Beloit, WI

Beloit, WI
photo by Rod Gottfredsen

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Why so many Bible translations?

Dear Friends,

Have you ever wondered why there are so many different versions of the Bible in English?  There are perhaps several reasons for this, but I would like to suggest that the most important reason is so that English readers may have the most accurate translation possible of the Old and New Testaments.  What I mean by “accurate” is that the reader will get the same message that was conveyed to the first readers of the biblical books.  While the meaning that was intended by the authors of the books, and super-intended by the Holy Spirit, has not changed; our usage of the English language continues to evolve.  Over time, the usage of many words change, new words are added to the language, and other words fall into disuse.  Thus, new translations of the Scriptures into English are needed.  While the King James Version, which was translated from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek over five hundred years ago, does not read like a foreign language – it is not as accessible to English readers today as it was in 1611.  Since many Hebrew and Greek words can be translated into multiple English words, great care must be taken in trying to discern what English word best matches the Hebrew and Greek words.  Another complication is that sometimes a word-for-word translation does not adequately convey the same idea in English as in its original sentence.  Therefore, translators are forced to make compromises between using the English words that best match the Hebrew and Greek words, while maintaining the same meaning.  Since there is no exact way of doing this, translators are frequently faced with having to “lean” closer to one approach or the other.  What this means is that translations will “lean” either toward the exact word correspondence to the original language or to translations which more precisely carry the original meaning.  Translations which lean closer to a word-for-word correspondence are called “formal equivalency,” while those which strive to more adequately reflect the original meaning of the text are described as possessing a “dynamic equivalency.”  These two approaches are never so rigidly practiced that the other is not represented, and so looking at them on a continuum is possible.

If one is going to purchase a new Bible, I highly recommend the ESV (English Standard Version).  This is the version which I read from in worship, as it leans more closely to a word-for-word translation.  However, I want to be clear that your copy of the NIV (New International Version) or RSV (Revised Standard Version) is quite sufficient for reading and study.  In fact, I often read from the NLT (New Living Translation) when I am doing my devotional reading. 

If you are looking for a study bible, I highly recommend the Lutheran Study Bible.  This Bible, published by Concordia Publishing House, contains the full ESV text and numerous introductions and text explanations.  It can be purchased directly from Concordia at: or on Amazon at  It is also available for the Kindle: and Logos Bible software:

In Christ Jesus,


Sermon - Genesis 2:18–25, "The Two Become One"

To listen to the sermon, please click here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Learning to Pray . . . .

Dear Friends,

When one of my daughters was an infant, her older sister was very concerned about how people would view this new addition to our family if they discovered that she could not talk.  In order to hide this grim fact, she would tell people “she can talk.”  Dawn and I explained to her that her younger sister would indeed learn to talk in the coming year or so and that all babies begin life without a command of a language.  Over the next few months, we continued to reassure her that her sister would learn to speak – and perhaps she would speak English like us.

Have you ever considered the process whereby you learned to speak?  God’s plan for our usage of language is for us to learn to speak by repeating words after others.  This is why so many people have found it easier to become fluent in a second language by immersing themselves in a culture where it is spoken, over against traditional classroom instruction.  In the Psalms and prayers of the Old and New Testaments, God gives us a language of prayer.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer (in Prayerbook of the Bible) wrote that when we pray the Psalms or the Lord’s Prayer, we are speaking God’s words back to Him, in such a way that we are being taught how to pray.  If we desire to pray in accordance with God’s Will for our lives, we can do no better than to pray the prayers of Scripture.  In this way, God is giving us the words that are formed upon our lips and prayed back to Him.  Of course, the intimacy of relationship in which God has set us carries an invitation for us to communicate to Him the very things which are on our hearts.  This is where many Christians and would-be Christians often feel “stuck.”  It is nothing to feel embarrassed about, but many people feel that they do not know how to pray – and so they don’t. 

The Church has a responsibility for teaching God’s Christians how to pray.  While there are many things which I might say in way of introduction, I want instead to encourage you to learn from Dr. Luther – who was, himself, a man of prayer.  In the early years of his ministry, Luther was asked by his barber to provide some instruction to him on how to pray.  Luther was a scholar with the heart of a pastor, and so he penned a response, which later became the popular booklet “A Simple Way to Pray.”  While this wonderful booklet is available in many formats from various booksellers, you may download it free-of-charge (or read it online) at:   If you do not have internet access, but would like a copy - please let me know and I will get one for you.

In Christ Jesus,

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Bible and Technology . . . .

