Tag Archives: brothers and sisters in Jesus

Walking/Working Together

I am a pastor in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I say that first because it’s very cool, I am very proud to be a minister of the Gospel and in the LCMS. This name might appear to be provincial, “Missouri”. I’m not from Missouri, was only there for seminary, I’m from Massachusetts very different from Missouri. The name may sound provincial but there is a national baptized membership of 2.1 million, a substantial number and fellowship with Lutheran churches all around the world. Other than Lutheran, named after Martin Luther who by igniting the Reformation and establishing the Christian Church that separated from the Roman Catholic Church, profoundly changed western civilization and the church of Jesus Christ. The other word I wanted to key on was “Synod”.

I never really thought about the meaning, assuming it was an arcane, otherwise out of use word. In the early times of the church in the United States there were a number of “synods”, there still is one other, Wisconsin Synod, an indication of the geographic center of the particular church. Despite the provincial, and old fashion sounding of the name, LCMS is rather compelling. Missouri indicating where the church started and Synod which is an interesting and has a rather contemporary usage. Since you probably don’t get the “Concordia Plans Magazine”, I going to share the article from Rev David Muench writing in the Concordia Plans Magazine he writes: “…’synod’ is take from the Greek words ‘syn (‘with’ or ‘together with’) and ‘hodos’, ( a going’, ‘a journey’, or ‘travel’). We have understood it within our denomination to mean ‘walking together’.” There were many ‘synods’ in the Acts and ancient church, so it is a very old usage and frankly I have a lot more confidence in the old usage of words, then in the pathetic literacy of today. But interesting enough, and since we know, as Gus Portokalos tells us “Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek”.(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0259446/quotes) Gus is actually kind of right. English has a lot of influences, but Greek is definitely the biggest one. As Rev Muench points out, there is a Greek word used in the New Testament 13 times. “that word is ‘synergy’.” It’s from from ‘syn’ and ‘ergon’, which means ‘to do work, action, behavior or deed.’ Thus, ‘synergy’ is to ‘work together’ or ‘fellow workers’.” (Concordia Plans Magazine Summer 2016 p 4).

So while the church name may seem rather arcane, it is the basis of a very profound concept that has a very contemporary importance. Having worked in the corporate world and other parts of society for the twenty years, the word ‘synergy’ is still a very important and rather compelling concept. While a lot of the world seems to be losing this concept, and I’m going to say it, for those who are serious, want to genuinely accomplish things and know they have to pull people together to do it, the word ‘synergy’ has as important a meaning as ever.

Of course in this day and age, something so old and arcane would just be pooh-poohed, because we’re oh so busy abusing the language (like, you know, calling a man or a woman a male or female. Really? Female what? A Female human is a woman!) Yes, I kind of vent when I hear insipid usage of language. But to be a part of a ‘synod’, a one that dates back to antiquity, that means “walking together”, in the sense that I’m walking together with Lutherans today, but also Christians all through the past 2,000 years of Christianity. But that’s not all, so closely associated to a word that is oh so chic today, synergy, working together, a concept that while chic the practice is disappearing in society. It’s very inspiring that our church name has so much to do with walking and working together. So thanks Pastor Muench for giving me the inspiration for writing this and being inspired by our church name. Now, if we can actually walk and work together, led by the Holy Spirit, God’s Word and being disciples of Jesus, let’s keep that in continuous prayer.

Christians are never alone 1 Kings 19 First St Johns June 26, 2016

[for the audio 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 know they are never alone when they are in Jesus said … AMEN!

This Sunday is to recognize Lutheran Church Extension Fund. In respect to that I do want to talk about what LCEF does in respect to supporting local churches specifically in terms of stewardship. We have really great resources associated with the LCMS, all are very local and sources of funding and support for local congregations. LCEF offers various investment vehicles that are also utilized to provide programs like Consecrated Stewards a program that will help us to grow in our stewardship in a more intentional and regular way. We do have very good resources that I think aren’t really utilized as much as they should, another being Thrivent Financial. Thrivent offers action grants that are available to members to help support outreaches here at First Saint Johns. We have benefited from those programs, if you are a member of Thrivent and haven’t used these programs, please let me know and I will be happy to help you access these programs to benefit the ministries we’re doing here. If you don’t use those gift opportunities, it will be a lost benefit, money left on the table.

The President of Thrivent, Brad Hewitt, wrote a book on stewardship and there is a lot of good advice and insights into our relationship with money. But remember, stewardship is not just about money, it is also about your time and talents too. In this day and age, time is a scarce resource. I’m having plenty of days when I just drag myself home and I can empathize with those who find themselves just running out of time. Having said that, your investment of time and talents, to support the different outreaches we are doing is huge and I pray that in addition to considering increasing your financial support, that you also consider looking at ways that you can invest your time into church activities. Often the return on time and interaction of church members in ministry results in a huge return in terms of helping new members to grow, helping to reach out to prospective church members and in general helping us to benefit and serve those around us.

