"He is Risen! (He is Risen, INDEED!)"
Occasionally we see TV specials on what scholars think about some Biblical truth. One such recent program discussed the resurrection of Jesus. Of course, since most of the "experts" viewed the Scriptures as but one of several sources, and a highly suspect one at that, the results were mostly predictable.
So, if you don't accept the Scriptures at face value and you doubt miracles, how do you view the resurrection? For starters, you say, "I think..." a lot. The listener is to believe that what you think is more informed than the Bible. Then you offer theories about the phenomenon that has led to over a billion Christians today.
Theory 1: Jesus' followers made up the stories. Jesus probably wasn't buried in the first place, since the victims of crucifixion were usually thrown into a common pit for the dogs and birds to prey on. Yes, that would probably have happened to Jesus, if his friends had not arranged to get the body for burial. Then, too, the Roman soldiers were sent to guard a real body, Jesus' body, in a real grave.
Theory 2: Jesus was resuscitated. "Such resuscitations happen all the time." Even after a person is declared dead by those who saw death on a regular basis, and has a spear thrust into his side to guarantee it? Any resemblance between a man being resuscitated and the account of Jesus' death and burial is purely imaginary.
Theory 3: The disciples saw dreams or visions. When the original text says that "Jesus appeared," that can be understood to say that he appeared in a vision. It can, but that means that the Emmaus disciples walked with and broke bread with a vision, Thomas was invited to put his fingers into the wounds of a vision, a vision cooked breakfast at the sea shore and more than 500 people saw the vision at once.
Theory 4: The resurrection was not physical, but spiritual. The disciples saw another dimension. Had someone been able to snap a picture, Jesus wouldn't show on it. In truth, Jesus' resurrected body was what Paul calls "a spiritual body," no longer subject to the same limitations as before the resurrection. But it was his actual body - present in physical form - right down to the still-visible wounds from the nails and spear.
Theory 5: The resurrection stories are told to illustrate that love cannot die or that death is not the last chapter of our existence. True, love cannot die, and death is not the last chapter of our existence, but how much more sure and promising when realizing in the bodily resurrection of our Lord! He is love, and he has prepared a place for us beyond death.
Theory 6: Faith is a leap, a risk. How much better the writer of Hebrews said it: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (11:1)! Our certainty is built on the rock of our salvation, the risen, living Savior.
Again, such theories are predictable. Unless God's Spirit works in your heart by the gospel to believe in the atoning work of Jesus, you won't accept the Bible as God's Word and infallible truth. And if you reject the Bible as divine truth, all that matters is what "you think."
Do you really think that gets you any closer to the truth?
"He Calms Our Fears"
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus's knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" ...The Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
- Luke 5:8,10,11
Simon Peter and his friends were fishermen when they first knew Jesus. After a long night of catching nothing, they were ready to call it quits. But Jesus told them to put out their nets i the deep water. It was not the hottest and brightest part of the day. A catch of fish seemed almost impossible at this point.
The miraculous catch Jesus have them ripped their nets and caused their boats to almost sink! Immediately, Peter realized that this wasn't just another teacher, but the Son of God. When Peter saw God's power that day, he was filled with fear. More than ever, he felt the big difference between God and himself. He was a sinner, and God was holy. He was entirely at God's mercy.
Maybe it was a huge thunderstorm, or the power of crashing waves, or gazing out into an infinite, star-filled sky at night that first made you realize how big God is and how small you are. When we see the awesome wonders of God in this world, sometimes we feel the same way Peter did. Sometimes we conclude (with lots of help from our sinful flesh), that we need to distance ourselves from God because of our sin. The Bible tells us that our holy and righteous God has every right to punish us for all eternity because of our sin. All of this strikes fear in our hearts. Jesus' powerful miracles had the same effect on people. But at the same time, Jesus' miracles, words, and ministry draw our attention to an important fact about our powerful God: He is here to save us. Jesus calms our fears. "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17)
Jesus told Peter, "Do not be afraid..." As God's Son, he wasn't there to harm Peter. He was there to save him, and that is just what he did when he died on the cross and rose again. Jesus' words calm our fears as sinners before a holy and righteous God. Therefore, we don't need to cry, "Away from me, Lord, for I am a sinner!"
Instead, in the peace of his forgiveness, we can take the time to lay down the nets of our daily work and follow him to something greater in his Word. In the peace and joy of forgiveness we can serve him and work to advance his kingdom as he sets opportunities before us. In the peace and joy of forgiveness we can serve others. In the peace and joy of forgiveness we can be fishers of men.
