Tag Archives: serving

Millenials, long on fault finding, short on doing

I shared a post by a “millenial” who wrote, essentially, that the problem with the church was that it was too focused on being the church and wasn’t “serving”enough”. The research today says that “millenials” are motivated to “serve”. OK, they may believe that, but I see little evidence of it and what I see is not very well thought out and is more of a social event and well short of any effective service. Further, it seems as if society as a whole is convinced that the church is just another social service agency.

Well no it’s not.

It is the Body of Christ and is, at least supposed to be, supposed to teach about Christ, how we live the Christian life and how we grow as disciples. Yes, that certainly means to serve, but not to some end that is to self satisfaction, but in how the Holy Spirit moves the disciples of Christ to serve.

The writer had a problem with how too many churches do conduct their ministry more in terms of being a social club. I would agree and the church has been doing that for decades. It’s not so much the church, but telling people what they want to hear, pat them and send them back into the world as clueless as ever. The problem is that such a superficial generation takes every opportunity to deny reality, play the system and not assume any real responsibility, because everyone else should take on responsibility.

So I just wanted to post my comments about the church I’m the pastor of. Surprise, didn’t receive any response. I raised a bunch of questions that I really don’t think the superficial millenial mentality wants to deal with, because then, they’d actually have to do something:

thank you very much for the opportunity to answer you and this blog this is like throwing a dog raw meat. First I did not grow up in the church and yes I’m an old guy and yet I get stereotyped by the culture in general and get shut down without so much as a how do you do. First I have to laugh at the supposition that the church has millions of dollars. Oh I get the accusation but I assure you at least First Saint Johns is living hand to mouth. And yet unlike the critics we are standing on our ear to serve. However we are not a social service agency. We are here to give hope and promise of Jesus to a world with no hope and promise and getting worse. As a pastor of a downtown church I spend a large amount of my time trying to help people, millennials included, whose attitude is just gimme. We have a food bank, we have Grief Share, I’m a chaplain for the police department and have had to comfort people as the result of suicide, victims of crime, parents on the scene of a child who died of a heroin overdose. I am the chaplain at the Lutheran Mission Society that gives clothing to people. We started a community radio station at great time, expense and emotional expense. For a small group with limited resources we have done an enormous amount. We have started an afternoon meal program, a workout area and offer classes in martial arts. We started an employment support group. You know what the response has been from the community? Crickets! I’ve made a few efforts with the public schools and York College to get involvement at a great expense of time (frankly my wife thinks I should spend more time at home) and I assure you I’m a long way from making my first million. I’m sure I was making more in the business world hour to hour and actually had days off and vacation. We have been an open door for so much and again crickets. I’ve had to get up in the middle of the night to be with members and nonmembers undergoing duress. I’m sure the teacher writing this article never had to get up in the middle of the night for a math emergency. Oh I get it there are plenty of pretty suburban, happy clappy churches out there who are just about themselves but sad to say that’s pretty much the way of the society. I wish I had half the time off of a school teacher. I’ve averaged fifty hour weeks 52 weeks a year for seven years in ministry I am regularly exhausted and stressed at less pay then school teachers. Speaking of which we have begged the school dept here to give students the educational opportunity of the radio station that we spent a lot of money we don’t have. We are right across the street from William Penn HS. There’s been talk, but it’s easier for them to just say no. There’s a lot of people out there who love to wag their finger and just don’t know what they’re talking about and don’t care. I would love to have an open forum but I know what would happen. I’d spend a lot of time organizing and being there and no one would show up. I will do it since I’ve been challenged. I’ve been thinking about a “grill the pastor ” for First Friday but like the rest of our attempts no one will show. I was at church at 8:30 this morning went to about 1pm, went out at 4pm to support the Sheriffs canine program who have to raise money they don’t get any government funding, typing this message out at 10pm missing the All Star game and I’m on call for the police dept and what I get for all my trouble is why aren’t I doing more. I will compare my social service and DayTimer with any secular and Christian critic. Oh and we’re also setting up to be a Safe Space for the city and also have Spanish ministry and we’re doing it all on a shoestring budget. Maybe it’s time for the Millenials to put up. What I see from most of society is a lot of complaining and criticism, but very little in terms of action. Anyone who wants to come and talk I welcome the opportunity. But they need to listen too because I have a Masters Degree and extensive life experience. My experience with the culture is there is little background but don’t want to give and take but just want to lecture. I frankly believe they don’t want “give and take” because they have very little background and are used to getting their way, don’t want to give and have very little capacity for critical thinking. I felt this was important, missed most of the basketball game and need to get some sleep because I have an enormous amount to deal with on Monday my “day off”. But hey if someone tells me they will be at First Saint Johns to really talk tomorrow I will be there. And then go home to my wife who will be upset that I’m taking time away from her and not getting any rest. She cares about the stress and fatigue that ministry has been putting on me. Feel free to share this with anyone interested. God bless you and thank you for this opportunity.
…a big issue with church the pastor is supposed to do everything. I’ve been in corporate, operational in the military and ministry has just been a revelation very little support. The 80-20 principle. There are lay people who do provide physical support about 20 percent and the rest attitude is “it’s the pastor s job”. This is usually from people who work 9-5 5 days a week, have no concept of what it’s like to get a 2am phone call to go out in nasty weather to a bad situation for members and nonmembers. It’s the pastors job. People need to get real and lose the attitude and expect someone to come running to them at a moments notice. Maybe there will come a time where you need that attention. Who else comes running out in the middle of the night? But at some point they just might say “can’t do it, exhausted ” I will try to get there by noon. Why not? Every other profession does it or gets paid a lot of extra money for extra attention!
…Oh and if someone wants a mentor I will mentor the heck out of them. Check out my background not many out there with my breadth and depth of life experience and I would be thrilled to share that with anyone. But like all the other things we’ve been doing no one will take me up. It’s easier to criticize and complain then do something. Oh yeah another on my “wish list ” would be to train and coach a triathlon team high school, York College HACC, but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting. Michal Helfreich took a local television station thru the church for them to tape what we’ve been doing and offer. Results? Nil. We have a Men’s Group having an overnight retreat at a lodge here. All guys are welcome but they won’t. Their noses are buried in their phones.

