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Friday, March 28, 2014

I Love My Church Part 5

This is based on an article from Hal Seed (accessed here on February 13, 2014).

Hal Seed 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 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 five:

5. Diverse.

The first members of the Holy Christian Church were Jews from Galilee and Judea. But that quickly changed after the Holy Spirit came on them 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus.

Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome,  both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians. (Acts 2:9-11a)

Within 100 years, there were hundreds of thousands of Christians who were native to Europe, Africa, Asia, and India. Today there are billions of Christians who are natives of every country on the planet.

But that’s just one aspect of the diversity of the Christian Church.

There are Christians who are poor, lower middle class, upper middle class, and “rich.” There are Christians who are homeless, fatherless, widows, orphans, and also come from “nuclear” or “traditional” families (one mom, one dad). There are Christians who are infants, toddlers, children, teenagers, young adults, middle aged, and seasoned citizens.

However, it has been said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America. There is the tendency for people to gather together with people who are most like them, and the Church is susceptible to that. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Holy Christian Church is diverse!

We may have to overcome that tendency, but it is possible to overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament.

I love my Church (see here for what I mean by “Church”). And one of reasons why is because she is diverse. Everyone is welcomed at my Church. No matter what country, economic status, or anything else, everyone is welcomed.

Because we all have two things in common.

1.  We’re all sinners in need of a Savior.
2. We all have the same Savior – Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

In the Holy Christian Church everyone hears of the need for a Savior and how God met that need.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, emphasis added).

“For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God” (Romans 6:10, emphasis added).

Next time, the entrepreneurial reason.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

I Love My Church - Part 4

This is based on an article from Hal Seed (accessed here on February 13, 2014).

Hal Seed 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 Lutheran, White Cloud, MI, St. John Lutheran, Mayville, WI, Redeemer Lutheran, Ontario, CA, and St. Matthew Lutheran, 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 four:

4. She is Caring.

Two separate incidents happened to me this past week that touched my heart in a very special way.
The first was that Virginia died. She was a woman in her 90’s. She suffered from acute Alzheimer’s and lived in a care facility for many years. I would visit her just about every other month (while my colleague would do the same, just not the same month). She didn’t know who I was, didn’t know my name or nearly anything about me.

But she did know that I am a pastor. I would wear my “pastors clothes” and when I walked into her room, her eyes would light up and smile would appear on her face. I would read to her from the Bible and we would pray together.

Virginia was - is – a disciple of Jesus strong in the faith. She and Harold were married in the early 1940’s and lived their entire marriage sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ through their lives. Harold has to begin what I can only imagine to be a very difficult task – living his Christian life without Virginia by his side.

I saw Harold last night at dinner. He was still upbeat, smiling, and exuding the joy of a life lived by and for Jesus Christ. His love for his wife is no less diminished this week and never will be, even though it is now different.

The second incident was a phone call I received during lunch. My good and dear friends Jim and Susie called me to wish me a belated happy birthday. I met Jim and Susie 8 years ago when I served as their pastor in Southern California. Jim was retired from the local police department and devoted almost all of his time to our church’s Senior Adult Ministry. We played cards together. We met each week for breakfast and Bible study. I know they prayed for me and my family daily. They are such dear friends to my wife and I. 

During our conversation Jim told me that he was being inducted into his high school’s Hall of Fame for football. His football time went undefeated for three seasons. This was 60 years ago in Northern Michigan. But even though so many decades had passed, I could still hear the joy in his voice as he told me their plans to travel back to Michigan this September.

These two incidents are just two of many evidences of how the Christian Church is “caring.” Harold and Virginia caring for each other and for their fellow Christians and all the people they met through the years. Jim and Susie caring for each other, for me and my family, and the people of their congregation and all those that they met through the years.

When we let Jesus and His love for us have his way with us, this is usually the result: that we will care for others in the same or similar ways. This is one of the “marks” of the Church, as Jesus said in the Gospel of John:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Next week, we’ll look at another reason to love the Church – her diversity.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I Love My Church Part 3

This is based on an article from Hal Seed (accessed here on February 13, 2014).

Hal Seed 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 Lutheran, White Cloud, MI, St. John Lutheran, Mayville, WI, Redeemer Lutheran, Ontario, CA, and St. Matthew Lutheran, 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 three:

3. She Is Responsive

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 (ESV)

In October of 2013, severe thunderstorms unleashed tornadoes that tore through several communities in Central Illinois and Indiana. Two of the hardest hit communities were the towns of New Minden and Washington, Illinois.

In the weeks following the storms, FEMA and the Red Cross provided relief and other help to the people of these communities. The Governor of Illinois and other government officials also visited.

But by Thanksgiving 2013, these towns were out of the news and all but forgotten.

All but forgotten except by caring and loving people of the Christian churches in the area (and beyond) as well as other caring people of differing faiths.

One of those churches is St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Hawthorn Woods, Illinois (where I serve as Assistant Pastor). 160 miles north of Washington, Illinois, we gathered cold-weather clothes and food items for the people who lost entire homes. That would get them through Thanksgiving and Christmas and into the New Year.

What they – and we – didn’t count on was the third snowiest winter in Illinois history. There has been snow on the ground since December and temperatures didn’t reach freezing until late February. This also hampered clean-up and re-building efforts.

But the Church didn’t let that stop them. St. Matthew – as well as many other congregations of the Church – dedicated themselves to sticking with the relief and rebuilding help “for the long haul.”

This weekend a group of people from St. Matthew joined Lutheran Church Charities in helping with clean up. We are also planning the rebuild process with them.

Lutheran Church Charities also has provided Comfort Dogs for the people of New Minden and Washington. A simple visit from a trained comfort dog helps hurting people and provides an opportunity for the dog’s “handler” to pray and share the comforting Gospel.

This is how the Church responds. She has been doing this from the very first day of the Christian Church (Pentecost – the 50th day after the resurrection of Jesus Christ).

Wherever there are hurting people in need, the Church is responsive to that need. And in responding to their need

Thursday, March 6, 2014

I Love My Church - Part 2

This is based on an article from Hal Seed (accessed here  on February 13, 2014).

Hal Seed 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 wrote about the first reason here.

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 two:

2. She Is/Can Be Incredibly Fruitful.

Three times a year, St. Matthew offers an Adult Discipleship Class based on the book “God For Us” (Lutheran Church Australia). In this class we explore the basics of the Christian faith from the Lutheran perspective – which means it is a study based on Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.

One session of this class is held at a time when a regular adult Bible study is held. This is deliberate. Even though the “regulars” of that class end up going through this “basics” course numerous times, it is good that they do so for several reasons.

One, it is never a bad idea to refresh in our minds the basics of our faith.

And two, it gives an opportunity for new Christians to mingle with “seasoned” Christians.

Recently, I was excited to see this in action. Long-time members of St. Matthew – many of them life-time members – sat with people who were on our campus for the first time ever. They were learning about God and Christ together. They were getting to know each other, talking with each other about life and about a Jesus, and making plans to worship together.

What I was witnessing was just how incredibly fruitful God makes the Church. He brings men, women and children to Himself through the Church!

Now, I believe, teach and confess publicly that God makes people His children through Word and Sacrament. But I also believe that God does this best – and most often – through His Church!

By “Church” I mean “the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered” (Augsburg Confession, Article 7).

The Word and Sacraments make the Church incredibly fruitful. The grace of God gives each member of the Church a place in that fruitfulness. What an amazing gift that God has given us!

This is why I can love my Church! Because this is what God is doing in my Church!


Next week we’ll look at reason three: Responsive.
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