"The Force is Still With Us"
If you are old enough to remember the movie "Star Wars", then you probably rmember the popular catchphrase from that movie, "May the force be with you." When spoken to a person, this phrase was a wish that "the force" - a vague, cosmic aura of power - would be with and strengthen the person as they faced the evil powers of darkness.
As Christians, we also have a force working for and in us. This force is vital for spiritual and eternal life and aids us in the struggle against the powers of darkness. But this force is not a vague, cosmic aura. This force has a name. He is the Holy Spirit. He is the third person of the Godhead. And instead of saying, "May the force be with you," you will hear Christians say both privately and in public worship, "The Lord be with you."
God's people have always possessesd the Spirit of God. Unless the Spirit resides in your heart, you cannot believe in the true God. This was true in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. In the Psalms, for example, King David often acknowledges the involvement of the Spirit of God in his life. Nevertheless, in fulfillment of the words of the prophet Joel in the Old Testament, a time would come when God would give a more complete outpouring of his Spirit on his people. This "fuller outpouring" began on the Day of Pentecost. And from that Day of Pentecost on, what wondrous power was evidenced by that Spirit, and what great things were done by his power!
It was seen immediately on the Day of Pentecost. Timid disciples who were unsure of how they were to carry out the Great Commission Jesus had given them were transformed into fearless witnesses with a purpose that no power could deter them from. It was seen inthe conversion of 3,000 people on the Day of Pentecost alone. And that was just the beginning of the "Gospel explosion."
In less than 100 years of Pentecost, the Gospel of Christ was carried as far as Spain to west, India to the east, and Ethiopia to the south. It took three more centuries for the Gospel to arrive in the northern reaches of Europe, but it did. The Christian faith gained and its ranks grew because people who were attracted to Christ had their lives changed. When people were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, they came to know that peace that passes all understanding. The followers of Christ were known to demonstrate enormous courage under persecution. Roman authorities tried to stamp out the church by persecuting those who professed Christ. The plan backfired. Those who died in the Roman arena for the entertainment of the emporer and his guests faced their deaths so courageously that others were attracted to the faith rather than repulsed by it.
The power and the work of the Spirit is seen today in bold professions of faith under persecution. It is seen in great concern for - and zealous efforts in behalf of - Christ's kingdom. But how few those concerned, courageous and zealous people are! If courage, conviction, and zeal is lacking in the church today, the fault lies in the apathy and laziness of kingdom members and their unwillingness to invite the Spirit into their lives through the means he has given us to do that - Word and Sacrament. The Spirit's gifts and grace are not irresistable - they can be rejected. But make no mistake - the "Force" is still with us! The Comforter and Counselor of God, the Giver of Life, is there, waiting to pour out his gifts of a stronger, more mature faith and the boldness and zeal with which to proclaim it. God grant that we tap into the Spirit's vast storehouse of power that we may see Pentecost's power revisited in our lives!
"Carrying Out the Great Commission: Some Things Old, Some Things New"
When Jesus gave this "Great Commission" to his Church, he gave the two-fold reason for her existence: 1) To reach OUT, bringing the message of forgiveness and salvation to people through Word and Sacrament, and 2) To reach IN, helping people to grow in their spiritual maturity and personal walk with God through continued exposure to Word and Sacrament. A Christian congregation must always keep these two things in balance, appropriating the needed time and resources to each.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
- Matthew 28:19-20
In our effort to continue to carry out Jesus' directive, our congregation has worship services, Bible classes, Confirmation classes, Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, and various special-emphasis Sundays, to name a few. We’ll continue to do these "old" or established things here at Christ Lutheran. In fact, I can't see us not continuing to do any of those things! But I'd like to draw your attention to a couple of "new" things that you'll be hearing more about in the near future at our congregation…
INreach: Evening Family Vacation Bible School - What a great way to demonstrate to our children the value of continued growth in God’s Word, and it's relevance to our lives, by going to VBS with them! The general theme will be "God’s Great Rescue". We'll have classes, games, crafts, and treats for the kids; classes (and treats!) for the adults, and at the end of each night, a sing-along campfire out behind the church! The dates are July 15, 22, & 29 (all Wednesdays), from 6:30-8:30pm.
INreach: "Question of the Week" - Posted every week on our bulletin board, this is a simple way to learn answers about the doctrines/applications of our Christian faith. And if you have a question you’d like to see answered, there is the opportunity for you to write it down, and wait for the reply.
