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.

JesusThruDeath.jpg

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

 

Advertisements

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.

the-simpsons-season-5-episode-16-5-d728

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

infant-baptism

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

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

sheep-981881_1920

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.

growth

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.

eyes-reflecting-the-world

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.

Going forward with trust

ConnectAs Christians we go into the world connecting people to Jesus through a ministry that springs from God’s Word and His blessed Sacraments. When we connect people to Jesus, we find ourselves connected to one another and to opportunities to serve our neighbors. I trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in congregations preventing us from coasting in neutral. We go forward with the confidence that our Lord God is equipping us to share His good news so that the disconnected become connected to Jesus Christ.

God blesses every person from the infant to the homebound with His good gifts so that we all are a part of how He is building His kingdom in our community. The diversity of gifts in a congregation is a part of the mystery of God’s love. I do not want a single person to consider his or her gifts as less valuable to God or our community. The offerings we bring to God are powerful and effective in building His kingdom by the grace of God.

Take a moment to consider how God has uniquely gifted you to be a part of His kingdom. Stand firm on the Word of God and trust that God will share His life-giving promises through you when you share the good news of Jesus Christ.

  • Thank God for the blessings He has given to you.
  • Seek His wisdom to guide your giving so that you may be give to support your local congregation with planned, purposeful, and proportionate first-fruit gifts.

Bridge Building to Eternal Life in Christ Jesus

114402291_2c547d3a07I desire that the baptized children of God take on the role of bridge-builders in America. We are the Holy Spirit’s agents bringing the dying into new life in Christ. We cannot pull up the draw bridge into the kingdom of God and hide from the assaults of the devil. We must trust that our Lord Jesus Christ is the King of Kings. In the midst of the evil that surrounds us we are called to be a people of refuge and shelter. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14 -16).

If we pull away from the conflicts of our time and hide behind our walls, we are denying the power of the Spirit of God to be at work through us as we share the good news of Jesus. The sharing of the Gospel is not served when we are quiet in the public square. When Jesus told the disciples to go to all the nations and baptize people in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, He promised to be with us to the very end of the age. I trust the power of the Holy Spirit to call me to faith through the words of the good news of Jesus. In the same way I trust the Holy Spirit to call the church together to be a holy people of God. So therefore I trust the Holy Spirit will be at work in this world calling people from all the nations to faith in Jesus. I trust the Spirit to be at work when I speak the Words of the Lord.

I know that American culture is becoming increasingly secular and stridently anti-Christian in the public square of debate. In reaction to this change, Christians and churches should not become silent. If we become silent we deny the important role we have to bear witness to King Jesus. I do not speak to be right or to dominate someone else into submission. Jesus has sent His people forward to pronounce judgment on those who defy God, and He has sent us on a mission to pronounce forgiveness and freedom upon those who realize their gods and lives are broken. Indeed there is a divide between people in America on many issues, but the most important divide the church must always be concerned about exists between the Word of the Lord and those who are deaf to its message.

The task to build the bridge that connects the Word of the Lord with people that are deaf to its message requires listening to voices from every direction. We must listen to the Word and hear how God’s voice speaks to the troubles and vanities of our age. We must listen to people so that our Christian witness speaks properly to people.

A person who does not know the hope of Jesus may be comfortable in his or her own source of identity, security, and meaning. We can be honest with people about the dead-end paths that lead away from God. On the other hand when people have come to realize their false gods were not gods at all, we must speak a message of mercy and forgiveness. It is unhelpful to continue to speak judgment to a person who has already been broken by the Word of God and the world.

Law-Gospel2The bridges we seek to build in our society will be empty if our message is only wrath and judgment or only mercy and forgiveness. I trust that when we share the both the Law and the Gospel we will find the Holy Spirit bringing people to faith in Jesus.

The central task of the church in the world is to share the good news of Jesus. The Holy Spirit of God will use you to share this good news. Please listen to the false confidences and brokenness of those you care about and properly apply both the Law and the Gospel.

Come and See–The Invitation of the Gospel

We started a journey through the gospel of Mark, with the Baptism of our Lord. But this Sunday we make a slight diversion over to the Gospel of John.

It is helpful to see our “next day” text from John in the context of what has happened in the other days with Jesus. Because you see John 1:43-51 is the third “next day” story in the first chapter of the Gospel of John.

The Gospel of John opens with the introduction of the Word of God made flesh and dwelling among us. In those days John is asked, “Who are you?” He confesses and does not deny, “I am not the Christ.”

They ask, “What then…”

He answers them, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness…”

Then the first “next day” is John pointing to Jesus and confessing, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

The second “next day” John again points to Jesus and says about him, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Two of John’s disciples heard him, and they followed Jesus. I always find the first words that Jesus speaks in a story important. Besides the first words in a particular event, we also hear his first words in the whole Gospel of John. Jesus asks them, “What are you seeking?” I want to think about what I am looking for when I follow Jesus. Am I looking for a teacher, a miracle worker, a mentor, savior, or something else?

These two answered, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus said, “Come and you will see.” These words from Jesus are words of invitation and promise. The invitation is to come and follow him. The promise is that they will see where he dwells. One of those two was Andrew, the brother of Peter. Andrews goes to find his brother and brings him to Jesus.

Now we arrive at our “next day.” Jesus found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Philip is going to follow Jesus, and he goes to share this good news with his friend, Nathanael. He shares with Nathanael the good news that they have found the one that Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote about.

But Nathanael is skeptical. Philip may have known what kind of response to expect from his friend. I wonder how any of us would have reacted to Nathanael’s scathing criticism. Remarkably, Philip responds with an invitation that is filled with trust.

“Come and See.”

The answer to Nathanael’s outlook that nothing good has been found, because nothing good is ever going to come out of Nazareth, is to respond with invitation and trust.

Philip shows to me that trust in the good news shall be my guide through even the most challenging of conversations. The answer to doubt and anger is to respond with invitation and trust that Jesus will reveal the truth.

I am not the one that will convert. I am not the one that will change the hearts of the hard-hearted. I must trust in Jesus to be the one that turns doubt towards trust.