Mr Hewitt notes that it is often our state of mind, trust issues between us and God about our resources, he writes: “…our research suggests that people are more likely to enjoy a sense of freedom regarding time, energy and money the more they buy into these positive statements: – God meets my needs  -I don’t think about money unless it’s running short. – I don’t often worry about the future, I take each day as it comes. – I give to people in need, even if I barely have enough myself. – I pray about the big decisions in my life. – Deepening my relationship with God helps me feel peaceful about my future.”[1] Mr Hewitt notes “…these attitudes are a gift of God, a sign of His transforming us and building our trust in Him to use His gifts to us to support what the church of Jesus does in the world and to rely on Him to provide for our needs.” Having trusted God myself to go to seminary, where we spent a whole lot of money, God has continued to provide for us even as Marge and I are getting into the later stages of life ourselves. LCEF is very much a ministry of the Lutheran Church and offers many ways, Consecrated Stewards, is one that helps us to be much more intentional of sharing our resources. Dave Stambaugh is our LCEF rep, you can ask one of us for further information.

There are times when it just seems as if things don’t work out as you expected God to do, ministry wasn’t really on our radar and yet God provided for that for Marge and me. The Bible is full of times, where God kind of sprang trust issues on His faithful. When it seems as if God has just left the building and you feel like Wile E Coyote going over a cliff, thinking you’re hanging onto something and then feeling as if the world has just opened up and swallowed you. There are trust issues. I’m sure we’ve all had those times when you’ve put a lot of trust in someone and then they’ve just deserted you and for no apparent reason. We, sinners, we are going to do that, leave someone holding the bag. And while it seems as if God does it to us, He really doesn’t. You needed to be in a situation, played it out to the best of your ability and then realize God really has been in control and is guiding the situation. Like Elijah you’re standing there looking up to heaven, your arms spread out, your mouth kind of hanging open, your heart in your mouth and then…

More and more I’m finding as a pastor the world is intent on ignoring anything God has to say, and expects that whatever they chose to do, God is supposed to bless it and in the end reward them for making themselves their own idol. Hey we all do things that we know, by any standard, is wrong, it’s called sin. But while others make excuses or, worse, justify ungodly behavior, we who are Christians, who know that we are saved by the sacrificial death of Jesus, who are saved to new life in our baptism, who take the true body and blood of Jesus to deliver us from sin, bring us closer to Him and feed our body and soul with the nourishment that we need to be in communion with Him, we know that we cannot make ourselves an idol of worship. We know that we cannot decide what is right and wrong. We know that we can only worship God the Son and not make ourselves our own idol, worshipping our desires and agenda and expect that will be blessed by God the Father. Paul tells us that Christ has set us free, we are not condemned and lost in the yoke of slavery, that is the sin we become enslaved in. Whether it’s our lust that we’ve become subjected to, or the agenda that we’ve decided is the right course of action, but can’t reconcile our agenda with Jesus’. Paul writes: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit are against the flesh …” To make sure there’s no question, Paul lists out our idolatry, our lusts and be sure this list is not exhaustive: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies…” But we are expected to just ignore that, when people and even churches, look us right in the eye, tell us that we should be more “tolerant”, more “Christian” and accept that these things are just OK. We can’t, and in a world where faithful Christians are dwindling into a remnant, as in Elijah’s time, we are pressured by the world to conform to what others tell us we should do, to ignore what genuine Christian brothers and sisters are coping with and follow our own agenda.

Elijah was really at the end of his rope. In 1 Kings 15:29 Ahab has become King of Israel: “And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him.” (1 Kings 16:30) And the previous kings of Israel had done some real evil. If that’s not enough, of all the women he could have married and according to God’s direction he was supposed to marry an Israelite woman, he goes out and finds a woman who is the daughter of the king of the Sidonians, named Jezebel, who doesn’t worship Yahweh, and managed to pick the worst of the pagan “gods” Baal. To top it off Ahab supported Jezebel in her worship. We have plenty in the liberal church who, like Ahab, continue to talk Jesus, but are much more concerned with the world’s agenda, their own Jezebel, than Jesus’ and whether they admit it are worshipping their own Baals. It is hard as a faithful, Bible teaching/believing Christian to stay strong in what the Lutheran Church teaches, Law and Gospel, and to feel, like Elijah that you are a remnant. Elijah has picked up and run off to hide. Jezebel has made it perfectly clear that she is going to do what Elijah was led by God to do, to kill the priests of Baal that Jezebel had brought into Israel, a straight out violation of God’s covenant with Israel “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” There are a lot of caves in Israel, if you want to hide, you can find a place in Israel to do it, if you’re living in a cave as Elijah’s done, he is clearly hiding in fear. While he is cowering in his cave, in fear of Queen Jezebel, God calls him, “what are you doing here, I didn’t tell you to run off to here.” Elijah is convinced that he has been left completely on his own and tells God: “ESV 1 Kings 19:10 “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life…” God answered him in one of the most poignant verses in the Bible, a demonstration of His power, but in “the sound of a low whisper” God asks Elijah again and Elijah gives Him the same answer. God is not going to let Elijah just cower in a cave, Elijah, as all of us, has a responsibility to stand up to the evil that we see all around us. God gives him an assignment to carry out, booting Elijah out of the cave and focusing him on the fact that he, and all of us, are responsible to stand strong for God and carry out the responsibilities He gives us. But God also gives Elijah reassurance: “ESV 1 Kings 19:18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” Seven thousand men is not very many in a nation that had at least hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million. But it is still a faithful remnant.

