Tag Archives: Church

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.

Whatsa mattah wid you Galatians?

I guess I just didn’t get it. I just started reading the epistle to the Galatians again and just realized how much grief and aggravation Paul had to deal with. Paul gave both of these churches the straight scoop and both of them just kind of gratuitously blew him off. I guess I need to give both churches a little slack. There wasn’t a lot of history, writing/teaching, they were just getting Paul. Having said that Paul certainly was in a position to know what he was talking about. Sure both churches couldn’t readily know that, however. They chose to give a lot of others a platform and seemed to exercise little if any discernment as to whether the others were for real or pretty much making it up. Seems that they should have known they were not getting the correct story.

Having said that, I can readily identify with Paul. Here Paul is giving them the straight story and, as we see with many “churches” today, seemed to think that this was more in terms with what they liked/didn’t like, versus who here is really giving us the consistent narrative of God’s word. They all seemed to agree that it was about Jesus, but…. the others seemed to ignore the Christ’s full atonement of all sin and, like most other Christian churches today, seemed to tie it to the things that were still necessary. Jesus’ sacrifice was good and got you up to the finish line, but then, well you just had to add a little to it to push you over the line of salvation.

Yes, we have the consumer mentality, not so much what is right, what I need, but what I like, make me happy. Either that or follow the crowd, as if God saves you in Jesus according to the polls.

And for those who like to make the New Testament all goody, sweet and sparkly, we see Paul lighting up the Galatians, as he did the Corinthians. Here are some of Paul’s comments to these shallow end of the pool, listeners:

ESV Galatians 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-ESV Galatians 1:7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. ESV Galatians 1:10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. ESV Galatians 1:12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

ESV Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. [Put another way, “what’sa mattah wid you, you stupid or something?”]
Are you really going to believe these snake oil salesmen, risk your salvation just because they’re telling you a more appealing story? I’m not interested in what you like, I’m telling you what you need to hear in Jesus.

Paul’s not exactly using gentle words, wasn’t being our smiley, good-time Charlie, pretty please pastor of today. Now,  now, you shouldn’t do that, but Jesus still loves you. Ya Paul is the direct approach, “cut the nonsense and you need to cut it out now, we’re not playing, this is for real and you better get yourselves together and get with the true ministry of Jesus and not what these other guys are trying to dissemble and embellish. I’m telling you the way it is, I got it straight from the source, this is what Jesus wants you to know!

Paul was angry, frustrated, and I believe genuinely fearful of the lack of discernment on the part of these people and frightened for their eventual fate. Paul cared what happened to these people, to the Corinthians to all the many people he ministered to, helped build churches with. Not telling them what they wanted to hear, but telling them what they needed to hear and having no compunction to push them if they were choosing not to get it.

That is a real pastor, not the sickly sweet posing we get today. I can hear Paul saying, I am desperately in fear for you, that you drift so far away from Jesus that you end up on the nice smooth, wide road and gently drift into hell, to death, eternal separation from Jesus. I’m going to do everything I can think  of to prevent that and if it requires yelling or whatever, I can’t let you keep drifting down. That is a pastoral heart, not worried about whether he’s liked, popular the true pastor is scared to death that one member of his flock ends up lost to eternity. The pastors of today should take note, they will have to answer and I do not want to explain why I just waved goodbye with a smile to someone who was condemning themselves. Take the pastey smiles off, the nice guy “I want everyone to love me” attitude and note what Paul had to do with the Galatians and Corinthians and no doubt a lot of others. Focus on what you’re doing and get over your desperate need to be loved. There will be plenty of that in the resurrection from people who wouldn’t be there if you hadn’t been so determined to be used by the Holy Spirit to effect their salvation.

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!

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

Baptized Children, New Life in God the Father Galatians 3 June 19, 2016 First St Johns

[for the audio version click on the above icon]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are born again, know God as their Father and cry out Abba to Him said … AMEN!…

Tony Cooke tells the following story: “…of a father of five children who came home with a toy. He summoned his children and asked which of them should be given the present. “Who is the most obedient one here? Who never talks back to Mom and does everything that Mom says to do?” He inquired. There were a few seconds of silence, and then all of the children said in one accord: “You play with it Daddy!”[1] This sounds like a father who actually gets it, I’m not talking about a mousey guy who just “yes dear, no dear”, but who is obviously modeling for his children what they need to know when they become parents and supporting their  wife, the mother of their children. I would bet that when he has an issue he and mom, work it out, how to truly model a godly father. That the children would be humble enough to acknowledge that dad does these things is a testament to how they’re being raised, they have enough discernment and respect to understand how things should be. As you see in the insert in your bulletin, Billy Graham writes: “A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.”[2] I think you can make a case that in today’s society Dads are very under appreciated. Watch television, there’s always the clueless, detached father in the program. You do have to wonder if this is some sort of shot, not just at fathers, but at God the Father. I get it many people have “father” issues, and there are way too many “fathers” who have just punted on their responsibilities, but if you have a father who is trying to help you mature, trying to help you be a real person, is really not concerned with your little desires or your dramas, but will do whatever he can to help you to become a man or woman who has integrity, to become someone who wants to be strong enough to be there to serve others and his or her family, a dad who wants you to be devoted to God and to be all that God wants you to be, then you should be thankful for a father like that. That is what fathers are supposed to do. If you’re a man with children and you’re not doing at least these basics, I would really look hard at my life and decide if I’m truly serving my wife and my children. It’s very fashionable today for a father to think that mom knows what’s best in all circumstances and just concede their responsibility to her to their children. That’s just not true, God gave children a father and a mother for a reason, a man and a woman for a reason, because men and women are very different, but we come together as one flesh, as we vow to do when we are married, and then our differences are very complementary and help each other to grow and especially for our children to grow, to be mature, strong adults who do serve each other and the community they live in as God intended for them to be.

