Sharing Easter

On April 16 we celebrate Easter, the Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This festival is the chief celebration of our Christian lives. Everything we do as the people of God circles around the promises of God revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. God has called us to proclaim the good news that has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. So are you able to share with your friends and family the purpose for Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the dead on the third day?

My view of the world is shaped by two truths. The first truth is that my will, reason, and strength turn toward evil. I do not have free choice in my relationship with God. I will not see the righteousness of God through my own efforts. Neither my family, friends, neighbors, enemies, nor I will discover the gift of Jesus by wandering and wondering in this world. To a person lost in sin, the cross and resurrection do not make sense.

The righteousness of God confounds the world because we have too high an opinion of ourselves. Oddly, the starting point for sharing the good news of Easter with someone is the bad news. When explaining Easter to someone else, I think it is helpful to talk honestly about the brokenness of the world. People do not discover on their own God’s gracious love.

In Romans 3, St. Paul explains that all are under sin. “All” is an inclusive statement. There is not one person that has a hint of how to turn toward God. I encourage you to talk about God’s law and also talk about God’s anger at sin. We can be so blinded by sin that we have convinced ourselves that nothing is wrong. So please do not be surprised that Jesus death and resurrection appear foolish and confusing to people. Jesus is the answer to a question that people don’t know they should be asking.

So the first truth that shapes my view of the world is that I do not expect people to just figure God out on their own. It is through the Word of God that the Holy Spirit works to bring us to knowledge of our sinfulness and of our need for redemption. If we want people to understand the purpose for Jesus dying and rising from the dead, then we must speak God’s Word. I don’t have to come up with a great testimonial about my own life to convince someone that God is worth it. I need to share the light of God’s Word because there are people in the darkness. My story is not nearly as good as the story that God is revealing in Jesus Christ.

The second truth that shapes my view of the world is that God knows how depraved we are in our sin, and still He endeavors to have a relationship with us. Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered for us poor sinners. Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried in order that we might be redeemed from sin, death, and the eternal wrath of God. I trust that Jesus has done all of this purely from love. The truth of God’s love is that I do not deserve it nor can I earn it. I deserve God’s wrath and punishment. In Jesus Christ I find the incomprehensible promise of God’s redeeming love for me. Easter celebrates that the love of God is more powerful than my sinfulness.

I hope that you will share with people the painful truth of sin and the amazing truth of God’s love revealed in Jesus. Please do not expect that your children or anyone else will figure this out on their own. Tell the story of Jesus and trust that the Holy Spirit will be at work through you as you share the Word of God.

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Jesus Passed Through Dead — The Resurrection depicted in a modern painting by Stephen B. Whatley, an expressionist artist based in London.

 

Serial vs Self-Encapsulated Story

I enjoy binge watching shows through Amazon or Netflix. I bounce between liking shows that have a long story arc that the screenwriters spread across  several episodes and shows that self-encaspsulate a story into each episode. Recently I started watching a show that started as a spy show with each episode being self-contained. Slowly this show introduced a story line that ended up taking them four seasons of episodes to complete. I did not want to pay attention that long to figure out what sinister conspiracy was behind everything. I gave up watching the show. I read the episode recaps on wikipedia to find my desire for resolution satisfied.

I want television shows to find a way to wrap up their storylines after a couple of episodes or one season. Stretching across several seasons to solve the purpose for the show wears me down. I think the television show “Lost” is a great example of a show that started off with a good balance between long story arcs and individual storylines that could be finished up each episode. Unfortunately the show “Lost” became lost in its own story after a while and ended up being a self-indulgent mess.

So I have been thinking about my disappointment in shows that can’t figure out how to tell a story with conclusions and then reflecting on what this means for my preaching. I know as a person in the pew listening to another preacher that I am not very patient with the preacher that has several false endings. I watched a person preach online, and behind the preacher I saw the band shuffling towards their instruments. The band thought the sermon was wrapping up. They knew the cadence of the preacher, or at least they thought they did. The preacher went on for several more minutes. I wonder if that preacher went on with his sermon as punishment to the band that assumed they knew where the sermon was headed.

