Beloit, WI

Beloit, WI
photo by Rod Gottfredsen

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The true meaning of Christmas . . . .



















Dear Friends,

In the wonderful holiday cartoon special “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Charlie Brown sets out on a frequently disappointing quest to understand the meaning of Christmas.  It appears that everyone else is finding fulfillment in their Christmas activities, but for Charlie – there is only emptiness.  He looks into his empty mailbox, totally bereft of Christmas Cards and packages, and laments how this time of year only brings into sharper focus the reality that no one really likes him.  Walking through his backyard, he stumbles upon Snoopy – who is feverishly nailing Christmas lights to his doghouse in the hopes that he may be awarded a large cash prize for his efforts in the Christmas Display contest.  To this humorous spectacle, Charlie groans, “even my own dog has gone commercial.”  He seeks the “psychiatric” counsel of Lucy, who charges him a nickel – and then suggests that he direct their Christmas play.  Before leaving for the Christmas play, Charlie writes a letter to Santa Clause, as it is dictated to him by his sister, Sally.  When Sally indicates that Santa may simply give her money – perhaps, “tens and twenties” – Charlie throws the pad and pencil into the air with disgust, and cries, “even my little sister!”

 Since Charlie Brown is not what we would call a “person of influence,” the other children in the school auditorium (including his sister and dog) do not pay any attention to his directing – and proceed to play music and dance all about the stage.  Lucy sends Charlie Brown out to get a Christmas tree, which she suggests will help get everyone in the Christmas spirit.  She instructs him to “get the biggest aluminum Christmas tree you can find – maybe painted pink!”  As you probably remember, Charlie and Linus return with a pathetic little tree that drops needles the whole way from the Christmas tree lot to the schoolhouse.  Needless to say, the response from the group is not overwhelmingly positive.  Feeling rejected again, and confused, Charlie Brown asks loudly to no one in particular, “isn’t there anybody who can tell me what Christmas is all about?!?”  Out of the silence, Linus steps quietly forward and says, “I can tell you what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”  After calling for the stage crew to turn down the lights, Linus begins to quote from the gospel of Saint Luke, chapter 2.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:8-14, King James Version).

Linus then says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”  Taking this in, Charlie Brown leaves the auditorium with the little tree.  He takes the little tree home, and decorates it with lights from Snoopy’s doghouse.  You may remember that this causes it to droop, and he believes that he has killed it.  In deep despair, with his head hanging low, he goes into the house.  The other children come along, they right the tree, and they all sing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.”

Since that Thursday, December 9, 1965, when this program first aired on black and white televisions across America, our society has seen many cultural changes.  I am not sure that the commercialization of Christmas which Charles Schulz drew our attention to in this wonderful Christmas classic can even begin to be combated – and I do not believe that this is really our calling as Christians living in today’s world.  What I am trying to say is this:  ”do not lament about the retina-piercing lights on your neighbor’s house which daily threaten to halt the earth in its rotation around the sun, do not be dismayed by the ‘Christmas stuff’ advertisements that you have been inundated with since the fourth of July, do not lose heart over goofy euphemisms like ‘sparkle season,’ do not feel pressured to combat the yuletide carols and log (few people today pay any attention to these pagan symbols, anyway) – and come to the manger where God Who loves you took up our frail humanity in the birth of Jesus.  As the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth to a child that had been conceived in her yet-untouched womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, she gave birth to the Savior of the whole world.

I really don’t care what my neighbors and friends buy, decorate, or wrap in bacon or tinsel this Christmas – I want for them to hear that they have a Savior who is Christ the Lord.  That’s what Christmas is about.  Search the retail shops, the Christmas parties, and the scores of people who annually double the weight of their homes with electric lights and inflatable lawn figures – and you will find people searching for a deeper sense of meaning, happiness, and contentment in their lives.  Most people do not announce publicly that they are depressed by the hopelessness and loss in their lives, but thousands of people every day in this – the wealthiest nation in the world – plod along in quiet resignation and despair.  What if someone they knew told them about God’s love for them – as shown in Jesus, whom Mary wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger?  What if someone in their life took the time to explain to them that this world and the things in it are only temporary, but that there is an eternal life of peace and joy that awaits those who trust in this child lain in a manger so long ago?  What if someone in their life actually risked social awkwardness in order to tell them about their Savior?

