My Report of 66th LCMS Convention

Here is a quick report of what happened at the 66th The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in Milwaukee.

The convention took place July 9-14, 2016. I attended this convention because I was elected last summer to be the Ann Arbor pastoral delegate. Every circuit of congregations sends one lay delegate and one pastoral delegate. There were about 1,125 voting delegates sitting in the often frigid conditions of the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. The theme for the convention was “Upon this Rock: Repent, Confess, Rejoice.”

The primary business of the convention is the “opportunity for worship, nurture, inspiration, fellowship and the communication of vital information” (Bylaw 3.1.1). The worship services were filled with the most spectacular music from the organ, brass, and soloists. The theme focused on the rock solid confession of faith that Jesus Christ is our savior. As much as the world may change around us, we can remain confident that Jesus is our hope and salvation. The most important business at the convention for me was the opportunity for relationship renewal and building. The communication of vital information was found in printed reports, speeches from the stage, and some attractive videos that were shown to introduce new programs.

The second item of business is elections. The president was elected before the convention by electronic vote. So delegates arrived at the convention knowing that Rev. Matthew C. Harrison was reelected for his third term as president. We spent several hours at the convention electing people to various offices. There were not many surprises in the elections. Before the convention an anonymous group mailed to the voting delegates the “United List.” This produced and distributed list influenced the outcome of the elections. I think only a handful of the nearly 100 elections went against the list. I did not utilize the list and so therefore I found my votes in the elections were often on the wrong side of victory.

The third item of business at the convention is for the assembly to consider reports, overtures, and resolutions for action. Overtures were submitted to the convention by congregations, circuits, districts, and officers and committees of the synod. Floor committees met over Memorial Day weekend to craft these overtures into resolutions. The convention assembly debated and voted on the resolutions. Some of the controversial resolutions presented to the assembly concerned the dispute resolution process, the role of lay deacons functioning in support of the office of the public ministry, and the governance of the universities.

President Harrison had a majority of delegates supporting his positions in these controversial areas. He had a consistent 60% voting block, but he demonstrated at this convention a commitment to the unity of the church. He did not utilize his support among the voting delegates to pass anything by slim margins of majority. He sought consensus. For instance, the modifications to the dispute resolution he proposed had very little support from the district presidents. His proposal would have increased the power of the president to overrule decisions by the district presidents. When the opposition to this change became publicly evident, the resolution was revised so that both sides could find agreement. Providing a route towards ordination for those deacons that have been doing the duties of the pastor was approved by over 70% of the assembly. This route towards ordination was approved without considerable discussion because the leadership of the synod has spent a great deal of time over the last few years nurturing this idea.

Our synod voted with considerable unity on issues that appear to divide the rest of our country. We affirmed that marriage is between one man and one woman. We affirmed that God created the heavens and the earth. We affirmed that Lutheran universities, seminaries, and schools should be Lutheran. We affirmed that we should regularly read the Bible (yep we voted on that tough topic).

I can report that Jesus is at work in this world bringing His saving message of redemption, and graciously God is using our own church body to be a part of delivering this saving message. God also uses, throughout the world, tremendously brave people in our partner churches to share this good news.

You can learn a great deal about what happened at the convention by visiting LCMS.org/convention. If you are looking for a less varnished reporting of the events of the convention, then you could visit the online forum of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. The ALPB sent Rev. Dr. Paul Sauer to report the events of the convention. HIs comments and the musings of others that watched the convention can be found at alpb.org/forum.

When I came home, I received wonderful hugs from my kids and wife. It was good to see our church body at work, but I think it is even more powerful for me to witness the daily ways God is using the people of our congregation. Thank you for sharing the Word of God with your friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers. When I witness Jesus being shared with the children of our community during Vacation Bible School, I rejoice God is at work.

