Sunday, June 16, 2019
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Please plan to join us on Monday, June 17, at 1 pm in the Fellowship Hall for a time of conversation. We have planned a more informal conversation in the Fellowship Hall this time, rather than a formal presentation, in order to give you the opportunity to get to know him better and ask questions.
Even if you cannot be with us on Monday, please continue to pray for the Wildauers, as they continue their ministry in Togo. God is using Pastor Wildauer and his family mightily to equip men in that region for Word and Sacrament ministry among God's people whom they will serve. Although we announce their birthdays and anniversary in our newsletter calendar throughout the year, I want to share them here for you to place on your own calendar. As you know from my pastoral practice here, praying for one another on special days is part and parcel of how we live together as Church.
Micah – April 27
Robin – Aug. 22
Samuel – Aug. 31
Elizabeth – Nov. 15
David – Oct. 13
Lydia – May 11
Wedding Anniversary: June 28
Sunday, June 9, 2019
Friday, June 7, 2019
readings calendar in our servicebook. The schedule that we follow is the 3-year lectionary of the
Lutheran Service Book. Each of the three year’s reading schedules is organized around one of the first
three Gospels (or biographies of Jesus) - Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This is because the first three
Gospels are similar to one another in what they cover, while John’s Gospel is much more unique in
what he covers. For this reason, a fourth year of readings in which the gospel lessons are drawn almost exclusively from John would not work as it would lack a lot of the content that Matthew, Mark, and Luke cover. Additionally, without readings from John each year, the other three years would have a lot of gaps. Consequently, each year our Gospel lessons switch back and forth between Matthew, Mark, and Luke and include a number of readings from John for every year.
Beginning on Sunday, December 1st, our weekly Gospel lessons will switch from Luke to Matthew. In order to help our members and friends get the most out of our services in the coming year, our
Wednesday afternoon Bible class will study one chapter of Matthew’s biography of Jesus each week.
Our first session will begin this Wednesday - June 12 - at 5:30 pm. We hope that you will plan to
come and bring a friend.
Our summer schedule is as follows . . .
June 12 - Matthew 1
June 19 - Matthew 2
July 3 - Matthew 3
July 17 - Matthew 4
July 24 - Matthew 5
July 31 - Matthew 6
Aug 7 - Matthew 7
Aug 21 - Matthew 8
Aug 28 - Matthew 9
Sept 4 - Matthew 10
Sept 11 - Matthew 11
Sept 18 - Matthew 12
A very thoughtful post about a heart-wrenching story . . . . Please click here.
Sunday, June 2, 2019
Friday, May 31, 2019
Additionally, Jim Reseburg of Trinity Church has volunteered to attend our usher meeting here at St. John’s. During a recent conversation among pastors and lay leaders of our circuit, Jim offered his services to our congregations. Following the conversation event, I asked him if he could send me some helpful tips that I could share with our ushers at an upcoming usher’s meeting. Instead of sending me some tips, he offered to attend the meeting with us and to walk us through some best practices in church safety. Jim serves as the CEO of Emergency Planning Solutions (EPS). “EPS is an emergency management consulting firm specializing in institutions of higher education, K-12, business, government, and healthcare. In business since 2008, EPS has provided service to over 300 colleges and universities, school systems, local municipalities, national professional organizations, and FEMA” (http://www.epsamerica.com). We will be meeting with Jim here in the sanctuary of St. John’s on Tuesday, June 18 at 6:30 pm. We not only invite our ushers to attend but anyone who is interested in learning more about church safety.
Like any other important topic, church safety is not accomplished by a single “one and done” discussion. Following our meeting on June 18, we will schedule another meeting to hear the insights that Jeff Vander Kooi has gained and to consider policies which may assist us in preserving St. John’s as a safe place in which to worship, learn, and fellowship.
Monday, May 27, 2019
Friday, May 24, 2019
Please check out our links below.
Sunday, May 19, 2019
Saturday, May 18, 2019
"In bunkers and fighter jets, on battleships and bases, in field hospitals and training camps, the men and women of the United States Armed Forces stand at the ready in service to our country. With them are the 160 active and Reserve LCMS Armed Forces Chaplains stationed around the world. These pastors proclaim the Word of life, in environments often shrouded in death. Their flocks frequently come and go, providing scant opportunity for longterm ministry. Their work takes place in some of the most difficult situations any pastor could ever face, where lives can be unraveled in an instant. Upholding these faithful servants is the Ministry to the Armed Forces (MAF), the LCMS effort to care for and support military chaplains and, through them, our LCMS members and their families in uniform. The MAF exists to recruit, prepare, endorse and support LCMS chaplains in their service to God and country. Authorized by the Synod and registered with the Department of Defense, Chaplain Craig Muehler is the endorsing agent for LCMS military chaplains. There is a “lifelong marriage” between his office and the LCMS chaplains that includes ongoing contact and an annual visit with each chaplain. Through these visits and regular reports by phone and email, MAF helps the chaplains to stay connected with their church. Each year, MAF gathers the chaplains at one of two training seminars, providing a rich opportunity for Lutheran worship, fellowship and study with LCMS seminary professors. Training and conversation is focused on the unique challenges of military chaplaincy. Operation Barnabas, an extension of MAF, provides a network of care through trained congregations that want to reach out to members of the military, their families and the veterans in their congregations and communities. Operation Barnabas has worked with dozens of congregations, but we realize hundreds more congregations also are caring for military families. We ask you to contact us, so we can recognize your work and encourage you as you serve military families. America’s sons and daughters are in harm’s way in faraway lands, and our chaplains go with them. Their families wait in our communities, where the people of God support and care for them in our life together."
