Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Kansas City has been very good to Amy and me in many ways. Here, we’ve made many friends and acquaintances. She’s been here for twenty-five years; I’ve been here almost nine. Familiar grocery stores—Dollar General, Hy-Vee, Price Chopper—have welcomed us with familiar smells. Customer service folks have greeted us with cheerful “hellos” and smiles. Libraries have given us books and movies. They’ve taken our occasional overdue fine payments. And, I am thankful for 24 Hour Fitness and Great Clips. I know most of the stylists, trainers and front desk helpers by name. Counselors and doctors, too, have given us a lot of help here in town. We love Dr. Mowry’s bedside/office manner, always cordial, straightforward and up front about how our health is. I’ve never had a more welcoming church family than at Holy Cross Lutheran. From day one of my visiting here for house hunting, they’ve reached out to me. I found in Pastor Stirdivant an awareness of his shortcomings—in speech and comfortability around lots of people—even as he carried out His preaching, teaching and doling out Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion. He was the first in town to notice my book collection, remarking how a copy of Craig Parton’s THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTS lay on my coffee table the first day he visited me. And, when I said I hadn’t given up the desire to serve the Church as a pastor, he simply said, “Good.” Along with Pastor Bolland, Pastor Stirdivant’s voice rang throughout the nave at Holy Cross like a brass trumpet, putting God’s Law and Gospel right into my ears. Both men sought to shepherd the congregation in hardcore, unwavering faithfulness to what’s written in the Scriptures and exposited in the Lutheran Confessions.No wonder, the undying message of life from conception to natural death permeated every sermon. And, under their relentless care for everyone, we at Holy Cross donated to any number of charities in the area. When the outreach for blind and visually impaired switched host congregations, I began attending Calvary. There, Pastor Bereuter welcomed me with no strings attached. He’d welcomed Amy in the same way. And, he saw us through our very short engagement. He’s passionate about getting the good news of Jesus into folks’ ears. And his arms always open for hugging people as we process through the outside door. All this and, perhaps, more Amy and I will leave when going to Fort Wayne. Why? The Lord calls us to Fort Wayne. He gives me the opportunity to show myself approved—teaching me how best to handle His Word. He opens new doors ahead. Friendships? Godwilling, we’ll maintain the friendships we’ve made here even as we leave our immediate closeness behind. Impromptu dinners out with Joel or Penny and Sussie, seeing so many familiar faces before and after church, calling up Curt when the car needs a tweek…and babysitting little Clark? Amy and I will certainly miss these opportunities and many more. How different this is than my more rambunctious days transitioning between college and Concordia-St. Louis! Then, I always had Mom and Dad in my back pocket, or at least their voices and admonitions no matter what situation I encountered. I had their wants and concerns and needs in mind when running up against some forms of opposition. I also carried a huge suitcase of my own vendettas and fears cloaked in a kitty-cat’s vesture. When I reflect on Peter’s statement to Jesus about leaving everything behind to follow Him, I think on how every pastor or pastor-to-be looks to the cross of Christ our Savior. For as we leave behind many things to be formed into servants who teach the faithful, reach the lost and care for all, we are lavished with Jesus sustenance, righteousness and daily forgiveness. That's worth much more than its weight in gold, silver or countless dollar bills.
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith." (SMALL CATECHISM, explanation of the third article of the Apostles' Creed) That’s why our Lord Jesus calls and sends out pastors—to teach the faithful, reach the lost and care for all. People need Jesus’ salvation, life, love and forgiveness. So, He preaches it to them. He washes them in it and marks His cross on them. He fills their ears, heads and hearts full of absolution, forgiveness for their daily sin. He places His body and blood into their mouths to further sustain their faith and fill them with two hundred proof pardon. Jesus does this through the real hands of men He's called and ordained as servants of His Word just as He Himself took on our human nature when born of Mary. Being accepted into pastoral formation at Concordia Theological Seminary yesterday was very humbling for me. I’d received that call before, when applying for Concordia Seminary-St. Louis’s Master of Divinity program in the 1990s. I squandered that time of preparation by being too immature, verbose and impatient to the point of losing my temper often. Yet, our Lord Jesus is slow to anger, full of forgiveness and abounding in steadfast love. He’s nurtured me in that patience and love my whole life long and has worked in me to curb such spats. Thanks be to Him for putting family—especially my wife—and friends and pastors who have counseled and prayed for me over the years since my half-vicarage in Connecticut came to a blustery end. So, this fall I will begin taking classes at Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne, classes taught by men who will help form me for Word and Sacrament ministry. Through these men, He’ll teach me anew how to apply His commands and promises to people’s real lives. After all, we live in a shattered and corrupted world tossed between cultural licentiousness and man-made legalism. Yes, people need Jesus—the Jesus who was conceived and born, died and rose, ascended and is returning for us. We endeavoring to preach Christ and Him crucified, will learn not to proclaim ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as His servants. After all, He has shined the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ for us and all the world to see and trust. In Him is that life that enlightens man, who can only hear the Gospel by someone preaching it to them. Now, as my wife, Amy, and I look ahead to seminary, many plans and questions greet us. How will we sustain ourselves financially and emotionally during this formation? How will we find housing? What friends will we meet who will support us over the next few years? How might we best adapt to make our transition to Fort Wayne a smooth and God-pleasing experience? And, along the way, how will our Lord continue using us to touch lives with His Gospel of salvation? I certainly desire a noble task. Jesus has given me this opportunity to train for service—rightly handling His Word. To Him who is able to accomplish all these things and uphold me in His grace be all glory and honor now and forever.