Dear Friends,

Have you ever gone into your photo albums in search of a particular photo, and found yourself looking at every picture in the album?  I suspect that not all of our readers are envisioning the same activity.  Some of you may be thinking of binders with floral-print covers and pages containing cellophane pockets while others may have in your mind’s eye the digital albums of Flickr or Facebook.  Perhaps many of us have both mediums at our disposal, but an increasing number of Americans have never picked up their prints at the store and taken them home to place on those sticky white pages of a photo album.  For more and more people, we snap photos with our cell phones and upload them to online photo services or the hard drive on our computers.  If we look around, we can find many similar examples of how technology has come to occupy a prominent place in our lives.

In order to reach people who do not know Jesus, the Church has over the centuries utilized new mediums and technologies in service of the Word of God.  For example, one of the reasons why Martin Luther’s teachings were so influential is that Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press made Luther’s documents readily available to others.  Throughout the Church’s history, we can see examples of new technologies and innovations being used in service of the Gospel.  Reaching others with the Good News requires a sensitive awareness of their culture.  Since many people in our culture do a lot of their reading on smartphones, tablets, and computers; Crossway, the publisher of the English Standard Version Bible makes the Bible that we read from in worship available in a variety of mediums.  In most cases, these are available for free because Crossway simply wants people to read the Bible.  You can find the ESV free-of-charge at the following sites:





Online Version

If you would rather have the ESV in audio format, please visit the following:

Android Phones/Tablets:

iTunes Devices:
Old Testament:
New Testament:

Apps from Faith Comes by Hearing:
Online Streaming in YouTube:

In Christ Jesus,

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

St. John's Youth are going to the LCMS National Youth Gathering

Dear Friends,

I am excited about the opportunity for youth from our congregation and me to attend the LCMS National Youth Gathering next summer.  The gathering will be held July 11 through July 15, 2019, in Minneapolis.  Students entering ninth grade in September 2019 through age 19 are eligible to attend the event.  We will be attending as a group with youth and leaders from Christ Our Savior (Roscoe), St. Andrew (Rockton), Messiah, and perhaps Trinity.

I am asking all of our youth and their parents/guardians to attend a Youth Gathering presentation at St. John's (in the sanctuary) on Sunday, October 14 (the Packers play Monday evening that week).  This meeting will begin at 2:00 pm and attendance does not imply any obligation to go to the National Youth Gathering.  We simply want to give every family the opportunity to learn more about this life-changing event. 

Because I know the impact that these events have on young people, I am committed to making this event possible for every young person who would like to go.  We estimate that the total cost per participant will come in at $995.00 - but every participant who takes part in the fundraisers during the course of the next few months will be able to attend for only $25.00.  It is not lost on me that our families have many expenses which they need to cover and so my intention is to take the financial barrier off the table.  I have taken two previous groups to national youth gatherings and so I can tell you that we will be able to raise the needed funding.  The breakdown of the estimated costs is as follows:  Registration - $365, Hotel - $220 (4 per room), Food - $180 ($30/day stipend), Transportation - $80 (To + From Minneapolis and Parking in Minneapolis) = TOTAL - $845, plus Out-of-Pocket Costs - $150 (Offering, 5K, Souvenirs, etc.).  This brings the TOTAL COST to $995.  Our first task is to get young people excited about going.

I invite everyone to please place on your calendar for Monday, January 21 our youth Scoopie Night, to be held at Culver's in Beloit from 4 to 8 pm.  Other fundraisers will be announced as they are finalized.  We will be doing some fundraising with all of our congregations, some with just St. John's, and some as individual participants.

If you would be willing to contribute to this event, please make your check payable to St. John's and indicate "NYG" in the memo section.  I am personally very grateful for your generosity.

In Christ Jesus,       

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

I pray for you regularly . . . .

Dear Friends,

In my ordination vows, I pledged that I would pray for God's people under my care.  My method for doing this is to use the Saint John's group that I have created in my contacts (digital address book) so that I pray for all of our members frequently.  The other day while I was praying for our homebound members (an additional group that I have created in my contacts), it occurred to me that my prayers for these members are more specific since I visit each of them every month and learn their joys and sorrows.  I want to be able to offer specific petitions to the Lord on behalf of all of our members.  As a result of conversations with our members at church and otherwise, I am aware of the needs of some of our members but not all.  If each of our members could please send me an email, give me a call, or drop me a note from time to time letting me know items that they would like me to pray for when I remember them before the Lord - I would be very grateful.  This also means that you will be prayed for more frequently since I would not wait for your name to come up in the rotation before offering prayer on your behalf.