Leaving it all on the course for Him Matthew 5:21

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 have left it all on the field for Jesus said … AMEN!

You’ve heard the interviews after an athletic contest, one of the most common phrases; “I left it all on the field”, basically I gave everything I had in order to win. It can get a little cliché, but by the same token, I have no doubt that each person who says that truly believes it. At the end of that contest; a race, basketball game, matholympics, I gave everything I had, physically, mentally, emotionally in order to win, or at least to do my best. I’ve done races where I expected it to be a little more challenging and at the end upset with myself that I was holding back too much and I could have pressed harder on the bike or the run. By the same token I’ve seen people sprinting to the finish line, giving everything and as soon as they crossed, going off somewhere and literally getting sick right after they finished. No question they exceeded their normal physical ability in order to find that tiny little bit that they had left in order to finish as well as they could.

We certainly see this in so many of the people described in the Bible. King David wrote dozens of Psalms, but if you think he was all about sitting at a desk pen in hand and dreamily wondering how to compose his poetry, you would be mistaken. Most of his prose was about the different ways that he was left it all out on the field for God. David was a powerful soldier, his soldiers followed him into many different situations, they trusted him as a leader who would be there for them, do whatever it took for his men and defeat his enemy. David had no compunction going out on that field and doing what God directed him to do and pouring every last ounce he had into the fight for his men, his country and very much so for his God. David lived his life for Yahweh, there were times when he failed in that and he failed in a way that only a great king and general could fail. As Dr Luther wrote: Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [or sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”[1] If King David had known about Jesus and written about Jesus, he would have understood completely what Dr Luther wrote.

In a lot of ways that is what Jesus is saying in the Beatitudes, you have to go over and above, you have to leave it all out there. There may even be a physical price to pay. The Beatitudes can be taken in a legalistic way. Jesus is not saying you have to do this, you have to do that in order to be saved. People have told me that they live by the Beatitudes. It’s not about grace, it’s about them and their performance, what they need to do, that God is keeping score and waiting for them to tank, to hit the wall, to not finish the course. If they somehow fail in one of Jesus’ directives they failed to leave it all out on the field for Jesus, they kept some back for their own pleasure, maybe cheated on the course somehow and didn’t completely live up to what Jesus directed us to do.

