Pastor's Blog

Thankful to God

As I write this I am sitting in my recliner and staring out my living room window. It is my last day of quarantine - and I desperately want it to be over. If I could make time go faster, oh, I would.

But, alas, I cannot.

You see quarantining for two weeks has been a little trying. Oh it was great at first. I was feeling ill and I got to relax. Get plenty of sleeping done. Then, as I started to feel better, I had time for chores around the house that have been nagging at me. I raked my lawn, swept up the driveway, cleaned my gutters; I even mowed one last time. I thought, ‘this is great! The Lord’s giving me a chance to de-stress and do some manual labor. This quarantine thing is fantastic!”

But that was six days ago.

The chores are long done now. I’ve watched all the TV I can stomach and then some. I even started trying to sketch things in the backyard in a notebook (yes, seriously). I haven’t been this bored in a looooonnnngggg time. If I could make time go faster, oh, I would. I can’t wait for quarantine to be over - I am going to burst into the office tomorrow with all the exuberance of an eight year old riding their brand new ten speed.

But isn’t this always true of how we view the days God gives us? We’re either too busy or too bored. Either time is going too fast or way too slow. Either we can’t wait for something to get started (vacation, dinner, the weekly episode of our favorite show) or we desperately want it to end so we can get back to normal (I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed, everyone’s fighting around the dinner table, man that episode stunk). All too often we want time to speed up or slow back down, we want things to be busy or to calm back down. We want things to return to normal - or, when we’re sick of normal, we want them a bit crazier.

But dear friends, as we are about to celebrate Thanksgiving - don’t worry about trying to make things too perfect. Granted, this will be a little different kind of Thanksgiving. Many of us may not be able to see the family and friends we normally see at this time of year. It won't be the same, and I’ll bet many of us will want it over soon (like this entire year!). But instead of wishing for time to go faster, let’s be thankful for the time God gives us. For the food he gives us. For the moments together he gives us. For the Son he gave us. Dear friends, let us give thanks joyfully this Thanksgiving - precisely because it is a little. Precisely because so many in this world think there’s no reason to give thanks this year.

As Christians, we know better.

May God grant you all a joyful and joy filled Thanksgiving.

And trust me - I can’t wait to see you again!

 

Pastor Joshua Zarling



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Thankfulness Lives in the Heart

It is time to be thankful again. Of course, we should be thankful year-round, but the fourth Thursday in November serves as a reminder, just in case we have been negligent. So how will we be thankful?

God is not fooled by insincere words and mindless actions. In Hosea 6:1-3, the Children of Israel said “Come, let us return to the Lord” (v. 1). But God’s reaction shows he was looking at more than just their words. “Your love is like the morning mist and like the early dew that vanishes” (v. 4). The words of the people were different from what was in their hearts — and God could clearly see it!

God’s desire is “faithful love” and “knowledge of God.” He wants our faith to be such a part of who we are that it impacts our attitudes, words, and actions. He wants us to live with Christ’s love guiding us. This comes from the peace of knowing that our sins are forgiven and that God’s love for us will never change. This relationship with God, established by Jesus’ death and resurrection, permeates our lives.

The thankfulness that God wants is, above all, found in the heart. This thankfulness will express itself in hymns and prayers as we gather for worship. But our thankfulness is not a show in which we attempt to impress God. The confidence of faith is our greatest expression of thankfulness. As you trust in the Lord — for salvation and for everything that you need in life — you cannot help but be thankful.

If you're comfortable in public worship, make the effort to attend our special Thanksgiving services. Gathered with fellow believers around the Word of God to sing and pray will give you greater reason to be thankful. But let your thankfulness extend to all that you do. Let your gratitude to God for his grace be the joy that lives in your heart and the source of your unending hope for blessings now and forever. Let thankfulness live in your heart of faith.

Hosea 6:6 "For I desire faithful love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." EHV

Pastor Tim Wempner



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Be Still and Know that I Am God

The trees are immune.

The school year has now started, with schools from different areas doing different things (are you virtual, are you not virtual?). The elections looms nearer, with the ads getting more accusatory and acidic by the minute (big surprise). The Big Ten has completely reversed itself -because that always looks good - and is now going to play football. Oh, and the Packers are doing...well, they're actually doing pretty good.

