Tag Archives: Church

Faith and Preparation or Worry? Luke 12 First Saint Johns Church Aug 7, 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 the faith that God has given them said … AMEN!

Our epistle reading today in Hebrews is often referred to as “the catalog of the heroes of faith”. It’s also referred to as the Faith Hall of Fame. People dealing with issues that have been pressing down on their heart. Abram and Sarai have gone decades beyond child bearing years, and they both have heavy hearts, they know that God is aware of their desire, a good desire. It can be a selfish desire. Abram keeps referring to the fact that he wants an heir of his own body to pass all of his wealth to. He has no idea who this child will be, no less that he will ever have a child, but the idea of leaving his wealth to a servant, not someone who will carry on his name weighs on him. God knows the motivation for Abram’s desire and plans that Abram will have that child, but in God’s own time. Abram is about 80 years old, Sarai about 60 years old. God has already done so much for Abram, but as well all do, Abram has put that aside and is looking for the next part of God’s promise. How many times do we do that in our life? I try to keep track of the times that God has answered my prayers, moved me along to where He wants me next. I do that because I’ve come to realize that I forget way too easily about God’s answers to prayer and I remember way to well the prayers that God didn’t answer that I feel He should have. When I look back I realize why God did one thing and didn’t do another, but it’s still very much in my head the other things I think He should have done. I too often take for granted what I have, as if God owed me the answers, but get way too caught up in waiting for other answers, or getting “no” as an answer. God moved Abram from Ur to Canaan. Abram already had wealth and God added to it and gave him land where he could provide very well for himself and the growing number of his family and servants. Abram had power, he had wealth, he had land that God designated just for him. He had no other worries, but he wanted that son and despite the things that had been done for him, Abram decides that God hasn’t been sufficiently faithful. God makes a covenant with Abram, He tries to give Abram every reason to trust in God’s will and not his own. “Do not be afraid Abram. I am your shield: your reward will be very great.” That promise is to all of us who are in Jesus. He went on to promise Abram that his offspring will be greater than all the stars in the sky. God certainly fulfilled that promise since all Christians, Jews and Muslims claim to be descendants of Abram, billions of people. But very shortly after God makes these promises with Abram, after He gives Abram this covenant, this contract, what does Abram and Sarai do? They take matters into their own hands. At that time it was common practice for masters to have children with their slaves, especially if their wife hasn’t had any children. Children were valuable at that time, something we shouldn’t forget, they were the parent’s source of provision in their old age, and it was important that their family continue. So they decide that Hagar should have Abram’s child, which was not part of God’s plan. Instead of being the answer to prayer, Ishmael’s presence caused problems. The Arab people of today claim to be descendants of Ishmael. The descendants of Ishmael, the Arab people, and the descendants of Isaac, the Jewish people have had continual conflict since then. Violating God’s plan didn’t solve Abram’s problem and created problems for hundreds of millions of people since then.

The writer of Hebrews lists out those in the Old Testament who have been notable for their faith. We know all these people who were written about were faithful Jews and are now being presented as great examples of the faith for Christians that God gave them. They all trusted God’s Word, His promises and directions, even under very difficult circumstances.

Dr J Vernon McGee points out that we all want a blueprint. I’ve had this happen to me repeatedly; “ok pastor, tell me what I’m supposed to do and I’ll do it”. Doesn’t work that way, what God trusted to Abram, what he trusted to Enoch, Noah, David, Daniel, Isaiah, Samuel, on and on, these were all very different people, very different times, places and circumstances. The “rules” Ten Commandments, Sermon on the Mount, those are a baseline, what we are expected to follow, but it is always and only through faith that we live our life out according to the Lordship of Jesus. The attitude for is “I followed the rules, so now give me what I want”. The fact is we can’t see what is truly important, we don’t really understand what God wants for our life and how His will is what is genuinely important and will give us the life that is always the best for us. As McGee points out, he likes to have a neat, clear set of directions, makes our life easier. “But in this chapter we are going to find people who went an altogether different route [which is God’s route]. They walked by faith, and that is the way God wants us to walk today.”[1]