Humbly, I notice that when I preach I have had this problem. I look at the people shuffling and moving in the pew. I want to tell them, “Oh no, you think my sermon is almost over but I have two more pages of notes. Buckle up and get ready.”

In my own life, I wish each day had a neat conclusion. Days blend into months. Years slide into decades. I still have not found too many neat conclusions in my life. Some stories just seem to disappear because sadly friendships slide away. I wish I was better at nurturing friendships. Other stories in my life keep showing up, even though I want to move on. Satan is amazingly adept at repeatedly turning up in my life.

Some days do develop as self-encapsulated plots. I am glad my marriage has been a long arc in my life that has no end in view. I think my marriage will not become like a show that has gotten lost in its own story because we have made a commitment to each other to remain faithful to the covenant of love. Each story in our marriage has its roots in our promises of love. The stages in our love to each other remain fresh and exciting because we are also connected to the great story that is developing between us.

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I trust that the long story arc of my relationship with God will remain fresh and exciting. I know the end. God is my eternal salvation. I know some days I don’t see the plot, and I get worried that my life is going nowhere special. But during these aimless wandering moments, I have found tremendous strength in rooting myself to God’s promises. The Spirit of God strengthens my soul in dark moments by keeping in my view the light of God’s love. I live in the light of the resurrection, but some days the shadows of betrayal on Holy Thursday seem to hang heavy.

My story with God is different than the television shows I binge. I don’t know how the shows will end, and when I do anticipate the ending the show loses my interest. I know how my story with God will end, but amazingly my interest in God does not get exhausted. I love God revealing the adventure of every day. I think God has figured out how to balance revealing the long story arc and the self-encapsulated story.

Do you see the story that God writes in your days? I hope you see that God fills the story of your days with His love.

Grace on Tap Episode 6

Episode 6 is now online and ready to listen to. Enjoy in this episode information about the lead up to the proceedings at Augsburg in 1518. Mike calls this this “Game of Thrones Episode.”

Episode 6

Also we want to share that Grace on Tap is going on a road trip to Brewery Becker on March 30 at 7:30pm. We are hoping you will be able to enjoy us for a drink and a discussion about Martin Luther’s “Two Kinds of Righteousness.” You can find out more information at the Facebook Event Page for the Road Trip.

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Frederick the Wise by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Grace is on Tap again at the Podcast

The Heidelberg Disputation was a debate that took placed at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Augustinian order in April 1518. Head on over to graceontap-podcast.com and discover the latest podcast which gives Mike and I an opportunity to talk about the lead up the 1518 disputation in Heidelberg.

 

Episode 3 – Sermon on Indulgence and Grace

Mike Yagley and I are working on a podcast about the events, documents, and people that helped define the reformation. The podcast can be found at GraceOnTap-Podcast.com.

We posted the third episode this morning. I encourage you to take some time and listen to this episode. Provide any feedback you desire. We are interested in getting better and communicating the story and the ideas of the reformation.

This episode focus on Luther’s sermon from the spring of 1518 that helped explain to the German people why the grace of God is at stake in the controversy surrounding the sale of indulgences.

Episode 3 – Sermon on Indulgence and Grace

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Print of Luther’s “Sermon on Indulgence and Grace” from the Taylor Institution Library, Oxford

Grace on Tap – Podcasts

Grace is flowing today.

Mike Yagley and I have been working on recording podcasts for a project called GraceOnTap. Today we have uploaded our first episode on the background of the 95 Theses. Our plan is to release an episode each week. I hope you enjoy.

http://graceontap-podcast.com/2017/01/02/episode-1-grace-on-tap-background-on-95-theses/

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New Growth in the New Year

I am interested with how God will grow our membership as a congregation in 2017. Connection to a local community of believers is important. St. Paul wrote to the people in Ephesus, “There is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). It is in the local church that we have the opportunity to experience unity with those the Spirit has called to faith. Jesus love His church, and so should we.

