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RESOLVE TO WHAT?

So how many New Year’s resolutions have you broken so far?  Have you kept any?  I can say with some pride that I have not broken a single one of my New Year’s resolutions.  You may think, obviously he is lying, but no I can honestly say I have not broken a single one, because I never made any in the first place.  I just don’t do that old song and dance anymore; it has never worked in the past so why would it work this year?  I plan on 2020 being a continuation of some of my same old bad habits and good habits.  I have no goals for myself whatsoever this year.  My doctor, on the other hand, told me the other day that he has some goals for me. He said, “I told you to lose some weight, but you have gained 5 pounds.”  When Darla and I got married over 22 years ago I weighed 145, now I weigh 212.  That is a weight gain average of 5 and half pounds a year.  Some people would call that bad; I call it steady progress.   

All joking aside, I try to avoid New Year’s resolutions, because they are generally just a set up for failure.  That is because they many times require us to change a habit.  Habits are very hard to change, especially bad ones.  Now we should change our bad habits, we should all eat better, exercise more and we could go on and on.  The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they are at most wishful thinking or just a desire to be better, but they don’t take into the account the work that is going to be required to change the bad habit.  You can’t just resolve to eat better or exercise more without having a real plan with support behind it.  So the first couple of days we eat better but we don’t really have a system in place to make that sustainable and so when life gets busy we revert back to our old habits.  We go to the gym for a week but then other things start popping up and we don’t have an accountability partner to keep us going and pretty soon we are back to sleeping in or finding an excuse to skip. 

So here is a better idea; since you have probably already broke those resolutions, resolve to enjoy God this year.  Resolve to make yourself available to be blessed.  What do I mean by that?  Resolve to let God talk to you through his Word this year.  You can go, for instance, to www.biblegateway.com and select a Bible reading program and they will send it to you every morning by email.  The great thing is you don’t even have to read it; they have a program that will read it to you.  The Word of God was written for the ear more than the eye and so just sit back and listen to what God has to say to you every day.  You will be surprised to find out how much he loves you. Make yourself available to God by attending church where you can hear the word preached, take communion and spend time with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ praying for each other.  Resolve to let God pour out his grace and forgiveness into your life in 2020. You might even be surprised as you see some bad habits changed in the process.

Pastor Fred

A STARBUCKS CHRISTMAS

          I recently went to Starbucks and ordered my usual, a Venti Americano with whole milk.  When I looked at the cup later it said, “We wish you a Merry Coffee.”  I had to laugh because Starbucks has been the target in the past of groups that were offended when they went to a generic type of Christmas cup and even had the gall to wish people a happy holidays instead of a merry Christmas.  I thought that is pretty smart thinking on their part, instead of Christmas or the holidays let’s just concentrate on what we do, coffee.  I am sure that they will get flack for it too; I mean what would Christmas be without the people who enjoy being offended by everything?  I will admit I find the whole Christmas offense thing to be laughable.  I remember standing in line at a store in Phoenix one time and seeing all the gift cards with the words, “Happy Holidays” on them except the ones printed in Spanish which read, “Feliz Navidad.”  Feliz Navidad in Spanish is, “Merry Christmas.”  Apparently it is politically incorrect to say Merry Christmas unless you say it in Spanish.  I mean come on that is just funny.  I think we all need to take a drink of some strong eggnog and calm down.  Is it really the best use of our time and energy to be constantly offended during this time of year?

            I don’t think being wished Merry Christmas should be offensive to anyone; I also don’t think being wished Happy Holidays is offensive or even Merry Coffee.  My family will tell you that without coffee I am certainly not merry.  In all of these instances we are being wished something good, something positive.  Think of this way, in this hectic chaotic season some poor overworked soul is being nice to you.  Inside they may be going bah humbug but somehow against all odds they are managing to smile and wish you the best.  So don’t be offended and above all don’t be an offender by snarling at them and saying something like, “Well I wish you a Merry Christmas, so there!”  Yeah I am sure that will really make them feel better and blessed.  Don’t bring offense to Christ by cursing people with a, “Merry Christmas or else!” attitude.  Nobody was ever blessed by Jesus by getting hit over the head with him.

            I am not saying don’t wish people a Merry Christmas. You should wish people a Merry Christmas, but do it with a smile.  Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of God into our world.  The Son of God takes on flesh and becomes one of us on Christmas.  He comes to save us from our sins.  His ultimate destination is the cross and then the empty tomb.  He did all of that not just for you but for the clerk standing in front of you.  He did it for the customer at the front of the line who is holding everything up with all their complaints.  So wish them a Merry Christmas and mean it, and invite them to worship on Christmas Eve at 5:30 P.M.  So Merry Coffee, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad. 