I want very much for every single one of our members to know that I am on their side and care deeply about them.  Living in a fallen world with aging bodies and every other manner of difficulty can disappoint and sometimes isolate us.  I have pledged that I will bear with you in your burdens and support you in every time of need.  Please assist me in this important work.

It is vitally important to me that you know that I am not the only one praying for you - our Lord Jesus prays for you as well.  In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes "Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us" (Romans 8:34).  Christ Jesus at the Father's right hand is praying for you - right now and always.

In Christ Jesus,       

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The gift of fasting . . . .

Dear Friends,

Since I mentioned the gift of fasting during this past Sunday's sermon, I thought that I would share with you some practical suggestions for fasting.  I am not a monk or a dietitian, however, I do have a fair amount of experience with fasting and I have picked up a few lessons over the years (most of them the  hard way) that I would like to share with you.

1.  The Lord does not command you to fast, although in Mathew 6:16, we discover that Jesus anticipates that His disciples will fast.  Jewish people were commanded in the Old Testament to fast one day each year – on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).  Your sins were atoned for by Christ Jesus on the Cross, and that was a perfect and eternal sacrifice - thus your fasting can neither add to nor detract from what Christ has perfectly accomplished.  However, fasting is an aid to  prayer that should not be overlooked by the Christian.

2. If you are fasting for the first time, start with a shorter period of time, perhaps 15 hours.   Regardless of how long one is going to fast, I highly recommend beginning immediately after supper.  In this way, a large block of time is taken up by simply abstaining from an evening snack and sleeping (perhaps being a combined 12 hours from supper until waking).  This makes a 24  hour fast seem more feasible – when you only have 12 hours to go.

3. Drink plenty of water – your body needs it and it will help you to feel more “full.”  The biblical teaching on fasting never calls for abstaining from water.

4. Avoid sugary drinks at all cost.  When the sugar enters your bloodstream, your body responds by producing more insulin and this causes you to feel quite light-headed.  Fruit juices are not your friend when you are fasting – they are loaded with sugar.

5. If you begin to experience more than hunger pangs - break your fast.  You and I may not be called to martyrdom.  We always rejoice to be counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus, but we are not to seek it or inflict it upon ourselves.

6. Try to follow up your fasting by fasting again in two or three weeks.  The first time one fasts,  they notice the hunger pangs more than in subsequent fasting.  The next time one fasts, they  become much more attuned to their hunger for God’s presence than they did the first time they fasted.

7. Avoid sharing with others that you are fasting (Matthew 6:16-18).

8. Do not be afraid to break your fast prior to the appointed ending time if you are concerned  about your functioning in other tasks.  Please  remember that your fasting does not honor God or merit His favor, it is done to awaken your  heart’s hunger for Him.

In an article on Christian fasting, Kent D. Berghui provides an excellent summary of the purposes of  fasting, as identified in the Bible (“A Biblical Perspective on Fasting” in Bibliotheca Sacra, 2001, p. 102):

I. As a Sign of Sorrow
A. For tragic events (Judg. 20:26; 1 Sam. 31:13 = 1 Chron. 10:12; 2 Sam. 1:12; 3:35; Esth.  4:3; Jer. 14:1–12; Joel 1:14; 2:12–15)
B. For personal sorrow (1 Sam. 1:7–8; 20:34; Job 3:24; Pss. 42:3; 102:4; 107:17–18)

II. As a Sign of Repentance and Seeking Forgiveness
A. National or corporate sins (Exod. 34:28; 1 Sam. 7:6; Ezra 9:1–10:17; Neh. 1:4–7; 9:1;  Dan. 9:3–14; Jon. 3:5–9; Zech. 8:16–19)
B. Personal sins (2 Sam. 12:16–23; 1 Kings 21:27–29; Ps. 69:10; Acts 9:9[?])
C. As an opportunity for public exposure of sin (1 Kings 21:9–12; Isa. 58:1–5; Jer.  36:6–9)

III. As an Aid in Prayer to God
A. For others (2 Sam. 12:16–23; Neh. 1:8–10; Ps. 35:13; Dan. 6:18; 9:15–19)
B. For one’s self (1 Sam. 1:7–11; Neh. 1:11; Ps. 109:21–24; Dan. 9:3; 10:1–3)
C. For success in battle (Judg. 20:26; 1 Sam. 7:6; 2 Chron. 20:3) and in other endeavors  (Ezra 8:21–23; Esth. 4:16)
D. For relief from famine (Jer. 14:1–12; Joel 1:14; 2:12–15)
E. As an aid in personal or group devotion (Matt. 6:16–18; Luke 2:37; Acts 10:30; 13:2–3;  1 Cor. 7:5)

