Tag Archives: Christian community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justified and sanctified in Jesus

I have been asked on a regular basis if Lutheranism is Christian. For all the denominations and “independents” and so many of these faux attempts at Christianity, YES! All of these other denominations and other presumed attempts at Christianity came from Martin Luther. In fact if your non-denominational “pastor” has any training at all (so many don’t and just presume to hand out a shingle calling themselves a church) but if he has any grounding in genuine Christianity he will, on a regular basis, quote Martin Luther. Dr Luther is the one who called out and broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman’s were right on one score, you open up Christianity, and you risk having a lot of presumptuous people thinking they know the drill who will pose themselves as “Christian” teachers and preachers. On the other hand the Roman Church was so wrong on many counts and we see those errors seeping into Reformed Christianity. Mainly in terms of “works-righteousness”. That is the idea that while Jesus saved us, you still have to do a few things to get you over that line into salvation. Make no mistake, we can reject our salvation. But as one Concordia seminary professor puts it, “God does the verbs”. That is God does what is necessary for us to be saved, there isn’t one thing we can add to what Jesus did for us to have salvation. It’s either all about him and nothing about me, or salvation doesn’t happen. There is also what is called antinomianism. That is that the Law doesn’t have any effect on Christians, we can go about and do just whatever we want and because of the grace of salvation, we’re forgiven of everything while we just flout God’s Law. There is no sin that Jesus didn’t die for. That doesn’t mean we can just go off and do whatever we like. There are consequences to our sin and at some point God decides that you really don’t have the fruits of the Spirit and that you’re just not really saved.

The point of this blog, though, is about the Lutheran teaching in terms of how our salvation is worked out. So for you who like to play at being a Christian, take some serious note here. We are saved because we are justified in Jesus. Justified, coming from the root word “justice” that we are completely innocent, completely guiltless because Jesus paid the price of our sin by dying on the cross. He took the punishment that we should have in order for us to be free of the guilt of our sin.

We are also sanctified, from the Latin “sanctus” completely holy, set apart, totally God’s man or woman. Again, that is only because we have been clothed in the holiness of Christ because of His sacrifice for us. If we are not completely justified, if we are not completely sanctified, and the only way that can happen is in Jesus, then we can not be saved. We cannot die and come into the presence of a completely holy and innocent God, God the Father of Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest Lutheran teachers, was C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Church in the United States. I’ve started a book by Concordia Publishing House which is a collection of Walther’s writings in a daily devotional, translated by Gerhard Grabenhofer.

Walther writes: “Justification happens in a blink of an eye. As soon as a sinner, in despair, recognizes his sin and desires grace and redemption, God speaks a word in heaven and justification takes place.” ( p 670) Walther wrote in the mid 1800s and I really like the style of writing from that period and Walther doesn’t disappoint. Likewise, he doesn’t pull any punches.

While we are immediately justified in Jesus, there is a process of sanctification, of growing in holiness. “Sanctification, on the contrary, does not happen suddenly. It occurs gradually and it continues until the end of our life. Justification is immediately perfect. Each one who is justified instantly receives the full forgiveness of his sins, the complete righteousness of Christ, and a new status as a child of God. Sanctification, which follows justification , begins weakly and grows until death, but it never comes to perfection.” ( pp 670-671).

Having said that I would point out that while we are, hopefully, always growing in sanctification, when we die as directed by God, the Lord of our life, we come into His presence completely justified, completely sanctified, completely righteous, but not due to anything we’ve done, only due to what Jesus has done for us. In baptism we become that new child in God, therefore we become completely justified. Baptism is the “new birth” in Jesus. We become completely saved in Jesus. Yes people are baptized, then become as lost as anyone else in the world, through their own bad choices. But not because God failed them in anyway, they chose the way of the world, and the way of the world is sin, death and eternal condemnation in Hell. Sure, lots of people would like to amend that and make it according to their own plan, but this is God’s plan and that’s just the way it’s going to happen. You can continue to live in your little world of denial or realize that the only Lord of life is Jesus and He has revealed salvation to us and that’s the way it’s going to be.

