Tag Archives: transformation

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

Like it or not, God put me here to be a spiritual father.

I’ve been struggling with the issue that Kevin Miller raises in a Leadership Journal article (From Relevant Dude to Spiritual Father Summer 2011 pp 45 – 49) whether I am supposed to be somehow “secularly relevant”, your buddy, someone who is cool. Or, am I supposed to be the seel sorger the “soul healer” or “soul doctor”. It doesn’t mean I have to be stuffy or have to put on some kind of superior airs. But to be sure, to be solidly in Christ and not driven by the current fads or worried about my popularity. It’s an issue that I’ve had with a lot of what the church has been in the past few decades, at least dating back to the 1960’s. That somehow I’m supposed to be everyone’s pal, just the cool pastor guy.

First, I have had a lot of experience in the secular in my past life and I am doing things now, such as “Christian in the Workplace”, our employment support group, our pro-life efforts, helping to organize a community radio station here at the church and other areas where I am doing things that are very relevant, as it were, to the individual’s life in the world. I’ve done the politics thing and the government thing, and that’s fine. Martin Luther’s church isn’t opposed to or ignorant of the secular. Luther was very straight forward in terms of his teaching about the two kingdoms. There is the kingdom of the left (the secular, government, commerce, etc) and the kingdom of the right (the church). Luther talked a lot about vocation and how we relate to our neighbor whether he/she is Christian or otherwise. In respect to those teachings, I am responsible for the furtherance of the church in the world. It seems that I am expected to be somehow cool, to somehow be a bud, sometimes even an enabler. Does God love you? Yes? “For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son.” Somehow though, many see that as the promise of the “Great Enabler”. “God wants me to be happy.” “God wouldn’t want me to “suffer”” (that is without alcohol, or drugs, or sex or fill in what you want). That one’s bizarre, I want to ask them “you have no idea what suffering is do you?” Many attribute this to a growing disrespect of authority. Perhaps, but it seems more like a selective attitude towards authority. It’s not about what is truly good and edifying for me, it’s all about tell me what I want to hear. Is it better to be popular or is it better to be faithful? Am I a minister of the people, or of God (Richard Foster’s question).

I’m not here to enable, to let you have guilt free indulgence. I’m here for you to grow in your relationship with Jesus, to become spiritually mature, and in doing this, to help you to serve others, to become a meaningful member of the Body of Christ. Where you are helping others to grow and mature in Christ, not to constantly take and require attention, but to contribute and serve others who are in legitimate need, to help others know true life and salvation in Jesus. But today it’s all about me, what’s in it for me. Rector Miller relates the following: “Chris, a young guy in my church …explained to me: ‘The highly relevant pastor is bro’. There’s certainly a place for pastors to be in tune with culture and to be relatable. But where do i find a man of God who will nurture my spiritual life? That’s what I need. Relevance is easy to find. But when I stumble in that same old sin that I keep slipping in, I need someone with wisdom and maturity to go to. It’s fine if that person also happens to know about some great new indie bands, but in those moments, I need something else. I need depth.'” Yea, sounds like he’s on his way. But too many aren’t and frankly just don’t care.

Miller also observes: “…though people resent church discipline and push back against it, usually deep down they know they need it. And even if they don’t like it (or me), to be a spiritual father means I must take the risk and plunge into bringing guidance and living discipline to my spiritual children…When people sense that your correction comes because you know them and you love them, the majority of people accept discipline and grow through it.

Sometimes I shake my head and wonder, Why do they stay? My theory: They’ve never known a world without internet porn and access to strong, compulsive powers. Deep down, they are saying, ‘Protect me from the forces in my life that are raging out of control and threaten to consume me.’ Discipline, caringly administered, makes them feel loved and secure.”

That has to be the focus, dealing with the forces of evil that are pressing in around us. It’s not just the obvious sources, but there are things that seem so benign and we get taken in and trapped. We all need help with that. I’ve had spiritual mentoring from the start and it is important to be dedicated and consistent. It takes a long time, it takes patience, it’s understanding that it’s about you digging deep and being guided to the things that are in you. You don’t sit and take notes, you get into deep discussion, helped along and making the decisions that truly bring you into that relationship with the Father and with your pastor and with your brothers and sisters in Jesus.

So this is what Rector Miller suggested and what I will be working on. (I will need someone to work with me, you are most welcome to take me up on this). “…’Transformation Conversations’, extended times of listening to another man helping him form a spiritual-growth plan for the coming year… It generally takes two 90-minute conversations before I feel I know the shape of someone’s soul well enough to offer a few ‘pastoral invitations.'”

“At times I look at how much time these conversations take, and I think, This is painfully slow and inefficient. The raw truth is that spiritual fathering is something you can’t accelerate, microwave, chart, whiteboard, measure or scale.

But there is no substitute for being known by another. This is parenting, meaningful spiritual intimacy. People say these conversations are changing them, but even if they weren’t, I know they are changing me: as I listen deeply to someone , I care more deeply for him and I can’t help but pray for him.”(p 47) Growth in anything is very uneven, very time consuming and also very emotionally draining. But as in anything, it’s worth it and when it’s worth it there is a price.

We all have things to deal with, that we struggle with. We have a pastor who is there to serve, by truly helping you in your relationship with God. As I’ve written before, the church is a unique place, there’s a pastor there who in an emergency can be there pretty much 24/7, but is available to meet with on a regular basis. Hmmm, tell me another place where you can call someone and they will take time to talk to you and setup a time to meet in person. Who knows you, who’s been there to provide guidance, maybe married you or even baptized you? Who wants to spiritually guide you and raise you up to be a leader in your home, in your church and in your community? To be spiritually grounded and to grow into a person that others will look to for discipling.