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From Our Pastor

Thank God Through Difficult Times

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Some of you have had a tough year. You’ve endured your share of criticism. Maybe you’ve lost a job. Maybe you’re facing a difficult health problem. The pandemic still is lurking making people sick.

Now comes Thanksgiving. Can we thank God even when times are tough? Yes, we can!

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This verse does not say give thanks for everything. It says give thanks in every circumstance.

You don’t have to give thanks for evil in the world. If my house caught fire or my wife was sick, I would not be thankful for those things. The Bible does not say be thankful for evil. But in every circumstance, no matter how bad it is, you can give thanks to God because:

  • His purpose is bigger than my problem.
  • My problem can never separate me from His love.
  • His forgiveness for my past through Jesus, and the hope He gives for tomorrow and for eternity stand certain.
  • I know I will grow through the experience if I do not turn away from God.

I may not be thankful for evil, but I can be thankful in spite of evil.

How can you be grateful when you’ve lost your job, your health, or a spouse? You look not at what you’ve lost – but look up to God. He’s always with you to forgive, guide, comfort, and fill you with hope for heaven where all problems and pain will be gone.

There used to be an old song, “Count Your Blessings, Name Them One By One.” We can do that. We can make lists of what we are thankful for – our families and friends to name a few. When times are tough, that’s when Christians can be reminded of God’s constant goodness. As you remember what God has done in your past, you will remember what God does always. His goodness never fails.

Becoming a truly grateful person can be the healthiest change you make in your life all year long – better than any diet or exercise plan. Gratitude is the healthiest emotion. When you are thankful in spite of your circumstances, you’re more resistant to illness.

God doesn’t benefit when you thank Him. You do. This is November, the month for Thanksgiving. May you thank and praise Him from your heart!

See you on Sunday,

Pastor Paul

What People are Looking for – Love & Hope

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

October is a wonderful time of year! Cider, hot donuts, apple pie, cool days, football, colored leaves. It’s a great time of year for families to get together to celebrate the season and their love for one another.

People are searching for love today more than ever. People are still relationship-deprived following the pandemic. The anger and name-calling of political ads on TV leave people desiring an oasis of love. The greed, jealousy, and bitterness on display in social media, the isolation of working alone on a computer, they leave people seeking to fill their lives with loving relationships.

I see young families spending their Saturdays at the kids’ soccer games and their Sundays having breakfast in their pj’s at home because they value the time together much more than families did when I was growing up. We seemed to have relationships hard wired into neighborhoods and towns more back dried leavesthen. Kids spent their days playing outside with other kids. Now-a-days it appears that our social circles are smaller. That places a lot of pressure on the family to be loving, … or else.

When you think about it, God specializes in creating exactly what people are searching for. St. Augustine (350A.D.) wrote that “Our hearts are empty until they find their rest in Thee.” God’s love is one-of-a-kind. The message of the Reformation (which we remember on Reformation Day, October 31st) is all about the amazing one-sided love of God who gave His Son, Jesus, for us even though we were completely undeserving. We can’t earn God’s love by what we do. And that’s the beauty of Him! God will never love and forgive you any less because of what you have done or haven’t done. God loves because of what Jesus has done in His living, dying for us, and rising to new eternal life!

This love of God builds a community of people, the Church, us locally who are St. Paul Lutheran Church of Amherst. We are regularly filled with God’s grace and love in worship and Communion. We then love each other, and our love becomes an attraction, an oasis in our broken world. God has given us what people are searching for! Now it’s our joy to share Him.

Our Ministry Plan is moving along as this month the new Guest Hospitality Team begins to meet. Their goal is to empower you, and all of us, to make the love of God so visible and tangible that people sit up and notice. They are just one part of our plan to grow in love. There are more teams to come and more opportunities for us to truly be loving, caring people as God moves in our hearts.

People today are also seeking hope. Families stick together hoping that their children will be safe, smart, and in the end successful. This means they are seeking hope for the future. In fact, the whole emphasis on “green” energy is really about creating a sense of hope for our world. People need hope.

Jesus’ resurrection provides hope that is much more than a guess or a vague wish. He gives new life! His resurrection has won the powerful Holy Spirit to come and live in people who trust in Christ. They learn to love God and other people. They have God’s power within to face any problem with realistic optimism and courage. They know that present troubles do not lead only to despair. Present troubles are “light and momentary compared with the surpassing glory” of heaven to come (Romans 8:18).

Who says that God is not needed or His Church is obsolete when He has given us His Love and Hope. We live these. We share these. It’s a winning recipe!

See you on Sunday,

Pastor Paul

Come Grow with Us This Fall

“Nothing has a greater impact on spiritual growth than reflecting on Scripture." That is the conclusion of a massive study that gathered data from participants in 1,000 congregations of a cross-section of Protestant denominations.

Notice the keyword “reflection” on Scripture. God’s Word comes in two forms. One is the familiar Bible of almost 800,000 words and over 1,000 pages. The other is the Word that is alive to comfort us, guide us, set us free in forgiveness, give us an inner hope for heaven, and change us now to be more loving, good, patient, and kind.

There are two ways to take in God’s Word. One way is reading the Bible for information. The other is reflecting on God’s Word for faith formation. The amount of information in the Bible is overwhelming, especially considering that the Old Testament covers 1,500 years. The New Testament is only one-fifth the total length and is more manageable, covering only about 100 years. It also focuses more on grace-centered living, not just history.

While reading the Bible is basic, the key to spiritual growth is reflecting on what you read with the questions, (1) “What does this show me about my sin and how much I need Jesus?” (2) “What does this show me about how God loves me even though I am sinful and undeserving?” (3) “What does this mean for my life now?” This is reading for formation.

Schools have started and many people head back to the classroom this time of year. This is a good reminder for you to grow in both knowing about God, and in knowing Jesus. Getting into a regular Bible study group is invaluable to knowing God.

See you on Sunday,

Pastor Paul

August is Grasshopper Month

I can always tell when August arrives. Other months are quiet. But not August. August shrieks and screams. You can hear it every hot muggy August day. The locusts in the trees start their symphony by rubbing their wings together (or maybe it’s their legs they rub together?) and we hear that familiar shrieking kind of sound. It starts out soft and slow and builds to faster and louder notes. Locusts are grasshoppers. August is grasshopper time.

brown grasshopper on pink flowerAugust grasshoppers remind me of a story about grasshoppers in the Bible. It’s not one of those eating wild honey and locust stories (yuk! Who would eat bugs?). This story of grasshoppers occurred when the People of Israel felt like grasshoppers. Yes, you read that last sentence right … the People of Israel felt like grasshoppers.

It happened when God freed the People of Israel from slavery in Egypt. God arranged for Moses to lead them through the dessert on the way up to the Promised Land.  God wanted to show the people how much He loved them by giving them a good land. The land was fertile and “flowing with milk and honey.” So, God asked them to send out spies or scouts to check out the Promised land and report back to the people what they saw.

Twelve spies went out. On their return they reported that the land God was giving them was prime real estate! It took two strong men to carry one cluster of grapes on a pole between themselves (can you imagine the size and number of grapes in one cluster so large that it would require two guys to carry it?!).

The scouts also reported that there were obstacles … BIG OBSTACLES that they hadn’t expected. The cities were fortified, there were lots of people, and the enemy soldiers were big and strong. (Here comes the grasshopper part!) They said, “All the people we saw there are of great size.  … We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them”  (Exodus 13:32b-33).  Allow me to paraphrase … “Our problems are so much bigger than we ever expected that we feel like a teeny-tiny bugs about to get squished!”

Big obstacles and problems can make us feel that way. We feel like a tiny bug in comparison to a big giant. We feel helpless and hopeless to face problems and come out winners. We can easily loose heart when suddenly we face problems larger than we expected, obstacles beyond our strength to overcome.

Its always been that way for God’s people. If we are about His business, doing His mission, we can surely expect to encounter obstacles larger than we ever dreamed possible. We feel like tiny, weak, helpless grasshoppers before strong giants. Maybe you feel like that personally right now. You are dealing with an illness. Your marriage is falling apart. Your expenses are growing and there are days left at the end of your monthly income. You never wanted these things to happen. You never dreamed they would. But they did happen and here you are powerless, feeling like a bug about to get squished under a giant’s foot.snow covered mountain under blue sky during daytime

At St. Paul, we can expect to encounter obstacles and problems much larger than we planned or imagined. When God’s people honestly seek to do His business in this world, we can expect obstacles and problems. This is nothing new. It’s always been this way for the People of God. The Enemy, Satan, will intentionally throw problems in our way to dishearten us. He wants us to give up. BIG OBSTACLES are not unusual for People of God. In fact, we should expect them.

The Key for God’s People is in HOW they face big challenges. When our focus is on God we don’t need to see ourselves as small, weak and helpless grasshoppers nor do we need to see our problems as insurmountable. When we focus on God and doing His work as He leads, then we know that He will be with us. Problems will certainly come, but they become opportunities for us to see the gracious hand of God active in our lives. God loves and delivers His people. No problem is too big for His power to handle.

As we at St. Paul begin to put into action our Ministry Plan for the Future, we will enter a time of change. We should expect obstacles.  But they need not create new and bigger fears in us than ever before. We need not turn back from the mission God has given us to share Christ and His saving love with all. Instead, we can look to God and trust that HE IS WITH US! He will guide and supply the power and wisdom needed to overcome all obstacles. Our God is mighty over all. And His love for you and me and His Church is so great that He will NEVER forget us our leave us without His strength.

So, enjoy the August grasshoppers again this summer. Their music brings praise to God’s ears. Yet, remember … a grasshopper you aren’t! Problems may seem  huge to us, .. but God can handle them. He won’t let us get squished. So trust in His power and love.

See you Sunday,
Pastor Paul

 

Building Up the Church

There are two parts to our interaction with other Christians, aren't there? There's what we get from them—preaching, teaching, communion, prayer, fellowship, concern, and love. But there's also what we give to them—and that's the bit it's so easy to forget about.

Paul says, "Strive to excel in building up the church .... In church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue." 1 Corinthians 14:12b-13  You have a role to play in the church. Some roles are very obvious: teacher, preacher, elder, trustee. Some roles get overlooked: garden weeder, organizer of the potlucks. Some roles may be known to no one but you and God: caller of lonely people, person who notices when someone is absent and quietly checks up to see that they're okay.

And above all, there is the pray-er, that is the person who regularly, faithfully, and in complete privacy asks God to meet the needs of the church - to protect the weak, provide for the poor, comfort the grieving, and inspire those who teach and preach. The church cannot do without those who pray, those who come into God's presence asking Him to do what we cannot. Pray-ers are vital to grow His church and to bring people to faith in Jesus.

No matter what your situation is, your presence is a blessing to the church.  How can it not be? You are a member of the body of Christ, and Jesus lives through you. He is the same Jesus who lay down His life for the church and for the whole world. The love that drove Him to the cross, the love that raised Him from the dead, and will raise you also -- that love is living and alive in you, a blessing to those around you.

The last Sunday in June we will express appreciation for all volunteer to serve Jesus in a ministry of St. Paul. There are so many people who serve, in so many different ways. All of you building up the faith of the people who are present, and reaching out to those who are not yet present. Be sure to join us Sunday, June 26th for Volunteer Appreciation Sunday.

The proposed Ministry Plan for Growth is a HUGE step in building up Christ’s Church. When the Plan is adopted, it will guide us to grow closer to God in Faith, to reach out with His love, and to help us all find our place in the ministry to serve Him. Please pick up a copy of the Ministry Plan for Growth in the church narthex, read it and download it at the church website (www.stpaulamherst.com), pray over it and think about it. Then join us at the Voters’ Assembly meeting on Sunday, June 12th, at 9:20am.

We hope to produce and share with you some videos to better explain the Ministry Plan for Growth. We hope to share those with you before Sunday June 12th.

A PRAYER: Dear Lord, live through me and use me to build up Your church in whatever way You see best. Amen.

See you Sunday,
Pastor Paul

 

Just DIFFERENT

Near St. Paul’s church building I saw a yard with home-made signs protesting the Supreme Court’s decision that abortion is not a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.  Whoever made the signs definitely had passion – maybe “anger” is the right word.

Everywhere we turn these days we see a collision of values.  Our society is a melting pot of people from different ethnicities.  When it comes to values and beliefs, however, our society doesn’t “melt” together anymore.  Instead, we have a diversity of beliefs and people tend to associate only with people who hold their same values.  The result is more fighting about beliefs and values than at any other time in our lives.

Christian values are just different than those held by others.  The values of a follower of Jesus Christ are shaped by God.  This is why throughout the centuries believers in Jesus have been rejected, ridiculed, and persecuted by their fellow citizens.  Their beliefs are just different.

NOT “My Body, My Choice”

Many, many people today insist that their body is their own to do with whatever they want to.  When an unborn child is (wrongly) viewed as part of the mother’s body, then the logical result is that a mother can end a pregnancy with a clean conscience just like one can get a tattoo, dye hair neon green, or become a strict vegan with a clean conscience.  Those are all decisions a person makes about “their own body,” we tend to think.  In that value system, the body is the property of that individual who is in sole charge over their flesh and bones.

In the Bible, Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth has a very, very different perspective.  Inspired by God, Paul wrote:  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,  for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20  Your body is NOT your property.  You were bought at the high price of the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for you.  He paid for your freedom from sin, death, and eternal hell.  God created your body.  It is a gift from Him.  The Holy Spirit lives within you.  Your body is to be used for a higher purpose – not to satisfy your whims, but to honor the One who loves you.  This is a very different value than “My Body, My Choice.”

NOT “My Personal Freedoms”

In many ways Christian beliefs agree with the founding values of our nation.  The Declaration of Independence says that people “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”  Christians believe that each individual is valuable and that God, not any form of government, gives individuals rights.

For Christians, however, our own rights are not our highest value.  Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write, Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”  1 Corinthians 8:9

There is something even more important than our personal rights and expressing our personal freedoms.  That’s LOVE.  Christ’s love moves us to always consider the impact we have on others.  The value to care for another person’s best interest is always more important to us than doing as we see fit – even if we have a right to do as we see fit.  This may call us to submit ourselves in service to others.  Afterall, Jesus submitted His personal rights for your sake.  He gave up heaven to come into our human nature.  Out of great love He served you even to the point of suffering a humiliating death on a cross!

Believing in Jesus and living for Him should transform each of us to stand out in our world as just different – refreshingly different!  God’s love in Christ Jesus truly is the answer our world needs right now, and always.

See you Sunday,
Pastor Paul

 

Building Up the Church

There are two parts to our interaction with other Christians, aren't there? There's what we get from them—preaching, teaching, communion, prayer, fellowship, concern, and love. But there's also what we give to them—and that's the bit it's so easy to forget about.

Paul says, "Strive to excel in building up the church .... In church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue." 1 Corinthians 14:12b-13  You have a role to play in the church. Some roles are very obvious: teacher, preacher, elder, trustee. Some roles get overlooked: garden weeder, organizer of the potlucks. Some roles may be known to no one but you and God: caller of lonely people, person who notices when someone is absent and quietly checks up to see that they're okay.