Always to eternity in the eternal life of the resurrection. It’s pretty difficult for us to imagine eternity when we just want what we want right here and now. Jesus said: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We would so quickly settle for crumbs, things that won’t last, things that will lose their shine in a very short time and will end up just being junk. So many people do that with their lives. Trade the Father’s good pleasure for the things that are eternally important, for power, wealth, big homes, drugs, alcohol, sex. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” All of us make idols out of the things that we think we should have and they lead us nowhere. Jesus tells us: “Instead, seek his kingdom,” God’s kingdom is promise to all of us who are in Jesus and “all these things will be added to you.” They will be part of all that God is pleased to give us. This doesn’t mean that as soon as we think that we should have these things, well there they are right there for our faithful following. Certainly God does provide as Jesus is telling us all through this pericope. But that He will provide for us on the journey, that He will do what is necessary for us to follow His will.

There was always a “ready boat crew”, the people who would be expected to go on a call at any time, night or day. If one of us was on that crew we would just sleep in our clothes. If the buzzer went off, or if someone came in the room in the middle of the night, there wasn’t time for fumbling around for our uniform, we would just slide off the bunk into our strategically located boots and then rush down to the boathouse to get underway to rescue those in danger. Jesus is telling us that for His people, those He died for, that we should “stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning.” Be ready to serve, be ready at any time to do what was necessary, Jesus said even in the second or third watch, between about 8pm and 6 am. Not that we should obsess over being ready, sit around constantly worried, but to be aware that He can come at any time; “for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” A note for those who think they can predict that time, well Jesus said you can’t. A note for us to be prepared and when we trust in Him, when we have the faith that He gives us, that we are focused on Him and His will. That means we’re not all about what we want next, what will make us happy, what idol we can serve, but being focused on His return and His will for us.

No matter what our circumstance God does provide for us. It will be at a time and in a way that we can never anticipate. Since we can’t anticipate it, our worrying about it doesn’t make one bit of difference and it is always in His hands and as Christians we know in our heart that it will always be to the best result. Even in those times where it doesn’t seem so, our true life is not in this world, Jesus is our Lord and Savior in this world, He is our Lord and saves us to the eternal life of the resurrection. Where He gives us life and life more abundant. The Father knows what we need in this life and we do receive it, but true life is in the resurrection and we who are His need to stay prepared, dressed for that, no matter what our circumstances are in this short and difficult life.

We can get caught up in our “needs” here and spend all our time worrying about it, or as Peter Chrysologus writes: “All this is what that treasure brings about. Either through alms-giving it raises the heart of a man into heaven, or through greed it buries it in the earth. That is why he said, ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ O man, send your treasure on, send it ahead into heaven, or else your God-given soul will be buried in the earth. Gold comes from the depth of the earth – the soul, from the highest heaven. Clearly it is better to carry the gold to where the soul resides than to bury the soul in the mine of the gold. That is why God orders those who will serve in his army here below to fight as men stripped of concern for riches and unencumbered by anything. To these he has granted the privilege of reigning in heaven.”[2]

Worry, anxiety, covetousness are not the ways that the world will see Jesus in us. The world all around us has no hope, no promise, anything they put their faith in will never last and gives no promise of their future. Our Lord Jesus died for us, high and lifted up on a Cross, He surrendered His life for us to give us the way to eternal life, the very visible promise of our life in Him, the world does not have that hope and promise. Ambrose writes: “Jesus indicates that grace will not be lacking for the faithful in the present or in the future, if only those who desire the heavenly do not seek the earthly. It is unseemly for the soldiers of the kingdom to worry about food. The King knows how to feed, cherish and clothe his household, and therefore he said, ‘Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.”[3]

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

[1] Dr J Vernon McGee  “Thru the Bible Commentary Series Hebrews Chapters 8 -13

[2] Peter Chrysologus quoted by Arthur Just editor  “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament III” pp 211-212

[3] Abrose Ibid p 211

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

Commissioned by God to do the work he has led you to Luke 10 July 17, 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 God to His glory in their vocation said … AMEN