IV. As an Aid in Experiencing God’s Presence
A. Supernatural sustaining by God (Exod. 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8)
B. Reliance on God in times of temptation or spiritual warfare (Matt. 4:2 = Luke 4:2;  Matt. 17:21 = Mark 9:29)
C. Reflecting the reality of the loss of Christ’s immediate presence with His followers  (Matt 9:14–15 = Mark 2:18–20 = Luke 5:33–35)
D. Going without food to remain longer under Jesus’ teaching (Matt 15:32 = Mark 8:3)

V. As an Act of Ceremonial Public Worship
(Neh. 9:1; Esth. 9:31; Isa. 58:3; Jer. 36:6–9;  Zech. 7:3–5; 8:19; Acts 27:9)

VI. As Related to Ministry
A. Preparation for significant ministry (Matt. 4:2 = Luke 4:2; Acts 9:9 [?]; 13:2–3; 14:23)
B. Specific command of God while prophesying (1 Kings 13:1–22)
C. Suffering for the sake of the gospel (2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27)

In Christ Jesus,

Sermon - Mark 7:14–23, "How We Look on the Inside"

To listen to the sermon, please click here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Blessing our children and youth throughout the year . . . .

Dear Friends,

Recently, Dawn and I had supper with a new pastor and his family.  In the days following our time together, I reflected a lot on my own experiences as a young pastor - I, too, was once in my late twenties, albeit a few years ago.  As I daydreamed, I remembered an insight that I discovered in those days - the most effective outreach is taking good care of the members we have.  This came to me as others were drawn to our congregation by members who spoke highly of the care which they were receiving.   Although outreach has become a whole lot more difficult over the years, I still believe this.  Jesus exhorted His disciples on the night of His betrayal that the world would know that they were His disciples by their love for one another (John 13). 

During the Divine Service on Sunday, I offered a blessing to our young people as they begin another year of school.  This has been an important part of my ministry for many years.  In addition to offering them a blessing, I also led a special prayer for them and students, teachers, and staff everywhere.  Please join me in praying for each of our young people regularly.  In addition to praying for them, please tell them individually that you are praying for them.  You may never know the impact that your words of encouragement to a young person has on his or her life.  To that end, please do not allow the lack of visible fruits to cause you to grow weary in the sowing of seeds.  Another insight that I have learned is that we are not to concern ourselves with the fruit itself, but with faithfulness to our callings as sowers.  I learned this from St. Paul who said: "I planted, Apollos watered, but it was God Who gave the growth"  (1 Cor. 3).  What a difference it will make to a young person who may be struggling to remember "that man or that woman is praying for me."

In the coming year, as the plans for the new school unfold, we will begin to see new families in worship.  While I very much want them to see our expanding ministry to children and youth, one of the most moving things for them to notice among us is how much our members love the children of our congregation.  In our culture, educational opportunities and fun activities can be found just about anywhere, but genuine love and concern is a more precious commodity.   

In Christ Jesus,       

Sermon - Mark 7:1–13 "We Did it Our Way"

To listen to the sermon, please click here.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Our new Burse and Chalice Veil set . . .

Dear Friends,

On Sunday, we will dedicate to God's service our new burse and chalice veil, which are given to the glory of God by Gloria Hereford in loving memory of her husband, Gerald.  This lovely set completes our green paraments and will adorn our altar for years to come. 

Paraments point us to the beauty of God's holiness and to the majesty of His glory.  Christian worship is a multi-sensory experience - we hear God's Word, feel the water of Baptism, taste the bread and wine which are Christ's true body and true blood delivered to us in the Lord's Supper, and we speak our praise and thanksgiving to God through word and song.  We also behold with our eyes the symbols of our faith and the space in which we worship.  For centuries, the Church has utilized the gifts of artisans to enhance our vision of God's transcendence in worship through art and architecture.  Along with murals and statuary, paraments (tapestries and other decorative coverings clothing the altar, pulpit, and lectern) have been used to enrich the beauty of our worship spaces.  Created in the color of the liturgical seasons, these adornments center our thoughts on the themes of the given season.

The burse and chalice veil serve the purpose of dignifying the sacred vessels which bear the body and blood of Christ when His Word is joined to the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper.  These vessels - the paten (plate) and chalice (cup) ought not to be placed upon the altar uncovered as if they were forgotten there by some absent-minded preacher, but clothed with rich garments befitting the sacred purpose for which they are used.  The name "burse" comes from the Latin word for purse.  This beautiful square, which sits atop the veiled chalice prior to the Lord's Supper, contains the small cloths (purificators) used for wiping the chalice during the distribution of the Lord's Supper.  The veil, reminiscent of the tabernacle which once clothed the altar of God in days of old, was first used during the Middle Ages when the chalice was carried into worship in procession with everything else needed for the service.

