Pastors

Tomorrow is the seven-year anniversary of my ordination – the day I became a Pastor. I didn’t declare myself a pastor, I wasn’t elected pastor and I haven’t even always wanted to be a pastor! It was the culmination of a long process that required hard work and sacrifice, but which ultimately was held in the hands of others. I was approved as a candidate for seminary, certified by the faculty, recommended by my vicarage (internship) supervisor, called by a congregation, approved by a District President and commissioned by the laying on of hands by other pastors.

In honor of the seven-year anniversary of that moment, I thought I would share a not-so-serious but all-too-real description of “the perfect pastor.” I don’t know the source of this – if you do, please share in the comments below so I can give credit where it is due. I have seen it in several places, so it may just be a common thing. Anyway, here goes:

The perfect pastor preaches exactly 10 minutes. He condemns sin roundly but never hurts anyone’s feelings. He works from 8 AM until midnight and is also the church janitor, yet is an exemplary husband and father. The perfect pastor makes $40 a week, wears good clothes, drives a good car, buys good books, and donates $30 a week to the church. He is 29 years old and has 40 years experience. Above all, he is handsome. The perfect pastor has a burning desire to work with teenagers, and he spends most of his time with the senior citizens. He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his church. He makes 15 home visits a day and is always in his office to be handy when needed. The perfect pastor always has time for church council and all of its committees. He never misses the meeting of any church organization and is always busy evangelizing the unchurched.

The average career of a pastor in America is seven years. Seven years! With the above expectation, maybe that shouldn’t be surprising…

At any rate, after my own seven years, I can honestly say that I love my job and, Lord willing, I’m not done yet! Though it is rarely easy, it is good. I am humbled to be called to be a pastor, proud to be in the LCMS, and honored to serve at my amazing congregation.

If you have a pastor, be sure and tell him “Thank you.” He’ll appreciate it.

“Good” Friday?

Perhaps this post will seem a little late. Good Friday was months ago, so perhaps it’s not very timely. But I wanted to write about it, because I’ve seen and heard it said jokingly for years now:

“What do you mean ‘Good’ Friday? It wasn’t very good for Jesus!”

So, why do we call it “Good” Friday, the day Jesus suffered and died upon the cross?

It’s about blood.

Blood and water, actually. Continue reading “Good” Friday?

Freedom

Independence Day.

It’s an awesome thing, to celebrate freedom.

But the truth is, freedom is an awesome responsibility.

Because true freedom is not limitless; true freedom is only freedom within limits.

Have you ever gone swimming by yourself in a lake – the water feels good, you feel really peaceful, until suddenly you look up and you are a long way from shore? Not only that, but you can’t figure out where on shore you came from and need to get back to? Suddenly the freedom you felt a moment before turns into a fear that makes you feel lost, alone and very, very vulnerable.

The same thing can happen when you’re alone in a field and you lose sight of the house, or when you’re alone in the woods and you suddenly feel like someone – or something – is out there with you. That’s when you realize that you would feel a whole lot more comfortable – a whole lot safer – a whole lot more free to relax… if you were protected by a fence, or four walls and a door with a deadbolt.

Because freedom requires safety. And safety requires limits.

And sure, we think of limits as bad because well, they are limiting, after all…

We feel trapped within limits, like prisoners, subject to someone else. This is the very reason so many people resent and reject God – the very idea that there is someone or something greater than themselves who knows better and places limits on them is galling.

But the freedom we think we want – freedom without responsibility – in actuality becomes a prison for us.

Cheating on your husband or wife isn’t freedom from a boring marriage; it’s a complicated web of lies and deception and guilt and shame and resentment.

A life addicted to prescription drugs is not freedom from pain, it’s an intricately complicated system of fooling doctors and family as your body and mind and spirit break down and the meds become too familiar to have the same effect they first had.

Lying to your parents isn’t freedom and independence; it’s a lonely and pointless existence filled with bitterness and hurt because you’ve put up a wall between yourself and the only people who truly want what’s best for you.

And living a life that denies God and denies the reality of sin isn’t a life without religion and rules; it’s a life with a hole in it – a life that desperately seeks to feel accepted and to be known by a loving God.

