Beloit, WI

Beloit, WI
photo by Rod Gottfredsen

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Daily Devotions . . . "there's an app for that!"




















Dear Friends,

One of my favorite resources produced by the Church for the Church is the daily devotional Portals of Prayer.  In order to place this valuable resource into the hands of our members, we have a standing subscription for both the regular and large-print issues.  In fact, each of our homebound members receives a copy of the large-print volume when it comes out each quarter.

I was delighted to learn this week that Concordia Publishing House has now released an app which is available on both the Android and iPhone platforms.  You can download the app from either the Google Play or iTunes store for your device.  The app enables you to read each day’s devotion right from your smartphone or tablet.  The subscription cost is $9.99 per year.  If you prefer listening to audio rather than reading, you are in luck, the app has an audio feature in which the prayers, Scripture, and devotion can be read to you.  You can also use the app to search the previous 7 years of devotions.

The Android app can be installed on your device by going to https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.cph.portals_of_prayer&pcampaignid=MKT-Other-global-all-co-prtnr-py-PartBadge-Mar2515-1

You can access the iPhone/iPad app by going to https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/portals-of-prayer/id1139206276

If you do not have a smartphone or tablet, but would like to access Portals of Prayer via your computer, please go to https://www.cph.org/portals.  You can subscribe to Portals in the Amazon Kindle Store and then read the devotional in your internet browser via the Kindle Cloud Reader.  Of course, if you have a Kindle, you can read it on that device as well.

Certainly, we will continue to make the Portals available to you each quarter in its original paper form.  It is wonderful to have these digital resources available—particularly as we hope to attract younger readers—but paper is not going away any time soon.  I was surprised to learn that this excellent publication has been in print since 1937!  What a gift to God’s people!

In Christ Jesus,
Pastor

Sermon - Romans 7:1–13 "The Gospel Gives Life"

To listen to the sermon, please click here.




Saturday, July 1, 2017

Livestreaming the Divine Service














Dear Friends,

Last Spring, our Church Council approved the video recoding of our Sunday morning services and uploading the videos to the internet.  Unfortunately, other parish responsibilities have prevented me from learning how to fully use my video editing software to begin implementing this.  In the meantime, Facebook has added live video streaming capabilities which allow people to video something and have it appear live on their Facebook page for others to view.  Additionally, those videos are saved to the site and can be viewed later.  This has become such a popular medium that I am going to use it for our services rather than Vimeo—which is the site that I was going to use.

Beginning this morning, our worship service will be broadcasted live on the internet via Facebook.  This means that members who cannot be present with us can view the service live.  Since Facebook stores the videos that are recorded on this platform, people can also go to our site and view them whenever they like.  Additionally, these videos are a wonderful outreach tool—in that members can share the videos with others in order to introduce them to our worship services.  It is human nature that we feel less apprehensive about trying something new when we know what to expect.  Perhaps viewing a service online can be a helpful bridge to their attending worship with us.

We will begin recording following the “sharing of the peace,” discontinue recording during the distribution of the Lord’s Supper, and then continue recording at the Nunc Dimittis.  Consequently, no one needs to feel self-conscious when they come to the altar rail since the camera will not be recording.  Additionally, we will not be panning the congregation.  It is very important to me that we take every precaution to safeguard the sanctity of your worship experience, even as we seek to open this experience to others.

Going forward, we will be placing a smart tv in the nursery so that we can livestream the service down there for parents who would like to take their children to the nursey.

The address of our Facebook video archives is:  https://www.facebook.com/stjohnslutheranbeloit/publishing_tools/?section=VIDEOS&sort[0]=created_time_descending

This is very long and so it is more likely that people will find our videos just by visiting our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/stjohnslutheranbeloit.  A helpful service of Facebook is that all 132 people who have liked our page will receive a notice of each new video.  Facebook users will also have the option to share these videos on their own pages.  Hopefully this will work without complications . . . .

In Christ Jesus,
Pastor

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession














Dear Friends,

Tomorrow our churches will celebrate the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.  On this day in the year 1530, two Christian men who were living out their vocations before God as chancellors in Saxony,  Christian Beyer and Gregor Bruc appeared before Charles the Fifth, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, to present him with a document which outlined what they, their preachers, and their people believed, taught, and confessed before God and man.  Mr. Beyer read the document to Charles in its entirety, which took more than two hours.  This document, called the Augsburg Confession or Augustana because it was presented in Augsburg, clearly explains what Lutherans teach.  It is particularly Lutheran, but because it teaches only what the Bible teaches it is substantially Christian.  The purpose of this document was to explain how the teachings of Luther and his colleagues were upholding what the Church had always taught on the basis of Scripture and where errors in the Church’s teaching had been corrected in our churches.  This confession is divided into 28 articles—21 outlining what the Bible teaches regarding the Christian faith and 7 explaining errors which had crept into the teaching of the Church in the Middle Ages and how our reformers had corrected them.

