Monday, November 27, 2023

Looks like it's been awhile. Maybe I ought to post something, so here it is.

 Amazing Generosity

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

Christmas is a great celebration of God’s generosity! Jesus as the “Word made flesh” freely enters into the messiness of human existence in order to immerse us in God’s grace – God’s favor – that is, God’s generosity! Our lives now can be filled with hope, peace, joy, and love because Christ Jesus was willing to be born in humble circumstances, reveal in his life the goodness of the Father, suffer mistreatment, and then die for us on the cross. That is the incredible generosity of God poured into our lives and overflowing like a renewing river into the wilderness of this tormented and tormenting world.

We who experience God and God’s goodness are called to share freely with others not only the Good News of God becoming human like us, but to be generous with ourselves and others. This means supporting people as they face difficult struggles, encouraging others in living to their fullest, and, of course, being patient and forgiving to those who have wronged us. This in no way means excusing sinfulness in ourselves and others, for God also is holy and will judge all evil. But it does mean that we always are ready to point people to the Christ who knows the weaknesses we all wrestle with, and that in Christ God always is eager to restore and heal anyone who will turn to God and receive God’s amazing grace – for God is a generous God.

So this Christmas season, take a moment every know and then to think about how generous God is to us – how blessed it is to live each day knowing firsthand the goodness of God in Christ Jesus. Let’s not take such a hope filled truth for granted, as we share freely with others the generosity we have received. After all, this is the reason we give gifts at Christmas. It is a reflection of the greatest gift given to all who will receive it – Emmanuel – God with us!

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.  John 1:12


In Christ’s Peace!


Thursday, June 24, 2021

The City on the Hill

As we celebrate the founding of our country this month, we are reminded of the great potential for the United States to be the "city on a hill.” This biblical phrase has been used by many over the years to indicate the special opportunity God has given our country – to be a shining light of freedom and hope. America has at different times dared to approach this call of God like no other nation in the history of the world. At other times, we have fallen far short. What is abundantly clear, though, is that America is at its best when its people clearly and humbly submit themselves to God through its governance, institutions, families, and individuals. We miss the mark the most when we fail to give God the credit and honor for all the blessings we enjoy.

Currently we hear much discussion about racial injustice in our society. It is true that our founders had a divinely offered opportunity after we had thrown off the yoke of English tyranny. They as much as any up until their time knew the value and worth of every human individual in the sight of an Almighty and merciful God. Yet they blinked when facing the issue of slavery. What if they had applied the full force of the "self-evident" truths, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." What could have been!

Still, the glory of our country is founded on these truths of being made in God’s image and being given rights by God alone. These truths are in the fabric of our laws, and they have guided us in our development as a nation. The Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement have triumphed over our earlier failings, and have shown that we are willing to do the difficult work of living up to these principles inspired by our Creator. Many have given their lives for these principles, and we all enjoy the benefits of their sacrifice.

This Independence Day 2021 we are again poised as a nation to choose to fulfill God's great call for our country by humbly pointing to God as the One who gives us what we have, makes us who we are, and guides us to what we can be. There are voices that point us away from our Creator, claim that we are on our own, call us to fight each other for power, and that our destiny is no more special or unique than any other people or nation. This is fatalistic thinking and denies God’s call for us as a people.

Instead, let us think of what can be! Think of the opportunity we have again to follow God's call and become a shining beacon of hope and promise for all through this world.
God’s promise to Solomon and ancient Israel is still good guidance for us today.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.  (II Chronicles 7:14)

All the challenges and difficulties we are facing today as a people are actually great opportunities to show how God is working out our founding principles of freedom and equality guaranteed by our Creator. If we will acknowledge God as the source for our freedom and the Giver of our rights and look to God in the living of our lives, we can be a model for all the world as a nation that is blessed and guided by God. We can still be that shining "city on a hill" for all to see!

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Qualities Of Faith That Lead To Being An Effective Follower Of Jesus Christ


II Peter 1:3-11
(Verses 3-9) 
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,  and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 

Qualities Of Faith That Lead To Being An Effective Follower Of Jesus Christ

·       Virtue (ἀρετήν): moral goodness, developing habits of doing what is right

·       Knowledge (γνῶσιν): informed thinking, mental openness to transforming ideas that are inspired in faith and rationally perceived.

