Under Construction

Did you ever look at a construction site? I mean really look? It’s a mess! There are holes here and there, piles of things you don’t quite know what they are, machines, some of which seem to serve no purpose whatsoever, some people who seem to be busy and some who don’t. 

I have a catechism class that is under construction. It’s a work zone. There are a lot of ideas that don’t seem to be fastened to others. We have students hunting for this, that, and the other part, not knowing for certain where it will fit. We have a lot of empty spaces, especially at the beginning of the class. And our building, the mature young Christians, well, let’s confess the finished product isn’t in sight and what we can see doesn’t look much like what we hope to see in the future.

Week 1 – (me) “We’re going to sing this song now.” sings song with students alternatively rolling eyes or mumbling along

Week 6 – (me) “We’re going to sing this song now.” sings song with students singing along

Week 8 – “What song do you want to sing?” (students pick three more songs than we have time to sing

Projections for week 12 – me “Why did you want to sing that song?” (students give a good reason)

The same is true for reading the Bible, trying to memorize and discuss catechism questions, looking for answers to problems in Bible passages. We start out and it looks pretty rough. Before long, students are on board. They can then build something that looks like the blueprint I had in mind. We didn’t boggle their minds by showing them the whole map at once and saying where they were going. We let them figure it out as we put the pieces together a bit at a time.

When are you done with the construction project known as catechesis? 1 Corinthians 13;12 (ESV) says “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Then our part of the building is done.

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The relationship between dogmatic and pastoral theology

As I have read the writings of different theologians and pastors, I have sometimes noticed a divide between theological writings and pastoral writings. Of course, they both do serve different purposes, and thus are going to be different by nature. But sometimes the theology I see in theological writings is different than that which I see in sermons.

I know a Lutheran pastor, who in conversation is very committed to the teachings of the Lutheran Confessions. However, in his sermons, he often sounds like a universalist. The concept of repentance is also often missing, though he believes in its importance theologically. He has said that lay people simply can’t understand theology, and so he dumbs everything down as much as he can in his preaching. The problem is, everything is dumbed down so much that none of his theology comes through.

We need to be careful how we word things in our preaching and pastoral ministry. We need to be very conscious of conveying what we believe in our teaching, and doing so in such a way that the truth is not compromised, and is understandable by the laity. 

 

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The Promise of Forgiveness

There probably is nothing more dreaded as a Pastor than those call that comes late in the evening especially on a Sunday evening. When that phone rings it usually means one thing that someone in your congregation has either went into the hospital or passed on into that eternal kingdom. With an aging congregation this is only expected. Last night was one of those calls only what was not expected is what I heard. The lady who called me said that she had just received an email that was addressed to all of the school board members (our church had a K-8 school which had closed just about a month prior for financial reasons). She said that a former student had taken his own life. Not only was this student doing fairly well at our school but he had also made friends with my own children. To hear something like this makes you stop for just a minute and consider all of what must have led this young man to take such a drastic measure.

With very little sleep I have been running through in my mind all of those things which come with trying to understand what would lead someone with so much potential to take his own life in this way? While the answers are never easy it is times like this that we are reminded of the importance of sharing the gospel to everyone we possibly can. We may not know that person’s life situation or what is going through their mind but what we do know is that Jesus left us with these words “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27. While we would hope that every situation would turn out to be the best we can rest assured that even in the worst of situations he will never leave us nor forsake us. We are called to share the good news that there is forgiveness in Christ through His life, death and resurrection. This tragedy is a reminder that life is short and that to offer forgiveness is to offer life. That is why we as Christians carry the blessing of hope in Jesus Christ. By what He has done for us we are forgiven and we too can offer this forgiveness to those around us. Let us remember then “We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19.

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Using the Red Light

What’s that red light for? You know, the one hanging at the front of the church? This is a question I field sometimes as a pastor. It’s a question that gives us opportunity to talk about Jesus at work in this world. Usually in our culture a red light is a symbol for stopping. But if you step into the nave of a Lutheran church and look into the sanctuary, the place behind the altar rail, behind the pulpit or lectern, you’ll almost always find a red light. This red light doesn’t tell us to stop, or does it? It’s a light which is kept on in the church building all the time, symbolic of the presence of Jesus’ blood, shed for all who believe, always available to us for forgiveness.