There is nationally a decline in church membership, and I am interested in slowing this decline at St. Paul Lutheran Church. To turn the tide against decline, I believe that God is providing our congregation with the gifts and resources necessary to reach the unreached and raise faithful children. God provides to us His Word which leads us to trust in Christ. Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ is His witness. We all can share the good news of Jesus with our friends and neighbors and invite them to church.

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The growth of the membership in our congregation will happen in more than one way. Congregations gain the overwhelming majority of their membership from natural growth, which is what happens when families in our congregation have more children. Our easiest growth is from children of adult members raised in the faith. As couples have children and the children are then baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church, our congregation will experience growth. We had some joyous baptisms in 2016, and I look forward to more in the new year. Infant baptism is a wonderful opportunity to witness that faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit and not a work of our own reason or strength.

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As our congregation grows through infant baptisms, we remain concerned that these children remain connected to a local church. I want all children baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church to be nourished and strengthened by God at work in His Word. The LCMS has lost 1 in 5 baptized members since the peak membership in the 1970s. The backdoor loss of people concerns me. We need to plan effectively for the spiritual care of people who are baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church so that they remain connected to Jesus. Handing down our faith to our children and our children’s children is important. Our congregation has joined the Family Friendly Partner Network to be better equipped as a church to partner with homes to pass on faith in Christ. Throughout 2017 we will look for opportunities to provide families the resources they need to be His witnesses.

We will also experience growth in 2017 through Lutherans from other congregations moving into this area and transferring their membership. As people move around they have to search out new banks, doctors, grocery stores, and also a new church. Church shopping can be an exhausting experience. I hope people visiting St. Paul will find a community of welcome and grace that helps them feel at home. When looking for a new church, people should place a high priority on joining a congregation where the Word of God is clearly preached and the Sacraments properly administered.

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We will not only experience growth through our own tribe (German-American Lutherans), but we will also discover that God is sending people to St. Paul who have not grown up Lutheran. I find it exciting when new people are present on a Sunday morning at St. Paul. I am encouraged when I see people going across the aisles and introducing themselves to guests. Outreach to people in our community is important. We desire to be a community that welcomes people who come from all sorts of experiences because we trust that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all the nations.

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There is a decline in religious identification in the United States. The recent dramatic increase in the number of people who claim no religious identity or affiliation is alarming. Our task is clear in this age of declining identity with religion. We will witness to people the truth. We are sinners in need of a Savior and Jesus is this Savior. Our message must remain focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the United States the attitudes of young people on average is negative towards religious institutions. There is a growing skepticism concerning any institution that claims authority. This negative attitude of young people may not be new, but it does remind me of the need for us to share Jesus Christ more than share the building or institution of the church. We do not invite people to join a corporation. We invite people to join the Body of Christ gathered at St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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I trust the Holy Spirit has placed in our community people who will believe the Word of God and find welcome at St. Paul Lutheran Church. I am confident the Holy Spirit has gifted each person in our congregation to be His witnesses. Please pray to God to send the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see the people He places into our lives.

Advent Traditions Can Help Us Slow Down and Get Ready

Every year the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day seems to go very fast for me. I know the advice when life gets going too fast is to slow down and enjoy the moments. How can I slow down when there is so much that needs to get done?

A good way for me to slow down my life and home is to adopt or renew some traditions in my home for Advent and Christmas. Advent is a season filled with expectations and anticipations that focus on the longing for the arrival of Jesus Christ. We rejoice that Christ was born in Bethlehem. We also renew our longing for Christ in our personal lives. As I look to the past and present, I also look forward to Christ’s Second Coming. I trust that even in our present chaos there will be a time when the fullness of the kingdom of God will be revealed.

The traditions of Advent and Christmas prepare us to receive the gift of Jesus and also help us to look forward to His kingdom to come. As I think about adding traditions into my family, my goal is to help my life slow down. It feels counter-intuitive to slow down by becoming busier. So my goal is not simply to become busier. I want the pace of my home to slow down by centering our lives on what makes everything else important.