There are so many of us “Marthas”, well that’s what I’m about, that’s what I have to do, the other stuff is good, but this is important. Martha was a hostess, she was no doubt the lady of the house, it was her responsibility, at least as she saw it, to make sure the house was being run according to protocol, to hospitality. Jesus isn’t saying there’s anything wrong with that. But He is saying to her and to so many of us, there are other important things. I’m sure Jesus appreciated the freshly squeezed pomegranate juice that Martha put out, I’ve had it in Israel it is so good. I’m sure he appreciated the little food tray, the collection of munchies that a good hostess was responsible for. Being led into the nice, well kept, probably rather fancy house that Martha kept, being led over to the nice big chair she reserved for important guests. But I also know the flip side too. Too often I have something that I really want to share, to get into, I’m all excited to sit down and talk about and get everyone else’s opinion and insights. Very well- meaning folks, men and women, want to make sure that all the hospitality is there. It’s nice, I certainly appreciate their consideration, but there’s things I really want to get down to. To be sure Jesus certainly appreciated Martha’s concern for His comfort, but and I know I feel this way a lot, Mary was concerned about what He had to say, what He wanted to share with Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Certainly Jesus appreciated the fact that Mary was waiting on what He had to say and share. Before I started putting this together, I had just been over to Never Forgotten BBQ and yea, I’ve been trying to get over there for awhile, I do appreciate barbeque. But I immediately sat down at the computer because I was really inspired about what I wanted to say today, as my lunch in the Styrofoam container sat getting cold on the kitchen table. Jesus certainly isn’t criticizing Martha’s desire to serve in what we would say is a practical way, but we as Christians we need to remember Jesus’ words to remind Martha who complained to Him about Mary: “”Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10: 41-42 ESV) We are called to serve, but we are also called to keep in mind what is eternal, that while we serve, what we will remember ten years from now and to eternity are the teachings of Jesus. If you have Jesus right there in your presence, or if you have His minister ready to preach and teach the Words of Jesus the “good portion” is the Gospel! In our hurry, hurry world, there is so much around us to be anxious and troubled about and we can all justify the things that we do to work on and to “fix” those things. But the answer to all that we confront always has been, is, and always will be in Jesus’ words and not in the things we do to rush around and fix.

It’s that middle line we walk in so many ways. I’ve said it a hundred times, since I’ve become a minister of the Gospel. I’d love to give you the black and white way on everything, but it’s not always that clear. We have the things that are clear, the Law. The Law convicts us of what we do and shouldn’t do. Jesus was clear, quoting the Levitical law that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul, absolutely! In the Sermon on the Mount He is again clear, we shouldn’t be looking at another with lust, we have committed adultery with that person in our heart. We shouldn’t call someone else a fool, we are condemning that person and we aren’t the ultimate judge, God the Father is the ultimate judge. We are told to rebuke, telling someone that they can’t continue to sin and violate the Law, but God is the ultimate determiner and in Jesus we are forgiven of our sins. There are so many ways we can serve and we should serve each other and those in the world in the example Jesus set for us; remember how He washed the feet of the disciples? Certainly a caring and practical way to serve, the thing that the lowest Gentile servant in the household would do. Jesus isn’t telling us not to serve, but He is saying that we should be discerning. The Book of Concord is the doctrine of our faith, in the part titled the Augsburg Confession, our basic faith statement is: “At the forefront of the Augsburg Confession is a dual profession of faith in the person and work of Christ: “they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith. . . This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.”[4] –[1] There are always ways we could serve more or better, but, for example, when the Gospel of Jesus is being proclaimed on Sunday morning, we have to chose the good portion, that for us who are in Jesus won’t be taken away from us and that is His Word, the good news of the Gospel of Jesus.

Now that we are in agreement as to what is the “good portion”, being the Gospel, the teachings of Jesus. I know that if Jesus showed up right here and now, I’d certainly come down from this pulpit, my work, and sit and wait on Jesus, to hear what He has to say. Likewise, I’d hope that we would all put aside the activities and stop and wait on Him, to serve Him and more importantly to listen to Him. I sure hope that if we knew Jesus was going to be here next Sunday, we’d set aside getting the Sunday barbeque ready or going to the Sunday soccer game instead of church and be here to eagerly listen to His words.