As fellow members of the LCMS, you and I share in this important ministry to the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces. As these individuals place themselves daily in harm's way in order to protect us and our freedoms, it is a privilege for our Church to minister to their spiritual needs. Please pray for this ministry frequently, as you remember all of our service members in your prayers.
Saturday, May 11, 2019
This week, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to our Women’s Guild. Even before I had a chance to ask our ladies to help our youth group fund our trip to the National Youth Gathering this summer, they decided to donate the proceeds of Tuesday’s Scoopie Night to the Youth Group. Given my long track record of asking them to help fund various projects in the congregation, I am sure that they were expecting my request anyway. All kidding aside, I really want to thank them for their kindness and generosity. We were also blessed by the many people who came into dine and pick up food at Culver’s on Tuesday. A special word of thanks is offered to two buses of student-athletes from the Clinton High School. The turn-out was so wonderful for this event that Culver’s will be donating in excess of $1,600.00 to our Women’s Guild. Due to the generosity of many members and our previous fundraisers, only $935.92 of our bill remains for the gathering. We will still need to purchase matching T-shirts for each day of the gathering from our Stateline Youth Group and some other necessary expenditures, but our remaining costs should not exceed $1,150.00 (the $935.92 gathering bill is included). I say “remaining costs” because we have already paid for our bus fare and registration fees. This is a great burden lifted from me as I have not had enough available time to lead us in the fundraising events that I would have liked. I cherish everyone’s support and generosity!
Have I ever called, texted, or messaged you on your birthday or anniversary? If the answer is no, then this means that we do not have your birthday and anniversary dates in our membership program. Please let me know, as it means a lot to me to pray for our members and connect with them in some way on these special occasions. The Lord has blessed us with a wonderful church family and I want very much to nurture it in every way possible.
Sunday, May 5, 2019
I thank God for your commitment to our Lord and to His Church. On Easter Sunday, there were 124 persons in worship with us. This is the highest attendance that we have seen since I joined you in July 2015. What makes this number so significant is that we only have 119 members and nearly 20 of them are homebound. We saw the same level of commitment throughout our midweek Lenten series and also during Holy Week. For a congregation to have an average Sunday worship attendance of 72 and to post worship numbers in the high 30’s for midweek services - this is very significant.
God has been very gracious to us over the last few years in terms of modest membership growth and tremendous faithfulness. Because of numerous deaths a couple of years ago, we are not any larger than we were previously, but our congregation trends significantly younger. Growth is measured in many ways - not only numerically. In fact, the spiritual growth of a congregation is always my greatest concern. Our members are not only faithful in their worship attendance, but also in participating in the various Bible studies that we offer. I love to hear from our homebound members that various members from the congregation have stopped in to visit them. I also value our members’ service to the Beloit community. St. John’s is well-represented in the various volunteer opportunities in Beloit.
When our Board of Finance drafted our 2019 budget, I was anticipating our running a deficit from January through June, but this is May and our finances (although limited) are still in the “positive.” How did this happen? - many of our members have grown in their giving this year. Additionally, our members are particularly faithful in making up for lost offerings when they haven’t been able to attend worship. I am humbled by your generosity.
As I look forward to all of the good things that will come as we launch our new school, I do not take for granted the good things that God is doing among us right now. I encourage you in your prayers this week to please give thanks to God for all of the blessings that He has granted to our congregation.
In Christ Jesus,
Sunday, April 28, 2019
Wednesday, April 24, 2019
On Wednesday, May 1, beginning at 5:30 pm in the Sanctuary, we will begin our Everyone His Witness workshops. There is still space available, so please join us! This everyday evangelism program was developed to equip church members to live out their calling as witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ. As we prepare to begin our series, I want to share just two thoughts with you - one regarding inviting and one regarding the welcoming of visitors.
For congregation members, walking through the front door of the church is one of the easiest things that we do all week, but for visitors, it is very intimidating. When you invite your friends and family to join you for worship, please consider offering to pick them up or to meet them outside of the church. Visitors feel a lot more confident walking into the church with people they know than by themselves. It makes a huge difference to our guests when we offer to pick them up.
Of course, many visitors do indeed walk through our doors by themselves. However, this doesn’t mean that they have to sit by themselves. A wonderful way to welcome visitors is to introduce ourselves and to invite them to sit with us. Additionally, please ask an usher to give you a copy of the visitors’ worship booklet. This packet contains the whole service in one place so that they do not need to master the servicebook in their first outing.
Perhaps you have thought of some other ideas which will assist us in inviting and welcoming visitors to St. John’s. Please share your ideas with me in person or send me an email. Reaching others with the saving message of Christ Jesus is the common work in which we all have an important part to play.