Walther writes: “Perfection for the Christian is the clear recognition that he is imperfect in himself, but nevertheless perfect in Christ Jesus”. For those who think that they’re “all that and a bag of chips”, don’t need Jesus, ok, how’s that going to work out. While you’ve made an idol of yourself, because you think you know what it’s all about, the only way to eternal life is through Christ. You can make it up, but it’s pure fiction and you’ve basically told God “yea, not really happy about your way, I’ve got a better idea”. You may think it’s better, but without anyway to save yourself, again eternal condemnation. Harsh? Not really, we want to know how to be saved, but when we get God’s way and decide it just doesn’t work for us, well it’s God’s way or no way and you’re not god, deal with it.

“When a person is justified, God generally lets him taste the sweetness of His grace in order to draw the sinner from the world to Himself. At this point, many a beginner in Christ thinks he is rid of the world, sin and Satan. but if that were truly the case, it would not be long before such a person became secure and proud. Therefore, our faithful God removes the sweet feelings of grace and power from most of His believers and from that time on, He bestows such blessings meagerly and allows His Christians to grow in humility. When a person becomes truly poor, he must daily beg God for everything and adhere to Jesus’ word of grace so he is not lost. He also comes to realize that God’s work of grace in sanctification is revealed in the fact that his spirit continues to struggle against his flesh. If he feels that sin rages in him, but something else in him prevents sin from gaining dominion over him, this moves him to prayer and to the word of God.If he succumbs to sinful temptations, he goes to Jesus and prays to Him for forgiveness. Such a person is not dead, for a dead heart no longer beats.”

“We have been reborn into true life in Jesus in our baptism. We were dead in our sin with the rest of the world, now we have true life. When we are given that new life, we become completely righteous in Christ and as a new child in Jesus we begin the journey of Christian maturity in our sanctification in Jesus.” (pp 671-672)

This is what is truly important about being saved in Jesus. We can get into a lot of mushy, pointless, emotionalism, or we can understand that we are sinners, that our only salvation is in Jesus and only through Jesus do we become justified and sanctified and truly fit to be made a child of God and to be in His presence and to live in the resurrected, eternal, perfect world that God had always intended for us.

Prayer our all powerful resource from God Luke 11 First Saint Johns Church July 24, 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 know that their refuge is in God the Father through prayer said … AMEN!

God gave His church the most powerful tool in the universe, PRAYER! Jesus gave His disciples, those who asked Him to teach them how to pray and His disciples all the way to you, me, and those growing into disciples. There is no greater power in the universe. Through prayer we are given access to God the Father. Prayer puts us very much in His presence, His power and glory. Even for the biggest and toughest, to be in the presence of Abba, Daddy. He is not only the most powerful being in all of creation, also the most loving. No matter who you are, you can take in all the love, peace and comfort of God in the simple act of sitting down and following Jesus’ directions; “When you pray say: “Father,…” Matthew writes that we start “Our Father” The Greek in Matthew 6:9 says: “Pa,ter h`mw/n” Many jump on that as another “contradiction” in the Bible. Why does Luke just say “Pa,ter”, ? While Matthew says: “Pa,ter h`mw/n” In any human dialogue there’s dozens of reasons why we say, or hear something different. Matthew was there, he heard, “Pa,ter h`mw/n” I took French for seven years, I have a plaque in the office with the Lord’s prayer “notre pere”, of course, at First Saint Johns, many times the German “unser Vater” has been used in the 140 year history of this sanctuary. Whichever language, He is “our Father”, just as Jesus told His disciples. The Bible is the inspired word of God. The Holy Spirit inspired the remembrance of Jesus’ words for Matthew and whoever told Luke. I’d like to think that the Holy Spirit wanted us to know either way is good, that He wants us to know that He is my Father, that I can, even should address Him as “Pater, Vater, Pere, Father”, but that He is collectively our Father. Because I am born again in Christ, the Holy Spirit has made me that new creation in Jesus, that I am a born again son of the Father, that He is very much my own Father, but that He is also Father to billions. I have billions of brothers and sisters in Jesus right now and through the last two thousand years of history. Brothers and sisters that are in all parts of the world, all over the world, and in all the ages of the last two thousand years. We are so vastly different as people, but through prayer, through our Father, through our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ we are all the children of the same God, through whom all creation was made, sustained and will be restored to the perfection that was intended by Him at the beginning. We all pray the same thing, different languages, different countries, even at different points in history, but Father, our Father, He hears us all calling to Him as Father.