Pastor Fred

November Message

I shared in a letter to the congregation recently stats about the health of a church being directly related to the percentage of people involved in Bible study.  For anyone who has served in the church, particularly in the role of Pastor, these were not surprising numbers.  They just confirmed what we already knew, but they also made it very real and hard to argue against.  Fewer and fewer people are involved in Bible study in the Christian church and yet we are in a time when our faith is being challenged like no other period in U.S. history.  There was yet another alarming report in the news the other day by the Pew Foundation.  They said the numbers are now showing that for the first time the young people who leave during their 20’s are not coming back after they have children.  The church has always counted on that happening.  It has always been the same story, young people leave either in high school or college but later in their later 20s or 30’s they return so that their children can be in church.  The Pew Foundation after decades of research says that is no longer occurring.  The statistics are very alarming, the last 10 years have shown massive amounts of people leaving the Christian church and not ever coming back.

The question is what can be done about it?  There does not seem to be any good answers.  The fact is maybe nothing can be done about it.  Maybe this is what is supposed to happen.  As it says in 1 Timothy 4:3, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”  People either just walk out the door and stay home or they find a self-help guru to guide them, or in some cases they join one of the big box churches, the Walmarts of Christianity where grace is cheap and the theology has no depth, and no commitment is expected.  People are also leaving these churches because really what is the point?  It seems that orthodox Christianity is whittling down to just a remnant.  So what is to be done?

The answer is simple, we repent and we turn the fight over to God, as Scripture says the battle is the Lord’s.  Your first reaction may be, you mean we just give up?  Yeah we do.  We throw our hands up in the air, we wave the white flag and we surrender.  What you ask?  Yes we surrender, to God.  We don’t surrender to the world, to Satan or to our culture, we repent and we surrender to God.  For too long the Church has tried one  program after another, one human solution after another.  If we do this people will start coming to church, if we change the music, if we get better donuts, pyrotechnics you name it.  Yes I did use the word Pyrotechnics, imagine a drum solo with the drumsticks on fire, believe it or not it has been tried. 

A better solution is again to repent and surrender to God.  What that means is realizing that God is in charge.  It means we sit down with our Bibles and immerse ourselves in God’s Word daily and we take all of our concerns and worries about the future of the church to God and ask for him to work in hearts and minds and change them.  It means as we take his Word in we simply share the grace that we have received with our friends and neighbors and suggest that maybe they come and join us on Sunday and receive that same grace.  It means we dig into God’s Word deeper, we reject fluff and go for substance.  So I invite you repent and surrender to God by joining one of our Bible studies and while you are at it, invite a friend to come along with you. 

Pastor Fred

JESUS, ME AND EVERYBODY ELSE

Is Christianity about a personal relationship with God or a community relationship with God?  It is interesting that the words personal relationship are not found anywhere in the New Testament.  On the other hand words like, “the body of Christ,” referring to the community of the church are found too many times to mention.  Some have even suggested that there is no such thing as a personal relationship with Christ, that Scripture points us only to a community relationship with Jesus.  So which is it?  And if it is a community relationship with Jesus that saves what happens if I move to a different city and I die before my membership gets transferred?  Never thought of that one have you?  Scary!  If it is just a personal relationship though, which many others have suggested, why belong or go to a church, in fact why are you wasting your time reading this, you don’t need the rest of us.  It is just you and Jesus.  People will argue until the cows come home over this stuff, because there is obviously only one right answer and it is mine! 

You are right there is only one right answer, and it is both.  Although the words personal relationship are not found in connection with Jesus, it is very clear throughout that saving faith is personal not corporate.  No one can believe for someone else.  So yes through faith we all have personal relationships with Jesus Christ.   He knows us personally and we know him personally, and that gives us our salvation.  And yet the language of Scripture over and over again points us to the fact that we are all in this together as believers.  God very clearly did not design us to live our Christian lives out as individuals.  It is why there is all that body of Christ type language in the Bible.  It is why he talks about how all of us are different parts put together to form on body with Christ as the head, or how we are one building with Christ as the cornerstone.  We see this all played out every Sunday in our worship.  We confess in the creed, “I” believe.  Shortly after that we pray the Lord’s Prayer saying, “Our” Father.  We go to the altar to take “Communion” together. 

