For my 400th post, I thought I'd share something about the Gospel. (After 399 other posts, it's about time, eh?) I posted this earlier on Facebook, but it seems a little too deep for my usual Facebook fare. Anyway, here it is: 400 with a bullet.
There is a proper order to evangelism and outreach. First we must get the message straight. We do the unbeliever no favor if we lead him to a Christ who exists only in the imagination of our hearts. First we must be rooted in the Word of God. As the Church lives not on bread alone but "by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD", we must know what the Lord reveals to us about Himself through the Word. Only then can we reach out with the Word to the unbeliever with the Christ that actually exists, the Christ who makes Himself known through that very Word. Reaching out without first getting it straight may reach a goodly number of people, but you will not be bringing them to where they need to be.
The Reverend Alvin L. Barry, sainted President of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, put it this way: "Keep the message straight, Missouri! Get the message out, Missouri!" Don't talk to me about equipping the saints for outreach or about the evils of "incessant internal purification" until you can be sure that the message is straight--that the "love" you show won't lead your hearers to their death.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Monday, May 27, 2013
Monday, May 20, 2013
Thursday, May 16, 2013
The date was March 14, 2010. I had preached at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Metairie, Louisiana, and then I stayed to enjoy fellowship at the Mt. Olive stand at Metairie's Saint Patrick's Day Road Parade, so I was leaving the city later than normal. I was just about to get on I-10 heading west out of New Orleans, and I called my wife. (Yes, I know that talking on the phone while driving isn't the safest thing to do. Let it go for now.) We were on the phone for about ten minutes, and while we were talking, someone kept trying to ring through. Finally Faith and I got off the phone, and the phone rang again. It was the Reverend Mark Buetow, Pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in DuQuoin, Illinois. Pastor Buetow had been serving as the vacancy pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois, a congregation about a half-hour from his own. At a meeting to select a pastor to replace the one who had left right before Christmas, the congregation voted to select me! Pastor Buetow was calling to notify me of their decision. Poor guy. I think my shout of joy damaged his eardrum.
It was not a hard decision to make. Faith and I took a road trip up to Illinois to visit the congregation, and while we were there I announced my acceptance of the position. We determined my Installation as the Pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church would take place as soon as possible.
A little history here: I left my congregations in North Dakota three years to the week after I was Installed, which I know now was much sooner than I should have left. (Hindsight is always 20/20, of course.) And as for my congregation in Ohio...well, I had very little do to with the timing of my departure, but I was only there for a little over two years and two months. You know, I never wanted to be one of those pastors who moved around a lot, and I always had a little bit of contempt for those who jumped from place to place. After all, a pastor who leaves a place too soon really doesn't get to know his congregation as he ought. Nevertheless, I was that guy.
|Pastor Buetow was reluctant to let go.|
For four years, seven months, and four days I had been a pastor without a congregation. That sad streak ended with my Installation, and today marks the three-year anniversary of that wonderful event. (And Pastor Buetow's Installation sermon is still as fresh today as it was three years ago.) I've now been here as long as a pastor as I've been anywhere, and, Lord willing, it shows no signs of changing any time soon. We've found a home here with the saints of this congregation. We've found love in Christ, a warm welcome, an acceptance of our family's odd circumstances, and a place where we feel like we're putting down roots. (The cows are so relaxing!) There's no urgency to go anywhere else; this is home. The time has passed very quickly, as time is wont to do when things are going well (even with the challenges we face) and one is having fun. I am so thankful to God and to the people of St. Peter for bringing us here to serve them and serve with them.
Here's to three years. God grant us many more.
Monday, May 13, 2013
I've been a pastor nearly thirteen years now. In all that time, the hardest thing I've ever had to do is bury a child. This was in my first parish, and I'd only been a pastor for about a year and a half. I received a phone call late in the evening from the father of the family. His wife had been delivered of a child, but she died that same day. The baby had been baptized by a pastor who was in the hospital that day--thanks be to God, for the sake of the child and the family both, that they have been able to take comfort in Baptism. But it fell to me, as their pastor, to bring the Word of God to bear, to try to bring comfort in the midst of a time of terrible affliction. I stayed with the family in the funeral home the evening before the funeral, bringing the Word to them and praying for and with them. And then the funeral was the next day. I don't remember very much of that day (except for a fortuitous meeting outside the church after the committal as I was leaving for the dinner), but I do remember parts of the sermon (which is sad, because I quoted "Away in a Manger" and I still can't sing it without tearing up) and I remember the tiny little coffin as it rested in the front of the sanctuary. I've tried to lay my own grief to rest concerning this child, but it never fully goes away.
A lot of that came to mind today as I carried my congregation's funeral pall into the sanctuary of a neighboring congregation. Four children from a nearby community died in a fire set by an arsonist this past weekend, and as it so happened, the children were baptized members of a Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod congregation. As I walked in, I could see the four caskets lined up at the communion rail. The funeral director and his colleagues were there, working on the logistics and arrangements. I took the pall to the pastor's study, and we came out to the sanctuary to figure out with the funeral director how to make a full-sized pall fit on a casket less than half the size of the usual casket. That was when the funeral director broke down--probably not for the first time, and certainly not for the last. When the pastor and I took the pall back into the office area, I asked how he was doing, and he mentioned that this funeral was on the heels of two other funerals, one of which was done on short rest after ministering to this family after the fire. He said that the funeral he did that day--a funeral for a mature Christian who lived a full life and was a lifelong member of the congregation--would usually have been easy, but that he was emotional during that funeral because of this situation. I certainly understand that. My only involvement in this funeral is delivering a pall, and I found myself getting emotional.