Doing more than running in place

I have had people ask me what my congregation is doing to make sure we are not just running in place. I think this is a good question. I do like running on a treadmill in the winter, but it does get boring. As I stare at the wall in front of me I realize that I am not moving forward. Now we are in the season when I my running moves from the treadmill towards the outside. Running outside is more fun than the treadmill, but I have nearly gotten lost a few times in Island Lake State Recreation Area. I did not pay attention to where I was going. I was moving forward, but I am not sure I knew where I was headed. So I had to turn around and retrace my steps back to a spot that I recognized.

As a congregation, we are not doing ministry just inside the walls of our building. We are seeking ways to share the good news of Jesus with our community. When we move beyond the inside of our building, we might get a little lost. We will try new things. We will meet new people. Sometimes we will find that we have headed down a trail that ends up going nowhere. In ministry, if I ever find myself confused about what I am doing, I turn back towards a spot I recognize. I recognize the cross and the love of Jesus. When I turn back to the cross, then I find it easier to go back on the trail and explore where God takes us in His love.

We have moved towards a new model of governance at St. Paul Lutheran Church. We have a church council made up of five caring people that desire our ministry does more than feet-on-treadmillsjust run on a treadmill. If you are wondering what the council is accomplishing, then I ask you to look at what people in this congregation are accomplishing. The council does not do the ministry at St. Paul. The council works with the leadership at St. Paul Lutheran Church to equip and encourage us to connect people to Jesus, to each other, and to opportunities to serve their neighbors in need. We equip people with the resources they need to do what God has called them to do. We encourage people to use their gifts so that we connect people to Jesus.

Our congregation does not have a lot of hoops to jump through to get something started. If you have an idea for ministry that fits into our vision of connecting people to Jesus, then we want to make sure you have the resources you need. We encourage people to move forward and so we do not have a bunch of committees that meet forever without doing anything.

We support the model of ministry action teams. None of our ministry teams should be lonely efforts, because trying to be the superstar servant will result in burnout. The key to understanding the ministry action team model is found in the word “action.” Teams develop so that something might be accomplished. When a group of people have a shared vision and common values powerful forces are at work. At St. Paul Lutheran Church we believe that every person should understand that we are connecting people to Jesus. And every person should understand the reason for this common goal is that eternal life and salvation are found only in Jesus. Connecting people to Jesus will not be achieved without unity in this purpose. We work together because we believe that each person has a part to play in this good news sharing ministry.

We support teams because we are united in our purpose to share Jesus. We also support teams because ministry is best accomplished by working together. God’s Word is spread and the number of disciples are multiplied when we trust in each person being gifted by God for the work we have been called to do. No doubt, more can be accomplished together. The book of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor” (Ecclesiastes 4:9). Any ministry action teams that form at St. Paul are expected to be more than one person. Working together expands the power of information, builds community, improves decision-making, and expands the possibilities for unexpected spiritual gifts to be utilized.

We have decentralized leadership through this move to ministry action teams that are equipped and encouraged by the church council. The council is no longer in the driver’s seat of what will get done at St. Paul. We all share in the common vision to connect people to Jesus. We all value the importance of connecting people to Jesus because we know in Jesus alone will we find eternal life and salvation. We recognize our interdependence and common goals when we work in teams. Each of us should feel a sense of ownership. No one in this congregation is just a volunteer recruited, we all can be involved in planning and implementing our vision.

Every person in this congregation can be involved in developing a ministry action team because we are not waiting for permission to share Jesus. We do not need permission to connect people to Jesus. No matter how great our council may be, no matter how engaging their personalities may be, we will not advance far in our vision of connecting people to Jesus if we rely only on them. I trust that God will be the instigator of teams developing at St. Paul. God will be the one that will sustain us in healthy and functional teams. We are not waiting for the council to do something. We are not going to keep running in place. We are all gifted children of God called to participate in the kingdom building work being done through the Word of God.