And the trees are oblivious to all of it.

This is a different fall season than we've had before. There's just so much going on, so many things seem to be drifting in and out of chaos like a rubber ducky plucked from a bathtub and thrown into ocean waves. But remember, that's just us. Our affairs are chaotic right now. WE feel like we're dealing with a lot, like this fall season is different.

But the trees don't care, they're just doing what they do. For them, this is business as usual. They don't give a hoot about Covid, riots, housing prices, canning lid shortages, virtual learning, or the right to vote. They just know it is time to start changing colors, so that's what they're doing.

They're immune.

In Psalm 46 God tells us, "Be still and know that I am God." Be still, and know that He is in command. He is in control. He is immune from the worry and fear and chaos and indecision we are plagued with. His love and protection for us continue - unchecked, unimpeded, unhindered, unbreakable.

He is immune. He just keeps doing what he is doing.

And so can we. We can wrap ourselves in his promises and protection and keep doing what we're doing. We can keep doing the things that please him - to love and help each other, to hold firmly to his Word, to lift our eyes to the heavens, waiting for his return.

Let us be still and know that he is God. In him, we have everything.

God's blessings,

Pastor Joshua Zarling



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Normal - or a New Normal

Normal – or a New Normal: Who has not expressed a desire for “things to return to normal” in the past few months? While I cannot offer a solution for our economy or social lives, September will see a return to some “normal” activities at Good Shepherd’s: We will resume our weekly Bible Class schedule!

We will, of course, take the necessary precautions that are required these days – tables and chairs will be spaced apart for social distancing. But the purpose of Bible Class will remain the same. We will read and discuss sections of God’s Word so that we can grow in our faith.

For some, who have attended Bible Class in the past, this will be a return to normalcy. I would encourage you to continue attending Bible Class as you have done in the past.

For others, attending Bible Class will require a change. You will need to establish a “new normal.” I strongly encourage you to consider making Bible Class a regular part of your spiritual diet as a Christian.

Worship services certainly have a place in our spiritual diet. As we sing and hear God’s Word, we grow in faith. But worship services do not allow for questions and answers. Because a worship service has a time constraint, we often do not dig as deeply into God’s Word as we can in a Bible Class. Attending Bible Class provides the opportunity for a more well-rounded knowledge of Biblical truth and, therefore, a more solid faith.

God encourages us to grow in our faith: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Jesus told us, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (John 8:31). Jesus encouraged not only the church workers to “hold to [his] teaching” but all of his followers. Christians need to know what our Lord has taught in his Word. One of the ways we can grow in our knowledge of God’s Word is through Bible Classes.

Martin Luther wrote the Large Catechism as a tool to instruct people in the truth of God’s Word. In the Preface to the Large Catechism, Luther offered strong warnings against being satisfied with what we know about the Bible or neglecting to learn more. He said, “Many see a catechism as a poor, common teaching, which they can read through once and immediately understand. They can throw the book into a corner and be ashamed to read it again.” The study of God’s Word is not intended only for school age children. God’s people of every age always benefit from growing in a knowledge of God’s will.

Later in the Preface, Luther commented on the benefits we receive from continuing to learn God’s Word: “You will not release a stronger incense or other repellant against the devil than to be engaged by God’s commandments and words.” He expressed a similar thought as a strong warning: “Oh, what mad, senseless fools we are! While we must ever live and dwell among such mighty enemies as the devils, we still despise our weapons and defense, and we are too lazy to look at or think of them.” He was warning against neglecting God’s Word, which is our only defense against the devil.

In the conclusion of the Preface Martin Luther says, “Therefore, I again beg all Christians – especially pastors and preachers – not to think of themselves as doctors too soon and imagine that they know everything. . . . Furthermore, they should guard with all care and diligence against the poisonous infection of contentment and vain imagination, but steadily keep on reading, teaching, learning, pondering, and meditating.”

For our congregation to grow and flourish, we must be faithful in hearing and growing in God’s Word! As we see more clearly what Jesus has done for us, our faith will grow. As we apply what Jesus has done to our daily lives, we will grow in our willingness and ability to live as God’s people. The time in God’s Word will be a benefit to your faith and life.

