Handling Plans that Fail

Job answered the LORD and said, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

How do you respond to plans that have been thwarted? I become deflated when I have a plan written in my mind how events will develop and someone opposes, defeats, or prevents me from experiencing my vision. A gut punch is felt deep in my soul. I am astounded that my expectations don’t always work out. God certainly humbles me through these deflated moments.

Plan and reality do not always match. There is wisdom in remembering the proverb that says, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). History is cluttered with plans that never developed into reality. Developers of housing subdivisions will buy property, develop a site plan, get township approval, and then abandon a project because the business models have changed. Owners of sports teams will propose new stadiums with beautiful artistic renderings that fall flat when it comes time to actually secure financing. The wild visions and schemes of people can be thwarted for all sorts of reasons.

In my congregation we have also experienced plans that have failed to develop into reality. A few years ago, before our renovation, we considered building a community center with a gymnasium. We developed artistic renderings but this plan did not receive broad support. I found it necessary to take a step back and recognize we needed to do more to build a shared vision for our congregation. Last fall we hired someone to work part-time with young families. But even before he started, he was hired to work full-time somewhere else. Even before people knew we had a plan, reality set in and plans crumbled. We continue to make plans in this congregation knowing that we will make mistakes and stumble.

This year we continue in our church to make plans to move our forward in our vision of connecting people to Jesus. I know some plans will prosper and others will fail. How will we handle these ups and down?

Here are a couple of ways to handle the trauma of plans collapsing instead of reacting with resistance, complaining, and growing distrust. I am not a big fan of those kinds of response, though I find myself participating in some of these ugly response patterns.

First, I encourage you to turn your will towards God’s will. Trust in God includes remembering God’s will and desire for us remains true. Jesus Christ is the revelation of God’s will to save us. Whether I am in want and need or I have plenty, in all circumstances God’s desire for me is good. The trauma of my thwarted plans does not mean God’s plan for me is destroyed. So my first response to changed plans involves remembering God’s will for me is my salvation.

Second, be thankful and prayerful for every circumstance. The pause after collapsed plans gives us the perspective to see alternative ways God will be at work amongst us. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Paul knew that God had appointed him for preaching the gospel and nurturing the church, but Paul was arrested in Jerusalem. Paul appealed his case to Rome where he was kept under house arrest. Paul’s present circumstances when he wrote to the Philippians made it appear that God’s plans through Paul were being thwarted. Paul used his imprisonment to share Jesus with his guards. Paul also sent Timothy to different churches to establish and exhort people in the faith. Paul trusted in the will of God to be accomplished in all circumstances. We can respond to changed plans by being thankful for God to be at work in alternative plans. I invite you to regularly pray for the wisdom to discern God’s alternatives to your thwarted plans.

Third, I recognize that there is sin in this world. Satan is working against God’s mercy. Satan attempted to thwart God’s plan for creation by tempting Adam and Eve. Satan continues to tempt us to sin. The creation of God that was declared to be good experiences the conflict of Satan trying to corrupt all of God’s plans. Satan has persisted in this effort from the very beginning and he has not stopped. Before Christ returns and the last trumpet blasts Satan will attempt to destroy the people of God, the plan of God. I trust that Satan has failed in all of his attempts. I know that because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ that Satan has lost, and the Lord has prevailed. The traumatic crumbling of plans can leave us distrustful of God. Trust in Jesus Christ and lean forward into the next day knowing that Satan could not stop God’s plan of Jesus.

So in the moments when the world crumbles and the mountains crash around us, we will be people who submit to Christ as our Lord. We will lean into His wisdom. We will trust in His victory over all sin, death, and the Devil. We will in our hearts make more plans, and we will trust in God establishing His will.

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Flipping Through the Hymnal

The hymns and songs of the church help me understand the timeline of the year. When I flip through the pages of the Lutheran Service Book, I notice the different sections of hymns. The hymnal is not organized in a progression of hymns from favorites towards clunkers. Organizing a hymnal from favorites towards disappointments would require a flexible binding because of the variety of opinions of favorites. The hymns of the church support both the life of the congregation moving though the church year and the life of our members as we move through our lives. The church moves each year through the birth of Christ to the End Times. As followers of Jesus, we also move from our baptisms, through difficult times and celebrations, and conclude with the joy of the resurrection into the kingdom of God.

Martin Luther Chapel, Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines

The Church Year

The first section organizes the hymns by the movement of the church year from Advent through the End Times. This section also includes the hymns for the feasts and festivals that will occur throughout the church year. My favorite hymn in this section is “Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia.” I love how this hymn echoes in our home every Easter with its powerful refrain, “Let us sing praise to Him with endless joy.” The tune from this hymn is from Tanzania and the rhythm gives me the encouragement that this good news is for all the nations.

Person and Work of Christ

The second section of hymns praises God for the person and work of Jesus Christ. These hymns give the Church the opportunity to put to melody praise and thanksgiving for our redemption and justification. In this section I enjoy singing “By Grace I’m Saved.” This hymn begins every verse with the words “by grace,” and each verse celebrates the different ways God’s grace changes our lives.

The Christian Church

The third section of hymns gives voice to the activities of the Christian Church. In this section I find hymns that celebrate the Word of God and the Sacraments. I find it difficult to highlight just one hymn in this section. Each page takes me to another hymn that reminds me of different moments in my work as a pastor. If I had to highlight one, the hymn “What Is This Bread” invites us to receive the wondrous love of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. I think this hymn is a wonderful study of the mystery of God’s love that Jesus reveals for us in this meal of bread and wine, body and blood.

The Christian Life

The fourth section of hymns highlights the personal life of a Christian with hymns about trust, hope, prayer, stewardship, mission and witness, and marriage. I enjoy singing “Listen, God is Calling.” I like that this hymn has a call and response pattern that gives the song a pattern of participation instead of just observation. The leader starts with the word, “Listen.” The people answer, “Listen, God is calling.” The leader and the people encourage one another to hear God’s offer of forgiveness, comfort, and joy.

Times and Seasons

The fifth section highlights hymns that support morning, evening, harvest time, and the New Year, which are all opportunities for us to sing in thanksgiving to God. I remember fondly singing, as a lullaby, to our children the hymn, “Abide with Me.” I also sing this hymn at the bedside of a person approaching death. I have confident hope in the words, “In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.” Where no other helper will assist me, I know that God will be my shepherd through life and death.

The Service

This next section includes hymns for the beginning of the service, the close of the service, and also biblical canticles. The canticles are songs from the Holy Scriptures that help us sing along with Simeon, Mary, Zechariah, and other faithful saints that have gone before us. At the close of the service, the hymn “Go, My Children, with My Blessing,” provides a benediction full of promise. I appreciate the closing hymns of a service that keep me singing in my heart throughout the rest of the week.

Nation and National Songs

The final section in the hymnal is a small collection of hymns that support community and nation with trust that God is sovereign over both the church and the state. This section is not a songbook of secular patriotic songs. These hymns are Christian prayers and praises to God. I know that during patriotic holidays I receive requests for a number of songs that are not in our hymnal. At St. Paul Lutheran Church we have developed the tradition of singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic and God Bless America, neither of which are in our hymnal, because these are songs that remind us of times in our country when we have been reminded to rely on God. Of the three hymns in this section, I most enjoy singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

I would like you to take some time and look through the The Lutheran Service Book and share with me your favorite hymns from each section. You can find this hymnal in our pews. I would also be interested in hearing from you your favorite hymn that is not included in our hymnal. You can place in the comments some of your favorites. I will focus on contemporary songs in a future article.

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.

infant-baptism

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.