We tend to minimize how we pray the Lord’s prayer, “Our Father…” some say they have a problem because of some abuse or neglect of their earthly father.  Yes, I understand, there can be bitterness towards your earthly father, there can be bitterness towards lots of different people. We almost seem to encourage bitterness against a father, that it is somehow justified, while we try to get people to forget their bitterness towards others. The effects of bitterness and anger, and we always feel justified, but those effects damage us like any other bitterness, regardless of who you think has hurt you. We have a Father in heaven who keeps us from bitterness, who provides for us, blesses us, guides us and carries us through the trials of life. The Father who gives us the promise of life in Him in this life and to the perfect life we were meant to live, to life eternal in the resurrection. So when we pray “our Father who art in heaven”, it is to the almighty perfect Father, Creator and Sustainer of all, not the man who you feel has failed you. We may reject our earthly father, but we reject our heavenly Father to our eternal loss and regret. John quotes Jesus: “Jesus said to them ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here.” (John 8:42) I am truly sorry that anyone should be hurt, that someone should be in a situation where they are damaged in some way by the man who they should trust to do whatever he can for them, up to and including sacrificing his life for them. Fathers aren’t perfect, being a father I can certainly attest to that in my own case, but I think, along with probably the fathers here right now, that what I did was for the best of the child, albeit imperfectly, but that I would, without a second thought, give my life to protect my wife and children. We can overcome anything in the power of Christ, we can know how much our earthly father cares for us, or at least should care for us, but much more importantly, for eternal consequences, that our Father in heaven, who is far greater than anyone of us, does love us beyond anything we can imagine. We do, all of us, have a Father who will do whatever is necessary in order to save your life to eternal life, to true life in eternity in Jesus. I have no doubt that everyone here has a reason for some kind of bitterness, but in Christ, being guided by the Holy Spirit there is no bitterness that we can’t be healed in order to bring us into communion in Jesus “so that we might receive adoption as sons … God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” We can let bitterness about anything eat us up inside. Bitterness that will stunt our growth, isolate us from the world around us, give us an excuse to estrange ourselves from God the Father, continue to separate us from salvation in Jesus or we can; in joy, celebration, cry out Abba! Father! as we should do, that we have His promise, that we are protected by His infinite strength and His infinite provision. Our earthly father can only provide so much, but our heavenly Father can and will provide in every situation. Not to say He just hands us what we think we need, but our Abba, our daddy, our Papa, will provide what we need, when He chooses in His infinite knowledge and mercy when we need it, and no matter what, we will look back and realize how much we needed what He provided and in the perfect time that He provided it in.

From the Lutheran Study Bible: “the Holy Spirit assures us that we are God’s children, redeemed by Jesus Christ and made full heirs of the promise to Abraham. … Christ earned for us the right to call God ‘our Father’ a prayer taught only by the Spirit.” But not only ‘Father’ but ‘Papa’, again from the Lutheran Study Bible; “Aramaic, for ‘Papa’ an address of special intimacy not typically found in Judaism.”[3] Paul is saying that yes, before you were under the Law, people were left to strive, for those in the world, without Jesus, they are left to cope with the world on their own terms, worse led by Satan to their own destruction. God, our Father, Abba, guides us as His children, watching over us as only God the Father can. We see in our Gospel reading the power of God. Jesus asked the man in Gerasenes what his name was. The man answered Legion, for many demons had entered him. Jesus obviously, not the least bit intimidated or impressed, after all this man was led by the demons to fall down before Jesus, to beg him not to torment them. Jesus, God the Son, because of His strength and power, showed how He protects His children, us, from the power and evil of the world.