Prayer certainly does unite us, reminds us that people all around the world are saying Father, Our Father. One of the most unifying prayers is in 1 Chronicles 7:14. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” By far the Gospel that is most focused on prayer is Luke’s, Luke makes constant references to Jesus going and praying, usually by Himself. That certainly is another model for us that we need time to be alone to focus on being in God’s presence, that there is nothing to distract us, to take us out of His presence, that nothing interfere with Him pulling us toward Him, uniting us with Him in our prayer. As His children we are entitled, we are expected to come before our Father, regularly, to be in His presence. Sure there will be times when we will come into His presence cowering, knowing what Ricky Ricardo used to say to Lucille Ball, “Lucy, you got some explaining to do!” Lifting up to God our repentance and asking for forgiveness. He does forgive, He certainly puts it on our heart that He expects better, that He is there, in prayer, to steer us away from the rocks and shoals that we launch ourselves onto and find ourselves stuck on. Through Him, in prayer, He reminds us of the things we need to stay away from and also that He is there, one short prayer away to keep us from hitting the bottom and damaging ourselves. More importantly He reminds us that He is our refuge. In his Psalms David refers to God as His refuge 46 times. In Psalm 64:10 David writes: “ESV Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD and take refuge in him! Let all the upright in heart exult!” We all have God as our refuge and are united in Him when we take refuge in Him together through our prayers. We ought to constantly go to His refuge, the place where He provides for all that we need.

Too often though we come to Him only in times of desperation, how much better it would be for us if we were constantly in prayer relying on His refuge. Robert Pase writes: “But God’s intent in giving us the gift of prayer isn’t that we wait to pray until all seems lost. God intends that prayer be an everyday, every moment part of the Christian life, including when life seems to be clear sailing, a pleasure cruise. The fact is that God rights the ship, keeps the world on an even keel, by the prayers of his Church. The saints on earth and in heaven are constantly praying, and God is constantly answering – with good weather, good crops, good health and all sorts of things we might take for granted. God invites us to pray about everything every day, not just as a last resort.”[1] You thought I was the only one who used sea metaphors. The point being that prayer is not just for times of distress, but is for all the time and certainly in those times when we want to be in His very presence. His refuge provides us with peace, safety, strength, knowing that no matter what, He is in control, it is all according to His will and the more we align ourselves with His will in prayer, the more we will realize that we need to let go of our fears and worries and to pray to be in His will and set our agenda aside. Our peace is always in God and in the fact that He will be there through our trials and at the end to welcome us as His good and faithful servant. That will only be reinforced and hardcoated into our brains through prayer, constant prayer. There are a lot of sea metaphors, the sea was a metaphor to the Jewish person of chaos and danger. If you are far from shore, at the mercy of the sea you have an acute understanding of the day to day lives so many of us live with, a feeling that there is nothing that we can really secure ourselves to. E Stanley Jones, quoted in Chuck Swindoll’s book writes “Prayer is surrender – surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boat hook from a boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Payer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.”[2] God has His line out to you through prayer. He is pulling you to Him, not the other way around. So long as we persevere in Him, He will be taking us to safety in Him.

Paul promises us in: “ESV Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Even in those times we just fall on our knees and have no idea where to begin, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. He knows what is on our heart, what we need to pray and He will lift those prayers to the Father for us. But we can also look at the prayers that King David makes in the Book of Psalms. Psalm 86 is called a prayer of intercession where David is desperate for God’s attention, he prays: “ESV1 Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. 2 Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you- you are my God. 3 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. 4 Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. 5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. 6 Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. 7 In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me. 11 Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. 12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. 15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