And above all, there is the pray-er, that is the person who regularly, faithfully, and in complete privacy asks God to meet the needs of the church - to protect the weak, provide for the poor, comfort the grieving, and inspire those who teach and preach. The church cannot do without those who pray, those who come into God's presence asking Him to do what we cannot. Pray-ers are vital to grow His church and to bring people to faith in Jesus.

No matter what your situation is, your presence is a blessing to the church.  How can it not be? You are a member of the body of Christ, and Jesus lives through you. He is the same Jesus who lay down His life for the church and for the whole world. The love that drove Him to the cross, the love that raised Him from the dead, and will raise you also -- that love is living and alive in you, a blessing to those around you.

The last Sunday in June we will express appreciation for all volunteer to serve Jesus in a ministry of St. Paul. There are so many people who serve, in so many different ways. All of you building up the faith of the people who are present, and reaching out to those who are not yet present. Be sure to join us Sunday, June 26th for Volunteer Appreciation Sunday.

The proposed Ministry Plan for Growth is a HUGE step in building up Christ’s Church. When the Plan is adopted, it will guide us to grow closer to God in Faith, to reach out with His love, and to help us all find our place in the ministry to serve Him. Please pick up a copy of the Ministry Plan for Growth in the church narthex, read it and download it at the church website (www.stpaulamherst.com), pray over it and think about it. Then join us at the Voters’ Assembly meeting on Sunday, June 12th, at 9:20am.

We hope to produce and share with you some videos to better explain the Ministry Plan for Growth. We hope to share those with you before Sunday June 12th.

A PRAYER: Dear Lord, live through me and use me to build up Your church in whatever way You see best. Amen.

See you Sunday,
Pastor Paul

 

Hold on to the Reality of Hope

The war in Ukraine adds one more item on our two-year list of collective crises. There is no need for me to rehash all that we’ve been through. Each crisis still sits like an unwanted guest who won’t leave. That doesn’t even include your own personal challenges that might be happening with your health, family, or job.

How well are you coping? When will you reach your breaking point? Maybe you are right on the brink of giving up.

Our Christian faith gives us HOPE. Especially the victory Jesus won in His Easter resurrection gives you hope. Jesus overcame the devil who wants to harm you and destroy your faith in Christ. Jesus overcame death which brings sicknesses and growing weakness as we age. Jesus overcame the grave which moves you to view life as pointless and so you want to chuck it all. If you have hope, then you will be able to get out of bed and face today’s challenges with resilience.

Your best days are yet to come. I have hope that this present crisis will pass, and we will return to relative peace and prosperity. But even if that doesn’t happen in our lifetimes, we can still have hope. You see, just as Jesus came the first time as a fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies,

He will come again, just as he promised. When He comes, He guarantees to all believers that He will “transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” Philippians 3:21. Then all nations will gather around Him and worship Him together in a renewed earth. Finally, peace forever more!

We don’t need to wait for His return, however, to experience this kind of hope. Even now, God is at work at many levels.

1. For some, God is using the present crisis to bring them to His side to escape even worse troubles. The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Isaiah 57:1

2. For some, the current crisis will bring people to repentance and faith. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

3. For some, this crisis will lead to a stronger faith and a deeper character. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

4. For some, this crisis will bring final judgment to the hardened sinner and peace to the righteous. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction. Psalm 1:5,6

Crises seem to roll in like ocean waves – one after another after another. It’s always been this way throughout time. The present War in Ukraine, and the problems in the economy might be followed by an even greater challenge. Even if that is the case, you do not have to give up. You can believe and live knowing your best days are yet to come. This is the certain promise of Easter’s open tomb. And if you have that hope in God’s goodness, you will remain resilient no matter what happens tomorrow.

See you Sunday,
Pastor Paul

 

Life or Death

All of us are a bundle of opinions on great movies we’ve seen, restaurants we like, favorite foods, coolest cars, and politics. These opinions are all over the place, and though people love to argue passionately about them, they are neither right nor wrong.

Some people would add religious beliefs to that mix and add that everybody’s religious opinions are just as valid for them as every other opinion. Religious “intolerance” is very unfashionable these days. Christianity, however, is not a religion or philosophy. It is reality, like gravity or the rotation of the earth. It is not one of many points of view. Its teachings are not true for some and not for others.

Jesus’ death and resurrection really happened in history. They are facts. There are eyewitnesses beyond number who testified that they witnessed these events. Even Jesus’ enemies record Jesus’ trial, death, and resurrection.

We could say, “So what if the events really happened.” You see, the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection will either be dismissed or change your life! All of Scripture foretold God would come to earth to save all people from sin. That the Savior would be sacrificed to pay for the sins of guilty people, and so many details of Christ’s death were promised centuries earlier. Jesus Himself clearly spoke of His death and resurrection before they happened. This means God keeps His promises. His Word is true. Everything Jesus promised is true!

Your grave will only be temporary. Checkmark – that’s true. You will be raised to new perfected life. Checkmark – that’s true. Eternal life in heaven is given to you now as a free gift. Checkmark – that’s true. Your past and present sins and the resulting guilt is completely erased. Checkmark – that’s true.  You can be certain now that your future is in eternal heaven. Checkmark – that’s true. God loves you more than you can understand and will never abandon you. Checkmark – that’s true. You can have hope in every situation knowing God is for you and will take you to heaven. Checkmark – that’s true. Your life has a meaning and purpose. Checkmark – that’s true. Even grief now is filled with hope. Checkmark – that’s true. The devil has been defeated and has no power to coerce you or condemn you. Checkmark – that’s true. Your faith and living are no longer driven by fear of God, but infused with JOY. Checkmark – that’s true.

Jesus’ death and resurrection is true. This is the difference between life or death for you … now everyday … and eternally!!!

This is the joy we celebrate always. And this April we remember these things on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.

I hope you’ll join us in worship services for these special days. They will build you up in what Christ your Savior has done for you. He’s the difference between Life and Death!

See you Sunday,
Pastor Paul

 

When I Grow Up

“When I grow up, I want to be weak and scrawny!” Nobody would ever say that! We don’t want any part of our lives to be weak and scrawny. We want to be strong both physically and spiritually. How does God give that strength to us? By feeding us.

Every parent knows what to say to a six-year-old who complains, “Why do I need to eat my peas?” The answer? “Because they’ll help you grow up big and strong.” God gives us the same answer for spiritual strength from His Word.

Imagine a world-class chef comes over to your house and says he will make you your favorite meal from scratch. All day long you smell the delicious aroma of the food being prepared in the kitchen. You’re getting hungry! Finally, he’s done preparing your meal and gives you a fork full. It’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten in your life. Would you tell him, “Thanks for the bite.  I don’t need anymore”? No! In fact, you probably wouldn’t want anyone watching you devour the rest. Why would you act that way? Because you tasted how good it is!

You’ve experienced how good Jesus and His promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation taste. You crave it! “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” 1 Peter 2: 2-3.

The first Wednesday of this month of March we begin the Church season of Lent. This is a time when we dive a little deeper in remembering that we have tasted how good our Lord Jesus is! We focus more on His amazing love that drove Him to give His life for all of us on a cross. That love gives us forgiveness and hope! That’s a love we can’t help but crave!

So, keep eating! Welcome to the Table. Each and every Sunday devour God’s goodness in worship services with your brothers and sisters in Jesus. Every day, fill up with nutrients that strengthen you when you have your quiet time of devotions / Bible reading and prayer.

The pandemic for a few months closed our church doors. The threat of catching the illness has kept many of us away. Now, friends, if you’ve been away from the table, its time to return. Please don’t get out of the habit of digesting the gourmet meal of grace God offers you. And if you know a familystack of cookies and glass of milk member, friend, or fellow Christian, you can – and should – encourage them to come back to the table of God. Remind them to crave God’s spiritual food, so that they too can grow up in salvation. Why? Because once you taste how good the Lord is, you just can’t get enough.  And there’s never a need for a diet from this wonderful food!

Keep eating your whole life! It’s how Jesus makes you strong.

See you Sunday,
Pastor Paul

 

Snow

To some of us “snow” is a four-letter word. Some flee from it to spend the winter months in places where the probability of snow is lower. Of course, you never know. Take last year’s “snow-maggedon” in Texas for example!

Do you remember the first time that you looked in amazement at the delicate nature of an individual snow flake? A single piece of dust is needed at the core for each individual snowflake. Each is symmetrical, having six points but they come in innumerable shapes and sizes. While each flake has features similar to all the others, each of the billions of snowflakes created is unique.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

Freshly fallen snow clinging to the branches of trees can be very beautiful. Especially in bright winter sunlight. The same snow can make walkways and streets slippery. Some stay in avoiding a fall. Some venture out. Some spin out.

Each snowflake starts with the imperfection of the tiny dust particle before turning into something beautiful. Each of us starts with the imperfection of original sin. But God takes us as we are and joins us with Him through our baptism. His Holy Spirit keeps growing our love for Jesus and others. He shapes us with His Word. We each have a unique purpose to serve Him in our own unique way.

Our Creator God “makes everything beautiful in its time.”  Even with our imperfections, He sent His Son to place over us His perfect innocence. Covered in the blood of Christ, we are beautiful in His eyes.

By itself, a single snowflake can’t do much. When they stick together they can stop traffic. When you join with your brothers and sisters in your church family, we can start an avalanche, sharing God’s Word with the world. Our imperfect world needs the redemptive grace of the Gospel. As each of us does our small part, the impact grows, just like a few snowflakes coming together can do big things. So, see you in worship on Sunday? YES!

See you Sunday,
Pastor Paul

 

Stop Santa!

Dennis the Menace, the old comic strip, shows Dennis hurrying into the living room holding a large box as his mom turns around, her mouth agape, as Dennis says, "Mom, we'd better call Santa Claus to forget about the train set I asked for. I just found this one in Dad's closet on the top shelf."

Do you remember searching the house for those most wanted Christmas gifts? Did you ever find one? Did you carefully try peeling back the wrapping paper to confirm what you thought was in the box? The anticipation of the gift was too much to handle. Be honest...were you a child or has it happened more recently?

Everyone loves getting Christmas gifts. The anticipation grows with each passing day. Finally the big day arrives and you get to open the much-expected gift. The overwhelming joy was obvious as you played with that new possession. But the newness often wears off as the days and weeks pass. It too often sits on the shelf, collecting dust.

Psalm 16:11 reminds us of what is really important. "You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." This gift, however, never grows old. Your living relationship with Jesus is renewed as you spend time with Him in your daily quiet time of reading His words and responding in prayer. here, and in a Bible study group with other believers God fills you with His amazing grace, draws you closer in trusting Him, and gives you much-needed guidance. Instead of gathering dust, this gift refreshes you continually.

You have the chance to make an eternal difference this season. All the time and effort, braving the crowded stores or if you dare, searching on the internet to save some steps, may still result in long lasting disappointment.

As you spend time trying to find the perfect gift for family and friends this Christmas Season, don't stop with a gift that may soon be set aside collecting dust. Find ways to share the perfect joy of the season, the birth of the Savior. it's the gift that keeps on giving day after day into eternity.

Check out the information on the Christmas worship services. Make a point that they are not only included in your holiday plans, but that they are the highlight of your plans. And invite your family, a friend, co-worker, or a neighbor to come along with you. If you need to coax them, tell them you'll treat them to a piece of pie after the service at your favorite restaurant where you'll talk over what you just heard and received. Out of all the many things going on this holiday season, Jesus is the One who can build you up, refresh you, and make you new inside!

Regular Sunday morning worship services and Wednesday night Advent worship services are also geared towards the reason for this season and are great to attend and invite others along with you.

May God grant you all a Christmas filled with overwhelming joy and gratitude at God's great love in sending His Son into this world to be your Savior and Hope!

See you Sunday,
Pastor Paul

 

The WHY of Church

I read an article by Dr. Peter Maier, Director of the Center for U.S. Missions. He gets at the central question we at St. Paul - and all churches - must constantly ask ourselves in everything we do. WHY?The question is simple, WHY?

A church must ask and answer these questions: Why do we do what we do? Why do we exist? Why does God want us here? Why has God put us in this place at this time? Why should anyone want to identify with our mission and work? Why will anyone care? Why will we make a difference in the world?

These are not general questions, but they are specific questions which take churches like ours to the very core or essence of an organization's existence.

It is the ultimate question.

In his book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek discusses a pattern he calls the Golden Circle. At the center of Sinek's Golden Circle is the WHY. The why is the heart, the passion, the cause and belief which defines your reason for existence. The why is surrounded by the HOW, which describes the actions the organization takes to bring the why to life (This is how we do the why). The how is what sets us apart, makes us unique or different. Finally, the WHAT follows. The what is the result, the product or services which can be expected or delivered. You can view Sinek's explanation in a TED Talk.

We at St Paul must periodically stop and ask again, WHY? Asking again is like checking the map on a long road trip. We continually need to refresh our sense of direction.

Two years ago St Paul developed a new Vision statement. Just as we began to implement new ministries, along came the pandemic and everything stopped. The pandemic also changed us, our church, and our community in significant ways. Our congregation needs to regain momentum, but we also need to tweek our direction. We need to revisit the Why, How, and What questions.

As Sinek notes time and again, "People don't buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it." People come on board because they emotionally sense that this church’s WHY fits who they are and to what they want to commit themselves. They believe what we believe and are drawn to this church for very personal reasons. For these reasons they will support this church and get personally involved in this group of people and join in this work we do together.

white and black wooden chairImagine what this means for our church.

We want people to identify with St. Paul not simply because generations of their family we part of the congregation. We want people to identify with St. Paul because they are passionate about what God is calling us to do together in this place, reaching the people in this particular community. We want them to commit because they believe as we do, that God's Kingdom has come and is being made visible in this place in us and through us. We want them to be eager to tell others the story of what God is doing in their lives and through this, their church.

Ultimately, the WHY for this family of God who call themselves St. Paul Lutheran Church of Amherst, Ohio comes from God's own heart - His compassion and concern for those who are far from Him, who have not yet come to know the joys of His kingdom. Ultimately, for me, the WHY we do this is best summarized in the words of St. Paul, "the love of Christ compels us." His love for me, for you, for the world is the WHY we partner with Him in His mission.

See you Sunday,
Pastor Paul

 

Giving Thanks is Unexpected

What would you do, what would you say if you had the world’s attention for a moment? If you were in the spotlight for just a minute and could share a message with the world, how would you use that minute?

I am so used to being bombarded. It feels that I have people “in my face” all the time telling me what to believe and think and do. It’s Hollywood stars who use their moment at an awards ceremony for their political or moral views. Its Instagram and Facebook and YouTube where I feel constantly like I’m being confronted, attacked, pushed, manipulated, or sold something. Athletes do celebration dances to promote themselves. But last summer a moment in the spotlight was used for something very unexpected – for giving thanks and praise to God.

The Fiji men’s rugby team did something even more pure and enjoyable. The rugby team got on their knees, they prayed to God in thanksgiving, and sang a hymn of praise. It was so beautiful. It's a traditional tune that contains these words, "We have overcome, by the blood of the lamb, and the word of the Lord, we have overcome."