Without Jesus Christ, we are enslaved to our fickle ideas and desires and tastes that are always changing, constantly contradicting each other and never giving any satisfaction.

But freedom in Christ means that we are free to be the people we were called to be.

No matter how much I may want it, I am not free to be a billionaire televangelist with a private jet – any more than I am free to be Justin Verlander. I am also not free to be anyone else I might be jealous of, or to have what they have.

But when I live according to my calling and not someone else’s – when I learn to be content with the limits God has placed on me – then I experience the freedom of being me! I can stop worrying about what everyone else has, or what I don’t have, and start seeing clearly all of the many wonderful things I do have.

And then, maybe, if I live in God’s Word, I can stop hating myself and start seeing myself as He sees me – and Maybe I can even start loving myself. And the same is true for you.

Freedom is knowing that you’re not God! Freedom is knowing that someone truly greater than you – someone all-knowing, all-powerful, unchanging and perfectly good – holds your life in His hands! Freedom is knowing that all of your pain, all of your hurts, all of your wounds and all of your scars will not last forever.

Freedom is knowing that all the hurts you’ve caused, all the mistakes you’ve made, all the shameful things you’ve said and done have been washed away by the blood of Christ.

One of my absolute favorite passages in all of Scripture is This:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

Our freedom – true freedom – comes in knowing God, studying His Word and living by His commands – trusting that He wants what is best for us and knowing we are forgiven when we fail.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:31-32, 36

Yes, the Trinity is in the Bible

One of the many uninformed criticisms of the Christian faith is that:

  1. Christians claim to base their faith on the Bible.
  2. Christians profess the Trinity.
  3. The Trinity is not in the Bible.

Obviously, points one and two are not in dispute. Point three is the misinformation – a part-truth that is intentionally misleading. So perhaps it’s not all that uninformed; however, it gets repeated by those who are uninformed.

All lies contain a portion of truth. In this case, the truth is that the term ‘Trinity’ is not in the Bible. The concept, however – the idea – better yet the description and assumption of God as triune, or one God in three persons – is everywhere; woven throughout the Bible.

Of course, someone might argue that Jews do not acknowledge the Trinity, so perhaps it is strictly a New Testament concept. Modern Judaism and even the Judaism of Jesus’ day, however, are very different from the religion of the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible.

The Israelites understood the oneness of God, and yet they also understood the limitless nature of God. God is described as spirit, as Word, as wisdom. There is even an incarnate Word of God who shows up several times in the Old Testament, though that is a post for another time…

At any rate, however difficult it may be to understand the Trinity (and it is impossible to fully understand the nature of God, limited as we are in our capacities as “not God”), it is how God describes Himself, and is therefore foundational for the Christian faith. If we do not take God at His Word, then we elevate ourselves above God, and make gods of ourselves.

OK, so proof time:

Helpful Bible Passages on the Trinity

God the Father

There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist. 1 Corinthians 8:6a

For this is what the LORD says– He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited– He says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other…and there is no other god besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” Isaiah 45:18, 21b-22

(There is) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:5-6

God the Son

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 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 1:1, 14

(Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 16:15-17

After Jesus said this, He looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You. For You granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do.  And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began.” John 17:1-5

God the Holy Spirit

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2

(Jesus said), “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:25-26

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:1, 3b-6, 11a

One God in three Persons

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Deuteronomy 6:4

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:4-6

By the way: once you understand (or at least accept by faith) that God is triune (one God in three persons), the Bible starts to make a lot more sense. After all, who hasn’t asked why God talks to Himself in the plural so often in Genesis?

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Genesis 1:26a

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” Genesis 11:5-7

So the people who say that the Trinity is not in the Bible are taking the absence of a word and using it as evidence that there is no teaching. But the Bible does not work this way. Scripture interprets Scripture. We don’t take a single verse out of context to prove a point – we read all of Scripture as the Word of God written to different and various contexts. When all of the Scripture is taken into account, then the reality that the Word of God takes for granted that God is one God in three persons becomes evidently clear.

Men

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

As Father’s Day comes to a close, I want to tell men “thank you” for being men, and especially to those who are active and passionate in your calling as fathers.