It is really about the order of things.  Your salvation only comes through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but once saved you become part of a much larger family.  It is why he tells us to pray for one another, to rejoice with one another to comfort one another.  We are God’s children and we need to stick together no matter what.  Christianity is about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ for salvation, and it is also a community relationship with other believers as we live our faith out. 

Pastor Fred

Harmful Things Jesus Never Said

As I visited with a lady in the hospital one night she told me that her doctors had pretty much given up on her and she was going to be sent home.  She said the future did not look good.  I listened as she talked about her disappointment and her anxiety.  I asked if she had a church or a pastor that she could talk to when she got home.  She looked at me for a minute in silence and shook her head.  She said I did once but then my daughter died and several other close relatives.  She said after that happened I quit going to church.  I asked why she had made that decision.  She said because I have always been told that God doesn’t give us more than we can bear, but there is no way that I can bear all of this.  She said God lied to me and cheated me and I don’t want to deal with him anymore.  I listened as she continued to vent her anger toward God.  Finally when she looked like she was vented out, I told her I can understand why you are so angry toward God, you truly have been given more than you or anyone could bear.  As I saw her relax a little I told her that actually the Bible never says that God doesn’t give you more than you can bear.  She responded that that was what she was always told. I said I know, it is a common saying but it is a misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 10:13 which deals with temptation not suffering and loss. I told her that many times in this life we end up dealing with more than we can handle.  I added though that God does promise that he will never leave us or forsake us, that he will be with us in those overwhelming circumstances.  I told her that God does promise deliverance from our suffering but not necessarily in this life, sometimes deliverance is heaven.  I also told her that no matter how bad things are God always loves us, and that he loved her daughter when he took her home to be with him and that he loved her and would be with her in whatever she faced after she got home.  There was a lot more to the conversation but what was shocking about it is that this woman had been rejecting her faith and pushing God away because of a clique that probably another well-meaning Christian friend had fed her.  This clique was taken as gospel truth and for her it turned God into an uncaring being who hated her.  Simply put, false theology destroys people’s spiritual lives, false theology kills.

Unfortunately that is not the only false theological statement that is being passed around.  We have all heard this one as well, “God helps those who help themselves.”  It is not just people outside the church that say that but Christians within the church.  This again is not in Scripture but a saying of Benjamin Franklin, who copied it from British political theorist Algernon Sidney.  The saying God helps those who help themselves is the exact opposite of what Scripture teaches.  Sidney and Franklin both taught it to push self-reliance and self-help, which is a good thing when it comes to this physical life, but not when it comes to our spiritual life.  This again is the opposite of what Scripture teaches.  When people buy into Sidney and Franklin’s ideas and attribute them to God they began to think that their salvation depends on them, that they have to do something, obey the law, work to please God.  What Scripture teaches is that God helps those who finally realize that they can’t help themselves spiritually, that they are sinners who can in no way earn or justify their salvation and that they need a Savior in Jesus Christ.  It is dependence upon God instead of self.  This false saying when equated with Scripture can blind people to their sins and to Jesus.  Again false theology destroys spiritual lives, false theology kills.

My point is this, when you are talking with someone who is hurting, or is struggling make sure what you are giving them is from real Scripture.  Make sure it is not Benjamin Franklin or some twisting of Scripture.  People’s eternal lives are in the balance.  True comfort only comes from actual Scripture.  Only in Scripture are we promised that God will always be with us.  Only in Scripture do we meet Jesus who took on flesh to be with us and then died for us.  Only in Scripture do we find the true hope of eternal life in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Only in Scripture do we find theology that brings life.  As Linus says to Lucy in an old Peanuts cartoon, “Sound theology has a way of doing that.”

HOW DO YOU STUDY THE BIBLE?

One of the questions that people have is how do you study the Bible?  People say I read something in the Bible and I don’t understand it, what am I supposed to do?  I could write a whole book on this, and many people have, but for the purposes of this article I am just sticking to the simple basics.  So bare bones, to answer those questions we have to understand what the Bible is.  It is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God.  Yes men wrote it in their own particular style using words that were familiar to them, but it was God who directed them what to write.  So when you are reading the Bible you are reading the very words of God himself.  It is also a book written over a particular time period, in a particular culture, in languages that are different from English.  Now, in light of that, let’s look at the question.