Being a pastor can be pretty easy at times. Preach a sermon; lead the liturgy; teach Bible study; hold Catechism instruction; visit the hospital; see the shut-ins. Even things like funerals are usually not so bad, because usually it's an elderly member of the congregation who has lived a full life, or it's a member who has been sick and suffering for a long time, and the suffering has now ended. But burying a young person is hard--and I can only imagine burying four at the same time is exponentially harder. There stands the Law. This is the wages of sin laid out before you in as horrible a manner as you will ever see it. You can close your eyes or try to look away, but it's not going anywhere. You stand convicted. This is your fate. This is what you've earned. As the pastor in this situation, you are in that odd place where you are both a mourner and the one expected to bring comfort. You are expected to display a certain professionalism, and yet you can't help but remember holding them over the baptismal font, praying with them them in Sunday School, teaching them the catechism, and all the other times you've shared time with them over the course of their short lives. Reminders of the joy of baptism help ("I am baptized into Christ! I'm a child of paradise!"), but at that moment death and the grave seem very powerful.
A pastor has a heart. (In my case, I've had the x-rays to prove it; otherwise there are those who might not have believed it. *wink*) It doesn't turn off when he performs pastoral care, and it often works overtime for funerals. Even Jesus wept as He performed His duties. Displaying the love of Christ to the congregation he is called to serve means a pastor can't help but be overcome. That does not make him weak. That does not make him a poor pastor. He is doing what he has been chosen by God and selected by the congregation to do, and his own sorrow will not keep him from doing what he has been Called to do. He loves you with the love of Christ...and maybe even with a bit of his own love. Pray for him; share the Word of God with him; remind him of his own baptism; love him with Christ's love. More than anything, that is the greatest blessing you can give him, especially when he is called upon in times of tragedy. I can assure you, he prays for you, especially when death draws near.
In your prayers over the next little while, please remember the family and friends of the four Owen children who died in Percy this past week. Please also remember Pastor Janneke and the members of St. Mark Lutheran Church in Steeleville as they bring the comfort of the Word to bear in this terrible situation, and also remember Mr. Bill Wilson and his colleagues at the wonderful Wilson's Funeral Home as they serve the family. It is not easy to bury children--not for the family, not for the pastor or congregation, not for the funeral director.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
No audio this week. Recording error. Sorry!
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The disciples knew they were standing in the presence of the Son of God. Though they did not understand everything, they believed that He had the words of eternal life. They had been with Him almost from the beginning. They had walked with Him and had seen and heard much. The sick had been healed, the blind made to see, the deaf to hear, and even the dead to rise. Sinners had come to Him to hear His words of forgiveness and to have their feet set on the way of righteousness. Now they were to be bearers of His glad tidings of salvation to the world. He was placing tremendous confidence in them! As the scene in this text takes place they had not yet seen His cross and resurrection, but those, too, were coming in short order.
Jesus did not leave His disciples in darkness. He prepared them for what was to follow. He told them, “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” Witness to faith in Jesus Christ invites persecution and affliction. The disciples faced this. If you have not yet, your time is coming. Just consider the words of the Book of Revelation, words spoken about the Church on earth: “These are the ones who come out of great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Jesus knew the confusion that continued to trouble the hearts of His disciples. The promise He now gave them must have gladdened their hearts. “When the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father…He will testify of Me.” Whatever was to meet them on their way, their hearts would always be able to rejoice that Jesus was their Savior. We cannot measure how much this means to the Church’s witness today.
Ours is an age of spiritual skepticism and do-it-yourself religion. God’s means of grace need to be brought front and center. The significance of Baptism needs to be lifted up. Through Holy Baptism we are born into a new life, brought into the life of Christ Himself, and made partakers of eternal life. How often our stumbling witness must fall back upon the grace of our Baptism, upon those promises of God that never fail. He who believes and is baptized shall see the Lord’s salvation. The comfort and strength of our Baptism will give us courage to move forward even in the face of death.
The significance of the Lord’s Supper needs to be lifted up as well. In the body and blood of the Savior we are partakers of His death which cleanses us from all sin. The Holy Spirit does His blessed work therein, strengthening our faith, giving weight to the witness we bear to the world. But St. Paul also tells us that in our eating and drinking of the body and blood of our Savior we are proclaiming Christ’s death until He returns. Though it may seem ordinary, let us never underestimate the significance of what is taking place when the faithful of the Lord gather around His Table, not only for their own sake, but for the sake of the world, as well.
For our witness to be clear and faithful, powerful and unafraid, faith must be anchored in the Word of God. The Word of God is the fountain of life from which our souls must continually be nourished. It is the source of our strength. It permeates and gives power to every faithful effort we make. It is the Word of God that reveals to us the way to eternal life. It reveals the love of our heavenly Father in Jesus Christ. The Word of God condemns sin, but it also leads us to the foot of the cross where the one sacrifice for sin was made. The power of the Word of God projects itself beyond the confession of our lips into a life that is lived to the glory of God and for the blessing of our neighbor. The Word of God reveals to us the blessing of prayer. In our helplessness we may go to Jesus and ask for the Spirit of Truth, who bears witness to Him and gives power and grace to the words of witness we speak.
By our side stands the Son of God. Though He is ascended to glory, He remains with us always, even to the ends of the earth, as He told His disciples. And even as in years gone by He has stood by the host of Christians who have borne faithful witness to Him, our Lord now stands with you, even amidst persecution and affliction and death—and it will be so even to the end of the world. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.