Our Divine Service is divided into two parts - the service of the Word and the service of the Sacrament.  As the pastor removes first the burse and then the chalice veil, worshippers are alerted to the transition that is occurring from one service to the other.  The service of the Sacrament begins as these are removed and the chalice (made for a glorious purpose) is unveiled.

In Christ Jesus,       

Sermon - John 6:51–69 "To Whom Shall We Go?"

To listen to the sermon, please click here.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Going to the Hospital?

Dear Friends,

We do not currently have anyone in the hospital.  Since this rarely happens, I am concerned that we may very well have someone in the hospital but I am not aware of their admittance.

One of the consequences of the laws passed to protect hospital patients' rights to privacy is that the hospitals do not routinely let congregations know when their members are hospitalized.  While hospital chaplains will sometimes give parish pastors a call, this is infrequent and not a reliable means of learning this information.  Consequently, I invite you to give me a call if you are going to be hospitalized or if you discover that one of our members has been hospitalized (I always protect my sources).  It is my pleasure to visit our members when they are in the hospital - to share God's Word, prayer, and the Lord's Supper with them.  Additionally, if you are going to have surgery - whether it is inpatient or outpatient - please let me know, as I would love to come to the hospital and pray with you prior to your procedure.  Over the years I have needed to leave my house at 3:30-4:00 a.m. a number of times in order to carry out this service and it was my good pleasure to do so - and so please do not worry that your surgery is too early for me to meet with you at the hospital on the morning of your procedure.  I typically arrive 20 to 30 minutes after the time when the patient is instructed to report to the surgical unit, and this allows me an opportunity to share Scripture and pray with the person at a time when they are simply waiting for nurses and anesthesiologists to look in on them.  God hears our prayers and His Word comforts us, and so it is very important to me to offer these gifts of God at such times.  Please feel encouraged to call me on my cell phone (day or night) if I may be of service to you.  May our good Lord bless you in every time of need.

In Christ Jesus,       

Sermon - Genesis 9:8–17, "Looking into the Eyes of God"

To listen to the sermon, please click here.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sermon - Mark 6:30–44 "Who Cares for You?"

To listen to the sermon, please click here.

Day Camp Begins Tomorrow!

Dear Friends,

Day Camp begins tomorrow!  I am very grateful to each of you for your generous support of our program.  God is giving us the opportunity to impact the lives of children in our city in a significant way this week.  The mission statement of our congregation is "Sharing the good news of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus Christ."  This is why we exist.  One of the things that I know about healthy and growing congregations is that they clearly articulate their mission and stick to it.  In these congregations, every decision is weighed according to whether or not it advances the mission.  Things that do not advance the mission become a "no" and things which do advance the mission become a resounding "YES!"  Becoming "mission centered" is a process which does not happen overnight.  However, every time we do things like Day Camp, I see us moving in that direction.

Please pray every day this week for our Day Camp - the counselors, volunteers, and especially the students.  Experiences like this in which children come to know their Savior can have eternal consequences for them.  Prayer is needed.  Moving forward in the Church often requires us to take a step back and reexamine our history.  Part of the drift that has occurred in Christianity in America in recent decades is that we have too frequently relied on ourselves and the programs we have developed to accomplish those things which God has promised to do.  When we read the book of Acts, we see that the Apostles and early church members bathed everything they did in prayer - knowing that it is our heavenly Father Who does the work if it is to succeed.  As we take up our work this week, may prayer be at the center of our efforts.

In Christ Jesus,       

Saturday, July 14, 2018

It's Your Birthday!

Dear Friends,

If I have never called you or sent you a message on your birthday or anniversary this means that the church does not have this information.  If this is the case, please let me know as I very much want to add you to my calendar.  While I pray for you on a regular basis and try to connect with you as much as possible, these special days in your life are an opportunity to make sure that I touch base with every one of our members in some way (call, text, Facebook, note) at least once or twice every year.  Additionally, I always pray for our members on those observances.  Our weeks go by quickly and I never feel like I have enough of time to reach out to everyone as much as I would like, but the discipline of reaching out to our members on those special days helps.

