Monday, March 28, 2016

HYMN: Behold! The Star Has Led the Way

One of my favorite hymns is "Songs of Thankfulness and Praise," a hymn for the Epiphany of Our Lord. It describes how God has revealed Himself to His people through God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. One of the problems I have as a hymn writer is that I can't imagine writing anything that compares with the great hymns with which the Church has been blessed. Still, the Lord has given me this gift, however humble that gift may be (even if I'm not as humble as my gifts should have me be). I might as well use it, even if it's only for my own devotional use. Anyway, this is a hymn for the Epiphany. Feedback is love.

Behold! The Star Has Led the Way

1. Behold! The star has led the way
To God's own Son made manifest
For heathen wise men, come to pray
And worship Christ, their King confessed.

2. In Bethlehem they found the Boy,
For Holy Scripture led them there.
To honor Him with regal joy
The magi gave Him treasures rare.

3. Though we no longer see a star,
The Word of God itself shall bring
Both Jews and Gentiles, near and far,
To meet the holy infant King.

4. Like Herod, some may live in fear
And seek to silence Christ in shame.
O Light of light, when villains jeer,
Help us confess Your holy name.

5. And let us give You golden faith
With myrrh in works of mercy sweet,
With prayers which rise with every breath
Like incense to the mercy seat.

6. O King of nations, Light of grace,
These humble gifts of faith receive,
And lead us to this holy place
Where wise men seek You and believe.

LM (88 88)
Temporary Tune: WINCHESTER NEW (LSB 441)
Occasion: The Epiphany of Our Lord
Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sermon for 3/27/16: Resurrection of Our Lord

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I Know that My Redeemer Lives

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

I know that my Redeemer lives!
What comfort this sweet sentence gives.

He lives! The stone was rolled away from the tomb. Mary and Mary and Salome had come to the tomb with spices to anoint the body of their beloved Lord. For all their worry about who would roll the stone away—remember that Pilate had ordered the tomb to be sealed at the request of the Jews—they arrived to find that the tomb was already open. He who had been crucified was no longer there. Instead of finding Jesus inside, they found a messenger. “He is risen! He is not here!” the messenger proclaimed. Mark tells us that the women fled in fear. They should have known. As the messenger reminded the women, Jesus had already told them what was going to happen. 
He lives! He lives who once was dead!
He lives, my ever-living Head!

He lives! Job knew. He knew it eons before Jesus had even been born. “I know that my Redeemer lives!” he said. Job had lost everything: his oxen and donkeys, along with the servants who tended them; the sheep and their herders; the camels and their tenders; even his sons and daughters. He obviously knew the frightful power of death. But even amidst all this loss, Job knew. Salome and the Marys should have known. 
He lives to calm my troubled heart.
He lives all blessings to impart.

He lives! When Mary Magdalene visits the tomb on her own, she’s in tears. She sees Jesus, and she mistakes Him for the gardener. “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid Him!” And Jesus comforts her just with the sound of her own name. 
He lives to silence all my fears!
He lives to wipe away my tears!

He lives! The disciples should have known it too. But they were afraid. They were hidden in the upper room for fear of the Jews. But Jesus had repeatedly told them of His power over death. Even when their beloved Lord appears among them, they are terrified. Jesus tells them, “Peace be with you.” He forgives them. He restores them. He gives them purpose. He gives them His own Holy Spirit. 
He lives to comfort me when faint.
He lives to hear my soul’s complaint.

He lives! The two disciples on the road to Emmaus should have known. They had left Jerusalem to return to their home. Jesus appeared to them on the road, though they were prevented from recognizing Him as their Lord. He taught them that the events in Jerusalem were prophesied in the Old Testament, that Jesus was the fulfillment of everything that the Old Testament taught. And then He revealed Himself to them as He broke bread.
He lives my hungry soul to feed,
He lives to help in time of need.

He lives! And what about you? Do you know? Do you recognize your Lord when He comes to you? When your body aches and your head won’t be still, do you know that He lives? When the government infringes on your freedom to believe and live according to your faith, do you know that He lives? When death has struck what feels like a fearsome blow in your life, taking someone you love, do you know that He lives? Like the women, like the Twelve, like the disciples, you should know. 
He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, and I shall conquer death:
He lives my mansion to prepare;
He Iives to bring me safely there.

He lives! Just as He appeared to the women; just as He appeared to the Twelve; just as He appeared to the disciples on the road, He comes to you, too. He speaks His Word of peace to you in Holy Absolution. He teaches you about Himself in the pure preaching of faithful pastors, whose mouths He opens to speak in His stead, teaching us that He is the fulfillment of every promise from God. He reveals Himself to you in the breaking of the bread in the Holy Supper of His body and blood. 
He lives, all glory to His name!
He lives, my Jesus, still the same.

He lives! And not only does He live; He raises you to new life with Him! In the very gifts with which He reveals Himself to you, He gives you life! He washes you in the water and blood that flowed from His side through the waters of Holy Baptism. He drowns the Old Adam within you, and He pulls you out of the water to new life! And it is not just a life for now, though your daily life is a precious gift from Him; He gives you eternal life, so that, even when your sin-riddled body dies, He will raise it pure and incorruptible. He will do this for you and for all you love who have gone before you in the faith. This joyful reunion will have no end, for you and your faithful loved ones will live with Christ forever.
Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives:
I know that my Redeemer lives!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! 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.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Sermon for 3/25/16: Good Friday (Hymns series)

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O Darkest Woe

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“O darkest woe.” What a dreadful sight. Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, the Messiah promised to Adam and Eve and all their descendants, was hung upon the cross to His death, forsaken by His Father. He was there for you, dying the death which He did not deserve, to pay the debt you owed for your sin. 

O sorrow dread!
Our God is dead,
Upon the cross extended.
There His love enlivened us
As His life was ended.