In the theme of stewardship and Elijah we can feel as if we’re being minimized and marginalized in our society today, feeling as if there are fewer and fewer genuine Christians, as if we might somehow be out of step. But we have to go back to our baptism, to the vows we took as members of this church and for your pastor the additional vows he took to be a minister of the Gospel, that we take the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to strengthen us in our body and spirit, to strengthen our relationship with God the Father, to trust in the preached word of Scripture. It is difficult and will cause us to feel like we want to run and hide, or accommodate those who want us to accept a false gospel, a humanist paradigm. We have to keep focused on God’s power and  “… the sound of a low whisper” “the still small voice” in the KJV version, that is God telling us that we aren’t alone, that in Jesus the Holy Spirit is always watching over us and guiding us even when we feel like Elijah “…and I, even I only, am left and they seek my life…” We aren’t, we are in the presence of the all powerful Creator, Sustainer and Savior of all creation.

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

[1] Brad Hewitt CEO Thrivent Financial Services “Your New Money Mindset” p 79

I’m going to do it God’s way, by His Word in Scripture

A lot of feedback I get is to the extent, “sound really strict”, “not very loving”, “why are you always quoting the Bible?”. There is a lot of pretty superficial Christianity out there. As a Lutheran pastor I’ve always been taught, to be faithful to what the Bible says, it’s God’s Word that matters. It’s your job to help people understand it, grow in it, live their life in accordance with the Bible, not to make things up. Imagine if we all lived according to the Bible and not just the way we think things should be, the world would be a much better place. Fact is, we are all sinners, even in our best intentions we do things that are messed up and hurt people and hurt our relationship with God. We can turn back to Him for His forgiveness and blessing, or we can keep messing things up, even unintentionally and keep driving each other away. We live so isolated from each other today, we have our superficial relationships, heck we really think we’re friends with someone because they accepted us on FaceBook. No it’s really time to build relationships the right way and not the way the world tells us that we all know inevitably hurts us and other people.

For example, “it’s all about love”. It’s not about “love” in terms of doing what’s right, of being a blessing to others by helping them to really focusing on God, His Word and your neighbor. (I do find it interesting that people will always quote “Love they neighbor”. They seem to forget that Jesus said first, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength.”) You can’t really love your neighbor until your relationship of love with God is firm and established. Until you know how to “love” as God wants you to “love”, then you’re really just kind of playing with people.

To many people “love” means, “you make me happy, you do things for me”. (Often those things are give me sex, booze, drugs or just cash, make it easier on us.) Love means what’s doing the best for that person, helping that person be the best they can be and not just an enabler for whatever sin that they’ve become chained to, that’s supposed to make them “happy”. Come on, let’s face it, let’s take a, somewhat, benign sin like ice cream. It costs money, good ice cream gets a little pricey after awhile. It puts on weight, with very little nutritional benefit. It causes much more serious health issues. I know plenty of people with diabetes, yet we’re so consumed with smoking. Smoking is sin too, but get a grip. Too much junk and diabetes will kill you. There’s people all around getting constant medication for diabetes, going blind, losing limbs, dying. Don’t know anyone with lung cancer.

Let’s really love and start holding people accountable to what they should be doing. Being “happy” today, is just a fast track to poor health  and early death. Throw in drugs, booze, lack of exercise. Poor health in general is everywhere, do we really love when we see someone tooting another joint, or doing another in a long line of “16 ounce curls”?

There is so much “me” today and so little in terms of God’s will. We make God to be an agent of our “happiness”  and we really aren’t interested in what God has for us. People would look at my life and think that it might be pretty goofy. Picking up and moving from a place I had grown up in, raised children in, then moved to an unfamiliar place (actually two), far away from family and friends. But I do have peace that this is where God wants me and I am doing what He wants me to do. Way too many people today do what they think makes them happy, but have very little peace, hmmm, how do you think that happens? Telling God to go take a hike in order for me to do what makes me “happy”, then finding out what makes you “happy”, just messes you up. What God wanted for you would make you “happy”, but you just decided “don’t confuse me with the facts” if God wants it, then it’s probably boring or lame, I don’t want to do that.

But yes, in God’s will I do have peace. Doesn’t mean things are easy, we see with the disciples, many people down through history. Things weren’t easy, read what Paul wrote about 2 Corinthians 11: 16-33, he went through more in a few years, then most of us will in a lifetime. He knew God was guiding him and strengthening him, making him a better man and certainly a more godly man, and certainly not a messed up man.

So I do what God guides me to, yea sometimes it’s not very pleasant, there are plenty of times I take shots for what I preach, teach or write. Doesn’t mean what I’m doing is wrong, just means someone thinks it’s ok to take shots at me, even if they don’t have a good reason to, don’t know what they’re talking about. Being faithful in God is not settling for just a “feel good” Gospel, something that makes everyone happy for the moment. Sorry just doesn’t work. The trials and tragedies of life pop up all to quick and then we don’t feel good anymore and it’s all God’s fault. My job is to equip those who are in Jesus in order for them to deal with all the good times, tough times, and mundane, maybe even boring times in order for them to grow closer to God and to glorify Him who provides so much for us. That includes eternal, perfect life in the resurrection, it’s only through Jesus. This also includes being strong and being a Christian example for others. The next time you need to be encouraged and strengthened, you think your local drug pusher is going to help you? No! In the end he’s only going to make it worse. What really works is a strong /mature Christian man or woman (and yes that excludes the “feel good” Christians out there too). Too often we want to be made “happy”, placated like a child. We know that leaves us worse off then we were.