The fallacy is this, the Gospel doesn’t tell us that unless we are picture perfect, that we have somehow failed and therefore don’t manage to hit the finish line having left it all out on the course for Jesus. The Gospel does say that Jesus who is entirely perfect God and perfect man, something we could never be, a person that we will never be because there was only one Jesus. Jesus absolutely did leave it all out on the course and it was entirely for us, Jesus didn’t do all that He did for Himself. What’s the point? Jesus is the One through whom all creation came into existence, He is perfectly God, all He did was not for Him, but entirely for us. Nothing we can do, can add to what Jesus did for us, not one iota, not one jot or tittle.

Yet, many people are pretty sure it’s about sticking to the letter of the Law in the Beatitudes and that gets you over the line. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be obedient, Jesus said “if you love Me, you will obey Me.” But Jesus knows that we are fallible, that our obedience is qualified by our failings as sinful people in a sinful world. However, for all that Jesus did for us, how can we not strive to be obedient? How can we not strive to leave it all out on the course for Jesus?

Does a completely good, completely holy, completely gracious God want us to pluck out our eye and throw it away if we are not completely perfect in everything? In this day and age you can’t look anywhere that doesn’t offend your eye. The issue is, did you let your eye linger over that which offended? Or did you realize, “hey, this isn’t glorifying Jesus or doing me any good”, and just turn away? That’s what Jesus is asking us to do, in the Beatitudes. He exaggerates to make a point. He might say. “You really want to try to earn your way, this is what has to happen, if your right hand causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. I’m thinking, none of us would truly stand that test. That does not, however, minimize the fact that we should strive to avoid things that offend our eye or what we do with our right hand, or our left hand in order to sin.

Marge and I were at Pastoral Leadership Institute immersion this past week, which, ironically is about us and our performance, and driving us higher in Jesus. It’s an honor to be asked to attend, not everyone is, and it’s recognition of the fact that we are striving in evangelism and discipleship and given the opportunity in PLI to push to the next level. It doesn’t makes us more saved, but it does push us to better serve you and the Kingdom of God as leaders of His church.

The Father is not trying to impose unrealistic expectations on us, He is trying to get us to realize that we can’t get there on our own effort. We will fail! We will have plenty of good efforts, being obedient to the things Jesus asks of us, but at some point we will fail to push as hard as we could. That doesn’t mean we’ve lost, that we should cut off our hand. Matt Popovits was one of the speakers, the overall subject was discipleship, which was great, I emphasize discipleship in my ministry. While we are called to be strong and faithful disciples of Jesus, our performance in that respect is not what saves us. The thesis was “How do I measure my worth?” For those who are so sure that it’s all about me and my “opinion”, because my “opinion” is so vitally important! I have bad news for youse, your opinion just doesn’t really matter. Heavens, how can I say such a thing, come on pastor, we all know it’s all about me! It really isn’t. I can tell myself how great and special I am, but despite what I think, it’s not going to get me diddly. Whose opinion does matter? Oh yes, God’s opinion. That is a great thing! By the way, I told Matt I was going to rip him off relentlessly here, he said “fine, go for it!”.

Anyway, Matt talked about “Performacism”, this idea that we measure our worth by what we do, how well we do it, in and of ourselves. Performacism drives you to the following: 1) The fear of and trying to avoid a horrible outcome, a false Hell that you’ve created, that you’re running from in order to make it to an “unfulfilling heaven, that you earn the applause and approval of your peers. That heaven can’t do what you want, doesn’t fulfill your life.”[2] God’s not all powerful, it’s all about you and what you do and more importantly the way you want it to play out. It drives me nuts hearing people talk about heaven as a boring place, “why would I want to end up there”. Heaven is not our ultimate destination, our ultimate destination is the eternal resurrection. We will be put back on this earth in our physical bodies in order to live our lives the way God intended us to live, a world filled with unlimited possibilities and life fulfilling beyond anything we could imagine. Matt points out that Adam and Eve rejected the “Garden of Yes” in favor of the “tree of no”. We make that wrong choice all the time, a garden full of all kinds of possibilities in order for us to indulge in our personal besetting sin.

