Pastors' Blog

Our Pentecost Faith

Pentecost is an ancient celebration. It began back in the BCs as harvest celebration for the Jewish people. Today Pentecost continues a celebration of a different kind: the celebration of the Holy Spirit's work in our life.

Today's Pentecost is a celebration of an end and of a beginning. It is a celebration of the end of the disciple’s education. For nearly four years, Christ had been their professor and now he had departed from this earth. He is not there with the disciples, now called apostles. He isn’t there to be the “go to” guy to answer all their questions. They’ve graduated from all that. So Pentecost is a celebration of the beginning of their ministry. It is the beginning of doing what Christ told them to do, to proclaim the gospel to all nations.

But what would the future hold for these men? It wouldn’t be long before the apostles would be beaten for teaching about Jesus. It wouldn’t be long and the first great persecution of the church would break out, scattering believers throughout the known world. And so is Pentecost also a day of uncertainty? Is Pentecost the day that reality begins to settle in on the apostles: “Man, is this is the real deal, or what!”

If the apostles were worried about the future, we certainly don’t see it as we read about in Acts. In fact, a quick glance through the book of Acts demonstrates the exact opposite. The apostles were beginning to see that Pentecost is faith without fear. Pentecost is about Christ’s promise to send them the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is about enjoying the unique peace of Christ. With this in hand, the apostles fearlessly proclaimed the gospel.

Faith without fear… It’s a bold statement because we have plenty we could be afraid of. Pentecost is an end and a beginning for us as well. It is the end of “having Christ” with us as he teaches the disciples. And it is the beginning of our own ministry. Does this frighten you? Today, we follow in the bold footsteps of the apostles. There is no fear because Pentecost is faith without fear. Like the apostles, we too enjoy the Holy Spirit as our counselor and we too rejoice in the peace of Christ. Today is fire. Today is power. Today is courage. Today is Pentecost.



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Christ Helps us Help a Hurting World

The Christian church, and the Lutheran church in particular, has a custom called "confirmation." Perhaps you remember the day of your confirmation: whether you were confirmed as a youngster or as an adult, I hope it was a happy day. And it should be because confirmation is a celebration of God’s word. He brought you to faith. He keeps you in the faith. And he will bring you to himself in heaven.

So now what? Sometimes confirmation can seem like such a big deal that we put all this emphasis on it without thinking about the day after confirmation, or the life after confirmation.

Confirmation means strengthening—strengthening for a life of showing your faith. Because whether you are aware of it or not, there is a world out there that hurts. It hurts because it’s lost in sin. And you and I, who have been confirmed or who will be confirmed, have the answer for that world.

The problem is sharing that answer with the world is painful. There was a Christian man named Stephen.  And he shared the message of Jesus with a hurting world. And what did the world do to him? It murdered him. Jesus once said to his disciples, "The world hated me and it's going to hate you, too." And Stephen was an example of that. You might look at his story and think, “What a painful thing to go through, what a terrible experience!” But in the midst of all the bad things that happened to him, Christ was right there to strengthen him.

Acts 7:54-58, "When they heard these things, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at [Stephen]. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed up into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  He said, 'Look, I see heaven opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.' But they screamed at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and rushed at him with one purpose in mind. They threw him out of the city and stoned him."

At the moment of their greatest anger against Stephen, Christ knew what Stephen needed. And Christ knows that we need his help if we’re going to be any help in this world. Jesus helps us help a hurting world. 

You know what the last thing Stephen did before he died was? He prayed for those who were murdering him. Christ had kept his promise to him, and he will keep his promise to you.



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Passing the Test of Love

I don’t know if I would have passed the test like he did. I don’t know if I’ve got the faith or the love to do what this man did. In an instant, a man pulled out some handguns and started shooting. The innocent people who were caught in the line of fire on the Trestle Trail Bridge in Menasha, WI could never have seen this coming and never have prepared themselves for this random violence. But there it was. In the amount of time it took to empty two handguns of their bullets, the whole scene was over. Blood, carnage, confusion. And love. In middle of all that, a father lies dying, and his last words to his wife were stunning, “Forgive the shooter.” I don’t know if I would have passed the test of love.

How many of us come into contact with that kind of evil, that kind of blind hatred that reaches out to hurt innocent people standing around? I wouldn’t have been surprised if anyone had been angry at the shooter. But here is the true character of Christ, the true heart of Christ, spoken in words that still break my heart, “Forgive the shooter.”