God sacrificed greatly for me in His Son Jesus. I have to step up and live a true life in Jesus, not a life of go-along to get-along. I have to be that example of a mature faithful Christian man. That is what God expects from me, to be faithful in continuing to grow, in following where He leads and not in what I think is “happy”, or what I “like”. Lots of other people look to me for that too, imagine what a great place the world would be if everyone were living that way. But that’s not going to happen because in this day and age it’s all about me and what makes me, what I think, happy. We can’t just continue to “hang” where we are and to be pacified, You aren’t going to find any example of that in the Bible. The Bible is what God wanted us to know about Him. He inspired men to write the Bible and show what is the truth. You don’t see people just coasting along in life, sitting around getting snookered and honoring God. Only those who are strong and faithful honor Him. What you find over and over again is men and women who are pushed to step out of their comfort zone in order to live up to God’s will and not their own. Why on earth do we think we should be different today? Is it because we know we can’t handle it and need to be babied?

You will think what you will, but Jesus made it very clear that many will be deluded, fooled, by wrong messages. That His true disciples will have to deal with the trials and antagonisms of the world. We are seeing Christians being martyred right now, all around the world. Not for “feel good”, but because they know who Jesus is and that they need to serve Him and others even in extremely difficult circumstances. There were more Christians martyred in the 20th century, then in all of history, combined! There’s no “feel good” Christianity there, yet it is only through Jesus that we are saved, some of us do have to suffer to the extreme in order to be saved. It dishonors them and Jesus when we make being a a Christian about “what makes us happy”.

What does honor Jesus, the millions who have lived in Jesus through the centuries, the millions who live around the world? It is being true, faithful disciples of His. Doing what He teaches us in His Word the Bible, and not what other people try to make Him out to be. To follow where He leads us and to what He leads us to do through His Holy Spirit. Jesus said He will tell many to be gone because “I never knew you”. Many who thought that what someone told them to “tickle their ear”, was actually genuinely in Jesus. Someone who tried to make Jesus into what they wanted instead of what Scripture truly says about Him. I know my responsibility as a teacher will be greater and I will be held much more responsible for what I teach. I intend to do all that I can to truly teach God’s Word in the Bible. I seriously fear for those who have to answer to God who ignored God’s Word and made up what they thought would make people feel good, it will be very scary for them.

Our Power as Jesus’ disciples in the Holy Spirit Acts 2: 1-21 May 15, 2016 First St Johns

[for the audio of this, please 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 those who pray come Holy Spirit, come, they said … AMEN!!!

Grace is the most important thing that separates Christianity from the other world religions. All other “religions” impose requirements that their believers must achieve to have, not the assurance of salvation, but the chance to be saved. Grace for a Christian is that God has done everything necessary for us to be saved. As long as we faithfully follow Christ, by being baptized, attending worship, taking His Body and Blood, hearing His preached Word from Scripture, you are saved, solely in Jesus and by what He has done for us. There is nothing we can ever do in order to “earn” grace, receive the free gift of salvation in Jesus.

Another thing that distinguishes Christianity from other world religions is that God, the one and true God, has actually been in the world. God Father and Son are now in heaven. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father in glory as our great high priest to pray for us and intervene for us. But Jesus was very publicly in the world, all His major acts, His miracles and teachings, His crucifixion, His resurrection, His ascension, all events that were done in public for all to see. Again unlike the other major religions of the world.

God the Holy Spirit remains in the world, with those who have received salvation in Jesus: ESV 1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, ESV 1 Corinthians 6:20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

The Holy Spirit is part of us in order to guide us, in order to continually point us to Christ. On this day that we remember as the Day of Pentecost, we often refer to it as the birthday of the church of Jesus Christ, the place where His disciples grow and reach into the world. The word Pentecost is from Greek, “pentokoste hemera” meaning the fiftieth day, which is the fiftieth day after Passover. It was an ancient Jewish holiday known as the festival of weeks. It would certainly be reasonable to construe that the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), jointly chose this day to, again, bring to public attention, a major move of God. On this holiday there would be Jews from all over the known world in Jerusalem to observe the holiday. As was read this morning; Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Cretans, Arabians. As it is today, all these people continue to speak much different languages. We see in our first reading the reason why they spoke different languages. Then, as now, there were a bunch of smart guy people who decided they should put themselves at the same level as God. Just relatively recently the world had been destroyed because of the presumption of man. Now man would be separated from each other by language in order to keep them from conspiring together to try to do what Satan tried, to usurp or put themselves on an equal footing with God. Yes, I know, they could not possibly have achieved this end. But the point is that neither Led Zepplin in our time, or these ancient people could build a tower, or a stairway to heaven, but the arrogance of man will often bring quick and direct action from God. At some point God decides to let man just wallow in his sin and let it drag man down to death. Certainly God could have let them build the tower and then it would inevitably collapse, due to their ignorance, and kill many people. Mercifully God chose to save a lot of lives, but to also separate those sin-filled presumptuous people and hopefully keep them from collaborating on more presumptuous, arrogant acts that would also end up in physical or, worse, spiritual death, either way creating separation between God and man. The people continued to sin and act arrogantly. Certainly we see their acts when God Himself comes into the world to give them an opportunity to direct them from their evil, self-destructive ways. God the Son came into the world in order to proclaim as visibly as possible who He is and that He is the only way to life and eternal salvation in Him. As we know, people chose to reject that plea.