Of the 28 articles, the chief article is article 4:

Justification
[1] Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. [2] People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. [3] God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3 and 4 [3:21–26; 4:5]).  (Paul Timothy McCain. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: Second Edition (Kindle Locations 620-624). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition).

As Lutheran Christians gear up to observe the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation on October 31, we continue to emphasize that “it’s still all about Jesus.”  The sacrifices and work offered by theologians and princes were made in order that Christians would know the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ who died in the place of sinners so that everyone who believes in Him will receive the free gift of everlasting life with God.  In observing this special anniversary of the Reformation, we are not celebrating a church split but the recovery of the Gospel among Christians who were without it.

You can read the full text of the Augsburg Confession by going to http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php


In Christ Jesus,
Pastor

Thursday, June 15, 2017

An Evening with the Wildauer's


















Dear Friends,

On Tuesday evening, we had the special privilege of spending time with Pastor Micah Wildauer and his lovely family.  Pastor Wildauer and his wife, Robin, have four children:  Samuel, Elizabeth, David, and Lydia.  God has blessed St. John's so that we are able to contribute toward the missionary work of Pastor Wildauer in Dapaong, Togo, Africa.  Our Synod’s website describes his work as follows:  “Micah teaches courses in Lutheran theology at The Centre Luthérien d’Etudes Théologiques (CLET), or Lutheran Center for Theological Studies, in Dapaong, Togo, West Africa. CLET is the seminary of the Lutheran Church of Togo (ELT). He also teaches some distance learning and continuing education courses throughout Francophone West Africa as needed. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, he coordinates visiting professors to CLET.”

On Tuesday evening, Pastor Wildauer described these activities in detail and also spoke about his family’s experiences in France and Togo.  Before they could begin their time in Africa, the Wildauer’s needed to learn French - which is the primary language spoken in Togo.  They completed intensive French language studies over several months in France before moving to Togo.

It was wonderful to hear Pastor Wildauer speak some French for us and even offer the evening’s benediction in the language in which his teaching is given.  The stories which Pastor Wildauer shared about the school and the students were heart-warming and inspiring.  I was surprised to learn that many of the students who come to the seminary are from countries in Africa whose cultures differ from that of Togo, to the extent that their families are as alien as the Wildauer’s.  I was also surprised to learn that when most of the students arrive at the seminary they are not able to return home until after their three years of instruction is completed.  It was delightful to hear about the increased church-planting that is occurring in Africa because of the work of these students.  When you make gifts to St. John’s marked “missions” you are helping to equip students who will take the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ to persons who may never have heard anything about it!  This past Sunday, our Gospel lesson from Matthew 28 described Jesus’ plan for disciples making disciples.  If Pastor Wildauer were only to go around the villages in the area of Togo preaching, he would reach only those people with whom he came into contact, but by his teaching of the men who are coming to him at the seminary he is multiplying the reach of his message by each student who hears his teaching.

Please pray for the Wildauer’s and ask our Father in Heaven that He will not only bless them but also multiply the impact of their work for the sake of the Gospel and the building of His Kingdom!

In Christ Jesus,
Pastor

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Waiting . . .


























Dear Friends,

I suspect that very few of us enjoy waiting for things.  I know that I certainly am not a fan of waiting.  I also think that it is easier to wait for things when we know exactly how long we will need to wait.  When you have packages arriving in which you have received a USPS or UPS tracking number, do you find yourself checking the status of your shipment multiple times before it arrives?  This comes to mind since I just checked the status of a package that I am waiting for in case something has changed since I checked last night.