Sunday, April 21, 2019
Friday, April 19, 2019
As we approach the passages which narrate the events of the first Easter, I believe that it is helpful for us to imagine the grief felt by Jesus’ family and friends after his death. If we are to appreciate the full impact of their wonder and joy at his Resurrection, we need to remember how much they must have been hurting prior to discovering the tomb empty. As I read these narratives, I imagine the women with pained expressions, darkened hearts, and low voices as they make their way to the tomb. Our Easter gospel this year outlines the following: “1But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.’” (Luke 24:1-7). The women received a message from the angels which changed everything - “he is not here, but has risen.” We see the compassion of the angels as they remind the ladies that Jesus had told them to expect these things. In verse 8, we read that they remembered Jesus’ words and went to announce it to the disciples and the rest of Jesus’ friends. The women and the disciples who beheld the risen Jesus that day got to experience what so many of us have longed for in our grieving - to have our loved one given back to us! When cast in this light, it is perhaps easier to understand their joy and amazement. Our yearly celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus is an important reminder to us that death does not win in the end. We continue our journey through the valley of the shadow of death, knowing that the day will come when we will again see those in Jesus whom we love. Our Easter celebrations are an appetizer before the heavenly banquet that will come when Christ Jesus obliterates death and ushers in the fulfillment of eternal life.
Sunday, April 14, 2019
Monday, April 8, 2019
We sometimes hear people say “religion is for the weak.” I whole-heartedly agree. I do not possess in myself the strength or resources to provide for myself, heal myself, or comfort myself but my heavenly Father does all of these things for me. His love shown to me is so powerful that I am not embarrassed to tell you that I am completely dependent on Him for everything. Since our culture values strength, personal achievement, and independence above all else it is often difficult for people to admit that they need anyone else beyond themselves. How many times have you seen others suffer unnecessarily because their pride prevented them from accepting another’s assistance? It wasn’t strength that you observed - but stubborn pride. When people claim not to need God and His precious gifts they are presenting a similar facade. As long as we remain convinced that we are doing a pretty good job of being god in our life we will not turn toward the true God Who loves us. It is only after the Holy Spirit, speaking through God’s Word, shows us our utter helplessness that we begin to find our trust in Him. In our weakness, we find God Who is the true source of strength. The Apostle Paul describes this well in 2 Corinthians: “8Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
We find our strength in Christ through the realization of our weakness because this is how God displays His power - under weakness. Paul explained this in his first letter to the Corinthians: “26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). Nowhere is this shown more fully than Jesus’ death upon the Cross. Stripped of his clothing, bleeding, and spit-upon, Jesus defeats the powers of sin, death, and the devil in giving up his life as a substitute for the eternal death that we deserve. It is difficult to imagine a more vulnerable and humiliating circumstance than our Lord upon the Cross - and there we see the supreme display of God’s power. Lest anyone doubt this - the Father raised him in victory on that first Easter. Jesus’ Resurrection confirms that he is who he said he is and has accomplished for us what he said he would.
Perhaps our consideration of these truths may reshape how we think about our weaknesses. Do we deny or hide our weaknesses? Do we try to act like we have it all together when nothing could be further from the truth? I encourage you to look upon God’s power saving you for eternity through the dying Jesus upon the Cross and to reconsider your weaknesses and sufferings. Instead of denying them let us acknowledge them before the Lord Who comforts and cares for the weak - because that is who we are - every single one of us. How freeing it is to lay all of our frailties and failings before the God Who cares for us and to receive His words of forgiveness, compassion, and strength. Jesus says “28Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Wednesday, April 3, 2019
Before ascending to the right hand of the Father, Jesus gave to his disciples the Great Commission: 19“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” By its very nature, this command is a perpetual ordinance in the life of the Church - disciples are called to make disciples who will then make disciples. The Holy Spirit has used this multiplication of disciples to spread saving faith in Christ Jesus to people all over the globe for over 20 centuries. During the last few centuries, the majority of people living in Europe and North America were baptized as children and raised in a Christian congregation. Consequently, the Church’s evangelism skills grew dull, with outreach typically consisting of inviting back people who had drifted away from the Church.
Today, surveys in the US indicate that 21% of our neighbors have no religious affiliation - with many of them having no previous experience with Christian worship. People need Jesus, who died in their place and answered for their sins if they are to be saved for eternity and enjoy the fruit of the Christian life in this age. However, as I am sure you have noticed, people are not seeking him out in significant numbers. This may feel like a new problem for the Church, but it’s actually an old problem that is resurging. In many respects, we are entering a day and age, not unlike the one inhabited by the disciples. This is the reason that the Great Commission declares “go, therefore . . . .” This has always been the mandate, but during those years when people were flocking to congregations, we became lazy about going out to seek the lost. The Church has awakened from her slumber, but we are often ill-equipped to reach out to our neighbors because we haven’t been doing it to any large extent. The Church who is entrusted with teaching the Great Commission is also responsible for equipping her members to be the witnesses whom God has called them to be in their baptisms.