That does not mean that the Godhead retreated into heaven and left man to try to figure it out for themselves. Yea, we see a lot of attitude from people, but God continues to do whatever it takes to bring us to Him. And He always does all those things in a very public, very obvious way.

Jesus gives His disciples, then and now, such touching and compelling words of encouragement in our Gospel reading. He’s leaving them, He knows that, they don’t. “ESV John 14:25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. ESV John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

The Greek word that is used here for “Holy Spirit” is para,klhtoj( in older translations of the Bible you will see the Holy Spirit referred to as paraclete, the Greek means “helper, intercessor”. John is the only one who refers to the Holy Spirit in this way, it’s not used in the Book of Acts. In the same sentence Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit directly, pneu/ma to. a[gion( while we give it what seems a rather benign meaning, “spirit” the Greek word meaning blowing/breathing, and also wind. This may sound rather charming, it’s very much intended to be very powerful, in terms of the breath of life, yes, life giving. Tell me what the word “pneuma” says in English, here’s a hint, has to do with tools, … pneumatic tools. If you’ve ever used pneumatic tools, you know a compressor pumps hard to build up a lot of pressure so that the tool, that’s connected to the compressor, can perform various tasks, ever been near a jack-hammer working? We’re connected to the Holy Spirit.

The disciples don’t have a lot of context for what Jesus is telling them. They are probably thinking, “aren’t those nice, comforting words”, but at best have a vague idea of Who/What the Holy Spirit is, but on the Day of Pentecost, they would have a very powerful/lifegiving demonstration of Who the Holy Spirit is and just a slight idea of the kind of power the Holy Spirit is capable of.

Raniero Cantalamessa writes: “Origen informs us that the pagans of his day used to challenge Christians by saying: how can one man, who for good measure lived in an obscure township in Judea, fill the world with the perfume of the knowledge of God, as you Christians say, referring to 2 Corinthians 2:14? Origen’s answer was that Jesus can do this because he has consecrated a large number of disciples with the Holy Spirit and sent them through the world, and these devote themselves to saving the human race by living in purity and righteousness and by teaching the same doctrine as Jesus. Thanks to them, ‘the precious oil sprinkled on the head’ of the true Aaron, who is Christ, runs down ‘onto the collar of his robe’, referring to Psalm 133:2, that is, it spreads throughout the body of the Church and, through it, to the whole world.”

“We are those disciples sent throughout the world to spread the ‘sweet smell’ of Christ! To succeed, we too must ‘shatter’ the alabaster vessel of our human nature: we must mortify the works of the flesh, the old Adam which acts as an inner barrier to the rays of the Spirit…”[1]

We have mini-Pentecosts today! Ok, we don’t have 3,000 people being baptized at once. But in each baptism that is done here, we see the power of the Holy Spirit being demonstrated, that someone is being born again in Christ. When we accept someone into membership of the church as we do today, we add a new person to the Body of Christ, His church. It is the power of the Holy Spirit descending on that person, that person, having been indwelt by the Holy Spirit at baptism, is now a living example of the Holy Spirit. They are a container of the immense power of the Spirit, we all are as confirmed members of Christ’s church. As possessors of such power, the question becomes what do we do with that? How do we disciple those who are new in that power, so that both you and they will live that life of power in the world. We have too many cold and timid “Christians” today, we need to be renewed in the pneumous, the immense power of the Holy Spirit to stand as strong and equipped disciples who point the world to Jesus Christ.

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

[1] Raniero Cantalamessa  The Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus p 18

Leftovers for God? Is that a smart way to go?

Yea the Blackabys have inspired me to get this written, it’s been sitting for awhile, but the blanks have been filled in. It’s about how we give God the leftovers, if that. I’m not innocent of this, as I lay person I didn’t have an appreciation for what goes on at a church while I’m not there and didn’t feel as motivated as I should to give the very best. The Blackabys point out”When the Israelite gave an offering to God, it was no longer their own, it belonged entirely to God. God would only accept the best that people could give. It was an affront to almighty God to offer him animals that were damaged or imperfect in any way. God Himself set the standard for sacrifices when He offered His own Son as the spotless lamb.”(Experiencing God Day by Day Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby p 268).

Certainly to the point they write “You do not serve Him in your spare time or with your leftover resources.” Yea, as a pastor I really do feel it. Too often “hey here’s five in the offering plate, great service.” Try to imagine how that makes me feel. I really do try to make worship as uplifting and yes challenging as possible. Compare that to the therapist/counselor who charges, just you, a lot more. I’m there to push you to grow in Jesus, to make the best for Him for what He’s given you and to also push myself. I have some great folks who help me, but too often you just hear about how the big box church has produced some massive show for about one-tenth your total annual budget for one Sunday.

