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Friday, April 25, 2014

I Love My Church Part 9

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 nine:

9. Commitment to church planting.

Why do we need more churches? That is a fair question. Where I live there are six churches with a radius of five miles.

Do we really need to plant another church?

Well, let’s take a look at some numbers.

There is estimated to be 350,000 churches in the United States (according to a survey in 2010 here).

The population of the United States is estimated to be 3.18 million people (as seen here).

One poll puts the number of people who attend worship weekly at about 64,000,000. (20% of the U.S. population, see that information here).

That leaves approximately 254 million people not worshiping each week.

Do we need more churches? It can’t hurt!

I love my church because she is involved in “church planting.” That doesn’t mean we are right now starting a new congregation (although “church planting” can mean that). But what it means is that we have a mindset that we are learning how to be active disciples of Jesus Christ and sharing the Gospel with other people – which “plants the church” wherever those people go!

“Planting” has the idea of seeds and growth. We – as a Church – are surely planting the seeds of faith. The Holy Spirit has given us the seed – the Gospel. We share it with others – plant it in them – and the Holy Spirit causes it to grow.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)

We desperately need to sow the seeds of the Gospel among the people of this world. And I love my church because she has a commitment to church planting!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Why Go to Church?

I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.” – Psalm 122:1

Pastor Anderson was opening his mail on Thursday morning and he noticed a hand-written letter from Maria. He had noticed that Maria was in church the Sunday before – Easter Sunday – and that was the first time he had seen Maria in church for over a year. What he read in her letter both told him why and dismayed him.

Easter had been a refreshing worship experience for Pastor Anderson. This Lenten season had been particularly grueling. In addition to the regular weekend services, his church also held two mid-week services on Wednesdays. He also had two big funerals during Lent this year. Then there was Holy Week. Special services on Thursday (two), Good Friday (two), an Easter Vigil on Saturday evening and then Easter Sunday services (two). There are different sermons for each day’s service (except for the Easter Vigil, which traditionally doesn’t involve a sermon). By Easter Sunday afternoon, Pastor Anderson was exhausted and near collapse. But he felt good. He saw a lot of people during all the services, some new faces and some faces, like Maria’s, which he hadn’t seen in a long time.

He took a couple of days off and Thursday he was back in the office to get ready for the coming weekend’s services. He was feeling refreshed and re-energized, which is what he expected from the Easter worship services.

But Maria’s letter took him back to earth.

Maria wrote:

                        Dear Reverend,
I just had to write to you to let you know how disappointed I am with you and your leadership of our church. I was in church this last Sunday and I’ve never been to such a boring service. This has been a pattern I’ve seen develop since you’ve been pastor here.
Tell me, why is that every time I come to church you always pick the same songs and preach on the same topics. Since you’ve been pastor, every time I’ve come to church, we always had the same song – Jesus Christ is Risen Today – and you’ve always preached on the same topic – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
             I hope you can get your act together or I’m afraid our church will die soon.
                        Maria
Unfortunately, there are many Christians like Maria. They even have a rather cynical name. “C & E Christians.” (That stands for “Christmas and Easter” Christians.) That is the only time, other than weddings, funerals or the odd special service like a baptism or confirmation, which these Christians come to worship.

Why was King David happy to come to church?

King David wrote in Psalm 122, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, “’Let us go to the house of the LORD.’”  That kind of happiness is rarely felt in today’s church. But why is that? I don’t think worship was too different back then than it is now. In fact, in some ways it is similar – including music, ritual, and teaching about God’s Word.

What made David different from a lot of Christians in America is that for a long time he was not able to go to worship. He spent a lot of years in the desert, running from an insane king who wanted to kill him. He also spent years at war against his enemies and didn’t have opportunities to go to the house of the Lord.

How can we capture the happiness King David felt today?

Unless you want to follow David’s example (running from an insane king or going to war), there must be another way to capture that happiness of going to church. Know what worship really is one of doing that. Worship, when it is done according to God’s Word, is a powerful experience. You actually come into the presence of the Almighty God and receive from Him promised gifts of grace and mercy. It is also an opportunity to respond to God’s active working in your life by offering prayers and songs of thanksgiving.

Why would we want to?

A question occurred to me when I got to this point. Do people want to have this kind of happiness? I’m tempted to say that most people do not, but then I’m faced with the facts of all the numbers of people who seek happiness in so many ways. There is the popularity of theme parks, exotic vacations, bigger and better homes, and more family time. Then there are the less “family orientated” pursuits of happiness such as internet pornography, extra-marital affairs, alcohol and drug abuse. All of these pursuits tell me that people actually are looking for the kind of happiness that David conveys in verse one of Psalm 122.