It was a wonderful moment, and a wonderful reminder, that whether we win in rugby, or anything else, the most certain thing in the world is what Jesus Christ has done for us, not what we will ever do.

It was a wonderful moment that showed a group of Christians who didn’t concern themselves with seizing a minute of glory to perform, promote, or sell a point of view. Instead, they gave the control of that moment on the podium back to God. They simply responded in honest, heart-felt thanksgiving.

This reminds me that often the most powerful message we could ever send to others is when we don’t attempt to send any message at all. We give up trying to perform before others. Instead, we simply, honestly, humbly, give heart-felt thanks and praise to God for His blessings. It’s not only refreshing for ourselves to give God thanks. It’s refreshing for others to see when those of us who have received God’s grace give control of life back to God. Recognizing we are simply dependent on His goodness each and every day, admitting that so little in life is under our own control but all is under God’s direction, we just respond in thanks and praise to Him.

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.”  Psalm 9:1
See you Sunday,
Pastor Paul

 

Create a Daily Prayer Habit

Did you know prayer is mentioned more than 600 times in the Bible? Wow, that’s a lot! It must be really important!

When you have faith in our true God of love, then you naturally turn to Him in prayer. A person cannot pray without faith in the God who hears and answers according to what He knows is best for you.

Prayer is the first step in any plans or work we might do together as a church. Our programs will amount to nothing without first seeking God’s guidance and asking Him to work through us.

This month of October we are starting a very good Bible study, “When God’s People Pray.” There is an article in this newsletter that explains this study and gives you all the details. I hope you’ll read it. I hope you’ll sincerely pray asking God whether He wants you to plug in.

Talking to God doesn’t always feel easy, but if we want to know God more, then we need to know how to talk humbly and honestly with Him.

Here are three things that may encourage you as you draw near to God through prayer.
1. Keep it simple.  God isn’t concerned about how eloquent your words sound—He just wants to spend time with you. Some of the best conversations with God happen when you simply share what’s on your mind and then give Him the space to respond.  Try asking:
God, what should I do about … ?
God, what do You think about … ?
God, would You … ?
God, why did this … ?
2. Keep it real.  God isn’t going to get mad at you for being honest, so be authentic when you pray. Remember, nothing can separate you from God’s love. So if you’re not sure what to say, tell God that. If you’re frustrated about a situation, say so. He wants you to approach Him with confidence and boldness. Try saying:
I’m struggling with…
I need help with…
I don’t understand why…
I’m frustrated because…
3. Keep showing up. Praying might feel awkward at first, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Make prayer a habit by having at least a 5 minute conversation with God every day. Here are some conversation starters:
I’m hoping for…
I’m thankful for…
I’m excited because…
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  Philippians 4:6
See you Sunday,
Pastor Paul

 

Finish Well

Are you watching the Olympics? Beyond just watching the actual events, the media shares the back stories of some of the athletes that give us a glimpse into their lives. Their personal stories of the struggles they have overcome in their journey make us root for them even more. They are all striving for that ultimate prize – making the podium and having a gold medal placed around their neck. Many people see this as finishing well. These athletes have worked hard, overcame struggles, and earned the prize.
How about you? Any medals in your past? Proud moments? Awards on your wall? Those are certainly something to be proud of. You may have worked hard and overcome struggles in your life. Does that mean that you have finished well?

I’m asking because I’m not sure. I mean, it sounds about right. But what about those of us who worked hard and didn’t make it to the podium. Does this mean we won’t finish well?

The news reported today that Simone Biles, the US top gymnast bowed out of the team gymnastic competition. The team cited medical issues. Try to put yourself in Simone’s leotard for a moment. Stepping back from her team in the middle of an Olympic competition. That’s major. How about the rest of the team? Or the alternate who had to step up and take her place? Just think about it. The team leader, the girl with the gold, the event favorite, just stepped out of the competition and the team must move on with the competition without her. How do you finish well if you are Simone Biles? How does the team finish well?

Let’s look finishing well from the perspective of the Apostle Paul. He’s a famous, well-know Bible guy. How was his finish? Let’s look into 2 Timothy 4. Paul is currently in prison (think hole in the ground that could only be reached with a rope or ladder, no light, toilet, running water, … you get the picture). Anyhow, Paul has preached the Gospel for the past 30 years and had some scattered followers but not like we would imagine. He’s writing a letter to Timothy, and says, “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Paul is content knowing that he has done what God has called him to do and where he is headed once he dies. He wasn’t sharing the Gospel for his glory or to earn heaven.

He also charges Timothy with these words, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by is appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (4:1-2). And then Paul writes, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (4:5) Imagine Timothy reading this letter! It’s scary to think about filling Paul’s shoes, but Paul knew his time was at an end, but the need for spreading the Good News about Jesus needed to continue. To use an athletic metaphor, Paul was withdrawing from the competition. It was time for Timothy to step up. He knew what to do. He was a part of Paul’s ministry. Paul encouraged Timothy to keep things going for the sake of the Gospel.

Can we say that Paul finished well? Absolutely. He gained a crown of righteousness and passed the ministry of sharing the Good News onto Timothy. Paul knew that the sharing of Jesus needed to continue long after he was gone. One can almost imagine Paul sitting on the sidelines cheering Timothy on!

Back to the news report on the women’s Olympic gymnastic team. Competing without Biles, Suni Lee stepped up on the uneven bars and the balance beam. She posted a 15.400, tying her with Belgium’s Nina Derwael for the best score on the uneven bars.

In the balance beam, Lee secured a score of 14.133, the second-best in that event of the competition. At the end of the competition without Biles, the team earned a silver medal. They finished well.

And Simone? Despite her withdrawal, Simone never left the gym. She stayed on the sidelines and could be seen cheering on her teammates as they finished the competition without her. Simone Biles finished well.

And you? Will you finish well? Will you continue to share the legacy of faith that lives in you because of Jesus? Not for your glory, but that others may finish well and gain the crown of righteousness by knowing Jesus as their Savior. And if you have passed along the legacy of faith, well done. But stick around and give some encouragement from the sidelines, don’t hang out in the locker room, your team needs you.

Pastor Paul

 

St. Paul, like most churches, stopped meeting in person over the last year. A global pandemic, government regulations, and a desire to serve each other and society have kept us from gathering. We got used to worshipping on-line. It felt nice to see and hear the worship service while still in pajamas, sipping coffee at home. We held meetings and Bible studies “virtually,” and used technology to connect.

Now the threat of illness has lessened greatly. Government regulations are over. St. Paul feels more “normal” without social distancing and mask wearing mandates.

Yet, for many of us coming Back To Worship feels strange. Our sensitivities are heightened, our differences are on display, and no matter how safe we make it, some of our church family still can’t come.

With all this in mind, you may feel tempted not to come at all. If we made it through last year without in-person church gatherings, why should we even come back?

This is a valid question. Let me share with you 10 reasons to come Back To Worship unless you’re someone who needs to stay home for health reasons.

1. We are embodied creatures.
God made Adam from earth’s soil, Eve from Adam’s side, and humanity from their union. Humans are souls in male and female bodies. We’re not made to float in virtual space. We’re not just pixels and screennames, headshots on Zoom and Facetime. We’re human beings. We’re designed to see and hear and taste and touch and feel our way through the physical world God’s made. No loving couple gladly accepts a “long-distance relationship” as ideal. Neither should a loving church family.
2. The church is one body.
The Bible consistently teaches that the church is Christ’s body on earth. Each believer is a different body part, but we’re intricately knitted together.  Yes, even at a distance, we’re still Christ’s body. But like any healthy body, we shouldn’t want to stay dislocated.
3. The Spirit is drawing us.
Not only are believers one body, we also have one Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God who lives in God’s people, always drawing us toward unity. When believers are separated we feel the tension like a rubber band stretched too far. The Spirit within us yearns for us to be together, like that same rubber band pulling us back in.
4. We’re a spiritual family.
In the church, God is our Father and we are all spiritual brothers and sisters. Families aren’t meant to be separated. Healthy families live together, laugh together, cry together, and help each other. Parents with grown children love when the adult kids get together, and those parents are only fully satisfied when everyone’s present. We must be faithful during this season to reach out to those who can’t safely join us. But all who are able should seek to gather for our life-giving family reunions.
5. Hearing God’s Word together is a sacred moment.
We’ve grown used to watching our own pastor and leaders teach God’s word through WiFi and glass. In this digital environment, we must remember that preaching is at the core a live, sacred moment. Yes, it can be streamed and recorded and posted for virtual attendees and future hearers. But for a local family of believers, God’s word is best communicated live as the Spirit empowers the speaking of God’s word personally in a moment full of purpose and possibility. In these moments, pastors shepherd their own sheep, and sheep hear the voice of their shepherds. When we hear God’s word taught in a congregation, we are touched by our Lord and by each other. A feast enjoyed together is better than food eaten alone.
6. There is nothing like singing together.
There’s no experience on earth like singing together in worship to praise God.  Singing together symbolizes our unity as we repeat God’s truths in the same tune and rhythm. Singing together expresses our emotions to God. We can’t sing to each other through a TV or computer screen but singing together encourages each other.
7. We need Baptism and Communion.
Every believer needs to see and taste God’s grace personally. God communicates to us in sensory ways, on our earthly level in the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. After months without personal touch, our hearts need them more than we know.
8. You have a job to do.
The work of ministry isn’t mainly for pastors and leaders. It’s for every Christian. Every believer has spiritual gifts meant to be used, and our church body needs every body part to be active. When we stay home, we can still listen and give and call and text virtually. But there are many ways we simply can’t serve or encourage or build up Christ’s body unless we’re physically present.
9. Our worship is a witness.
Our friends and neighbors and coworkers walk through the same broken world we do, but without our hope and our map. They need to see the gospel’s transforming power displayed in a vivid picture – the picture of Christians who love God and serve each other in the most gracious and gritty ways.
10. Greetings change lives.
All over the New Testament, the writers not only greet the churches but ask Christians to greet each other. These greetings aren’t just an afterthought tacked onto the end of their letters. These greetings demonstrate the reconciling power of the gospel and the sharing of God’s love with one another. The way we greet each other, and just the fact that we greet each other, is central to our life and witness. Every greeting reflects God’s love, reunites Christ’s body, enables hospitality, cultivates selflessness, opens doors for ministry, and bears witness to the God who’s welcomed us through Christ.

We need to see each other. You might not be able to return right away for health reasons. But as soon as possible all God’s people must gather again. I hope you’ll join in. Our gatherings are a little taste of heaven to come. The Bible’s vision of heaven doesn’t look like a quarantine, a livestream, or a Zoom call. It’s a “face to face” encounter with the risen Christ and a worship-filled reunion with believers of all time and angels.

Now that it has become so much safer let’s gather together again—in person. See you on Sunday,

Pastor Paul

 

Ladies, We Men Need You

There are few things as powerful as a man who loves Jesus. Give a kid a dad who talks about God every day and tucks him in every night, and that child has a distinct advantage economically, socially, and spiritually.

Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family, writes: Nearly 20 million children in America—that’s almost 1 in 4—live without a father in the home. Sadly, children in this situation face unique challenges. Statistically, they’re more likely to grow up with financial challenges and more likely to drop out of school. Boys from fatherless homes are more likely to be involved in a violent crime, while girls are more likely to become pregnant as teenagers. In addition:

71% of all high school dropouts come from homes with absent fathers.

85% of all youth in prison come from fatherless homes.

90% of all homeless and runaway children come from fatherless environments.

70% of teen suicides occur in homes where there isn’t a dad.

A father’s involvement matters, and the earlier the better. But physical presence is only part of the equation. In many homes, the father is still on the scene in a technical sense, but emotionally absent. And again, research shows that children suffer when fathers are unable or unwilling to engage with their children on a meaningful level. In contrast, children thrive when they have involved fathers. For example, one study revealed that teens who described their fathers as “involved” or “highly involved” were 98 percent more likely to graduate from college than those who reported minimal father involvement. (Jim Daly, “Fatherhood: How to be the Dad Your Family Needs.” November 2019)

Perhaps that’s why Deborah in the Old Testament, once sang, “When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves—praise the Lord!” (Judges 5:2). The period of time Deborah lived in was the “time of the Judges.” It was a 400-year period known for wimpy, on-again-off-again commitment to God. Deborah was a strong woman, strongly committed to God, and a strong national leader. She pushed the “princes” in Israel to step up in faith and lead the people toward God.

If you are a husband, father, or grandfather, please remember this unique calling God has given to you in your family. Today you will lead the people in your life toward something and Someone. Take advantage of this “limited time offer” that God has given you to make that Someone the Savior of the world!

And if you’re a woman (married, single, divorced, or widowed), join Deborah’s song and spur the men in your life to love the Lord with all their hearts. Encourage them to find in Christ’s unconditional love all that their hearts really need. We men so often forget about God in the pursuit of here-and-now success. We need you to pray for us and to push us forward, because, as Deborah says, a man of faith is reason to praise the Lord!

The whole family is blessed – now, and in the generation to come.

So, men, we’ll see you on Sunday,
Pastor Paul

 

Lord, Place Us in Families

Lord, even when we are surrounded by people, we can feel so alone. We feel isolated and cut off from others because no one has our problems or is going through what we are going through. We are never alone, but the devil wants us to feel that way. It is easier for him to pick us off and take us down when we think we’re all alone.

When King David felt alone and under attack on every side, he said, “God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land” Psalm 68:6. So we ask you, Lord, to place us in as many families as you possibly can.

Make us who live under the same roof a close-knit family. Remove any serious conflict among us and help us stop the silly bickering over unimportant things.

Make us a family at work because we are all dedicated to being productive and earning an honest living.

Make our country a family of citizens who share the values of life, liberty, and happiness for everyone because we were all created by you.

Make our church a close and growing family because we listen to your Word, sing songs, and pray all at the same time.  Then we go out to live for the same Lord.

And when we are by ourselves, help us remember we are never alone. You are always our Father, and we are always your children. Jesus is always our brother and our Savior. Because of him, we are never alone.

Keep looking to Jesus,

   Pastor Paul

 

Hope

It’s on our minds a lot. We hope for the day that we won’t have to wear masks all the time. We hope we can freely visit lonely neighbors and elderly relatives. We hope that soon we will be able again to gather to celebrate and congratulate for an achievement that took years to accomplish.

Among all the living creatures on earth, hope is unique to human beings. We are like God in our planning for and dreaming about a future of meaning and purpose, justice and mercy and love. We are unlike God and like all other creatures on earth in our inability to affect our future. It seems that our hopes are for nothing.

That’s what a lot of people today would have you believe. Hope is just wishful thinking and nothing more. There is no meaning or purpose to life, so why hope for anything better? We are just accidental creatures in an accidental universe with no value. That’s why 60 million priceless human lives have been snuffed out by abortion in our country alone. That’s why people today experiment with alternate identities and anything that feels good temporarily.

This is also why very many people – a majority of people in our land – believe the message of Jesus’ Easter resurrection is just a fictional tale. It seems like nonsense to live looking forward to everlasting life in a world that, many believe, is just accidental. It seems preposterous to believe in death reversal in a world where, many believe, people like animals just die and that’s it– they are forgotten, life is over. The Easter message of Christ’s victory over death is as uncomfortable as an ice-bucket challenge dousing in the middle of winter.