But for the most part, it’s about people’s soccer games (a general reference to all the other things going on Sundays. Really?! Sunday? Morning? seven days in the week, you can’t reserve half a day, read give or take three hours?) To be there to lift up praise and worship to God Father, Son and Holy Spirit who created you, sustains you and gives those in Jesus the promise of eternal life? How about the other folks that do rely on church for encouragement, often times just to see younger people and interact and encourage others. Few if any there to encourage them, because they’re working, they’re traveling, they’re at sports or some other event, they’re at home because they had a tough week. Yes, maybe three Sundays out of 52 (not including weekday worships, which I miss even more rarely), I am there the rest of the time really trying my best. No I’m no Chuck Swindoll and I’m always looking for feedback. However I’m also working hard to faithfully worship as millions have for 500 years and millions do around the world today. That is a faithfulness that can’t be matched by any of our current fads, that just have to be on Sunday morning.

I get it, people do travel, people do other things. But clearly the priority is no longer church, worship, their pastor, their fellow congregants. People tell me all the time they’re going to meet with me, they’re going to come to church. Gotten to the point where it seems, unless of course someone wants something, that about 80% of the time what they say is bupkus. So much for integrity. My wife says they just tell you what you want to hear. Really how about just tell me the truth? It’s far more disillusioning when someone tells me something that they will do and don’t, then just telling me the way it is. I’m a big, tough, ugly, gnarly guy, you’re not going to hurt me with the truth. But wow, when people say they’ll be there, do something, support something and don’t because there is something more interesting going on elsewhere, it really does beat you down and yea does hurt. Really what I do isn’t interesting and challenging?

Hey, to be sure I’m not going to stop. There are Christians through history and all around the world who are going through far worse than I am and I’ve made promises to the church, to the congregation to do as much as I can. I feel very strongly the need to be able to tell someone I did all I could, probably more for Christ and His church. Yes, there may come a time when I may have to sacrifice a lot more. For now I can look you in the face and say I have every intention of being faithful to my vows, for working hard 6+ days a week. For those who have become church members, you might also want to remember that you made vows to be a member to support the church with your time, treasure and talent. From 13 year old confirmands to those who come to Christ later in life. Way too many just pooh-pooh those vows. (As far as time, for most of you a two day weekend is a given, for me, it’s a holiday. If I have one day that is truly about me and my family, that’s even pushing it. I can’t remember the last time that I had a three day weekend. Hasn’t been in the last year.)

How about it? For those who have never gone, maybe you should get over yourselves and see what it’s all about. For those who have a “sawtooth” pattern, if that regular, maybe you could step it up about 50%, maybe everyone could do a little more in all respects to the time, treasure and talent? “But I’m so busy!” I will compare Day-Timers with anyone out there, you’re not that busy. Giving the best to God? I’ve had people who haven’t been in church in decades, members, who call me and expect that because of some, usually tragedy, that I’m supposed to now jump for them. There are people who’ve supported that church for decades, so that I could be there, but you didn’t, now I supposed to jump for you? And for those who like to give me that patronizingly little pat on the head “oh it will all work out”, no, no it won’t. And you won’t like it.

I am privileged to work with a handful of people at my church who can say they do. But for the most part, the rest just give left-overs and for too many people pretty scraggly left overs. So yea, this is a challenge, especially to the guys. Let’s see you step up and really lead your family in Christ, start by showing up, listening to what needs to happen, being that disciple of Christ that your wife, children, community, employers will be forever grateful for, as well as your brothers and sisters in Jesus, you will be great and I will be there to do whatever I can to make you that guy. Lose the lame excuses and step up to things of eternal value.

Together or individually, which do you think works? John 20: 19-31 First St Johns April 3, 2016

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 strive to be excellent together with all those in Jesus’ church said … AMEN!!

“We hang together or most assuredly we hang separately”. The church metaphor is to the extent that we hang together spiritually, each conceding part of how we think things should be and agreeing that the church is the Body of Christ and that we are all served best when we act as the Body of Christ and come together to serve Jesus and each other. We hang separately when we try to have things our own way, decide the church is all about us, and let the whole thing implode, hang separately, because we put our desires ahead of everything else.

Today’s opening thoughts in your bulletin put it this way in terms of being there for the group, in our case the church, the Body of Christ: “Thomas will forever be known as a doubter. In reality, he should be remembered less for his doubts, which the rest of the disciples also shared, and more for his failure to be present when Jesus first revealed Himself risen from the dead. No one grows in faith by failing to assemble together with the people of God around His Word and His Table. God grows our faith and deals with our doubts not with distance but with the intimacy of Jesus’ presence through the Means of Grace. The Spirit works through the Means of Grace, and there our doubts give way to faith and trust in Christ’s death and resurrection.” Just to make sure we are in agreement, “The Means of Grace” are … Baptism, you can’t even understand or accept what we are about in the church if you’re not born again in baptism. The Lord’s Supper, you cannot take the Body of Christ for the nourishment of your body and soul, if you are not part of the Body of Christ as a confirmed member in Jesus’ church. The preached word, what the pastor says in his sermons is not going to make sense to those who have not been born again, have not been strengthened by Jesus’ Body and Blood and have not come together as the Body of Christ in order to serve each other and those in the world. We can make it up as we go, or we can fuss and decide our way is the best way, instead of trying to build, grow and mature, we chose to tear down and destroy, for the sake of our own personal gratification.