Never before in history, and never since, has anyone even claiming to be God died for the sake of His people. False god upon false god has promised mighty acts of healing, of feeding, of deliverance, but none of those acts include the death of the deity itself. What kind of God would allow Himself to be forsaken by anyone, much less by His own Father? What kind of God would allow Himself to be sacrificed for anyone? Only Jesus Christ, true Son of the true God and Himself true God, who died for the salvation of His creation. Even the Centurion, likely a polytheistic Roman, could not help but confess, “Truly this was the Son of God.” 

There lies the spotless Lamb of God in a borrowed tomb. The ladies had stood by as Jesus hung on the cross. Even in their grief, they were ready to prepare the body of their beloved Master for burial. Joseph of Arimathea, a believer who had hidden his faith for fear of the Jews, and Nicodemus, who had originally come to Jesus under the cover of darkness, came out of the shadows to request the body of their Lord from Pilate. If the leader was slain, certainly the followers had reason to fear. But Joseph and Nicodemus stepped forward anyway, displaying the faith the Twelve could not. They laid Jesus in Joseph’s unused vault.
O darkest woe!
Ye tears, forth flow!
Has earth so sad a wonder?
God the Father’s only Son
Now is buried yonder.

Matthew writes, “Behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” The work for which Jesus had come was finally complete: the evil thoughts, the false words, the misdeeds, all that was done or left undone by the hands and mouths and minds of sinners—all that had separated man from God had been removed. The veil of the temple separated the Holy of Holies, the place where God had promised to be present in the midst of His Old Testament people, from the common man. Only the appointed priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and then only on the one day of the year appointed for that task. But that could no longer be the case. 
The Bridegroom dead!
God’s Lamb has bled
Upon thy sin forever,
Pouring out His sinless self
In this vast endeavor.

Adam no longer has to hide from God as his Father seeks him out; Moses no longer has to shield his face, lest he die. God and sinners are forever reconciled. Now, like Adam before the fall, like Enoch, like Elijah, we walk with God, unafraid, finally restored to full fellowship with our Father. 

 This is the day. The serpent has bruised the heel of the Seed of Eve. What a hollow victory for Satan. For even in taking the life of the Son of God, the devil has lost. Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” The true victory belongs to our Lord, who has crushed the power of death forever! Matthew told us that the tomb had already temporarily opened for some of the faithful who had died. The tomb will open for Jesus on the third day. And every tomb will open on the Last Day; every resting body will rise. St. Paul writes, “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” And it will be gone forever. 

O Jesus Christ,
Who sacrificed
Thy life for lifeless mortals:
Be my life in death and bring
Me to heaven’s portals!

He will do so—indeed, He cannot help but do so, for even in death—and especially in His own death—He is “the Resurrection and the Life.” 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.

HYMN: Oh, Pilate Fixed Three Crosses

The Reverend William Weedon, the Director of Worship for the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, once shared a piece written by St. Romanos the Melodist called "Kontakion 22," which is a conversation between Hell and Satan concerning the Crucifixion. (You can find the text in its entirety here.) Weedon once dared a group of hymnwriters to versify the text. I'd never taken up the challenge...until today. In about an hour and a half, while preparing for tonight's service, I threw this text together. My apologies to St. Romanos for rhyming "skull" and "all." Feedback is love.

A blessed and holy Triduum to you and yours.

Oh, Pilate Fixed Three Crosses

1. Oh, Pilate fixed three crosses
On Golgotha, the Skull:
Two for the malefactors,
One for the Life of All. 
Said Hell, "A nail has pierced me,
A wound unto My heart.
A lance has laid me open,
And I am torn apart. 

2. "My insides are in anguish,
My gut in agony,
My spirit is in terror;
It trembles, quaking me. 
And I must vomit Adam,
My prize from Eden's tree,
For this new shoot has opened
My bars to set him free."

3. Said Satan then with cunning, 
"O Hell, why do you groan?
That tree, at which you tremble,
I built there on my own
To kill the Virgin's offspring.
That tree, it is a cross,
To which I nailed Messiah.
New Adam, Christ, has lost!

4. "Fear not, O Hell. Fear nothing!
That tree is barren, dry.
That tree, it cannot harm you,
So hold your head up high.
Do not release the Adam
Imprisoned in your gate.
No paradise awaits him.
Your hold, his only fate."

5. Then Hell replied to Satan,
"You cunning snake, beware!
You must have lost your senses!
Your trap, it holds you there.
Look up, for you have fallen
Into your own dark pit.
That tree which you call barren,
Rich fruit now grows on it.

6. "A Thief that fruit has tasted,
And now he is the heir
Of all of Eden's blessings:
A tree you once thought bare."
Then Satan cried, "You coward!
O Hell, your mumbles cease!
Why fear this cross? Why tremble?
My workings bring me peace.

7. "Your wretched words mean nothing.
This cross, it is my plan. 
For next I will entomb Him
Who sought to free all man.
Then I, O Hell, will mock you
For cowardice, for fear.
No paradise for Adam
When Christ is buried here."

8. Said Hell, "O Satan, listen!
Behold, the Crucified!
The cross, it is His power.
The cross, it is His pride.
For you the cross is folly:
Go see Him there, enthroned!
And on that royal dais
He hears the sinner's groan."

9. Then Satan heard with horror
The witness of a thief:
"Remember me, O Jesus,"
He spoke with fresh belief.
With mercy Jesus answered, 
"You faith, it will suffice.
This day will you go with me
Again to Paradise!"

10. Then Satan was astounded.
He wilted then in fear.
"Disdaining His accusers,
A thief He deigns to hear?
To Pilate He said nothing;
He welcomes home a thief?
His works bring condemnation,
No merit or relief."

11. The devil cried still louder,
"Receive me, then, O Hell,
For I did not believe you.
With you I now shall dwell.
The tree at which you shuddered,
Made red with watered blood
Which flowed from piercèd Jesus
Will work Old Adam's good."