The title of my sermon is “Commissioned by God to do the work He has led you to do”. What I mean is that we have been put in our vocation to serve each other, God doesn’t need our service, but He has put us here to serve others. We certainly want that service to be honoring and glorifying to God and a positive witness to others how we serve the Lord. In our reading in Genesis we see Sarah and Abraham both serving three strangers. They turned out to be from God, but they didn’t know that, and in faithful service to them, they are glorifying God who has led them both so far and through so much. Through His angels, and yes they’re male angels, not female, God is telling Abraham, that after all the waiting, that he needs to wait one more year in faith and service to God and He will be given the son they have both been praying for, for decades. We can’t always expect that we will be given what we want because of our service, and even if those prayers are answered, it may take more years to see the answers, but it will be at the best time, God’s time.

We continue to serve in our vocation, God does bless the work we do. May not always be for big bucks or status, but what we do does matter very much to God no matter what our vocation, or service. Whether we are serving household guests like Martha did, or waiting in service on God like Abraham, Sarah and Mary.

One of the basic beefs Martin Luther had with the Roman Church was the idea that either vocation didn’t matter to God, that there were far more important things to worry about than how I earned my daily bread, or that there were different levels of vocation. There were those in Christian service vocation and this was designated to be much more worthy. Religious persons; priests, nuns, monks, others in the church, were seen to be far more worthy in their vocation, than those who worked in the secular world. That the religious person had a fast track to heaven and pretty much everyone else was slotted to take the longer track through purgatory.

Leif Grane in his commentary on the Augsburg Confession writes: “Luther speaks of being as a Christ to one’s neighbor; i.e., in serving one’s neighbor the Christian is not serving God, but, on the contrary, being united with God by faith is participating in the work of God himself. … the works of the Christian, therefore, are divine works, by virtue of faith, despite the sinfulness of the person. The works which are to be done are those works laid upon the person by his or her calling.”[2] Serving others to the best of our ability is working out our vocation, whether that is a lawyer, auto mechanic, dentist, restaurant operator, the person who does your taxes, you know what a blessing it is to find someone who will does this well, fairly and reasonably. No matter what our vocation, parent, housewife, business owner, pastor, accountant, athlete, teacher, when we perform these roles well, when we effectively serve our neighbor, and when we do these things in a way that the person we serve knows that we are serving them because we are working with God, then the particular vocation doesn’t matter. What matters is that God has worked through us to reach someone else through our daily efforts. Certainly you can see that if we do our vocation poorly or to enrich ourselves, others will think less of God and we have failed both our neighbor and God.

The vocation you have been placed in is what God works through on you and other people on a daily basis. If that is God’s will how can it be anything but holy? If it is holy, we want to serve in order to point others to Christ and to glorify God in what we do on a daily basis. Far too often we let God into our lives on Sunday, not even one day, by Sunday afternoon, for too many people, they are back in the world living according to the world’s agenda. Grane writes: “…the issue is not ‘special’ works, but in faith to know that God is present in all circumstances of daily life.”[3] When we remember that and seek to serve Him, not to somehow earn God’s favor, but to live our life in Him to His glory and even in thanksgiving and to also serve Him, by serving others. When our vocation is centered around serving others to glorify God, no matter what your work is it is holy, sacred and precious to God and just as important as any vocation.

Martha was genuinely serving Jesus and Jesus didn’t scold her for that. She was providing for her family and her guest, certainly commendable and something we should all do. Our serving is blessed by God and we serve well as a witness to His blessing and glory. But Mary was commended. Too often it seems that the person sitting around reading, listening, engaging is somehow goofing off, but they are certainly receiving a “good portion”. God has put us in our vocations and we serve in them accordingly. That doesn’t mean that the minister’s vocation, the preaching of His word and the administration of His sacrmanets isn’t important. Help the pastor serve to the best of his ability as a minister, help him to serve you in your vocation and we all serve each other to praise, lift up and glorify our Father in heaven who takes delight in our serving each other in His Name.

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

[1] See more at: http://lutheranreformation.org/theology/christ-office-holy-ministry/?utm_content=buffera69b7&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer#sthash.jH8hLWBj.dpufhttp://buff.ly/29rSUgv

[2] Leif Grane  “The Augsburg Confession, A commentary” pp 201-202

[3] Ibid

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!