Here are a couple of Advent and Christmas traditions that may help you and your home refocus on the coming of Jesus Christ in your life and in the world.

Home Devotions

Daily devotions in the home are good because it is important that we keep our lives crafted by the Word of God. During Advent many good resources are published to encourage home devotions. So if you have not gotten in the pattern of home devotions, Advent is a well-resourced time to begin. The daily devotions published by Lutheran Indian Ministries can be found on the countertop in the narthex at St. Paul. This organization shares the Gospel of Jesus Christ with Native American people, encouraging them to proclaim Christ’s Kingdom to their own and to others. This devotion booklet is a great resource they provide for congregations. I think you will enjoy reading the devotion for each day. Besides picking up the devotion booklet in the narthex, you can go to lutheranindianministries.org/devotions#advent to download the entire 2016 Advent Devotions booklet. We have a few copies available  of an Advent daily devotion booklet called “Jesse Tree,” which matches the program we will be using for our Advent Midweek Vespers.

Advent Calendars

The Advent Calendar is a special calendar that is used to count down the days in anticipation of Christmas. Chocolates, legos, or toys can all be found behind the doors of an Advent Calendar. The calendar helps build expectation for the arrival of Jesus at Christmas. In the past, our family has purchased our Advent calendars at Aldi. They are cheap and filled with chocolate, which is a great combination.

Advent Wreaths

The Advent wreath, like the calendar, helps build the expectation for Christmas to arrive. It is usually an evergreen wreath with four candles and a white candle in the center. Each week in Advent another candle is lit during the time of Bible reading and prayers. By the end of Advent all four candles are lit, and everyone is encouraged to see that the light of the world is arriving. The fifth candle, in the center, is lit with the arrival of Christmas. The Advent wreath works well alongside of home devotions to mark the passage of time towards Christmas.

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Midweek Simple Supper and Vespers

On Wednesday November 30, December 7, and December 14 St. Paul Lutheran Church will host a simple supper and vespers. The simple supper at 6pm is a potluck meal. The signup sheets to announce what you will bring hang on the clipboards in the fellowship hall. Even if you don’t bring something to eat, you can come and enjoy the food. There has always been enough food for everyone who comes. Vespers, a prayer service, will start at 7pm. The prayer service lasts about 45 minutes. This year our services will focus on the tradition of the Jesse Tree. The tradition is to highlight different people from the genealogy of Jesus. Each week we will look at four people and rejoice at how God was at work in their lives. During the meal there will be ornaments for each character which can be decorated.

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Carols

I love singing Christmas carols. I am so pleased that my wife will sit at our home piano and play Christmas carols. Fire up Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Music, or one of the other streaming services to listen to some Christian carols.

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Children’s Christmas Program

On December 18 at the 11am service we will enjoy a children’s Christmas program. The children and youth of our congregation will help us see the joy in the coming of Jesus. The preservice music for this service will be an offering of talents from our young musicians. Plan to arrive early and wonder at their gift in spreading the good news that Christ our savior is born in Bethlehem.

Christmas Decorating

The traditions of decorating the home and the church for Christmas are wonderful. I know some homes which are overtaken with Christmas decorations, and that you will be fortunate if you do not trip over one of many Christmas trees in the home. I love the excitement of refreshing our homes for the arrival of the greatest guest our world has ever received. Our church is decorated on November 29 at 9am. We are always looking for strong people to help us raise the tree. After the tree is up, we add the chrismons to the tree. Chrismon is a contraction of Christ and monograms because each symbol is representative of the name of Jesus. They remind us of how Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promises. I think it is okay if your decorations are over the top. We are celebrating the event that all history hinges upon.

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Advent by Candlelight

On Monday, December 5 at 6pm the women in our congregation and community ages 13-113 will encourage one another to find strength and renewal in the gift of Jesus.