Trusting in the Armor of God

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will hear you. You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart.” — Jeremiah 29:11-13

The needs are so great in this world it is remarkably easy for us to get frightened and leap directly into danger. A newspaper in Columbia, Missouri had an article in 2013 about why the armadillo can’t cross the road. The nine-banded armadillo over the last 30 years has marched its habitat north into Missouri. I learned that the armadillo often dies on the road for a reason I did not expect. I thought armadillos perish because they bundle into their shells and wait for the trouble to come. In fact, when danger approaches the armadillo will leap 3 to 4 feet into the air. In a nature habitat this leap startles other animals, and it gives the armadillo time to flee. This leap into the air does not frighten the approaching car, so that this defense makes the car even more deadly. The leap puts the animal at the right height to get hit by the bumper or underside of a car. The behavior of the armadillo to leap at danger gives this animal a decided disadvantage in an encounter with a car.

800px-armadillo_at_kennedy_space_center_ksc-07pd-2276The armadillo is a little creature equipped with a number of armored plates that interlock but move independent so that the animal can move about. Unfortunately the armadillo does not always use this armor effectively and instead leaps into danger. God provides armor for us. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). God equips us to move about and stand strong by providing to us truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer. You have been clothed by God to live everyday day in His promises and to share the truth of God’s love with others. Putting on the armor of God means having a deep, ongoing, life-changing relationship with Jesus.

Do you use the armor that God has provided to you to move about and stand against the wiles of the devil, or do you arrogantly act apart from God’s gifts and foolishly leap into danger?

c7f1a8703d59db7fe9ce280a5e28f122I encourage you to consider what God says about the power of His truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and Spirit to protect you from the spiritual darkness of Satan. Satan is a dangerous enemy. I do not want you to leap into the approaching danger of Satan. Gather with other Christians and find the strength of the interlocking pieces of Christian community. It is in the church that you can hear God’s Word and receive the gifts of God. Inside this community we find a safe place to pause and consider some of life’s big questions: Who am I? What is the role of faith and church in my life? How does my faith impact what I say or do every day? These questions are answered together as we hear God’s Word and find nurturing in the promises of Jesus. Together we receive from God His gifts of grace. These gifts of grace are received in Baptism, Confession and Absolution, Holy Communion, and through the Word of God. We participate in this community to not only experience a conversion from death to life but also for life each and every day.

It is impossible for me to imagine life lived without a community of faith. I know that in this world there is pressure to have enough beauty, power, wealth, and stuff. There is pressure to do everything and to do it all perfectly. This quest to be significant and special fails when it depends on our own efforts. As Christians we venture into our callings with humility. We acknowledge that we are not perfect and that we daily need God’s forgiveness for ourselves. We also recognize that the people around us will not be perfect. No doubt the sins, troubles, and despairs of this age could flood us with doubt, but we trust that the Holy Spirit empowers us to refocus our vision and energy to meet the needs of those we encounter each day.

We do face battles here on earth. There is approaching danger on the paths you are walking. You do not need to leap in fright into these dangers. Trust in the armor of God. You are interlocked together with other Christians. You are a part of the body of Christ. You have the ability to drive back darkness and boldly reach out in service to the sick, abused, imprisoned, and others in need. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

Blessings Shared with Others

One of the moments that captures my joy as a pastor is when I have the opportunity to speak the words of the benediction. I speak words of benediction at the end of the worship service. I also speak these words during hospital visits and whenever I want to leave a person with confidence in the graciousness of the Lord God.

I recall visiting a woman in the hospital and speaking the words of the benediction. With my lips I said the words and with my hand I made the sign of the cross upon her forehead. As I spoke the words I found her lips moving along with mine, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” The woman answered my words of benediction, by saying, “Thank you.” I know that her gratitude was not only directed towards my visit, but more importantly she was thankful to God that she could trust in His blessing of peace and grace.

These words of blessing that I enjoy sharing are from Numbers 6:24-26. This benediction is known as the Aaronic Benediction because the Lord God spoke to Moses these words of blessing with the command that Moses should teach these words to Aaron and his sons. God desired the priests of Israel to share with the people that their Lord God desired them to blessed with peace.

The people in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, and still now trust in the graciousness, favor, and peace bestowed by God. The Lord our God who created all that is seen and unseen seeks to bless His people. The words of this benediction express our faith that the Lord is the giver of blessing. When we share the blessings of God with people, we declare to them the good news of Jesus Christ and affirm that we are claimed and loved by God.