Tony Cooke quotes Steve Farrar: “A godly father is the unseen spiritual submarine who lurks below the surface of every activity of his child’s life. A man who has put on the full armor of God and with that armor, goes to warfare on his knees for his children, is a force to be reckoned with we cannot be with our children 24 hours a day through our prayers we have the ability to affect situations even when we are not physically present. You may be undetected but that does not mean you are ineffective.”[4] As fathers given guardianship of our children, by God the Father, the most important thing we can do is to keep our children focused on God the Father that in our baptism in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are His adopted children through our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us to bring us into our relationship with our heavenly Father. Christ earned for us the right to call God ‘our Father’, a prayer taught only by the Spirit.”[5] We give Him our thanks and praise for His sacrifice for us and so that we can live in relationship with “Our Father who art in heaven”

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

[1]Tony Cooke, Tony Cooke ministries   http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/fathers_day/

 

[2] Billy Graham quoted by Upward Sports

[3] (Lutheran Study Bible p 2008)

[4] Tony Cooke, Tony Cooke ministries   http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/fathers_day/

 

[5] Lutheran Study Bible p 2009

Simul Justus et Peccatore 2 Samuel 11:26 Luke 7:36 First St Johns June 12, 2016

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

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know the grace and joy of forgiveness and forgiving said … AMEN!

Don’t misunderstand what David did was completely repugnant. There is no acceptable reason for what he did. Bathsheba wasn’t totally innocent either. There are those who like to point out the failings of the Old Testament, the vengeful, angry God stuff. By 21st century American standards there are things that we just would not countenance in this day and age. But there is certainly a good deal of hypocrisy with those who make such judgments, a lot of what the critics do are just not acceptable and certainly not by the standards of Israel in 1,000 BC. Those critics certainly never seem to be concerned with what the peoples around Israel did which were just abhorrent. One big difference was the accountability of their leaders, especially their kings. For the rest of the world at that time, the king was the highest authority and could pretty much do whatever he pleased. Take any woman, put anyone to death, take whatever they wanted and could do it with impunity. As the king of Israel David was responsible, as any other person in Israel was to Yahweh, his position didn’t make any difference, if anything he was held more accountable. When he was confronted by Nathan the prophet, any other king of that period could have just ignored Nathan, put him in prison, executed him and no one would have said boo about it. David was always responsible to Yahweh, he did have multiple wives, wasn’t supposed to and especially not a Gentile wife, Uriah was a Hittite and so presumably was Bathsheba. But David did and was forgiven, along with his adultery with Bathsheba and his treachery toward Uriah. But Yahweh was still faithful to David in his sins and is faithful to us in ours. We, by comparison, are graceless to those who offend us, quick to take anything and everything personally and like the Pharisee in our Gospel reading, quick to reject and condemn those who don’t follow our every whim, right down the line.

In our readings we certainly have a stark contrast. We have David who has committed truly abhorrent sin, he has committed adultery and against a man who was probably a friend, or at least a close associate. Uriah is listed among the renowned mighty men of David’s bodyguards, 37 men in all, a sort of elite military Secret Service, these men were all in close contact with David, so David certainly knew Uriah and had to know Bathsheba. David is certainly taken to task for the absolutely repugnant things that he did. The big surprise? He was still forgiven. Doesn’t mean God was justifying or somehow rationalizing David’s sin and as always, when we commit sin, there are usually consequences. David was made to suffer, although you could certainly wonder why his baby son was the consequence. Nevertheless, David was penalized and he knew it deep in his heart. We even have his repentance look up Psalm 51:  A PSALM OF DAVID, WHEN NATHAN THE PROPHET WENT TO HIM, AFTER HE HAD GONE IN TO BATHSHEBA. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” David knew the deal, he also knew he was forgiven. Yahweh had been so gracious to David and David knew that he failed, he knew that he had seriously failed God, who had faithfully stood by him. We have all done this to one degree or another. Served faithfully and also let down someone who had treated us with graciousness and generosity. There are people who I remember through my life who treated me kindly, were selfless in helping me and being there for me, and I was not considerate in return. Certainly I have let God down on many occasions and He has faithfully forgiven me. There were penalties and consequences. Often people have told me that they knew they sinned, that as David put it “have done what is evil in your sight”, but on the flipside, turn around and complain that God treated them badly, they resent the fact that their sin caused them unpleasant consequences. We’re really quick to sin, really quick to accept forgiveness, but equally quick to forget that there are consequences. “I asked forgiveness, God said He forgives, so why did these bad things happen to me after I asked forgiveness.” We are forgiven and should be grateful for God’s forgiveness, but instead of copping an attitude because of the inevitable consequences, we need to remember Psalm 51, be grownups go back to God and acknowledge where we’ve sinned, that we’ve failed God and accept, without bitterness, the consequences of what we’ve done, move on in our life, trust that God is going to provide and get over the attitude. It truly astounds me in ministry, there is no room for disagreement, forgiveness, grace, it’s all or nothing. Yes, that’s the way it’s become in our society, but for a people who are forgiven, we Christians seem to have little idea of how to forgive, of how to be gracious, of how to put the best face on things. We just do not seem to understand that we will not always agree, and instead of taking our ball and bat and going home, understand that the ball game is going to proceed and God expects you to play out the game and not just desert because you didn’t get your way. There is no way you could function in business or the military with that kind of mindset, but that is certainly how people in the church seem to feel.