May Jesus’ Church be renewed in her urgency to share the message of the Savior with a world that is dying in their sins.  When the limitations of this world’s splendors and self-help psychology were exposed in Charlie’s despair, his friend Linus shared with him the eternal Word of God which gives hope and does not disappoint.  Your neighbor may have lights and holiday cheer (whatever that means), but do they have saving faith in the Savior?  Go, and find out.

In Christ Jesus,
Pastor

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Church and the Arts . . . .



















I am very grateful to Bill Cunningham, our musician, for the sharing of musical talents that he brings to St. John's each year for our annual Christmas concert.  Bill works tirelessly to make this happen each year and it is a wonderful event.  I am thankful also for the many musicians who share God's gifts with us through music that evening.  I do not know of another event in our city at Christmas that brings together so many talented people for a single concert.  This annual evening of music at Christmas is one of the ways in which our congregation blesses our city.

Our annual Christmas concert is a ministry to our community because the promotion of the arts is a godly activity.  God is the provider of every gift and talent and it follows that their promotion and enjoyment is an act of Christian stewardship.  Peter communicates this clearly in his first letter when he writes,  "10 God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 11 Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen."  (1 Peter 4:10-11).  

Another example of this stewardship is the placement of quilts made by our Sewing Guild in our worship space each year before they are shipped to those in need throughout the world by Lutheran World Relief.  These beautiful quilts are practical art pieces through which God blesses and comforts those who are hurting.  Whenever we employ our God-given talents for the benefit of others - God is working.

Whenever I think about the Church's role in encouraging and nurturing the usage of God's gifts, I am reminded of a line in a prayer included in the Common Service Book of the United Lutheran Church in America (published in 1919).  The line is as follows:  "Protect and prosper every one in his [or her] appropriate calling, and cause all useful arts to flourish among us."  (page 253).  One of the hallmarks of Lutheran teaching is what we have to say about vocations.  We are clear in our teaching that God treats all our vocations equally - whatever they may be - as He works through them for the good of others.  What a joy to be employed by God in His blessing of others.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Grieving at Christmas . . . .


















Dear Friends,

I have already heard people lamenting that they hate the thought of Christmas coming - with long lines, looming bills which will come due in January, and so many chores and events that leave little time for oneself.  While it can be said that we choose to be so busy, to spend so much money, and to say "yes" to too many things - that doesn't make December any less overwhelming.

There are many other people who dread the coming of Christmas without any choice in the matter - those who grieve.  Just off the top of my head, I can think of at least a dozen families for whom this will be a difficult Christmas.  For some, this will be the first Christmas since a loved-one died.  For others, the heartache which never leaves them is accentuated by the holidays.  I wish that there was something that I could say or do which would ease their pain and bring them some happiness this Christmas - but, as you know, the words and deeds of men are no match for the aching caused by death.

I would, however, like to expose the idols of the American Christmas experience which make Christmas so painful for those who grieve.  Many people who dread Christmas because of all they need to do and buy, do so because they have bought into the lie that it is their responsibility to recreate each year the magic that they once felt at Christmas.  There is a gnawing feeling that somehow we need to create the "perfect" Christmas experience in which our December 24/25 rivals the beauty and tranquility of a Currier and Ives print.  For those who grieve, the pain they feel is brought into sharper focus by the absence of family members who once made the holiday so special.  Because our culture has made Christmas about family togetherness and shared-joy, those whose loved-ones are gone or separated from them by distance or broken relationships are left feeling incomplete and pitiable.  Perhaps the worst offender is the message that we somehow have to "get into the Christmas spirit" if we are to have a meaningful Christmas.  Those who aren't feeling it (whatever this elusive Christmas spirit feeling is) are made to feel inadequate or cold-hearted.  The whole thing just feels like a red and green tinsel-wrapped guilt trip.

When Christmas is about us it is going to be broken, incomplete, and disappointing.  Our lives and Christmas experiences will never measure up to the fictional magic of a Hallmark classic.  When we see the Christmas idols for what they are and experience the Holy Spirit drawing our attention to the birth of the Savior, something magical happens - suddenly, it is not all about us.  It's about Jesus and what his birth means for us and the whole world.  For those of you who grieve, please hear the message that the baby born in Bethlehem died in your loved-one's place and answered for their sins, and because of what he has done on their behalf (and yours), they who trusted in him now stand before the throne of God in Heaven.  I pray that you will not always feel the way that you do now.  In the midst of your sorrows, may you know the comfort of Jesus' love for you and the strength that he gives you to cope with this terrible pain.  May Christmas become a time in which you feel God's love for you in Jesus, even in these circumstances.