Each month, we publish in the newsletter the names of our members who are having birthdays and anniversaries.  While you probably do not know everyone well enough to feel comfortable giving them a call (although I don't think anyone would object to birthday wishes), please take a moment to pray for each of these persons when their birthdays and anniversaries roll around.  In the course of a year, you will be able to say that you prayed for every member of your congregation.  Imagine the feeling of knowing that every member of St. John's is praying for you on your birthday or wedding anniversary. 

In writing to the Christians in Rome, Paul encouraged them to "Love one another with brotherly [sisterly] affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor" (Romans 12:10).  If there is any group in our lives that should be surrounding us with love and encouragement it is our congregation.  When we read St. John's three letters and Gospel, we see the priority that God places upon love within the Christian community.  When we are at our best, our members find themselves saying "I don't know what I would do without my church."  May God bless you.

In Christ Jesus,       

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Letter to My Congregation Regarding Suicide . . . .

June 21, 2018

Dear Friends,

With the tragic deaths recently of fashion designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain, our nation is beginning to speak again about suicide.  Both of these talented people ended their lives by their own hands.  Many groups have redoubled their efforts to reach out to everyone who may find themselves in similarly dark places.  Expressions of great care are being offered. 

It is also a fitting time for pastors to speak to their members about suicide.  In our installations, we pledge to care for the souls for which each of us must give an account to Christ Jesus on the Last Day.  The care of souls involves teaching the “whole counsel of God” (as Paul describes it in Acts 20:27), which is to say teaching both God’s Law and God’s Gospel.  We not only comfort terrified consciences with the news that Christ upon the Cross has died in their place and answered for their sins, but we must also confront our members with the truth of their sins – which by the work of the Holy Spirit leads to repentance and hearing the message that Christ has died for their sins.  Just like with my other sins, I must also repent daily of where I have fallen short in this sacred duty.

I thank God, that by His Grace, I have never taught that suicide is an unforgivable sin.  This doctrine, drawn from the bowels of Hell, has robbed so many families of God’s comfort for so many centuries that it makes one retch to think of it.  This disgusting lie spewed from the mouths of fools has as its argument that since murder (even of oneself) is a sin, and as one is not alive afterward to ask for forgiveness, they then are damned without reprieve.  To follow this same logic is to say that any of us who die without having confessed our sins first will be sentenced to Hell despite our having faith that Jesus died in our place and answered for our sins.  When we get to the place where our repentance, or lack thereof, supplants Christ’s death for us (and the gift of Grace given by the Spirit which has caused us to believe it) we have lost our minds.

In a conversation at the dinner table centuries ago, Martin Luther provided the best Christian teaching on suicide that I have ever heard, when he said “I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil. They are like a man who is murdered in the woods by a robber.”  (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 29).

There have been times when I have walked with families wrestling with a loved-one’s suicide.  The anguish and tortured guilt of the person’s family and friends is unbearable.  The assurance that they sought from me was to know that the person whom they loved was not in Hell.  The torments of the devil are so pervasive that assuring such mourners is not an easy task, particularly when they have heard over and over again that suicide is an unforgivable sin.

Christ Jesus has died for all of the sins of all people who believe in Him.  God’s forgiveness is granted to us not on the basis of how impressive our repentance is, but on the basis of His Son’s death upon the Cross.  As I have already said – and feel that it bears repeating – the notion that suicide is a sin more damning than others because the person is rendered unable to repent is founded upon a logic that is just ungodly.  Our forgiveness rests upon the merits of Christ – His innocent suffering and death for sinners.  Paul sums it up in Colossians 2:13-14: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”  One’s suicide is not evidence of having renounced one’s faith, but the renouncement of the precious gift of life.  The suicide of one who believes in Christ Jesus is not substantiating evidence that they no longer believed and trusted in Christ Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of their sins.

While we can - and must - say that all who have died trusting in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins shall inherit eternal life, this does not negate the responsibility of those who kill themselves for the harm that they have caused their loved-ones.  Wracked with guilt, family and friends begin to accuse themselves saying “if only I had . . . .“  While I try hard to convince them that they were not responsible – the self-accusations often persist.  I have learned in these circumstances that the only thing that we can do is to go to the foot of the Cross with our guilt.  Sometimes in order to find peace, it is needful for us to confess our litanies of the “if only I would have . . . then this wouldn’t have happened” thoughts and hear the message that Christ Jesus has died for these assumed failings.  Repentance and forgiveness is the gift of God which brings healing to troubled consciences – it doesn’t excuse the guilt we feel, or explain it away, it removes it from us in the all-cleansing fountain of Christ’s shed-blood.   