INreach / OUTreach: A New Website, With Audio Sermons - If you’re on the internet, you simply have to check out our updated website! It has a brand new look, and so many new features. One of those new features is the audio sermon page, where you will be able to hear past sermons. If you miss a Sunday, or you have a friend whom you can’t seem to get to church, or a relative who lives far away from a WELS church—you can hear the sermon through a click of a button on our web page! COMING SOON!
OUTreach: Evangelism Training Classes - Another "resurrected" idea that we did 10-11 years ago—our Evangelism Committee is planning to have classes where we show our members simple ways to share Jesus with others. Those of you who are familiar with the teaching method called "God’s Great Exchange" know how easy it is to do!
As Pastor, my prayer is that our members take advantage of both the "old" and "new" things!
"A Silent Army of Volunteers"
I can honestly say that I know how the Apostle Paul felt. And not just me, but many others in our congregation as well must certianly feel that way. Recently, several of our Boards and Committees were doing some initial work on a Long Range Ministry plan. One of the "assignments" given to each Board and Committee was to list how many people volunteer for that Board or Committee's area of ministry, and how many hours those people put in. As I've worked with a few of the Council members on finding out the facts, we found the results somewhat amazing, and certainly encouraging.
We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
-I Thessalonians 1:2-3
What was amazing was the hundreds and hundreds of hours our members have put in over the course of a year. Included are such things as ushering, teaching, serving on committees, singing in the choir, cleaning, cutting grass, special projects, greetings on Sundays, and many, many more categories. When one is confronted by those raw numbers, it makes one's heart glad to think of the faith and love, and persistence (to quote Paul) which our members show in doing what they can for God's Kingdom work. Some labor in higher-profile positions. Many - perhaps most - labor all but invisibly. Yet every labor is important in God's eyes.
We are indeed, all in this together. "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ... Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it" (I Corinthians 12:12, 27). There isn't a member of our congregation who can say that they aren't important, having nothing to offer, or are continually too busy to assist in kingdom work. The Lord just won't accept thos excuses. His Word makes that clear.
And so, of course, there are still many more people who could be active in our congregation. And therein lies the challenge: to try to get everyone involved in some way in congregational life. It's no secret that in any Christian congregation, the greate the percentage of people you have more actively involved, the healthier that congregation will be. Every one of our members needs to take a personal assessment of their gifts and abilities - and their current stewardship practices - and determine how they can serve their Lord in this congregation and elsewhere in his kingdom.
And so we labor on, eager to let our faith in God and our love for God show in our labors, as we are compelled by the love of Christ. It is fulfilling work. It is blessed work. And while we do these things out of faith and love, we do not forget the gracious promises of God in connection with our labors for his kingdom:
"Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (I Corinthians 15:58). "God is not unjust, he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them" (Hebrews 6:10).
May we praise God for our fellow members, for that silent army of volunteers who labor for the Lord!
"Maintaining Our Faith Lives"
Over the years, and especially this year, we have seen lots of work done on the Christ Lutheran parsonage. And that is expected, because owning a home requires constant maintenance. There are the big projects, like repainting the exterior of the house, remodeling the kitchen, or replacing the roof. There are the medium-sized projects, like painting a room, adding insulation, or replacing carpeting. There are the small projects, like changing light bulbs, unclogging a drain, putting on storm windows, and, of course, the never-ending job of cleaning. What happens if you don’t do these things? Over time, wind, rain, cold, heat, and even dirt—will all do their thing to cause your house to deteriorate.
There is no shortcut to spiritual maturity,
there is no way to lessen the need for continued spiritual maintenance.
Sure, we can take measures to lessen the amount of maintenance and repair required. We can add maintenance-free vinyl siding to our homes. We can Scotch-guard furniture and carpeting. We can buy special light bulbs that don’t have to be changed for 3-4 years. But, some maintenance is inevitable.
We can apply this principle to our spiritual lives. If you want to keep your faith-life strong, it requires constant attention. The forces that would erode our faith-relationship with our Lord and Savior—the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh—are always present, and they take turns doing their dirty work in our lives. But regular maintenance will keep them from destroying our faith.
That’s one reason why we have regular worship services, and why we have Bible Classes and Sunday School. It’s why we have Confirmation Class, VBS, and why we stress personal daily devotions. It’s why we promote the full-time Christian education offered by our sister church, Our Savior’s in Wausau, and Christian education at the secondary level via Northland Lutheran High School. We all recognize the UNholy forces at work in our lives, and we seek to counter their influence through greater immersion in the Word of God. Let’s face it, as we look at society’s eroding morals, and what music and cinema is able to get away with more and more each year in the way of filth and un-godly attitudes, getting TOO MUCH Christian education is impossible. Doesn’t it stand to reason that, as worldly influences grow stronger, so must our exposure to the Word?
