Pastor's Blog

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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Discomfort

And so we find ourselves in a lot of discomfort.

In response to the threat of the coronavirus, Governor Evers has mandated that groups cannot assemble of more than 10 people. It makes sense why he did this. He wants to keep the people of Wisconsin safe - and we want to be safe. We want to be secure. We want to be free of the anxiety that now grips us. 

And as children of God we at Good Shepherd’s will comply with that mandate. God has commanded us to respect the governing authorities and that is exactly what we intend to do. But, as God’s people, that also leads to some discomfort for us. There is discomfort because we want to be together. We want to gather at our Lord’s house. We want to see each other and hear again of our God’s marvelous love to save. 

And so we find ourselves in a lot of discomfort. 

We’re Christians, and it is against our nature to be separated from each other. It flies in the face of every grace driven instinct we have to stay away from the house of our God. 

But we are not alone in this. 

David knew this kind of discomfort. There was a time in his life when he was separated from the tabernacle of God. He was separated from his brothers and sisters. In fact, he was even cut off from the land of Israel. He was among the Philistines, and every day he had to pretend to be insane just so the Philistine king wouldn’t kill him. How David longed to be with his people again! How he longed to be in the Lord’s house! 

Yet in all of this - in all the discomfort, the ache, the anxiety - David knew well the promises that God had given him. Of all the things that had been taken from him, he knew what he still had: God’s unending love and protection. And it is of these that David sings in Psalm 34 - the psalm he wrote will he was with the Philistines, separated from his people. Let us also rejoice in these words - for our God will be us and protect us always. 

 "The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;

    he delivers them from all their troubles.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The righteous man may have many troubles,

    but the Lord delivers him from them all;

he protects all his bones,

   not one of them will be broken.

The Lord will rescue his servants;

    no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned." Psalm 34:17-22 (NIV1984)

We thank Pastor Joshua Zarling for this month's blog.



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I Need Lent

I need Lent. I suspect that I am not alone in that.

Lent brings a clarity to my life that I need. As days, weeks, and months pass by, I unintentionally fall into ruts. Some of these habits are helpful; but not all of them. I get very accustomed to me – to the way that I do things. In the process, I develop blind spots.

And then comes Ash Wednesday. The service begins with a confession of sins that I need. It addresses the open sins that occur as well as the subtle sins that happen in my life. It speaks of the bad things I did, but also of the good things that I did not do. These moments of reflection and confession help me to see the dangerous ruts that I too often accept. I need to hear, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (That is where Ash Wednesday gets its name – because of sin, each of us in a collision course with death.)

The announcement of forgiveness for our sins could not be sweeter to hear than after a detailed confession of sins. As the Ash Wednesday service circles back again and again to Jesus’ death as payment for our sins I grow in peace and joy. Because of Christ, each of us is restored to be God’s child! The Lord’s Supper on Ash Wednesday is what I need. Jesus gives me himself for the forgiveness of my sins. (Giving the Sacrament on a Wednesday afternoon or evening may make the service a bit longer, but the time is well worth it. Jesus is giving sinners exactly what they need. I am thrilled for the time it takes as each of us communes with our Lord!)

After Ash Wednesday, the midweek services turn their focus to the suffering and death of Jesus. The familiar Passion story is the greatest story ever told. It is the story of God saving us by dying for us. The sermons direct us to that victory and offer further assurance of our status as God’s people. 

As I focus on Jesus’ suffering and death, God brings clarity to my life. I see my purpose as his servant. You have that same purpose. You might have a different role than I do, but you are also a servant of Jesus. Knowing that he has set you free from sin will make you more eager to use your time and your gifts for the good of God’s kingdom.

But the best part of Lent is how it ends. The message of Holy Week, every moment of it, is what my faith needs. By the end of Holy Week, we will gather for the greatest celebration we have every year. Jesus rose from the dead! The significance of that cannot be overstated. Jesus’ resurrection assures us of life – now and forever!

As a recall my sins and hear of Jesus’ forgiveness and as I walk toward the cross of Jesus and celebrate his resurrection, I find renewed clarity and purpose. I need that. And although it hurts to see and confess my sins, I need that too.

I understand that life is busy, and you have many things to do with your time. I also know that sometimes you have too many things to do and cannot get it all done. But the extra time for worship in Lent is worth it! If something must go undone, do not let it be time with your Savior. Time in God’s Word will benefit the rest of your days. Growing into Christ will give you renewed strength for service and renewed faith to endure. 

“Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.” (Psalm 86:11-13 NIV 1984)

We thank Pastor Timothy Wempner of Good Shepherd's for sharing this week's blog.



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Time Not Wasted

Time Not Wasted: Do you ever feel like you’re wasting time? Like your life is going by without you accomplishing what you need to accomplish? Like you’re getting older, and time is running out for you to achieve your purpose? I do. Then a Christian friend reminded me of a hard truth: When I feel like I’m wasting time and not accomplishing what I want to, it’s because I’m focused on my own selfish ambitions. My sinful nature wants to be great and praised and applauded. Yours too? Is that why it feels like we’re wasting time?

God has a different purpose for our lives: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The purpose of every human life is to give glory to our God for his grace to us in Jesus. Giving glory to God has nothing to do with my accomplishments or my position in life. No matter what situation God has placed you in right now, you’re not wasting time. Your life isn’t based on all the great things you could be doing. It’s based on God’s love for us in Jesus. So here’s your purpose for today: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog. 

 



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