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Upsets happen…sometimes more than we devout sports fans and political poll armchair pundits like to admit. What’s an upset, really? It’s when one team heavily favored by another gets beat. The Giants stopped the Patriots dreams for an undefeated season in 2008. Some of us loved it; many of us grumbled. Our certainty was shattered by that last second catch. Or, turn it in reverse. When New England stopped the Seattle Seahawks on the one yard-line in 2014, everyone in the stadium or watching on TV were certain that Lynch would get the ball and plow his way to a touchdown….just like he’d done dozens of times before. Now, sports is one thing. What happens when our confidence really gets shaken, when our certainty really takes a nose dive? We think we’re sitting pretty, planning a vacation for the family when bank reports reveal we’re a hundred thousand dollars in debt. We’ve shopped for over two hundred dollars in groceries, hoping they’ll last two or three weeks…and because the freezer conks out suddenly, we lose over half of what we bought. So, it’s understandable that you and I grow hesitant when Holy Scripture says “Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ.” Nothing?—you and I ask ourselves. We can’t predict the future. With the rise of antichristian persecutions worldwide, we cringe when thinking of our reaction if a gun gets put to our head. As the economy keeps shifting…the job market waxes and wanes, we wonder how a prolonged stint of unemployment would effect us spiritually. We couldn’t tithe like we want. Shame might grip us if the gas dripped from the car and we couldn’t drive to church for a while. Or, what if a fellow Christian relative or friend suddenly drops dead with no prior warning? No one is immune from being shaken to the spiritual core. Hag. 2 and Heb. 12 remind us that “everything that can be shaken will be shaken.” I’ve suffered losses just as you have. It’s not just that I lost grandparents on both sides of my family to death by stroke, heart disease and diabetes. It’s the circumstances that surrounded their deaths that drove me into a prolonged depression. So, suffering is an all-too-familiar circumstance that pommels us all. No one is immune. No amount of self-esteem or positive thinking pick-me-ups can wipe away suffering. No amount of avoidance mechanisms or graceful exits will help us escape. And, our certainty will buckle when adverse circumstances strangle our ebbing breath. That’s why Holy Scripture never gives a cure-all for suffering or affliction in this life. Instead, its words everywhere remind us, “Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Elsewhere, our Lord through the Psalmist, “ Be still (that means, hunker down, take cover) and know I am God.” And, Jesus also says, “I have overcome the world.” Jesus went through suffering, too, on His way to the cross. He faced the ridicule and rejection by the Pharisees. He endured Satan’s temptations and, for us, resisted them all. The Lamb of God, He was led to the slaughter of a criminal’s cross to be numbered with the transgressors and take away our sin. On the third day, He rose, triumphant over death, suffering, hell and Satan. Nothing can upset His victory. His victory is complete. Nothing can take Him off His eternal throne as He lives and rules to all eternity. He who is love incarnate goes with us through our agony, our times of hunger, our sicknesses, shame, fear and uncertainty. “God so loved the world…” that He sent Love into the midst of our lives. Though Jesus has ascended visibly from our sight, He engages us everyday. Every time, He draws us to read or hear His Word, He’s there. Every time, we receive public absolution in the Divine Service, He speaks anew the forgiveness that He purchased for us on Calvary. Every tine, He brings us to confess to our pastor or a friend privately something we’ve said, thought or done, that forgiveness is as valid as if Christ Himself stood visibly in front of us. He’s cleansed us of our sins and placed His cross on us. He gathers us to hear our pastor preach and then distributes His crucified and risen body and blood to us. All this confirms and upholds Jesus’ promises. Come what may in our lives, He’s with us always till He returns. What then of upsets? Nothing can upset or overthrow His love for us. What a joy and privilege it is for us to pray that our Lord will hold our confidence firm. That’s His will and He does it every day.