12. They cried out both together,
"Oh, let us now lament!
This tree which we have planted
This Jesus now has bent
Into a holy shelter
For murderers and thieves,
A tree with shade most pleasant
With fruit that now relieves.

13. "This cross has now been shapen
Into a Tree of Life!
Now paradise awaits them
Who then faced only strife."
Then Hell said to the tyrant,
"O let that cross be bare!"
And Satan answered quickly,
"I'll kill nobody there.

14. "You also, murder no one.
Let us draw back our hand
And leave the race of Adam
With Christ the Lord to stand.
For all of Adam's children
Unto the cross are sealed,
And life to them is given:
A precious pearl revealed.

15. "That pearl a Thief has taken
Upon the holy tree,
And having borne that treasure,
He died without a plea.
That Thief, the Son of Mary,
Well-suited to His trade,
Was called again to Eden,
The Paradise remade."

16. O Highest and most Holy, 
O God of age and youth,
Your outrage is our honor,
The cross, our boast, our truth.
Unto our hearts we nail it
With songs to Christ addressed,
For His great cross shall bring us
To Paradise the blest!

76 76 D
Tune: EWING (LSB 672)
Occasion: Good Friday
Text: Kontakion 22 by Romanos the Melodist

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sermon for 3/24/16: Maundy Thursday (Hymns series)

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Go to Dark Gethsemane

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Jesus was on His knees. Emmanuel, God in the flesh, the very Word of God Himself, knelt in prayer to His Father, His sweat falling like drops of blood, so intense was His petition. “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” He repeated the prayer twice more: a desperate cry for mercy from the one Man who should have needed no mercy. But Jesus knew what was before Him: a miscarriage of justice in a farce of a trial; the brutal torture of beatings; a crown of thorns forced onto His head; nails and spear piercing His guiltless body at hands and feet and side—all for the sake of sinners who could care less that He goes to the cross for them, who themselves cry out for Him to shed His blood.

It’s a test of wills. When Jesus says He will do something, you can count on it. He said He would drink the cup according to His Father’s will. He said He would be arrested. He said the disciples will stumble and flee. He said Peter would deny Him. He said He would suffer at the hands of sinners. He said He would die. And sure enough, He was arrested. His disciples fled in terror for their lives. Peter denied Him three times. Jesus suffered at the hands of sinners. He died. He swallowed every last bitter drop of the cup of suffering set before Him. But while Jesus prayed, the chosen disciples slumbered. Jesus urged them to “watch and pray.” Certainly these most trusted and beloved of disciples would not fail their Lord in something as simple as prayer. “We will watch and pray, Lord. We will not abandon you—and even if everyone else does, certainly the beloved Peter will stand by Your side.” And as Jesus predicted, despite their vehement protests, the disciples abandoned Jesus. Peter denied Him. They hid in fear. The willing spirit was overcome by the weak flesh of the disciples. They could not even watch with him for one bitter hour. They had yet to “learn from Him to bear the cross.”
“The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Do you doubt it? Listen to the words you spoke this evening: “O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.” I do not doubt the sincerity of your confession. We all mean to change our lives. We all mean to stop sinning. We want to think holy thoughts. We want to speak holy words. We want to lead holy lives. The baptized child of God wants the Old Adam to be permanently drowned, as indeed he will be eternally dead at the resurrection of all flesh. But when the rubber meets the road, when it comes down to brass tacks, when it truly matters, we fall back into what we find most comfortable. We fall back into our sinful ways. We run to our Old Adam. If we would truly do what Jesus would do, we must “learn from Jesus Christ to die”—to die to sin, to continually drown that Old Adam in the baptismal flood.
But if Jesus had the will to suffer all, including death on the cross, He also had the will to rise from the dead. And because He willingly went to the cross and His own death for us, He also willingly raised us up with Him when He rose. He died to rob death of its power. He rose so that we would rise. He lives so that we will live with Him for all eternity. Our salvation does not depend on our own weak flesh.

Mark that miracle of time,
God’s own sacrifice complete.

He has taught us how to die—indeed, He has drowned us Himself in the waters of Holy Baptism. And in His own resurrection, He has answered our prayer: “Savior, teach us so to rise.” It doesn’t matter any longer how weak the flesh is; it has been washed, cleansed, made holy and spotless in that water—a condition which will be made permanent when we rise incorruptible from our graves at the Last Day.

In His darkest hour, Christ cried out to His Father. And He would have you do the same, for His Father is Your Father. And just as His Father heard our Lord’s prayer and answered it as it was best for all people, He will hear your prayer and answer it according to His gracious good will. So…

Go to dark Gethsemane,
All who feel the tempter’s power;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see,
Watch with Him one bitter hour;
Turn not from His griefs away;
Learn from Jesus Christ to pray.

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.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

HYMN: O Christ, Revealed as God's Own Son

So many people have written hymns about the Baptism of Our Lord that I was hesitant to take up the task myself. How does one cover new ground? It's hard, and I don't know that I have. Others have written about Christ as the Substitute; others have written about how the Father Himself claims Jesus as His Son and is pleased with Christ; others have written about the Spirit's descent on Christ. What I tried to do was to tie these themes together in one text, and combine them in prayer form: a prayer of thanksgiving, a prayer for the presence of Christ within me, a prayer that I may return to the waters of my own Baptism in confession and absolution. 

Feedback is love.

O Christ, Revealed as God's Own Son

1. O Christ, revealed as God's own Son
When baptized by the prophet John,
In Jordan's waters You began
To bear the sin of sinful man.
O Friend of sinners, You fulfill
For me the Father's gracious will.

2. O Christ, You opened heaven wide
To usher Your redeemed inside.
The Father, pleased: so says His voice!
Forgiven sinners now rejoice.
Dwell with me there, that I may see
The Father who is pleased with me.

3. O Christ, on whom the Spirit rests,
Sustain me in my many tests.
Give me Your blood-washed robe to wear.
Anoint me with the Spirit there
In that most blest baptismal tide
Which surges from your piercèd side.