Passing the test of love…could you do that? Could you look your murderer, the killer of your daughter, the maniac who hurt your spouse—could you look that monster in the face and say, “I love you” and then die? Maybe we need more opportunities like this. Not more violence. Not more blind hatred. But more opportunities to look the undesirables of our life in the face and proclaim our love to them. Maybe then we’d learn what means to pass the test of love.

John 4:7, "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God."



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Don't Kick a Tree

Suzie looked at the tree in her backyard and wondered if it would grow any pears this year. She was too little to realize that the pear tree in their backyard was dying. But she wanted pears. Every day in the spring she would go out and look at the tree, hoping that it had made a pear. But all it ever did was grow leaves that eventually just fell off. The tree just didn’t have the strength to produce pears. Once Suzie went out and yelled at the tree, “Why won’t you make any pears?!” She even kicked it. But the tree couldn’t do it; it was too sick.

Sometimes we’re like little Suzie when it comes to growing God’s fruit. God wants us to live perfect lives. Our consciences tell us what we should be doing and how we should be living. Yet, no matter how often we tell ourselves to do those things we still can’t produce the kinds of perfect fruit that God wants. No matter how hard we kick ourselves, we still sin. We’re too sick to grow God’s fruit on our own.

Making the kinds of trees that can grow God’s fruit is the work of Christ. John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." His work reverses our sinful dying condition so we can grow the kind of fruit God wants. All Christ does is he connects us to himself: the true vine and that connection cleanses us from our sin and gives us the power to grow God’s fruit. 

No kicking required.



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The Abandoned Do Have Comfort

John 10:12, "The hired man, who is not a shepherd, does not own the sheep. He sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep, and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them."

A young boy of about seven looks up and he doesn’t see his mom and dad anymore. In the middle of the mall, with people everywhere and they’re gone. They’ve left him there. He searches desperately, but they are nowhere to be found. He goes to the car, but it’s gone. He’s alone. He’s been abandoned.

It’s not far from the truth. Parents have taken advantage of laws meant to protect children abandoned at hospitals so they could get rid of a problem child. Imagine being on the receiving end of that! Imagine the ones you thought cared about you leaving you behind to hold an emotional bag of hatred, guilt, loneliness, distress. What could ever give you comfort again?

Being abandoned by the ones you thought cared about you is a terrible thing. We wouldn’t wish it on anyone. The sad truth is, when it comes to what we allow to take care of our souls, we invite it. We invite into our lives wickedness and sin that we think will make us happy; things we think will take care of us, but in the end they abandon us. These hired hands we thought would shepherd us run away and they leave us holding the bag of guilt and remorse. What could ever give us comfort?

The Shepherd’s offering. Our Savior, the Good Shepherd, rescues us from all that. He saves us by an offering of his life which gives us comfort. It comforts because he alone, amid all the hired hands of this world—he alone cares for us. We have comfort because his offering gathers us into the safety of his eternal flock. We have comfort because the Shepherd does the will of God the Father. Comfort comes to us, the ones abandoned by the hired hands of the devil. Comfort comes to us through the offering of Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd. His offering is our comfort.



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Easter Eye Witness

"Then Jesus opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45

Once again, we are with the disciples in the locked room on that first Easter evening: a group of worried-looking disciples, hiding behind locked doors. I imagine Peter pacing around, jumping at every sound that comes from outside, ready to draw his sword. We look at their faces and see the confusion there, the sadness and the fear.

And they had no idea what was about to happen to them. Even though Jesus had told them, they were so worried that Jesus’ body wasn’t in the tomb that they had forgotten the very special task the Lord had for them. Jesus was about to come and make them his witnesses.

But, as always, Jesus never leaves his followers empty-handed. If he gives them a task he also gives them the tools. If Jesus was going to make them his witnesses, if these worried and sad disciples were going to go before the world and witness the miracle of Easter, then they were going to need some help. They were going to need to understand the Scriptures, so Jesus opened their minds. They were going to need power and motivation, so Jesus promised them the Holy Spirit.

