As California Burns, Lutherans Care

California is on fire.

Since mid-July, a group of complicated and ever-changing wildfires have destroyed the landscape and property in their paths, notably the Carr Fire in Shasta and Trinity counties and the Mendocino Complex Fire covering Colusa, Lake and Mendocino counties…

Several LCMS congregations have been affected directly by these fires. Trinity Lutheran Church and Early Learning Center in Redding, Calif., is only two miles from the flames of the Carr Fire.

Read more at LCMS Reporter: As California burns, Lutherans care

New Hope, Day One

No one at St. Matthew’s in New Milford, NJ has ever gone through the process of starting a new church. The challenges, the fears, the “where are we going to worship” questions have never been a part of the everyday Christian life of any of the congregants of our 123 year old church in northern New Milford.

A series of challenges over the past few years has opened the doors to the exciting opportunity of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to lots of people simply by cutting away that which is holding us back, namely our fears and our building.

The fifty year old structure we call our spiritual home is in trouble. Well, it has been for a long time. We’ve put in thousands upon thousands of dollars to upgrade pieces of the building – a new roof, parking lot, handicap ramp, and the heating system, to name a few. But overwhelming problems are on the horizon – the electrical system needs to get up to code; our furnace is very old and even with the upgrades to the heating system, the furnace doesn’t have a lot of life left in her; the building really needs a cooling system because without it, our lights sometimes do not go on during the humid days of the summer; and the stucco on the outside of the building needs repair in numerous places. Oh, and that steeple leaking issue continues to vex us.

Financially, we are facing tough times. We’re a small congregation with limited financial resources. Not that small congregations are bad, but when financial issues come up, struggling with how to deal with them is a major challenge. With a building that is not attractive even with the bandages we’ve placed covering over our issues, the congregation has made the bold choice to bring the Gospel to people.

New Hope 3In early June, St. Matthew’s voted to sell our property in New Milford and move, to take up the mantle of bringing Jesus to His people, to partner with our LCMS friends to build a new St. Matthew’s and a new suburban ministry effort in Bergen County. A joyfully Lutheran ministry effort that shows and builds on the strengths of Jesus Christ. We want to bring to God’s people the hope of life centered on faith in Jesus, to be a people not worried about making mistakes, but seeking forgiveness from God and of one another. We want ministries that change lives for the better. And we want to build a community in different places that focuses on the hope that lives can get better and, by working with God, we can change them forever!

Essentially, we want to center our new church on the mission of bringing New Hope to people in our faith community now and those outside of it who need to hear the love of God in Jesus Christ.

As I was praying this afternoon after eating lunch, I don’t know if it was the Spirit or not but I had an urge to start this new church project. Why wait until the fall when people come back from summer vacation?

Why not kick off the New Hope project today?

There is plenty that needs to get done at St. Matthew’s in both the near and long term to make this project come to life. It starts now. We’ll need to hold lots of meetings with pastors and churches and church leaders and towns people. Inside St. Matthew’s, we need to discuss a lot of things about all of our “stuff” and what we’re going to do with all of it. We need to plan and most importantly, we need to pray.

We’re starting over.

It’s all about the New Hope found only in Jesus.

 

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

Some Lutheran pastors I know weren’t thrilled with the theology espoused by the Rev. Billy Graham, America’s pastor who was called to his eternal rest at age 99 this week. They viewed his preaching as being filled with ‘works righteousness,’ namely that faith in Jesus isn’t enough and one needs to “do something good” to earn salvation. It is the earning that riled them up.

I, too, wasn’t thrilled with Rev. Graham’s works’ centered theology.

But you can’t deny that there are a lot more Christians in America today because of Billy Graham. They may not receive the Lord’s Supper regularly or they may have been baptized in a pool instead of at a font, but in the end, they all believe that Jesus died for them. In the whole scheme of things labeled ‘eternal life,’ it is faith in Jesus that counts. And for that, we Lutherans should be grateful for all the work that Billy Graham did to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world.

See, when Lutherans from the LCMS get to heaven, there are going to a lot of people there who weren’t followers of the church that bears Martin Luther’s name. We aren’t going to be subjected to a theology test at the pearly gates.There isn’t going to be a quiz about what is the true understanding of the Lord’s Supper or whether it is good to chant the Gospel on Sunday mornings. Believers in Jesus Christ are going to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Rev. Billy Graham was a good and faithful servant. May he rest in peace.

They Should Have Called It, “Divine Service for Dummies”

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod has seen enough of the worship wars. One side believes there is only one way to “do church,” and that is orderly and formal. The other side believes that there is a freedom to do worship. There will never be a uniting of these two camps.

In my pastorate, I’ve become one that sits somewhere in the middle of both sides, where orderliness is necessary while allowing freedom to sing and “do church” a little less formally. In fact, most pastors and churches fall into this camp.

Below is an excellent video from Gottesdient Online explaining a more orderly and formal Divine Service. My favorite line is how they describe the celebrant as he turns to face the congregation before the corporate confession and absolution:

“His words are measured and clear. He does not rush.”

I’m just saying that we here on the coast don’t rush. It just seems like we’re rushing because we usually just talk very fast.

No to an LCMS Central Government

Last Friday (Texas) District President (DP) Ken Hennings sent an unprecedented, public letter to the rostered members of his district. The letter explains the drastic change that the United List majority of the Synod Board of Directors adopted in May regarding ecclesiastical supervision.

But Hennings did more. The letter explains why District Presidents in Synod are no longer the final ecclesiastical supervisors of churches, pastors, teachers, DCEs and other church workers.  Our new, changed reality?

Synod President Harrison has taken that job for himself.

Read the complete article on Congregations Matter.

Ecclesiastical supervision.

Two words no member of an LCMS church should ever spend time worrying over.

I have tremendous respect and adoration for LCMS President Matthew Harrison. He is a stalwart Lutheran and expounds his love for the church in everything that he does.

But the Synod President should not be the judge and jury when doctrine and practice charges are leveled against pastors or congregations or DCEs or church workers. Districts should be the place where these accusations are heard and decided. District Presidents are empowered to do this work.

Will there be times when some in the Synod disagree with a decision of a District President? Of course.

On this side of eternity, none of us are going to agree on everything. As a church body, I believe we should be more worried about those within our society who need the light of Jesus in their lives.

Should we be a church body where people are motivated to go to church on Sunday to play an ugly game of theological ‘gotcha’ on congregations whose communion statements are either too short or don’t use all the right buzz words? Or what if a church uses a song during worship that hasn’t gone through theological vetting in St. Louis at LCMS HQ, should the Gotcha Police level charges that bypass the local District President and land on President Harrison’s desk?

As we come up on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, maybe our Synod needs a reformation that refocuses our St. Louis’ HQ bureaucracy on the Great Commission rather than on the mission to rid the Synod of people they don’t like. The people sitting in our pews who fund this Synod deserve it.