Sunday, February 11, 2018
Sunday, February 4, 2018
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Saturday, January 20, 2018
Our Old Testament lesson for this week is drawn from the book of Jonah. This very short book – only four chapters – is one of the most powerful writings of the whole Old Testament. The common theme running through the book is God’s unrelenting pursuit of sinners. God is not chasing them in order to punish, but in order to save them. The book opens with God calling Jonah to preach a message of judgment to the people of Nineveh – the capitol city of a ruthless enemy of Israel and practically everyone else in their region. While the reader is inclined to conjure up images of doom and gloom (and indeed the message was just that), Jonah knew that this message would bring Israel’s enemies to repentance and save them from the looming destruction which God was planning to carry out. Thus, Jonah defies God and heads off in another direction. God pursues Jonah in his attempt to cut himself off from God. It is rarely a good plotline to kill off your main character in the first act, but to the reader it appears to be the case when Jonah volunteers to have the sailors throw him overboard. However, God is at the center of this book – not Jonah – and God rescues Jonah in a miraculous way by sending a great fish to swallow him up from the waves which would have otherwise drowned him. Incidentally, when the terror-stricken sailors reach land they worship Jonah’s God. After being unceremoniously deposited on the land by the great fish, Jonah is now ready to follow God’s leading and goes to Nineveh with the Word he is to proclaim. Just as he feared, Nineveh repents – from the King down to the people occupying the lowest rungs of the social ladder. Our contemporary phrase “triggered” is a marvelous description for Jonah’s response to all of this. It is unbearable to him to look on as God relents from the disaster which He would have carried out. The book ends with God, Who pursued Nineveh with an intent to forgive, pursuing Jonah again. Jonah’s soul is ensnared by a self-righteous indignation which threatens to rob him of the forgiveness and restoration of a forgiving and reconciling God. The book of Jonah foreshadows the saving work of Christ Jesus upon the Cross through which there is forgiveness and reconciliation with God for all who believe that by His death Jesus has answered for all of their sins. At the Cross, we see the ultimate pursuit of sinners by a forgiving and reconciling God.
In Christ Jesus,
Sunday, January 7, 2018
Sunday, December 31, 2017
Friday, December 29, 2017
Friday, December 22, 2017
Saturday, December 16, 2017
Our Advent wreaths lack the symmetry which typically accompanies our worship appointments. For example, there is a candle on each side of the altar and a candelabra on each side of the chancel. We also have a credence table on each side of the chancel and a torch on either side of the pulpit. The Church loves symmetry. Consequently, the Advent Wreath - with its three blue candles and one which is rose-colored - will undoubtedly perplex those who are unfamiliar with our Advent customs. While there is something inside of me which says “they ought all to be blue!”, I love this pink candle that messes up the symmetric beauty which our wreath would otherwise possess. I love it because it announces that our Advent waiting is almost over and the celebration of our Lord’s birth draws ever near. This rose-colored candle is appointed to bear witness to today’s appointed theme – “Rejoice!”
It is for this reason that the third Sunday of Advent has traditionally been called “Gaudete Sunday.” The word “gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice” and is the first word in the traditional introit (introductory psalmody establishing the tone for the day’s service). This psalmody is drawn from the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. . . .” (Philippians 4:4-5).
Gaudete Sunday carries with it a much-needed reminder for us during what has become a very hectic and stressful time. In our culture, Christmas has become a spectacle of unrealistic expectations which can drain us of our anticipation, our hope, and our joy. The unrealistic expectations show up in the form of too many events to attend, excessive busyness, and a felt-need to purchase things which we may not be able to afford. I am not so naïve as to believe that it is an easy thing for us to simply say “enough is enough” and immediately cease our participation in all of this chaos. However, I am optimistic enough to think that within the rigors of our holiday schedules we might take a few moments to read through the first two chapters of Luke and reflect on the miracle of a God Who took up our flesh in order to redeem us from our sins that we might live with Him for eternity. It truly is a most wonderful time of year and so I pray that we don’t miss its wonder by allowing ourselves to be swept up in the urgency of less important things. Gaudete!
In Christ Jesus,
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Welcome to the year of St. Mark! Our churches follow an order of Sunday readings called a lectionary. A large number of congregations in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod follow the same three-year cycle of readings that we read here at St. John’s. Since the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar in what they highlight from Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection it is fitting for us to read primarily from one of those gospels each year. In this way, we have the year of St. Matthew, followed by the year of St. Mark, and we finish with the year of St. Luke. While St. John’s gospel certainly shares a lot of similarities with the other three evangelists, the highlights which he shares are needed for the narration of certain events every year. Consequently, we read from John during each of the three years in our lectionary cycle. Additionally, since Mark’s gospel is only sixteen chapters in length, it makes sense to flesh out the order of readings with a significant amount of material from John.