This is why I’ve made it my mission to tell as many people as possible that they can have the happiness they pursue in a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died to give us life. Not only as a writer, but also as a pastor, I do my best to tell people that happiness can be theirs. I do my best to write about it. I do my best to preach about it.

I’m sure that you will be among the many, many people who go to church this Easter Sunday. I hope you’ll go again next week. That may be breaking a tradition, but happiness can be yours in the breaking of that tradition. Give it a try! If you do, let me know how it turned out.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter Change

Several years ago, I called a radio morning show because they asked the question on the Monday after Easter, “Now that Easter is over when will you take down your Easter decorations?”

I called in to tell the host that Easter was, in fact, not over! Easter Sunday is past, but Easter is a season that lasts 40 days! After Easter Sunday we remember what Jesus said and did with His disciples between His resurrection and His ascension 40 days later.

Many people are tempted to believe that come Monday morning Easter will be over and we can get on with their rest of our lives. It may even be inadvertent, but they equate Easter Sunday with the Easter Season.

Easter continues. And thankfully so. Jesus rose from the dead on that first Easter Sunday. But He remains risen from the dead. He is active in our lives. He is sustaining His Church, His people. He is alive and He is giving life.

John wrote His Gospel with this very thought in mind.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:30-31

What do we know about the post-resurrection Jesus and how we know it?

What We Know

What we do know is that Jesus died. No one survives crucifixion. We also know that Jesus Rose from the dead three days later. If this didn’t happen then our faith, as St. Paul says, is in vain. And we know that Jesus’ resurrection was for our justification. (Romans 4:25)

How We Know It

How do we know these things? As the song says, “For the Bible tells me so.”
There are some things you need to know about the Bible because of certain movies you may see. Or someone you know will see a movie and ask you about it (or worse, tell you what the “truth” is about the Bible).

The truth is that God the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible to write what they did.

The truth is that the Key to understanding the Bible is Jesus Christ Himself.

How It Changes Our Lives

Up to this point, this is – while interesting to me and maybe to you – really only “facts” and “history.” But it can be more than that because what we are talking about is something that is alive. The Holy Word of God is inspired by the Holy Spirit and He uses it to change lives. He wants to change your life. Will you respond?

It has changed my life. No matter what happens to me, I can handle it, usually well although at times not so well, as some of you may know.

That God is in control of my life, I am positive. He works everything out for good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8). The circumstances are sometimes a bit mysterious, sometimes painful, but always work out for good, of that I am sure.

This application of Easter – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and how we know about it – can change your life if only you will let it. I urge you not to resist the work of the Holy Spirit. Give yourself to it. Trust in the Lord. Trust in Christ’s resurrection. Trust in the Bible – all of the Bible. Don’t let others tell you it isn’t true. It is.

And it can change your life – in ways not even dreamt or imagined.

I Love My Church Part 8

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 eight:

8. Helps the family.

The church is often referred to as a family. I’ve often referred to members of the congregations that I have served as “brothers and sisters.”

What happens to one member of a family often happens to all members of a family. When one is hurting, all are hurting – in one way or another.

It is basic human nature that people in families help each other.

But in the church, it is not just “nature” – it is a calling.

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. Acts 2:44-45

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. Acts 6:1

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27

When a family needs help, the church is there for them. To help provide a meal, a ride, money, and the list goes on.

I know this first hand. When my son was diagnosed with epilepsy, the Church came together to pray for us. They also helped us when we need rides, babysitters, ideas and resources.

This is what Jesus came for. He became one of us to bring to us what we needed most, restoration to the family of God. He came to bring us forgiveness and power. After his ascension, he left us with the power and the calling to be a family and to help the family.

One of the things that I hope that the Church can get better at – all around – is to act like a family. In the nearly two decades I’ve been a pastor, I’ve heard from many people who leave a particular church because “they don’t like so-and-so.” “She sings too loud.” “He’s not friendly.” “I don’t like her teaching style.” “I don’t like his ideas.”

But this happens in families, too. Yet, most – if not all – people don’t leave a family because he picks his nose or she folds socks differently than my mom used to.

The Church is a family - not one of several clubs or organizations a person can join.

She is a family that is there when you need her – and we will all be in need at some time in our lives. If you find yourself NOT in need at the moment, someone in your church IS! Thank God He provided the Church to be his hands and arms and provision house for that time!

Friday, April 11, 2014

I Love My Church Part 7

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 seven:

7. A unified staff.

Not every church has a unified staff, at least not 100% of the time. I understand that. This is more of a potential for the Church. I don’t have first-hand experience of a 100% unified staff.

But the potential is as real as it is important.

The potential is real because what unifies a staff is the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit, working through Word and Sacrament, empowers a staff of a local congregation to find and carry out her vision of the Mission of the Church.

It is important that the staff of a local congregation be unified. Each church has the same Mission as every other church, given by Jesus Christ Himself, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). I love that the Church is unified in this mission!