God graciously forgave David and didn’t break off His relationship with David. Imagine if God had the same attitude we often do, “well Jim, you didn’t do what I wanted you to do, so I’m out of here, see you later, you’re on your own.” We couldn’t function with such a fickle God, we would all be lost and condemned. God doesn’t do that. Just because He gives us consequences doesn’t mean He deserts us and leaves us to go it alone, He sticks with us. That is grace! For those who profess to be Christians, they expect grace, from everyone, but they’re quick to pull the trigger on others and ignore the whole grace thing.  As I said, our readings today are a stark contrast. We have David who just messed up royally, pun intended, was forgiven, suffered the consequences, moved on and remembered that God had been faithful to him and he needed to trust God that David would continue to be faithful in return to God. In our Gospel reading we see a woman who is unquestionably guilty, Jesus never tried to deny her guilt, He admitted she had sinned much, but He treated her with grace when the legalistic Pharisee characterized her faults and by extension Jesus’ faults for allowing her to be so loving toward Him. That’s the love of grace, being so thankful that Jesus would be gracious to her, even in her sin, and essentially offering her worship for Jesus’ grace. The Pharisee sitting in judgment of both of them, devoid of grace and forgiveness and as Anthony Cook describes: “…illustrates the woman’s expression of love was in direct proportion to her cancelled sin. She is forgiven much, loves much and he who is forgiven little, the Pharisee, loves little. She is being hospitable to an extreme, while Simon failed to show Jesus the simplest of common hospitality.”[1] Jesus didn’t cut the woman off because of her lifetime of prostitution, the woman is convicted of her sins, shows her gratitude to Jesus, while Simon the Pharisee, sits in bitterness and judgment on both Jesus and the woman. After Jesus forgives her, her sin, Simon and the rest of the men become more angry and judgmental: “who is this guy who presumes to forgive?” Seems like something we all do, Jesus had more than proven who He is and should have been acknowledged as the Messiah. Instead these men immediately jump to condemn Him, God the Son, again.

It’s so easy to take something personally and decide to just walk away and condemn the one you disagree with. Certainly God didn’t even when He had good reason to with David and the prostitute. Jesus certainly didn’t deserve His treatment, being beaten, tortured, humiliated and crucified, but He did it in love for us, when He could have simply decided that those who are without sin, that’s none of us, they are saved, the rest of us, well too bad, eternal condemnation. By the same token, we need to start acting with more grace and forgiveness, remember what is important, forgive the slights, real and perceived, remember the relationships and vows and move on to the Kingdom of God. Help us Father to put the best face on the things that we find offensive, realize that things are not always going to go our way, that in Your gracious will there are times when we have to deal with the things we don’t like and join together with those who we disagree with and keep Your will and purpose in our lives and move together towards the realization of the Kingdom and the eternal resurrection in Jesus.

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

[1] Dr Anthony Cook Concordia Journal Spring 2016, volume 42, no 2, p 144

Serving and Faith Luke 7: 1-10 First St Johns May 29, 2016

[for the audio of this sermon click on 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. Amen.

The observance of Memorial Day is about those who have served in the United States military and have died as a result of that service. I had ancestors who fought in the Civil War. One returned home after suffering serious injury, he lived a few more years, but his life was definitely shortened by wounds in military service, therefore someone who should be remembered and honored on Memorial Day.

The United States’ highest military honor is the Congressional Medal of Honor. It’s not a requirement, but the Medal of Honor is usually presented posthumously, that is the recipient died as a result of the action they took to be awarded the Medal of Honor. According to Wikipedia the Medal of Honor has been awarded to 3,471 members of our military. “The first Army Medal of Honor was awarded to Private Jacob Parrott during the American Civil War for his role in the Great Locomotive Chase. The first African American recipient was William Harvey Carney who, despite being shot in the face, shoulders, arms, and legs, refused to let the American flag touch the ground. The only woman Medal of Honor recipient is Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon.[1]” Of the number awarded there are only 76 living recipients.

The Medal of Honor is awarded to any member of the military who is so qualified. The next level are the service crosses; the Distinguished Service Cross for the Army, the Navy Cross for Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, the Air Force Cross. Interesting how our second highest military honors are crosses. The posthumous rate for the crosses is not as high as the Medal of Honor, but is still significantly high. How appropriate is it that for many who sacrificed themselves to often rescue or protect others, that they should be awarded a cross, the symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice for all of us.