As Jesus’ followers, we carry on the legacy of that first Easter. The task Jesus gave to those worried men in that locked room, he hands to us, too. We are Easter’s witnesses. And if we’re going to be any good at this job, we need tools. We need to have our minds opened so we can understand the Scriptures. We need the power and motivation to get the job done, so Jesus makes us Spirit-powered witnesses.

It’s almost as if we are standing in that locked room on that first Easter evening. It’s almost as if the Lord were physically present right now speaking those same empowering words, “You are witnesses of these things.”



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Keep Your Easter Faith

John 20:27, "Then Jesus said to Thomas...stop doubting and believe!"

One Easter Sunday a few years back, I sat down to read the paper. A rather alarmist headline was spread over the front page “Growing Numbers Don’t Identify with a Religion.” It was an article about people not wanting to be tied to a particular religion. What could be causing that? Is it that people are losing faith in religion?

Faith has one enemy: doubt. Doubt causes people to question what they believe. In some areas, that can be good. Doubt can cause a group of citizens to hold their government accountable. But when doubt disturbs our faith in God then it is our enemy. Don’t be fooled, there are some who want us to believe that skepticism and doubt about God and his Scriptures is healthy. There are some who approach the Bible with an attitude that says, “I won’t believe it, unless I see it.” Those kinds of attitudes spread doubt and doubt is the enemy of faith.

Easter is about certainty. The resurrection of Christ, the empty tomb, the eyewitness accounts are all there for us so that we can keep our faith. There is an infamous disciple nicknamed Doubting Thomas. Unfortunately, he’s remembered for the wrong thing. The story’s title should be, “Believing Thomas”. That’s because Thomas and the rest of the disciples teach us to keep our Easter faith by trusting in Jesus like they did. Doubt is our enemy so keep your Easter faith.



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Things Look Different after Easter

"But when [the women] looked up, they saw that the sone, which was very large, had been rolled away." Mark 16:4

They looked up and what did they see? The stone which covered the entrance to the tome of Jesus, had been removed! This wasn’t according to plan. “Had someone come in the night to steal the body? But why?” But they were wrong. They had come out to the tomb expecting the wrong thing. They had come to Easter with the wrong reasons. The tomb had been opened for them and for the rest of the world. The tomb had been opened so that people could look in and see that Jesus had done exactly what he said he would do. And these women, who were so devoted to Christ, should have known better. They should have remembered Jesus’ words, “Three days later the Son of Man will rise!” Friday. Saturday. Sunday. They should have expected that Jesus had finished the job. They should have looked up sooner.

We had better look up, too, or we’ll come to Easter with the wrong expectations. Perhaps some of us stand outside the tomb and within our hearts we nurse a grudge against someone. Have we come to Easter expecting to be forgiven only to withhold our forgiveness from others? Look up and see! Do you come with so much guilt expecting that Christ paid for other people’s sins, but not yours? Look up and see! Have some come to Easter because they feel that’s what they are supposed to do, but their hearts are far from God? Look up and see! The truth is you and I come to Easter with hearts of sin that fight against God and we expect the wrong things from Easter. We expect our things, not God’s things.

As the early morning mist cleared, the women looked up and they saw that things were different, their expectations were wrong and thank God they were! You, too, look up from your life and see that things are different.

That empty tomb reminds us of what God has been doing for us. It reminds us that on Good Friday the Lamb of God willingly took to the cross. He willingly became the sacrifice for sin on the altar of Golgotha. He willingly suffered God’s anger and hatred against mankind’s sin and he willingly died. The weight of our sins were carried with his lifeless body, and they were buried in the darkness of the earth. And the stone slammed that tomb shut and our sins never came back. They died with Christ. We died with Christ and we were buried with him. Easter hands us a different set of expectations that tells us God forgives sinners.

Look up and see it! Approach the tomb with confidence! The stone has been rolled away and things are different here. Look up and see. Come to Easter not loaded down with guilt, arrogance and unbelief. Come instead with a light and joyful faith that is anxious to see what it already believes: sin has been done away with. Look up and see: things are different.



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Holy Week 4: But How Then Would the Scriptures Be Fulfilled That Say It Must Happen This Way

Please enjoy these devotions from a series published in 2016 by Martin Luther College entitled "Searching Questions from Christ's Passion."