Monday, February 15, 2016
Luke 4:1: “And Jesus, fullof the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness….” Jesus had just been baptized. He’d heard the Father say: “You are my beloved Son.” Then, the Spirit tossed Him into the wilderness. No wonder Satan chided, “If you are the Son of God.” Hungry, thirsty, famished Jesus faced the devil’s temptations. Jesus could’ve snapped His fingers and silenced Satan. He didn’t. Jesus showed His Sonship by suffering our bodily needs while declaring victory over our old evil foe. Stones to bread would’ve cured His hunger pains. Jesus chose starvation while refuting Satan’s scowls. Gaining all the kingdoms of the world? No way! Jesus didn’t shortcut His trek to the cross. He longed to shed His own blood for us. Stage diving off the temple’s top? No. He didn’t conform topopular expectations. Jesus permitted Satan’s temptation so as to resist all those lures, traps, zaps and lies that often trip us up. Though Satan twisted Holy Scripture, Jesus replied, “It is written….” He corrected the devil with the Word in context just as He teaches us to read, mark, learn and take it to heart. You and I shudder. Family supports totter. emotional stability ebbs and flows. Jesus keeps speaking His Word through Bible studies, in sermons and in devotions. Our bodies and social supports wear out; Jesus’ reign endures. He’s cleansed us of our guilt. He stands us in His forgiveness. Doubts make us wonder if our sins are wiped away; Jesus returns us to Hispromise, “It is finished….” Jesus declared victory over Satan, suffered, died rose and ascended. Yes, our defeated foes—Satan, the world and our sinful flesh—pommel us with all their deception. Jesus calls us to place all our needs into His nail-pierced hands. He feeds us Himself, the bread of life, even as He guides our faith and life in His peace.
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Check out this reflection on Ash Wednesday's observation by Sandra Ostapowich on her blog, http://baptizatussum.wordpress.com. Repentance, after all, is not our work; it's our Lord's gift for the forgiveness of our sins to us who stray from His will. Jesus repents us back to our Baptism by which He emblazoned His cross with all its blessings on us.
Reflection--First Thursday in Lent Last night’s ashes are gone. We’ve washed them down the sink. Maybe, the hymns or preaching still ring in our ears. Yet, the visible symbol of sorrow are gone. A heightened anticipation accompanies our somberness in Lent. We know the endgame—celebrating Christ Jesus’ death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter morning. For this season, you and I have silenced our alleluias as we continue crying out, “Lord, have mercy.” Though the ashes are wiped off our foreheads, sin and the temptation to live in sinstill remains a clear and present reality. We put off facing our vocations of parenting, serving at our job, feeding our bodies—for some extra moments of slumber…forgetting that God goes with us into our daily lives and circumstances. Part of our nature wants to revel in the sounds and smells of last night’s worship….Yes, “here would we stay and sing…” Yet, our Lord called us bed-ward to give our bodies needed rest. Solomon is right, “There is a time for everything.”..for every purpose under heaven. (Eccl. 3:1) You and I daily stray from our callings in life. You and I daily disfigure our faces and our thoughts so as to convince ourselves that we can serve our neighbor or take care of our bodies when the feeling is right. (Matt. 6:3-4ff) The trumpet sounds from the prophets: Repent! “Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Joel 2:12-13) To us, when smug disregard, in our straying, the Word of promise fills our ears. The ashes are gone, wiped away. Good Friday and Easter lie weeks ahead of us. Yet, our Lord goes with us these forty days of heightened penitence because He has taken our smug neglect, our disregard, our words spoken in anger and our deeds in the name of convenience on Himself. And He calls us to fix our eyes on His suffering and death. He took our negligence, disregard, our craving for convenience away in His mercy. And, He bestows daily forgiveness on us whom He called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified. (2 Cor. 5:21) “Fix your eyes on Jesus,” the writer to the Hebrews reminds us. “He is the pioneer and perfector of our faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down that the right hand of God.” (Heb. 12:1-2) He has washed us clean in His blood when bathing us in His Word and water. And, though that water mark on our foreheads and on our breasts is gone, too. His cross still towers over the wrecks of time, even over the events and circumstances of our lives. Not for His convenience but tfor the joy set before Him, Jesus secured for us everlasting life. So, when we close our eyes that final time on this side of death, He promises to open them to view His redemption, His salvation of our bodies and souls forever. He who knows our goings in and comings out, our rising and our lying down guards us in His peace and saving love.