January 2021 A.D.
New Year’s Resolutions
Note: I wrote the letter below to you shortly after my installation in an eblast four years ago on 1/1/17 before we got the newsletter up and running. I rerun it now with some new questions and thoughts in brackets.
Greetings in the Name of Jesus, The Alpha and Omega,
Reminder, Divine Service tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. and Bible study to follow. No better way to start 2017 A.D. than with the Creator of time!
As you know, our church follows a different calendar than the world. Our Church Calendar has different holydays and a different beginning and ending. Since we are out of step with the beat of this world, we celebrate the beginning of a new year at the beginning of Advent. But, we also live in the world and in Christian freedom observe holidays and events on the world’s (mainly American) calendar too. Though not on the Church Calendar, we observe Independence Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc.—and this is a fine thing to do, as temporal citizens of this world, with our real citizenship already in heaven. As to say, we all love the Church Calendar, but we embrace the secular calendar, too. We say “Happy New Year” in Advent, but also in January—and that is, again, obviously fine and not a moral issue.
One thing that is typical for Americans to do is to make New Year’s Resolutions in January. Without launching into a treatise on the three uses of the Law, and the Gospel motivation for good works, I’ll just say that this is a fine thing to do. I usually resolve to drop a few pounds, which usually lasts until about the second week of January.☺
Part of my duty as your pastor, and all our duty as Christians, is to encourage one another to live a godly life. Therefore, I would like to highlight some goals that I have for St. John this year (New Year’s Resolutions, if you will) that flow from Scripture. I encourage you to make these goals your own, knowing foremost that Jesus has obeyed the 10 Commandments inwardly and outwardly for us and died for our breaking Them:
- Weekly Divine Service Attendance: Jesus really comes to us graciously in Sermon and Sacrament each Sunday to forgive our sins and give us faith; this is by far the most important event in our week–temporally and eternally speaking. In keeping with the gracious 3rd Commandment, we observe in Scripture that Old and New Testament believers worshiped together at least once a week. Jesus, also, in the New Testament ‘went to church’ every week. Obviously, there are valid reasons that prevent us from gathering on Sundays, like emergencies and illness–or those who work in jobs like healthcare. But, as far as it depends on us, with the help of God, let us renew our Confirmation vows and strive to be with Jesus every Sunday. Let us confess to the unbelieving-wrong priority-world that being with Jesus and brothers and sisters in the faith is more important than sports, school, money, and fun.
- Attend Bible Study: Don’t you want to know what God Almighty says to you? None of us can say that we know all there is to know in God’s Word. God’s Word is a well that never runs dry. Why not learn from the teacher/pastor that Jesus has given to you to learn from? Currently, we only have one weekly opportunity (Sunday morning), but the elders and I are in the midst of planning other opportunities for during the week, like a men’s and women’s Bible study. [ Four years has made a difference, as we now have multiple Bible classes. Praise be to God. My goal is that every member attends at least one Bible study.]
- Home Devotions: Living as a Christian isn’t just a couple hours of Worship and Bible Study every week. It is a daily Calling. Let us try to foster the discipline of prayer and home devotions in our daily lives (or for our family). If you don’t know where to begin, talk with me. [Or, see the links in the newsletter]
Brothers and sisters in Christ, you notice I only have three encouragements. There are more that I could put, but these are the most important since they are the only means that our Lord strengthens our faith and creates fervent love in us toward our neighbor and for evangelism. These are the gifts (basically, His Word in various ways) that the Lord gives us and wants us to receive all the time. It is only from receiving God’s gifts that we will have faith and the proper motivation and resolve to do good works in service of our neighbor—in the home, world, and church (think serving on Boards, Sunday school teachers, giving in offerings, prayer, community outreach, inviting others to church, etc.)
“Create in us a clean heart, O, God!”
