Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Great interview with Higher Things President Rev. Bill Cwirla on the InternetMonk.
Find more info on Higher Things at http://higherthings.org/
3. What is at stake in not creating a separate “youth ministry” culture within the church?
Adolescence is a transitionary period from childhood to adulthood; it is not a subculture. Our task as adults is to get them through adolescence, not perpetuate it.
I compare youth work to a relay race. There is that critical point where the lead runner and the next runner need to be perfectly in step as the baton is passed. They must be running together, side by side. This is what HIgher Things is trying to do, have youth and adults “running together” in worship, in learning, in recreation, having youth get up to speed with adults so that the baton can be passed on to them. The word “tradition” means something handed on, and as we run the race that is set before us, we need to make sure that the next generation of runners is fully up to speed.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-22, ESV)
(from an outline by Rev. Mark D. Boxman, pastor, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Arkansas City, Kansas)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Things just aren’t the way they should be. You know what I mean. Things just don’t work out like we’d like them to work out. People just don’t get along like we think they should. We even see it here in the church. Old scars never seem to heal. New, unexpected hostility pops up and former friends get set against each other. Weather its money, or time, or authority people get divided. People put up walls of hostility. We know how it should be, and life just isn’t the way it should be.
St. Paul says it like this, there is a dividing wall of hostility, between Jews and Gentiles. He knew it shouldn’t be that way. The Jews and Gentiles knew it wasn’t supposed to be that way. (Illustration Jonah) God loves all people. He created us to live in relationship to each other. The Jews and Gentiles had a long history of hating each other. There were lots of things that separated them, culture, language, art, race, and religion. It was the same kind of relationship we see being played out with missile exchanges today. The dividing wall of hostility is played out in the daily news in blood.
That’s exactly why Jesus came to earth. He actually tore down the dividing wall of hostility. He has already made things the way they are suppose to be. God has reconciled old enemies. God had healed old scars. God has brought together Jew and Gentile. He has done it all Himself in Jesus Christ. Jesus blood shed on the cross has put an end to all sin between them. Through Jesus, God has united Jews and Gentiles into His Church, the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. We have one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one Spirit and one Holy Word of God. God has already done it all and we, you and I, right now, have it. Jesus Christ has made things the way they are suppose to be.
How that? You ask, as you look across the aisle at the person you can’t seem to get along with. How has Jesus torn down the wall that separates me from the people I enjoy fighting with? He’s done it with His Holy and precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.
Look around you. You know things aren’t the way they should be here at Trinity. We know how they are supposed to be. We should enjoy being together. We should be able to come to worship without feeling hostile to someone (we should be able to sit anywhere without causing a stir). We should be caring for one another. We should be taking Jesus to this community in a way that shows. We should be able to get along at meetings. We should have unity and harmony and peace in this place.
But we don’t. Sin is a work. Sin builds a very tall dividing wall between us. It prevents us from doing what we should be doing. It makes things other than the way they should be.
Jackie couldn’t bear to go to church. Joey was there. They worked at the same place and used to be best friends. But something happened, a conflict at work. Words were spoken. Feelings were hurt. Anger flared up. The anger spilt over into church activities and meetings. Sins a work cause things to change from the way they should be to the way they shouldn’t be, at work and at church. Jackie hasn’t been to church for years.
The marriage was breaking. Matt and Jill just couldn’t take the pressure anymore. Sin had crept in between them. The dividing wall was built up slowly, but when it got to a certain point everything else in their lives came crashing down. The sin of a broken marriage and divorce made things the way they shouldn’t be. The trouble made a mess of the family. Parents and children struggled to make the best of the situation but it was painful. And the pain spilled over into the church. Members seemed to be forced to pick sides.
Ray thought that some people just don’t belong in his church. He shouldn’t have to stand next to people who don’t even care to dress up for church. He shouldn’t have to put extra money in the collection plate because others don’t manager their money properly. He shouldn’t have to help people who don’t understand the value of a dollar. He shouldn’t have to take communion with them either. He was never so glad the church got rid of the common cup. He wasn’t afraid to tell them so either. “You don’t belong in this church.” He told one woman. And it worked. He didn’t have to see her any more.
Satan is hard at work in the Church. He’s hard at work in our church. He uses the dividing wall of hostility to divide and conquer. He uses the dividing wall of hostility to sap our energy so we aren’t doing the things we should be doing. He wants to separate you and I from each other. He wants to separate you and I from God.
Jesus makes things the way they should be. He came to tear down the dividing walls that we build up with Satan’s prodding. St. Paul says as much, that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. (2 Corinthians 5:19a, ESV) Jesus removes the sin that separates all people from God.