God is our Father, for those of us who are fathers, we would do whatever we could to provide for our children. We passionately want what is best for them. Yes it is often in a selfish way, but we don’t want to see our children hurt or struggling. I know my heart is often hurting for one of my children. Jesus puts it directly to us: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent, of if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11: 11-13) Certainly for those of us who are fathers, we know well how much we want to help our children to live a life that glorifies God where they know who their strength, provision and refuge is. Our all powerful, all loving God knows that infinitely better than us and waits for our prayers, waits for us to ask, to seek, to knock so that He will pour out His love and strength on us. We here at First Saint Johns know the power that we have in prayer. Many of us have worked hard to provide many ways to lift up prayer and to keep us focused on being united to the Father in prayer. If we are ever in need of prayer, we know that we will be included on our weekly prayer list and those in the church, the Lord Jesus in whose Body we share, that we will be prayed for. A prayer room has been made ready by loving hands on the second floor as a place of peace, quiet and refuge. A group often meets after worship to join together to lift up others and themselves in prayer. We gather together for a monthly prayer breakfast for our individual needs, the collective needs of First Saint Johns, for our church and those outside of our church who are looking for support in prayer. That we are always looking for opportunities to come together in prayer and to encourage individual prayer. That we maintain an environment here that is a constant reminder to all of us of the strength and power we have when we go to the Father in prayer that our refuge is always in Him.

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

[1] Robert J Pase  “Concordia Pulpit Resources” Volume 26, Part 3, Series C p 17

[2] E Stanley Jones, quoted in Chuck Swindoll’s “Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes” p 453

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.

Loving Your Neighbor on the Highway to Hell Luke 10: 25-37 First Saint Johns July 10, 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 serve their neighbor on the highway said … AMEN

I’m sure, at least for those of us who are of an age, you remember the song “Highway to Hell”, since we are talking about the Good Samaritan being on what was probably a main, as it were, “highway”, during that period it is not hard to wonder if the men who left the man to die on the road, we will call him “neighbor”, if those men really were on a highway to hell. Today, someone, a police officer, ambulance, will come along and do what’s necessary to get “neighbor” help. Not the case in first century Israel, there was no highway patrol, no one charged with patrolling the highways for such a situation. Walking past that helpless man, not stopping to help him could well be a death sentence. We Lutherans know that we sin by what we do and what we don’t do. Walking by this man in such a condition was leaving him to die, and is our sin of omission.

Highway to Hell by AC/DC is rather insightful for what was intended to be parody. Do what I want, when I want, I don’t help anyone, I don’t need anyone’s help, don’t need reason, don’t need rhyme, on and on, yea, the exact recipe for Hell, eternal condemnation. Entirely that person’s choice. That’s not love, yet you have many today who say the exact opposite, that it’s entirely loving to let a person do what they want and go where they want in their own time. That’s not God, that’s not love, that’s walking by that person on the highway, crossing over so that you don’t have to interact with that person and moving on in your life, your agenda.

Jesus asks the lawyer, “who do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer answered, “The one who showed him mercy”. Samaritans were so hated by Jews in that time, the man couldn’t even bring himself to acknowledge that a Samaritan would extend such kindness, but conceded that he did show mercy in compliance with the Levitical command: “…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” God made sure Moses knew to emphasize, “I am the Lord” the Great I AM, the One who is telling you to show this kindness to “neighbor”. Something the lawyer, the priest or the Levite just didn’t/wouldn’t do. They would expect someone to stop for them, but the truth is, on the “Highway to Hell”, “nobody’s gonna slow me down”. Not in terms of them moving on to provide for their own lusts and desires, and certainly not in terms of helping someone else. That is what will always differentiate Christians and everyone else. We are under command to “love our neighbor”, we may not always do it, we may not always do it right, but we are reminded as we move along the highway, that the rest of the world is not under such an injunction. Sure they may stop once in awhile to help, but they often expect something in return, or any number of motivations, but not out of love, and love is always to be the Christian’s motivation.