When I speak the words of the benediction, I make the sign of the cross. I remember that God delivers to us His peace through the work of the cross when I make the sign of the cross. The sign of the cross for me is a wonderful devotional aid because I find it an expression of unity between my heart, my lips, and my body. I desire all of me to trust in God through the mercy of Jesus. The sign of the cross is a gesture to recall the salvation that God has made available to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

You do not need to be a pastor to speak words of blessing to someone. All Christians who know the hope and promise of Jesus will find themselves in moments when God use them to share words of blessing. When you see that people are in need of the peace and joy of God’s presence, assure them that the Lord does desires peace for them. Please do not assume that a person has enough peace that you can walk past him or her or count on someone else to share the joy of Jesus Christ. Take the time to share with a person your confidence that the Lord does look upon him or her with favor. When you do deliver words of blessing to someone, discover the profound way that touch can communicate peace and joy. Make sure you use touch that is non-threatening, respectful, and communicates the love of Christ. You could place one hand on the person’s shoulder and with the other hand trace a cross on the person’s forehead. Then hold both of the person’s hands in yours while making eye contact and speaking the benediction. Depending on the level of relationship with a person head-touching will be considered rude or confusing so always ask permission before making a blessing in this way. With good eye contact, speak the words of blessing. Deliver the blessing with the conviction that God’s peace and favor is a free gift you are offering to the person.

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Truth Telling in Community

Telling the truth in a community involves a vulnerability that not everyone is comfortable exposing. I enjoy telling the truth when I have good news to share. When I have bad news, I am fearful of how the bad news will be received. I believe we will be a stronger community when we can share the wholeness of our lives. When I can trust you with both the good news and the bad news of my life, I know that we have a bond that will not be easily broken. Communities of people who love the truth, live faithfully, and respond gratefully are wonderfully safe places to grow and unfortunately remarkably rare. The church is called to be exactly such a community.

David wrote in Psalm 86, “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. I give thanks to you, O LORD my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love towards me.”

David prayed these words with gratitude to walk in God’s truth. In these words from the psalms, we are also invited to walk in God’s truth and revere His name with an undivided heart. You do not need to hide a part of your life from God. Trust God with your whole life and discover how He cares for all of you. God is not only interested in your piety and wholesome works. God is interested in your sins, struggles, shames, and sorrows.

PrintBecause we want to be good, or at least appear to be good enough, we will compare ourselves to others. When we compare ourselves to others, we will sometimes come up short. In those moments when we do not measure up, we are prone towards hypocrisy and deception so that we do not fall too far behind. In the close connections of a community it can be difficult to keep up appearances and cover our failures. If we struggle with truthfulness, we will then either deceive in order to look better or we will find ourselves feeling more and more like an outcast. If everyone else around us is living life easily, is there room for us and our failures? Truth stumbles and honesty caves in when we feel like we need to pretend to have everything sorted out. I think that the bundles of lies, secrets, and silences that are necessary to appear okay can be very exhausting.

I believe that if our community was dependent on our own righteousness and holiness we would become a bunch of liars and deceivers so that we could still justify belonging to the community. Jeremiah wrote that the human heart is “deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). Our world is filled with deceit and lies in order to prop up our vanity. But our redeemed community of believers is called to be different. We can put away the lies and hypocrisy and speak the truth. Followers of Jesus are called to a
common life of grace and truth built on the promise that we are loved by God according to His grace and His truth.

Truth-filled communities are connected to Jesus because Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). When we trust Jesus to be the framework for our life and relationships, we are in a better position to address our sins and failures. We can confidently face our need to repent because we truthfully respect the gap between our goodness and God’s righteousness. Paul told the Colossians, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10). We do not need to lie to hide the threadbareness of our own deeds. We can confidently tell the truth that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God because we trust that we are clothed in the love of Jesus Christ.

When we confess our sins, we are being honest with God that we have sinned. We can be clear with God, because in Jesus, we have received the clear promise of God’s love. Not only can you be clear with God, you should be clear with one another in our community. Our community should be held together with something more substantial than a facade of goodness. Our community should be held together by truth and love.