I know that you are proud. I also know you live your life in fear that you will be found out as the fraud you believe you are.

You think that if you talk too much about your feelings, you will be accused of weakness. Or worse, someone might realize you have a mental or emotional problem which, again, must be the fault of weakness.

You believe that any imperfection is your fault – it’s why you don’t go to the doctor, because he might find something wrong with you.

You think you can keep it together if you try hard enough, and when things fall apart you feel as though the whole world is judging you to be a failure as a man.

You struggle with your inability to meet an impossible standard of manliness.

Your heart breaks because you don’t feel like you could ever live up to the high calling of a husband or a father.

But what you don’t understand is that through the blood of Jesus, your heavenly Father sees you as you were created to be – who you were redeemed to be.

He doesn’t see your failures.

He doesn’t shake His head because you have to pay someone else to fix your car.

He doesn’t look down on you for all the projects you’ve never finished.

God sees you as the man you believe you can be – or maybe as the man you think you could never be.

Whoever you are, in whatever roles you are called to serve, God has gifted, equipped and called you to serve there.

You have been saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus.

And Jesus died to save sinful men: to save men who lose their temper too easily with their children and men who resent their wives; to save men who are too proud and men who are terrified of failure; to save deadbeat dads and abusive husbands; to save men who would rather be on a golf course or in a boat than at the dinner table and men who are grumpy because they had to turn off the ballgame so the kids could watch The Boss Baby again.

Men like you.

You are loved and you are forgiven. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are a marvelous work of God. God has called you to be uniquely you and not someone else. He has called you to trust in His great love for you – and He has called you to show His love to those around you.

So thank you for being who He has called you to be (whether you feel like it or not), and thank you for being in our lives.

May the God of grace and mercy bless all men, Amen.

Happy Father’s Day.

Forgiveness

You can’t take it with you.

We’ve all heard it, we all know it, and sometimes we even remember to take it seriously. But there are things aside from money and possessions that we can carry all the way to the grave, and those things will weigh us down, drag us down, bend us and break us, until we don’t even realize we are no longer even walking upright. Continue reading Forgiveness

Write Your Own Obituary

There is a Garth Brooks’ song that talks about what it means to truly live.

The chorus goes like this:

There’s two dates in time That they’ll carve On your stone
And everyone knows What they mean
What’s more important is The time that is known
In that little dash There in between

What’s on your little dash there in between?

What will people say about you when you’re gone?

What do you hope people will say about you when you’re gone?

“For the wonderful thing about saints is that they were human. They lost their tempers, got angry, scolded God, were egotistical or testy or impatient in their turns, made mistakes and regretted them. Still they went on doggedly blundering toward heaven.”

-Phyllis McGinlyey

We take comfort in knowing: those who came before us were sinners like us.

And – just as we will one day be – they are in heaven with the Lord now.

Not because they earned or deserved it, but because they believed.

So, who are your saints?

I’m not talking about the Roman Catholic Saints, with their statues and miracles and whatever else –

I mean who are your saints?

Who are the people whom God placed in your life –

Who loved you, taught you, inspired you…

And who are now with God?

She wasn’t perfect, was she?

He had his faults, didn’t he?

And yet they meant so much to you because they were there – in your life, somehow, some way – pushing, pulling, nurturing, mentoring, caring…

They filled in that dash in a way that was incredibly significant for you.

How would you write their obituary? Their epitaph? A tribute to what they meant to you?


Now, whose saint will you be?

Have you taken the same time, the same care, to be there for others in the way others were there for you?

We all have a choice to make.

Because that little dash in between our numbers – the dash we are filling in right now

It’s being written for you, right now.

We don’t get to write our own obituary after we’re gone – by then, it’s already been written.

The time for writing is right now.

Whether you know it or not, whether you’re aware of it or not,

You are writing your life story – and it’s that story that you will leave behind when you’re gone.

So is it a story you would be proud to have told?

If you could read your obituary, would it humble you to hear how well people think of you?

Or would it humble you with shame to hear how little you meant?

Because that’s the choice we own – what story are you writing?