In Christ Jesus,
Pastor

Sunday, November 25, 2018

What is Advent?

This video, produced by Concordia Publishing House, will assist you in learning more about our next church season.


Message - "the Return of the King" (Mark 13:24–37)

To listen to the message, please click here.


Friday, November 23, 2018

Getting Some Perspective at Christmas . . . .























Dear Friends,

During my seminary years, Dawn served as a manager for an inventory company and worked a lot of hours.  While she worked, I took classes and cared for our eldest daughter.  In December of my final year at the seminary, Dawn asked me to take our daughter to get her picture taken with Santa Claus.  While this was not a huge request, it fell during the time that I was completing final papers and preparing for final exams.  Consequently, I was not thrilled by the huge line to see Santa at the mall.  I decided to run other errands and then stop back to see if the line would decrease while we were away.  While going to other stores, I noticed that a pet store was offering an opportunity to get your pet's picture taken with Santa.  Unbelievably there was no line (I checked).  This seemed too good to be true.  Of course, there was one problem - we didn't own a pet.  My Hebrew exam promised to be rigorous and so desperate measures . . . .  We entered the store and I asked the cashier if I could borrow a dog so that my daughter and the dog could be photographed with Santa.  She laughed and gave us a little terrier.  Click, flash, and we were out of there.  Would you like to guess my wife's reaction to our annual photo with Santa that year?  To my surprise, she was very upset.  It seemed that I had made a mockery of a treasured moment in a child's life.

The story of that debacle is retold in our family at least once per year and everyone laughs - including Dawn.  What changed her outrage to amusement?  Perspective.  It has been 17 years since I made that insensitive blunder and our eldest kid turned out fine.  Time has a way of changing our perspective.  The stress in the moment can sometimes be so overwhelming that we lose sight of the things that matter and everything becomes a life and death situation.

If the surveys and statistics about this time of year are to be believed, most of us will experience some big-time stress next month.  Although much of this pressure will be self-imposed, that doesn't make the stress seem any less overwhelming.  While I possess no wise secrets for dealing with stress, I do encourage you to meet December with some healthy perspective - knowing that all will not be lost if you are unable to attend every event to which you are invited, find the perfect gift for everyone on your list, or have all your holiday treats turn out like the picture.  December is also the season of Advent - in which the Holy Spirit working through God's Word prepares our hearts and minds to receive the Lord Jesus at Christmas.  May your observance of this season be a refuge to you in a battering world.  Be reminded of Jesus' invitation to you . . . “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light”  (Matthew 11:28-30).

At the end of the day - no matter what happens - it is unlikely that you will mess up Christmas as badly as I did 17 years ago.  May this be a comfort to you in a stressful time.

In Christ Jesus,
Pastor

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Worship and Winter Weather . . . .
















Dear Friends,

While I hope that it will be a little while until we have to contend with winter weather, I do want to say a word about my approach to worship during inclement weather.  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 cancelations, 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 cancelations. 

In Christ Jesus,       
              Pastor

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Disciples are Called by Jesus to Make Disciples












Dear Friends,

The New Testament teaches us that Jesus has died in our place and answered for our sins and that everyone who believes this good news will be saved from an eternity in Hell.  Do Christians still believe this biblical truth?  Our mouths may say "yes," but I fear that our lives say "maybe."  If the majority of Christians in the U.S. truly believed this then our churches would be growing like those in Africa and Asia.  Hearts burdened for the lost stir up mouths to speak the good news of Jesus to those who do not believe in him.  Sure, we can cite a whole litany of reasons for the decline in church membership and worship attendance - declining birthrates, shifting culture, worship style, etc. - but at the end of the day, the problem is that we are not following Jesus' plan for the growth of his Church.  What is Jesus' plan? - disciples making disciples.  In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus said to his disciples "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Somewhere along the line, we have developed the perception that if we hire the right preacher and conduct the right advertising campaign people will come to our churches.  That's the problem - we are looking for our neighbors to come to us when what Jesus said is "go to them!"  Every church study that I have seen in which church members who did not previously attend a church were asked "what brought you here?" found that more than 80% of respondents indicated that they were invited by a friend, relative, coworker, or neighbor.  This is not just one study - this is every study that I have seen in the last 18 years.  Conclusion:  if Christians don't start reaching out to their friends, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers - their congregations will be gone in one generation.  The real tragedy when congregations close is the lost souls whom those congregations could have reached.

