Pastor's Blog

July 2015

The only thing we can give

A young man is changing his tire on the side of the road and gets struck by a car--he dies later at the hospital. A quiet evening in a house is destroyed when a stray bullet strikes the father dead in his chair. A motorcyclist dies in a terrible crash. For the families, their hearts our broken. And we feel compassion for them.

Compassion is really the only thing we can offer these people. We cannot promise to make things better for them. We cannot promise to bring loved ones back. We cannot promise them it won’t hurt. But we can share compassion.

"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things." (Mark 6:34)

If these tough and tragic deaths remind us of anything it is that the people in our lives need true compassion. There are people who don’t know their Savior, who walk around with a darkness, an emptiness, inside them that this world doesn’t fill. These are the people for whom Christ died, people like you and me, people we can share compassion with. And the kind of compassion that you and I can share is very different from the kind of compassion the world offers. Our compassion is the compassion of Christ. That selfless love of Christ, who loved us when we didn’t deserve it, is the source of our own compassion. And that love that knows no limits can stretch out through our lives so we can share compassion, too.

So when we raise our eyes and see the people in this world who don’t know Christ, then it is time to share Christ’s compassion. The compassion of Christ is really the only thing we can give, because it is the only thing that can save.

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The Nobility of Pastors

Pastors know that Christ must become greater and they must become less. The work of a pastor is never about him but it is about other people. There's an old story of a young pastor that liked everything about being a pastor--except the people! But he's forgetting his first calling: to serve humanity with the gospel. Because when the pastor serves other people, then he serves Christ.

And of course the pastor is not going to serve perfectly. And yes, sometimes that means pastors must leave the ministry. But no matter what, sins remain forgiven. And so faithfulness never becomes about how good we are doing at this or that, but about a life that reflects absolute trust in the only one who can make us faithful—Jesus Christ. In that way, the pastor demonstrates what’s true for all of us: Christ wants us to do our best, to earnestly desire to serve him and other people, and at the end of the day leave all of our sins, all of our half-completed work, and drop it off on the cross. And the next day, we take up the burden of God’s love, the message that no matter how we have failed God he has never failed us and he will never forsake us. And that supreme grace raises our sights to pursue the absolute best service we can give.

So what is a pastor? He is a servant who knows nothing but Christ so that he can share Christ in all he does. That’s what makes a pastor noble—just like you.

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Prophets With Nothing to Prove

A few years back, there was a young fellow who came off the Apache Indian reservation in Arizona to become a Lutheran pastor. The idea was that the Apache’s needed their own pastor, someone from their own culture who could deliver the Word of God to them in a way no white pastor could ever do it. He was encouraged by the missionaries there and he made a big sacrifice to leave the reservation, go up to New Ulm, MN to Martin Luther College, to go to Mequon, WI to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. He struggled financially and made his way all the way through. But when he returned, he was rejected by his own people. He was a white man now, and it didn’t matter how dark his skin was. He had left them and they wouldn’t accept him back. Such sadness.

It is the sadness that happens to all of God’s prophets. Whether it’s a pastor, a lifetime Lutheran, or a recent convert to Christianity, we’re all prophets of God. And we must endure this sad rejection by the world. The hard thing is that we get so fired up by the gospel. And we should! And in that Holy Spirit-powered enthusiasm we share our faith, only to be rejected. There is a great temptation hidden in that rejection. The great temptation is to turn inward. Satan lures us there by making us wonder, “What did I do wrong?” You feel like this rejection is entirely your fault. “If only I would have spoken more intelligently. If only I would have spoken with more skill.”

The problem is that we are corrupt messengers. We are not perfect prophets like Jesus. Our work as prophets is often mired in finding ways we can serve ourselves and our own egos. And giving glory to God never occurs to us because we claim his glory for ourselves.

So it’s a good thing we have a perfect prophet. It’s a good thing we have Christ who did all the right things. It’s a good thing we have Christ who did everything perfectly. What you and I mess up, Christ did perfectly. Just think about it! Was there ever a person who didn’t hear about the Kingdom of God from Jesus? Was there ever a missed opportunity? Was there ever a time when Jesus proclaimed the message to get a compliment? Jesus was perfectly humble in a way we could never be, precisely because we couldn’t be that way.