Special Worship Services

Your family will be blessed by participating in the worship opportunities at St. Paul Lutheran Church. On Christmas Eve there will be Lessons and Carols with Holy Communion at 4pm, 7pm, and 10pm. On Christmas Day we will gather to receive the promise that Jesus is born at 10am. Prepare to enter the New Year enriched by the Word of God on New Year’s Eve at 7pm and New Year’s Day at 10am.

Crafted by Truth – A Reformation Reading Plan

What happens when people are engaged in daily reading of the Bible? The results can be massively helpful for our walk in this world.

  1. We see our story and God’s story intersecting.
    When we walk with the words of the Lord daily on our hearts, we are better equipped to bring God’s perspective to the challenges and joys we experience. God has a story to share with us. After reading through the Bible, the story of God becomes more apparent. I have found it helpful to place the events of the Bible on a timeline and then discover parts of my life fit onto that same timeline. When I get farther away from the rhythm of God’s Word, my own life seems out of sync.
  2. We make connections between Bible passages.
    Besides becoming more comfortable with knowing the details of the Bible, I also find regularly reading the Bible improves my ability to connect the dots between different Bible passages. When Paul quotes in Romans 1:17 a passage from the prophet Habakkuk, I am better equipped to know why Paul quoted that passage. I enjoy the experience of reading one passage in the Bible and having that passage lead me to read another passage which then causes me to remember yet another passage.
  3. We slow the day down.
    When reading the Bible is part of my daily schedule, I enjoy how the pace of my day begins to slow down. I have heard athletes describe being “in the zone” and how everything moves at a different speed. I think daily reading the Bible puts my spiritual heart closer to the zone of having everything move at a different speed. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to bring me into the God zone.
  4. We deal with the tough passages.
    When working through a reading plan, I read books and passages that I previously passed over. I also find myself reading passages I have taken for granted. I appreciate reading the tough passages and putting on my big boy pants to figure out what God’s Word means. I also rejoice in the depth and width of God’s Word when I revisit oft-read passages.

CraftedDaily.com

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In the Michigan District we are celebrating the Reformation’s 500th Anniversary with a call to the Word. The Reformation refers to the 16th Century when people called for a reform of the teaching of the church. The website crafteddaily.com will show you how to signup for the Reformation Reading Plan. This plan, likethe Reformers, accents the joy of the Word of God. You will find in this plan a gospel ordering for your daily reading. The Bible readings are organized according to which books most influenced the Reformers. Signup for the Reformation Reading Plan and find yourself daily fed with grace. The reading plan utilizes the Bible app available on Android or iOS. Each day’s reading takes 10-15 minutes.

Bible reading plans are not only for adults.

The Barna Group conducted research commissioned by the American Bible Society. They surveyed more than 1,000 participants between ages 13 and 17. Most teens still see the Bible as a positive thing. 69 percent of teenagers personally own a Bible. 44 percent of teens read the Bible at least three or four times a year, and at least 25 percent say they read the Bible at least once a week. The main motivation for Bible reading among teens is growing closer to God. Despite postmodern teachings in schools that all religions reveal truth, American teens still regard the Bible as the primary holy book. The president of the Barna Group said, “In an increasingly secular culture, the Bible remains a highly regarded and well-read text among the vast majority of American teens—most of whom believe it to be sacred.” We have reasons to be filled with optimism because teens still care deeply about the relevance of the Bible to the world in which they live. Getting rooted in the Bible is needed in every generational level.

Too daunting?

Daily reading of the Bible, possibly reading through the whole Bible, may seem daunting or something only the professionals should handle. God has given His Word to all of us so that we may believe in Him. The Word of God reveals the very heart of God. The heart of God is not given only to professionals, nor should we consider the Bible only the possession of a few. God’s Word has been revealed so that all might come to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. So I encourage you to read the inspired Word of God. Do not just pick and choose sections. Take the time to read the whole Bible because we should all seek to understand the whole picture of God’s plan.  You may have already read through the Bible in the past, and now think to yourself “been there, done that.” Do not consider reading the Bible as a challenge to complete and then move onto some new challenge. We do not outgrow God’s Word. The Bible is deep and wide with wisdom.