One particular mission in Afghanistan early in the War on Terror resulted in a few people being awarded the Navy Cross. Probably more than any time in the military history of the United States Special Forces, all branches of the military are required to have a Special Forces unit, have been utilized in the War of Terror to rescue civilian and military persons and to also perform covert U.S. operations and  to assist host countries in various military operations. There is a Special Forces prayer that is quoted in Lt Col Oliver North’s book “American Heroes in Special Operations”. The prayer is: “Almighty God, Who art the Author of Liberty and the champion of the oppressed, hear our prayer. We, the men of Special Forces, acknowledge our dependence upon Thee in the preservation of Human freedom. Go with us as we seek to defend the defenseless and to free the enslaved. May we ever remember that our nation, whose motto is “In God We Trust”, expects that we shall acquit ourselves with honor, that we may never bring shame upon our faith, our families, or our fellow men. Grant us wisdom from Thy mind, courage from Thine heart, strength from Thine arm and protection by Thine hand. It is for Thee that we do battle and to Thee belongs the victor’s crown. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. AMEN”[2]

In one of the first actions in Afghanistan, Navy SEAL Petty Officer Neal Roberts, was part of a unit to be inserted by helicopter into a mountain top area known as Takur Ghar to engage Taliban. During the approach the helicopter was hit by ground fire, engine fluids started pouring over the inside of the helicopter. Petty Officer Roberts lost his footing and went out the back of the helo: “…His buddies watched him fall about ten feet to the snowy outcropping below.” As the Chinook wheeled away from the mountain, the rest of the team watched helplessly as Roberts came under heavy enemy fire. The last they saw of him, was returning fire with his squad automatic weapon, attacking a superior force and going it all alone…”

“A drone was sent to observe and sent back video of Petty Officer Roberts fighting off the enemy for nearly an hour, first with his automatic weapon and then his sidearm until he expended all his ammunition and grenades. He was finally overrun and killed, becoming the first Navy SEAL to die in the war on terror …”[3]

I have interacted with a lot of military and also civilian public safety. They realize that they don’t work a 9-5, punch in/punch out job. They’ve seen and had to deal with situations of life and death and sometimes inhuman acts done against people. Death is a reality to most of them and unlike most people, they are very aware of their own mortality. Too often their attitude towards God, is often, like most people today, think that they’re doing good works and that will punch their ticket to heaven. Many though want to know about God, I’ve had many uplifting encounters with military and public safety people. Often they want to know how God can permit such violence and injury. This has given me the chance to talk to them about sin. God gave us free will, which means that we are free to sin and we do, quite often. For those who are not Christians they are dead in their sins, they don’t know anything other than sin. They might bargain with God and try to do works they think will earn their way. My answer is that we can’t make a bargain with God. He provided one way, Jesus! That’s a great thing. Too often I see people floundering around trying to make their own way to God and they know in their heart that it doesn’t work. We need to be in relation to God through baptism and in Jesus. Anything else is our own works and ends in failure in trying to reach up to God. But there is no mystery about it, Jesus, God the Son, told us very plainly: “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” Our way to God is obvious, it is not a struggle to be saved. Being saved might be a struggle, but in Jesus we are helped through our struggles and helped to maintain our faith through His grace, that we are living in His will.

In the same sense a Roman centurion is not your garden variety pushover. He had enormous power and authority. He certainly could have been U.S. special forces today. A Roman centurion could pretty much act as he felt necessary, for the most part was trusted to do what was necessary and his word would have much more influence than others. The centurion in this pericope would have been classified as a “God-fearer”, someone who was not Jewish, but who acknowledged the God of Israel as the supreme Creator, Sustainer of the universe. The Hebrew name was yirei Hashem[4]. They did not convert for various reasons, but they recognized the monotheism of the Jewish God. A Roman did not reach the level of centurion by getting involved with charlatans. Certainly an important point of this pericope was to show that Jesus’ power and authority was recognized outside of Jewish circles and was a precursor of the rest of the world recognizing Jesus as God as His disciples/apostles went out into the world. The centurion saw Jesus as having authority as the Roman did. If it was Jesus’ will to have something done Jesus had only to give the word. Chrysostom writes: “…the reason he had not brought him in [his house] was itself a sign of his great faith, even much greater than those who let the patient down through the roof. Because the centurion knew for certain that even a mere command was enough for raising the servant up, he thought it unnecessary to bring him.”[5] Chrysostom also notes: “While on previous occasions he [Jesus] had responded to the wish of supplicants, in this case he rather springs actively toward it.”[6] Obviously the Jewish leaders in Capernaum saw His authority also, they seemed to have no problem intervening with Jesus on behalf of the centurion. For those who deal with the very real world of life and death, they don’t necessarily know Christ as Savior, I’m sure the centurion would have reservations about making that level of commitment, but they usually know the real thing, their life often depends on it. Often as they go along in life they are led by God to know true salvation, again they finally see the authenticity. We honor those who have made a sacrifice for us, we continually hold our Savior Jesus in our heart and in our prayers as He who made the ultimate sacrifice for those who are His to have eternal life in the resurrection. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

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

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Medal_of_Honor_recipients

[2] Lt Colonel Oliver North USMC (r) “American Heroes in Special Operations” p 8

[3] Lt Colonel Oliver North USMC (r) “American Heroes in Special Operations” pp 44-45

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God-fearer

[5] Chrysostom “The Gospel of Matthew Homily” quoted in “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Matthew 1-13” Manlio Simonetti p 161

[6] Ibid

Let’s step up and really live our Christian life in the workplace and in church

OK, now I’m a little spun up.