4. O Christ, my sinless Substitute,
Your righteousness to me impute.
You bear my guilt, my sin, my shame
And place on me Your holy name.
Your new creation I will be,
For You have died my death for me.

88 88 88
Temporary tune: ALL EHR UND LOB (LSB 948)
Occasion: Epiphany I/Baptism of Our Lord
Text: Matthew 3:13-17

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sermon for 3/20/16: Palmarum--Sunday of the Passion

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

One cannot help but be familiar with the old spiritual which asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” In a sense, it’s a preposterous question. After all, the crucifixion of Jesus took place nearly two-thousand years ago. But in another sense, we were there. All the dark secrets of our hearts are exposed this week. We are present in the betrayal by Judas; present in Peter's denial; present in the hateful crowd that cried out for Barabbas; present in the priests and elders who screamed for Christ’s blood; present in the cowardice and expediency of Pilate; present in the cruelty of the Roman guard. You were there as certainly as if it had been your own hands that drove the nails into the hands and feet of your Lord. But do not avert your gaze for shame. Instead repent and rejoice, for the Son of Man was lifted up to draw you to Himself. His crucifixion is your salvation, for He prays the wages of sin with His own blood.

Make confession of your sin, lest your faith grow cold and your heart turn to stone. Examine yourself. Ask with the disciples, “Lord, is it I?” And then leave it there. Whatever sins you carry with you as you approach the cross this week, whatever regrets haunt you from this past year, whatever you've done wrong or left undone or unsaid, whatever shame you know, leave it all at the foot of the cross. Rejoice in the death of Jesus, in the harrowing of Hell, the destruction of the tempter, and the prophecy fulfilled. Rejoice in the will of God to make you His, the obedience of the Son, and the coming of the Resurrection.

His faithfulness is not derived from your obedience or loyalty. You were not worthy of His love, but He loves you anyway. It was His will to suffer your betrayal and abuse so that you would be spared. You ask: “Is it I, Lord?” And He says, “No. It is not. It is I. You are innocent. In my blood, you are righteous and well-pleasing to the Father. The burden of all your past, present, and future guilt has been carried to my cross and buried in the ground. Your sins are gone. The thorns, the scourge, and the nails have bled them out of Me, and you are clean. You are not accountable in heaven for sins on earth. You do not pay for what you have done, what you have thought or dreamed, or what you have said. I paid it all. There is no more. I welcome you back again. I love you, and I love you here with Me. I did it all for you so that you would be Mine. Be at peace.”

Is it too easy? Is it so simple that you find it hard to believe? Is it too good to be true? Think on Barabbas, who was guilty of vile crimes, of treachery and betrayal. He took advantage of his own people. He was not trusted or respected. He ruined everything good he'd ever known. Yet he went free, pardoned of his crimes, restored to his people, given another chance, a new future. The mob chose him, a murderer, in their hatred over the Lord of Life who had healed their sick, driven off the demons, and given back their dead. But the Father was not sad. He would not have it any other way. What they chose in their hatred, what they meant for evil, He meant for good. In the end, it is not they who chose Barabbas, but God. God rescued him from his guilt and penalty. Jesus switched places with him. It could not be any other way. For in this way, by the condemnation, the forsaking, the bitter sufferings and death of Our Lord, God won back His creation from the Fall. He made all things new and rose again for your justification. Is it so simple that it is hard to believe? That’s possible. But accepting the truth of God’s goodness is not nearly as hard as going to Hell. Barabbas was spared. So, too, are you.

Let this week heal your sin-sick soul. Let it bind up your broken heart and restore your courage and your faith. Do not weep for your Lord; rejoice and sing, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The will of the Father is seen on the cross. The Name of the Father is glorified there. The Passover is done. The New Testament in His Blood is begun. And you are His once again, now and forevermore. “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.” “His mercy endureth forever.” 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.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sermon for 3/16/16: Midweek Lent V (Hymns series)

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O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

It had to be the worst trade, the worst exchange in all of human history. The crowd had Jesus in its hands—Jesus, the Lord of life, the King of kings, the Messiah promised to their ultimate parents—and it traded Him for Barabbas, an insurrectionist and a murderer. That would be like trading Yadier Molina for…well, for me. No one in their right minds would make such a trade, and yet the crowd, egged on by the faithless chief priests and rulers, cried out for Barabbas and demanded that Jesus be crucified. Pilate knew the truth; so did Herod. Pilate said, “Indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him.” And the chief priests, the rulers, and the crowd itself knew the truth. Caiaphas had been cunning and coldly rational when he explained that “it was expedient that one man should die for the people.” The religious leaders dissembled before Pilate: “If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.” The crowd was insistent: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” The truth didn’t matter. Jesus had to die. The mob demanded it, and Pilate gave in.

O dearest Jesus, what law hast thou broken
That such sharp sentence should on Thee be spoken?
Of what great crime hast Thou to make confession,
What dark transgression?

There was no transgression, no crime—just the bitter, jealous rage of those who should have known better.   

Some people claim that this was the same crowd that had, just days earlier, acclaimed Jesus as the Son of David as they waved palm branches and laid their cloaks on the road before Him. Others say that this was a different crowd, a veritable lynch mob assembled by the religious leaders of the Jews for the very purpose of destroying Jesus. Perhaps they had given in to threats from the priests or to peer pressure from their neighbors. In the end, it doesn’t matter who was included in the assembled crowd. In the end, they screamed for the death of Jesus.

They crown Thy head with thorns, they smite, they scourge Thee;
With cruel mockings to the cross they urge Thee.

But once again, we must be careful about passing judgment on them. Every time we put our trust in our own strength; every time we love the treasures of this world more than the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation which God bestows in His Sacraments; every time we run to the pleasures of our flesh rather than the goodness of God, we ourselves scream out with the crowd, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! His blood be on us and on our children!” The Old Adam within us is out for blood, and—God help us!—Jesus gives us exactly what we want. “The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander.” His blood is on our stained hands as surely as if we had beaten Him, mocked Him, and nailed Him to the cross ourselves.