The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has developed a wonderful program for helping Christians to speak with others about their faith in Christ Jesus. It is called “Every One His Witness” and teaches people how to speak confidently about their faith right in the context of their daily lives. This past December, a number of our members and I attended a one-day workshop on the program, presented by Pastor Burakowski. I was really impressed by how accessible and engaging the material is. In order to make this material available to more of our members, the Board of Membership and Evangelism are going to present the workshop over the course of six weeks - beginning on May 1st. The classes will be held in the sanctuary during our normal Bible class time of 5:30 pm on Wednesdays.
The classes are as follows:
May 1 - “Witnessing: What it's All About”
May 8 - “You are a Witness: What Does this Mean?"
May 15 - “Vocation and Witnessing”
May 22 - “Listen and Ask”
May 29 - “Seek and Share”
June 5 - “Invite and Encourage”
The congregation will provide the guidebook free-of-charge to those who attend and so we need to order them ahead of time. If you are interested in attending these workshops, please sign up on the sheet in the narthex. We hope that you will join us!
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Saturday, March 23, 2019
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
I have always enjoyed reading. I used to read one book at a time and stay with it until it was complete before starting to read something else. However, in recent years, I have found it helpful to read a few books simultaneously over a longer period of time. Sometimes this allows one book that I am reading to inform my thinking as I process what I am reading in another. The most important benefit is that I seem to learn more from each book when I read it in segments. Recently, I have been slowly making my way through Richard Eyer’s Pastoral Care Under the Cross. It has been a long time since I was in seminary and each of my skill sets can use some refreshing. A couple of weeks ago in my reading of this text, I came across the following gem that I would like to share with you.
Unlike the patient who, when all else fails, prays reluctantly and fatalistically “Thy will be done,” the Christian recognizes God’s will as a desired, confident, and joyful corrective of our bungling and frustrated efforts at determining what is best for us. To pray rightly “Thy will be done” is to trust that God’s intentions toward us are good and gracious. To pray for the will of God might be to ask ultimately for the opposite of what we want and to trust that the unknown quantity of His intention is tempered by love for us. (Eyer, Richard C.. Pastoral Care Under the Cross: Revised Edition . Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition).
What Eyer describes is a way of thinking about prayer that reflects deep spiritual maturity. While most of us don’t begin at this point in our journey it is hoped that we will grow toward it. In fact, I pray regularly that the Holy Spirit will nurture my spiritual growth that my praying may more closely reflect the will of our Father who invites us to pray to Him. I also pray for this for my children and for you. Prayer that trusts God to provide for what we need according to His discretion is one of the ways in which we entrust ourselves to God’s care and mercy. When it happens - the peace and joy that follow are nearly indescribable.
Since we are sinners this does not come easily to us. Sometimes we will be able to pray in a way that entrusts God with the result and other times we will feel a pressing need to voice our prayers with an accompanying list of instructions. This is what the process of spiritual growth looks like and we need to allow ourselves the space to improve. We should, however, be prepared for disappointment when our prayers come to resemble a list of demands rather than humble petitions. The Holy Spirit is still working on me in this regard. As we struggle with these matters, we can take comfort in Jesus’ words to his disciples after teaching them the Lord’s Prayer: “11What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13). Even if we fail to pray aright - God Who alone is faithful will provide what we need.
Sunday, March 17, 2019
Thursday, March 14, 2019
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
This year’s Holy Week and Easter Schedule is as follows:
Palm Sunday—Sunday, April 14th: 9:00 am—Worship Service with the Confirmation of Hunter Griinke, Mason Hoenig, and Sidney Roser. This service will include the distribution of palms as we remember our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Maundy Thursday—Thursday, April 18th, 6:30 pm— Worship Service. On this holy night, we will recall our Lord’s final meal with his disciples in which he instituted the Lord’s Supper that you and I share as we receive 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, April 19th, 12 Noon through 3:00 pm— Worship Service. This annual service observed together with our LCMS sisters and brothers throughout the Stateline area will be held at Messiah Lutheran Church in Beloit (1531 Townline Ave., Beloit). 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 21st
7:45 am: Easter Breakfast Potluck—members whose last names begin with “A” through “L” are asked to bring a breakfast main course item to share, while members whose last names begin with “M” through “Z” are asked to bring a breakfast dessert or fruit dish.
9:00 am: Easter Worship Service
Lent is a season of repentance and preparation for Holy Week and Easter. It is a time in which Christians are encouraged to examine their lives and repent of their sins - in order that we might more fully enjoy the forgiveness of sins won for us by the Lord Jesus in his death. While it is true that the Christian should be doing this every day - as sinners we fail to do this and forget the right relationship with Himself that God has so richly gifted to us. When we do not examine ourselves according to God’s Word and repent of our sins we deprive ourselves of the precious gift of the assurance of God’s forgiveness for the sake of Christ. The consequences are that we forget the Lord’s benefits given to us and lose our desire to receive these most-treasured gifts.