God’s blessings,

Pastor Tim Wempner



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Prescription for Uncertainty - God's Love and Protection Goes Farther

I have no idea how to play Bridge. (Technically, I think the game is called ‘Contract Bridge’ - not that I care that much about semantics.)

I’ve seen it played a few times. I’ve heard people talking about it a few times. I’ve even watched a couple videos on YouTube. I still don’t fully get it. To me, the game play of Bridge seems needlessly complex and over the top. First, there’s a bidding stage that’s apparently a very important part of the game (coulda fooled me). Then, there’s a trick taking stage where one player’s hand is completely open to everybody else (you know, for the scenic touch). Finally, there’s a scoring system that seems so foreign to me that it may as well be a three thousand year old dead language once spoken on the Asian Steppe. 

I have no idea how to play Bridge, and I can’t seem to figure it out. Plus, when I watch others play I get the very strange sensation that I don’t know a secret everyone else is in on. I don’t know what’s being dealt, I don’t know the value of the cards, and I don’t know what we’re all bidding on.

And I’m betting that most of us feel that way about life in general right now. Recently I heard a commentator state the living during this pandemic is like someone forcing you to play a card game that you don’t know - you don’t know what the rules are, you don’t know what the value of the cards are, you don’t know what’s being dealt.

 I think that’s a very astute observation about life right now.

 Many of us feel rudderless, like we don’t know how to steer or what to even aim for. This pandemic keeps going on and on and on and on...and we find ourselves seated at a game where we don’t know the impact of our everyday decisions. This is uncertainty at the level of daily prescription. It is very unpleasant.

So, to counteract this, I’d like to give you another daily prescription: God’s Word. It is through His Word that we are reminded of how our God is in control of everything. It is in His Word that we see God promising and then delivering on joy and salvation and protection for His people. If you read the Psalm you’ll see that more than once David had to sit down to play a game he didn’t know, being dealt things he didn’t understand. God got him through it. In Acts you see Paul facing daily uncertainty over and over again. God got him through. For though the Pandemic seemingly goes on and on and on - our God’s love and protection goes farther.

I still have no idea how to play Bridge. 

I do, however, have an excellent prescription to cover that - as well as all of life’s other worries - God’s Word. 

Take daily.

 

Pastor Joshua Zarling



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Faith in God's Promises

During July we are reminded of the blessings God gives us through our nation and through good government. We are kept safe and we can freely worship the true God without fear of the government telling us what we are to believe. For these and many other blessings that God gives us through our nation we ought to be thankful to God.

God is clear in his Word that we have a responsibility toward our government:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. (1 Peter 2:13–14)

This and other Bible passages remind us to respect our leaders. Proper respect will show itself in attitudes and in words. How we talk about our leaders reflects the attitude of our hearts. Let God’s Word set your attitude as you are moved by God’s grace to show respect to your leaders in the way you speak about them – even when you disagree with them.

While we will respect our leaders, the Bible warns us not to put our faith in our leaders. They may be God’s servants to do good for us, but that does not mean that they have replaced God. The Psalmist says:

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. (Psalm 118:9)

Or Isaiah was inspired to write:

Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?  (Isaiah 2:22)

In particular, I think this reminds us during this upcoming election cycle that the right leader is not what will solve all our problems. God is still God. His grace is what we need, not this candidate or that one. To trust in people is foolishness. Even wise King Solomon was not a perfect leader. Solomon laid such a heavy burden on the Israelites that they demanded his son lighten their labor and taxes. When he refused, Israel was torn into two nations. Earthly leaders, even good ones, will not create heaven on earth.

Of course, that does not mean we should not give thought to how we will vote. But as you consider how you will vote, let your faith remain firmly on the promises of God to bless you, not the promises of any particular candidate.

In Isaiah God said:

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord. (Isaiah 31:1)

What a vivid picture for God’s people. Political alliances do not lead us to prosper. Trusting in our mighty military is a misplaced trust. Instead, look to the Holy One, the Lord! He is your hope and your Savior. He provides “daily bread” for our earthly needs and his grace for our spiritual needs. God’s love and forgiveness allow us to live at peace.