Among the many wonderful innovations of modern medical care is the installation of monitors in surgical waiting rooms which allow families to track their loved-one’s progress from pre-op through the recovery room.  Instead of having to wonder when our person was taken back to surgery and if they have yet arrived in post-op, we can follow their progress on the screen.  Thus, if the surgery starts an hour later than planned, the family knows it.  What an improvement over imagining that problems have emerged causing the surgery to take an hour longer than the surgeon had anticipated!
On the day that our Lord Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, He instructed His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Father sent the Holy Spirit upon them.  You and I know that they had to wait 10 days, but on day 8 of their waiting the disciples had no idea how much longer they would be waiting.  Perhaps they had imagined that it would only be a day or two until the Spirit descended upon them.  If that was the case, they may have become very restless after a week had passed.  Forty days is a very biblical number and so they might have had to wait as long as that.  I think that I might have begun on day 7 to worry that a change of plans had occurred or that I had somehow misunderstood Jesus’ instructions.  I know myself well enough to know that I would have become very restless and anxious.  Perhaps the disciples did too.  While we don’t know what their waiting was like, what we do know is that on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon them, that they were all there!  Regardless of how they might have felt, they were faithful in their waiting and we will celebrate next week the mighty acts of God spoken of by them when the Spirit rushed upon them on Pentecost.

While times of waiting can be almost unbearable, God frequently uses them to strengthen our faith by teaching us dependence.  When we are in a state of waiting (particularly when we don’t know for how long), God teaches us to place our trust in Him and to learn to wait upon Him.  While everything in our lives is ultimately in God’s hands, it is in the times when there is nothing that we can do but wait that we realize that things are not in ours.  This dependence upon Him and the confidence in His ways that we learn by waiting is a part of spiritual growth that can only be learned by waiting.  Our prayer lives are also strengthened by periods of waiting, in which we learn that prayer is not only conversation with God but also struggle with our own fantasies of self-reliance and control.  As we journey with the disciples through the days between Ascension and Pentecost, may God show us the good that He often brings to us through times of waiting.

In Christ Jesus,
Pastor

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sunday School was Fantastic!


















Dear Friends,

We had a wonderful year of Sunday School!  It is a joy to extend my personal thanks to our teachers - Don Nohr, Jeff Vander Kooi, Christi Bickford, Lori Dotson, Randy Bauling, and Dawn Roser!  These members put a lot of care, creativity, and enthusiasm into their work and I am so thankful for what they provided to our young people.  Additionally, I am very grateful to all of our students and their parents who supported the program.  Many thanks also to our adult Bible class who were very cooperative in allowing me the opportunity to work with the younger grades this year.  Getting our Sunday school program up and running again was a blessing from our good and gracious Lord.  Christian education for all ages is an essential component of a congregation’s discipling process and does much for each participant’s spiritual formation.  If our lives are to be transformed by God’s Word we must be learning this precious Word.  Paul teaches us in Romans 10 that faith in Jesus which saves us comes from hearing the Word of God.

As I mentioned last Sunday, we are hosting a Christian day camp here at St. John’s from July 24 to July 28.  On Sunday, July 30, we will have a special service in which the students who attend the camp will present songs and Bible lessons they learned during the week.  Following that service, some of our teens will be set up in the narthex at tables in order for parents who attend to register their children/grandchildren for Sunday school.  Consequently, we are preparing for a larger Sunday school in the Fall and we will need additional members to assist us.  Please pray about whether or not God is calling you to assist us in this important program.  You will not be required to teach a class and you will always be partnered up with others in the classrooms.  Please let me know if you would like to be a part of next year’s program!

In Christ Jesus,
Pastor

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sermon - John 14:1-14 "Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled"

To listen to the sermon, please click here.


God uses us not as we choose, but as He wills. . .


















Dear Friends,

This past Saturday, St. John’s hosted the annual awards ceremony for Youth 2 Youth.  The bleachers in the gym were filled with students and their families celebrating the work that they have done this year in offering presentations to schools throughout Rock County in order to educate other students on the dangers of substance abuse.  As I watched the program, I was proud of these delightful young people who have made a commitment to promote a drug-free future.  I was also proud of you.  It takes a tremendous amount of faith and courage to allow ourselves to be used by God in ways that are different from the ways in which we would choose to be used.  While we celebrate the wonderful service that our parochial school provided the city of Beloit through decades of faithful education, we also grieve its absence.  The pain of losing the school continues to be felt by many in our congregation.  I want you to know that I take your grief seriously even as I commend you on your willingness to adapt to changing circumstances.  Your hosting of the Youth 2 Youth and Diversion programs blesses our community through the gifts which God has entrusted to us.  While we could look upon these groups as mere tenants, the God Whom we serve doesn’t leave us room for that perspective.  God is working through these groups for the good of society and we are blessed to be a part of it!

For a whole host of reasons, a majority of Protestant churches in America have been in decline since the 1960’s.  Many congregations and their leaders choose to play the “victim” and give their time to complaining about how things have changed and how young people just don’t want to be a part of the church today.  God tells us through St. Paul that “. . . God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7).  I urge you to pray that the Holy Spirit will kindle in us a new urgency for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone that we can and seek ways to bless our neighbors.  I am convinced that by God’s grace we will be able to cobble together a ministry which looks very little like the days of old, but faithfully serves God’s purposes for today.

