Tag Archives: discipleship

Walking/Working Together

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

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

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

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

Loving Your Neighbor on the Highway to Hell Luke 10: 25-37 First Saint Johns July 10, 2016

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who serve their neighbor on the highway said … AMEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The heavens declare the glory of God Psalm 19 First Saint Johns July 3, 2016

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know that all creation glorifies God, said … AMEN!

We had to stay constantly qualified in the Coast Guard, even being part-time. One of those qualifications was being underway in different areas, night-time, day-time, all year round. Many times we’d be going out at 8pm in January because we had to get the underway hours. No I don’t like being cold, but you have to do it. There you are, far away from shore, no other light around you, especially when there’s no moon. Even in the sky over the ocean at 18 degrees, there is very little humidity in the atmosphere, the sky is clear and dark, and looking into the sky, stars are bright and sharp, the Milky Way is so prominent, it felt as if I could reach up and brush my hand through the Milky Way. The number of points of light in the sky is staggering, we who are so used to seeing the night-time sky in the middle of man-made lighting, the stuff that gets into the atmosphere, we have very little of the total view, even in the best circumstances there is very little that we see with the naked eye. Most of what we see is the galaxy that we are in, what we know as the Milky Way. When we proclaim that God created the universe, that our all creative, powerful, all knowing God made us in His image and set us in this universe, gave us all His creation, many will accuse us of presumption: “How can you think that in this immense universe that we are the only people in this massive, universe? There has to be other people.” There are complicated calculations estimating how many other planets are populated by sentient beings like us. I submit that if you do rely on complicated mathematics and you do the calculations of all the factors involved to account for the fact that we are here, you would see that our presence here is beyond any estimate of scientific possibility. If you really want to justify our existence through science you have to concede that there is an all-powerful, transcendent Creator of the universe. For us to be here is, under the laws of probability, beyond any statistical possibility. If we are statistically impossible, then even in this massive universe, the “probability”, the scientific word, for other life is beyond impossible. Further if God creates us in His image, creates an environment that not only “supports” our existence, keeps us alive, but more so allows us to flourish and grow despite our rather fragile constitution, especially in a universe that consists of such extremes in terms of temperature, radiation, water, atmosphere, and many other factors, that God did provide us an extremely unique environment for us to live. The Christian perspective is that God is all loving, all providing and all powerful in all respects of creation, for His people. Why wouldn’t He give us, His people, His creation, and for those in Jesus, His children. Why wouldn’t He give us an enormous, magnificent, immense universe?

God did create the universe, the prevailing scientific opinion is that the universe was created as a result of the Big Bang. Interestingly, the Big Bang Theory was formulated by a Roman Catholic priest. “This startling idea first appeared in scientific form in 1931, in a paper by Georges Lemaître, a Belgian cosmologist and Catholic priest. The theory, accepted by nearly all astronomers today, was a radical departure from scientific orthodoxy in the 1930s. Many astronomers at the time were still uncomfortable with the idea that the universe is expanding. That the entire observable universe of galaxies began with a bang seemed preposterous.”[1] It’s interesting that conventional science at the time was that the universe had always been, this is called the “steady state” theory that everything always was, and always would be. It took a Christian clergyman to point out to the rest of conventional science that “steady state” was just not reality. No scientist in this day and age believe in the “steady state” because of a number of factors, one being that the universe isn’t just kind of sitting there, that the universe is actually pulling itself apart. At some point, millions of years from now, the universe will have pulled so far apart that gravity will no longer be able to control, that everything in creation will be a lump of frozen solid matter. There will no longer be any heat, because heat is a factor of gravity.

Father Lemaitre, the formulator of the Big Bang is quoted to the effect of saying that if God the Father chose to create the universe in one huge, lightning fast bang, one brilliant flash then so be it. Christians have actually been in the lead of scientific discovery since the beginning, people like Louis Pasteur, arguably the most brilliant mathematician Blaise Pascal to name a few who were devout Christians. Many believe that Galileo proved that the sun was at the center of the solar system. Actually a Catholic cleric named Nicholas Copernicus showed the sun, not the earth was at the center.  A theory expanded upon by another devout Christian Johannes Kepler. The argument has been made that Christians are far better equipped to be scientists since the paradigm for the universe is what God has established, that the God of Scripture is very rational. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14: 33: “For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace.    The universe is a testament for order. There are times when we feel that the world is out of control. But then we realize the disorder is what we create, what we do as a matter of our sin. The order that maintains the universe, what God has established, order that we can’t undermine, that the sun shines, the water cycle continues, that we are protected from the harsh environment that surrounds us; extreme cold and heat, radiation, lack of water, extremes of gravity. Our environment, what is around is, is so balanced, so controlled, so tailored to our very specific needs, that to say that this is all an accident is just living in denial to an extreme.