This is article is a part of a series of articles written with inspiration from the book Living into Community, by Christine D. Pohl.

Promise Making and Keeping are the Stud Walls of Community

This month we continue our look at practices that cultivate and sustain community. Last month I wrote about the importance of enacting the practice of gratitude. This month I encourage us to live into our community with the practice of making and keeping promises.

I know I have become more cynical in my expectations for fidelity. My own parents divorced when I was seven years old. As a child I did not understand all the adult things that they were working out. All I knew was that my parents were no longer together. For a while I thought it normal that promises made would become promises that would become broken. As I grew up, I found that they both worked hard to make and keep promises to my brothers and myself. My parents divorced from each other. They did not divorce themselves from their responsibility to be parents. I am thankful for their fidelity to parenthood.

God is faithful even when we are unfaithful. Promise-making and promise-keeping are central to how God relates to us and how we relate to Him. Promises are the internal framework for the relationship we have with God. When we hit rough patches, we turn to God. We turn to God because the commitments He has made to us have been tested and proven. I trust in God. I trust I can put myself fully into His hands and He will do what He has said He will do.

handshakeI understand that we make promises in different ways. Some promises are formally made. When I was a kid, I would spit in my hand and shake my friend’s hand to secure our bond. When our oaths involve rituals, we raise our expectations for faithfulness. Now not all promises are formal, we also bind ourselves to one another in unspoken ways. Expectations can be set up by what we have previously said or done. The unspoken expectations in a community can be confusing because they are not shared on both sides. What unspoken expectations do you have of the people at this congregation? What unspoken expectations do you have of me as the pastor of this congregation? If I break the bonds we have together, please let me know. I understand how important faithfulness is to our relationship together.

We are not always faithful. When we break promises, we betray our relationships and weaken our community. When we are down in the pits of betrayal, the love of Jesus is the scaffolding upon which we will climb up to fresh air. The love of Jesus in the face of our betrayal and desertion is a part of our redemption. In this congregation we make and keep promises. In this congregation we will also experience betrayal and desertion.

9780802849854Christine Pohl, in her book Living into Community, wrote about how a troubled congregation that was trying to rely on its own strength found rebirth when they relied on the promise keeping of God. The pastor at this congregation was experiencing the meltdown of the church after the misconduct of a previous pastor. The congregation was suffering greatly from diminished prayer, attendance, gifts, and service. The mission of the church was largely abandoned. The remaining members felt burdened and hurt. They were wounded by those who left the congregation during the times of difficulty. In order to move forward, the congregation needed a way to forgive friends who left. They found redemption as a congregation from their time of crisis when they sought to rebuild their congregation on the strength of the forgiveness of Jesus.

We will be a stronger congregation when we practice making and keeping promises. Though it seems ordinary, consistency in showing up for worship and supporting the Gospel proclaiming ministry at this congregation is a part of the internal framework that supports us. During times of crisis and confusion, it can be helpful to be faithful to the tasks we know that need to be done. When the storms subside and the crisis is over, you will find that the damage is limited by your consistency in daily tasks. Keep centered on Jesus, and the swirling confusion around you will not appear as dangerous.

Grateful Hearts

Christine Pohl, in her book Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us, identified four practices that should be noticed and celebrated by congregations as they seek to live around the love of Jesus. I think it will be good for our community to get in the habit of noticing and celebrating the practices of gratitude, making and keeping promises, living truthfully, and hospitality. This month I am going to focus on the practice of gratitude. In future articles I will discuss the other three practices.