As the one currently entrusted with the care of your soul, I invite you to speak with me about these matters.  I encourage you to talk with me if you are carrying guilt for someone else’s death.  I plead with you to call me if you ever get to the place where going on doesn’t seem possible.

In Christ Jesus,

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Learning Joy . . .

Dear Friends,

Last week, I was sitting in my car in a parking lot checking my calendar to see where I was headed next when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a little bird playing in a puddle.  He would wade into the puddle, splash about in the water, and then fly the short distance back to the curb.  He repeated this exercise over and over again.  Fortunately, I had a few minutes to spare and so I sat there mesmerized as this little bird enjoyed some pool time.  Watching him or her [I'm not a bird expert] play brought so much joy to me.

I enjoyed another wonderful moment yesterday.  I stopped by the church between visits to retrieve something from my office when two children who attend our Sunday School stopped by to talk with me.  Before they left, each one, in turn, gave me a hug and told me that they loved me.  I hugged them back and told them that I love them - and I do.  Again, I was filled with so much joy.

I suspect that you have similar moments in your daily life.  Are you able to stop and savor them - and see the hand of God blessing you through them?  I am not always able to do this, but I want to grow in this regard.  I want to have my perspective shifted to where I see more of the good in the world around me and less of the ugly.  That does not mean that I am buying a pair of rose-colored clip-ons [I already wear glasses] and pretend that everything in this world is lovely.  What it does mean is that I pray that the Holy Spirit will help me to notice all of the little wonderful things in my life and stop obsessing over that which is depressing.

When St. Paul was writing to the Christians in Philippi, he said to them, "Finally, brothers [and sisters], whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  (Philippians 4:8).  Paul does not deny the prevalence of things impure, ugly, despicable, etc. - but he encourages them to seek out what is good and focus on them.  I am convinced that whatever holds your attention will multiply in your life.  If we obsess about the disappointing, we will have more disappointment.  If we focus all of our attention on what is awful, we will see an increasing number of awful things.  Perhaps if we think more often about what is good in the world, we will notice more of the good, thus seeing more glimpses of God at work in our fallen world.

I want to leave you with a few more words from Paul's letter to the Philippians.  Please note that Paul was in prison when he wrote: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice."  (Philippians 4:4).

In Christ Jesus,       

Sermon - Mark 3:20-35 "An Unforgivable Sin?"

To listen to the sermon, please click here.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Our Wednesday evening Bible Classes . . .

Dear Friends,

Following Bible Class last night, Dawn and I reflected on how wonderful it is to have so many people attend our Wednesday evening Bible study.  It is exciting to a pastor to see a desire among his people to grow in their learning of God's Word.  I cherish your commitment to our Lord and to His Church.  The Bible is unlike any other book or writing - in that through the continual work of the Holy Spirit upon the reader it remains a living Word through which God speaks to us.  For this reason, my goals for our Bible class are two-fold.  In the first place, I want to take us on a journey through the whole Bible so that we have a good sense of the complete narrative of Scripture.  Secondly, I want to provide instruction, as we go along, in how to read the Bible.  There are a lot of tips for careful reading that can be gleaned best by example, and so where possible I want to highlight them.  While I am grateful that I had the opportunity to study Greek and Hebrew, I am deeply concerned that the Church's emphasis upon having a well-educated clergy can inadvertently mislead Christians into thinking that they are ill-equipped to study the Bible for themselves.  This mindset discourages people from studying the Scriptures at home and worse yet - confining oneself to reading books about the Bible instead of the Bible itself.  My commitment to you is that if you attend Bible class regularly, you will have the skills and confidence to study the Bible on your own.  Even if you have seldom ever read the Bible previously, this precious gift will be yours.

This is the first time that I have used a lecture format for Bible class.  While an open discussion format has been the norm for Bible study for at least the last 40 years, I have become convinced that many people stay away because they are afraid that they do not know enough about the Scriptures in order to participate in the discussion and so they will be embarrassed.  Many people are not comfortable reading aloud in a group and so they do not attend Bible studies because they do not want to endure the discomfort of either reading aloud or making excuses for passing.  I have been sensitive to these concerns for years and have made some adjustments like only asking for volunteers to read and reassuring church members that we all have a lot to learn.  It hasn't worked.  When what you are doing is not working it is time to try something else.  Each week, I prepare a lesson that I deliver from the front of the room.  Those who attend are not asked to read or respond to questions.  Members are invited to listen to the lecture and join me in saying the Lord's Prayer at the end.  I hope that you will feel comfortable to join us for a weekly study of God's Word and that you will feel encouraged to invite a friend or relative to attend with you.  We meet every Wednesday at 5:30 pm. 