In our church the light is produced by a long-burning candle which is inside a red glass cylinder. Every week the candle is replaced. Every week the flame starts at the top and moves down toward the bottom. When I step into the nave the level of the flame reminds me to pause, to reflect on the fact that Jesus has given himself for me once for all time, but that time continues to pass. The flame is lower today than it was yesterday.  Many events have happened, events that I need to pray about, circumstances I have reacted to, often badly, situations for which I need to repent and receive God’s forgiveness.

It’s always there. The time flies by. I come and go. Jesus is always there. What happens when we stop and observe the red light? We stop and observe Jesus who gave himself for us.

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The Importance of Good Hymns

As you know, this past Sunday was Reformation Sunday. Reformation day is one of my favorite celebrations of the church year. One of the reasons for that is that its a time when we sing “A Mighty Fortress.” It is also a time when I listen to many of Luther’s hymns.

As I listen to Luther’s hymns, I am taken into the music by both the powerful tunes and lyrics. His songs vary from sounding like war songs, gregorian chant, or even like romantic lute songs. I am reminded of the shallow nature of so much music today. Luther’s hymns are powerful because they have lyrics that are doctrinally saturated. They are great tools of teaching the faith.

Along with the importance of good lyrics is the nature of the tunes. A good tune will have one singing it throughout the day, long after the worship service is over. I often find myself singing hymns after the service is over.

As pastors, we need to be conscious of the music we use during our service. This doesn’t mean just picking songs from the LSB or the TLH or LBW, because even some Lutheran hymns fail to teach. Also, some of the best hymns aren’t included in these hymnals. These hymns should teach our people. They should be songs which will give our people something to think about and meditate on even after the service is over.

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Caring Relationships

(God) who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God – 2 Corinthians 1:4

We all go through difficult times in life when we need encouragement, prayer and support. Daily, in our congregations, people suffer due to; crises, tragedies, death, illness, despair, job loss, loneliness, and discouragement and they often don’t have anyone that they can turn to. Family members may be scattered, friends might not know how to deal with certain situations and our pastors are only able to handle so much. So when a crisis or challenge hits, many people have no one to turn to and end up facing it alone.

Two are better than one,

    because they have a good return for their labor:

 If either of them falls down,

    one can help the other up.

But pity anyone who falls

    and has no one to help them up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

During these times people can receive a great benefit from a caring relationship with someone who will faithfully listen, empathize, pray with and for them, and encourage them with Christ’s love and care. Involving trained and supervised lay people is a natural and biblical way to meet the growing needs for care within a congregation – and to reach out with Christ’s love to hurting people who are facing these circumstances.

A program like Stephen Ministry can help so that people no longer have to go through these crises and difficulties alone. Instead they have a caregiver who provides consistent, quality, one-to-one, confidential care and will walk alongside them for as long as necessary providing the emotional and spiritual care they need.

Loving and caring for one another is not just the job of our families, elders or pastors—it’s something Jesus calls us all to do! Stephen Ministry is just one way in which people with gifts for caring ministry can utilize them in an organized way, bringing Christ’s love and care to those who need it.

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Disunity

Most Church buildings have a centre aisle, it splits the church auditorium down the middle. It may be just for easy access to the pews, or for the bride to walk down, and it adds symmetry. Sadly there is often another use for the aisle. Talk to enough pastors and you will hear of churches that are split…right down the middle. They have chosen sides of an issues with a 50/50 split…or some percentage close to that.

In fact, in extreme situations (and there appear to be many of them), people on either side of the “aisle” won’t talk to people on the other side. I wonder how those outside the church view this dynamic. Would you join a church that couldn’t get along with itself? Scripture says much about disunity:

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. (James 3:16-4:1-2)

       This seems to be a reminder that the Church is not full of perfect people. To be sure pastors will need to listen, to meet and to teach as they deal with disunity. These steps will help, but as I learn more about Lutheran Theology, it seems to me, the real hope for disunited churches will be found in communion as a body on a regular basis.  As we receive the elements, Christ is present, and in Christ we receive the foundation of our unity; not just with the local body, but with the church past, present and future. Perhaps as we grow in faith and understanding of Christ present among us, our disunity will be less and less of a problem and grace will be the mark of the local body.

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