·       Self-control (ἐγκρατειαν): Emotions and actions guided by knowledge and virtue that are derived from a trust in God and God’s truth

·       Steadfastness (ὐπομονήν): Commitment to live or die by what is true and good regardless of what pressures there may be to conform to the world

·       Godliness (ἐυσβειαν): An outward expression of pious living derived from an inward spirit of well-being through knowing God and one’s self

·       Brotherly Affection (φιλαδελφίαν): A heart-felt and spontaneous care for others (brothers and sisters) in the community of those who are seeking to follow Christ

     Love (ἀγαπην): Having total goodwill to all, but especially the community of Christ, with clear conscience and an "unoffendable" heart 


(Verses 10-11)

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


Friday, December 27, 2019

The Wonder of Christmas

As with every Christmas season, the word “wonder” is used a lot. Kathie Lee Gifford sings, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” and countless cards use the word to describe everything from sleigh bells to scenes of little churches set in the middle of snowy villages. All these “wonders” can cause us to overlook the real wonder of Christmas. Think about this – we Christians actually claim (and hopefully believe) that the God of all creation (infinite space, innumerable galaxies, protons, electrons, quarks, and on and on beyond all comprehension) became an individual human and lived as one of us. The ultimate Being took the form of a dependent infant! When we really think about this, that is truly a wonder.
I believe this incredible reality is what the Apostle John was emphasizing when he wrote in 1 John 1:1, “...what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life....” Only the Christian faith dares to make such an astounding claim, yet we who name ourselves as believers in this faith sometimes take it for granted, and we exchange the amazing mystery of Christmas for a ho-hum attitude or a saccharine sweet idea of a quiet, clean baby in a sanitized manger filled with fragrant well-behaved animals. No, the pure holy God of all becomes totally involved in the messiness of living a real human life – completely and totally!
This truth should overwhelm our hearts and minds as we consider God’s amazing love for us, that the God who is totally beyond anything we can possibly imagine becomes a person who we can relate to, who gives himself for us in his death on a cross, and who is risen from the grave. As we turn the page to a new year in 2020, this is what we celebrate, this is what gives us strength, and this is what gives us hope. Indeed, this is the wonder of Christmas!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Sabbath Keeping

Last week I decided that I would take two weeks in August for “vacation” time.  I hadn’t really planned on doing this, and as a “temporary pastor,” I tend to avoid taking a lot of time away since I will have plenty of “time off” after the congregation calls a new pastor. However, it is looking like it will be at least several more months before that happens, and this means I need to be ready to serve well in the remaining time. So, it seemed good to take a little “vacation” to recharge my pastoral batteries.
This led me to think about the practice the Bible calls “keeping the Sabbath” (Exodus 20:8). I think most of us view it as a break from our weekly routine and a time of rest so we can regain some energy.  We may feel a little tired and in need of a break before we get back to regular life again.  This is certainly part of what keeping the Sabbath is about.  We humans do not have unlimited reservoirs of energy and patience, so a weekly break enables us to rest and ready ourselves for the week ahead.
However, was God tired and energy depleted after creation was finished? As Genesis 2:3 reports, “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”  It is hard to imagine that God would be saying, “Thank God it’s Friday!” like we do. (Of course, God would have to say, “Thank Myself it’s Friday!”)  No, God wasn’t exhausted from a tough week of creating everything.  So perhaps there is more to “keeping the Sabbath” than just recharging ourselves for the coming week.
As we read the account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis, there is a recurring statement: “And God saw that it was good!”  These all lead up to the end of the sixth day of creation when it says, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good!”  When God “rests” on the seventh day, God isn’t tired or needing to sleep in on Saturday.  God is celebrating what has been done.  God is enjoying what God has accomplished.  God delights in the work of creation and takes a moment to admire it all.
We need to enter our vacations, days of rest, and breaks for our routines not simply as flights from toil and trouble, but as times to reflect on what we have accomplished.  We can look back on the good and worthwhile things of our lives, and “rest” in a sense of accomplishment.  Of course, for us frail humans there is always some regret and disappointment to deal with as well, but even these less than positive experiences can help us appreciate the good things in our lives even more.
Someone recently questioned my judgement and sanity because I said how much I enjoy serving as pastor at Our Savior Church.  They pointed out the absurdity of preaching, which they view as a foolish waste of time (didn’t the Apostle Paul say something about “the foolishness of preaching?), the difficulties of dealing with people’s personal problems, and, in my case, the long 90 minute drives from my home to the church.  But I don’t see it this way at all!  I love preaching the Good News of God’s grace in Jesus.  I love having gotten to know many of the wonderful people in this fellowship.  I love being able to be of some help in the challenges that people are facing.  And I even have come to enjoy (sort of) the drive to the Quad Cities three or so times a week. 
Sure, since I’m not God (and we can all be very thankful for that), a couple of weeks away will help renew my energy for the months ahead.  But I also enter this time with a sense of how good the last two years has been with this little congregation near the Mississippi River.  I urge all of you reading this to include looking at the good things in your life when you take a time of “rest,” whether that be a Sunday, a day off from work, a vacation, or just a break from your routine.  A sense of what has been accomplished can be the best refreshment for facing your tasks in the days ahead.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Prayers of Adoration for Advent

First Sunday in Advent
Gracious Redeemer, with grateful hearts we come before you this day. You lift us up and in your Spirit we are sustained by your grace. We love you, Lord, with a love that fills us with life. We thank you, O God, with gratefulness that give us strength to serve you. And we praise you, O Holy One, with hope that brings glory to your name this day and forevermore. Amen.