Innocently watching the Red Sox, enjoying a rare day, as a Pastor, of no actual work to do. Yea, I spent 20 years in corporate finance, I actually had three day weekends, OK, not often then either, but a lot more than as a pastor. Trying to catch up on the 90 books on my Kindle and then I read this.

The following is from Bill Diehl, a Lutheran layperson who was an executive with Bethlehem Steel. I am a Lutheran pastor, don’t know if the same “Lutheran” as Mr Diehl and yes this was written well before I became a pastor. Furthermore I will stipulate that too many of my fellow pastors I have known have only been students or pastors. Too many have no meaningful experience in anything else and yes I’m a little unusual. But still, this got under my skin:

“Bill Diehl, as noted earlier, is a former sales manager with Bethlehem Steel, active Lutheran layperson, author, and leader in the FAW movement. Diehl has been sharply critical of what the church professes about lay ministry and Christian vocation versus what it actually does to affirm and equip those called to live out their vocation in the marketplace. In a comment that could easily have come from a typical FAW participant of today, in 1976 Diehl expressed his sense of abandonment from the church (note that a careful reading of his words also reveals concern about all of the Four E’s of ethics, evangelism, experience, and enrichment):In the almost 30 years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any type of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to oth…”

“In the almost 30 years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any type of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others. My church has never offered to improve those skills which could make me a better minister, nor has it ever asked if I needed any kind of support in what I was doing. There has never been an inquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face, or whether I seek to communicate the faith to my co-workers. I have never been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career[as a sales manager]. In short, I must conclude that my church really doesn’t have the least interest in whether or how I minister in my daily work.14” Maybe Mr Diehl if you were going to a serious church, which I bet you’re not, you would be living a serious Christian life. I get the distinct feeling that Mr Diehl might think he knows about Christian discipleship, but I doubt that he really has the discernment and understanding of what genuine Christian discipleship is, because he went to a church that was all about a patronizing Christianity himself. A little discernment to a lot of know-it all types of all stripes would go a long way.

I have been busting my crank to reach out to people in the corporate world since I started in ministry. I now have over 5 years of ministry experience added to my 20 years of corporate experience and 29 years of military experience. Add to that a Masters of Divinity degree (many of these people don’t have more than an undergraduate degree in anything) Whenever I try to reach out to someone in the corporate world I usually get this patronizing pat on the head that I somehow don’t know what I’m talking about. Hmmm, my bachelors is in business administration  from Lesley University (a over 100 year old private college in Cambridge, Ma.) I started my corporate work life at 21 years old, working for Chase Manhattan Commercial Corp., then went to Motorola, Fleet National Bank, a year working for the Massachusetts State Treasurer, Robert Half International, Town and Country Fine Jewelry. In my corporate finance position, I was responsible for handling monthly seven-figure balances, dealing with some of the largest corporations in the United States. In addition 29 years in the Coast Guard reserve being involved in serious search and rescue cases, law enforcement and military operations. I served in a deployable unit in Naval Coastal Warfare being deployed to do security in Vieques and force protection in Spain. Carried a gun on a regular basis, yes even as a reservist, served four years active duty in War on Terror. When I returned to my corporate job my very large corporate employer, was less than, well let’s just say cordial or receptive. Soooo you can spare me patronizing little pats, I will compare my resume and life experience with Mr Diehl or anyone else for that matter.

I have made repeated attempts in various ways to get a ministry that Mr Diehl might have found helpful. This does not include “The Christian Businessman’s we’re calling to tell everyone what they’re supposed to do, because we’ve just got it altogether group”. There’s way too much of that too. I was part of a group back in Boston that was a rather high-level group and they were there to genuinely live their life in the workplace. I believe very much in this.

Having said all this, I am  wholeheartedly inviting you to take on this challenge. No I’m not an expert in this area. I would love to write a book, because frankly I think there are very few books that have as much perspective on this subject as I do. There are a lot of books out there on the subject, I think I can add a lot to that discussion, maybe for my PhD dissertation. In the meantime, if you are serious, I double-dawg dare you to take me up on this challenge. Is it going to be perfect or a whiz-bang production already pre-packaged? No. I am a parish pastor, believe me I have plenty to do. I also serve as a York City, Pa. police chaplain. I will compare my challenges to you anytime. Let me know the next time you get called out of bed at 2am for an accounting emergency. I’ve gotten called out to tell someone their child was killed, to provide comfort to a victim of a crime and a suicide, (a lot of less dramatic, although compelling times also)

I want to do this very badly. Yes, I do want this to be part of growing the congregation I’ve been called to. And before you get all hoidy-toidy about; “you probably just have an elderly congregation, no one with any real substance.” It’s not big, nowhere as big as it should. But it serves an inner-city constituency with a number of people with meaningful corporate experience. Maybe it’s time to leave your nice, pretty, big-box church and do some actual Christian discipleship and get over the idea you should have some nice pretty church and go to one that was built to the glory of God. A church that is a genuine growth opportunity to make a meaningful impact in a difficult environment. But frankly, you won’t. People who work in offices are used to and expect the amenities and they’re not really interested in stretching themselves for the Lord. “Hey I show up every other Sunday and put my $5 in the plate.” Oh yeah, isn’t that just special of you, a real put it on the line Christian! (Yea I can be patronizing too.)