So when you see Christ saying just the right thing at just the right time; when Christ fearlessly faced his detractors; when Christ perfectly proclaimed the message of salvation to souls that needed it; he was doing all of that for you.

Being a prophet of God means you must endure rejection. If that’s just a command, we’re lost. But it’s not. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of life that we can endure because we know we aren’t earning anything from God. We don’t need to make him happy, because through Christ God’s already happy with us. We don’t need to make atonement for our sins, because through Christ God has the payment for our sins. So all is right between us and God and we can simply endure rejection—it doesn’t matter what the world thinks. We can endure the rejection and tell our pride to take a hike because we are loved by God and he will never stop loving us through Christ. When you fear rejection, remember your Savior who has enabled you to endure that rejection because he has given you his perfect life.

So as God’s prophets, we’ve got nothing to prove. All we need to do is commit ourselves to the work of being God’s prophets. All the Lord asks us is to be faithful.

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Gay Marriage - An Opportunity

Gay marriage. What do we say about that? How will we handle that as a church and as Christians? Well, most importantly, we say what the Bible says-homosexuality is a sin. That means the pastors at Good Shepherd's will not be performing gay weddings. But it also means we, as Christians, help others understand what the Bible teaches, and be careful not to make homosexuality seem like the unforgivable sin. It's a sin, like any other, that needs God's law and gospel so that a person can be saved.

It also means that we will be facing a new reality in which we as a congregation may be challenged--legally challenged even. So we stand ready to give our defense from God's word, even if it means we lose in court. We may have to face the reality that we, as pastors, can no longer serve as agents of the state in performing weddings. In the future, there may be a civil ceremony at the courthouse, and a (optional) religious ceremony at church.

The point, I guess, is this: the church faces persecution. We are perhaps coming to the end of an unparallelled time in the church's history, a time where the attitudes of most people were also in line with the teachings of God's word. That has not been the case for much of the church's history. But that doesn't mean we need to panic. Instead, we rejoice that we join with our Savior who also suffered and we proudly bear his name before a world that so desperately needs to know him and be saved.

Gay marriage is an opportunity that we are well-equipped to handle because God has grace enough to forgive all sins, to heal people from the inside, and to give hope for a better heavenly future.

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We Must Suffer

Whether life is going well, or life isn’t going well, sometimes we treat God’s word as if it depended on us. I’m the one in control; I will claim the blessings of God in my life by the choices I make. And how frustrated, how angry, how disappointed, how sad we get when we have done all the right things, and STILL the disasters come. And we speak evil against God under our breath because the truth is we never really wanted God to be in control at all. It was fine to claim God as my God when life was going well. It was fine if God was riding along in the passenger seat with us giving assent to and even blessing our plans. But when God took over the wheel and drove us into danger and disaster we weren’t willing because we weren’t in control.

Oh you of little faith. You see, it’s not that our faith is extinguished in these moments, it’s just that it’s stretched thin. The way out is found in something totally beyond our control: the promises that God has made. God has put his reputation as the savior on the line when he put his son on the cross and raised him from the dead. The promise was this, “You are mine and nothing—nothing—will change that. I love you too much to let you go. I must save you."

I wonder what “musts” there are when we suffer? Must you suffer so that God can be glorified in your life? Must you suffer so that God can strip away all the idols we prop up? Must you suffer so that when you have nothing left, nowhere else to go, all you have left is God and his promises? It must happen, it is God’s will. It is God’s will that you suffer, because suffering brings spiritual clarity. All the human effort fades away, all the plans that so easily focus on me me me evaporate, and all that remains is your heavenly father with his hand outstretched to you in love saying, “My child, I have you. I love you. Stop putting so much faith in what is out there and trust in me.” God must save you because Jesus already has.

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Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. ~ EPHESIANS 5:19 (NIV)