Matt further observes that we make ourselves a “Functional Savior” that it’s all in our hands whether or not we make it to that amazing eternity. It’s our activity, and accomplishments that save us, so that we are valued by ourselves and by others, because, heavens! in today’s world, it is all about everyone else’s who so precious opinion. We have that problem on a massive scale in our society today and something that our youth get so caught up in, but we’re all susceptible to it. Our self-image, whether our physical attractiveness is valued by others. In a world where everyone’s equal regardless, ya right! Our hypocritical world is just so full of themselves. The fight is to be as superficially attractive as possible to be of value, if you’re not, you might be patronized a little, but just not taken seriously. We see girls today going to extremes because hey the vital thing is to be beautiful, get the right guy, have all kinds of worldly wealth and live happily ever after. Forgetting that despite all our efforts, some, like me, who’ve just been ugly from birth, end up simply being dumped out the other end of life, whether we were beautiful  or not because we no longer meet the standards.

The cut to the chase is this; Jesus tells us that we can do it the hard way, by our own standards, our own worldly, wrong opinions. Or, because Jesus did it the hard way for us, we can trust in Him, that He has done all that’s necessary. Yes, we should leave it all out on the course for Jesus, because that’s what He’s done for us, but never think that is what gets you His promises.

We are so incredibly valued by the Father and there’s not one thing that we can add to that, not by anything we’ve done, not done, or done wrong, but solely who we are in Jesus, so incredibly valued because of who we are in Him and that He died a horrific death in order to save us. For such a huge price and to be adopted into true life in the Father’s family in baptism, we are, each one of us, so incredibly valued and loved. There are those of us who the Holy Spirit is moving to do big things, to serve at high levels. There are those of us who just physically can’t or who are called to do what we feel are humble things. Doesn’t matter to the Father, yes we should follow our calling, but no, we should never doubt how precious we are to the Father and what we are to Him in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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

[1] Dr Ryan M. Reeves https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/ryanreeves/2016/04/20/did-luther-really-tell-us-to-love-god-and-sin-boldly/

[2] Matt Popovits PLI seminar, Cary, NC, February 9, 2017

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

Serving, Service, Gifts, Talents

I don’t know why this bugs me, maybe I’m just not gifted, maybe I don’t serve effectively, or maybe I’m looking at the Bible and seeing that no one in the Bible made massive productions out of their gifts. I don’t even see where anyone can justify their opinion that there are those in the Bible who were especially gifted. It looks to me as though various people were empowered to perform a specific act in the context of the situation. If someone came to Peter for healing, Peter was empowered to heal, but he wasn’t at liberty to just wander around and heal at will. Jesus certainly was, but Jesus is God the Son through whom all creation came into existence. If He choses to heal, then He is certainly entitled to exercise His prerogative.

We are all called to serve, no question. That does not mean that we are empowered to do what we want with any gifts we’re given whenever we want to. In fact as a Lutheran, I would submit that the Holy Spirit puts us into the situations where He wants healing and empowers us to do so. Otherwise, we move along and follow His lead. There are way too many Christians out there (and I’ve talked to many of them) who are convinced that they are somehow specially gifted and entitled to go out and demonstrate those gifts. Sorry, but my “poser” antenna goes up when someone is talking to me in that way. Frankly, I immediately get the sense that this person really thinks it’s all about Him, that he is somehow special and that is why He is gifted. Satan can certainly gift you too. He gives you a gift to do something “good”. OK, lots of unsaved people do “good” things. But what’s Satan’s bigger purpose? Maybe to get you so obsessed with your “special” gift, and how “special” you are and start to separate you from Christ, after all, you don’t need Jesus, you have these special gifts. Hey, Satan really doesn’t care how he turns you from Christ, anything will work, so long as it’s not about Jesus.

This attitude is certainly prevalent among the “Name it and Claim it” types, the Benny Hinns, the Pentecostals, charismatics. These are people whose ministry is almost entirely about their emotional gratification, their “special” gifts, their speaking in tongues and very little about Jesus, grace, salvation, what the Holy Spirit does. No it’s really about what they do and the Jesus stuff? Well that’s a nice incidental.