But each local congregation of the Church is unique in how it carries out this Mission. (Find your church’s unique vision here).

Once a church recognizes their unique vision to carry out the Church’s Mission, a unified staff is vitally important.

I’ve been on church staffs where each person had the experience in that particular congregation of “doing their own thing.” They didn’t have a leader to draw them together and unify them in their unique vision.
They all knew the Mission of the Church, but they didn’t know the overall vision of their own congregation. 

So they were all doing “what was right in their own eyes.” They were all going in their own directions. But what was worse, they were not communicating with each other what they were doing!

Finally, the staff recognized this. A leader was brought on board to unify the vision. They began to use their individual talents to carry out their church’s unique vision of the Mission. It was not easy. Some of the staff left. They couldn’t catch the vision of their church. That happens. It’s sad to say goodbye, but it happens (it even happened to St. Paul, you can read about it here).

When a staff is unified, it is a beautiful thing. There is joy. There is strength. Each builds each other up in the vision and Mission of the Church.

It is another reason I love my church.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I cannot recommend The Bible

There have been dear brothers & sisters in Christ asking me what I thought about the movie "Son of God"
and the TV series it came from, "The Bible." I am honest with them when I say I haven't seen the movie and I've only seen parts of the TV series. But the parts I've seen have not prompted me to recommend it.

For example, this past weekend my sermon was based on John 11. Coincidentally, Sunday evening the episode of the "The Bible" that re-aired included the raising of Lazarus! So, I watched it. The makers of the TV series didn't even get that part correct!

Jesus and his disciples arrive in Bethany and are taken aback when confronted with a weeping Martha. They act as if they have no idea why she is crying! Martha does tell Jesus, "If you had been here, my brother wouldn't have died" or something to that effect. And Jesus did answer, "I am the resurrection and the life." At least, I seem to remember this exchange (but I could be wrong).

But I do remember clearly that Jesus did not even see Mary, much less talk to her and weep with her. Jesus is taken directly to Lazarus' tomb. They remove the stoneS (not the stone) and act as if it really stinks (which is somewhat accurate to the Biblical text).

Then Jesus enters the tomb. Lazarus is lying there in repose but no burial clothes around him. Jesus goes around the body so that he's looking at it from the back of Lazarus' head. Then he kisses Lazarus' head and Lazarus' eyes pop open. Jesus doesn't speak to Lazarus at all.

(Ironically enough, on Sunday morning, our service folder also didn't include Jesus' and Mary's conversation in the Gospel reading, but I did refer to it in the sermon).

I've seen other parts of The Bible - the ninja-like angels saving Lot and his family in Gomorrah, and the two spies fighting their way into Rahab's house in Jericho. I couldn't watch any more.

Because this series changes the stories of the Bible significantly, yet indicates that they believe they are staying true to the SPIRIT of the stories of the Bible - I cannot and will not recommend the series or the movie based on it. I have similar reservations with movie Noah as well.

I understand that when making a movie based on Bible stories it is sometimes necessary to create "fill" stories and characters. But to actually change the stories themselves, that I believe is wrong and should not be supported.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

I Love My Church Part 6

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 six:

6. Entrepreneurial.

To be “entrepreneurial” means to undertake a task or enterprise with considerable initiative and risk.

That describes the Church. As members of the Church our task is to “make disciples of all nations” by “teaching them” what Christ said and did and commanded and by “baptizing them.”

This task or mission has been undertaken with Christ’s initiative. His first step was out of heaven and into our world as one of us. “Immanuel” – God with us! Then Peter and the disciples took the initiative and proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah who died for the sins of the world and rose again. Stephen, Philip, Paul and the list goes on and on through history of men and women who took up the mission of the Church.

At incredible risk, I might add. Save one, all the original disciples were killed because of this entrepreneurial Spirit.

This risk of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ still exists today. Richard Wurmbrand wrote a book about the risk taken by many Christians called Tortured for Christ.

Dying for our faith is the ultimate risk, but there are others that are still risks, just considerable less so.
Ridicule, financial, personal comfort – these are all risks that a member of the Christian Church can face for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The outcome is worth it, however. People are literally dying to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the means of grace and changes people’s lives in this life and will change their lives for eternity.
Jesus Christ was “entrepreneurial” when He came to save you and me by being born to be our substitute, living the perfect life to be our righteousness by faith, dying on the cross to forgive all the sins of all people for all time, by rising from the dead so that we, too, might rise from the grave one day and ascended into heaven with the promise that he will return to take us to be with him forever.

This same Jesus Christ gives us his “entrepreneurial” power through the Holy Spirit (working through Word and Sacrament). We may face considerable – or not-so-considerable – risk in proclaiming this Good News.


This “entrepreneurial” Spirit is just another reason why I love my Church!
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