Unless a Grain of Wheat

April 2017

“Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” –Jesus Christ, John 12:24

 As we transition from winter into spring, nature pauses between death and renewal. We are seeing some warmer days but still waiting for winter’s browns and grays to give way to the vibrant colors of new growth. The Lent-Easter cycle reflects nature’s themes of death and renewal. These themes are especially evident to me this year.

Because of sin, the curse of death falls upon us all (Rom 6:23). The old is indeed passing away. We have recently seen the passing of several faithful members of our congregation who were each pivotal figures in their families, communities, and at St. Paul. In addition, we have come to the conclusion of a chapter of our history with our outgoing music director. For many of us, in various ways, this is a difficult period of transition between grief and joy; between brokenness and restoration. This is really a picture of the human condition. We are broken creatures who have been half-fixed: completely forgiven and restored by Jesus Christ but still waiting for him to make all things new (Rev. 21:5).

That renewal is the great hope we have. Christ’s death bears much fruit, as those who trust in him will also conquer death. As we mourn in these transitional times, we are also free to rejoice. As we lay Christians to rest, we are grateful that God has “kept them safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church” as was prayed at their baptisms. That ark has finally carried them to safe haven. So with our congregation, there may be vacancies on the organ bench, on the Board of Properties, and in the pews; there is plenty of brown and gray but spring is coming.

More than ever, we are poised for renewal as we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection this year. Our Board of Mission & Ministry got off to a great and optimistic start with Mark Litka holding the first meeting in March. There is great enthusiasm as we explore possibilities for the future of music ministry at St. Paul. The Holy Spirit has been bringing a steady trickle of new faces through the doors and we are ready and waiting to see what kind of fruit Christ will grow in us this spring!

 

See you in Church,

Pastor Jon


Don’t Be a Lazy Belly this Lent!

(Read Your Catechism)

March 2017 

Therefore, I beg such lazy bellies and presumptuous saints, for God’s sake, to let themselves be convinced and believe that they are not really and truly such learned and exalted doctors as they think…Even if their knowledge of the catechism were perfect (although that is impossible in this life), yet it is highly profitable and fruitful to read it daily and to make it the subject of meditation and conversation. In such reading, conversation, and meditation the Holy Spirit is present and bestows ever new and greater light and devotion, so that it tastes better and better and is digested, as Christ also promises in Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”       

Martin Luther, Preface to the Large Catechism

To be Lutheran is not to be part of a cult of Martin Luther, as some might think. Lutherans are orthodox (rightly-teaching), evangelical (Gospel-centered), and catholic (part of the historic and universal Christian church). Luther and the other reformers did not set out to create a new religion. Being Lutheran is simply being a Christian. When you read Luther’s Small Catechism, Large Catechism, and the other writings in the Book of Concord, you will find that they do not invent anything new. They bring us back to what God has always taught in His Word. We hold to these Lutheran Confessions because they correctly interpret the Bible for us. This Lent, I invite you to dig a little deeper into the rich heritage that belongs to you as an orthodox evangelical catholic Christian.

  • You can start with Luther’s Small Catechism. It isn’t just for kids. Luther intended it to be a lifelong tool for living the Christian life. It was specifically designed for use in the home.
  • If you want something a little more advanced, I would suggest reading through the Large Catechism. Luther wrote this longer set of instructions for pastors but it is a very practical guide for laity and clergy alike. I would highly recommend it, especially if you’ve never read it before. It is surprisingly easy to read and still very much relevant after almost 500 years!
  • If you want more bang for your buck, I’d suggest purchasing a copy of “Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions.” It is a reader’s edition of the Book of Concord, which contains all of the officially accepted doctrinal writings of the Lutheran Church, including the Small and Large Catechisms. No Lutheran home would be complete without at least a Bible, a Hymnal, and a Small Catechism but if you really want to appreciate Lutheranism, the Book of Concord is also a “must.”
  • You can get the Book of Concord in print at CPH.org or online at bookofconcord.org. Happy Reading!

See you in Church,

Pastor Jon


Combat Tactics

February 2017 

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God…” -Ephesians 6:12-13

 

According to the Bible, there are only two classes of spiritual beings apart from God himself. There is first a great army of angels of unknown number. These angels are also called the host of heaven. This is what it means when we refer to God as Lord of hosts. He is commander of the armies of heaven. At some point after the creation of the world, one third of these angels followed Satan into rebellion (Rev. 12:4) and have come to be known as fallen angels or demons.

 

There are no ghosts (Hebrews 9:27), vampires, or zombies. If you hear a story about someone’s dead relative appearing to them, beware! If they weren’t hallucinating, they may have seen an angel or demon. Satan and his demons can disguise themselves as “angels of light” (2 Cor 11:14).

 

The war against the devil and his servants has already been decisively won. Jesus’ passion was the time when Satan, the “ruler of this world,” was cast out (John 12:31). The devil and his angels still seek to undermine our faith as they await their final judgment. So, in the mean time, here are some tips on how to banish the devil from your presence:

  • Avoid inviting the devil into your life –engaging in non-Christian “spiritual activities” or regularly avoiding worship may provide the devil a way into your life.
  • Laugh – the devil can’t stand Christians expressing their “Easter joy”!
  • Make the sign of the cross – the devil hates the cross because it will forever remind him of his defeat and God’s love for you.
  • Seek the company of other Christians – being alone can give the devil ripe opportunity for temptation.
  • Confess your sins (and receive forgiveness) – the devil thrives on a guilty conscience. He is rendered powerless where sins are forgiven and guilt removed.
  • Break wind – The devil does not like to be mocked. Martin Luther once said, “I resist the devil, and often it is with a fart that I chase him away.”

See you in Church,

Pastor Jon

 


Lutherans for Life

January 2017

This month, we will join with many other congregations in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in an observance of “Sanctity of Human Life” Sunday on January 15. We will be focusing on life issues for the month of January. Our Sunday Morning Bible Study will come from Lutherans for Life, the youth group will be assisting Dubuque County Right to Life, and I would encourage as many as are able to participate in Dubuque’s Walk for Life on Jan. 21.

 

Being pro-life has indeed become politicized but it is not simply a political issue. It is first a moral issue. There are many issues on which Christians may hold differing opinions in good conscience but God has spoken clearly concerning the time of life’s beginning and ending. Like Luther, our consciences should be “captive to the Word of God.”

 

Christians should speak about this the way we would about anything else – not only with the force of God’s Law but the sweet comfort of the Gospel. Many mothers suffer under the crushing weight of guilt after having an abortion. While abortion is condemned in God’s Word, Christians should be the first to speak words of healing and forgiveness to those of broken heart. In Christ, there is mercy and forgiveness for every sin, great or small.

See you in Church,

Pastor Jon