Oh, the wonderful and mysterious justice of God! Only by the gracious and merciful power of God could such a dreadful prayer for blood be heard by our heavenly Father and answered as a mighty blessing to His children. The children of Israel wanted the blood of Jesus to spill? The Father allowed that innocent blood to be spilled. The thorn-encircled brow of Jesus spilled innocent blood. The hands and feet of Jesus spilled innocent blood. And innocent blood and blameless water flowed forth from the pierced side of Jesus. And just as the Father promised it would be, the life of all flesh is blood, for the blood of Jesus is the life of the Church. The blood and water flowing forth from the side of Jesus are the sign of the Sacraments: water with the Word of God washing us clean in Holy Baptism, and blood with the body of Christ feeding us in the Holy Supper. His blood is, indeed, upon us and upon our children. And His blood is our life.

The sinless Son of God must die in sadness;
The sinful child of man may live in gladness;
Man forfeited his life and is acquitted,
God is committed.

There is no sin so damning, no guilt so overwhelming, that it is not overcome by the innocent, bitter suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is committed: committed to your salvation; committed to sacrificing His innocent Son for all people; committed to accepting His Son’s blood as the price of our forgiveness. He has broken no law, committed no crime, done no wrong. That makes Him the perfect sacrifice for wayward sheep.

And when, dear Lord, before Thy throne in heaven
To me the crown of joy at last is given,
Where sweetest hymns Thy saints forever raise Thee,
I, too, shall praise Thee.

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.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

HYMN: O Jesus, God in Flesh

I've wrestled with what to do about the 12 year-old Jesus in the Temple. I mean, it's an Epiphany text, but it's not filled with the miraculous. All we see is a glimpse of the Christ in His youth, where His divine power is not apparent. But what we do see is the wisdom which was prophesied. He asked questions, listened to the Teachers in the temple, and demonstrated the wisdom that so many Old Testament prophets foresaw. So I focused on that wisdom as Jesus, the Temple not made by hands, sat in the temple that foreshadowed Him.

O Jesus, God in Flesh

1. O Jesus, God in flesh
To dwell among Your people,
You sat in Zion's walls:
The Temple in the temple.
Teach us to crave Your Word:
To listen and confess,
To seek You, Jesus Christ,
In joy and in distress.

2. O Wisdom, prophesied,
Begotten of the Father
To do the Father's will
Where faithful children gather,
Teach us to cling by faith
To things we cannot see,
To evermore embrace
Your holy mystery.

3. Lord Jesus, God's own Son,
You came for our salvation
And, even in Your youth,
Were living Your vocation.
Bring us to dwell with You,
We faithful two or three,
Abiding in Your gifts
Where You have vowed to be.

67 67 66 66
Occasion: First Sunday After the Epiphany (Historic)
Text: Luke 2:40-52

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sermon for 3/13/16: Fifth Sunday in Lent

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.

Keeping the Word

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus said, “Whoever is of God hears God’s words.” You may also recall Jesus saying to the Devil, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.” It’s simple. Either a person is a hearer and keeper of God's Word and therefore belongs to God, or they are despisers of God's Word and children of the devil. Either our words are what matters most—our thoughts, our notions, whatever the devil, world and flesh teach us—or else we are rescued by the Lord who gives us His Word, which rescues us from our sins and delivers Jesus to us so that we are saved.

When Jesus is throwing fighting words at these Jews, eternal life is at stake! You see, the Jews said that one is righteous and holy by keeping the commandments and laws faithfully. If one does good, God will give a reward. Jesus, on the other hand, teaches that your only hope with God is that His Son has come into this world to save sinners. The self-righteousness of the Jews breeds hatred and evil. Rather than rejoice that Jesus has come to save them, they call Him names and despise His Word. So Jesus does what He always does: He preaches God's Word, calling sinners to repentance. But they don't want it! They flatter themselves thinking they are God's children, but in truth they are the devil's children. They are so upset to be called murderers that they pick up stones to try and kill Jesus.

This account is recorded to warn us not to be children of the devil, but children of God by hearing and believing and keeping the Words of God delivered to us through Jesus. Here you are called to repentance. If you are children of God, you would love Jesus and keep His Words. Do you? Is your life centered on the Word of God? Is your highest joy in this life to hear and learn what the Holy Scriptures teach? Do you spring from you bed on Sunday morning because you have the glorious opportunity to hear His Word being read and preached and sung? Do you have such a joy from God's Word that you teach it to your children and share it with those around you? Or is the Word of God not such a big deal to you? My brothers and sisters, don't be like the Jews. Don’t be like those who want their name in the church directory but never darken the door where God's Word is preached. Don't come to hear God's Word in worship and then forget what it's all about before your wheels have even left the parking lot! Repent of such despising of God's Word. Rejoice with Abraham that you have seen Christ's Day!

Repent indeed of despising God's Word. It's a hard thing to do. But rejoice that our salvation isn't in how faithful WE are. Our salvation is in Jesus, who came to deliver God's Word and do the work His Father sent Him to do. He came to fulfill God's Word which Abraham spoke. “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” The Lord will see to it. And so God does indeed provide the lamb for the offering. And it won’t be just any lamb, but the Lamb: the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Lord would never require us to sacrifice our sons to cover our sins. But that same Lord freely sends His own Son, and the Son freely obeys His Father and comes to be the once-for-all sacrifice for sins. Here the Lord does not spare the knife. The Father pierces the Son for our sins and sheds His blood for our salvation.