You could spend your life making millions –

Go sky diving, mountain climbing and hang gliding,

Swim with the sharks, run with the bulls, even soar with the eagles,

Live a life our world would say was lived to the fullest.

But a life truly lived is a life filled with love.

Because, when it’s all said and done, we’re all put here for a reason –

And we were saved for a reason, too.

If we live our life for ourselves, why on earth would Jesus die for that?

But if we can live a life that leaves its mark on others –

If our lives can come to an end surrounded by those who would say of us that we have made a difference in their life –

To be loved and honored and cherished because you helped someone –

Because you took the time to push, pull, nurture, mentor;

To care, to love, to teach, to inspire.

Now that is a story worth reading – a dash to be proud of!


Right now, take a few moments and actually write your own obituary.

Ask yourself these questions:

Aside from the basic facts, what would your obituary say if it were written right now?

What do you hope it would say?

What do you want it to say?

If your great-grandchildren were to read it, what would you want them to know about you?

Take a few moments right now to write your own obituary – what you want it to say.

Because it’s not too late to change your story.

You are forgiven for the life you’ve lived up until now,

And you are not too old to do better, with God’s help.

So write the obituary you want written about you.

And then live it out.

Paying the Price

Today, we set aside a national holiday to remember all those who have died either while serving our country’s military, or who have died since that service.

For most of us, it means the day off work or school, and a three-day weekend.

But it is also a really valuable time for reflection – to think about what it means to be willing to sacrifice everything for what you believe.

What would you fight for? What would you die for? For that matter, what are you living for?

Lots of people believe a lot of different things. And, we happen to live in a time and place where you can express those beliefs and opinions via internet comments or social media with very little risk of any real repercussion, save an unpopular response or a lack of “likes.”

But when it comes down to it, what would you really be willing to stake your life on?

What about your eternity?

Today, as we remember those who fought and died for our freedoms, maybe it’s also time to think about real freedom ourselves.

When was the last time you went to church? If you go regularly, when was the last time you invited someone?

I don’t know where you stand in what you believe, but let today be the day that you look for more than just this life and the pain and loss that surrounds us. If you don’t have a church, find one. Know what it’s like to know your Savior and to know the love of a church family.

And if you do have a church and a church family, it’s time to help that family grow. If there are people in your life that you love and care about who don’t go to church, it’s time to stand up and fight for them. Fight for their eternity.

Because faith matters. Faith in Jesus isn’t about some set of old-fashioned rules or way of controlling you. It’s about the greatest news ever given: that whatever things you’ve done, whatever things you’ve failed to do, God sent His Son to pay the price for those things – no matter how shameful or unforgivable they might look in your mind. Learn more about the One who died so that we would have life, and tell others what you know.

Thank God for the brave men and women who took a stand and paid the price for our freedom to go to church and change our eternity. Don’t you think it’s time you took a stand?

The Answer

If you were to die tonight and find yourself standing before the great judgment throne of God Himself, only to have Him ask you why He should let you into heaven, how would you answer?

It’s an old question, meant to terrify a little and prompt you to clarify whether and what you actually believe.

So, what would you answer?

Have you been good enough to deserve heaven?

Most people, after all, believe that good people go to heaven. But what does it mean to be good? And what qualifies as “good enough?”

The question scares us – because we don’t know the answer. Do we deserve heaven? Are we good enough? Is our faith strong enough to save us? How can we know?

Most people believe good people go to heaven, but let’s think about that for a minute: what does it mean to be good? Are we talking Mother Theresa good? Or just not-Hitler good? A lot of people think it’s about keeping the 10 Commandments, but a lot of those same people probably couldn’t name 5 Commandments, let alone keep them perfectly. And by the way, Jesus made the 10 Commandments even more impossible to keep perfectly: You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:21-29).

To make matters worse, the Bible is pretty openly opposed to the “good people go to heaven” view. In fact, according to the Bible, good people do not go to heaven. To begin with, there is no such thing as a good person: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12).

And Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that “good enough” is not good enough. In order to earn heaven, you have to be better than perfect: For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).

So if good people don’t go to heaven, who does?

Good people don’t go to heaven; forgiven people do: But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

So how do we know if we are forgiven? To (Jesus) all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:43).