The sinner within us always wants to have our relationship with God on our terms and to have all of the attention focused upon what we are doing. However, the Christian faith has everything to do with what God has already done for us. For the sake of Jesus, who died in your place and answered for your sins, our Father in Heaven bids you “come and receive the gifts that I delight in giving to you.” For those who trust that these gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God are for them - the Holy Spirit will produce good works. Typically, the Holy Spirit brings forth good works from us for the sake of our neighbor. The Holy Spirit also creates a desire in us to cling more fully to Christ only. While we are certainly born anew in the Spirit through baptism, we also remain creatures of the flesh (see Romans 7). Frequently, the sinner within us rages like a demanding child who must hear a firm “no.” The practice of “giving up” certain pleasures during Lent is a form of fasting intended to aid us in disciplining the body.
Disciplining the body is to learn to resist some of our desires, so as not to be compulsively controlled by our flesh. HOWEVER, until our earthly life comes to an end, our sinful selves remain active and so it is a foolish and dangerous thing to presume that we can gain complete control over our flesh with its desires.
We do well, instead, to put our sinful flesh to death daily through repentance and trusting in the forgiveness granted to us for the sake of Christ Jesus. Knowing that we are sinners and our human wills are bound to sin, we pray that the Holy Spirit would work in us and upon us so that the new creation formed in us in baptism would arise again each day within us. That being said, many Christians find it beneficial to abstain from one or two of their enjoyments during the weeks of Lent – in order to experience the resisting of the body’s desires and to devote more time to prayer and study of the Holy Scriptures. Some people give up chocolate or sweets as a reminder that we do not need these things. These treats are simply gifts given to us by a gracious God Who loves us. Fasting from them reminds us that God, Who gives the gifts, is alone worthy of our devotion and craving.
If you find it meaningful to “give something up” during Lent, you are certainly free to do so. The Church’s only caution is that we do not somehow come to believe that God owes us something for our sacrifice. To think in this way is to believe that our sacrifice is a merit before God. If I believe that I have earned anything before God, I am denying the glorious merits of Christ who died for me - and my soul is in peril. Similarly, it is a devilish teaching to propose that all Christians must abstain from something during Lent - because that is to teach that we earn God’s favor. Any trust placed in what we have done or earned is an outright denial of the finished work of Christ on the Cross.
The Father’s love given to us in Jesus is a glorious thing to behold. Our old evil foe would deprive us of this joy at every turn, and one of his favorite ploys is to focus our attention upon what we are doing or not doing. I pray that during this blessed season of Lent that the Holy Spirit will work upon you to draw your attention to the finished work of Christ upon the Cross – and confirm in your hearts and minds that the gifts of God merited by him belong to you.
A final word about repentance: if our repentance does not produce in us the joy and freedom of knowing and believing that our sins are completely forgiven for our Lord’s sake – it is not Christian repentance. Our loving Father bids you to repent – so that you might know the inexhaustible joys of the grace accomplished through His Son’s death for you.
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Monday, March 4, 2019
Our congregation observes the traditional Christian practice of gathering for special Wednesday evening services in Lent. This year’s message series will take us through the book of the prophet Jonah.
Jonah, one of the twelve Minor Prophets, is a book about God’s compassionate work of rescuing sinners – not a book about Jonah or fish. In fact, as Reed Lessing points out in his wonderful commentary on Jonah, there are just 689 words in the book of Jonah – and 39 of them refer to God. In contrast to the frequency of references to God, Lessing reminds us that Jonah’s name appears only 18 times, and the fish – even less. This should not surprise us, as God is the subject of every passage of Scripture from Genesis through Revelation.
Our series will cover the following passages:
Week 1: Jonah 1:1-16 (Mar 13)
Week 2: Jonah 1:17-2:10 (Mar 20)
Week 3: Jonah 3:1-5 (Mar 27)
Week 4: Jonah 3:6-10 (Apr 3)
Week 5: Jonah 4 (Apr 10).
We will gather each Wednesday for supper at 5:30 pm in the downstairs of the church and then go upstairs to the sanctuary for our service - which begins at 6:30 pm. We hope that you can join us!
I want to share with you a fantastic excerpt from Lessing’s introduction:
“It is said that travel broadens the mind. The narrative of Jonah takes the unwilling prophet southwest to Joppa, northwest toward Tarshish, down into the belly of the fish, farther down into Sheol, eastward toward the great city of Nineveh, and then finally east of the city under a miraculous plant. This is a gasp-and-gulp journey, and joining him all the way is Yahweh [personal name of God revealed to Israel], who uses the trip to confront the uneven roads, unwanted rocks, and winding valleys of Jonah’s heart. The extent to which Jonah is changed by his travel remains uncertain—indeed, the narrative itself subtly ends with the notion that the journey is not yet over, for Jonah or for us! The adventure still awaits readers who recognize in Jonah a large part of themselves." (R. Reed Lessing, Jonah, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2007), xv.).
Sunday, March 3, 2019
Monday, February 25, 2019
I am at the place in my life where I need to write down most everything that I hope to remember - I should never have started using that Palm Pilot in 2001. Today, I use the task manager Todoist, the note-taking app Keep, and the document storage service Drive just to keep my thoughts, work, and life together. I also use a series of prayer lists in order to keep myself on track in my prayer life. When I tell you that I will be praying for you - it means that I will be adding your name to one of these lists.