The first thing you should do when you approach a particular section of Scripture is to read the chapters around it.  I think all of you have heard me say repeatedly, context, context, context!  If you just read the section without reading what is around it you can begin to cherry pick Scripture.  You can in other words make it say what you want it to say.  You need to first understand the context of the section, what was said before and after.  The next thing you need to do is realize the text was not written in 21st century America.  The culture from 1500 B.C. to 100 A.D. in the Middle East was very different than what it is in the United States today.  Yes men have always been sinful, they have had the same problems but the way they thought about life and understood things was different.  You need to be careful to not superimpose 21st century thinking on the text.  Therefore in studying Scripture you need to understand the culture of the time it was written in. 

The next thing you need to do is cross-reference.  Find other verses in the Bible that talk about the same thing you are reading in your particular section.  If it is talking about forgiveness read what other parts of Scripture say about forgiveness as well.  This will help with your understanding, particularly if the section you have before you is difficult to understand, there may be clearer passages about that same issue somewhere else. 

The next thing is look at the study notes in the Bible; this is a very good reason to invest in The Lutheran Study Bible.  It is also wise to invest in a good commentary, notice I said good.  There are a lot of bad commentaries out there.  Many of our members have already bought commentaries in the Concordia Series or the People’s Commentaries.  The Concordia Series is expensive so you might want to think about the People’s first.  You can buy all these through Concordia Publishing House or www.cph.org  

There are a few things you want to avoid.  Do not use a paraphrase of the Bible like the CEV to do Bible study.  I would also avoid the KJV because it is too hard to understand for modern readers and is not that good of a translation, you can send the hate mail to this email.  Actually please do not send hate mail to my email. 

The biggest mistake in Bible study is putting your own interpretation on a section of Scripture without considering the culture and language differences.  The worst question ever asked in a Bible study, whether it be a personal one or in a group, is what do you feel this passage means?  It doesn’t matter what you feel the passage means, what matters is what the passage actually does mean.  After you have determined that, then you ask how do I feel about what that means.  How does that impact my life?  Hopefully the above guidance will help you avoid the pitfalls and enable you to understand the Bible better. 

- Pastor Fred

May Message

The band R.E.M. in their song “It’s The End of the World” sang, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.  It’s the end of the world as we know it.  It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”  Darla and I have been feeling that song big time lately.  Charlie and Jasmine were confirmed in the Lutheran faith last Sunday and in a just a few more weeks they will graduate from 8th grade and will be entering high school.  Now they are talking about when they can get their driver’s licenses!  I remember them at 4 days old and now they are 14!  Sometimes I have to tell myself breathe deeply it is the not the end of the world, but it certainly is the end of the world as we know it.  A new chapter in life will be starting soon.  Like the song though we are fine, we are embracing the changes as we remember their childhood years. 

We all go through periods of life when big changes bring the end of the world as we know it.  Those are critical moments in our lives that can bring either heartache or a new challenge.  Heartache happens when we can’t deal with the fact that the world as we know it has ended.  The result of this is that we never move forward we just grieve for the ways things used to be.  We may even try to bring the past back in some way.  The prospect of a new challenge happens when we retain fond memories of the past but look forward to the new world that is coming and the opportunities it is going to bring.  We deal with these end of the world as know it scenarios as our children grow older, as they move away and get married, or maybe as we get older and face retirement, we lose a spouse or a job, or a close friend, or we move to another part of the country, or world.  We can go through it when things in the church change and new ideas are introduced and maybe old traditions that have lost their meaning are slowly let go. 

The question is always how do we react when the world as we know it ends and a new one begins?  I would love it if my children never grew up and moved away.  I would like to come home every night and find my kids doing their homework, or spend the next 30 years going to their baseball, basketball, soccer games and track meets.  That is not going to happen though, they are going to grow up.  I will always have fond memories of the adventures that they took us on and the laughter and joy that they brought to our lives as children but I will also embrace the adventures, sorrows, joys and laughter of their older years.  It is the same with the church, we remember what used to be fondly but we also realize that change is going to happen and we look forward to the opportunities that they bring.  Chapter three of the book of Ecclesiastes puts it best, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted, a time to kill and a time to heal.  A time to break down and a time to build up, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away; a time to tear and a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.”

Seasons and times change, that is one of two things that never change, the other one is Jesus Christ who always stays the same.  So there are two constants in life, change and Jesus.  Everything will always change but Jesus who never does, will be with us through it all.  It is the end of the world as we know it and you can feel fine with Jesus.

Pastor Fred

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