The claim is that it’s science versus faith, but faith has been proved over and over since the beginning, in contrast to science which has been disproved over and over. While the church was setting up universities, training people to teach and to do research in the Middle Ages, secular science was still far more concerned with alchemy and astrology, areas the church condemned. If being right is arrogant then so be it, I submit that being arrogant is far less of a sin than being wrong, or taking a position because of what others want you to believe, because it’s popular, because it’s the world around us living in denial, than yes, I guess I’m going to be arrogant. It is more important to be right than to be popular.

As Christians we know that it is because of God’s will that not only are we aware human beings in the middle of God’s creation, recognizing that the complicated, intricate universe around us could not have been an accident, but on this Independence Day, Christians recognized God’s hand in what we have in our freedoms today, in the United States. In Thomas Jefferson’s final form, he writes: “…to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them…” recognizing that not only that the complicated intricacies of our world, in nature, has been created and controlled by God, but that He also moved the men and women of 240 years ago to create a nation that is still the most faithful in Christ in the world, but also faithful to the true guidelines and inspiration of the Bible. To deny that is to be in denial of history as much as so many are in denial of science and probability.

And of course the most quoted part of the Declaration: “That all men are created equal”, that is there is a Creator, we didn’t get here by accident, we were put here intentionally, as the writer of Esther states: “For such a time as this.”

That God not only created us, but that He endowed His people in His creation, with certain inalienable rights: “…that these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, yes we’ve stretched those “rights” out into the ungodly, but we know who not only created, but also gave us the dignity and responsibilities of His creation in Him as a witness to God. Jefferson ended by stating that the members of the Continental Congress representing all those in the United States; “…appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world, for the rectitude of our intentions”, that is we appeal to God to either confirm our course of action, that we feel we are confirmed in that course, or that He should intervene in order for us to be brought back into His will. For Americans God’s creative power is not just in terms of the entire universe, but also in our very tiny part of that universe, guided by His Supreme will, even in these days when it seems we don’t follow His will.

Craig Blaising and Carmen Hardin write: “The nineteenth psalm present three laws in harmony with one another”, quoting Theodoret. And “It also presents a rebuke of atheism.” Quoting Diodore. They go on to say, quoting various writers: “The pslam begins proclaiming that God, as designer of the heavens, is known by His design. The creation is not by chance. Rather, created things are servants for our instruction. It is the spectacle of creating that speaks, drawing a response from us that glorifies the Creator. … That “God is revealed especially in the order of things. For it is clear that Reason rules through the natural order… This order forms the primal music of the cosmos. This natural revelation constitutes a message of the Lord’s greatness … His providence is a message of his love … in a book open to all … declared in a universal language.”[2]

Truly God is great, He reveals all that we need to know that He is in control. That He has given us life and life more abundant through His Son. That even in this universe which is so sunk in sin, that He gives us the promise of salvation and resurrection through His Son Jesus Christ. All for us who when we consider the vastness of creation and the even more massiveness of God, that He has provided for us in so many ways, continues to provide for us and gives us the promise of eternal life in the New Creation in Jesus Christ. Only someone who is truly in Christ or preaching in Christ can know that this message is truly on their heart.

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

[1] This is an excerpt from COSMIC HORIZONS: ASTRONOMY AT THE CUTTING EDGE, edited by Steven Soter and Neil deGrasse Tyson, a publication of the New Press. © 2000 American Museum of Natural History.

