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August 2, 2018, 9:00 AM

The Sun Rises and Casts a Blue-Line Shadow


Citizens this morning are praying for him, a peace officer.

Shot in the wee hours near a hospital, the one my wife works at. 

He responded as all officers who are patroling as officers: 

at 2:30 this morning, he went. And risked being shot at

when he approached a man wielding a gun

at the corner of Dark Soul and Sun.

When evil is surprised by the men and women who care,

and go on caring as the cameras roll, reload and roll again, airing the scene 

as the sun rises, again, from here to there.

Today the sun casts a blue-line shadow.




July 10, 2018, 12:00 AM

Lead On, People of God. Have done with lesser things!



An old Gospel tune puts it this way: "Rise up, o men of God! The church for you doth wait, Her strength unequal to her task; rise up, and make her great!"  

A quote from a book on the theology of the cross says: "Sin lurks in the most pious of places." 

And how true it is! And I could give many similar quotations, but first let's play with the themes presented here.

We are all--for sure--EXPERTS at seeing the sins and failures of others, but what about us? What about our Christian piety and life? How have our actions and words directed others to Christ or...gulp...directed them away from Christ, damaged God's reputation, or caused others to question the Faith? Have our actions and words "made the church great" or made the church feel more like a bad community organization?

I was blessed to take a family vacation recently. As I sat on the coast of Oregon near the famed Haystack Rock--one of the most gorgeous places on earth, I must say!--I reflected honestly on my own spiritual life. How often am I only reading Scripture to prepare for a sermon, Bible class, or blog post? How often am I praying only problems at God, instead of gratitude and praise for Who He is? Am I "making hay" for God when I have opportunity, or sitting by hoping that His blessings come my way--without the work of prayer? 

If each sinful heart looks away from God at the forbidden fruits of the world; if our sinful hearts find the sin they know is wrong but secretly enjoy it; if all of that is true, then no wonder Christian prayer takes work. It takes a militant attitude toward our own hearts, which lead us astray (Matthew 15:19-20). Some of the worst advice in all of history is to "follow your own heart." For God's sake, don't! We must follow Christ and his Way, the narrow Way--the one that costs everything we have. And, now, I know what people mean when they say follow your heart--perhaps they're talking about finding a good vocation, or knowing what your talents are, or being true to one's upbringing as polite company and decent citizens of a nation. 

Yet there is the one, aching problem in our same-divorce-rate and everything-else Church of Today in America: evidently we don't take much time to correctly evaluate our heart of hearts. As Billy Graham used to say, "We're not sinners because we sin; we sin because we're sinners." And that is biblical. Have you ever read King David's bold confession of sins in Psalm 51? There he says, "Surely I have been sinful from birth, from the day that my mother conceived me." It is a problem that we must address daily, or we risk drifting away. 

Exactly five-hundred years ago, a meager servant of God by the name of Martin Luther was busy with a disputation, or academic debate, on the topic of what it means to be a theologian of the cross. (Or, we might say for our purposes here, to be a Christian who really & truly takes up the cross to follow Jesus. Not only sometimes or when with other Christians, but in front of the world, and against persecution if that should come.) In the disputation, he says that the law of God can NEVER rescue us from our sin. It was in this context that another writer said "Sin lurks in the most pious of places." (The late professor Gerhard Forde.) Other versions of this are something akin to "wherever there's a church, the devil builds a chapel." And so on, I think you get the idea.  

But, you see, only the good news of Jesus Christ can rescue us from ourselves! Jesus has taken all of our most-pious platitudes that cover our shame and FORGIVEN them. He has set us free to be Resurrection People. (Romans 5-6)

Now there. As much as I thank you for reading this blog, it's time to take up that devotion book, devotion email, Scripture reference, or conversation with another Christian pilgrim and keep the wheels of your wagon rolling! 

The devil does not want God's kingdom to come (people to believe his message about Jesus and be saved). The devil also does not want anyone to care about or hallow God's name. Those of us who use His Name rightly should be leading the way. 

Lead, people of God. Because you know what's lurking beneath. 

 

 




January 9, 2018, 12:00 AM

On the Five Purposes of Our Church



There are five purposes of the New Testament Church. Our church body--the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod (LCMS)--had published those purposes for our congregations sometime in the early 1980's. They were most widely circulated, however, by Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California via his books "The Purpose-Driven Life" (2002) and the earlier release, "Purpose-Driven Church: Every Church Is Big in God's Eyes" (1995). 

Now, this is not an endorsement of everything or every bit of theology in Pastor Warren's books, lectures, writings, blog, or other publications. I am simply trying to agree with the five purposes and use them in our Lutheran way.