In Christ Jesus,       

Sermon - Mark 2:23–28 "You Call that Work?"

To listen to the sermon, please click here.

Friday, June 1, 2018

I love Ordinary Time . . .

Dear Friends,

This morning, the altar, pulpit, and lectern are all fronted with green fabric; and the stole over my neck is also green.  These beautiful green paraments have been in drawers and the vestment closet since before Lent began.  They adorn our chancel now, as we resume "ordinary time" in the Church. 

I have noticed over the years that Church publications increasingly shy away from speaking about "ordinary time."  Perhaps this is because "ordinary" has taken on a negative connotation in our common speech.  To be "ordinary" is less than good in contemporary parlance.  And yet, "ordinary" is intended merely to describe the way things typically are.  Whether we realize it or not, popular marketing affects more than our purchasing habits.  It also changes our attitudes and usage of language.  Commercials and print ads seduce us into believing that every day and everything we possess must be extraordinary.  The truth is that if everything is extraordinary - nothing is extraordinary.  If everything is special - then nothing is special.

If our Lord's Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection are to be accentuated by the flow of the Church Year, then there must be a baseline from which certain observances spring to life.  Our forebears who contributed to the development of the Church Year had a real sense of this.  When we examine closely the seasons of our year, we see the two pinnacles of Christmastide and Eastertide as distinguished from the other seasons.  Advent is a preparatory season readying us for a robust celebration of our Lord taking on our flesh at Christmas, and Lent prepares our hearts and minds to receive Holy Week and Easter as the supreme gifts of God's love which they are.  The other two seasons - Sundays after Epiphany and Sundays after Pentecost - unapologetically present themselves as what the life of the Church typically looks like.  These seasons are marked with the green paraments - a powerful symbol of growth and renewal.  Just as our faith which seizes upon the joy of what God in Christ has done for us produces the good fruit of service to our neighbors - the celebrations of Christmas and Easter inspire seasons of continual growth in our knowledge of God and His love for us.

I love ordinary time because it is what allows the festival seasons (Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter) and their accompanying preparatory seasons (Advent and Lent) to be special.  May this rather lengthy season of green (extending through November) be a time of continual growth and renewal for you as a disciple of Christ Jesus.  May this season of nurture and consistency prepare your heart to receive Advent and Christmas with longing and wonder.  "Ordinary" in the Church's worship isn't suboptimal or uninteresting, it is the regular state of celebrating the extravagant love which God always delights in lavishing upon us.

In Christ Jesus,

Sermon - Isaiah 6:1–8 "Isaiah's Unclean Lips are Gone, but His Voice Remains"

To listen to the sermon, please click here.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Our Holy Week Observances and Easter Celebrations . . .

Palm Sunday—Sunday, March 25th:  9:00 am—Divine Service in English and 6:00 pm Divine Service in Spanish.  These services will include the distribution of palms, as we remember our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Maundy Thursday—Thursday, March 29th, 6:30 pm— Divine Service.  On this holy night, we will recall our Lord’s final meal with His disciples in which He instituted the Holy Communion in which you and I share His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.  This service has “fallen on hard times” in our churches in recent years, but it is one of the most sacred and meaningful gatherings of worshipers during the Church Year.  Please consider gathering with your Church family for this special service.

Good Friday—Friday, March 30th, 12 Noon through 3:00 pm—Tre Ore Service.  This annual service observed together with our LCMS sisters and brothers throughout the Stateline area will be held at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Rockton (511 W Rockton Rd, Rockton, IL ).  As the Church keeps vigil at the foot of the Cross during  the hours of darkness in our Lord’s Passion, we will hear sermons from the pastors of our churches and experience wonderful anthems presented by our choirs.

Easter Sunday—Sunday, April 1st
7:45 am:  Easter Breakfast Potluck—members whose last names begin with “M” through “Z” are asked to bring a breakfast main course item to share, while members whose last names begin with “A” through “L” are asked to bring a breakfast dessert or fruit dish.
9:00 am:  Divine Service for Easter
10:30 am:  Easter Egg Hunt in the Gym.  All children (including high school students) are invited to participate.  In the coming weeks, members are invited to bring in wrapped candies which will be placed in the plastic eggs that we have retained from previous years.  We are grateful for everyone’s generosity!
6:00 pm:  Divine Service for Easter in Spanish.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Pursuit of Sinners by a Forgiving and Reconciling God . . . .

Dear Friends,

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,
D.M. Roser

1 Samuel 3:1-10 "God Comes to Us"

To listen to the sermon, please click here.