Think about the Ten Commandments. The first three are about our relationship to God. Commandments four through ten are about our relationship to other people. Sin that lives in our hearts breaks the first three first, and separates us from God. When we aren’t connected to God we can’t be connected to other people and we break the other seven. Jesus restores our relationship to God by keeping all the commandments for us. He restores us to God and to each other. (Fifth petition “forgive us our trespasses”, Paul pleads with Philemon for him to be reconciled with his servant Onesimus)
Jackie went to her pastor. She wanted to know what could be done. Her Pastor shared what God had done in Jesus about her sin and Joey’s too. He talked about how Jesus blood was shed for the forgiveness of their sin, especially the sin that creeps up between friends. Jackie suggested that maybe she should visit her old friend. After several discussions they were reconciled and became friends again. Jackie returned to church, in fact, every Sunday she sits right next to Joey.
Ray’s story too has turned out the way things are suppose to be. Jesus changes hearts. God’s Word showed Ray that Jesus died for everyone. He now heads the social ministry of the church. He’s found new ways for the church to care for folks who aren’t socially acceptable.
What about Matt and Jill? What that’s still a work in progress. Things just aren’t the way they should be… yet. Jesus never gives up. The Spirit works through God’s Word and Sacraments to soften people’s hearts to see that the dividing walls of hostility are really gone.
So what about you? Do you see that the dividing walls of hostility between you and God, and you and your fellow Christians are gone? Or are you hiding behind them? Jesus has torn them down. There’s nothing to them anymore.
Your relationship with God is everything it should be. Jesus has assured that with the shedding of His blood on the cross for you. He’s given you some precious gifts to use to melt away the pain and fear in your heart. In fact, He pours His Holy Blood right into you to do it. What better way is there to be sure of God’s forgiveness for you than to be connected directly to Him in His Supper? Jesus promises that His forgiveness is yours. That means that you too can forgive. The wall of hostility is torn down. Things are the way they should be. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Here's at Higher Things Sola 2009 top ten list from Pr. Cwirla (I whole heartedly agree!)
Top ten higher things at the Sola - San Antonio Higher Things youth conference:
10. Chris Loemker on the organ - Chris Rocks absolutely!
9. Listening to Bill Weedon burst into Latin
8. Bruce Keseman's PowerPoint
6. Kellee's chocolate fountain at the development reception - Wow!
5. Conference staff - Gina, Sue, Ann, Lynea, Hannah, David, Jacob, Carl, Daniel, Stan, Kellee, Sandra, Brent, Duane, Erin, Jason, Landon, Mark, Jon, George, Paul, Ringo....
4. San Antonio Zoo - steaming hot but awesome animals!
3. Ray Reed's Texas brisquit - holy smoke!
2. The Holst Te Deum
1. 800+ Kids Darin' to be Lutheran
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
We returned from Sola 09 in San Antonio on Saturday evening, just in time for me to prepare for Sunday Worship here at Trinity. What a great week. A few highlights.
"Dare to be Lutheran"
Worship: Reverent, relaxed, liturgical, traditional... in a word Great! Except for the use of incense in Evening prayer and a very little bit of "High church" during the Divine Service what was done could have been done in any church in the synod. Here's a sample of one of the highlights The Te Deum (LSB 941), with some amazing accompaniment.
Play: San Antonio Zoo. We ("higher things folks") had the run of the Zoo. Literally. We had it all to ourselves. We wandered around and talked to the animals. Except for the heat it was a great time.
Work: Great speakers and sessions. Weedon and Keseman The Three Solas. How much more Lutheran can you get.