Peter wrote about hope in his letter in the Bible. He states, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead….” 1 Peter 1:3 

Peter saw Jesus living again with his own eyes. At first, he didn’t believe Christ was resurrected. He had to be convinced. Peter wrote that your hope is “living” and comes “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” He is not describing a fictional tale, a happy thought, or merely wishful thinking. He talking the language of cold, hard facts. He SAW Jesus living again. This changed everything!

Your faith in Jesus who is living again, is not just knowledge. It’s more than just a strange-but-true fact in your head. Your faith is all of life!

Faith in this living hope guarantees complete forgiveness is certain so you don’t need to prove your worth to others. This changes the way you treat others everyday.

Faith in this living hope guarantees heaven to come is for sure so all people and living things have meaning and value. This changes your moral decisions. And moral decisions affect your politics and the values you stand up for.

Faith in this living hope shapes your purpose each day. You aren’t just making a living but preparing for life eternal and trying to bring as many with you as you can. Words at home and work and school become infused with the truth and grace of Jesus, and actions become humble and servant-like.

Everyday, Everywhere HOPE. LIVING hope! Just what we’re looking for.

Happy Easter,

Keep looking to Jesus,

   Pastor Paul

 

Life Blood

My doctor believes my blood is a window to my health.

For my annual physical there are a few in-person tests. But 99% of what the doctor checks for the status of my health flows from my blood. The doctor does a thorough job of checking for health problems inside and the functioning of lots of organs, all by studying the blood.

Tests with acronyms I’m unfamiliar with identify areas needing immediate addressing. Others belong on the watch list. I prefer when both of those categories are empty.

There’s a reason for the phrase life-blood. Actually, it’s slightly redundant. The dark red liquid carries the food and oxygen your body needs to every part of your body. The tip of your tongue and your thumb and your nose and your toe. Blood goes there. No blood, no life. Blood is life. When someone gives blood, she gives life.

The Old Testament spoke of blood sacrifices. Of animals’ blood being poured out and sprinkled onto people and altar in order for life to continue. It really must have been an amazing and gruesome scene when large numbers of animals’ blood was given as an exchange for people’s life-blood. The creatures’ lives were traded for the people’s lives. They deserved death for their sins, but received life instead.

The New Testament speaks of Jesus’ blood being poured out for the same reason. Only His sacrifice doesn’t need repeating. His blood possessed divine power woven into its very human reality. His life blood was enough to substitute for the life of all people. You included.

Within a month will come Good Friday. That’s the day we specially focus on Jesus’ blood given on the cross. He gave His life so you receive life forever. Not a fair trade, but a great one!

Each day, however, we need His infusion of new life. Each day there is a need to admit the deadly diseased sins of our lives, and receive a new bill of health in His forgiveness.

Health has been a topic of concern and conversation this year. Vaccines and masks and an infectious virus have been the focus of worries and the subject of chit-chat with neighbors. What an easy and smooth transition God has given each of us! While talking with others about health, stay on the same topic. Share the truth that death comes to all of us sooner or later because of sin. It’s in our blood. Jesus, however, gives the life we need and seek. Life today with hope. Life without guilt. Life with purpose. Eternal life in heaven. All as free gifts. Just what the doctor ordered!

Don’t miss this health check-up with your neighbors and friends. Hidden in this year of great concern for health is this God-given opportunity to share the healing love of Jesus. Maybe invite your neighbor over for Sunday morning coffee (socially-distanced) and watch St. Paul’s live stream service together. Don’t forget the coffee cake or donuts – even if the doctor says you need to cut out the sugar.

I like it when my blood stays inside my body. I don’t mind when the phlebotomist draws what looks to me like way too many tubes out for the doctor to see what’s going on inside my body. I don’t like it when a cut or scrape calls for a bandaid.

I like it even more that Jesus’ allowed His blood to be poured out for me. His blood brings me the life I truly need.

Jesus blood is a window to my soul.

Keep looking to Jesus,

   Pastor Paul

 

Norfolk

     I lived a year in Nebraska.  Internship to be a pastor is called “vicarage.”  Mine was in Grand Island.  That’s the center of Nebraska.  It’s also a world away for a 25 year-old who grew up in suburban Detroit.

People in Nebraska knew I wasn’t from around there when I pronounced the name of the town Norfolk.  I said it “Nor – Folk,” with an “L” in the middle of the word.  People snickered.  Everyone from Nebraska knows its “Nor-Fork.”  Fork, like the eating utensil.

Growing up in Michigan we could tell those people who weren’t from around there.  We’d hear them on TV often say “Deee-troy-t.”  Everyone I knew understood that the “E” isn’t long like a golf tee.  Natives rush past the beginning of the city’s name.  The “E” is more like the “E” in the middle of spaghetti.  Then we stick a hard “T” at the end.  It’s “Deh-troyT.”

So much of language and sound is contextual. It all depends on where you grew up and the rules of the region. Or family.

Some of us grew up where “God” was “Gawd” and meant hell-fire and brimstone. Others of us had a home full of “Jesus” multi-syllabically pronounced “Ja-ee-sus.” Which felt not as approachable as one would think.

Those of us claimed by Christ and sent into homes and world need to remember the words we use and the meaning they carry. Often people hear the words we share through the memories  of the sounds they made in their ears and in their heart decades ago.

Our calling is to share Jesus as the creator of all and lover of all. Who desires good for all. Who gave Himself as sacrifice for all.

Who knows how the world is designed to work because He made it. Who’s ultimate aim is to remake the world into one we never want to leave.

Who loves us dearly. Forever.

That’s the Jesus we know. And the Jesus the world needs to know.

Even if you say “Ja-ee-sus.” Or “Nor-fork.”

Keep looking to Jesus,

   Pastor Paul

 

What is Happening to our Nation?

The answer really shouldn’t surprise us.

Warning: I’m going to whine. I am really sick and tired of all the conflict in our country over the pandemic, politics, elections, race, and rights. Mostly what I am tired of is the finger pointing and blaming. No one, it seems, admits their wrongs. It is rare to find an honest and humble admission of one’s own guilt. The words “I’m sorry. I was wrong” seem to be lost. Instead, we hear constant “spin” about why the other guy is totally wrong. The other side is completely at fault and our side is 100% right and virtuous.

Our nation, it seems, has reached a low point of respect and kindness to one another. We daily witness hatred, rivalry, jealousy, angry outbursts, selfish ambition, conflict, and factions in news casts, politics, Facebook posts, and a barrage of emails. “What has happened to our nation that we treat one another with such lack of civility? Why can’t we even listen to one another’s viewpoint with respect for the person, even if we disagree? Why have differences of opinion spiraled downward into open hatred and contempt for one another, even erupting into violence?”

We are right to be concerned. Our nation’s struggles are internal, not from an evil foreign regime. We have turned against one another. We are far from united at this time in history.

As a Christian, God’s Word puts the present conflict into clear perspective. The problem is not a matter of red vs. blue, white vs. black, business vs. worker, or rich vs. poor. Knowing the true cause will lead us to the true solution. In the Bible, Galatians chapter five tells us why our country, or any country, business, church, or individual person degrades into hatred, rivalry, jealousy, angry outbursts, selfish ambition, conflict, and factions.

This is what God’s Word says:
19 Now, the effects of the corrupt nature are obvious: illicit sex, perversion, promiscuity, 20 idolatry, drug use, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, angry outbursts, selfish ambition, conflict, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild partying, and similar things. I’ve told you in the past and I’m telling you again that people who do these kinds of things will not inherit God’s kingdom. (Galatians 5:19-21, emphasis is mine)

Did you catch what God is saying here? The ugly bickering and hatred that is turning people against one another are “the effects of the corrupt nature.” People disconnected from Jesus naturally act these ways. “Garbage in – Garbage out” as the saying goes.

Over the last 60 years the people of our country have pushed God out of politics, TV, movies, schools, universities, courts, and most areas of our lives together. What is happening in our nation really shouldn’t surprise us. These are normal behaviors for people who live by their own opinions, not by the truth of God’s Word.

Some people have intentionally plotted and planned to remove God and Christian values from America. Others have acquiesced, silently going along. The absence of younger generations in Christian Churches of all kinds all across our nation, indicates that we are part of the later group. We haven’t adequately met the challenge of teaching Faith in Christ and Christian living in our homes, as the influence of an increasingly godless and human-centered society has grown over the years.

Don’t give up in despair! God also clearly tells us the solution. Again, in the Bible book of Galatians, chapter five, He goes on to teach us:
22 But the spiritual nature produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There are no laws against things like that. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their corrupt nature along with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by our spiritual nature, then our lives need to conform to our spiritual nature. 26 We can’t allow ourselves to act arrogantly and to provoke or envy each other. (Galatians 5:22-26, GOD’S WORD Translation, emphasis is mine).

The solution, Paul says, is the work of the spiritual nature. Staying connected to God and His Word, and then “walking the walk, not just talking the talk” is the answer.

It used to be that most people in America – politicians, university professors, actors, sports stars, judges – all agreed on basic Christian morals and truths. Whether they personally believed in Christ or not, the common morals gave our nation a starting foundation for discussion and agreement. Once we removed this foundation, only each person’s opinion and force are left. I believe this describes the current sad state of things.

The spiritual nature in you is shaped by your connection with God the Holy Spirit. The foundational discipline of daily quiet time with God in Scripture in pray, every-week worship, and family devotions in the home are essential ways to “hang out” with God the Holy Spirit. At home having the courage to teach the next generation the importance of faith with Jesus and discuss current events and values in the media in the light of what God says is right and true. With family it takes commitment to show the then next generation how to have personal and family devotional time, and how to plan a week around worshipping with other believers.

It may be costly to share your faith in Christ with others. Its unpopular at work and especially in the political realm. Still, speak your values and why you base what you believe on God’s truth. Eat with people at work who don’t know Jesus. Invite people to your home for dinner where you talk over the meal. It may not happen right now during the pandemic yet return to these habits as soon as possible.

It is my prayer and hope that our nation returns to peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I am sure it is your desire too. Let’s each do our part by strengthening our relationship with Jesus, living our faith regardless of the cost, and sharing our faith lovingly with others.

Keep looking to Jesus,

   Pastor Paul

 

Our World sure NEEDS Good News!

As we enter December, we the end of 2020 is in sight. We hope and pray that the light at the end of the tunnel is not a train headlight. This is some year! How people need good news!

How great it is to enter the season of Advent. We focus our minds and hearts on the good news that God HAS sent relief, a Savior, His Son, who cures all problems brought on us in this sorry, sin-broken world!

Our emphasis on worship on Sundays in December, and on Christmas, is right on target! The Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love of God are so sorely needed! How our hearts and lives need relief! And God has done just that for us all by giving His Son, born in Bethlehem’s manger, to be our Savior from  this world, death, and the power of the devil.

I hope you will join us for these worship services entitled “REDiscover Christmas.” Join us in person, or through the miracle of live stream by going to the church’s website at www.stpaulamherst.com.

At St. Paul we have just completed “What On Earth Am I Here For?”  Congratulations to so   many of you who took up the challenge to read the daily devotions for 42 days. We also had a  wonderful number of people participate in small group Bible studies. “What On Earth Am I Here For?”  has truly changed many people’s lives among us. We pray that this learning and the habits formed are not “completed” but on-going!

WHAT’S NEXT? In January we have several ways you can follow-up after “What On Earth Am I Here For?” to keep growing. Financial Peace University will be offered on nine Thursday nights beginning January 21st. “S.H.A.P.E. Discover Your Ministry” will be offered on four Monday nights, beginning January 11th. And we will keep the habit of having a daily time with God going as we challenge you to join us in reading through the whole Bible in 2021. Like you did this Fall, it will onlytake about 5 minutes each day, and we will offer you helpful short videos, so you understand the background of each day’s section you read. You can also listen to the Scripture selections as you  work-out or drive to work.

The coronavirus pandemic is surging once again in our community. We at St. Paul certainly want to take this seriously and do everything we can to keep everyone safe and healthy. The protocols we have in place have been working wonderfully, and we urge all of us to keep up the good work and continue to be extra cautious. We want you to know that we want to leave no one without the spiritual strength God gives us through worship and the sacraments. If you choose to not participate in in-person worship services, please join us by live-stream from your computer, table, smart-phone, or other device. For those who do not have this technology at home, just call the church office (440/ 988-4157) so we can send you written copies of the worship services and sermon messages. Private covid-safe Holy Communion is offered also. Just call the church office to schedule an appointment in December for you to receive Communion.

The pandemic has interrupted so many lives near and far! This year’s Christmas Offering at St. Paul is designed to reach out to people who have suffered to help them. “Let Love SHINE!” is our special gift to God above and beyond our regular offerings. We want to let the love of Jesus SHINE from us to people in need.

Blessed Advent and Christmas time, and as always Keep looking to Jesus,

   Pastor Paul

 

Refreshments, Anyone?

There’s a phrase in the English language that’s better than most things we hear these days. I’m speaking of the statement: “There will be refreshments.”

What a great sentence to hear! On a hot day refreshments are a glass of fruit punch, ice tea, or a bottle of “Lutheran pop.”  After a music concert at the local school, refreshments include lemon bars stack of cookies and glass of milkand chocolate mint brownies.  In this Fall season, refreshments bring to mind hot cider or hot cocoa with donuts.  And a time for refreshments includes fellowship, people gathering together for a common purpose, enjoying one another’s company. “Refreshments, Anyone?”

During this pandemic every activity or special event is being canceled or moved into the virtual realm.  We haven’t heard that phrase very much lately. And that’s a shame, because with this world being as crazy and hard as it is, I think we could all use refreshments right now. And I’m not just speaking of juice or cheese and crackers. We all really need emotional and spiritual refreshment.

Are you weary? Weary of politics, weary of germs, weary of virtual school, weary of unemployment, weary of worry? I know I am. I am feeling worn out from everything seeming so much more difficult and draining these days. Simple things take so much energy.  When we get too involved with the world, our hearts and our spirits plummet and we need to be refreshed.

The word refreshing denotes any kind of rest or deliverance from evils or troubles of all types. It could be cool water to drink on a hot day. It could be a Saturday afternoon nap after a long week of work. It could be a belly laugh with a friend. But the greatest kind of refreshment? God.

God says the best words to us; He has promised that there will be refreshment  . . .

In His Word
Going to God brings renewal and restoration. When Jesus walked among us on earth healing the sick and dealing with the sin-sick, He, too, became drained and world-weary. When Jesus needed refreshment, he turned to his Father in heaven. God is the ultimate refresher. “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Go to God. Go to his Word, where he has promised, “I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint” (Jeremiah 31:25). In his Word, God works to refresh you.

In Prayer
The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 15:30-32, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe . . . so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed.” Paul asked for prayer because prayer refreshes our souls.  We get a clearer view of how little we really control in our lives, and how great is God’s power to help and heal.  In prayer we get a clearer view that we are God’s children who turn to our Heavenly Father whose love is constant and His love is huge. So pray without ceasing. Pray with others. Pray for others. Ask others to pray for you. In prayer, there’s refreshment.