Their entire schtick, worship seems to be like a carnival barker. They have to have a big crowd, yada, yada, hurry, hurry, come on in, see the great Jesus. Not so much seeing Jesus as seeing what He can do. Problem is not only did Jesus usually do healings in a very subdued, private way, He also told people to keep quiet about it. They often didn’t and were bringing people to Jesus as some kind of side show. Paul doesn’t even talk about performing any miracles, although it seems he did. He wasn’t interested in miracles, if Jesus was going to do a miracle through him, it was all about Jesus and nothing about Paul.

When you encounter someone who is making a big production about their “gifts” I suggest you treat them very lightly. Too often this stuff is orchestrated, contrived, might I even say demonic. Too often these people show themselves to be phonies and have somehow managed to set up the show their performing. Satan is all about that, sure, all about the gifts and the results, nothing about Jesus who genuinely heals.

God does not respond on command, the only exception being Jesus and certainly Jesus could/can do miracles in His own power. Other miracles were set up because either God specifically sent the person, like Moses, told him what to do, how to do it and God did the miracle through Moses. Certainly you could make the case that God set up the circumstances for that person to be put in the situation to perform the miracle and they only lent their presence to the situation, the power of the miracle was all God’s.

Too many people presume to treat God like a trained monkey, working on command, that’s not how God works. That person should know that and wonder where else this supposed “power” is coming from. Let’s focus on the faith, grace and Word that God gives us and get over this idea that God has given us some kind of unique power. There’s nothing in the Bible that would indicate that He does. Does He give us gifts? Sure. Are they for our gratification or for His glorification? The correct answer, of course is, His glorification. If it is somehow working out otherwise, you might want to seriously question what is going on and if you have used your “gifts” to truly serve Him or just to draw attention to yourself because you’re “special”. You’re not and the more quietly and unassuming God uses gifts through you, in that usual paradoxical way that God works, the more that God will be working through you. You might not think that He’s performing signs and wonders, but in God’s usually subtle ways He may be using you powerfully if you trust in His will and not some idea that you are specially gifted.

 

Mutual submission like husband and wife applies to rulers and citizens

Continuing our study in God at Work by Dr Gene Veith. Dr Veith examines the different vocations, callings, of the average Christian and right now our group is talking about “Calling as a Citizen”. As Dr Veith points out we are called to be good citizens in Romans 13. Despite the contemporary nonsensical propaganda, Christians are higher in the demographics as “good citizens”. Quick reminder, there are those who consider themselves “Christian”, but when you see the “fruits of their works”, i.e. church attendance, service, Bible study, prayer, groups, a lot of people talk a good game, and they’re something, but not Christian. This is evidenced by a lot of current research and by the hard cold fact that we are called to spiritual disciplines in the Bible and way too many today just disregard it.

So let’s be serious here, quit quibbling, there are those who are faithfully trying to live the Christian life and as part of that they strive to be good citizens.

Now, having said, that, as I often say, there is nothing in the Bible that says either God is to be stupid or we are. Of course one of the first objections to this idea of submitting to rulers is “guys like Hitler and Stalin?” No! Certainly the early Christian church had crackpot rulers. Nero and Caligula jump immediately to mind. All Roman citizens, Christians included, were required to “burn incense as a way to acknowledge the divinity of the Emperor”. Dr Veith refers to those who continue to witness to Christ in countries that legally forbid Christian evangelizing. Certainly Moslem countries, but secular states like China, Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea also persecute Christians for worship, witnessing, public prayer.

Dr Veith writes: “It is clearly not the calling of a ruler to oppress his people. his purpose, again, is to love and serve his neighbors – that is, his subjects. A good ruler will thus be one who works for their good.” (Dr Gene Veith God at Work p 105). This can obviously be subjective, I don’t like the ruler of Moldovia, so as a citizen I can see how he’s not serving the way I think he should. Well no! You may not think he is serving the public good, because it’s not your good, but unless he is actively persecuting, or making demands that a Christian, in general, would have to conscientiously refuse, he is serving the public good. He may not be doing it well, but he still has to be obeyed. That goes for providing physical protection for our persons and our property.