Can't wait till next year.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 34:9-14, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
There's phrase in this Psalm that comes up several times. It's "fear the Lord." Of course I'm sure that just like me you learned that this isn't really "fear" as in to be afraid but fear as in respect. I remember being taught that when I was in Confirmation class. "You don't have to be afraid of God because of Jesus." I was told. Now I don't want you to get me wrong, I had a wonderful pastor who confirmed me and taught me the truth of God's Word, but maybe you and I have kind of put the cart before the horse. When I study this Psalm and how this word is used in other places it definitely has a part of it that means "fear" to be afraid. Maybe we've just forgotten why we should be afraid of God. I like to tell it to my confirmation students this way. This fear is like what you have for your father when your mother says, "Just wait till your father gets home!" It's the fear of punishment. You're guilty, you've been caught doing something wrong and punishment is coming. And even though you may love your father you on that day you don't want him to come home, you can wait. The normal happy return of Dad isn't going to be so happy this time. When he comes home, he's going to be angry because things aren't the way they should be. You've broken the rules and father is going to punish you because of it. There is no way to describe that feeling except as fear. Fear of punishment. (Movie Ex. A Christmas Story: Ralphy gets into a fight and lets out a stream of curse words. His mother sends him to his room. He waits in tears for his father to return. The anticipation is of the pending wrath and punishment is terrible). Maybe we've just forgotten how terrible God's punishment can be. Maybe we've just forgotten how God's anger burns against sin. Well, it's not hard to see that, is it? Just look at what is called religion outside of these doors. God is some kind of eternal gray haired grandfather who overlooks our mistakes. We sit on his lap and he whispers in our ears, "It's OK, I know you've done the best you could do. Nobodies perfect. I don't expect you to be perfect." That is, in fact the majority opinion out there. And I think we all have a tendency to think that that's the way God is. He takes our sins, lifts up the carpeting and sweeps it under. "Oh, don't worry about that icky old sin. You can't help yourself. I'll just ignore it." I did a search on the Internet and found such profound quotes as:
- · God doesn't expect us to be perfect, as He knows we're sinners and we're always going to sin. But yes, He does expect us to strive for all those [good] things
- · nobody is perfect..the only perfect person was Jesus , so God doesn't expect us to be perfect (because its impossible) but he does expect us to be good.
- · Now having a friendship with Jesus does require us to do several things: ¢ Being honest with God about our faults and feelings. God doesn't expect us to be perfect, but God does expect us to be honest. ¢ Choosing to obey God in faith, whether we completely understand where God is leading or not, we are to obey and be faithful.
- · Isn't it a comfort to know that God doesn't expect us to be perfect. He just loves us: weaknesses, warts, secrets, and all.
- · in my opinion God doesn't expect us to be perfect. In my opinion God wants us to simply try and be a good person, which is really the whole point of just about every major religion in existence. Perfect? No. Good people? Yes.
- · Honestly, I don't know, but it seems to me that truly confessing and professing Him must mean that the professing manifests itself in some tangible evidence. Are you really a new creation in Christ? Are you keeping His commandments? Do you love one another? I'm not trying to scare you; God doesn't expect us to be perfect yet, and I know He'll stand for a few spots and blemishes, sins of commission, and sins of omission. I'm only asking you to examine yourself and your profession of faith. If you understand the meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection, and if your life generally shows the fruits of the Spirit - even with a few wrinkles and dark places - than I think you're okay. If you don't feel you're okay, God is still ready to make things right. If you are okay, then get to work. I plan to."
Well these examples don't just match up with the God of the bible. God does indeed require perfection! He demands perfection in thought, word and deed. First, all you have to do is look at the 10 commandments. They cover every aspect of life. The first three talk about our relationship to God, and four through ten have to do with our relationship with others. And just in case you think that the commandments are suggestions and not God demand the humans be perfect, Jesus and St. Paul makes it very clear when they speak:
Thought: But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22, ESV)
Word: I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, (Matthew 12:36, ESV)
Deed: For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:5, ESV)
And how about Jesus words here in Matthew:
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48, ESV)
Those are only a few of the verses that I could list to show that God does indeed expect human beings to be perfect. He created us that way. We should have stayed that way. Now our imperfection deserves God's anger and wrath and punishment.
I think we do a lot to build up the perception that God just sweeps sin aside as if it didn't matter. Lots of the time we live our lives as if God doesn't require us to keep His commandments. We live and work and play and pretend that God doesn't hate my sin and your sin. What we usually like to do is give the impression that what God really hates is the ills of society, you know, what goes on out there, the injustice of the world. You know what I’m talking about. I could begin listing the issues in the air these days, like abortion, gay marriage, divorce, etc. Part of the problem is that we have associated our country, our society with God’s Promised Land. And we expect our government to behave… well Christian. As Christian citizens of this country we have an obligation to speak out about wrong and right and to do what we can about these kinds of issues, but the purpose of the church isn’t to change society. God didn’t place Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, in Creston, IA to solve the abortion problem or end gay marriage. While God certainly hates these open sins in our society, the church is here for sinful people to receive God’s gift of eternal life through Word and Sacrament. We get the church wrong when we get our focus wrong. Well frankly, we like pointing the finger out there in general but we don't like it when it lands on us. Just because Jesus died to take the punishment of our sin, doesn't mean we should just continue to do it. St. Paul talks about this a lot. In his letter to the Romans he ask them if Jesus death on the cross means they should intentionally sin so that God can give mercy. "By no means!" he says, "How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:2, ESV) And yet here we are continuing in our sin. And we're not talking about the big stuff here either. Sin is sin in God's eyes. For example, some of you have spoken to me about other members of the congregation in less than glowing terms. You have muttered "you fool" or worse under your breath about that person you just don't like. Lots of you have opened your mouths in the coffee shop and said what you know you shouldn't have said. You know when it happens, but you also know that once you speak something you can't take it back. And you've seen how much destruction it can do. And you know how you have wanted what other people have, and turned green with envy wondering why they should have it so good when you have to work so hard for what you have. And don't think I'm letting myself off the hook either. Whatever sins you are guilty of I am guilty of, a not just a Pastor, I'm a sinful person, too. We are all the same we are all sinful people. And if you think that's not a reason to "fear" God remember what He says.
The soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:20, ESV)
For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23, ESV)
Now, when you hear all this you understand what it means to "fear" God. You understand why we should be afraid of God and His just punishment. It's because God is good and just and holy. Justice isn't sweeping sin away and ignoring the punishment that is due. God is perfect and just that means that He must punish sin. That's what we deserve. The worst part is that we can't do anything about, we can't change ourselves, we can't stop sinning. We deserve what God has for us when we sin... punishment, eternal punishment.
Still think God isn't serious about sin? Still think he just shoves it under the rug or simply ignores it? I've got the best example of all that God is serious about sin. I've got the best example of all that we should be afraid of God's punishment. Just look at what He did to Jesus.
He was turned over to a brutal bunch of men who whipped him to next to death. He was forced to drag his own execution device up a high hill. He hung naked up there on the cross with nails driven through his hands and feet. And that's just the physical part of what he got. He shouted out in terror and pain, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" God, the Father, let it all happen. God wanted it to happen. He ignored Jesus. He turned his head away. Not to ignore sin, but to allow the full punishment for it to be done completely and fully and eternally. Jesus takes what sin deserves. Jesus suffers God's just anger. Jesus suffers God's just punishment. He suffers eternal rejection from God. That's exactly what those passages mean when they say "the wages of sin" and "the soul that sins." That's exactly what we should be afraid of. The punishment that we see given to Jesus is the punishment that we should have.
But the Psalm says something else about "the fear of the Lord." Did you notice it says fear the Lord, you his saints. It's talking to those who have faith, the saints of God, the ones who have faith in Jesus perfect sacrifice for their sin. The fear of the Lord in this Psalm is talking about more than just terror over sin, it's also talking about the faith that clings to the promise that that sin has been washed away with the blood of Jesus. That's why it can say the those who fear have no lack. Luther makes this point in the Small Catechism when he gives this meaning for the First Commandment: You shall have no other Gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love and trust in God above all things. That's the big picture that the Psalm is talking about. Lacking nothing starts where we started earlier this morning. We confess our sins to God, knowing exactly what they deserve. "We are not perfect... We are sinful and unclean... We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone..." (LW, p. 158) Our Godly fear comes in when we tell God what He says we deserve for that sin, "Your present and eternal punishment." (LW, p. 158) But God doesn't dole out to us what we deserve. Instead He gives us forgiveness. It is the best news we could ever hear. God has endured the punishment of hell for us. He's bled and died on the cross so that we don't have to face that terrible punishment for our sin. He speaks the words right into your ears so that you are in no doubt about it. Your Pastor speaks the very words of Jesus for you, "I forgive you your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." In the Lord's Supper that God will give to us next week, we'll have that forgiveness put right into us through the very body and blood of Jesus, in, with, and under the bread and wine. This God that forgives in this way can be fully loved. This God that forgives for the sake of His sacrifice on the cross can be fully trusted.
Now for that "have no lack" part. God's forgiveness opens the door to much much more. It sets the stage for a new full and rich life, lacking nothing. Of course we still have sin. But God gives us a way to really take care of it, not by sweeping it under the rug so that it has to be dealt with later, but putting it on Jesus on the cross and really getting rid of it. So when the Psalm says Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it, we really do want to do just that. Because it's what God wants of us.
The God who has done everything for you so that you don't have to depend on yourself for salvation gives everything. Those who fear, love and trust in God lack no good thing. The Psalm says. My fellow Christians, you have a God who gives you that much and more. He has given Jesus perfect life for you. What more could you possibly need that He wouldn't be happy to give? In fact, in faith, that is fear, love and trust in God, means that even when He allows stuff into your life that doesn't seem so good, like illness, suffering and even death, you can be sure that it part of the good things that we have. Jesus, your God, your Savior, has bled and died and rose again for you. He promises only good things for you now. You can be sure that no matter what you receive from him is exactly what you truly need. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.