Pastors' Blog

Quiet Joy

What are you giving up for Lent this year? The practice can be useful. It can serve to remind us of the sacrifice that Jesus made—he gave up his life! Of course, the custom is entirely optional. One Christian may give something up; another may do nothing. Both can please God!

The heart of the Lenten season isn’t that we give up something, but that we give up someone. That someone is ourselves! Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:23-25 NIV 1984). You lose your life when you turn to Jesus as your Savior. Instead of trusting your own works or goodness, trust in Jesus!

The gospel is at the center of the Lenten season. Some mistakenly think that in Lent we focus on ourselves and our sins. While we do confess our sins, we still focus on the gospel, just with a different tone and mood. Giving up your life means that you focus on Jesus during Lent. Ultimately, looking to Jesus’ forgiveness will renew our faith, not giving something like coffee up for six weeks.

The Old Testament prophet Hosea put it this way, “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds” (6:1). During Lent, our focus remains on how God heals us. His law tears us up by reminding us that we don’t deserve anything from him. But the same God offers forgiveness to those who trust in him. Lenten renewal doesn’t come from what we give up, but from the Savior whose love renews us.

And a quick warning about Lent: It isn’t a time for “poor Jesus” thoughts: “Oh, look what he suffered!” The book of Hebrews tells us, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2). Jesus knew what he was getting into when he came to earth. He considered it a joy to be your Savior! 

Yes, our sins cause us to grieve. But let us not miss the joy of this season. It is a quiet joy — the joy of forgiveness, new life, and renewed hope. Our spiritual well-being is based on the events we celebrate in Lent. Be sure you see the joy of what Jesus willingly did for you.

Giving something up for Lent? If you’d like to, go for it! But be sure that you take something up for Lent — Jesus! Renew your faith by focusing your attention on his healing and forgiving work as your Savior.

Pastor Tim Wempner



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Amazing

When we understand God’s grace, we cannot help but be amazed. It is free! We receive eternal treasures! We live at peace with God! All these gifts come to us through Jesus Christ our Savior!

In the verses below, David was marveling at God’s grace. David was a shepherd who, by God’s grace, became a king!

We may not be kings, but we too know God’s grace in our lives. These words of David are fitting for all God’s people — his words of praise should be on our lips as well.

2 Samuel 7:18–22

18 Then King David went in, sat in the Lord’s presence, and said, “Who am I, Lord God, and what is my house that you have brought me this far? 19 What you have done so far was a little thing to you, Lord God, for you have also spoken about your servant’s house in the distant future. And this is a revelation for mankind, Lord God. 20 What more can David say to you? You know your servant, Lord God. 21 Because of your word and according to your will, you have revealed all these great things to your servant. 22 This is why you are great, Lord God. There is no one like you, and there is no God besides you, as all we have heard confirms.”  (NIV)

 

Pastor Tim Wempner

Pastor Joshua Zarling



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A Peace Which the World Cannot Give

As I sit here writing this, a new person is being sworn in as President of the United States.

Thus is capped off one of the most divisive elections in American history. A divisive election after a divisive campaign - which in turn took place during a divisive and brutal year. It is a sad but instantly recognizable fact that division more aptly describes our country than almost any other word right now.

Now whether you're happy for the new incumbent to begin his term of office or you're furious about it isn't the point. The point is that division has always been part of this sinful world. It is implicit in everything it does, it is inherent in that deep rooted selfishness that every human being shares.

God himself makes this point clearly in Jeremiah 6: "They say 'peace, peace,' when there is no peace." How could there be? In a world fallen into sin any unity people find with each other is doomed to be temporary.

But that is why our Savior has promised to give his peace - a peace which the world cannot give. That is why he reminds us that he is constantly at our side to protect us and watch over us. That is why he has brought us true, lasting unity as his people; a unity that he bought with his own blood. We, indeed, have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now in our national landscape we see division - and may God grant that it is healed. But because we see division so often at a national level we're tempted to see it everywhere else too.

But let's not do that.

In fact, let's especially not do that here at Good Shepherd's.

Brothers and sisters, as we discuss the possible merger over the next month and a half, as we engage in the information, as we have frank and honest conversations with each other - there are going to be differences of opinion. There are going to be some strongly held opinions and some deep feelings. That is ok. In fact, it's more than Ok, it's good.

But we must not let these things turn into divisions here at Good Shepherd's. For we do not follow the pattern of behavior shown to us by the world - no, we follow our Savior and we make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bonds of Christian peace.

We, indeed, have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. May he bless us always!

Pastor Joshua Zarling

 



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Self-control

God created us with emotions. It is not a sin to have emotions. Sadly however, even our emotions are corrupted by sin and do not always give witness to our faith.

The proverb found in the Bible at Proverbs 29:11, "A fool gives full vent to his anger, a wise man keeps himself under control" is a reminder that although we may be emotional people, there is great wisdom when we keep ourselves under control. This does not mean we just pretend we are not angry or that we bottle up our anger, only to explode at a later date.

Self-control is a listed as a "fruit of the spirit" in Galatians 5:22-23. The fruit of the spirit flow from a heart of faith. Faith connects us to Jesus as the Savior. In him we find forgiveness for all our sins - including the times we lost control of our emotions. In Jesus, we also find a new perspective on life. As we have been forgiven, we are willing to forgive. As God has been patient with us, we are willing to be patient with others. True wisdom comes as we grow knowledge of God's will for our lives and as we put that knowledge into practice. One of the ways we can show Godly wisdom is to grow in our self-control. 

Wise King Solomon offered useful and inspired advice in this proverb. As the world is trapped in an endless cycle of sin and as the events of your own life do not always go as you would like, do not let anger get the best of you. Trust in the Lord who is guiding all history, including your life. Trust in the Lord who saved you!

 

Pastor Tim Wempner

Pastor Joshua Zarling



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Live in the peace of knowing God's eternal love for you

Today, January 6, is the festival of the Epiphany. It is one of the oldest festivals in the Church Year that has a specific date on the calendar. It brings an end to the 12 days of Christmas.

We commemorate the coming of the Wise Men with this festival. They followed a star on a quest for someone they hadn’t met. In fact, they did not know their final destination or what they would find. Their faith serves as a model for all of us. How often we are tempted to make our faith and our God into something that is reasonable and fits our own ideas. We think we need answers from God for all our questions. The Wise Men traveled to Jerusalem, not knowing the answers to the many questions that might have been in their minds. 

The Wise Men found a baby who was the Savior of the world. We find the same. By faith, we see that in Christ we have received untold and indescribable gifts from God. The Magi let whatever their eyes saw, their ears heard, or their minds thought be subservient to the desire to see the Savior. Martin Luther commented on their faith in a sermon on their story (Matthew 2:1-12):


"The light of nature and the light of grace cannot be friends. Human nature wants to feel and to be certain before it believes. Faith wants to believe before it feels. This is the reason why human nature goes no farther than it can see by its light. But grace steps out cheerfully into the darkness, follows the bare Word and Scripture, no matter what matters appear to be like; whether human nature thinks them to be right or wrong, grace clings to the Word." What Luther Says, p. 611

Standing on the Word of God you will see countless blessings in your life. You will see God’s love at work in you, preparing you for eternity. You will see God as you look at Jesus. Join with the Magi in worshipping the one born king of the Jews who is your Savior. Then live in the peace of knowing God's eternal love for you!

 

Pastor Tim Wempner

Pastor Joshua Zarling



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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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All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. ~ 2 TIMOTHY 3:16