You know that we are liturgical. We are historical. We are orderly. But none of these mean "dead." Liturgy, history, and orderly procedures are to be used by the living church for living purposes. They are to uphold Christ and do so in the vernacular of the people. This is why you are reading this in English, and not in German (the founding language of the Lutheran Church). Nor are you reading this in Latin, the language of the academy and all serious theologians in the 16th Century when our church began. It is because each element of the church's life and practice is scrutinized for, may I say it?, "usability." It used to be that Latin was the only language that could be used in church, for church, and especially in Mass. But the Lutheran Church immediately (in the 1520's) said, "The Gospel needs to be understood in the language that people actually use everyday." By contrast, it took the Roman Catholic Church until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960's to officially allow the use of languages other than Latin in its worship services.  

The 5 Purposes, like language, are definitely something we can use in service of the Gospel. 

From the Website purposedriven.com, they are: 

  • We were planned for God's pleasure
    • so your first purpose is to offer real worship.
  • We were formed for God's family
    • so your second purpose is to enjoy real fellowship.
  • We were created to become like Christ,
    • so your third purpose is to learn real discipleship.
  • We were shaped for serving God
    • so your fourth purpose is to practice real ministry.
  • We were made for a mission
    • so your fifth purpose is to live out real evangelism.

Perhaps these seem overwhelming, but when you break it down, they are no more complex than five points on a star. And, in practice, many of them flow together. For example, when a group of the saints prepares for an "evangelism"/outreach event, they work together serving and in so doing have fellowship. Thus, they are serving/ministering to one another and the guests our church will have, they are in meaningful fellowship with one another as they share that experience, joy, and challenge; and finally, yes, they are about doing evangelism or telling the Good News of Jesus when the time comes to execute their plan for the event. Be it a spaghetti dinner or a parent's night out at church, they have accomplished three purposes in one event.

Does this make sense? 

When the world sees this happening among us, and that we are enjoying serving and loving others so much, it is attractive and winsome. Now, this isn't "the whole boat" as they say. There is much more to being the Holy Church of God in Christ Jesus on this earth. But as for catching fish and fulfilling our mission of making disciples of all nations, tribes, and peoples--a place to start. It opens the doors of the church to more of our neighbors and invites them to come and see the salvation of our God. 

Studies by the Alban Institute have shown that it doesn't matter what style of worship the church has--any church can grow! Is a liturgical style like ours done well and in Spirit and in truth (John 4)? Or, does the worship languish from bad sound, poor organization, or unclear sermon messages? The Law should accuse and eliminate the hearer's sin-hearts, and the Gospel should ring like a bell from the rafters of the church leaving no question that our forgiveness is free and accessible to all in Christ Jesus, by faith alone and by God's grace alone.

I have left the toughest subject for last. But, when followed in faith, it is not burdensome. It is sometimes difficult, but not burdensome. There is a difference! It is "discipleship." As a result of all of these activities, we are finally to be quiet and listen. What is God calling us to do or say in our context that may challenge the status quo? Or, what areas of weakness do I constantly have as I am in the practice of living as a follower of Christ Jesus? These I NEED to confess--it is not optional--and then I need to put to death these "weaknesses" which are really sin, clinging to our natures, and constantly battling against our new life in Jesus. 

The Church is not a customer service for the soul. There is considerable tension in the balance between being "seeker friendly" as the catch phrase used to put it, and simply saying, "If you wish to be a disciple of Christ here, you must put some of your own effort into understanding what is being said and what is happening in worship." But it's not only with Worship. In our life together we must also have "staying power" and exhibit the qualities of disciples when something (like a vote) doesn't go our way. We need to forgive, forget, and move on with the Body of Christ. Too many saints in our day forgive, but then leave a church when something emotionally adverse has happened. They say it's too stressful for them. But I would gently push back, and try to in my service as pastor, in a challenge to that way of thinking. I am willing to bet that God has growth in mind for you through some contentious time at church! Or at the very least, can you really discount that as a possibility? That God wants to instruct you and guide through something like that to teach you about yourself and stretch you to a new place with Him? 

There is an old saying that "God loves you as you are, but would never leave you there." That is the challenge and the work of Discipleship. The Church is the only organization on earth that calls out to everyone with a message of love, but when people get into a faithful church, what they hear is a Savior saying: "Take up your cross and follow me." And, "Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." And, "No servant is greater than his Master. What the Master suffered, the servant will also suffer." Etc. 

In my own words. All of the above is our mission. In Christ our Savior and Redeemer, 

Pastor Joel

 

 




August 25, 2017, 12:00 AM

An Alien Invasion!



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This past Friday was the opening chapel service at the Seminary I attended in St. Louis.

The preacher, the Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer, President of the school (Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO), memorably referred to the decline of the Christian Church in the West as "one great tabagon slide down a hill." And, he added, "the Missouri Synod is definitely on it!" And, no one could or would deny that Baptisms, new converts, and overall membership in congregations are down all over the nation, and in all 35 Districts of our church body. 

What to do? In my own words, I would say:

Continue worshipping the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yes. Worship is what to do. What do I mean?