Within my Bible software (Logos), that I open up each morning for my devotional Bible study, there is a prayer list feature. I have created various lists and the program places them before me on a rotating basis throughout the week. In addition to the prayer list that we have in our bulletin and specific people that I add to it for my prayers, I have lists for family, extended family, friends, ministries of our congregation and school, district & synod leaders and staff, our homebound members, our members who are in college and other schools, our members who are serving in the military, our staff and boards (as well as council), the pastors in our circuit, and a copy of the vows I made before God and you when I was installed as your pastor. Each morning, the program presents me with a few of these lists to pray through. As I pray through each list, I think about each person - with their particular joys and challenges. When I have no idea what those are it is a reminder that I need to invest a bit more time in that relationship. I also pray through our list of members from my contact list on my phone.
Do you maintain a prayer list? While this is not a necessity, it can be a real help. For me, it helps me to make better use of my prayer time. Just as my task list manager prevents me from wasting a lot of time each day trying to figure out what I should be working on, my prayer lists call to my memory the important persons and ministries that I want to include in my prayers. Instead of sitting there during my devotions and trying to think “who should I pray for?,” I am able to begin praying. I use my prayer lists during my morning prayers and at night I reflect on the day and think about who and what situations I need to take before our Lord before I sleep. It may be that my system will not work for you, and that is OK. I offer it here to stimulate your thinking about how you may structure your prayer life. I do know this for sure - if we are not intentional in our planning for prayer it will seldom happen - except for the 911 prayers that we utter in a crisis. Thinking that we will pray when we have some time to set aside for it is just wishful thinking.
Wednesday, February 20, 2019
As Paul winds down his first letter to the Thessalonians he gives them a number of instructions. One of them is: “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17). Perhaps what first enters our minds when we hear this is that one is commanded to start a prayer that has no end. Obviously, if this were the case, God would not bother to call us into vocations like spouse, parent, worker, etc. - because we wouldn’t be able to carry out these additional roles and responsibilities since all of our time would be occupied by our vocation to pray without ceasing. What Paul is actually instructing us Christians to do is to live our daily lives in such a way that prayer is never far from our hearts, minds, and lips. While it is important for us to set aside particular times during the day in which to pray, we should also be connecting with God during the intervals between these set times for prayer.
My daily rhythm of prayer is to pray through my prayer lists in the morning and then to pray at night for the prayer requests which have presented themselves to me during the day. However, there are many times throughout the day when I am praying for briefer periods of time - particularly as the Holy Spirit draws me into prayer. For example, I hear a weather report of a winter storm approaching. This is a time to pray for those who plow the roads, those who operate towing businesses, those who will be driving in the storm, emergency responders who will care for those affected by accidents, those whose work is done outdoors, and those who lack adequate shelter. This occurs for me in a variety of circumstance each day, but it didn’t always work this way for me - I had to learn how to become more attentive to the world around me in a prayerful way. If I can learn this - oblivious and absent-minded as I am - anyone can! The best place to begin is to look around you and ask “for whom (or for what situations) would God have me pray? The Holy Spirit who dwells in you will help you with this.
Interestingly, the editors of the Bible Knowledge Commentary point out that the word Paul used that we translate “without ceasing” or “constantly” was used in the Greek-speaking world to describe a “hacking cough.” When you are dealing with upper respiratory issues, do you need to remind yourself to cough? As the Holy Spirit with His gifts grows us toward spiritual maturity, may our praying to the Heavenly Father become as automatic to us as a hacking cough.
Thursday, February 14, 2019
When God delivered the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt and as He placed them in the promised land, He warned them that if they trusted and obeyed Him their lives would be protected and blessed with good things, but if they turned to other gods He would remove His protection from them and give them over to their enemies. After centuries of giving them small punishments for their disobedience, God finally gave the people into the hands of the Babylonians. In 586 BC, the Babylonians took the majority of Israel into captivity. There were at that time, lying prophets who told the people that they would be delivered shortly and everything would go back to normal. This was not true, because God had not sent them. However, God had sent Jeremiah to them with a message about these things - which is recorded in Jeremiah 29:4-12.
"4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord. 10“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.”
Our culture has changed dramatically during the course of just a few decades - and it’s going to change much more in the years to come. Congregations, which were once the center of their communities’ lives, now feel like they have been left behind in a foreign land. Churches who used to set up folding chairs in the aisles now struggle to keep their doors open. It is normal for us to feel hurt and defensive. However, indulging these feelings for too long is of no benefit to the Church or the world around us whom God has called us to serve.
God’s message to the Jews in their exile may also be applied to the Church in our day: “. . . seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” God calls us to pray for our communities and to do everything that we can for their good. This is an important witness for the Church in our age. How common is it today for people to do things for others when they don’t have to? How many people in our city feel lost, forgotten, and cut off from God? While it is tempting to begin making a list of all of the things that we might do to serve our community - and that’s good - it is important that we begin first by seeking Beloit’s welfare before God in prayer.