Pastor Tim Wempner



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Waiting Out the Storm

To this day I can almost taste the most memorable slice of carrot cake I’ve ever had. It was delicious - the frosting was everything you’d want to be. The cake was moist yet firm, with just the right amount of sweetness.

Delish!

But I’d be lying to you if I now claimed that what made this piece of carrot cake so memorable was how it tasted. It actually had nothing to do with taste. It had to do with where I was eating it and what was going on. You see this memorable piece of cake had not been served to me at a birthday party, it was not handed to me on our fine Christmas china. I was not eating it at a church potluck surrounded by friends and cheerful grown-ups. This particular piece of carrot cake (which I can still almost taste) was served to me in our basement, while my entire family, plus my Aunt and Uncle, sat on the cold pavement. No one was particularly happy - in fact, no one payed much attention to the cake at all. Everyone was listening to the radio and wind.

Now you see dear friends, what made this piece of carrot cake so memorable to me - it was not the taste, it was the fact that I ate it on the night the Tornado came. 

A tornado had touched down in our area, and we were downstairs waiting it out, praying it wouldn’t come near the house (it didn’t). So we sat. Waiting and listening. Listening to the wind and the rain and the radio. As we listened the storm seemed to ebb and flow in its intensity - sometimes it seemed to be over, hissing out it’s last breath, only to roar up anew with greater energy. So I sat there munching my carrot cake, waiting for the storm to end. 

Which all of us have been doing lately. We’ve all been waiting for the storm to end - hunched up in our houses hoping the storm won’t touch down by our front door. But the Covid 19 pandemic is no normal storm. You can’t see it, although we like to think we can hear it’s approach. So we strain our ears. Listening to TV, radio, websites, news reports.

The wind and the rain.

We can’t quite make out what we hear about this new storm. Is it growing in intensity or is it ebbing away? Is it leveling off? Flattening the curve? Yada, yada, yada? So and so forth? 

That’s how it goes when you’re waiting out the storm. You strain your ears, trying to hear what it’s doing. When it will end.

But brothers and sisters, all I had to occupy my time that night of the Tornado was a piece of carrot cake. However, God in his love has given us something much better to chew on during our current storm. He’s given us his precious Word and unstoppable promises. He has reminded us time and again that though this storm of a pandemic seems to be strong, it is not even close to being as strong as Him. And more than anything, in His Word He has assured us again and again that nothing - no physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, national, or international danger can take us out His hands. He is stronger than all and he loves us dearly.

So we wait out the storm.

As I write this it looks like the storm might be breaking. It looks like we may be able to return to worship at Good Shepherd’s soon. I am excited, but I am also wary. Is the storming petering out or is this only a temporary break before it returns with more intensity? I don’t know. And quite frankly, I don’t much care. Because my God is with me. He is with you. And He will protect us.

So here we are waiting out the storm, knowing that our God will get us through. 

That’s not such a bad place to be after all.

Yours in Christ

Pastor Joshua Zarling



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Don't Give Up

In the Parable of the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-7) Jesus compared himself to a rotten judge. Jesus described the judge in the parable as someone who did not fear God or care for other people. Hardly the type of guy you would want to rely on for justice or the kind of person that you would expect Jesus to use as a comparison to himself.

A widow kept going to this rotten, uncaring judge for help. Eventually he gave in and helped her. He did not want to help, but her persistence wore him down.

Jesus concluded with the point of the parable: If this rotten judge would listen and help, what do you think God will do? God loves and cares for his people. His love led him to send Jesus, who would give his own life to save us! God’s love is so great that he wants to have us with him for all eternity in heaven!

The verse that introduces this parable is significant. Luke wrote, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”

Unfortunately, it is easy to stop praying. If we do not see the immediate result that want, we may wrongly surmise that our prayer was not heard. Or perhaps we have prayed for a long time, but have not received the answer we want, so we are tempted to stop praying. Or sometimes we might just forget to pray.

It is also easy to give up, isn’t it? The word Jesus used for “give up” is translated in other contexts to mean “to give in to evil,” “to lose heart,” or “to become a coward.” After years of struggling against a sin – and failing to achieve perfection – it might seem easier to “give up” and stop fighting the urge. We might normalize the sin so we can continue it. Or perhaps we are tempted to “give in to evil.” Rather than continue to be patient and forgiving when someone does not change to act the way we want them to act, the evil of anger comes much easier.