We have a lot of people today who think that love is about what they receive. They put other people on a treadmill, expecting them to keep providing for them, never really giving anything, but expecting that someone else is supposed to show them “Christian love” on a continuous basis. That’s not “love”, it’s not about me thinking of new ways people are supposed to do things for me, it’s about me doing my best to provide, strengthen, pray for, encourage, provide material help in physical need. That’s love, not what many today want to convince us that love is, our continually doing for those who just want to continue to take and never do anything for themselves, or anyone else that will help them to grow and mature. Those who wag their finger at us about “love”, are usually the ones who do nothing else but accuse others and then expect to be provided for. But there will be those like “neighbor” who will find themselves in times of trouble, we are to be there for those who, through no fault of their own, need our help. We should step up to help “neighbor”. Thieves aren’t going to go to the trouble to mug someone unless they think that there is a payoff. Clearly “neighbor” had means and he was going about his business to the best of his ability. Clearly he deserved to be helped by the priest and/or the Levite. These men were probably afraid that “neighbor” was dead and they might make themselves ceremonially unclean. That is legalism, legalism is never an excuse to not help someone. There are those who have found themselves caught up in lifestyles that are clearly sinful. As Christians we continually walk that fine line between “enabling” someone in their sin and helping someone who is in need and is looking for help to overcome. I find myself here, in a downtown church, continually having to make that call, with limited resources of time, money, energy and the need to tell anyone I come into contact with the good news of the Gospel. We do exercise a great deal of love and compassion here at First St Johns. We do reach out in love to help those who we can help. But our ultimate expression of love is always to tell anyone we encounter of the love of Jesus. That He died on that cross as a payment for our sin and through His righteousness to put us in relationship with God, our all holy, righteous, just God.

The AC/DC song, is a clear expression of those who just aren’t interested in the Gospel message. They are on that highway, and remember Jesus’ words; there is a narrow road that leads to salvation, a highway is wide and fast. There are plenty of highways that I’ve been on that have a speed limit of 55 miles per hour, but all around me, vehicles are buzzing around at 65, 75 much faster than me, I’m trying to stay safe, but getting caught up with what’s going on around me is putting me in jeopardy and those zooming by are completely callous to the fact that they’re putting me, anyone else with me and themselves in jeopardy. We can try to keep up with those who are on that highway to hell, or we can continue to do the right thing. Jesus said “if you love Me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). We can zoom by neighbor on the highway, literally or metaphorically, or we can do whatever we can to provide a safe place to tell him, and others, the truth and grace of Jesus. Gerhard Grabenhofer in his book God Grant It, a devotional based on the writings of CFW Walther quotes Walther: “The task of every Christian church that rightly bears this name is to provide eternal comfort… To still [our accusing conscience] God has established the holy Christian Church. It should be a garden of heaven on earth full of living springs at which the tired earthly pilgrim can rest and out of which he can draw the comfort that heals his wounded conscience and fills him with the hope of eternal life. A church that does not provide this comfort, one that acts instead like a school of morals, preaching only one’s duties, awakening a servile fear of God and leaving of God and leaving doubt about eternal salvation, is a church in name only.”[1] This is what we see today, too many churches who take a “moral”, politically correct position, that is truly legalistic, that is about conforming to the world’s positions, like the priest and the Levite. More concerned about going through the motions of appearing “right” instead of being that place of true love, that agape love, that puts us in genuine relationship with a God who does desperately love us. The Father wants so much for us to know His Son Jesus and to know that we are saved only through Him, not through our political/social activities, but Him who died to save us. That our strength is always through the love, grace, faith that we have in Christ and not our own. Yes, we have encountered many right here in our downtown area, who try to tell us what we should be concerned with, everyone has their agenda. In Leviticus, God is telling Moses, “…you shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you…You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 18: 3-4) We have a lot of people telling us that’s old news, we need to get with the new world. The things that were happening in Egypt and Canaan, were much like things around us today. People who were oblivious to what God wanted and who did what they wanted. God goes on to tell Moses: “…you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.” (Lev 19: 17) We can’t lose where we need to be and to somehow think it’s loving to enable people in their sin. It’s not, we are well aware of what is loving; “God, who is the eternal love, does not want even one person to be lost, however” quoting Walther. The however being if that person ignores God and choses the highway to hell. We present Christ in love, we see wounded “neighbor” laying by the roadside and try to render assistance, but if he dismisses us, we leave him alone, but keep him, or her, in constant prayer.

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

[1] Gerhard Grabenhofer quoting CFW Walther “God Grant It” p 582

A new paradigm of Christian pastoral leadership

Please don’t misconstrue what I’m about, this isn’t bitterness, this isn’t angst. If anything it’s more on the level of  disquiet. You have highly educated pastors, but people who really don’t know how to lead. If anything pastors genuinely feel it’s not up to them to lead, they leave it to laity that are even less qualified and yes, you really get the blind leading the blind. Yes, there are churches that have qualified, experienced lay people in leadership and pastors who can not only preach and teach, and exercise some degree of leadership and there is a mutual respect, the potential to work together effectively. These are very rare situations. It seems to me, as I see other churches, is that there is a laity who really have very little clue and a pastor, who has never done anything else in his life, has been brought up to believe that he really does sit and think great thoughts and then goes back into his pastor’s study until he’s trotted out again on Sundays. Some seem to not even do that.