Since Mark was a disciple of Peter and traveled with him as he taught and preached, it is not unrealistic to describe his gospel as notes from the preaching of St. Peter. However, it is also clear that Mark has borrowed from Matthew’s accounts in the “first gospel.” While Mark sometimes abbreviates events which Matthew provides in greater detail, there is a “punch” of urgency to Mark’s narration which I thoroughly enjoy. I have often recommended Mark to people who are beginning to read the Bible for the first time. To study Mark is to have one’s whole life placed squarely at the foot of Jesus’ Cross. In fact, as we shall see this year, Jesus is not really known apart from the Cross – even to His disciples.
I would be remiss if I ended this note without saying at least something in brief regarding the Old Testament and Epistle readings for each week. Typically, the Old Testament reading is selected to correspond with the appointed Gospel reading. When we read them both together, we frequently notice that the OT lesson either prophetically foreshadows what is being described in the Gospel lesson or touches upon a similar theme. The Epistle lesson is most commonly a semi-continuous reading from an epistle of the NT. What we mean by “semi-continuous” is that the lessons for a period of three to five weeks will be drawn from the same part of an epistle, but instead of giving us the whole epistle consecutively we turn our attention after a few weeks to a series of readings from another epistle. While these readings often highlight similar themes as the OT and Gospel lessons, their purpose instead is to provide a serial reading from week-to-week.
Blessed Advent to you!
In Christ Jesus,
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Saturday, December 2, 2017
During this first week of Advent, I would like to remind us of the symbolic meaning of the Advent Wreath. The lighting of these five candles (three blue, one rose, and one white) marks our journey from darkness into the brilliant light of our Incarnate Lord. Each week, we light an additional candle on our wreath until Christmas evening arrives - when the whole wreath is illumined. On a practical level, the wreath is arranged like a clock, in that we light first the candle at the nine o’clock position, and then work our way around counter-clockwise – with the Christ Candle in the center. In the Church’s observance of Advent, these candles each have a special meaning. On the first Sunday, we light the “Prophets’” candle, as we remember those messengers whom God sent in days of old to announce Christ Jesus’ coming. The following week, we add the lighting of the “Bethlehem” candle, which reminds us that according to the prophecy of Micah, Christ Jesus was born in Bethlehem. On the third Sunday in Advent, we light the rose colored candle. This candle is a different color in order to highlight the joy announced in the traditional naming of this particular day as Gaudete Sunday. This word (“Gah-dah-tay”), which is fun to say, is from the Latin meaning “rejoice.” This rose-colored candle is the “Shepherds’” candle, and we remember the good news of great joy that was announced to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. On the fourth Sunday in Advent, we light the “Angels’” candle, and recall the angelic announcements delivered to Mary, Zechariah, and Joseph – as well as their appearance to the shepherds announcing Jesus’ birth. Finally, on Christmas eve, we light the “Christ Candle.” This candle – the largest on the wreath – has stood there unlit all through Advent, and on that Holy night it is illuminated for the first time. It symbolizes the coming of our Lord into our midst – who is God with us – the one whom prophets foretold, Bethlehem received, shepherds were told, and angels announced. May your Advent be filled with the hope that is known only when there is something to be anticipated, longed for, and received with great joy!
In Christ Jesus,
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Saturday, November 11, 2017
Monday, October 30, 2017
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sunday, October 15, 2017
Sunday, September 3, 2017
Thursday, August 31, 2017
We can help the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod support our congregations in Texas who are caring for their neighbors . . .
As LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison calls on Lutherans to give generously for Hurricane Harvey recovery, Disaster Response Director Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson talks about spiritual care and walking alongside the Texas district on the long road ahead. For regular updates check www.lcms.org.
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Sunday, August 13, 2017
Thursday, August 10, 2017
Monday, July 31, 2017
Saturday, July 29, 2017
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Monday, July 10, 2017
Saturday, July 8, 2017
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,
Saturday, July 1, 2017
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=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,
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Saturday, June 24, 2017
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:
 Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works.  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.  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,
Friday, June 23, 2017
Thursday, June 15, 2017
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,
Monday, June 12, 2017
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Monday, May 29, 2017
Saturday, May 27, 2017
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,
Friday, May 26, 2017
Saturday, May 20, 2017
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,
Friday, May 19, 2017
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,
Friday, May 5, 2017
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,