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.

 

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.

Why I am Lutheran

Why Should I Be a Lutheran?

I know that some of you know my heritage in the Lutheran church. My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all pastors.

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Great-grandpa Henry Gaertner

You may think that my blood flows with little lutheran seals imprinted on my red blood cells. I have every reason to claim my identity in the Lutheran church through my family ties. But no parent can guarantee the faith of their children. No single generation of the church has been able to ensure the faith of the next generation by bloodlines. I am follower of Jesus because of the extravagant love of Jesus Christ. I hope that my children continue to hold onto Jesus. If one of them becomes a pastor that would be pretty cool, but most importantly I pray that they remain full of faith in the promises of God.

I want to share with you some of the reasons why I am a pastor in the Lutheran church, and I think you will notice that none of these reasons include my family tree.

I believe Jesus Christ is my Lord and my savior. Amazingly God is willing to claim me as a member of his family. Why should I be numbered among the saints? I have not done any miracles. I struggle to wake up with my alarm in the morning. I am certain my many snoozes on the alarm torture my home in the morning. Why should God know me?I know that God does not know me through my works. I believe God knows me because of the amazing love of Jesus. Jesus has claimed me.

I am Lutheran, because in this church I hear the promise of God and I hold onto this promise through faith. This faith I have is not possible through my reason. God’s love is beyond my reason. This faith I have is not possible through my strength. I do not have enough muscle in me to lift myself up towards God. This faith is possible because the Holy Spirit has called me to believe through the good news of Jesus that has been shared with me. I am Lutheran because in this church body I am honest about my weaknesses and rejoice in the strength of God’s steadfast love and mercy

I am Lutheran, because the concrete promises of God are delivered to me in the waters of baptism, the body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, and in the inspired Word of God. I know that many of my goals remain elusive from me and my targets change so that I never know if I have done enough. I am just a lost boy when I try to find hope all by myself. Yet God stands strong and present for me in a way I can always find him. In the lavish washing of the forgiveness of sins found in my baptism I rejoice that I am a child of God. In the simple seed of wheat and the clusters of grapes that are combined with God’s Word I rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus. In the Bible I discover that God’s story from the very beginning has included me. I am Lutheran because in this church body I can stand on the concrete promises of God even while the rest of the world of quick sand swirls around me.

I am Lutheran, because I know that I am a part of something bigger than just me, myself, and I. I am not an isolated individual living on an island searching for God. I am a part of the communion of saints. The communion of saints is all those who believe in Jesus. We are no longer bound to sin, death, or the devil. In every place and time we are bound together by more than nation, tribe, or language. In Christ we are a community. In Christ we go into the community. When I join with other brothers and sisters in this family of faith I know that we are all sinners struggling on our own and rescued by Jesus Christ. I am not under any illusions that we are a perfect family through our own efforts. I trust Jesus saves me through His work, and so I also trust He saves our community of faith through His mercy. I am Lutheran because in this church body we are honest about sin and we celebrate God’s steadfast love and mercy. We rejoice in the unity of the church through Jesus Christ. We trust that in every place and time in this world before and after us we are big family.

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Yes there are other church bodies that share in this good news. I rejoice that where God’s Word is shared the Holy Spirit will bring people to saving faith in Jesus. Everything I have written is intended as positive encouragement. I have not intended to create negative impressions about any other church. I do not think that only Lutherans are true Christians, but I do think that we got something pretty good going on in the Lutheran church. We have a rich history and tradition that is bound to continue insofar we keep reveling in the power of God’s Word to deliver us to salvation.

If you are looking for someone who is better with words than me describe why he is Lutheran, I encourage you to read Trevor Sutton’s book, Being LutheranTrevor is one of the pastors at St. Luke Lutheran in Haslett, Michigan. This guy rocks with words.


I know there are some funny idiosyncrasies about being Lutheran. I enjoy the jokes, but most of all I enjoy following Jesus.

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Found on Pinterest

More than just an inner drive

On October 9 I plan to complete Ironman Louisville. I have been preparing for this triathlon race for several months. The training has been relentless. The improvements in my fitness have been gradual but I trust I will be prepared to complete this race. I will cross the finish line after 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking,and 26.2 miles of running. When I cross that finish line, I may collapse. I suspect that during the race there will be many moments when I will want to quit. I will strive to finish because of the internal motivation to complete this goal, but I think I will be more motivated by the external pressure of having so many people pushing me forward. I am certain I would quit a big race like this Ironman if I only could rely on my internal strength. I have a high tolerance of pain and I can stay motivated on most tasks, but this race will be hard.

I am thankful for the tremendous support and encouragement that I have received in my preparations to complete Ironman Louisville. I am a part of team of pastors preparing to complete the triathlon. Pastors Mark Milatz and Ben Vogel are at Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church and School in Brighton, Michigan. Pastor Drew Gruenhagen is at St. Michael Lutheran Church and School in Wayne, Michigan. Our team is called Tri1406. The “tri” part of the team name comes from the word triathlon. The “1406” part of the title come from the total distance of the Ironman distance, which is 140.6 miles. We are using this race as a vehicle to raise money for church worker student scholarships. You can read more about our team, follow along with our training, and also make a donation of any amount for these scholarships by visiting www.tri1406.com

no-quittingI have been challenged to find the time to train and improve my speed in the water, on the bike, and on the road. I thought I could do some sermon prep in my mind during the swim workouts, but instead I spend most of my time moving one arm in front of the other arm. While I am on the bike and on the running paths, I do find more opportunity to think. I have outlined a few books in my mind, but then I have forgotten them all when I get back to the car. Thinking while I am biking and running seems to be similar to my dreams. Awesome in the moment and then when I wake up nothing makes sense to me. The minds games I have experienced during the training have convinced me that the internal motivation for this race will be a jumbled mess. Fortunately I will not rely on only my personal fortitude to finish this race. I am supported by my kind and generous family. All the pastors on the Tri1406 team have found their congregations supportive and understanding of the training time necessary to prepare for this race. We have received donations that have let me know that people care about supporting church worker scholarships.Thank you for the support and the prayers. I will find external motivation to finish this race in the knowledge that so many people care about our success in Louisville.candidate-1276436-2014-07-02-22-27-19

I will also stay motivated to finish this race knowing that God has given me this opportunity to shine a light on the need for us to support students who are preparing to serve the church as pastors, teachers, and directors of Christian education. Please consider making a donation to support church worker scholarships by visiting tri1406.com or write a check to St. Paul Lutheran Church and place the words “tri1406” in the memo line.

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.

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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