Now if the ruler makes laws that single out and penalize groups, e.g. requiring people to honor this leader like a “god”, somewhat the situation Dietrich Bonhoeffer was with Hitler, or the Roman Emperor Decius, the one who required incense to be burned as a sacrifice to himself. Christians refused, First Commandment, there is no other “god”, then God the Father. Pope Fabias and Alexander of Jerusalem, among many other Christians refused and were put to death. So no, we can’t get all Moral Majority and decide what is or isn’t acceptable unless it truly conflicts with our biblical understanding. However, we are called to disobey when we are called to violate something that would articulably be proscribed in the Bible. Such as the Christian doctor who refuses to perform an abortion. Bear in mind, as was the case with those who refused to burn incense, there is often a penalty. That we are prosecuted or harassed,as the disciples were, they were joyful that they were honored to suffer for Christ. It’s not a dishonor to suffer for Christ, but it will still be suffering and probably hold you up to public abuse. Spouses are called to mutually submit and serve, I think you could certainly make the case the if rulers are not being submissive and serving for the general good, then they are “acting outside of their vocation”.

Let’s talk about it some more, Wednesday mornings 10:30am. The coffee shop at the corner of Beaver and W King Sts in York, Pa. Parking is right behind the church walk about 50 yards east to the coffee shop. If you come for the first time, I will even buy you coffee.

Christians are called to serve and protect the innocent as soldiers and police

On this Veteran’s Day weekend, I would like to recognize those who have served. Military service is inherently dangerous, whether you’re carrying a weapon or not. Military service can often put people in very difficult circumstances that don’t necessarily subject them to hostile action, but can still present life-threatening circumstances. I served 29 years in the Coast Guard Reserve. The Coast Guard Reserve is different than other military reserves. It is such a small organization, about 12,000 people in the entire United States. In order to effectively train and serve, we augmented regular active duty units and were expected to maintain qualifications, including weapons, to match our active duty. In those years I did law enforcement, which never entailed my using lethal force, but there were occasions that were a little sketchy. Add in severe weather and sea conditions I had to work in and other conditions performing search and rescue, I certainly came closer to dangerous circumstances than my regular employment associates. After Sept 11 I was mobilized for about nine months, when I was demobilized, went back to my civilian employer who waited the time they were legally mandated to wait and then fired me. When I went to the Veterans Administration for some kind of protection or redress they were worse than useless. Thank you for your service. I would never say people shouldn’t serve, they should, but there are physical risks as well as professional.

There has always been an element in Christianity that has claimed that Christians cannot legitimately serve in the military or police. That is anything that might put them in a position where they might have to kill someone in the course of their duty. In today’s military that argument is becoming more and more invalid. In today’s military there are about five people for every one person in the field. That includes people who repair and maintain equipment. That’s people who provide provisions for soldiers, who provide clerical services (the ones who made sure I got paid), those who provide pastoral services, medical/dental services, training, recreational etc. One can serve in the military and probably never be in a position where they will even have a weapon, no less use one. They still perform very important functions, making it a lot easier for the people in the field to effectively perform their duties.

In Dr Gene Veith’s book God at Work Dr Veith presents Dr Martin Luther’s perspective, which Dr Luther primarily presented in his pamphlet Whether Soldiers Too Can Be Saved and was his response to those in his time tried to preclude Christians from the military or police. The following from Dr Veith gives Dr Luther’s perspective, which I think much more faithfully presents the Biblical perspective than the superficial understanding of some Christian sects:

“…Luther asked whether God is allowed to take a human life or to punish sin. Indeed, He is. Luther maintained that it is God, working through the offices of the judge or soldier, who takes life and punishes sin. [I would like to note, that to be consistent the “conscientious objector” would also not be able to serve in the legal system. This person might be put in the position of judge with the authority to condemn someone guilty of a crime. It does seem that “conscientious objectors’ are only concerned if it’s they who are put in danger – Driskell] Christians can indeed occupy these offices, being called to them as divine vocations. So a soldier is loving his neighbor when he protects his country, and a judge is loving his neighbor when he puts a criminal in prison or delivers him over to the executioner…”

“And yet this by no means negates the commands to love our enemies and to forgive those who trespass against us. In their personal lives, soldiers, judges and executioners must indeed love and forgive their enemies. But in their vocations, by virtue of their offices, they are authorized to ‘bear the sword.”