There has to be some semblance of reality. More and more the church is declining because it is taken less and less seriously and mostly because of such a bankruptcy of leadership. There’s either passivity, shilling, patronizing, or being good time Charlie. It’s pretty hard for men to take seriously the church as it is being presently led. Being a Christian is not about emotionalism, yet most pastors indulge emotionalism as the quick and easy solution. Just as bad, up until the 1960s there were pastors who were the complete opposite, autocrats who were equally unqualified and having some odd self-perception that they did know everything.

OK, I am generalizing, but generalities come about because the evidence starts to become compelling. The church has lurched from one silly extreme to another. Too many pastors took advantage of uncritical congregations because neither knew any better. The pastors went about imposing petty nonsense as “Christianity” and expected the congregation to jump through hoops. The tide turns and now the congregations expect the pastor to jump, the laity exercise leadership and are at least just as clueless. In the last fifty years we have congregations who were/are theologically clueless and expected to impose on a clueless/compliant pastor their each individual whims, businesspeople who “knew” the church should be run like a business, all expected to be entertained and not accept leadership or instruction from the pastor (who way too often only had academic qualifications and nothing else), who didn’t know how to practically apply the academic training, so no need for it and never grew out of it.

One can see why people, accomplished in other fields (or at least who thought they were), who were loathe to accept directions from an otherwise incapable pastor. Instead of pushing the pastor to exert ecclesiastical leadership, and Luther certainly expected pastors to exercise leadership, he did and by example, the laity filled the vacuum, despite lack of qualification. Since the pastor couldn’t/wouldn’t, the laity did, having some belief to the effect “how hard could it by?”. You had people who couldn’t tell you the “solas”, the basics of the faith, but since the pastor was an entertainer and not a teacher, the fundamentals of the faith just couldn’t be that important.

The new paradigm has to be this and especially in terms of renewal efforts being undertaken in the downtown old “cathedrals”. It is time for pastors to step up, be professional pastors, versus the smiley/accommodating stereotype. Pastors need to knowledgeably assert control, lead, push when necessary all those in the church to start becoming mature Christians, even, wow, disciples of Christ. The “Old Guard” laity and yes even some clergy needs to understand that the old paradigm has been failing for decades, backoff and support the new paradigm, even through the “discomfort”. Might that require breaking up the old guard? Certainly the desirable outcome would be overall acceptance and a unified front to move the church ahead. Certainly it’s up to the pastor to be open, accessible, willing to go as far as possible, but not back to the old paradigm or the failed practices of the last fifty years. Certainly we want to try to balance the old and new, do as much as can be done, but to what end, giving up on the faction that just won’t move and accept?

The pastor needs to keep asserting leadership towards a positive goal, quit playing, accept that there are going to be losses and yes, even up to conflict. The church is not a business, we’re not in the people pleasing business, we’re in the building mature Christian disciples business. While we’re trying to be faithful, that entails trusting God while we deal with whatever the fallout. Are we going to be serious, or continue to slide into country clubs that have been failing for fifty years.

Paul certainly had no compunction calling out the Corinthians and Galatians, at least. They had all kinds of issues and Paul did not pull any punches holding them accountable. We have to follow Paul’s model and stop trying to be the intellectual, complacent, indulgent patsy that too many people see pastors as now, a model that has just wreaked havoc on the church. Paul certainly demanded those churches to cut the nonsense and doing what he could to lead churches back to true Christian integrity. Playing church is not doing anyone any favors. I frankly take seriously that I’m going to be held even more accountable and I intend to be able to tell God I exercised as much integrity as I could to build disciples and not patronize audiences. It’s up to the pastor to lead the church to be a genuine Christian catholic and apostolic church and not just a “feel good” zone.

Lay people do yourself a big favor, expect to be led by a pastor who will assert true pastoral leadership a la St Paul of Tarsus, to make true Christian disciples. Support him and encourage him. It worked for Paul it can work for you. If he is just going to be an enabling, feel good guy, get yourself another man, yes a man!