But we want assurances. We want to feel forgiven. I get it, because I’ve been there. There is something wonderfully reassuring about the emotional high of an altar call, where the music soars and you pray that sinner’s prayer for all you’re worth. In that moment, the tears flow because you feel saved. It’s awesome…

Until you walk out the doors, go back home, back to work, back to school, and find that you are still the same person. So you start to wonder if it “took.” What if that wasn’t it? What if you still aren’t really saved? How can you be sure?

You can quit looking to your feelings, which can change with the weather. You can stop trusting your gut, which is directly related to how long it’s been since you last ate. Instead, try looking to the only stability in this crazy universe: God and His Word.

And God’s Word says you are saved: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It’s done. Finished. Completed on the cross, on a very Good Friday 2,000 years ago.

Are you worried, though, that you might not truly believe it? Well, do you want to believe it? Does it make sense to you? Do you want saving faith to be your own? Then it already belongs to you. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t care.

Saving faith means believing that you are not a good person, but you have been rescued anyway by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. To believe there is nothing you can do to make God love you more – or to make God love you less.

Do you want to know the answer? Do you want to know how to be sure you’re saved? It’s because God said so. And God never breaks His Word. Ever.

Do you want an assurance?

  • The next time you’re in the shower, feel the water running over your head and be reminded that you were baptized.
  • Make the sign of the cross to remind you of your baptism.
  • Make the sign of the cross in the mirror and tell yourself, “You are a baptized child of God.”
  • When you take communion, remember the body that was sacrificed for you. As the wine passes over your lips and tongue, remember the blood that was shed for you.
  • When you are tempted to beat yourself up for your failures, wash your hands and remember you have been washed clean.
  • When you are tempted to look down on others because you think you’re better than them, instead look up and remember that you both stand under heaven.

We don’t need to be afraid of whether or not salvation “took,” or whether or not we have been good enough, because our Heavenly Father gave us His Word that His grace is enough.

The Truth is, you already knew the answer. You probably learned it a long time ago, when things seemed much simpler:

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

How can you know you’re really saved? Because God said so. And that is enough.

Women

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30

As we head out of this Mother’s Day and head back to our regularly scheduled lives, I would like to say “thank you” once more to those who have walked, are walking and will walk in the calling of motherhood. And to those who have for any number of reasons not been called to be a mother, please know that you, too, are appreciated.

I know that you are overwhelmed. I also know you live your life in fear that you will not measure up to the impossible standard of womanhood you carry.

Your heart breaks because you don’t feel like you could ever live up to the high calling of a wife or mother.

You struggle with the social pressures and desires of your mind for your career and the desires of your heart to be with your family.

You struggle with the expectations of appearance vs. your desire for comfort. You want to feel and look beautiful, but you don’t want to be objectified or passed over because of your appearance.

And all of that makes you feel like a failure as a woman, because it feels like you are the only woman who doesn’t have it all figured out.

But what you don’t understand is that through the blood of Jesus, your heavenly Father sees you as you were created to be – who you were redeemed to be.

He doesn’t see your failures.

He doesn’t count your imperfections.

He doesn’t compare you to anyone else.

God sees you as the woman you believe you can be – or maybe as the woman you think you could never be.

Whoever you are, in whatever roles you are called to serve, God has gifted, equipped and called you to serve there.

You have been saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus.

And Jesus died to save sinful women; to save women who lose their temper too easily with their children and women who resent their husbands; to save women who never feel adequate and women who are obsessed with appearances; to save women who carry too much and women who don’t do enough; to save women who feel they have to be strong and women who feel too weak; to save women who feel like they have to hold everything together and women who feel like if they stop moving 100 miles per hour they will fall apart; to save women who struggle to leave abusive relationships and women who are terrified they’ll go back to them; to save the women who are offended by this post and the women who needed it.

Women like you.

You are loved and you are forgiven. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are a marvelous work of God. God has called you to be uniquely you and not someone else. He has called you to trust in His great love for you – and He has called you to show His love to those around you.

So thank you for being who He has called you to be (whether you feel like it or not), and thank you for being in our lives.

May the God of grace and mercy bless all women, Amen.

Happy Mother’s Day.