One of our accomplishments has been to start and operate a 100 watt FM radio station, 106.1 in case you want to listen,

Home

take a listen if you have time to drag yourself away from your big dinner. (I did go to some pretty nice places in my corporate life)  Add in a Grief Share group, an employment support group, food bank, fitness center, all this we’ve done on a shoe string in the last five years. So think about that Mr “I’m a big-time corporate type”. If you feel that you should be living your life as a Christian in the workplace, you are right. I did my best, and yes I will admit with little pastoral help. But think twice before you give me a patronizing little pat just because I have a clerical collar on. I’ll compare my life experience to yours any time.

So, you going to take me up on this? A re-start challenge that will be a bigger challenge you’ve ever faced and for the Lord, Creator, Sustainer of the Universe our Savior Jesus Christ. How cool would that be to get a real group of Christian men and women together to put a real group (sans the pretentiousness, I’ve seen it done) to rebuild a grand old ministry, based on genuine Christian discipleship, to take back with you on Monday morning to live your life as a Christian 24/7.

I shouldn’t have asked, no one will take it on. Big corporate tough guys, talk a good game but you will just go back to your pretty, big-box churches where you can talk a good game, but mostly just sit back and be entertained. Yea…I tried, at least I’m back on the ground again and I’m living my life out according to God’s leading and not according to what makes me feel good.

We have an, albeit, small group that meets Wednesday mornings at 10am at the coffee shop at the corner of King and Beaver Sts in downtown York, Pa. You’re all welcome, and if you have better ideas; breakfasts, special evening events, weekends, I’m all ears let’s do it, seriously, let’s do something.

Picking a Fight with Jesus John 8: 48-59 First St Johns

[for the audio version click the above link]

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 and are creations of, saved by, sustained by and inspired by the all-powerful eternal God-head said, … AMEN!!

“Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” At least for the guys, there were things that you could say on the playground, or wherever for that matter, that if you were looking to pick a fight you would say this. Straight to the point, these are fighting words in first century Israel. Same kind of principle on the playground, or in a locker room or in a bar. Kind of in the same vein with someone saying something about your girlfriend/wife, mother. The people who were confronting Jesus at this point were looking for a fight. They had people in His time, as now, who had nothing better to do then go out and look for fights, and many of the people who confronted Jesus were just those kind of people. They were just looking for a fight and they saw Jesus then, the same way many people see Him today, sort of a cream puff, a Rabbi therefore He must be a Poindexter/intellectual, because bullies like nice soft targets and that’s what these people were, bullies and that is what Jesus encountered so many times in His incarnation.

Now bullies expect their targets to pretty much just turn and run, this kind of mentality really can’t cope with reality, they’re not about to get into a deep discussion. They are the ones who today who sit around and smoke marijuana, drink too much alcohol, and just want cheap amusement. That is a lot of the world. They had no idea what they were talking about, probably didn’t even know who a Samaritan really was, or a demon for that matter. But Samaritans at that time were, in popular opinion, the most contemptible, dirty, inferior, any kind of pejorative you could label them with, that was the Samaritan to the Jew.

Samaritans are part of Scripture in a few instances and always labeled with a negative connotation, or they feel themselves are somehow low-grade. Recall the woman at the well. Samaritans really did not have the kind of animosity towards the Jews that the Jews had toward them. So the woman at the well, John 4, was surprised that Jesus would even acknowledge her existence, let alone talk to her or, horrors!!, touch His water with her hands. Jesus, obviously, didn’t feel that kind of animosity toward her, and she became one of the earliest evangelists for Jesus.

These guys picking a fight with Jesus and they feel justified because obviously Jesus is not one of them, another sure sign of bullies, and they can’t tolerate anyone who would be so obviously different. Ya, much like the world today. Talks a good game, doesn’t know what they’re talking about, just trying to pick fights in order to look good with their little gang, but has no intention of getting caught up in any kind of deep/intellectual discussion. They can’t function at that basis and they’re just not going to.

This is Trinity Sunday, the day when, if it’s not clear yet, we make exceedingly clear just who Jesus is. Jesus is God, God the Son. He is one of three of the infinite, transcendent, immutable, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, eternal God head, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All of them God, all equal and individual and all in unity in the Godhead, one God. There is nothing more powerful in the universe, then our almighty God! So when Jesus is standing in front of the town buffoons or when we are reading His words 2,000 years later, the Creator of all creation is telling us what we need to know. If we treat Him patronizingly and just kind of play around His words, we are playing with fire and moving ourselves away from Him who is all powerful, moving away from relationship with Him and moving toward giving the world the same power that He, the Great I AM, really has. When we trust the world’s power be it in business, education, government, entertainment, we are trusting in something that will not only fail us, but will lead us to destruction. You can do that, but it’s simply the fast track to Hell. When, not if, the world fails you, it will leave you bitter, angry, and lost, out of connection with the real God.

