Jesus said  ESV John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” Jesus laid down His life for all of us to give us the assurance of forgiveness and eternal life. Unless you can justify hurting yourself in terms of actually, physically protecting another don’t. Please I really am begging you, don’t.

The surviving person(s) has now been handed a whole, incredible, devastating  traumatic situation that they are always, just not capable of handling. When I say that, I mean handling on so many levels. The guilt is usually devastating. You have people who are just crushed that they could have done something to prevent this. You know they couldn’t have, but they are going to feel that way and they are going to feel that way for an awfully long time, often their entire life. That person’s world has just fallen in because of this. All of a sudden they have to deal with police, coroner, funeral home and quite often they do it all by themselves or with close family. Other deaths, people will jump to serve those who have had a loved one die. Suicide? People are going to avoid helping and even in the future, discussing it with the survivors. It is still just a horrible thing to have to deal with, especially if you don’t have to, it’s not their chaos to deal with. That may be cold-hearted, but imagine if someone you knew committed suicide? You’re just not going to want to get involved. Let’s face it in today’s world, people aren’t going to get involved if they don’t have to especially under these circumstances.

As a police chaplain I’ve been called in to temporarily minister to a survivor(s). I try to with all my heart. As best I can I try to empathize with the pain of that parent, spouse, brother, sister, child. In addition to everything else they are thinking: “What is my future going to be without my husband or my parent or child? If I depend on this person, how is my world going to change?” As best as I can, I know in my heart I can’t begin to reach the depth of grief, guilt and other emotions crashing in on that person. But I also have to help this person deal with this catastrophic, unanticipated situation in another way. The reality is that the remains of a human being are in their home. They have to make a decision then and there what will be done with that person. In a lot of cases, especially when it’s someone who is young, that person hasn’t made any arrangements for their death. I have to help them figure out in a very short time how this will be handled, how this will be paid for, what has to happen in the next few days. Again why would anyone cause this to be inflicted on another person? But all of a sudden they have to make decisions like this and usually they are completely unprepared and very afraid.

I’m not some kind of expert, I’m not trying to play God, I never want to have to deal with this situation again as long as I live. All I can tell you is the immediate result of someone taking their life has incredibly traumatic effect on people who I’m sure you never intended to hurt, but they will suffer incredibly if you hurt yourself.

I have had this discussion with other concerned people, we all agree if someone came to us and said suicide was on their mind, they would drop whatever they were doing and jump through hoops to help you. I’m the pastor of First Saint Johns Church in downtown York. You can stop and visit, 140 W King St. the phone number is 717.843.8597  I will jump through hoops to do what I can. Yea, ok, it may be awkward, embarrassing, uncomfortable, but it just is nothing compared to the way it would be if you did kill yourself. You may doubt it at times, but God really does love you. He created you, He has kept you going, and He has a great promise of true life for you that Jesus died for you, so that you won’t have to suffer. I get it, life can be tough, it can be really unpleasant, you can go through a lot of needless grief. Believe it or not, I truly understand. But God is there for you. He’s given you people like me as a trained, experienced pastor to help you. He gives you great brothers and sisters in Jesus who can also help you, THEY WANT TO HELP YOU! Don’t believe it? Try me! 

As I’ve said I have had to deal with the devastation suicide can cause for people you really do care about. You really don’t want to do that. Please, there are so many people who really do want to help you work through things, please let them do it. Years from now you will look back and praise and thank God that He gave you people who were there for you. But don’t pull away, don’t isolate yourself. People do pull away from those who can help, it’s not smart, it’s not healthy, it just won’t help. I hear the bitter, fist waving all the time. Are other people at fault at times that hurt you? Yes, there are. It happens to people all the time. Do you really want to inflict that hurt and pain on others who would have done anything they could to help you? Who have been there for you? Despite everything, you know that there are people who do want to help you, to make sure you’re safe? Please let them do that, I really am begging you from my heart. I want to meet and talk with you, I don’t want to meet your grieving relatives. Please take time, pray, really reach out to God, let Him comfort you and then get hold of me, or any of the many people you know who would want to be there for you. May God strengthen, bless and comfort you in Jesus.

SUICIDE WARNING SIGNS

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

link for “Lines for Life”   https://www.linesforlife.org/get-help-now/?gclid=Cj0KEQjw-ezKBRCGwqyK0rHzmvkBEiQAu-_-LGq6i3BjmZDuaYcm6nkxHal_BRphCkhu7Dri_QwEqKUaAuop8P8HAQ

For the suicide prevention hot line Call 800-273-8255 or you can Text 273TALK to 839863