This is all delivered and given to you in His Word, which is why His words are so important. The Words of the Holy Scriptures preached; the Word in the water at the font; the words of Holy Absolution; the Word made flesh given you to eat and drink: this is the life-giving Word. And what does Jesus say about His Word? “If anyone keeps my Word, he shall not see death.” That doesn't mean you won't die, but it does mean that death will be a sleep, softened by the hope and comfort of Christ's Word which promises that we will be raised on the Last Day.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, it doesn’t matter how much or how little you know about God's Word. Know this: there is always more the Lord has to give in His Word. Only the children of the devil will despise it and not come to hear and learn it. But you, children of God in the waters of Holy Baptism, come and hear the Word, for by that Word you have been delivered from your sins, and by that Word you will not see death; you will be raised to eternal life. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

HYMN: Holy Power, Holy Mercy

Looking at the texts appointed for the Second Sunday After the Epiphany in the Lutheran Service Book 1-year lectionary, it struck me how many times I've focused on the power aspect of the miracle at Cana, of Jesus turning simple water into the finest wine; but I've not always taken to heart the mercy of the miracle: Jesus, whose time had not yet come and who had barely begun His earthly ministry, stepping forward in compassion to answer a simple human need. With that in mind, I penned this text. The first two verses are about Christ as incarnate power and mercy of God, and the third is a prayer. Feedback is life.

Holy Power, Holy Mercy

1. Holy power, holy mercy
Manifest in Christ the Lord.
Jesus, Agent of creation,
Is the true, incarnate Word.
In this first of many wonders
Great compassion Jesus shows.
God in flesh to save His people
Proves His love in human woes.

2. He who knows our every weakness,
He who bears our grief and shame,
He who heeds our supplications
Hears and answers by His name.
At a time of His own choosing,
Though it seems our fears increase,
Christ shall turn our troubled waters
Into wine of sweetest peace.

3. Come, Emmanuel, our Savior,
God of love revealed in man!
As we trust Your mighty mercy,
Open up Your gentle hand.
Every simple gift You give us
Is a foretaste of the grace
Which forever lies before us
When at last we see Your face.

87 87 D
Temporary Tune: Beach Spring (LSB 848)
Note: NEVER EVER to be sung to "Ode to Joy"
Occasion: Epiphany II
Text: John 2:1-12

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Oops! I did it again...SET edition

Pastors of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod are required to fill out a SET form. The SET, or Self-Evaluation Tool, is intended to give an indication of where you stand on issues that are important in our church body. It had been a while since I'd updated mine. I have no desire to go anywhere else, but you know me: when Synod requires me to do something, I'm an obedient son. *eyeroll* Anywhere, here it is. I'm an open book.

1. Describe your understanding of the church and its mission, especially regarding outreach to the lost.
The mission of the Church is two-fold. First, its pastors, who have been regularly called to Christ's office, are to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, teach the Gospel in its purity, and faithfully administer the Sacraments according to Christ's institution (Matthew 28:16-20). The royal priesthood of believers hears this Word, receives the Sacraments, and glorifies God in its confession of faith and in holy living (Romans 10:17). Second, its pastors and laity together should work to reach those who are lost and who are delinquent, sharing the Gospel in words and in living the life of one redeemed by the crucified Christ (I Corinthians 3:6-7).

2. Describe your understanding of the Office of the Public Ministry.
The Office of the Holy Ministry has been established by Christ for the sake of administering His gifts to His Bride, the Church (John 21:15-17). The pastor, acting in the stead of Christ on behalf of the congregation, preaches the Word, speaks the Word of forgiveness, and rightly administers the Sacraments (John 20:19-23). The congregation is free to establish auxiliary positions as necessary so that the work of the Church may go forward, but the Office of the Holy Ministry consists of men who are set apart specifically for the purpose of preaching and administering the Sacraments.

3. What is your understanding of the role of pastor as it relates to the role of the laity as members of the universal priesthood of believers.
Scripture teaches that the Office of the Holy Ministry is distinct from and yet part of the royal priesthood of believers and is given only to certain men whom God calls. The royal priesthood of believers may freely take part in administrative offices of the congregation and may through words and actions bear witness to the grace of God in their lives. The pastor—through preaching, teaching, and feeding the congregation with Christ’s body and blood—equips the royal priesthood for service both in the Church and in their worldly vocations. Pastors and laypeople work together to do the work for which God calls them.

4. Describe your commitment to the doctrine and practice of the Synod.
In accordance with my Ordination vows, I believe the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments are the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice. I accept the three ecumenical creeds as faithful testimonies to the truth of Scripture, and I reject the errors they condemn. I believe the Book of Concord is a true and faithful exposition of the Word of God. Where the doctrine and practice of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod remain faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, I remain faithful to Synod’s doctrine and practice.

5. Describe your pastoral approach and practice.
I am not extroverted, so I tend to lead quietly if possible. I try to get to know the members of my congregation mostly through one-on-one conversations rather than community events, though I have no problem participating in those events. Pastors do not belong on pedestals, being sinners like the rest of humanity. I do what I can to set people at ease, preferring the congregation to feel more like a family than a business. I try to honor the Ministry and the congregation I serve with an upright life, asking God’s forgiveness when I fail. Finally, I believe that doctrine and teaching must be at the heart of pastoral practice. It does little good and may do great harm to feed somebody with Christ’s body and blood if they do not understand what that means.

6. Describe your personal spiritual disciplines, prayer and devotional life.
My aim is to have personal devotions both morning and evening, and these are usually patterned after Matins and Vespers (or Compline). My habit upon arriving at the study is to spend some time in prayer over the day’s agenda and over a portion of the membership directory, remembering specific families in my prayers (I Timothy 2:4). I usually also engage in some devotional reading in the Scriptures and/or the Lutheran Confessions.

7. What do you consider to be your strengths in ministry.
Though I am able to perform all the duties of the Ministry with a general aptitude, I consider my greatest strengths to be preaching, conducting the liturgy, administering the Sacraments, and working with the youth and college-aged members of the congregation. I have also worked as an administrator in public sector, which has strengthened my ability to handle the administrative duties of the Ministry with greater aptitude and good will.