In His People
God has given us the gift of people. Find those people and those relationships that refresh you and give you energy. Be that sort of affirming person for others. Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” As God’s people, we should be building each other up, especially in our current times. Politics and mandates and strong opinions threaten to divide us. It’s easy to distance ourselves from others right now, but that’s not what God wants. Paul urges us in Romans chapter 15: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement [read: refreshment] give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verses 5,6)  And later, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (verse 13). We really need the refreshment given in Christian fellowship and unity.  This pandemic has moved us to be much more grateful for the gift of one another.

Let’s not get down in the dumps.  Yes, we are weary.  But all is not lost!  God has not left us in this weary life on earth forever. This world and this life are not all there is. Jesus suffered and died so that we can enjoy the ultimate refresh of our souls. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).

So when you sit down to the Thanksgiving table this month, whether it be with family and friends in the room with you or only with you virtually, still enjoy an extra slice of pie.  Have a glass of wine, or a mug of hot cider.  Enjoy the gifts God’s given for your physical refreshment.  And most importantly, thank Him that He’s GOT this.  He’s got you and your life.  He’s got this world and its problems.  He’s got the power of sin and evil.  And He’s got heaven waiting for you.

And in heaven do you know what? There will be refreshments.

Keep looking to Jesus,     Pastor Paul

 

Freedom, Fear, and Faith

This presidential election year seems to be especially bitter. I feel like the tone of speech is less civil than other election years. Maybe that’s just my memory playing tricks on me, because other election years have been ugly too. For sure the stress this year has lowered my ability to cope emotionally with the mud-slinging of the political parties. The ongoing pandemic, the economic problems, the rioting in some cities, the concern over racial equality issues, the differing views on controversial issues in our nation, and the uncertainty over who is truthful and trustworthy and who is not – these are exhausting for us all. Enough, already! On top of this, we are in an election year, and voting is already beginning.

Lutheran Christians have a unique view of society. Martin Luther’s doctrine of “Two Kingdoms” has profoundly affected the world for 500 years. We believe that God has created two different institutions on earth that complement each other. God has given authority to the “Kingdom of the Right” to accomplish the “right-hand” work of God, which is the saving of souls. The “Kingdom of the Right” is the Church, which God has empowered to use His Word to condemn sin which leads people to repentance, and then proclaim Jesus’ gifts of forgiveness and heaven. The Church is not to run the government or gather earthly kinds of power. The Kingdom of the Left, on the other hand, is the work God has given the government. God’s “left-hand work” is given to the government to stop sinful violence, insure justice, and create peace. Where there is peace, the Church can do God’s right-hand work of proclaiming Jesus unhindered. It is not the right of the government to interfere in religious belief, personal morality, or matters of conscience. That’s a brief summary of an important doctrine we must keep clear in our minds.

What’s this have to do with this year’s election? Actually, a whole lot!

First, let God’s Word inform your conscience and vote according to God’s Word. It’s popular these days to hear that our faith is to be kept at home, and not used in society. We often hear that separation of Church and State means that your faith has no place in society. This is wrong thinking! You are a person of faith. Your faith cannot be separated from you, the person who is a citizen. You obey God in all things. You obey God who has established the government when you follow the laws and honor our nation’s leaders. You obey the government even when your personal views disagree with the government and politicians. The exception is when the government crosses the line and tries to govern your morals and conscience. Then you still obey God, even if doing so means disobeying the government and suffering the punishment.

When you step into the voting booth, don’t leave your faith at home. Even in the voting booth we are bound by a faith-informed personal conscience. Our conscience is guided by God’s Word alone. In matters that are not matters of conscience, study the issues and vote according to your best judgement.

Think of St. Paul who urged obedience to “kings and all those in authority” when the king in his day was the Roman Caesar. Caesar was a horrible governing power who persecuted Christians for their faith in Christ. Yet, Paul recognized that the government was nevertheless given by God and to be obeyed. Paul did not, however, worship the Caesar who claimed to be a god and demanded by law that all citizens worship him as god. For that, Paul would stand on his faith, and suffer death rather than obey that law.

When God’s Word informs your conscience, you vote according to your values, your beliefs, your

morals. This means study the policies the candidates and parties stand for. Don’t vote according to the candidates’ personalities. All politicians and parties are sinful humans and full of shortcomings. None of them are perfect. So don’t look at a candidate’s weaknesses. Instead, study their beliefs, their values, their policies. Then compare their policies with God’s Word, and vote accordingly. If you take this approach you will find that a lot of the drama of the election and the bitter rhetoric will become secondary, and you will find more peace.

Secondly, the doctrine of two Kingdoms means that we obey God by treating all people with respect. Jesus commands us to “love our enemies.” We “love our neighbors as we love ourselves.” We will not be shamed into compromising our convictions to go along with the pressure of the crowd. We stand on God’s Word, even when doing so disagrees with the popular view or brings criticism and pain to us. When we must disagree, we disagree without being disagreeable.  We do not use a spirit of insults, rage, anger, or arrogance.

Thirdly, our belief in God’s two Kingdoms means that we do not look to the government to create heaven on earth. We live in a world broken by sin. No government can create utopia on earth. Government is not the savior of the human race, but God is. No form of government, whether a king or queen, a parliament, a committee, or a president is singled out by God as the only “right” form of government. All forms of government are, however, to obey God, who is the Almighty Ruler over all.

So, you see, “your candidate,” and “your side” may not win. That’s not the end of the world. If “you lose” the election, all the more pray for your rulers. Obey your rulers as they act according to God’s Word. Be prepared at all times to make known your convictions which are guided by God’s Word, and suffer the consequences if you must.

And always, always remember, God is on His throne. He remains King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus is coming again to take us to heaven.

Keep looking to Jesus,     Pastor Paul

 

Feeling Overwhelmed?

There is so much going on it “makes my head spin” as we say. It’s so much, so fast, so many troubles that it feels disorienting. Today as I write (Thursday, August 27, 2020) Hurricane Laura has brought devastation to the south. In years past, a hurricane of that magnitude would have united our nation as one to help and heal the region. People would send money to relief organizations, and perhaps sign up for a team to go to the disaster area to clear debris and help rebuild. This year, Hurricane Laura seems like just a footnote among other problems.

Problems seem to swarm like bees threatening to sting. Today is the first day of school in Amherst. Teachers, students, parents, and administrators all have concerns, and a heightened awareness of the threats of danger from virus. Most feel worried and anxious.

Professional sports teams tonight are joining in the protests of the most recent racial disturbance, prompted by a shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rioting is taking place in some cities and we wonder, “If it can happen there, will in happen here?” We become worried.

Coronavirus continues to spread, businesses struggle, families are worried over finances. At least politics has calmed down to the usual mud-slinging of a presidential election year (sarcasm).

When people are stressed and anxious, psychologists tell us, we tend to over-react. We respond to people and events with more worry, more fear than is warranted. When we do not have calm minds and hearts, we are less likely to listen to others with understanding. So we become angry, or opinionated, or withdraw into despair, depression, or apathy. We have seen these responses in people around us, probably even in ourselves to some degree.

How does faith in Jesus Christ help us when so much seems to be melting down? What answers does God give us to cope?

Besides the obvious answers that racism, hatred, and defaming or belittling others is wrong; besides the truth that hurricanes, wildfires, and pandemics are the result of a world broken by sin; besides the wisdom that worry accomplishes nothing; let us remember that God’s GOT this!

Psalm 46 boldly, defiantly proclaims that when troubles come like a swarm of hornets, when troubles come with a power that is beyond our control, God remains the Creator of this world with all its problems. And He has power mightier than anything to come at us. Psalm 46 has a refrain that was sung repeatedly through the song. That refrain is the last line below, “The God of angel armies protects us!” The writer lifts our eyes up from our problems, which indeed are big problems, to the God of angel armies. His might fills the universe and heaven! He is the one who protects us!

1 God is our refuge and strength,
   always ready to help in times of trouble.
2 So we will not fear when earthquakes come
   and the mountains crumble into the sea.
3 Let the oceans roar and foam.
   Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
The God of angel armies protects us!      Psalm 46: 1-3.

I don’t know if the Psalm writer ever faced a pandemic, racial unrest, disunity, and financial troubles – all at the same time. He compares his problems to earthquakes, landslides, and tidal waves. All are problems so big we stand helpless against them. Still, notice these promises:

  1.  “God is our refuge and strength”   You rely the God of angel armies, not on your strength, wisdom, financial picture, or on the government. GOD is the One to turn to.
  2. “…Always ready to help in times of trouble.”    God is not caught by surprise when troubles come on you, and He is never absent. He is always available to help in times of trouble so you turn to Him.
  3.  “So we will not fear when” … you name the problem. No matter how great it is, we will not fear. The truths that God is mighty, and present, and loving make a difference in your life. You will not be afraid. You can remain calm and at peace in your mind and heart. You can remain able to listen and understand others’ point of view; able to have empathy and compassion; able to offer words of hope and encouragement.

The next time you feel overwhelmed, try repeating this refrain several times to yourself: “The God of angel armies protects [ME]!” Lift up your eyes to the One who rules all in power and love. And then with peace and joy go about your day.

Keep looking to Jesus,     Pastor Paul

 

So much is going on right now! Does God have answers?

Maybe you catch the news and wonder how God could allow all the messes we’re seeing around us. If that’s you, you’re not alone, and I invite you to examine God’s perspective on some of the big issues in our country today. I’m convinced what God says is the best and most beautiful answer you’ll find.

Race

Racial tensions are high right now. The discussions over how to talk about which lives matter have revealed ugly perspectives and unloving reactions. People debate how best to deal with it, what needs to change, and how to educate. These are necessary discussions.  They fall short, however, without God’s perspective.

Each person is wonderfully made by God, and He’s the one who made beautiful diversity among humanity and throughout all creation. Did you know that God designed 10,000 species of birds and 350,000 different species of beetles?  I love the fascinating variety of birds, and frankly, I could do without the beetles.  Yet God delights in every single one!  He loves diversity.  God is so joyful and loving that He does not create human beings from the same mold.  No two are alike.  He chooses what family we’ll be born into and the color of our skin. No one should ever be made to feel they have to apologize for their race or feel inferior because of it. Race matters to him. Yet God doesn’t let race influence how He deals with people. In ancient terms, there is neither Jew nor Gentile in his sight. All people are saved in only one way, and that is by faith in His gracious gift of forgiveness won by His Son, Jesus Christ.  Your race doesn’t matter at all when it comes to forgiveness, acceptance into His family, and claiming your place in heaven.

Who else could maintain such a balance of celebrating racial diversity while perfectly avoiding any racial inequality all at the same time? Only God.

Guilt

Our nation is rethinking people and events of our past.  We aren’t always proud of everything they have done. Some are responding by tearing down statues of these individuals or scrubbing away public mention of them. Others come to their defense to preserve history and what good contributions these people made, despite their failures.

God has a different way of dealing with past sins and guilt. He never excuses it, but he also doesn’t ask us to hide it. He invites us to lay it out in the open with all its ugly truth. And He takes it upon himself. This is the reason for the cross: God dealt with human brokenness. He let himself be humiliated publicly, stripped naked, mocked, and executed to take away human guilt once and for all. So, no matter what anyone’s done—no matter their past—forgiveness is offered freely. That’s true for you and me too.

God tells us that no human living this side of heaven is sinless or guiltless.  Often we view other people as being all one thing or all another.  We often see others as innocent OR guilty.  God tells us that guilt and goodness are not mutually exclusive in us people whose hearts are tainted by sin to the core.  We remain both sinner and saint as long as we live on earth.  We can thank God for people in the past who have done things which are blessings to us today.  Yet when we praise a person instead of God, we are on dangerous ground.

Sickness And Death

COVID-19 has made people of all ages contemplate illness and the reality of their mortality. That can be good if doing so leads us to realize our need for Jesus.  Our society, however, has taught Evolution for 50+ years in schools and universities and now calls Evolution “science” even though scientific data contradicts rather than supports evolutionary theory.  Evolution teaches that sickness and death are actually good because when people die the strong survive and species improve. But I don’t know anyone who’s actually okay with saying that. There’s something inside of us that values life more than that and doesn’t want anyone to die.  It is because we value human life that we have health care professionals who have heroically battled covid19.

Do you know who values life most and never wants anyone to perish? God. He’s not okay with death. He made us to live with immortal souls. Moral failures brought death, but Jesus came not only to die but actually to come back to life again. He promises that by believing in him, you will live forever in an existence that is better than anything you can imagine—a heaven with no more sickness, sorrow, or death.

Who else could acknowledge the sorrow of death and also overcome it by offering life after death that is so much better than this life? Only God.

This brief article can’t go into every nuance of these complex issues.  Still, I hope you have come to realize one thing that is very, very important.  In all the craziness, all the complex questions, all the stress and exhaustion the events of this year have brought on us, one thing is very clear:  God’s answers are still the best and most beautiful ones you’ll find!

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Romans 11:33.

Keep looking to Jesus,     Pastor Paul

 

I used to be Indignant. Now the Holy Spirit is at work to make me Compassionate.

 

A year ago I had a problem with all that talk about “white privilege” and I really had no idea why Colin Kaepernick felt compelled to take a knee during the singing of the National Anthem before football games.  I never thought of myself as privileged.  And I sure didn’t see what the big deal was that football players were so upset about.

I reacted the way I have heard many of us react. Emotionally.

That’s how many of us respond.  We recoil at phrases like, “white privilege,” “systemic racism” and “Black lives matter.”  We feel indignant.  We push back.  We defend ourselves.  We refuse to concede that we are in anyway complicit – even unknowingly – with racism in America.

That was last year.  Now, with all of the marches and protests going on, I am taking a second look.  And this time I find myself digging deeper into what this issue is all about.  Through it, the Holy Spirit is at work to transform being indignant into compassion.

What happened?  I credit Christian brothers I trust for sharing with me (1) history I had not known, (2) stories from Black colleagues I had not heard, and (3) The Holy Spirit working to have the scales of my eyes fall away.

Learning history I had not known.  For an amazingly packed, 17-minute history lesson, check out this video by Veggie Tale creator, Phil Vischer: Click HERE  That video is like drinking from a fire hose, but wow, does it ever put the lives of black people in a new light for me.  LCMS Pastor William Cwirla offers an insightful overview of the meaning of “black lives matter.”   Click HERE

       Hearing stories from Black colleagues I had not heard.  I met Rev. John Nunes when he and his wife first started in ministry as a pastor in an inner city Detroit Lutheran Church.  I’ve heard him speak several times since then.  Now, Rev. Dr. John Nunes, is the President of Concordia College New York, one of our LC-MS colleges.  His story is amazing, very articulate, well rooted in Biblical insights.  You can listen here: Click HERE

The Holy Spirit working to have the scales of my eyes fall away.   Yes, God has been messing with me through recent events to make me sit up, take notice and finally see what had always been right in front of me but unrecognized by me.  If God hasn’t been messing with you lately on this issue of justice, He will if you’ll let Him or ask Him.