Sometimes, people think that some things will “protect” them and help them to avoid continual spiritual maintenance. Like the fact that they were baptized, or that they were confirmed, or that they are a “member in good standing” at their church. But this is where the house/Christian life analogy ends. There is no shortcut to spiritual maturity, there is no way to lessen the need for continued spiritual maintenance. You simply HAVE to have regular (every day!) exposure to the Word of God.
Therefore, as your pastor and shepherd under Christ, my prayer is that our members would seek out and make use of the above-listed opportunities of growth in the Word.
"An Ageless, Almighty God for Aging, Weakening People"
It happened again yesterday. And it’s been happening more often lately. Yesterday I was shopping at the Wal-Mart in Wausau, and when I came out of the store, I had forgotten where I’d parked the car. I mean, as in absolutely no idea. You know, it’s really embarrassing to have to set off your remote car alarm just so that you can find your car. And maybe you’ve experienced, as I have countless times, the irritation of entering a room only to forget the reason you went there for. As someone once quipped, “These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about the hereafter...I go somewhere to get something, and then wonder what I'm hereafter.”
Forgetfulness is just one of the enemies we battle as we grow older. With each passing year, I am more resentful of gravity and its effects on my body. The body is slower, and it doesn’t work as well as it used to. I’m getting to the point that, when I bend over to tie my shoes, I ask myself, “Is there anything else I can do as long as I’m down here?”
OK, that last one was just a joke. I’m not quite at that stage—yet. But as I hit the half-century mark in my life this month, I find myself frequently “taking pause” to think about growing older, and its challenges. As I visit congregational members in the hospital or nursing homes who are well advanced in years, I often see the infirmities, pains, and inconveniences that these seasoned Christians suffer, and it’s enough to make anyone apprehensive. As one of our older members reminded me recently, “Growing old isn’t for wimps.” Indeed.
But one blessing I’ve received in visiting members who are going through these challenges is that I get to see how they are handling them. I am so awed by the faith of some of our members who accept each and every day that God gives them, no matter what adversity that day brings. Yes, they also sigh and lament about their situations. They wish they weren’t hurting so much. They also cry the tears of frustration and depression and pain. But in the background is a faith that clings to the rock-solid promises of God. A God who loves them so much that he gave his only Son for them. A God who is so in tune with their lives that he has all of their hairs counted. A God who has promised that he will always hear their prayers and lamentations. A God who is almighty, whose hand created the universe and whose hand is therefore also powerful to save and heal and comfort and bless. A God who promises his children that every chastisement (i.e. - adversity, illness, pain, frailty, etc.) is for our spiritual betterment. A God who promises that he will work all things together for our good, even though we may not see or understand just how he does that. A God who promises us that “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4). And because that is so, we can say with the Apostle Paul: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17) .
What if life went the other way around—that as people grew older, they got stronger, smarter, and more self-reliant before they left this earth? How many people would trust increasingly less in God as their life progressed because they didn’t feel the need to? The frailties of old age cause us to be more reliant on God, more prayerful, and have less longing for the things of this world and a greater longing for our heavenly home. That may be God’s plan, his hidden blessing, in our challenges and weaknesses of old age—they serve to prepare us better for heaven! And so, we can face advancing age with peace and confidence, knowing that our Lord will always be with us and take care of us, until he takes us home. Those great truths moved John Wesley to pen the following words:
‘Tis sweet to grow old in the fear of the Lord, as life’s shadows longer creep.
Till our steps grow slow, and our sun swings low, and he gives his beloved sleep.
"Working at Making Personal Evangelism a Way of Life"
When that occasional and inevitable window of opportunity opens up for you to share your faith in Jesus, as it will with every Christian, how comfortable are you in sharing that faith? Perhaps we refrain from doing much verbal evangelism, citing one of the following excuses:
- "I have a hard time expressing myself about everyday things, let alone theological truths."
- "I feel uncomfortable talking about religion with others—I feel it isn’t polite."
- "I’m not confident sharing my faith—I don’t know where to begin or what approach to use."
- "I’m afraid people will think I’m a Bible-thumping Jesus freak."
- "If I stumble over my words, I’m afraid I’ll turn people off to Jesus instead of turning them on."
- "I can tell them the basics about Jesus, but I’m unsure about handling their further objections."
- "I just don’t possess good people/conversation skills."
