Thursday, February 27, 2014

I Love My Church - Part 1

In it he writes, “A quick read of the book of Acts or the letters in Revelation proves that Jesus loves his church. He died for it, prays for it, lives for it and is going to return for it.
[But] let’s be honest: It’s not easy to love the church. It’s easy to love Jesus. Loving His bride is another story. Churches are filled with frail and fault-riddled people. Every church has a unique personality. All are loved by Jesus, but not all are loved in equal measure by each of His people.”

I love my church. And by “church” I mean “the one holy Christian and apostolic church,” “The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod,” the four churches that I have served as a pastor (Christ, White Cloud, MI, St. John, Mayville, WI, Redeemer, Ontario, CA, and St. Matthew, Hawthorn Woods, IL), and the churches of which I was a member before I become a pastor (St. Paul, Round Lake, IL, Good Shepherd, Lake Villa, IL, Messiah, St. Louis, MO, and St. John, Arnold, MO).

I agree, loving Jesus is so much easier than loving His bride, the Church. But just like the love of a spouse in marriage, love of the church is more a choice than a feeling.

Based on Hall Seed’s ten reasons that he loves his church, I have ten reasons that I choose to love Jesus’ bride, the Church. They are in no particular order – this is not a ranked list. This week, reason number one:

1. This is not about us.

There is a reason every single church exists. But the reality is not every single church lives – or even knows – this reason. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Christ establishes every congregation of the “one holy Christian and apostolic church” for a reason. Ultimately, that reason is to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

Congregations get into trouble when they forget this. The life of the church isn’t about “us” – it’s about “all nations.” Or to put it another way, the Church exists to love God and to love our neighbors.

When that doesn’t happen, a church can be considered “dying.” Because if the focus is on ourselves and our needs then our focus is on someone who is not alive.

St. Paul puts it this way, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Instead, we need to focus on the living God and the people He sent His Son to save.

As a disciple of Jesus, we are called to be reflective light in this world. We shine, but not with our own light. We shine with the light of Jesus Christ. Much in the same way the moon shines at night – not by its own light but by reflecting the light of the sun.

The Church is filled with disciples of Jesus and we need to reflect the Son’s light by loving God and loving our neighbors.

If we make Church about us, we’re shining the light on ourselves for ourselves. Much like a church that illuminates its stained glass windows from the outside. We make it so we can see ourselves but the world doesn’t see much of anything. Our attitude should be to have the light shining from the inside out. In other words, for all the world to see.

Next week, we’ll take a look at a church that is incredibly fruitful.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Living History

This is for you more “seasoned” readers of In My Father’s Footsteps. But I pray that all will be blessed by it.

A few weeks ago, the 40th United States President, Ronald Reagan, would have celebrated his 103rd birthday. Of course, he died in 1994 at the age of 93.

I was born in 1965, and during my lifetime many famous and infamous people lived and died. For example:
Bob Hope (2003)
Bing Crosby (1977)
George Burns (1996)
Presidents Truman (1972) , Eisenhower (1969), Johnson (1973), Nixon (1994), and Ford (2006).

During my lifetime, the following milestones where reached:
The 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, forming the United States of America (1976).
The 150th anniversary of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (1997).
The 5000th Anniversary of the City of Jerusalem (2000).

And because baseball is my favorite sport, I include these items that happened during my lifetime:
Babe Ruth’s homerun record was broken by Hank Aaron (1974).
Hank Aaron’s homerun record was broken by Barry Bonds (2007).
Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak was broken by Cal Ripkin, Jr. (1995).

My point is that the world is constantly changing in many ways. But I wonder if we realize the significance of this?

I’ve heard it said that for most people in the United States, their concept of history begins with the day they are born. Whatever happened before they were born is insignificant to them because they played no part or lived no part of that “ancient” history.

My experience has been that this does happen. And it is a very narrow view of life. Self-centered, too.
As some of you might expect, a quote from Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás, also known as George Santayana, is appropriate to insert here:

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" (p. 284, Reason in Common Sense, Dover edition 1980, the unabridged republication of volume one of The Life of Reason; or the Phases of Human Progress, originally published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1905. There is an online version that I accessed February 6, 2014 here.)

Now, while it is true the older I get the more interested I get in “ancient” history (stuff that happened before I was born). But to be honest, I’ve always been interested in all kinds of history. I think it started in grade school when I first learned about the American Civil War. In high school, two of my favorite classes were English Literature and Mythology, Fantasy and Folklore with Mrs. Hazel Fish. In her class I  learned about the history of England and the mythology of England (which is, in a sense, also history).

Where am I going with all this? Just this, I think it is of vital importance to know history. Not all of it, of course. But enough of it to gain an understanding of who you are and where you’ve “been.” This will help you understand and map out where you are going in life.

This is the way God intended for us to live. That’s why Jesus Christ lived His perfect life steeped in the history of salvation – celebrating Passover each year, as well as the other major feasts and festivals of the Jewish Faith (Feast of Tabernacles, Yom Kippur, etc.). These celebrations were intended to teach the people “where they came from” and what God had done – and continues to do – for his people.

I suspect that the reason many people do not embrace Christianity is because it is a faith that is immersed in history. So much of it is based on what has happened before any of us in this current generation were born.

But Christianity can be described as “living history” or “ancient and future history.” A Christian – a disciple of Jesus Christ – is part of something so much bigger than themselves. And so much older than themselves.

For me, this brings the comfort of a rock-solid institution. It has momentum. It has stability.

But it is also active and exciting, because while it is “historical” it is also very much alive!

Christianity has as its foundation, the fact that “Jesus lives” – not “Jesus lived.”

And because He lives, you and I will live also!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Where the Rubber Hits the Road

“What do you want to talk about?”tire-and-road
In my experience, that’s the way many Bible studies start. A group of people get together – men or women or couples or youth – and they first decide what topic they want to tackle.
Marriage. Vocation. Sex. Bullying. Leadership. Innovation. Success. The topic list is virtually endless.
But here’s what I’m thinking. Even though life is full of topics, that shouldn’t be the focus of a Bible study that I’m leading or participating in.
The focus should be on the Bible. The focus should be the Word of God. Ultimately, the focus should be on the Word of God – Jesus Christ.
I want to learn how to be a successful leader. I want to be able to teach my sons how to respond to bullying. I want young people to know the proper place sex has in their lives. I want my marriage to continue to be stronger and even grow stronger.
So I read books and watch videos and attend seminars and symposiums.
All of this is well and good.
But where the gumme hits the strasse (“the rubber hits the road”) is the Bible.
To truly grow as a Christian, to truly develop as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I need to be immersed in the Bible.
I recently finished reading Start with Why by Simon Sinek. I first heard of it after watching a short video called How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Excellent video and excellent book. I learned A LOT from both and highly recommend both. They can teach you so much about being a leader, being an innovator, leading a company, business, and even a church.
But while it is an insightful book and video, it is also just a topic. It is just a tool that can be used to become or be a better leader, innovator, businessmen, church council member, etc.
What I’m getting at is that tools only get you so far in being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
As a disciple, I want to have as many tools in my tool box as I can get.
But without the Bible, I’ll just have a cluttered tool box.
But with the Bible, there’s practically no limit to where I can go using those tools as a disciple of Christ.
The reason this is so is because the Word of God, the Bible, is powerful.
Psalm 29:4 says, “The voice of the Lord is powerful.” Through the Word God created the universe. Through the Word God redeemed sinners. Through the Word God will re-created a new heaven and a new earth.
The Bible. That’s where all topics, all tools, get their power. Start with the Word and there’s no telling how powerful God will make you in this world!