So why is it that most Christians do not speak of Jesus to their friends, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers?  The Church has not prepared them to speak of Jesus.  The LCMS is doing something about this.  Our leaders in evangelism have created a program called "Everyone His Witness" in order to help Christians speak of Jesus to the people in their lives.  Whether we like to think about it or not, there are people in our lives for whom we may be the only one who can share the saving news about Jesus with them.  We want to equip you to fulfill your Father's mission to them.  Please check out the introductory video online at https://youtu.be/j2TkJemnLbE.  On Saturday, December 1, at Messiah Church, from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm (lunch included), the Everyone His Witness program will be taught in its entirety by Pastor Burakowski.  If you can do one thing this year to nurture your discipleship, please make this program the thing that you do.  There is a signup sheet in the narthex for you to RSVP.  The participant book will be provided to you free-of-charge by St. John's.  Your commitment of a Saturday and a willingness to apply what you learn may impact someone whom you care about for eternity.

In Christ Jesus,       
              Pastor

Message - "Can We Honestly be Called God's Children?" (1 John 3:1-3)

To listen to the sermon, please click here.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

All Saints' Sunday






















Dear Friends,

This Sunday is All Saints’ Sunday.  During the Prayers of the Church, we will remember before God those members (and others whom I have buried) who have died since November 1, 2017.  This is one of my favorite Christian traditions.  I love calling to our remembrance in worship the names of our dead who now live unto eternity.  I love it because it proclaims the victory Christ Jesus has had over death - the deaths of our loved-ones in particular.  This action declares to death “you have not won – this person and their memory have not been swallowed up by you!"  As we remember them before God, we profess our belief in the communion of saints. 

Hear the words of Jesus, as He addressed the Sadducees who denied the resurrection:  “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”  (Matthew 22:31-32).  The dead in Christ now stand before the Father’s throne in Heaven - worshiping Him and the slaughtered Lamb of God Who now reigns at His right hand.  Many of us have known the unspeakable pain of hanging our head over the side of the casket of someone whom we cannot bear to let go.  Knowing this anguish and heartache, it is very satisfying to spit in death's face by announcing that our dead are not gone - they now stand before God's throne in Heaven.

In Christ Jesus,       
              Pastor

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Reformation Sunday


























Dear Friends,

On morning our congregation, like so many other Protestant congregations throughout the world, will celebrate the legacy of the Reformation, begun by Martin Luther.  On October 31, in the year of our Lord 1517, Martin Luther nailed to the door of the university church at Wittenberg a list of 95 abuses in the Church which needed to be corrected if the Church's practices were to conform with Scripture - and above all, if Christians were to enjoy the saving faith and peace that the Holy Spirit creates in the hearts of those who hear the good news of Jesus Christ crucified in their place and believe it.  This day is not intended to be a day in which we celebrate us as Lutherans, nor is it an occasion to deride the Roman Catholic Church of old or its present manifestation.  In short, Reformation Sunday is a day to celebrate that the pure preaching of the precious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ continues among us.  Luther's witness permanently altered the course of Christian history as it restored the pure preaching of the Gospel to the churches who followed his lead and we do well to thank God for Luther's ministry, but we must be careful in our preaching and worship emphases that we do not cause his legacy to get in the way of our celebration of Jesus - Who alone is Lord of the Church and our lives.  In my sermon this Sunday on Romans 3, I will make reference to Luther - as he pointed to Christ.  On Reformation Sunday, we honor Luther and the other reformers (who preached faith in Christ alone) by celebrating the gifts delivered to us by Christ for our Salvation.

In addition to our Reformation Day observance on Sunday morning, you are invited to attend a special Reformation Sunday service at St. Paul's in Janesville in the evening.  The pertinent information is as follows:  Area Reformation Service on Sunday, Oct 28th at 6:30 p.m., hosted by St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Janesville (210 S Ringold St., Janesville, WI, 53545).   Local LCMS  pastors, Pastor Dan Eddy, Messiah, Beloit; Pastor Dennis Roser, St. John's, Beloit; and Pastor David Bergelin, Mount Calvary, Janesville will preach; Pastor Dan Eddy of Messiah, Beloit will serve as lector, and St. Paul's school choirs will sing.  You are invited to join with your fellow LCMS members in this celebration of the tremendous Reformation truth that SALVATION IS BY GRACE ALONE THROUGH FAITH ALONE IN JESUS CHRIST ALONE!