[2] Edited by Craig Blaising and Carmen Hardin  “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Old Testament VII p 146

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

Passion for Jesus, desire and drive to serve Him and others for Him

In  a business context I can understand the following quote in Forbes: “They should be doers, not managers. You need people who are hungry to prove themselves and to help you win by feeding off your passion and their experience.” (Forbes Magazine Sept 7, 2015 p 39)

I’m taking this quote a little out of context, but it really is applicable to the church, especially in terms of “passion”. We have the ultimate Savior of the universe, who in His “passion” died for us in order for us to have the assurance of eternal life in the New Earth, the Resurrection. Frankly, Christians, the church, the whole Christian community really does need to act in that passion. Now I’m not talking about phoney Pentecostalism “passion”, just a show put on to convince others that you are somehow singled out by the Holy Spirit and a show more for your own pleasure then genuine worship of God. I am talking about passion in doing what we are called to serve Jesus. An intensity, a desire, more of a passion that a man would express, pushing for what is important, having the integrity to stand up for what is right. That certainly is missed in the church, we really see passion in terms of what we want to please us. This is not what we are called to do in Jesus. As I said, that passion, in a business sense, is how to we make this sale, how do we achieve our quarterly goals, how do we serve best those who are stakeholders in what we do, how do we make the best product or provide the best service, truly believing in what you do.

Too often in the church of the last century passion has been more in terms of what will be “pleasing”, entertaining, having people leave with a big smile on their face because the pastor told them, no matter how sinful and unrepentant the person is, that they’re just fine and God really is just a wishy-washy people pleaser. We know that it’s not true. God expects us to live and act in Christian integrity. He expects us to step up to serve Him. I preached on Elijah, 1 Kings 19, this Sunday. Elijah was certainly put through a lot to serve God. I am sure that for too many who call themselves “Christian”, if they were called on by God to do what Elijah was asked to do, well, they’d pull the usual phoney move and decide that they need to go to another church.

These “people-pleasers” of the last century have really set the church up for failure. Taking the easy way out, being managers instead of leaders. Making sure the numbers are still up, but not doing the job with the integrity required in order to proclaim Jesus and what He wants in His church. This sort of “country-club” type of “Christian”, everything’s pretty, aesthetically pleasing, pleasant to the ear, then we go on with our regular life, church worship having essentially no impact. These “managers” are not there to prove themselves in Jesus, they’re there to make sure that the boat isn’t rocked. If no one gets mad and leaves then they’ve succeeded. Really?! seems to me that in John 6:66 (interesting that this verse should have this number, “Then Jesus said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless the Father has granted it to him.”66 From that time on, many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him. 67 So Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to leave too?” 68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.…” Hmmm, Jesus had a whole lot of people walk out on Him! Case could even be made that he was down to much fewer at the end. Only about 4 were with Him at the Cross. But Peter, John, Mary, a remnant of disciples knew what was genuine, had integrity and they stuck with Jesus even though it was obviously not the popular thing to do anymore.

There are times and places when you do have to “manage”, make sure things get done. Pastors do have to be managers sometimes, there is church business they have to attend to. But our Savior was passionate for us, He wasn’t there to be a people pleaser, and He let a whole lot of people know that. We pastors cannot be in our positions to just entertain or indulge, we are called on to proclaim Jesus and to be His disciples and all that means. To be hungry for Jesus, for His Kingdom and for the eternal life in the resurrection. If we are hungry for that, shouldn’t we be instilling that hunger in others? Too often pastors are simply about lulling people into a nice, warm feeling of security. We should have a passion, meaning acting with integrity, striving to proclaim Jesus at every point, a passion to do our best to help anyone we know, to know true life and true salvation in Jesus. To truly read and study His revelation, the Bible. To help others to genuinely present Jesus to all they know, really a manly passion of what is right and truly salutary in Jesus and to stand under the stress that people in the world and yes, in the church will put you under to compromise with the world and divide your loyalty between the world and the church of Christ. We look for those opportunities to serve to help in a material way, but to remember that we are not social workers, that we are always first and foremost to serve the Creator, Sustainer, Lord and Savior of the universe, to point people to Him so they will know true life in the baptized life of Jesus and will move from their and act accordingly. Anything else is indulgence and people pleasing and not doing anyone any good. It’s managing, but the result is into condemnation and not challenging them and lifting them up which is passion and Christian leadership. What we all need to have “life and life more abundant.”

How should that look at your workplace? How should that look in every area of your life? Are we truly about church being one thing and then as soon as we’re out the door, on to the more important(?) things. Or are we men of integrity truly striving to serve our family, our church, our vocation and always, most importantly our Lord and Savior, with true passion, strength and integrity.

All are welcome to talk about this more Wednesdays 10am, the coffee shop at the corner of W King and Beaver Sts in downtown York, Pa. The church is at 140 W King, you’re welcome to park right behind, walk about half a block to the coffee shop. I always buy first timers their coffee.