8. Describe the areas of your ministry needing improvement and what you are doing to improve them.
I believe all areas of my ministry can always stand to be improved. I am a sinner, and that taints everything I do. To improve, I bring these concerns to the Lord in prayer, seek absolution for my sins, read, speak to my parishioners and colleagues in the ministry for input, participate in continuing education, and keep doing what I'm called to do in hopes of improving with more practice and performance.

9. Describe your preferred practice regarding the use of The Lutheran Hymnal, Lutheran Worship, other hymnals and songbooks.
My strong preference is for traditional, liturgical worship using traditional hymns. I have been trained in the use of The Lutheran Hymnal, Lutheran Worship, and Lutheran Service Book.The Lord continually brings forth new music and resources for liturgy, and as long as these are faithful to the Word of God and do not cause distraction, I am willing to use these new resources. I am traditional but not legalistic.

10. Describe your preferred practice regarding alternate forms of worship (Creative Worship, writing own liturgies, etc.).
I do not use Creative Worship, and I do not write my own liturgies for Sunday worship. We have a great liturgical heritage, and I do not cast that aside. What happens on Sunday morning should be different than what happens in the world during the rest of the week. I have, on occasion, assembled a worship service from various resources for special occasions (for example, a Christmas program), but such services draw heavily from our great liturgical heritage. I do, however, write hymns, which I use as appropriate.

11. Describe your preferred practice regarding children's sermons in the worship service.
Generally I do not include children’s sermons in the worship service. I have no strong objection to them, but it’s not something with which I feel I am adequately gifted. I would not, however, abandon the practice in a congregation that already includes them in their worship life.

12. Describe your preferred practice regarding pastoral services (weddings, funerals, visitations, etc.) to non-members, non-Lutherans, or the unchurched.
In most cases, the nature of such occasional services should be geared toward serving the members of the congregation. These are all services of the congregation to which all members are invited (even if few come without specific invitation), and thus are subject to all the requirements of any public worship service of the congregation. I do not generally perform weddings for non-members, unless the couple intends to become members. I do not generally perform funerals for non-members. I am more than willing to visit with and give comfort I can in good conscience offer to non-members in any circumstances. Weddings and funerals are not an evangelism tool, and we give a bad impression when we try to use them that way. I do not perform weddings for homosexuals, and, should such a requirement be made by the state, I will refuse to do all weddings.

If a congregation has a set policy regarding occasional services, then I follow it.

13. How do you view the charismatic renewal movement?
While many sincere Christians are involved in the charismatic movement, their sincerity does not necessarily translate into good theology. I in no way subscribe to the charismatic movement. I believe and teach that God has not chosen to deal with us apart from His external Word and Sacraments. The Holy Spirit testifies to Christ alone and does not speak from Himself but from Christ (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit is given in Baptism and through the external Word of God. Certainly there is room for patient and gentle teaching to lead toward a greater appreciation for the blessings God has already given all the faithful though Baptism.

14a. How do you view working in a multi-staff ministry (pastor-pastor, pastor-DCE, pastor-school staff)?
So long as one does not mean numerous pastors at one congregation who specialize in different areas TO THE EXCLUSION of the other duties of the divine Call, or others besides pastors performing the functions of the Office of the Holy Ministry, then I see many advantages to a multi-staff parish. However, the congregation must give detailed definition to the role of each member of the staff to minimize conflict.

14b. How do you view serving as the pastor of a multi-congregation parish?
I have served as a Sole Pastor in smaller rural parishes and as an Associate Pastor in a large (1,200 member) parish. I would be willing to serve as a Sole Pastor in a single- or multiple-point parish or as the member of a team as either the Senior or Associate Pastor.

15. How do you view the ministry of the Lutheran school?
The need for our children’s education to be grounded in Christ is vital! When Lutheran schools remain uniquely Lutheran, they are an excellent means for allowing children to be raised and taught in an environment that does not disparage the faith and prayer, but rather builds these up while helping children to grow in useful knowledge. I attended Lutheran schools from Kindergarten through 8th Grade, and I thank God for that firm foundation in the faith.

16. Describe any strong preference you have toward a certain type of ministry.
I prefer being a parish pastor, either in a congregational or a campus setting. I am willing to be a Sole Pastor or part of a team, and the size of the congregation or the community doesn’t matter. God can do great things with the smallest of congregations, and sometimes larger congregations have a longer reach than a smaller congregation can achieve.

17. Describe your preferred Communion practice in view of Resolution 3-08 (Indianapolis, 1986): "Resolved, that the pastors and congregations of the LCMS continue to abide by the practice of close communion, which includes the necessity of exercising responsible pastoral care in extraordinary situations and circumstances."
Closed Communion is what the Church has practiced since its earliest days (I Corinthians 11:17-34). We continue the practice of the ancient Church, which exercised their care and compassion toward the people who would commune so that they did not mistakenly receive the Lord’s Supper to their judgment rather than to their blessing. So called "extraordinary situations and circumstances" remain just that and should not be the norm.

18. Describe your preferred practice regarding the priority of the Lord's Supper in public worship, including its frequency.
It is best for the Lord's Supper to be provided often—preferably every Sunday—and received as often as possible (Luke 22:14-20). However, when this is not the practice of a congregation, this must be handled with the utmost care and caution. God forbid that we make a law out of this source of tremendous Gospel!

19. Describe your preferred practice regarding the use of common or individual cups for communion.
The use of individual cups is the result of concern regarding infectious disease. While the use of individual cups in no way invalidates the Lord’s Supper, the symbolism of the common cup illustrates the unity of the Church at this sacred moment in the Divine Service. I prefer the use of the common cup, though I am willing to use either or both.

20. Describe your preferred practice regarding first communion: before or after confirmation.
There is no reason why first communion must be tied to Confirmation, so long as the recipient believes the words "given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins" and has been taught the basics of the Christian faith (I Corinthians 11:17-34). However, for the sake of the Church at large and for good order, the congregations I have served in the past have waited.