Remembering to say “please” and “thank you” is an important lesson of childhood but it is also an important practice for community life. Gratitude is vital to a community because this practice demonstrates that the grace of God is foundational to our community’s life. Our lives are redeemed from the debts of our sin by the grace of God. When our Christian lives are lived in gratitude, we recognize the starting point for our lives is the undeserved love from God. I am grateful for every dawn I see because I know that everyday is a gift from the Lord. I love the idea that our gratitude follows God’s grace like thunder follows lightning. Paul told the Ephesians to have gratitude at the center of their life together, “giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

Gratitude and ingratitude are connected to what we notice. When we focus on the flaws in our community we will develop contagious ingratitude. Beneath our critique and complaint about people in the congregation will be doubts about God’s faithfulness. General grumbling and dissatisfaction exhausts a community. We will have more strength to move forward in our mission as a congregation when we acknowledge that God is faithful to His promises.

Gratitude can be undone when we covet. The ninth and tenth commandments talk about the danger of coveting. Coveting is the unhealthy desire for what God has provided to someone else. I know that it is unhealthy to always want more possessions or money. I am also discovering that it is dangerous to always want more success in ministry, greater spiritual growth in myself, greater spiritual growth in others, or some dramatic experience. Success in ministry and spiritual growth are good things. It is dangerous when my desire for success and growth makes me blind to the small blessings.

Christine Pohl comments in her chapter on gratitude, “When our lives are shaped by gratitude, we’re more likely to notice the goodness and beauty in everyday things. We are content; we feel blessed and are eager to confer blessing.” I believe that our congregation community can find participation in the divine graces of God when we reach to one another from a place of gratitude. I celebrate what God is doing daily to develop us into a community gathered by grace.

As we marvel at God’s love and faithfulness to His promises, we can pump oxygen into our community by noticing and celebrating the good. Communities and families flourish in environments of positive affirmation. We are strengthened when we express appreciation to one another on a regular basis. We will face difficult moments. We will find ourselves discouraged when people we serve are unresponsive or ungrateful. Communities that make it through difficult moments continue to embody gratitude and celebration.

Our Lord God rested on the seventh day of creation. He took time to notice what is good. This moment of resting and celebrating the good is baked into our creation. We may see celebrations and moments of thankfulness as extras to life in community. Yet we are called in the very orders of creation to pause and give thanks for all that has been made. This month take a pause and celebrate the extraordinary and the ordinary good that God has done in our community. We are blessed and redeemed by our Lord God Jesus Christ. We are living in the days the Lord has made for us.

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Photo: Woodley Wonder Works

Tri1406 – The Journey of Four Pastors to Complete an IRONMAN Triathlon

Four pastors, including myself, are training to race in an IRONMAN Triathlon in Louisville, KY on October 9, 2016. Pastors Mark Milatz, Ben Vogel, Drew Gruenhagen, and I hope that this race will be a path towards something bigger. We are using this 140.6 mile race as a vehicle to raise money for 20 scholarships in the amount of $1406 for students that are training for careers in churches and Christian schools.

Pastor Milatz commented, “None of us has superhuman strength or endurance. We are going to make our way to the finish line by trusting each other, receiving encouragement from friends and family, and especially by relying on the grace of God. In many ways, this journey will look very similar to our journey of faith– just a lot sweatier!”

Our training will be challenging. Corners cannot be cut. We need to be ready to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles in less than 17 hours. Some weeks we’ll be training for 20 hours, while also balancing the responsibilities in our families, churches, and communities. The chance to help lighten the load for a group of college students makes this heavy burden worth the effort. Pastor Vogel said, “It is hard to start something new. I need the proper motivation. I need an end goal.” Our goal is to complete this race and raise support for students preparing for ministry in our congregations.

Help us raise 20 scholarships of $1406 each. Consider going to Tri1406.com and clicking on the donate button. Consider donating $14.06, $140.60, $1406, or any other amount.

Scholarships will benefit students training to be professional church workers in our church body, the Lutheran Church– Missouri Synod (LCMS). The LCMS operates 10 colleges and two seminaries, where students receive solid theological training in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. These students need our help so that they are not mired in debt that negatively impacts their ability to serve!

To learn more about the journey of these four pastors completing their first IRONMAN Triathlon you can visit their website: Tri1406.com. Your prayers are greatly appreciated as we train.