For a powerful example of honest, Law/Gospel preaching concerning personal racism from a LCMS pastor, watch Pastor Michael Saylor’s courageous message from June 7 in Convoy, Ohio. Go to the 30-minute mark in the video to view the sermon: Click HERE

 

I never thought of myself as being sheltered from other races of people.  I have lived and studied and worked closely with people of color since I was in high school.  Still, I was recently shocked when I learned that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), is the third whitest denomination in the U.S.  For the data, Click HERE.  What is it that makes Lutherans “so white,” so unable to reflect the racial make-up of their local communities?  I never realized this because I attend a Lutheran congregation every Sunday, and I don’t have the opportunity very often to visit other churches to notice the difference in racial diversity.   It makes me wonder:  What are we not facing?  What will the future hold for St. Paul and all Lutheran congregations as the country becomes more and more racially diverse?

On top of that, I learned the average age of people in our church body, the LCMS, is among the oldest of U.S. denominations. Only 1 of 10 adults in the LCMS are under age 30. Wow. For the data, Click HERE.  Why is our average age relevant to how we are or are not dealing with our racism? An annual poll conducted by Youth-Pulse asks young people ages 13-37 to tell them the biggest problems their generation faces right now. Racism topped the list. What is significant is that this year’s poll was taken BEFORE the killing of George Floyd.

People of color and young people are wondering why folks like me have been baffled to understand what’s wrong.  Now, I, too, have to wonder why I have been so indignant, so offended by these facts that I have reacted emotionally.

It’s my prayer that we all (1) Learn the history.  (2) Hear the stories.  (3) Pray for the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and your heart.

Will we remain the indignant ones or by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit begin to have our attitudes and actions transformed?  Our community is watching.  Our young adults are watching.   Our God is inviting and waiting.

Keep looking to Jesus,     Pastor Paul

 

George Floyd and Psalm 10

Note to Readers: I haven’t written you for a few weeks. I am sending you this Enews to better share with you the changes we are going through together at St. Paul. This week I came across a very helpful article written for Time of Grace ministries. I share his article by Pastor Ben Sadler with you in its entirety.
by Pastor Ben Sadler   Time of Grace Blog, June 15, 2020
Our country continues to process the mind-breaking emotions of Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for nine minutes. In response, some are engaging in peaceful protests. Others are organizing prayer walks. Others are fighting for better legislation. Still others are setting up interracial dialogue.
When I hear about bloodshed, I run to Psalm 10. It gives words to my feelings of helplessness, fear, anger, and doubt. Most important, it ends with a message of hope.
Let’s walk through this psalm together.
1 Why, LORD, do you stand far off?
    Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
The psalm permits us to pound on God’s chest with all our doubts and frustrations. Speak to God what’s on your heart. He can handle it. “Lord, where were you? Why didn’t you stop Officer Chauvin? Lord, you had nine minutes to intervene. Why didn’t you do something to save George Floyd from dying?”
2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
    who are caught in the schemes he devises.
3 He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
    he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD.
4 In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
    in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
5 His ways are always prosperous;
    your laws are rejected by him;
    he sneers at all his enemies.
6 He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
    He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”
This section voices the concern of so many, namely, that the wicked will not be brought to justice. Again, the psalmist is giving us room to speak from our hearts about our greatest concerns.
7 His mouth is full of lies and threats;
    trouble and evil are under his tongue.
8 He lies in wait near the villages;
    from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
9   like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
    he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
10 His victims are crushed, they collapse;
    they fall under his strength.
11 He says to himself, “God will never notice;
    he covers his face and never sees.”
I didn’t have the stomach to watch the video footage, but from the preliminary reports and the autopsy, it seemed like Chauvin treated his victim like a lion pursuing his prey. He seemed to show no mercy. He was being paid to protect life, yet he used his power to harm.
12 Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God.
    Do not forget the helpless.
13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
    Why does he say to himself,
    “He won’t call me to account”?
Such violence and wickedness can leave us feeling utterly helpless. So we call out to God to live up to his name and his character. We call out to God to be who he says he is. “Lord, you are a just and loving God. Where is your justice? Where is your love?”
14 But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
    you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
    you are the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked man;
    call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
    that would not otherwise be found out.
This is where the psalmist takes a step of faith. He believes that God does see the victims, and God feels their pain. He does see the wicked, and he will bring them all to justice. Thankfully, Chauvin will stand before an earthly judge. But more important, he will have to answer before the Lord, the ultimate Judge.
16 The LORD is King for ever and ever;
    the nations will perish from his land.
17 You, LORD, hear the desire of the afflicted;
    you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
    so that mere earthly mortals
    will never again strike terror.
The psalmist began in pain and ends with praise. He believes that God is still the King over all. He believes that the afflicted are heard and will be encouraged. But the wicked will be brought to justice so that they might never strike terror again.
I know our feelings of pain might not turn to praise as quickly as the psalmist, but we can at least take a step of faith today. We don’t have to seek vengeance because God will. Only he knows the hearts of all those involved. Only he knows what judgments are true and right. We don’t have to live in fear because our good God still reigns.
Now is the time to pray for justice and peace, to pray that God will use his governing authorities to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. Finally, let us all turn to our Savior with repentant hearts that he might restore all our souls.
Keep looking to Jesus,     Pastor Paul

 

Should Christians Wear Face-Masks?

I’m real sure the Bible doesn’t have any verses that mention wearing face masks during a coronavirus pandemic.  I am, however, hearing Christians express their views about whether or not to wear one as if that view was Gospel truth from the lips of Jesus Himself.  That concerns me.

I’m not a scientist, an expert on viral transmission, or a medical doctor.  I’ve heard and read arguments to wear a face mask, and others why one should not be required to wear a face mask.  I know that our State, County, and national health officials insist that wearing one in public is the right thing to do to slow down the spread of covid19.  I’ve heard the arguments about personal liberty in a free country.  I’ve also heard some pretty good jokes about face masks and laughed, and seen some amazingly creative ones.

The Bible doesn’t address every specific problem we will encounter in our day and age.  God does, however, give us principles in His Word that guide our everyday living.  In the Bible book of 1 Corinthians Paul writes two entire chapters about a pressing issue of his day.  The issue was whether or not Christians should eat meat that had been used as a sacrifice to a false idol god.  The principles Paul lays out in chapters eight and nine (it’s less than a 5 minute read.  So go ahead; we will wait) come down to it doesn’t really matter what the facts or your rights allow.  What matters is your love for other people.

Let me translate Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 8 & 9 into today’s issue about wearing face masks or not.  The Biblical principles boil down to this: It doesn’t matter what you believe about wearing masks — it matters what those around you believe about wearing masks. Because we aren’t being asked to wear masks to protect ourselves, we are asked to wear masks to protect others.

Even if a Christian believes that the fear surrounding COVID-19 is not justified, that fear is still real. And Jesus didn’t insult or belittle people who were afraid. He went out of his way to come alongside them. Jesus went out of his way to show — in his flesh — that their lives mattered to him. He fed people, even though they’d get hungry again. He healed people, even though they’d get sick again. He raised people from the dead, even though they would die again. He didn’t lecture them about risks and personal responsibility. He cared for them in practical ways that showed his love for them. He didn’t mock those who were afraid. He relieved their fears.

Wearing a mask is a practical way to show that you love your neighbor, to lift the burden of someone who is afraid instead of adding to it. And if you don’t believe that masks are necessary and you wear one anyway — then that is an even more extraordinary witness of selfless love. Wearing a mask is uncomfortable and inconvenient and a lot of the time it makes you look foolish. But that’s a pretty good description of what it feels like to love somebody.

Keep looking to Jesus,     Pastor Paul

 

Interruption or Transformation?

A few days before Palm Sunday this year I made an unpleasant discovery.  I discovered the carpet in my basement family room was all wet!  Oh no!  The water heater gave out and leaked.  After several hours of mopping up water and the shrill scream of the wet vac, I had the water under control.  Another two days and a new hot water heater was installed.  Another week later and the fans were shut down and furniture moved back in place.  What a pain!  It was an expense I didn’t want, but things were back to normal after a short while.

We all have had lots of interruptions in our lives like water leaks, car break-downs, and sick kids.  Other events, however, changes our lives forever.

The birth of our first-born was probably the biggest one.  Anyone who has lived through that knows what a change that is!  I had no idea how big a change that would be until the day we brought our first-born home from the hospital.  Before that day, I thought we would take this big event in stride.  After all, we were living in the same house, same jobs, same friends.  But once that little one was carried into our home, life was never the same again!  That was not a temporary interruption, but a transformation of life!

There are other transformations in life: high school graduation, wedding day, college graduation – just to name a few.

I recently listened to nationally respected researchers on church life.  They say the covid19 pandemic is not an interruption in the life of Christian congregations.  It’s a transformation.  In other words, we are in the midst of an event so big that our churches will never be the same again.  We will be permanently changed.

In the Bible God orchestrated many such events.  One big transformation we remember today.  This Thursday is Ascension Day.    Forty days after Easter, Jesus was taken up into heaven and took His rightful place again as Lord of the Universe.  He promised the disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to empower them and guide them.  No longer was Jesus the only teacher.  He removed Himself and turned His mission on earth over to eleven men.  Now it was their job to bring the news of Jesus’ forgiveness to their neighborhood (Jerusalem), their county (Judea), the next county (Samaria), and to the entire world. (Acts 1:8).

God orchestrated another transformation a few years after.  The Church grew from 120 to tens of thousands of believers.  Yet they all remained in Jerusalem.  They didn’t move out to the ends of the earth as Jesus had commanded.  Then a persecution of the first Christians broke out in Jerusalem.  The believers gathered their families and scattered throughout the world.  And the Church grew incredibly!  Another transformation.  The Church would never be the same again.

We may return to our church building expecting that soon things will return to “normal.”  We’ve had enough of change and want everything to go back to how it was in pre-covid19 days.  Through this crisis we have, however, learned to proclaim the truth and hope in Jesus without using the methods we were accustomed to.  Like most other Christian congregations, we had to embrace new forms of communication.  We were forced to expand our ministry beyond our own “Jerusalem” to the “ends of the earth.”

Will online worship and Bible study ever replace the face-to-face gatherings of Christians in the local congregation.  I don’t believe so, and I know of no one who does.  Scripture encourages us to not forsake meeting together so we can encourage one another to keep strong in faith in Christ, our Savior.  God instructs us to rejoice with those who rejoice, and bear one another’s burdens.  Those are done best face-to-face with fellow Christians we know and trust.  The local congregation isn’t going anywhere.  And yet, we’ve added whole new ways to proclaim Christ, and due to that, the local congregation will never be the same as it was.  We are in transformation.

I wonder what all God will bring out of this pandemic.  After all, He takes troubles and promises to bring good out of them (Romans 8:28).  He never wastes a problem.  It’s my hope and prayer that we have the eyesight to see what doors God is opening up to us.  And the trust in Him to walk boldly through them.

Let’s pray for that eyesight and trust.

Keep looking to Jesus,     Pastor Paul

 

God is doing something new!

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland” Isaiah 43:19

There’s a lot to grieve about these days.

Schools won’t be back for the remainder of the school year and all sorts of events associated with the end of school (proms, graduations, dances, etc.) are not going to happen. Sporting events of all kinds are delayed and possibly not happening in 2020. People are out of work or their jobs are on hold and things seem very uncertain. And of course, churches aren’t gathering in person.

There are lots of emotions swirling about these days as we come to grips with all the changes that have been thrust upon us in such a short time. It’s easy to get swept up in fear and grief over all the things that we’ve lost or will lose in the months to come.

What if, instead of grieving what was lost, we looked forward in hope? What if Isaiah’s words of promise are coming true in a new way through this time? What if God will use this pandemic to do something new to bring people to faith in Jesus? What if God wants to use this time not only to save lives for 20 or 40 more years on this earth, but to save people for eternity?

Let’s remember that as Christians, we’re uniquely equipped to deal with these sorts of problems in ways that the rest of the world isn’t. Our world has only wishes, but Christians have hope that is based on certain facts. Our world offers no lasting answers, but Jesus Christ is the ultimate answer to any and all problems humans face.

We are equipped to bring hope in a way that the rest of the world can’t.  Our belief in the brokenness of sin and its effects makes sense of these kinds of events. They’re no less painful or worrisome to us, but we can see how they fit into God’s creation and how the hand of God is working to bring good out of something as tragic as an epidemic. That’s the hope that we can share even today in the middle of all of this contagion.

For years, we’ve been saying that faith is spread through caring relationships. Now we have the time to stop and talk to neighbors, and they enjoy talking to us. Now we cherish people and every human interaction so much more. Just imagine what God can do with that through us!

For years we’ve been telling families that home is where Faith in Jesus is best passed to children, not in classes in a church building. Now, parents are actually taking up their God-given role as the primary teachers about God. It’s amazing!

Yes, there is a lot to grieve and plenty to fear these days. It is also, however, an exciting time to watch God do His thing to bring hope and meaning and purpose to people’s lives. God isn’t constrained by the fact that we can’t meet physically in our church building.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that the physical gathering of God’s people ever will or ever should be replaced or abandoned. Still, we have been given an opportunity in this shakeup and it’s an opportunity to see the great things God is doing in the midst of our fear and grieving. This situation we’re in today may bring a new work of God to reinvigorate the church if we are bold enough to prayerfully follow Jesus’ leading and step out of our comfort zone into what He’s up to!

Keep looking to Jesus,     Pastor Paul

 

How are you Feeling now?

I was listening to a podcast this morning. The speaker was a pastor I respect and I’ve heard him several times over the last few years. He was talking to Lutheran church workers about coping with the changes staying at home and isolated has brought to us.

He mentioned a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey of the sentiments of Americans. How are Americans feeling these days? Two words: Mad     and     Sad.

Mad. Most people around us are feeling angry right now. Are you? Angry or Mad this coronavirus pandemic happened at all? Upset about being at home, or about missing work, or about the shape of your retirement nest egg? Perhaps there’s some anger in your home because you are trying to enforce your kids’ study time, or trying to help them with math (when did they start putting letters in math problems?). Let’s not forget that all this togetherness has given couples a chance to spend time under the same roof and learn about their partner like they haven’t in years. Yet, somethings my family is discovering about me, they don’t like so well. That’s normal.

Sad. Let’s call this feeling what it is: Grief. There is a sense of sadness over what we’ve lost. We’ve lost the opportunity to touch family like grandchildren. You might see them in a video call, or through a pane of glass. We’ve lost shaking hands with neighbors. Going out to eat.  Seeing your family of Faith regularly in worship services.

We’ve learned from people who have gone through times of loss that grief has several stages. There is a predictable pattern based on others who share the same kinds of feelings. It’s helpful to know that you are not the only one – others feel the same things too. Grief is a stew with a bit of shock, a lot of confusion, some guilt, some anger, and at long last comes hope.

If you are feeling exhausted, no wonder? Look at all you’ve been going through! I’m finding that at first I dealt with this stay-at-home business with a lot of energy. Now, I’m tired of it. Cabin fever has set in. I’m feeling exhausted from all the change. And it isn’t over yet.

So, how do we process all this as Christians?