In the Athanasian Creed (that longer creed we say only once a year in worship), it says clearly and in two places that "the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in three Persons..." Now, I know that it sounds as though I'm dodging the real question. But this has always been how the Christian Church shines the Light of Christ (John 8:12) into the vast and unknowns of the world's darkness: worship. Invite others to come and see. Show mercy to those who need it. Invite still others. And worship. And repeat as necessary! For, our whole lives are to be a kind of living worship service to God! I think of Romans 12, the beginning of the chapter:

"Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship (Greek: "liturgy"). Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing, and perfect will." (12:1-2, NIV)

Great news. But what does this mean for us? The preacher continued: 

"I am sure people have told you that it's a terrible time to do what you're doing, to go out and become a minister. Our congregations are struggling. But it is a GREAT time to be the Church. Because of Jesus. We are now seeing more clearly the radical nature of Faith. Many Americans consider Faith to be a matter of feeling: they say, 'as long as you are sincere in what you believe and don't hurt anyone, then your Faith is just as good as mine.' But we know that Faith is not a feeling, but an external, objective truth!

It's an alien invasion!

That's the basis of our Faith. It is Christ, descending from heaven to be born of a virgin and to do all of things we know He did. For us. In fact, it is a Faith that claims us despite our feelings!

And this is shown all the more in its contrast with the culture and the world around us. We don't grieve as though we have no hope! We grieve good things being lost, certainly, but we do so with HOPE. And that is why it is a GREAT time to be the Church."  

Essentially, following the Scripture closely here means everything for us.

Now, I couldn't quite believe he said the words "alien invasion" to mean the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, his ministry, death on the cross, and resurrection. Certainly an attention getting phrase! But I suppose that is what he did: he invaded our world and from a different world, from heaven, of course. By his later commands to love one another and make disciples through Baptizing and Teaching, the work of God is continuing with us. Right now, right here. 

We have been given this mantle--remarkably, amost unbelievably. Amazingly, we are to speak for God to one someone: "You are forgiven." To another, "You cannot walk this way without being judged by God." To still another, "God will love you through this challenge."

Almost inexplicably, we are at the beginning each day with our God. We are made new. Again. Because we need it.

And, for the 179th time, the academic year at my Seminary began.

Before it did, Dr. Meyer approached a new student sitting in the pew.

"How old were you when 9/11 happened?"

The student answered, "Seven years old."

"See?" asked Pastor Meyer. "The world the way it is today is all they've known! We as the older generation will try to convey what wisdom we can to them as they bring Christ the light of all nations into this world!"

And with hope and wisdom and prayer, the school year began.

And with hope and wisdom and prayer, our lives begin again each day.

Because of an alien invasion.

Because of Christ.

In Him,

Pastor Dieterichs 

 

relevant link: WWW.CSL.EDU A Seminary of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod since 1839

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 




April 29, 2017, 6:54 PM

Oh, How The Devil Doth Set Himself Against Thee



Lo and behold, there's a great chance you will become bored with the Christian life at some point in time. How do I know? First, it's happened to me personally. And more than once: both before I became a minister of the Gospel, and after. I took consolation in the fact that many Christians over the centuries have noted how hard it is to follow Christ when things are prosperous; when we have enough to eat and drink, and all of our phsyical needs are taken care of. It's the hardest then to "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matthew 5)!

Second, feelings of boredom are something the Devil loves to promote. Consider how many exhortations to listen, obey, trust, and follow there are in Holy Scripture. There wouldn't be so many of those exhortations if we were A-ok in the faith & works department! We need the Spirit's help. Daily.

Consider the words written for posterity in The Large Catechism of Martin Luther--which was originally just sermons on the Small Catechism. In discussing how we should eagerly use the Lord's Supper (Communion) as often as possible, Dr. Luther preached:

"As in other matters that have to do with faith, love, and patience, it is not enough just to teach and to instruct, but there must also be daily exhortation, so that on this subject we must be persistent in preaching, lest people become indifferent and bored. For we know and feel how the devil always sets himself against this and every other Christian activity, hounding and driving people from it as much as he can."  LC 471.44

I recall that the most insidious times in my life--when I suffered the most from a lack of purpose, energy, or motivation--were when I had no spiritual compass. When I had ignored the teaching of my upbringing in the faith, and/or tried to find my own direction in life.

Our direction in life is given by the Lord in His Word, and no where else! And in the reception of the Sacrament, we are handed more encouragement and love for the journey, and free of charge.

As I might say colloquially: We have enough to say grace over just to live according to God's will. This is a Divine Command that we do-- not a suggestion from the lifestyle section of a magazine! This is a holy, heavenly Command. "Love one another" being the Greatest of the Commandments.

We have enough to study and learn in Baptism, the Word itself, and the Lord's Supper to last our whole lives on Earth.

Let's get to it!

In the power of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, in which we are born again into a living hope (I Peter 1:3-9, 22-25),

PD

pastor_joel@live.com

 

 

 

 


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