With instances of civilian police overstepping by using too much force, this is instructive. All those who bear the sword are only authorized “the force necessary to compel compliance”. These are  what we as Coast Guard officers are held to. I don’t know if civilian police are under the same limit, I have to believe they are. Once you have a suspect under control you are no longer allowed to apply physical force. If someone’s being a jerk you have to ignore it, you can’t take it personally and frankly I think there are a lot of poorly trained law enforcement that feel they shouldn’t be subject to any personal insult. As a Christian under authority you certainly have a duty to safeguard someone you’ve taken responsibility for by detaining or arresting. Anything else, you just can’t take it personally.

Having said that, Christians are certainly authorized to serve by asserting force. If they are protecting their fellow citizens against enemy aggression or criminal activity a Christian soldier or law enforcement officer is serving the innocent, that is certainly a worthy pursuit. Peter baptized the Roman Centurion (Acts 10:47) Jesus certainly didn’t call out the Roman Centurion who appealed to Jesus for his servant’s life. Paul gladly accepted the protection of the Roman cohort against the Jews in Jerusalem who were trying to kill him. God certainly blessed Joshua and David, to name a few, who were soldiers in the Old Testament.

In this day and age fewer people are credibly trying to make a case of “conscientious” objector. We could look at Augustine’s justifications for Christian military and police, but that would take a long time and I’m not up to it. Nonetheless, for those who are Christians and have served and have even been put in the situation where they had to kill someone, and did so within their authority, please know that you are forgiven. Exodus 23 says “thou shall not murder”. Killing in the line of duty is serving the innocent and a just and righteous God against the guilty, it does not violate the commandment against murder. If you had to kill, that does not mean that you are lost or cut off from God. Jesus died for all our sins and it really can’t be called what you did in duty to the innocent as sin. But if you need to cope with this by knowing that either way, Jesus died for you. This does not preclude you from Jesus, His church and all the benefits that you are entitled to in the church as a baptized, confirmed member of His church.

So we honor our veterans as a country accordingly, and we at First Saint Johns also honor our veterans as men and women who probably at some point in their military service had to function under duress, danger, discomfort, enemy fire, or just being a long way from home in a strange environment. In this day and age you’ve done more than about 90% of the rest of the population and deserve a day of honor and respect in your life. For those in the rest of society, business, government who cause veterans unnecessary hardship or refuse to serve, well Jesus does forgive all sins. I hope you can live with your conscience. For those who grieve over those who have been justly imprisoned and have to live in difficult circumstances, try “hotracking” over a torpedo tube as my brother who served on a submarine had to. I’m not saying that prisoners should be mistreated, but our military endure a lot to protect, even if they’re not being shot at.

For God the impossible takes no time at all 140th anniversary observance of First St Johns Mark 10:23-31 October 18, 2015

[Please click the above the link for the audio version]

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 nothing’s impossible for God said … AMEN!

The SEABEES are part of the U.S. Navy, they are unique not because they are involved in constructing facilities like runways, landing facilities, fortifications, they are unique because while they are involved in construction they are often under enemy fire. Just like Nehemiah’s men, while some men worked on the wall around Jerusalem, others stood guard with swords and spears. Likewise SEABEES are often portrayed with a shovel in one hand and a rifle slug over their shoulder. Their unofficial motto is “With willing hearts and skillful hands, the difficult we do at once, the impossible takes a bit longer!” I had the privilege of serving with a SEABEE in Naval Coastal Warfare, he was about six foot 3 and as wide as he was tall, he could have been a linebacker. I had to share a two man tent with him for the first four nights we were in Spain, I acquired a lot of sympathy for my wife who has had to sleep with a big moose for all these 36 years.

On this 140th anniversary of First/St Johns Evangelical Lutheran Church, I can certainly say the same for those who founded this church. I can’t begin to imagine what it must have taken to conceptualize (a brilliant mind like John Augustus Dempwolf, who also designed the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital in Harrisburg… and supervised the construction of Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston, First Saint Johns is certainly a remarkable achievement.) Also what it must have been like to raise the money, organize the resources to raise this magnificent house of worship, built to the glory of God. I wonder if it took “just a little bit longer.”