Is anger sin? No, not always. Often I junk up my anger with ego, jealousy, or my insecurities. Jesus, however, got angry. He was real mad at injustice and self-righteous people. And His anger wasn’t all junked up. He remained sinless. This means it’s OK if you are mad or upset at all the change that is happening. Just talk to God about it. Ask Him to help you recognize what upsets you, and ask Him to help you not junk it up with sinful selfishness. It’s helpful to know that you are normal if you feel mad at this time.

Loss is OK too, in God’s book. God Himself has been sad when good has been lost. I have to believe that the Father’s heart broke when His Son died. It’s wonderful that our God would put Himself through that to pay for your sin and win you back to Him forever.

In the Bible, God says this:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."Philippians 4:6-7

“In everything.”  That means even in times of feeling Mad and Sad.  In everything includes the coronavirus stay-at-home and isolation, that stretches on. In everything God promises you His PEACE.

Here’s a prayer I found based on this Bible passage. I hope it’s helpful to you.
Heavenly Father,
In our anxiety, fear and uncertainty,
when hearts are heavy with the load we bear,
and there is no one to turn toward but you;
yours is the peace that calms,
the peace that comforts,
the peace that gives us strength to carry on.
Yours is the voice we long to hear,
the persistent whisper in our ear,
‘Be still, and know that I am God’.
Yours is the presence in the dark
that banishes our fears.
Yours is the hand that guides,
the footprints in which I walk.
In our anxiety,
fear and uncertainty,
in confidence we turn to you.
Amen.
Keep looking to Jesus,     Pastor Paul

 

The Shape of Praise

“On the day I called, you answered me;
my strength of soul you increased …
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand…,
and your right hand delivers me.
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.”
Psalm 138: 7-8

It is easy to give thanks to God when prayers are answered as we hoped.  When a surgery is successful, a loved one recovers, a river in flood recedes, then, in response we quickly and whole-heartedly join the writer of this Psalm in praise of God and His Word. When prayers are answered as we hoped, then in our prayers we say words similar to this Psalm: the Lord answers and our strength of soul is increased. Hope soars and faith is made strong. We give thanks and sing praise for answered prayers.

But what if our prayers are not answered as we hoped? What if we beg and plead and God does not give us the longed-for answer. What if a loved one dies, or an illness continues. Where is God? Is He still listening as He promised? How can we praise God when He seems to be silent? At times like these our praise continues, but it takes a different shape. Our praise does not ring with songs and rejoicing but is formed instead into submitting to God’s will and purpose. Our praise takes shape as humble trust in God.

Can we praise God, even now? Even in the middle of this national and world-wide health emergency? Can we praise God in the midst of economic uncertainty, and in this time of great and troubling changes?

On the night Jesus was betrayed, He spent time in prayer to His Father. Jesus prayed that He might not have to drink the cup of suffering that awaited Him the next day on Calvary’s cross. The suffering Jesus endured was not just the physical pain of crucifixion, as horrific as that was. Even worse, Jesus had to endure the cup of God’s wrath against human sin, including ours.

The night before, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that His Father’s will would be accomplished, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” Luke 22:42.

What was the Father’s answer? The cup was not removed. Jesus was arrested, tried and condemned to death. The innocent Son of God was nailed to the cross. For you He endured the terrible cup of suffering and wrath at sin. Every last drop.

Before this scene in the Garden, Jesus had gathered His disciples together in the Upper Room. There, at that meal, Jesus had prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” John 17:1. The Son desired the Father’s glory.  What’s important for us today is that Jesus’ praise for His heavenly Father took the shape of submission to His Father’s will. The Bible tells us that Jesus became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” Philippians 2:8.

On the cross He fulfilled His Father’s purpose — our salvation. Jesus stood in our place and suffered the penalty we deserved for our sins.

In His death and resurrection, our sins are swept away.  Now, through your Baptism God has adopted you as His very much loved son or daughter.  Now, as God’s child, He nourishes you in Holy Communion, giving you Christ Himself to strengthen you so that you glorify our heavenly Father in all circumstances.

When our prayers are answered as we hoped, we shout for joy and sing His praise. But when the answers are not as we asked, our praise will reflect the glory that Jesus brought to His Father through the cross. In humble trust, we place ourselves into our Father’s hands, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands”Psalm 138:8.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, You have commanded us to pray and have promised to hear our prayers. When our prayers are answered as we hope, accept our joyful praise and thanks. When, according to Your will, You answer in ways we did not seek, lead us by Your Spirit to follow Jesus in our hearts and minds so that our praise takes the shape of humble trust. For Jesus’ sake, forgive our sins and fulfill Your purpose in our lives. Amen.

When with sorrow I am stricken,
Hope anew my heart will quicken;
All my longing shall be stilled.
To His loving kindness tender
Soul and body I surrender,

For on God alone I build.

Well He knows what best to grant me;
All the longing hopes that haunt me,
Joy and sorrow, have their day.
I shall doubt His wisdom never;
As God wills, so be it ever;

I commit to Him my way.   (“All Depends on Our Possessing,” LSB 732, vs. 4-5)

Keep looking to Jesus,     Pastor Paul

 

Find PURPOSE in the Pandemic

One reason that this health crisis is so challenging is that, for many of us, we have never experienced anything like it. Yes, we remember 9-11. And many of us were affected deeply by the housing market crash in 2008. Many of our people have the wisdom and experience that comes from enduring and surviving the Great Depression and the enforced rationing during WWII. But, for many of us, we have never experienced the restrictions imposed on us by this unseen enemy, COVID-19.

Psychologists tell us that people can endure incredible suffering as long as they hold to a sense of meaning and purpose in their life. Christians throughout the ages have experienced persecution yet lived with great hope. As people who trust in Jesus we, too, remain filled with hope in the midst of suffering because Christ is risen from the dead. His life guarantees our forgiveness now and heaven to come.

The writer of the Bible book of Hebrews puts it this way: Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews12:1-3

The writer says that finding meaning in the cross allowed Jesus to endure it. Because he found purpose in his suffering, he could march through suffering, out of the tomb, and to God’s glorious throne with a sense of joy. Jesus had a big enough WHY, so he could bear the HOW of the cross.

The writer then tells us to take the same perspective. As followers of Jesus we endure suffering by keeping our eyes focused on Him. We have His gifts of forgiveness, hope, peace, and heaven to come. Nothing can take these blessings from you.

Here are three possible ways that you can find meaning in the midst of this global crisis.

1. The pandemic leads us to put our trust in Jesus alone.In times of peace and prosperity, it’s hard to see how much we trust in temporary, non-essential things. We probably weren’t aware of how much we put our faith in our career, money, family, and health. All of those are good gifts from God, but they were never designed for you to trust in. In this global pandemic we can clearly see that all those gifts can be gone in a moment. We are being moved to trust in something that can’t be taken from us, to put our trust in Jesus alone.

2. The pandemic is rearranging our priorities.Before the pandemic, we might have lived with our eyes focused on ourselves, missing the opportunity to see the needs of those God has placed before us. But now as we are confined to our homes and neighborhoods, we might find a renewed purpose in serving our families and loving our neighbors.

3. The pandemic is exposing our weakness and need for the goodness and greatness of God. As a culture we have successfully pushed the reality of death to the margins of our consciousness. But now our mortality is on center stage. As the news reports the number of deaths, we are reminded that one day we will be counted as well. Our only hope is in Jesus who victoriously rose from the dead on Easter. He is the first to rise again, and He will give eternal life to all who trust Him as their forgiver and leader.

Living under this new normal has been challenging. I know God is at work even through this. God has called us all to something greater than just binge-watching TV reruns or using the time for social media. Our Savior and King has called us to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” Matthew 5:13-16. He has given us good things to do even in isolation. He is leading us back to himself. He gives our lives true meaning and purpose, and that gives us a big enough purpose to endure the pain of this pandemic.
Keep looking to Jesus,     Pastor Paul

 

Spread an Infection … of PEACE !

Are you out of toilet paper yet?. This is ridiculous. Why people are hoarding toilet paper? I am beginning to regret that time when I was back in high school and so flippantly tossed roll upon roll into trees. It would be comical if this virus wasn’t affecting so many aspects of our lives. School, vacations, sports events, conferences, business ventures . . . cancelled. It seems the only things not cancelled are the media outlets who are spreading the news faster than sneeze particles.

I’m not personally very afraid of the coronavirus. After all, I was raised in a time when kids routinely ate dirt and drank out of garden hoses. It built up our immune systems. People of a certain age or older have been preparing for this our whole lives by our less than sanitary upbringings. Don’t get me wrong – I am taking every precaution not to get the corona virus and to practice behaviors that won’t pass it on. I believe Christians are called to love God and love others first. Following the government’s guidelines is just the loving thing to do for everyone, whether I know them or not. So I write this from home while sheltering in place. And excuse me while I go wash my hands … again.

I am not afraid of the virus, but I am afraid of people’s reactions of fear to the virus. So I would like to spread an infection of a different kind. I hope you will join me.

Let’s Spread Some Peace Instead. Let’s start with God’s Word from the Bible book of Philippians:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:4-7.

Let’s take a moment to remember where this letter to the Philippians was written—Paul was in prison. He was in literal chains for the gospel, and these are the words he wrote. If anyone had a reason to be full of fear, it was Paul. He had been beaten and stoned and driven out of cities and shipwrecked and arrested, and he probably didn’t have toilet paper and yet . . . Paul is preaching peace and rejoicing.

I know it is important for the news media to give us the information about the covid-19 pandemic, and even the grim reality of this past week. As I write this, around 2,000 people a day are dying in the U.S. from this sickness. My concern is that when we don’t share or hear the news of this tragedy – or any tragedy – without the bright rays of truth and hope in Jesus, then, the only thing we have left is fear. Fear is contagious.

But so is peace. His promises for us should be at the forefront of our minds right now, promises like, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” Hebrews 13:5 or “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [read: COVID-19], will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 8:38,39.

No matter what happens—sickness or health, life or death—we are safe in Jesus.
Amidst the chaos of this world, be a beacon of peace. Peace is contagious. Catch peace. Spread peace. Tell others of the reason for the hope that you have in our big, big GOD. He is in control of all things, and he will work this out for the good of his people.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” John 14:17.

Did you notice that phrasing? What does the world give? “Troubled hearts and fear.” . Jesus brings peace.

This coming Sunday is Easter. Do you remember the first words the angel spoke to the women from Jesus’ empty tomb? “Don’t be afraid” Matthew 28:5. Do you recall the first words the risen Jesus spoke to His disciples when He appeared to them on Easter evening? “Peace be with you” John 20:19. Because Jesus is ALIVE God removes fear and gives peace instead.

So this week SPREAD An Infection. Spread the peace God gives because Jesus is alive. He rose defeating sin, sickness, death, and hell! That means, it’s ALL good. His peace is infectious. Recklessly spread this infection … of Christ’s peace!

Keep looking to Jesus,     Pastor Paul

 

WILL _____________ BE HERE?

Can I ask how your faith is holding up these days? If you’re like 97% of the global population, your mind has probably been harassed by the 24/7 updates of infection cases, increased isolation, and financial mayhem.

I have a hunch that your fear, no matter what its form, boils down to a simple sentence—Will ________ be here?

In the days to come, will my health be here? Will my retirement be here? Will my paycheck be here? Will my spring graduation be here? Will my rent money be here? Will my sanity be here?

Isn’t that sentence at the heart of our fears? We might miss out on something. Something we love. Something we desperately don’t want to lose.

Unfortunately, we might. In the Bible Peter once wrote, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall” 1 Peter 1:24. All people are temporary. Your health will wither in one way or another to coronavirus or cancer or age or some other cause. Our bank accounts, conferences, and companies will fall for one reason or another.

In other words, GOD gives no guarantee that this situation will get better any time soon. I certainly pray that it does! I hope you don’t get sick. But He has not promised such things. Perhaps that’s why we, even as Christians, get so afraid.

We don’t, however, have to accept that fear. Instead, we can turn to these great three words, the tiny sentence that summarizes the Bible’s biggest and best promise. Ready for it?

GOD is here!

GOD. I left the caps lock on for a reason. I’m talking about the glorious, exalted, magnified, breathtaking GOD of the Bible. The GOD who is a billion times better than a coronavirus-free world.

Is. The eternal GOD always is, even in a coronavirus-infected world. Even a terrifying virus cannot undo the presence of Jesus. Our jobs “might be.” Our savings “hopefully will be.” But the Great I Am always IS. Definitely. While we and our earthly glory whither and fall, GOD does not. He is eternal, everlasting, enduring, and remaining.

Here—This glorious GOD is right here with His people. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the guarantee that GOD is not over there with those people, the ones whose faith is so strong they are never afraid. No, GOD is here with US, in spite of the weakness of our faith and how quickly we forget His wonderful name.

No wonder when David, was running for his life he wrote, “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:3-6).

So, child of GOD, do not forget the truth upon which our faith rests, the very gift Jesus died to give you, the blessing that nothing in all of creation can touch or take away, the cornerstone of Christianity -- GOD is here!

Keep looking to Jesus, have hope, and hang in there,

Pastor Paul

 

HOW LONG?

“How long?’ is a question most of us are asking these days.  We are in the second week of the State-wide stay at home order, and it doesn’t look like the end is in sight yet.  Will things be back to normal next week?  Or will it take another month, maybe two, before we can return to seeing friends, gathering together, and going out in public without fear.

This question, “How long?” is often asked by believers to God.  Maybe you’ve asked Him in a moment of desperate prayer, “How long, Father, until I am well again?”, or happy again?  Or out of crushing debt?  Or no longer lonely?  You fill in the ending.

In the Bible, believers were frequently turning to God asking, begging, pleading, “How long?”  Psalm 13 puts it this way:

Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?  Psalm 13: 1-2

Times like ours now can feel like sickness, suffering, and evil have the upper hand.  When many people are suffering we wonder “where in the world is God?  Doesn’t He know what’s going on?  Doesn’t He care?”  The Psalm writer said, “How long will you forget me? Forever?  How long will you look the other way?”

Last summer our Tuesday morning Bible study went through the Bible book of Revelation.  That book says a lot about suffering that will come to people before the end of the world.  Revelation especially focusses in on how much God’s people suffer because they believe in Jesus as their Savior.  The answer to the question, “how long?” in the book of Revelation goes like this:  Just when you think you can’t handle anymore, just when it gets so bad that your faith is on the verge of giving out, God will cut short  suffering.  He has you in His hand always.  He’s GOT this.  He will protect you and your faith is precious to Him.  So don’t worry.  Victory and heaven is never at risk, even if you have to suffer for a while in this life on earth.

I don’t know how long.  And I don’t need to know, because I know WHO has set the time limit on evil and suffering.  It’s Jesus, our Savior, who loved us enough to die for us.  One day, time will run out on suffering in this world.  But in heaven to come, time will never run out!

Keep looking to Jesus, have hope, and hang in there,

 Pastor Paul

 

RECOMMENDED TO READ

Martin Luther and His Incredible Response to the Black Plague

Did you know that 500 years ago Martin Luther faced a pandemic?  The black plague swept through Wittenberg, Germany.  His university was closed (sound familiar).  He was torn between running away to avoid infection, or staying to help.  Luther wrote a treatise on this.  The famous quote from his treatise is being shared over social media these days:

I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.