When people start deciding it’s all about their personal opinion, like Thomas, and not about the group, yes the team, team implies working together for the same goal, for the church that goal is to be there as a witness to Christ so that others might come to know Jesus as their Savior. When the church is no longer on that course and has decided that it is personal preference, the Holy Spirit can’t guide something that’s not moving in one unified course. It becomes DIW, Dead in the water. It’s still floating, but it’s not making way. In my time as a pastor, I’ve observed a rather strange construction, that the world has talked us into, because I can find nothing in the Bible to justify it. Instead of letting, even helping, the church push on people, challenge them, encourage them to grow and mature, there are too many people who think “team” means the lowest common denominator. Too be sure, a team and the church for that matter, is only as strong as its weakest link. To many people, the logic goes this way, instead of trying to strengthen the weakest link, we weaken all the other strong links. No! An excellent team, and this goes for the church too, is certainly to care for, strengthen and encourage the weakest part of the team. But that doesn’t mean to give up on the mission that the Holy Spirit puts in front of us in order to somehow let the weakest part of the chain let the entire construction come apart. This often includes people who are here, but frankly just don’t care. Paul cut Mark loose because he failed him once, Paul wasn’t going to let his mission for Christ suffer because he couldn’t rely on Mark. If Thomas was concerned enough to be with the rest of the disciples, then when they told him what the rest knew was the absolute truth, Thomas would have been a lot smarter keeping his opinion to himself, instead of getting all pompous and patronizing with his unfounded “opinion”. Ever hear the phrase; “felt like a penny waiting for change.”? I can imagine that is exactly how Thomas felt when he was confronted with the very presence of the resurrected Lord. Thomas does make quite a confession: “My Lord and my God!” Thomas knows he was very wrong and to his credit makes an absolutely unconditional whole-hearted confession who Jesus is to him and that ought to be the confession of all of us, all the time. As an excellent team, we certainly care for the weakest. But just as in a military unit, you don’t put the weakest in the place where they are going to fail. The weak, the wounded, the fearful are put somewhere that they don’t get other people hurt. They certainly aren’t making important decisions, or expected to perform important functions, they and the rest of those concerned know enough to keep them where they aren’t going to destroy the rest of the unit, or cause others to fail in their important functions. We certainly don’t let others drag the team, the church, down to mediocrity and compromise. You may not want to go out and reach the world for Christ, but you better not make it difficult for others who do want to perform the mission of the church. An excellent team and that is what the church should strive to be, we have a Savior, a Father and Holy Spirit that exceed the highest levels of excellence, a Savior who took on all the evil, the degeneracy, the weakness of a cold, dark world and overcame it to give us the assurance of new life in the resurrected life of the resurrected perfect world. Can we strive to be anything less than excellent for Him who strove in all excellence for us? An excellent team, the church, pursues excellence and I have no doubt that the apostles were guided as an excellent team, by an excellent coach, that coach being,… the Holy Spirit. Can’t get more excellent than that. Seems I’m always running into people who love to tell me how they don’t need the church, they can do it all by themselves. Really? Are you about being that public witness to Christ, doing whatever you can to pass on Christianity, the love of Christ to the next generation? If they were at all serious about what they were saying, they would realize how much they need Christ’s church. But far too many are just not serious about Jesus, so why would they be serious about His Body, the church? Seems there are also plenty of those same people in the church. They say things, but they are just not serious.

One of my last big cases in the Coast Guard a 60 ton fishing boat was DIW about 50 miles off the coast, it’s generator failed. That is a very bad situation for any boat. It was February, the air temperature was about 17 degrees and the wind was about 30miles per hour. The seas were about five feet, not bad, but definitely a difficult situation. Try to picture this. There is no power in the boat. They are using the radio on batteries, and the batteries soon died. It is black, there is no light around you, it was about 11pm when we reached them. There is no heat, it’s cold and getting colder. You can’t go anywhere. Five foot seas and whatever the current was is pushing you around in a completely arbitrary manner. There is no one else around you. You are trusting that the Coast Guard has the means to reach you. But you’re still out there waiting, and in that time all kinds of other things can happen. If you go in that water, no one is going to reach you in time. Now if the Coast Guard is sitting around and everyone is debating about how this should get resolved, everyone has an opinion, from Group Boston who was in control of this case, down to the crewman on the boat, how do you think that’s going to end? That boat is going to be lost, the more we debate and discuss, the more those arbitrary winds, waves and current are going to take that boat. To the point where we just won’t be able to find it, by the time we decide with all the pushing and pulling that boat is going to be somewhere else and even the best navigator is going to be very challenged to factor in wind, waves and current to have an idea where that is. That is what the church is experiencing these days. Our generator is the Holy Spirit. But too often we take Him off line, decide that we’re going to debate and discuss every piddling point, not trust in those who have been trained to figure out how the church should function and while we’re doing all this hemming, hawing and debating, there is a very cold, dark world that is being pushed around by all kinds of negative waves, winds and currents, and if the church ever figures out what it’s about, it can’t seem to find where the world is and how to reach it  in time. This is the absolute truth, just to extend the illustration. We went out the door of the station at 10 pm. On military bases, 10pm is taps. That means that while we were walking down to the boat house, taps was playing on the station speakers. The name of the boat, was the Grim Reaper. Because we acted as a team, from Group Boston, about 15 miles away, the station leadership and the boatcrew we found the boat fairly quickly and managed to get it towed back, even in some challenging conditions. Five guys went home that morning, got a hot meal, went to sleep in a warm bed. It’s only because everyone trained for long hours, day and night for years, learned the facts, not their opinions, were not just there to rescue, but were eager to rescue, knew their roles in the process of saving, and did what they were trained and expected to do. That is what the teamwork of the church produces. We reach out to people who are very much dead in the water, they have no clue where they should be, what they should be doing. They are being beat down by the wind, waves and current of the society around them. They are in the middle of darkness, cold and the chaos of all the stuff going around them. Sure, you can be a Thomas, the rest of the team huddled behind locked doors and windows, cowering at every sound, every bump; “harrumph, harrumph, I don’t care what you guys think. Jesus wasn’t here, it’s all about me and I’m not going to believe anything you have to say, so harrumph, harrumph, I’m going to do things my way, and we’re all going to cower together completely DIW hoping that we will survive.” That’s no way to live, and it’s certainly not going to help you to survive in a cold, hopeless world.