21. Describe your preferred practice regarding the use of lay people (men, women, youth) to assist in worship, including as acolytes and lectors.
The people of God are always participating in worship through their receiving, listening, singing, responding, and praying. Though I prefer the pastor to perform pastoral duties, I see no issue with the leaders of the congregation taking part in the leading of the liturgy, especially if the congregation has adopted this practice.

I believe the pastor should read from Scripture in the Divine Service, as the proclamation of the Word is an extension of the Office of the Ministry (I Timothy 4:13).

22. Describe your preferred practice regarding women's suffrage in view of Resolution 2-17 (Denver, 1969) and as reaffirmed in Resolution 3-05 (St. Louis, 1995).
Scripture neither prohibits nor commands voting, nor does it command or prohibit the vote of women in the church. I am willing to abide by the will of the congregation with respect to the matter of women’s suffrage.

23. Describe your preferred practice regarding the service of women in the church.
Generally, though diverse congregations have diverse definitions for these roles, elders act as extensions of the pastor’s office when they assist with communion distribution, read sermons in the pastor’s unexpected absence and in other matters act as the pastor acts within the congregation on the pastor’s behalf. Presidents usually sit on every administrative board of the congregation including the Board of Elders, and the Vice President serves in that fashion when the President is unable to do so. Therefore, I submit that to have women serve in such offices places them into a position in which they engage in the distinctive functions of the pastoral office and this would not be biblical (Ephesians 5:21-33, Genesis 2:23-24). Other than these restrictions, I believe that women are God’s wonderful gift to the Church, the jewel of His creation, and they ought to have the widest possible latitude in serving their Lord in any way that does not compromise Scriptural and Confessional integrity.

24. Describe your preferred practice regarding the church's involvement in human care ministries in the community.
Any activity of the congregation must flow from and serve the purpose of the Church's mission to bring the unbeliever to Christ. As long as our theological/liturgical integrity is not brought into question , I see no problem with such community involvement for the good of our communities (Matthew 25).

25. Describe your preferred practice regarding inter-Lutheran relationships and inter-Christian relationships.
As members of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, we are to “…renounce unionism and syncretism of every description.” If I am to remain faithful to my calling and ordination vows, I cannot and will not participate in joint worship leadership with those church bodies with which we are not in formally declared altar and pulpit fellowship, nor will I, under any circumstances, participate in any forum which is inter-faith in nature in which acts of worship are being offered jointly to both false gods and the one, true God. Such acts dishonor God and disrespect our mutual agreements as members of the synod. With respect to our dealings on a day-to-day basis, we need to recognize those of other Christian denominations as our brothers and sisters in Christ and to be respectful at all times while refusing to sacrifice our theological integrity.

26. Describe the community or extra-congregational activities in which you have participated.
I have participated in various food pantries. I have volunteered at and been an employee of a community youth center, and I have been the manager of a different community center. I have been a judge and official for various school sports. I write for various theological magazines and journals. I have been a guest on Issues, Etc. and presented at the 2011 Higher Things conference in Illinois. During my CRM (Inactive Candidate) period I preached in a number of congregations throughout the Southern District, serving two vacancies and offering pulpit supply as needed for pastors who were vacationing, ill, and in the midst of family emergencies. I have also regularly led nursing home devotions.

27. Enumerate skills you have acquired (Clinical Pastoral Education, sign language, substance abuse, counseling, etc.) and other continuing education courses you have taken.
-- Preaching the Catechism for Lent conducted by Rev. John Pless; Minot, ND; 1/8-9/01; 3 hours
-- The Book of Revelation conducted by Rev. Louis Brighton; Fargo, ND; 8/13-15/01; 3 hours
-- PALS; The North Dakota District; 2000-2003; 3 hours
-- Christ on Campus 3 conducted by Higher Things magazine; Bloomington, IN; 6/28-30/05; 8 hours
-- Lenten Preaching Seminar; St. Louis, MO; 1/2011; 3 hours
-- Hymnwriter Conference; Columbia, MO; 1/2013; 3 days

28. What plans do you have for future continuing education and/or special skill building?
I intend to participate in further continuing education events as opportunities present themselves. I'd like to attend more campus and youth conferences, as well as theological conferences. I've considered pursuing a DMin, and I am engaged in a long-term independent study of hymnody and hymnology.

29. What hobbies or activities do you pursue outside your regular work of ministry.
I spend time with my wife and children, read, participate in various sports, cook, listen to various types of music, and spend time online. I am a novelist and I write hymns.

30. How do you safeguard quality time to be with your family?
I am committed to taking a regular day off every week (excepting emergency situations, of course) and taking my allotment of vacation days.

31. Do you presently own your own home? How do you feel about home ownership for you and your family?
I do not currently own my own home. I have no preference between home ownership and living in a parsonage.

32. Do you have any strong feelings or needs relative to the size of community in which you live?
I prefer to live in a rural or suburban community. I have experienced living in communities defined as rural, and I like the rural, "small town" environment. I grew up in a suburb of Buffalo, New York, and I feel comfortable in such communities. I also appreciate the campus setting, which is often a small community setting. I’m willing to consider any Call to any location.

33. Do you have any strong feelings about the size of parish where you serve?
I prefer a small- to medium-sized single-congregation parish, up to about 350 members, or an Associate Pastor position in a slightly larger parish. I have no ambition to serve in a mega-church parish.

34. Describe any special health or personal needs which you or your family have which would enter into your consideration of a Call.
My wife and I have three children: an teen girl and pre-adolescent twins, boy and girl. My son is on the autism spectrum.

35. Describe your preferred practice toward an interview by a calling congregation before a Call is issued.
I am open to an interview before a call is issued, and frankly, I recommend it given the current diversity of doctrine and practice now existent in our synod.

36. Is there anything else in your present ministry that you would like to share that might be pertinent to a calling congregation.
I am happy to be serving where God has sent me.