Or after weeks of staying at home, we might be tempted “to lose heart.” Pessimism and frustration control our thinking and our view of the future, turning us bitter and unhappy.

I think we forget to pray, or we give up, because we forget who we are dealing with. The Lord, who made the heavens and the earth, is the God who watches over us! He is far greater than the rotten judge in Luke 18. God’s plans for us are always based on love. So great is his love for us that Jesus died and rose from the dead to save us. He promises – countless times! – to save his people from troubles. Just one example: In Psalm 107, the Psalmist writes about “the redeemed” (v. 2). He says about the redeemed, “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress” (v. 6). We cannot give up; the Lord will deliver us! That deliverance will be guided by his perfect wisdom and his perfect love. He will do what is best for us – that is the only option for the Lord.

You can leave your problems with God and be confident that he will sustain you. His forgiveness for your failures not only assures you of his love, it also makes you more eager to forgive others. His Word will strengthen you to continue to struggle against sin and to seek to act according to his will. There is no reason to surrender to our troubles; our God will deliver us!

By giving us the right to pray to him God did not give us the right to be God. Our prayers are not orders to God, telling him what he must do. Our prayers are an expression of a faith that sees that God is good. He is always good! He is good in everything he does!

So “always pray and [do] not give up.” Our loving God will preserve and protect his people, which, of course, includes you, both in the past, the uncertain present, and the future.

In Christ,

Pastor Tim Wempner



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Celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus

We pray that you continue to celebrate in your heart the resurrection of Jesus! His life is the foundation of our hope for the future. His resurrection also inspires us to live new lives as his people.

The Apostle Paul was inspired to write in Romans 6:1-4: "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."

In your Baptism you were united to Jesus' death and resurrection. Forgiveness and new life are really yours! Easter remains a joyful time for us. Nothing can rob us of the peace of knowing what our Lord has graciously done for us.

God's blessings to you from our Risen Savior!

Pastor Tim Wempner

Pastor Joshua Zarling



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Promises of God

The grim scene of Good Friday only seemed to get worse. Imagine the emptiness in the pit of the disciples’ stomach knowing that there master was lying in a tomb – sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers. Based on their disbelief and fear on Easter Sunday, we know these men were terribly shaken. Death is, well, death. It is final. There are no known cures – even in our day. The Savior who had washed their feet, who stated that he was “the way, the truth, and the life,” and who promised numerous other things was gone.

But why were they afraid? Everything had unfolded just as Jesus had told them it would. A number of times he had told them the end of the story – he would rise from the dead. He had proven his power over death quite recently by raising Lazarus from the dead. But yet they couldn’t see any hope.

You know how they felt, don’t you? Your problems grow bigger and bigger and for some reason you cannot see any solution and cannot imagine how God could help. It is as if we don’t remember that he will “work all things for our good” or “be with us always to the very end of the age.” For some reason the devil’s trick of making our problems look big and our God look small works too easily. 

Sadly, Scripture never records that the disciples held out any hope on Saturday. It would be nice if there was a passage that recorded Peter saying something like, “Jesus said he’d rise on the third day. Let’s wait and see what happens tomorrow before we get too bent out of shape.” Jesus had told them the end of the story, but they just didn’t want to believe it.

Jesus has told you the end of your story too. Maybe not in all the detail you’d like; but his promises are clear. All those troubles will turn out for your good! He is with you to help you. Finally, he’s promised that your life’s story ends . . . never. You will live with him in heaven because Jesus has removed all your sins.

When all looks hopeless, hold to the promises of God. He doesn’t play games or lie. He just does exactly what he’s promises to do. Every time. Don’t believe it? Listen carefully to the Easter service tomorrow -- yes, it is a video, but the message is there. That tomb is empty. He came back to life. Just like he said he would. The promises of God come true!

God’s blessings and a happy Easter to all of you,

Pastor Timothy Wempner

Pastor Joshua Zarling



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For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. ~ JOHN 3:16