Thomas decided that it was about him and what he saw, or didn’t see. Jesus gave him the option; “do you really need hands on proof? Go ahead, touch Me.” Thomas realized he needed to trust his brothers and we need to realize that we need to trust and rely on our brothers and sisters in the church, the Body of Christ.” Let’s make up our minds to keep Thomas’ confession on our hearts and to put excellence in what we do in the Body of Christ as Jesus’ team, His disciples.

The community of God’s people, saved by grace, functioning through grace, through the church where we seek to lift up Christ for ourselves, for each other and for the world, collectively, through grace to expand Christ’s church, so that all will see the church and the hope and promise of Christ through His church. While we are individually saved by grace, “the ideal of grace is not lived in isolation, but in community, the church.” The church striving in excellence and grace in Christ for mutual support and encouragement, can only effectively influence the world in that excellence and grace that Jesus gives us.

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

God’s will, not the popular will or giving in to adversaries

I’ve been in business, the military, for the most part, there are generally accepted best practices and that’s what you follow in order to conduct business or execute military tactics. Sure you don’t always follow the blueprint, you do want to take advantage of different circumstances.

Ministry? Wow! Things are just all over the place, people tell you what they expect, and they are not interested in any other consideration. It does astound me how people who have been part of a church for decades, know so little about church, about the Bible, about doctrine. And before you give me this “doctrine isn’t important, blah, blah, blah…” It’s all about love. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Have ever really stopped to think what you’re talking about? Doctrine is what keeps us doing what we’re supposed to be doing, and why we’re doing it. Way too often the church gets off into sentimentality, emotionalism, what makes me happy, “well Jesus would want me to be happy!!” Really?

The Blackaby’s have some good advice “…If you concentrate on your opponents, you will be sidetracked from God’s activity. Don’t base your decisions on what people are doing. They can prevent you from carrying out God’s will (Rom 8:31)”. People just aren’t interested in why, why not we should, shouldn’t do something. That is what doctrine is about, developed over decades/centuries, by the greatest minds. In the Lutheran Church that is over 500 years and have had some incredibly great minds. But that doesn’t matter, no one’s interested in coming to me to find out what they should do, they come to me to tell me what they want and what I should do. That’s backward and destructive.

Now of course the quandry is this, if I’m not “cooperative”, as I’ve been accused of, then how do you resolve the issue of people leaving, running out of money. Well, the Blackaby’s certainly address that. Paul was being strongly confronted in Ephesus, riots broke out (Acts 19: 23-41), no doubt people were telling Paul how he was messing up, should give up, doesn’t have it, needs to leave. Paul took a lot more abuse then I probably ever will. He knew he was being faithful to God’s will and stuck with it. I need to do my best to discern God’s will, not worry about what others are pressuring me to do, not what is the popular move, not give in just because of adversaries and opposition and stick to what I’m doing.

Furthermore people just don’t seem to get that the way they “want” things, not based on any other consideration, because frankly they don’t know what they’re doing or what any of it’s about, they don’t care, just want it their way. How do you somehow pacify people who want to make the rules, but have no idea of what they’re doing. Further they don’t understand that no one else is really interested in their world-view, no one is going to follow their agenda, because it’s not anyone else’s and most people can tell it’s just wrong. Again that’s what doctrine is about, not some guys opinions, but people who have worked hard to try and reconcile what we are taught in Scripture and how we have to deal with that as a group. Too many people honestly think that they can just make it up and because that’s what they want, based on nothing other than their emotions, sentiments, feelings, that everyone should just follow along. It’s amazing, people today really aren’t looking for truth, what should be, they are looking for what I want and to somehow justify their completely unfounded opinion.

Just because I’m being opposed and deserted doesn’t mean I’m wrong. It does seem to mean that there are a lot of misguided, opinionated people around me, another reason why this church was failing when I got there and it is up to me to stay faithful to what God is leading me to do in ministry and to trust Him with the results. His church will prevail, Jesus promised us that, it will prevail on His terms and in His time. I am responsible to do my best to carry out His will in my little part of the world. It certainly wasn’t easy for Paul and the church as a whole, even up to the present. No reason it should be easy for me.