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

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Grace is on Tap again at the Podcast

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

 

Episode 3 – Sermon on Indulgence and Grace

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

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

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

Episode 3 – Sermon on Indulgence and Grace

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

Grace on Tap – Podcasts

Grace is flowing today.

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

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

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New Growth in the New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent Traditions Can Help Us Slow Down and Get Ready

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

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

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

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

Home Devotions

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

Advent Calendars

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

Advent Wreaths

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

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Midweek Simple Supper and Vespers

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

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Carols

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

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Children’s Christmas Program

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

Christmas Decorating

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

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Advent by Candlelight

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

Special Worship Services

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

Crafted by Truth – A Reformation Reading Plan

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

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

CraftedDaily.com

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

Bible reading plans are not only for adults.

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

Too daunting?

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

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

Remembering 9/11 – Lost and Found

The fifteen year anniversary of 9/11 causes me to remember how I was a young pastor that struggled to find words to place this attack into any sort of narrative that made sense to me. I was in the third month of being the new pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Niagara Falls, New York. On that day and the days afterwards, I found that Western New York felt both very far away and very near to New York City, Washington DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

I was driving north on the 190 towards Niagara Falls. I was about to go over the north bridge off of Grand Island when I heard on the radio that a plane had struck a building in NYC. I was just a few minutes away from my office at Grace. When I entered the church building, I immediately went towards the garage sale donation pile. I remembered that Carl had donated a television for the upcoming garage sale. I plugged the television into the wall. Lisa and I tried to get the antenna positioned to receive the signal from one of the news channels. Lisa returned tried to get some work down, what could we change by staring at the fuzz on the television. I went to my computer to see if I could find out more information. Every page was loading painfully slow. I knew we had slow internet, but every moment I pressed refresh on the browser I waited and waited for any news that this was just an accident. 9/11 was not an accident.

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Randy called and asked me to find a way to join the community in prayer. He wanted his kids to place their trust in God. He understood that trust would be easier to find if we were together. We quickly made calls and arranged for a prayer service. I don’t remember much about the prayer service. I do remember that none of us tried to fill the moments of prayer with cliches, people were honest in silence. Words cold not fill this moment unless there was trust. The trust we had in God did not require that answers would be found. Our trust required that we were not alone.

That same week I was scheduled to host the monthly gathering of local Lutheran pastors. The circuit meeting begins with a worship service. After the service, there is a Bible study and chance to share about our unique contexts. At the service I was expected to preach a sermon. This was the first circuit meeting I had either attended or hosted as a pastor. Remember, I was only three months into the ministry. I expected that pastors who host the circuit meeting would plan to use the sermon from the previous week or test out on the brothers the sermon that would preached on the upcoming Sunday. I knew that last week’s sermon seemed odd to use and I still did not have a bead on the upcoming sermon. Before I left the house, I looked one more time at the upcoming gospel lesson from Luke 15:1-10. Jesus shared with his followers the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. I did not think I could preach about the celebration after the sheep is found or the coin is discovered. I didn’t see anything in the text besides the celebration. I looked one more time and then I prayed for the Holy Spirit to bring wisdom to my heart and words to my lips. I left the house for the meeting at Grace.

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When the circuit meeting worship service began the words of the liturgy carried us into God’s promises. We confessed our sins, and we received the promise that we are forgiven children of God through the mercy of our savior Jesus. I spoke the the words of Ezekiel 34:11 and following, “For thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.”

I shared the words of St. Paul to Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinner, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 15).

It was time for the gospel reading from Luke. I spoke the words of the shepherd searching for the lost sheep, and the woman that searching for the coin. I knew we were not yet in a moment of celebration because the rescuers were still frantically searching the rubble where the planes brought destruction. I knew that there were people around the world feeling lost and disconnected from any narrative of hope. This disconnection did not just come from 9/11. Too many people are living disconnected from hope and are just ghost walking to the next day. How can we bring people back towards seeing tomorrow and the next day as moments kept safe by God?

It was in the words of God I found my story that day, and it remains my story whenever I am feeling disconnected. God is looking for you. I know that this sounds simple. Knowing that God desires to be with me takes away so much anxiousness. We are not alone. The first responders that walked into danger on 9/11 were not alone. The people descending staircases to nowhere where not alone. The people on the plane flying over Pennsylvania were not alone when it was time to act bravely to save lives on the ground. Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, taken upon himself the very loneliness of our suffering, so that we never have to stand alone against Satan and his evil minions.

God is searching. Now you may imagine your story is too small compared to the big stories that others are living. Even if you imagine your story too insignificant, remember the woman searching for the coin. I wonder what her friends thought when she called them all together to have a party after she found the one missing coin. To those friends the coin may have sounded silly. To that woman searching for the coin, the lost coin was worthy of a party. God wants to find you, and you are not insignificant to him. No one has a story too small to be include in the story of God. God is searching for you, and he want to hold a party for you.