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for
all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54)

December 21, 2012, was a date that not a small
number of people looked forward to with fear. Not
only was it the shortest day of the year, but according
to one interpretation of the Mayan calendar it was
the day the world would end. Some people lost their
heads completely, doing everything from traveling to
mountains in order to best experience the end to trying
to overthrow communism around the world. Obviously,
like every other apocalypse prediction, this one did not
pan out.

During Holy Week, we know exactly what we are
looking forward to. The Lamb of God will be led to the
slaughter and will offer himself willingly in our place.
His disciples didn’t understand it. And while you and
I can read exactly what happens, it’s still so easy to lose
our heads about it. I have found myself asking why it
had to happen. Why did an all-powerful God have to
die to complete his plan? I can think of ways that I think
are better. Why couldn’t God? Even when Jesus asks
his question—“But how then would the Scriptures be
fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”—I still
don’t understand why God’s plan had to include his own
suffering and death.

We don’t have answers to every “why” question. But
we can answer with certainty why God chose the plan
he did. Quite simply, there is not a better plan. The
alternative plans we try to come up with may work in a
perfect world. But this is not a perfect world. If it were, there wouldn’t need to be a plan in the first place. So to remedy this imperfect world, God came up with a perfect plan.

In the days leading up to Good Friday, our Savior knew what was going to happen. There was no doomsday prediction or set date on the calendar that everyone knew about. But this date had indeed been on the calendar from eternity. Jesus knew what was going to happen in the Garden of Gethsemane—that he would be handed
over to his death—but he was not going to lose his head.

Instead, he reminded his disciples of the plan they had been told about many times. He reminds us of the plan we also have been told about. And we have the joy of knowing that this plan is complete—that even as Jesus gives up his body to death, he likewise gives his body and blood for our life. Today, as we celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper, we find in the true body and true blood the fulfillment of the plan put in place from the beginning of time: Christ’s death means our life.

Lamb of God, you are our perfect sacrifice. Lead
us to confess our lack of appreciation for your
perfect will and for your suffering. Open our
hearts and fill us with your love and forgiveness,
found only in you. In your name we pray. Amen.

--Rev. Isaac Crass



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Holy Week 3: Will You Really Lay Down Your Life for Me

Please enjoy these devotions from a series published in 2016 by Martin Luther College entitled "Searching Questions from Christ's Passion."

Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” (John 13:36-38)

Sometimes a person needs a “reality check.” A reality
check helps you see that the real situation is not the same
as what you believe. For example, you may believe you
are in perfect health, but then the doctor gives you a
reality check. He helps you see the real situation through
some test results.


Jesus once gave Peter a reality check by asking him a
searching question: “Will you really lay down your
life for me?” (John 13:38). Jesus asked this question to
help Peter—and us—see the truth about our spiritual
weakness and our need for a Savior.


Peter needed a reality check. Jesus warned him that he
was not ready to follow him down the road of suffering
and death. Nevertheless, Peter insisted, “Lord, I will lay
down my life for you” (John 13:37). Peter ignored his
spiritual weakness and underestimated sin’s great power.
So Jesus gave him a reality check by asking him, “Will
you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell
you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three
times!” (John 13:38). Jesus wanted Peter to know the
truth—that he would fail to fear, love, and trust in him
above all things.


We also need a reality check. How easily we become
complacent about the spiritual dangers in our lives. We
too need to hear Jesus’ searching questions: “Will you
really lay down your life for me? Do you really have the strength to fear, love, and trust in me above all things? Do you really have the power to resist all temptation and to face suffering and death for my sake?”

To each of those questions we would have to confess that we don’t have the strength to lay down our lives for Jesus. But, thanks be to God, Jesus could and would lay down his life for us and for all people! He boldly promised, “I am the Good Shepherd . . . I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11,15). But unlike Peter and
us, he made good on his bold promise. He truly laid down his life for us as he cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Sometimes we need our eyes opened to the truth. Praise God that through his Word he opens our eyes to see the reality of our spiritual weakness. But more importantly, thank God that through his Word we can see the reality of Jesus’ life-saving sacrifice. Through that good news alone, our gracious God will give us the desire and strength to lay down our lives each day for him.


O Lord, how often we foolishly copy Peter and
substitute spiritual overconfidence for humble
faith. Through your dear Son forgive and restore
us, even as you forgave and restored Peter. Grant
us grace to trust your strength and not our own.
Amen.

--Prof. Brian Hennig



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The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? ~ PSALM 27:1