Second Sunday in Advent
Lord of Love and Giver of Peace, we come before you today with joy unspeakable and full of glory. You are most wonderful and amazingly gracious, for you give all things to those who call upon your name. Today we lift our hearts in thanks for sending your Son Jesus Christ to live among us so we may see in person the amazing depths of your love and the incredible heights of your grace. What else can we do but sing praises to you and enjoy your presence with us this day and forevermore. Amen

Third Sunday in Advent
O merciful God, Ruler of the universe, we give you thanks this day for your great mercy toward us. In the face of life’s problems, you walk with us to give us your strength for overcoming all things. You lift us up with joy, and with grateful hearts we celebrate you sure and eternal love for us. In the name of the One who became one of us, Christ our Lord, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen

Fourth Sunday in Advent
Lord of Life, in your Son Jesus Christ you have poured yourself out as an offering on our behalf. You have come to us, calling out to us. You became one of us, died for us, and took upon yourself all our sin. In rising from the dead you make us fully alive and as the Ruler over all creation you give us hearts that are aflame with love for you. May our desire for you know no bounds, and our praise for you reach beyond the the boundaries of this world, dispersing the clouds of darkness to reveal your face of love. We seek this through Jesus, the Anointed One, who walks with us this day and forevermore. Amen.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Death By Credentials

As a professional pastor, I receive a lot of emails for various programs that are supposed to show me how to pastor a church - of course, always for a fee.  Recently, I had an email extolling the virtues of a "coaching" organization, which if I want to avail myself of their services, involved some individual who had become "certified" as a trained, competent professional who would come along side me as a mentor and guide as I serve as a minister.  Now, I'm am sure this is a fine, worthwhile organization that is of great help to many pastors.  However, it struck (in a figurative sense only) me that this "coaching" service is one of many trends in our churches to "professionalize" things that used to occur naturally and informally in the church's many forms of ministry.

When I was ordained 37 years ago, there were always older experienced ministers who became informal mentors to those just embarking on their pastoral careers.  This happened naturally through relationships that formed as newer ministers made friendships among their pastoral colleagues.  In turn, I have in my years of service become a virtual mentor to younger and newer pastors.  As I have experienced this, this is a good and beneficial cycle of mentoring that has always existed in the church, from what we read about the church in the New Testament to this very day.

But now, one can in some fashion leave doing pastoral ministry and become a "certified professional coach" for those who actually are engaged in pastoral ministry.  In some cases, the "coach" has never been a practicing pastor.  My mentors and my serving as a mentor to others is no longer as "trained" as it should be, nor is it as "intentional" as it should be.  Apparently, if this is not part of some course with a certificate of expertise to show for it, then the quality and effectiveness of the mentoring is deficient and less worthy than the informal "coaching" relationships that have always been a part of the life of the church throughout the ages.

This is a path that is destructive to the natural development of the gifts and ministries of people in the church.  It takes away the recognition and evoking of ministry that happens within the life of congregations, and places it in the judgment of groups that are outside and who are not as familiar with the people or the contexts in which they are seeking to serve.  This is the trend in many areas of ministry, such as spiritual direction, evangelism, prayer, or even the process of identifying any spiritual gift.  I'm not saying these programs cannot serve a good and helpful purpose in helping people develop in a particular area of ministry, but I am saying that when these programs claim that a certificate is needed to validate anyone as truly proficient, that hurts the natural organic practice of ministry both within and beyond the church.  This is death by credentials.

The church is to be the "laboratory of faith" (Gordon Cosby's words) where people can discover and explore their place and calls to ministry in the context of relationships with people who accept them, know them, forgive them, and challenge them.  Organizations and programs which claim to develop people in any form of ministry can provide help and assistance to churches in developing people in their ministries, but this should never take the place of the people of the church as the ones who recognize and validate the ministries themselves.  Expertise in ministry happens in the life together of the body of Christ, not in the credentials bequeathed by a commercial course of instruction.

(And yes, I am very aware of the irony of making this point as a "professional pastor.")