In Christ Jesus,       
              Pastor

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Update on the new St. John's Lutheran School










Dear Friends,

I am delighted to share with you that the plans for our new school are progressing nicely.

  • We are publicizing information about the school in a wide variety of ways.  Online and flyer publicity has already begun, we had a booth at the Ribfest on the Rock event, we will be distributing flyers during Messiah's Trunk or Treat and the City of Beloit's Trick or Treating, and many other promotions are being planned.
  • The architects have submitted the building renovation plans to the leadership of LUMIN Schools.
  •  LUMIN has received employment applications from qualified candidates for the position of community outreach director and founding staff member.  The successful applicant will be joining us here at St. John's by the end of the year.
  • We have community outreach events planned for December 15, January 12, and February 1.
  • We will be setting up a classroom very soon to showcase what the St. John's Lutheran School learning environment will look like and many of the high-tech tools that will be employed in classroom learning.  While traditional methods of instruction will also be utilized, many parents today expect that their young people will learn how to use cutting-edge technology.
  • Shaun Luehring, the soon-to-be President of LUMIN Schools, and I meet via video conferencing each week to discuss our common work of preparing to launch our new school next August. 
  • Shaun Luehring and Rebecca Ehlers, the new Vice President for Marketing at LUMIN, spent some time with me this past Monday in order to tour Beloit and learn more about the opportunities which exist in our city.
  • I have given our web page a complete overhaul in order to accommodate its service as the web home for both the church and school.  If you have not visited our page recently, please take a look.  Our address is www.stjohnsbeloit.com.

We are delighted to welcome Shaun Luehring to St. John's this morning.  Following Divine Service, he will be offering a presentation on the new school and answer questions that you may have.  While LUMIN will be operating the school, St. John's will be providing spiritual care for students and staff during the school week.  We will also have the opportunity to minister to and serve them in a myriad of ways.  To that end, we invite you to be engaged as much as possible in its launch.

The three most important things that you can do are:  (1) tell your neighbors and friends about the new school, (2) distribute flyers (located on the table in the narthex), and most importantly, (3) pray for its successful launch.  Apart from the Holy Spirit's work nothing good comes to us.  I cherish your support of this new ministry initiative.

In Christ Jesus,       
              Pastor

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:  http://www.cph.org/p-11334-the-lutheran-study-bible-hardback.aspx? or on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/The-Lutheran-Study-Bible-Standard/dp/0758617607/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_har?ie=UTF8&qid=1392265804&sr=8-1&keywords=lutheran+study+bible.  It is also available for the Kindle:  http://www.amazon.com/Lutheran-Study-Bible-Concordia-Publishing-ebook/dp/B003GFIVS4/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1392265804 and Logos Bible software:  https://www.logos.com/product/18491/the-lutheran-study-bible.

In Christ Jesus,

Pastor

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:  http://www.se.lcms.org/uploads/simple_way_pray_luther.pdf.   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,
Pastor

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:

Kindle
http://www.amazon.com/Bible-English-Standard-Version-Cross-References-ebook/dp/B001EOCFU4/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1441041459&sr=1-1&keywords=esv

Nook
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/esv-classic-reference-bible-crossway-bibles/1005751912?ean=9781433521539

Android
https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Crossway_The_Holy_Bible?id=e2gtw6S06oIC

iTunes
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/esv-bible/id361797273?mt=8

Online Version
http://www.esvbible.org/

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

Android Phones/Tablets:
https://play.google.com/store/music/album/Bible_ESV_Complete_Bible_English_Standard_Version?id=Bqmredemnbyecrdzbw623phqese

iTunes Devices:
Old Testament:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/esv-old-testament-english/id560588096?mt=2
New Testament:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/esv-new-testament-english/id349682978?mt=2

Apps from Faith Comes by Hearing: https://www.faithcomesbyhearing.com/audio-bibles/resources
Online Streaming in YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/esvaudio

In Christ Jesus,
Pastor

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,       
              Pastor

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,       
              Pastor

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,
Pastor

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,       
              Pastor

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,       
              Pastor

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,       
              Pastor

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,       
              Pastor

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,       
              Pastor

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,
Pastor

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,       
              Pastor