Any of the above sound familiar? Sure, some people seem to be “naturals” when it comes to conversation skills. They have a way of making “sharing Jesus” look easy. But, how much of that “natural” ability was really learned through observation and a desire to improve in that skill? I submit that if we have a passion for something, and if we feel that it’s important to share that passion/message with others, we will find ways to more effectively carry that out. Maybe our ability to share Jesus with others won’t ever become “easy and natural”, but we will become better at it if we work at it and practice doing it a bit (and certainly that effort to “work at it” would be a pleasing thing to our Lord!). One thing to bear in mind too is that while we may not all be highly trained or “natural” evangelists, we are all called to evangelize. See the difference? We are to be involved in this activity, even though we may not necessarily excel at it. Like the parable of the men who were given different talents in Matthew 25:14-29, God expects us to use faithfully the talents and abilities we have been given, and not give excuses for non-performance based upon our perceived lack of talent/ability.
There isn’t a married man or woman who is reading these words who is the perfect spouse. But they recognize the need to try their best. Very few people in our congregation are state-licensed teachers who have a degree in education. But that doesn’t keep them from helping their kids with their homework or teaching Sunday School.. I’m guessing that no one who reads this article has a voice fit for opera. But they use their voice to worship God on Sunday. Get the point? You don’t have to be an expert in a certain area to be a tool that God can use! My goodness—what if that were the case?? How much the spread of the Gospel would be hindered in the world! The truth is that, when it comes to sharing Jesus with others, God is counting on you to “just do it”, to be faithful in using the talent he has given you. He asks you only to do the best you can, and to make use of the opportunities he puts before you.
Learning a few extra evangelizing techniques can certainly help! And that is something our Evangelism Committee is working on—helping our members to improve their personal evangelism. We will be having Sunday Bible classes soon—and occasionally—that will offer our people tools and techniques to improve in this area. Don’t live with excuses for not telling others about Jesus. We can all improve—even just a little—in this area!
"One Pastor's Thoughts on Christmas Eve"
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night." - (Luke 2:8)
"Silent night, holy night; all is calm..."
Every year on Christmas Eve, there is a routine I have been following throughout my ministry. It begins around 5pm or so, as I'm checking my preparations for the Christmas Eve worship service. Before the worshippers come, I like to take a few minutes for myself in church. I turn on only the Christmas tree lights, and sit in the quiet darkness and reflect on the wonder of our Lord's birth. Oh, sure, I am doing that reflection throughout the season as I prepare all of the Sunday and Wednesday sermons and services, but here...now...it's different. In the stillness of the church, I think of the quiet scene of Judean shepherds settling in for a quiet, ordinary night. The climax to the season is upon us, and I enjoy the last meditative quiet time before the great celebration. My heart is full of pleasant, comforting thoughts and joyful emotions. To quote a line from the hymn "How Great Thou Art" : "And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, sent him to die, I scarce can take it in." It is hard to wrap my brain around the full magnitude of that which we call Christmas. But how I love to try on this quiet, meditative time on Christmas Eve!
"Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.'" - (Luke 2:13-14)
"Silent night, holy night; shepherds quake at the sight. Glories stream from heaven afar; heav'nly hosts sing 'Alleluia!'"
And then, the people start coming through the doors. It's time for worship. As the Judean darkness was torn apart by the sudden appearance of glorious angels, and the quiet stillness shattered by the beautiful songs of those heavenly messengers, so the stillness in this church will be replaced with the heart-felt, God-glorifying songs of his redeemed people. Beautiful! The "Alleluias" we sing on this night can't compare with the "Alleluias" the saints and angels sing in heaven now and which we will sing forever in heaven. But it is all we as mortals can do. And our songs are no less pleasing to God than those songs of saints and angels. He loves to hear them!
"When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'" - (Luke 2:15)
"Silent night, holy night! Son of God, love's pure light radiant streams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace..."
And then, worship is over. The people leave. And all is quiet again. Once again, after I turn out all the church lights and before I go to my house to join my family who is waiting for me, I take a few moments to sit in the front pew and pray. My prayer is that every heart which just sang and celebrated in this worship service, including mine, has been and will continue to be filled, uplifted, and moved to tell and live the message of God's love and redeeming grace. A love which centers on a Savior who was born to die for us. I pray that we will live in peace, not in spiritual unrest. That we will live in joy, not in gloom. That we will live in confidence and courage, not in fear. For one day, because of God's grace, we will see those angels, and that Savior, face to face. On this night, our singing has lasted for an hour or so. But then...ah, yes, THEN...it will last forever.