Of course, our efforts on their behalf do not stop there - but they should always begin there. God will show us what He would have us do. Pray that God would burden your heart with His mission in our city. And remember the words God also spoke through Jeremiah to the exiles: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” As Jesus invites us into the work he is doing in our city, we will most likely experience some changes in how we do things, but also a life together that is increasingly meaningful and of much benefit to our neighbor. Finding ourselves surrounded by a culture that we no longer easily identify with is disheartening, but finding ourselves engaged in the work God is doing - although feeling foreign to us - is one of the greatest joys this life offers.
Sunday, February 10, 2019
The first thesis of Martin Luther’s 95 theses is as follows: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
An important distinction that needs to be made regarding repentance is that it is not a work that we do, but a work that is done upon us by God. As we hear God’s Law (His commands and demands) in Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit works repentance in us and upon us. Confronted with our sins and being brought to the awareness that we rightly stand under God’s just judgment, we are grieved for what we have done and appeal to God for mercy for the sake of Jesus’ blood shed for us. Left to ourselves, we would forget all about God’s demand that we be holy and perfectly obedient to His Law, and thus we would reach the false conclusion that we are living a pretty good life and that God knows we are trying our best.
Apart from the Holy Spirit working through God’s Law to show us our sin and lostness, we would face the peril of unrepentance – which is always the danger when we think that we are acceptable to God in and of ourselves. Repentance is, therefore, a gift which the Spirit works in us that we might gladly hear the good news (Gospel) that Christ Jesus has died in our place and answered for our sins. The Holy Spirit also works in us and upon us through the word of the Gospel (God’s gracious promises), which creates in us the faith to believe that all of our sins have been forgiven for the sake of Jesus’ sacrifice for us upon the Cross.
If we are saved on the Last Day, it is because the Holy Spirit has worked through God’s Word of both Law and Gospel so that we may believe in the Savior who has merited our forgiveness and salvation upon his Cross. Thus, the call to repentance is to receive in ourselves the working of the Spirit through the Holy Scriptures. You received the Spirit when you were baptized, pray that He may accomplish in you the gifts of repentance and faith that lead to eternal life, for Jesus’ sake.
Monday, February 4, 2019
I am very thankful for the receptionists at Beloit Memorial Hospital who often call me when our members are hospitalized. Their faithfulness and kindness are unparalleled. While I am very grateful for their calls, there have been a number of occasions when our church members were hospitalized there without my knowing. Additionally, Beloit Memorial is the only hospital who calls me when members are admitted. 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. 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. Therefore, it is very important to me to offer these gifts of God to you. 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.
Sunday, February 3, 2019
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
When I was a young boy in the late 70s and early 80s, baseball cards were a huge deal. Growing up in a rural area, our bus ride to school each day took just under an hour. In the spring of the year, we would spend nearly the entire time trading baseball cards. Trading among our group was relatively easy because each of us followed a different team. In addition to my beloved Phillies; the Pirates (our home team), Yankees, Royals, Red Sox, Tigers, Dodgers, and Expos were all represented. What I don’t remember is anyone ever trashing someone else’s team. It’s not that we were so good and respectful (we weren’t), it’s that trash-talking wasn’t really a thing among young boys at that time. I miss the days in which it was almost the expectation that everyone was going to have a different team and people didn’t feel compelled to run their faces about it. Not so today!
Unfortunately, people speaking rudely about rival sports teams is far from being our most pressing problem. We live in a culture which hates diversity. The only time we hear people championing diversity is when they are trying to gain acceptance for their worldview. Once acceptance is achieved, the slow march toward subverting and denying other perspectives begins. It seems like once a viewpoint gains legitimacy, those who possess it seek to destroy all other points of view.
I am astounded by how hateful our society has become. People who were once good friends choose to hate each other’s guts over their political viewpoints, preferred news outlets, etc. It is truly astonishing to see the media celebrating the latest f-bomb or hateful remark made by our elected officials. These people are leading the way in our culture’s race to the bottom, and their fans cheer them on. Americans today enjoy the highest levels of education seen in our history and yet demonstrate a level of ignorance that would have made the barbarians jealous. We live in a culture that glorifies vulgarity and meanness.
Not so for the Christian! While the Church has become relatively shy when it comes to teaching our members about the claims that God makes on their lives - those claims are real nonetheless. God demands something better from His people than the arrogance and ignorance that so marks us as Americans. I can shrug off the ignorance of our elected officials, entertainers, and sports figures, but I can’t abide it from Christians. What causes my blood to boil is to hear people say “Christians are no different than anyone else, we just know that we’re forgiven.” LIE! BALD-FACED LIE! That is the very pinnacle of ignorance! If one actually believes that for the sake of Jesus’ death in their place upon the Cross that they are forgiven - their lives will be different. Faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ who takes away our sins produces love for God, love for the ways of God, and love for our neighbors for whom Jesus died.
The world needs Christians, but not the unchanged lip-service-giving variety - nobody needs them because they don’t bring anything new to the table. If you read the history of western civilization you discover that there was a time when it was completely acceptable to leave unwanted children without necessary care so that they would die, women were not considered full-fledged people, education was not to be wasted on the poor, unspeakable sexual violence was committed against children, the enslavement of other people was commonly practiced (including in the US), and there was no such thing as charity. While disgusting remnants of these evils remain to this day, a lot has changed. What brought about these changes? - CHRISTIANITY. Christians working within their societies is what changed the world for the better.