You will have discussions with people to the effect that Jesus never said that He was God. That is nonsense, it is a completely disingenuous denial of what Jesus said. For those kinds of discussions, this is one of the passages that you can refer to.

The men who sat down to hammer out the Athanasian Creed had to contend with the same disingenuousness that we deal with today. The difference is that they wrote this in 325 AD, the Christian church had only just become the official church of the empire, but there were still plenty of people around who believed in all sorts of different gods/idols and there were even all sorts of people who called themselves “Christians” who were all over the map as to who Jesus was/is.

There were a lot of oddball ideas even for Christians. For example there should be a chart in your bulletin, it’s in Latin, but all it says is that Pater/Father, Filius/Son and Spiritus Sanctus/Holy Spirit, are/est, in the middle, God. They are non-est, not the other person of the God head. There are some people out there today who try to make the case that each person of the Godhead is their own individual trinity, making it into a twelvinty, I guess.

At this point, 325 AD, something we talked about at the Men’s Network breakfast yesterday, Constantine had reunified the Roman Empire and had made Christianity the official religion of the empire, this was over all the other belief systems of the time and there were a lot. Was Constantine a nice, all-on board Christian man? Ehh probably not, he was, eventually baptized, his lifestyle was not that of the exemplar Christian. Many would say that it was a pragmatic, even cynical move on his part to make the empire unified in Christianity. His mother, Helen, was a devout Christian woman and many would claim that she kept him in line. Point is, that, perhaps, thinking he could make the empire more unified, he finds that there are all sorts of flavors of Christians who are just as contentious with each other as with other beliefs. Since Constantine is, effectively, the head of the empire’s church, he decides he doesn’t want the conflict and forces the real Christians to sit down together and hammer out the tenents of their beliefs in order to unify Christians. That kinda/sorta worked to his purposes, but more importantly it did motivate the Christians of that time to really work out what being a Christian was and more specifically, based on Scripture, articulate who Jesus is, that He is true God along with the Father and Holy Spirit. You will find another insert that gives you the entire Athanasian Creed. You will see how much they tried to define, the finite trying to define the infinite, the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The reason we have this passage for Trinity Sunday is to, again, point you to one of many passages where Jesus does declare Himself to be God. While He doesn’t straight out say “hey I’m God and you guys need to get with it”, He does make references that to first-century Jews say, without question, “listen, I’m God.”

Any good Jew of the time would, without qualification, say that he was a child of Abraham. Ok, that’s fine Christians would say that they are in the spiritual line of Abraham too. Jesus, however, says sure Abraham is great, but Abraham was only a man. In fact, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” Woe, wait a minute Abraham lived about two thousand years before Jesus, how could Abraham know about Jesus and why would Jesus dare to presume to claim that Abraham rejoiced about Jesus’ day? There’s only one way that could happen and that is if Jesus had been there with Abraham, told Abraham what was going to happen and knew his reaction. The only being that was capable of doing that was …? God! But to make extra special sure that the Jews He was talking to, knew exactly what He was talking about Jesus said: “”Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Dr Paul Arand gives a good explanation: “But what does it mean for God to say ‘I AM’? Often this is translated as Lord. And rightly so. He is the one who rules, He is the one who rules over all things. There is none who is like him. But why is there none like him? And why does he rule over all things?… It is because he is a more powerful god than all the others?”

“Here is where we need to connect the dots of the narrative. Why is God Lord? Why is he the ‘I Am’? Because he is the Creator! Here we would do well to remember that in Scripture, the title ‘God’ is not a reference to an abstract deity or a philosophical concept of ultimate being or anything like that. It is always rooted in a narrative. … To put it bluntly if you created everything … you are God.’ … So to confess that Jesus is God is to confess that he is the Creator of all things. And for that reason He rules all things.”[1]

You have to understand what is being said between Jesus and His antagonists in terms of first century, Jewish Israel. Not in the context of 21st century English speaking Americans. The people Jesus was talking to knew exactly what He was saying, the penalty for blasphemy was stoning and that is what they started to do, stone Jesus. Jesus made it perfectly clear to them that He was saying He is God, without any doubt. I lived before Abraham, Abraham knows who I AM, and I am calling myself by the name that God told Moses. I AM God! Jesus is God, the Trinity is the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Creator, sustainer and savior of all creation. On this Trinity Sunday go back to those journals, look through John’s Gospel, Jesus makes other references like this. Remember those references, because someone will come to you and tell you that Jesus isn’t really God, how will you answer that person?

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

[1] Dr Charles Arand   “Concordia Journal   Spring 2016 p 139