 This article is a 10 minute read, and a great summary of Luther’s terrific advice on how Christians respond to a pandemic: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/chorusinthechaos/martin-luther-and-the-black-plague/

Transformation

 

If you have spent even a few moments with me or connected with me on social media, you will have discovered my love for my dogs. We have three now, Gracie, our short-hair Border Collie and our two Golden Retrievers, Bailey and Mason. I'd like to share Mason's story.

About a year ago, I convinced Dave to let us foster with an organization that rescues Golden Retrievers/Golden mixes. We had our first foster, a puppy. Rachel and I fell in love and wanted to keep him. (Dave had to know this was coming.) He said no and the pup was placed in a wonderful home! In early May of 2019, I received a phone call that they were desperate for foster families for puppy mill rescue dogs. They would not typically place a puppy mill dog with us because of Lauren's disability but they were desperate. Dave and the kids had gone to Wisconsin, so I was home by myself, but Dave agreed that we could foster the mill dog.

When I picked the dog up and couldn't get him through the door to get him to my car. He was terrified. He was about 3 ½ years old, they guessed, a puppy mill stud and had been tied up in a goat stall for his entire life. He was freaked out about walking on a leash, being touched, going in a crate for the ride home, not to mention the 30-minute ride home! Once at home, he met the other dogs in the backyard, but I couldn't get him in the house. I couldn't pull him in with the leash and I tried enticing him with a treat, but he had no idea what a treat was. I tried peanut butter, grilled chicken and whatever else I could find but to no avail. I couldn't get him in by myself. I called Judy and she came over. It took both of us - one gently pulling on the leash and the other "herding" him from the back to get him in the house. In the house, he laid as far away as he could from me and stayed there. He had no idea what to do with food in a bowl and wouldn't eat. He wouldn't let me near him to pet him and I had to corner him around the dining room table to get him on a leash to go to the bathroom. He couldn't understand that what I was offering him were good things, that he was safe and that he could trust me.

On Sunday, the family came home. I warned them that the mill dog was not at all like our other dogs and they should just come in, leave him alone and it would take time for him to trust us. Rachel walked in, sat on the floor a respectable distance away and softly talked to him. As she did, she inched closer. It was in those moments that Rachel fell in love with Mason and him with her.

Rachel spent her times at home on the dining room floor with Mason. Petting him, encouraging him, showing him love. It took time and a lot of effort, but eventually, Rachel was able to get Mason to join her as she sat on the living room floor. Sometimes he would only stay a few minutes before quickly returning to his place in the dining room, but Rachel was not discouraged. She kept at it, sitting on the floor, until Mason was comfortable coming in and laying in there - with or without her.

If you have had the pleasure of meeting Mason in person, you will find that he is making up for lost time. His joy of discovering love is displayed in his every action. It is like he can't help himself. Now that he knows love, he wants to give love. It really has been an amazing transformation.

This is just what Jesus did. "So, the Word (Jesus) became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son." (John 1:14) God sent Jesus to become one of us. Jesus was out showing God's love to people wherever He was at in ways that people would receive it. And that transformed our lives for all eternity.

This amazing transformation is like what we are doing with our new vision within our community. Like my attempts to show Mason love were things that I just expected him to innately know, perhaps we expect that we will reach others the way we are used to doing it. After all, aren't we here and available to the community on Sunday mornings? But like Mason's transformation took time and effort and a different approach, so will the transformation of the community around us. It probably won't look like the way it's been done - we have seen that already with the 10 am service with Kids Church and there is more to do.

Will it take time? Yes. Increased effort? Yes. Will it be worth it? Absolutely. For once somebody is transformed through the everlasting, unconditional love of God through Jesus, they will want to share it. They won't be able to help themselves!

Blessings,
DCE Kendis Bender

What a Potluck Supper Teaches Us About the Church

  

     This month of February St. Paul celebrates 145 years of God's blessing. This milestone moves us to turn our thoughts to the Church, that is, to think about what this family of God's people is like. What did God have in mind in starting the Christian Church, and even our congregation here in Amherst? I think there is a lot we can learn from a good, old-fashioned church potluck.

A potluck supper is like a snapshot of the church. People from all different walks of life come together to be fed and to enjoy fellowship, and everyone brings their best specialty dish for the meal. Perhaps a secret family recipe for spicy meatballs or cheesy potatoes. And don't forget to save room on your plate for something from the dessert table . . . And there's always room for jello, (unless it's the kind with carrots suspended inside of it -no one has room for that). But I digress. My point is twofold: First, the members of the congregation bring their very best, not the leftovers from last Wednesday night's dinner. And second, each member brings something different. We crave variety, and we celebrate the uniqueness of each dish made lovingly and brought in by different members.

In some ways, a church potluck is a microcosm of the church itself. We all have different specialties, different gifts to offer. The Lord has blessed each of us with unique gifts that we have the joy of using to further His kingdom. We read about this in Romans 12:4-6: "For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us."

Obviously, God is speaking of things much loftier than crockpots of baked beans, and platters of fried chicken. But in the same way that members heading to a potluck are excited to share their best chip dip, we should be excited to share our gifts for the good of God's kingdom. Some of us can offer musical talents to contribute to the beautification of the church service itself. Some of us can lead small Bible study groups, or know how to work a soundboard. Some of us are good listeners and encouragers and can use those gifts to help a struggling family. Some of us have been blessed monetarily and can contribute finances to support ministry that shares Jesus' love. God wants our best because He's the one who gave us our best. He also knows how much our giving can bless ourselves and others. We are blessed by each other as together we share our abilities, our love, and our resources. Together, we create an amazing menu that feeds ourselves and others!

The church potluck is really a very simple idea. It is one of those good ideas that has been passed on from one generation, to the next generation, to the next. Good food never goes out of style. The church, too, never goes out of style. It's really a simple idea: people of all walks of life, come together, to be fed by God's Word regularly. We all have to eat, no matter how busy our lives get. As we celebrate St. Paul's 145th anniversary this month, we are grateful for this gift that has been passed down to us by previous generations. And now, it's our turn. We have the privilege - and obligation - to pass down to the next generations the blessings of this wonderful, weekly feasting on God's Word of forgiveness and guidance.

As believers let's remain committed to come together to this table often, each bringing our best, and there we enjoy being fed and fellowship. Let's keep enjoying this Church "potluck" as long as we live on earth, until God invites us to that glorious potluck in heaven (where there is no carrot Jello allowed). Make sure you save your fork meal!

See you on Sunday,
Pastor Paul Werner

Welcome 2020

  
Back in 1875, I would imagine life was simpler but much harder.  Amherst, Ohio was just a small farming village along the railroad.  It was back then that a few settlers began St. Paul Lutheran Church to serve the spiritual needs of families.
Fast forward to this New Year 2020.  St. Paul is still here to serve the spiritual needs of families in this community.  The community has changed dramatically.  Heavy industry like the steel mill, car plants, and ship building have all come and gone.  Now, new subdivisions are popping up on what was long-time farm land.  "Big-box" stores are meeting the needs of families who desire to commute to work for a big city salary, while enjoying the quaintness of small town life.
This past year, 2019, St. Paul adopted a Vision that matches this new reality in our community and in our changing world.  The congregation's new focus is on bringing Jesus to families through outreaching ministries to homes in our community.  Congratulations are due to you, the people of St. Paul, for making significant strides in this new direction!
Last year's Easter Party for children, Summer J.A.M., Family Fall Fest were well attended outreach events.  In December the "Parents' Afternoon Out" was done excellently!  And the children's Christmas program, "Improv at the Stable" was the most candid, meaningful, and welcoming Christmas presentation yet.  While worship attendance has been steady, offerings have grown in 2019, small group participants are being blessed, and the congregation committed to supporting the Director of Christian Education staff position full-time.  God is indeed at work in this congregation!
Now what?  This month of January we will begin a "Kids' Church" ministry during the second service on Sunday mornings, which will be at a new time, 10:00 AM.  With God's blessing, children and families will be strengthened by this ministry as kids will leave the main service with Mom or Dad to praise God and learn on an age-appropriate level.  At the same time, adults will be able to worship on their level.  We plan some other changes to the new worship experience such as coffee in the narthex before, and the opportunity for the sermon to become a dialog  through texting questions and comments to pastor.  This worship service will grow and change over time as we are able.
The Winter and Spring emphasis will be on "Empowering God's Mission" through strengthening our prayer life, and equipping you, God's Baptized and gifted people, into His ministry. Nine new teams are available for you to participate in the ministry God is doing here.  (See the article on a later page in this newsletter about these new teams.)  Nine teams are a lot for a church our size to grow into.  Yet, with God's blessing, we will take steps in this direction.  For those of you have been part of St. Paul for more than 12 years, think of these teams as the former "Boards" of lay leaders the church selected each year.  In conjunction with these new teams, we will initiate a new annual planning process so that in January we begin the planning process for September '20 thru June '21 ministries.
St. Paul's governing documents - the Constitution and By-Laws - have been updated and approved.  This year we will begin the process of living according to this changed way of "doing church."  A part of this will be new policies written by the Board of Directors so that the church operates more smoothly and less impulsively by responding to crises or emotion.
Finally, please mark in your calendars and plan to participate in St. Paul's 145th Anniversary Celebration on Sunday, February 9, 2020.  Former Pastor, Rev. Gary Bernath, will be our guest preacher at one joint worship service at 10am.  A dinner will follow in the Fellowship Hall.
May yours be a joyous New Year, filled with God's abundant grace and guidance.
Pastor Paul Werner

WHY Christmas?

Christmas is a season when a lot of crazy things can happen. We may find ourselves asking the "Why?" question often in December. Sometimes we ask in exasperation: "Why does the family Christmas dinner have to be at our house every year? Can't someone else take their turn for once?" Other times we ask in worry: "Why are there only four weeks left to shop, wrap, decorate the house, attend all the work and family parties, bake, attend the children's band concerts and Christmas program at church, do the Christmas cards, and help with the campaign to gather toys for kids in foster homes?" Or we can ask in disbelief: "Why in the world would someone ever think that Grandma getting run over by a reindeer is a fitting topic for a Christmas song?"

When we as Christians stop and ponder the reasons why God the Father chose to give His Son for the human race we may fall silent in amazement. After all, we are sinful, ungrateful, rebellious people.

Why should God love us so much that He would choose to save us at such great personal cost to Himself? The ancient hymn from the 400's AD "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent," captures a bit of this stunning amazement. The lyrics of the hymn ponder why the King of kings and Lord of lords, worthy of eternal glory, has come to earth in the form of a peasant baby laid in a manger. These days people might exclaim "Shut your mouth!" as a way to say that something is so wonderful, it's beyond words. When we view Christmas this way, wondering why God loves as deeply and sacrificially as He does, we have no answer that words can express.

"Why?" may also be a question of intention. To the young man picking up his date for an evening out we might ask, "Why did you buy a sprig of holly to carry in your coat pocket? What's the activity on your date that you desire to have holly with you?"

When we consider the outcome God intended through Christmas, He is clear: "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). We may not ever understand the depths of God's love that would move Him to come to save us, yet we do understand His purpose. "Why Christmas?" Because God wants heaven full of people He made and loves. He wants hell depopulated. To put it another way: "God wants all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (John 3:16). Jesus came to bring people into a relationship with Him in which they trust Him and receive His forgiveness of all sin.

At St. Paul we have just concluded six weeks of learning about "Natural Evangelism." We compared each person's spiritual journey to the game of golf. In the game of golf, the goal is that the ball eventually land in the hole. God's goal is that each person land in the "hole" of a saving relationship with Jesus as personal savior. Just as a golf ball can be several hundred yards from the hole, people can be very distant and resistant to God. A golf ball may also be on the green needing just a tap from a putter to nudge it to the hold. People also can be very eager to learn more about Jesus and come to trust in Him.

We discovered that as a golfer uses different golf clubs depending on the ball's distance from the hole, so we use different approaches to nudge a person closer to Christ. We serve friends and neighbors with surprising acts of kindness. Through our listening, and asking about their lives with loving interest, we build relationships with people who do not trust Jesus. We also share personal stories of times in our lives when we experienced God working to bring peace, forgiveness, freedom, and wholeness.

How is "the Why of Christmas" like what God has been teaching us this Fall season? This December when you share God's love through serving others, listening, asking them about their lives, and sharing what God has done for you, aren't you simply cooperating where God is already at work? Jesus came into this world to be our Savior so that your sister, the family next door, the friend at the gym, and the person who sits at your lunch table at work could spend forever with Christ in heaven. These are the people God loves and wants saved. No less of an event than the joyous, grand celebration of Christmas is dedicated to the saving of your friend.

December is, indeed, a season when a lot of crazy things can happen.   It is also a season full of opportunities to show surprising touches of love to others. It's a season with personal interactions to listen to others, ask about their lives, and perhaps, God willing, share your story of a real God who makes a real difference in the life of a real person like you. Just think! In doing these things you are participating in God's eternal purpose for the world, and His loving purpose for your friend. God wants all to be saved and come to know the truth of Jesus, our grace-filled, hope-giving Savior. This is why Christmas is.

Blessed Christmas to you and yours,

- Pastor Paul Werner

Thanking God Through Difficult Times

Some of you have had a tough year. You've endured your share of criticism. Maybe you've lost a job. Maybe you're going through a rough patch in your marriage.

Now comes Thanksgiving. can we thank God even when times are tough? Yes, we can!   

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, "Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." This verse does not say give thanks for everything. It says give thanks in every circumstance.

You don't have to give thanks for evil in the world. If my children were murdered, I would not be thankful for that. If my wife was sick, I would not be thankful for that. The bible does not say be thankful for evil. But in every circumstance, no matter how bad it is, you can give thanks to God because...

  • His purpose is bigger than my problem
  • My problem can never separate me from His love.
  • His forgiveness for my past through Jesus, and the hope He gives for tomorrow and for eternity stand certain, no matter what problems I have.
  • I know I will grow through the experience if I do not turn away from God.

I may not be thankful for evil, but I can be thankful in spite of evil.

How can you be grateful when you've lost your job, your health, or a spouse? You look not at what you've lost - but look up to God. He's always with you to forgive, guide, comfort, and infuse hope for the future. He has planned for you and He together.

You can also be grateful through your loss when you look at what you have left. God has filled your life with people, possessions, and opportunities. You have an awful lot left! You're alive for one thing!

There used to be an old song, "Count Your Blessings, Name Them One By One." We need to do that. We need to make lists of what we are thankful for - our families, friends, whatever we are thankful for. When times are tough, that's when you need to be reminded of everything God has given you. As you remember what God has done in your past, you will remember what God does. When you count your blessings, you remember God's character. You remember what He is like - that He is loving and giving, and He loves to give good things to His children.

Becoming a truly grateful person can be the healthiest change you make in your life all year long - better than any diet or exercise plan you start on. Love isn't the healthiest emotion out there - gratitude is. When you are thankful in spite of your circumstances, you're more resistant to illness and stress.

God doesn't benefit when you thank Him. You do. This is November, the month for Thanksgiving. May you thank and praise Him from your heart!

In Christ's service, and yours - Pastor Paul Werner