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Living Into Community

Families are not perfect. Poor decisions can be made and other people respond poorly to the poor decisions. Without ever intending it, families can become broken. I also know that no congregation is perfect. A cycle of decisions can lead to wounds that just don’t seem to heal. A congregation can become like a broken family with shattered relationships, stalled projects, and a divided future. Families and congregations are not perfect, but do they have to become broken?

We are all broken in our sin, but in the full grace and truth of Jesus we find healing and restoration. I trust that God has made us to live together in community. We find community in our homes. We should also be able to find community in this congregation. At my congregation we are renovating our space this fall to help people not familiar with churches feel expected and welcomed. The inviting design and experience of feeling invited will be a part of our renovations. Living into community will be cultivated by more than just the design of our facility.

In our congregation I want us to be purposeful about certain practices that will help us live together. Christine Pohl wrote in her book Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us, “Good communities and life-giving congregations emerge at the intersection of divine grace and steady human effort.” At this intersection of grace and truth we can be purposeful about living into community.

There is no room for complacency or despair in this congregation. God is at work in this congregation. The promise of the good news of Jesus draws us into the kingdom of God. The presence of Jesus has been forming communities for two thousand years. We are building and maintaining a healthy congregation upon the promises of Jesus. In every community there are practices that hold it together. In our community we will continue to build and maintain the practices of hospitality, making and keeping promises, truthfulness, and gratitude.

The response of our community to the gospel of Jesus Christ will be embodied as we live purposefully these four practices. These four practices are written about in more detail by Chrstine Pohl in her book. Over the next four months this space will include some of the contemporary challenges related to responding to strangers or dealing with our own messy lives as we approach shaping our community joined together by a shared response to the gospel of Jesus.

I want us to get in the habit of noticing and celebrating these practices of hospitality, making and keeping promises, truthfulness, and gratitude. We are not going eliminate complacency and despair by wishing for them go away. Our congregation community should be a living testimony of the life-giving power of Jesus.

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Going to Germany

Luther500 Festival

In October my wife and I will travel to Germany to visit the historic sites of the Reformation. We are looking forward to this seven-day cultural immersion experience that will bring the Reformation to life as we serve, learn, and celebrate in the places where Martin Luther did the same 500 years ago. The Luther500 Festival is an experience filled with travel, historical sites, cultural exchange, exploration of ideas, conversation, learning, service to others, and recreation. The trip is organized by the band Lost and Found. George Baum and Michael Bridges have been friends of our family for several years and I know that we will enjoy the tour that they have planned. This year’s trip is a professionals-in-ministry familiarization trip to prepare us to take a group in 2017.

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is in 2017. Dr. Martin Luther posted 95 thesis on the Castle Church doors in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. The anniversary of the Reformation is an opportunity for us to confess that Jesus Christ is our savior from sin, death, and the Devil.

I have been a Lutheran my whole life, during this week in Germany I look forward to re-engaging with my cultural, theological, familial heritage. We will stay in a hotel that is near the doors of the Castle church in Wittenberg that Dr. Martin Luther nailed the 95 thesis. We will explore Luther’s land around Wittenberg. We will take a day trip to Leipzig and Eisleben. Leipzig is the city where Johann Sebastian Bach served as cantor. Eisleben is the town where Luther was born and died. We will take another day trip to Wartburg and Erfurt. Wartburg is a castle where Luther was hidden after the Diet of Worms and where he translated the New Testament into German. In Erfurt we will visit the Augustinian Monastery where Luther lived as a monk. Before we depart Germany we will spend some time in Berlin visiting the Reichstag Parliament, Brandenburg Gate, and remnants of the Berlin Wall.

One of the reasons Christi and I picked this group for this tour is that everyday will include Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer worship services. We did not want to just go on a tourist trip to these sites. We wanted to go on a trip that nourished us in history, conversation, and worship.

I am sure that I will take lots of pictures and have many stories to share when we come back. While we are gone, Christi’s parents will move into our house and take care of our children. Mike Hausch and area pastors will provide pastoral care. On October 11 Rev. Bob Mikkelson will preach at St. Paul. I am thankful for the many people that have worked to make this trip possible.

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