For those who have received the Holy Spirit and believe the good news that Jesus has died in their place, they have been made “salt” and “light” for the sake of a tasteless, rotting, and dark world. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus doesn’t say “you need to become salt and light” - he says “you are salt and light.”
In Jesus’ day, there were no refrigerators. Without salt, food spoiled much more quickly. Consequently, there were periods in history when salt was as valuable as gold - look it up. Of course, we also know that salt is used to flavor food. A pinch of salt can turn something bland (think broccoli) into something very tasty. Living in Wisconsin in the winter gives us the opportunity to experience a lot of darkness. Don’t you love it when it starts staying light longer in the day, particularly after daylight savings time has kicked in? As “salt,” we add significant value to the world around us - including the preservation of a society which is fixated on destructive behaviors and attitudes. As “light,” we speak the truth lovingly to a world in which “good” is called “evil” and “evil” is called “good.”
Our society is experiencing a crisis in how we understand our humanity. Issues such as sexuality, gender, abortion, and euthanasia appear to many people to be all but settled. However, the God Who made us knows what is best for us and His Word outlines a different future. America’s prevailing worldview is destroying people. Study after study by sociologists, psychologists, and pediatricians reveal that the prevailing worldview in America is damaging to children, men, women, and the institutions which undergird a healthy society. People around us need the truth that we have to share, but they will only hear it when they see us as people of credibility. When we act as ignorant and mean as everyone else, we destroy our credibility before a watching world. Being salt and light is to engage others in ways that are loving, winsome, and honest - Christlike. Believe it or not, the people around us are waiting for the Christians to return to our task of speaking the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15).
Thursday, January 24, 2019
We have had a number of winter weather events recently - they used to call them snowstorms, but we have moved to less terrifying language, I guess. Snowy days and other winter weather conditions can present motorists with risks that should be avoided whenever possible. To that end, we urge our members to exercise caution when choosing to attend worship and other parish activities during such conditions. Since we have no way of alerting all worshipers of cancellations, I do not cancel worship services. Of course, exceptions to this policy will be made when there is a safety concern in the building, itself. However, I do not want worshipers and worship leaders to “gamble” with their safety, and perhaps their lives, in order to attend worship when roadway conditions advise against it. This is to say, regardless of the weather, I will always be present to offer worshipers God’s Word through Scripture reading and preaching, and the Lord’s Supper. This does not mean that anyone else is expected to be present when weather conditions present serious challenges to your safe arrival. In terms of other activities, we will make every possible effort to inform members of cancellations. Also, the St. John's Snow Shoveling Academy is now accepting applications for next semester. Financial aid is available to those who qualify.
Wednesday, January 23, 2019
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
I have been very grateful to people over the years who have told me about a service or product that would help me and then said: “make sure to tell them that I sent you and they will give you a discount.” There have also been times when someone I knew was looking for employment and I referred them to someone else I knew and said: “please feel welcome to use my name.” This courtesy that we offer one another frequently opens doors which might have otherwise been closed to us. You may be surprised to learn that Jesus tells us to use his name. While it is unlikely to get you a discount or a job - in many places in the world it will get you tortured and killed - it will draw our heavenly Father’s ear to your prayers.
In his biography of Jesus, John quotes Jesus when he said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” (John 16:23b). At first glance, it sounds like Jesus is saying that God will do whatever we want as long as we ask in Jesus’ name. Because we are sinners and really want a genie from a lamp to grant our every wish, most of the attention that has been given to this verse has been spent explaining that God answers prayer according to His Will - not ours. There are some important lessons to be learned by following that line of thought. However, our preoccupation with this can cause us to miss something very important that Jesus is also teaching - Jesus’ name is the route through which we must approach our heavenly Father. Jesus promises that the Father will hear us when we pray in his name. Incidentally, there are no guarantees that the Father will give attention to our prayers if we are not praying in Jesus’ name.
This may sound kind of harsh - mostly because we so often downplay how our sins affect our standing before God. When I look at my life - the things I have done, thought, and said - I recognize that the only place I have before God is as one who stands condemned. Can you imagine a convicted felon standing before the judge and saying “hey judge, can you do me a favor?” The court would erupt in uncontrollable laughter. And so it is with me when I stand on my own before God. But when I approach God in the name of Jesus, everything changes. Jesus carried out every command of the Father perfectly, and in our baptisms, God has placed Jesus’ perfectly obedient life over our messed-up sinful ones. Consequently, you and I can stand before God and speak to Him because we are standing under the credentials of our Lord Jesus.
I don’t want us to leave this discussion before reminding you that the Father’s love for us is such that He sent Jesus to do all of it - every bit of it. If we don’t remind ourselves of this, we begin thinking of the Father and Son as “good cop - bad cop.” For a lot of people, this is how they think of the Trinity - the Father is an angry judge and Jesus is really nice and softens Him up for us. Nothing could be further from the truth! When you see the loving and wonderful things Jesus says and does - you are glimpsing the very heart of the Father.
Jesus lays on us an amazing gift - to use his name - let us use it often, to the place where we realize that we are on a first-name basis with the Father Who loves us.