More and more we are realizing how vitally important strong Christian churches are to the vitality of our cities. So while we observe the founding and building of this structure, a feat that must have been enormous. Of equal importance are those people who 140 years ago had the vision to see how important a strong Christian ministry is in the heart of the city of York. That these structures were built to inspire awe and a tiny hint of God’s glory, the glory of the eternal, perfect world in our Lord Jesus Christ. I really like bringing people into this sanctuary for the first time and inevitably they will let a reverential “wow” come from their lips as they take in this magnificent house of Christian worship, the place where we join together to raise up God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This all speaks to the fact that there are those in the world who do those things that are to the glory of God, that look beyond themselves, that want, yes, what is best for themselves, but they also know that what is best is not for themselves alone, it is for all. Certainly Christ is best, there is no other way but through Christ. This quote from C.S. Lewis: God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” I just do not understand how people can cope without Christ. They are quick to blame a God they don’t believe in, they have many idols in their lives; their money, possessions (remember the rich young ruler from last week), job/position, spouse, home, on and on. Other idols include drugs, alcohol, sex, power, food… As Pastor Eric Lang notes about today’s Old Testament passage; “Ecclesiastes here focuses more on the danger of wealth to those who are wealthy.”[1] How is that dangerous? It is mortally dangerous! We can’t focus on two idols and Jesus certainly clearly stresses that: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matt 6:24) Jesus never says don’t have money. Lazarus was wealthy for this time. Jesus doesn’t condemn him. It seems as though Lazarus was more than willing to share his wealth, he uses his wealth to provide for others. Jesus says: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9) Remember how God told the rich man who was blessed with a plentiful crop, he had all kinds of plans to hoard and benefit from his produce? “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Luke 12:20) We don’t really know for sure, it was 140 years plus ago, but I would be willing to bet that those who founded Heilige Johannes Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche were not particularly rich people. Either way, their lives weren’t like the rich farmer when he said: “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” (Luke 12:19) Many, maybe most, had emigrated from Germany and their vision was not about being merry, it was about a church that would be a witness to the world around them to the glory of Jesus Christ. Part of that witness was providing for those who also emigrated from Germany and no doubt to help their neighbors. We continue to live that heritage today. I’m not German, but I am Lutheran. Many here today aren’t German, but as a result of this church being here, they have had an opportunity to come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord, they know that they are only saved in Christ. They certainly understand the C.S. Lewis quote there is no happiness or peace other than in Jesus. Sure in today’s world many think they have peace through self-medicating and indulging, but they come to realize how shallow, hopeless and the slavery they fall into when they surrender to worldly pleasures. Only through Christ do we have true life, only because of His sacrifice do we have eternal life in the resurrection. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross do we have that relationship with God in this world and in the eternal resurrection.

The men and women who had the vision for this church, who struggled to bring this church to reality, who served Christ in this church and because of that served so many others, those people understood what Jesus’ words meant. They did not store away their wealth, but they used it as a tool to build this magnificent testimony to the Lordship of Christ and their true life because of Him. By doing that they also have witnessed to Christ to generations of people who have worshipped here, who have received the life-saving message of Christ’s Gospel here. The founders of this church did the impossible, not as men and women, but as the faithful of Christ who were guided by the faith the Holy Spirit gave them and sacrificed time, treasure and talent to build this glorious witness. Because of it God did the “impossible” through them and saved countless souls because of the Christian ministry in this church.

While they are the church waiting in heaven, we who are their brothers and sisters in Jesus, now bear their mantle to continue to witness to Christ, not just in this building, but going out into the community they knew so well to proclaim the life-saving message of Christ. Those who are led by those who are here, then come and join us in this magnificent house of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit to grow in their life in Christ and to raise their children and generations that will follow us.

We praise God for them, for what they have left to us, for those who are here today and whom we have personally known who sacrificed and worked so hard for this church that we join together in, in Christ.

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

Design attribution to Terry Downs

[1] Eric Lange  Concordia Pulpit Resources Vol 25, Part 4, Series B