In Christ Jesus,
Pastor

Sermon - John 1:43-51 "Jesus Calls Us Where We Are"

To listen to the sermon, please click here.




Friday, May 5, 2017

Prayer of the Church




















Dear Friends,

It is important to me that we understand that when we pray we are joined by the Holy Spirit to the Father in Heaven for Jesus’ sake in whose Name we pray.  We are also joined to one another and to the whole Church as we pray through the same Holy Spirit in the name of the one Lord Jesus.  For this reason, I do not write the Prayers of the Church which we use each week, but instead I adapt ones offered by the LCMS for our usage.  If you would like to read these prayers, you may do so by going to: https://www.lcms.org/letuspray.

Although it is my voice which offers these prayers before God’s Holy altar, you also offer these prayers as signified by your response “hear our prayer.”  The Father has promised to hear and act upon the prayers of those who belong to Christ and pray in His strong Name.  When you think about it, it is a miracle of God’s grace that sinners are encouraged by Jesus to boldly stand before God’s throne – asking for ourselves, for others, and for the Church all good things which the Father delights in giving us through His Son.  We pray not only for ourselves and the Church, but also for our leaders, the world, and for all who are in need.  This is a Holy work through which you and I serve our neighbor, even as we grow deeper in our relationship with our God.

In Christ Jesus,
Pastor

Luke 4:1-13 "Jesus Knows What It's Like"

To listen to the sermon, please click here.


Sermon - John 20:19-31 "Belief Received"

To listen to the sermon, please click here.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Christ is Risen!















Dear Friends,

It is written:
“And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.”  (Matthew 28:2-6).

The women went to Jesus’ tomb that first Easter morning to care for His dead body, but His dead body they did not find – because He was Risen!  At the tomb, they found instead a message of His never-ending life.  Living in a fallen world, it is natural for us to expect God’s anger and punishment, but for the sake of Jesus, He offers to us instead life which overcomes even death.  May the message of Jesus’ death in your place and the power of His Resurrection, fill you with joy and hopefulness this Easter season!

In Christ Jesus,
Pastor

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Maundy Thursday


























Dear Friends,

On Thursday evening, we will mark one of the most sacred days of the Christian year – Maundy Thursday.  The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word “mandatum,” meaning the washing of feet.  Since walking great distances through dusty terrain while wearing sandals is not a part of our everyday experience, we do not regularly wash our feet apart from our normal bathing routines.  Consequently, we do not have a specific word in our cultural lexicon referring to the washing of feet alone.  In the First Century, this was very much a part of nearly everyone’s routine experience.  It was customary upon arriving at someone’s home for a servant to untie and remove your sandals (remember John the Baptizer saying of Jesus, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the straps of his sandals”), and proceed to wash your feet.  This task was considered menial and the work of servants.  At the “Last Supper,” Jesus washed His disciples’ feet as an example to them of what Christian love looks like.  He instructed them that if He, their Lord and teacher, would perform for them the work of a servant that they in like-fashion should be servants of one another.  Later that evening, after Judas had gone out to betray Him, Jesus said to His disciples “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).  On Maundy Thursday, we remember that Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (even Judas’ feet), and instructed that Christian discipleship shall be characterized by mutual love and self-sacrifice.

The other emphasis of Maundy Thursday is the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  On this holy night, we remember that our Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks to the Father, broke it for distribution among His disciples, and gave it to the disciples – saying “this is my body, which is given for you.”  It is a holy mystery that this bread (which never ceases to remain bread) is the body of Christ truly received by us as we consume it.  The same is true for the wine that Jesus blessed and gave to them following supper – saying “this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.”

At the conclusion of worship on Maundy Thursday, the altar is stripped of its paraments and the chancel is made bare.  This rite recalls the humiliation of our Lord Jesus, prior to His crucifixion.  It provides the appropriate setting for our Good Friday service (this year at Trinity Church).  The “bareness” of Good Friday provides a powerful contrast with Easter Sunday that sets the stage for the bursting forth of the beauty of our Resurrection celebration.  In the sudden appearance of rich paraments and Easter flowers, we see a reflection of the shocking glory of our Lord’s Resurrection.  On Easter, Christ Jesus was raised from death to never die again, and the same is promised to those who trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins.

In Christ Jesus,
Pastor