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV)[Four years later, my goals for you haven’t changed. They haven’t changed since our Lord and His Word haven’t changed. The world changes. The news cycle changes. But the Lord remains the same. The Lord’s good and gracious will that we receive Word and Sacrament ministry gathered together as His body the Church doesn’t change just because there are changes in the world. His desire that our faith be strengthened by Word and Sacraments so we can go out into the world to do good works for our neighbor and preach the Gospel hasn’t changed.
Viruses aren’t new even though they call this virus novel. By the way, I heard someone wisely ask, “If the novel Corona virus is novel, how do we have experts? Experts are often wrong and the last ones to admit they are wrong. There are so many contradictory ‘experts’ out there, and no Christian is bound to obey them, especially if they contradict Jesus’ commands and expertise.” The novel Corona virus hasn’t changed the Lord’s command to gather as a congregation to hear His Word and take communion, as the Hebrews 10 quote from four years ago states. It hasn’t changed His command to love one another, which requires being with one another. Another good place to look for instruction is 1 Cor. 11:
[1Co 11:17-34 ESV] 17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another– 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home–so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
Do we not obey the Lord and come together as the church of God to “do this” and “proclaim His death until He comes” because a few unbelieving ‘experts’ say we shouldn’t? How long is it okay to not “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” via a communion service? Until a vaccine is taken? Couldn’t He come at any time to judge? How long can we suspend the Lord’s command to show hospitality to others and love our neighbors? And, as I have pointed out, a lot of these same ‘experts’ wouldn’t say you can get sick and die by communing unworthily or that the bread and wine are Christ’s body and blood. Whose words do we trust in and follow?
Certainly, Christians gathering will offend the unbelieving world who fears death and not God, as American journalist, Jody Dean, showed via his outrage that Prestonwood Baptist in Prosper met normally (normal mean normal not a new normal) for Christmas Eve Candlelight service. (https://twitter.com/DFWJodyDean/status/1342926043674533888). What Dean found offensive, I found heartening. I was encouraged to see Christians, even heterodox ones, congregating without fear to hear God’s Word together, sing together, and pray together—all gracious commands of our Lord.
And for any Confessional Lutheran reading this that may get offended, I ask this: These words wouldn’t have offended you 12 months or four years ago. What has changed? God’s Word? Confirmation vows? Are we not to fear, love and trust in God above all things? If God’s Word and application was true four years ago when I wrote this, it is just as true today. God’s Word hasn’t changed, but, if you are offended, has the object of your fear and faith changed?
The Lord’s will, words, and commands are offensive to the world and all of our sinful flesh and fallen ‘expertise’. Repent and believe the words and promises of our patient and gracious Lord.]
[Mat 11:1-6 ESV] 1 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. 2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Newsletter article – January 2021
It’s a new year. It’s a time when we take stock of the year past in order to improve the year to come. It’s a time when we sit down to plan and implement what we want to accomplish and even change. Part of that is planning our stewardship for the coming year.
Often, we find this difficult and daunting and even joyless, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it is really quite simple and full of joy. So, here are some tips to make that planning less stressful. You begin by answering these three questions:
- Who are you?
- To whom do I give?
- And how much?
So, who are you? The Table of Duties in the Luther’s Small Catechism informs us. Are you a hearer of God’s Word? Are you a citizen of society? Are you a member of a family? Stewardship covers these three estates: church, society, and family. We don’t particularly struggle to give to society or family. Our struggles, our difficulties, and our questions arise in giving to the Church.
So, what is our duty as members of the Church with regard to giving? Again, the Table of Duties, gives us a guide. If you are a hearer – a member of the Church who receives instruction – St. Paul taught: “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches” (Gal. 6:6). This means the local congregation is primary.
Your pastor is the one called to preach the Gospel to you and administer the Lord’s blessed sacraments to you. Your congregation is the place where those things happen. Thus, when God calls us to give to the Church, He has the local congregation in mind. For “the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14).
How much do we give to the local congregation? Our only instructions are to give:
- Regularly (1 Cor. 6:1–2);
- Proportionally (1 Cor. 16:1–2; 2 Cor. 8:12);
- Generously (2 Cor. 8:20);
- Of our first fruits (Gen. 4:4; Prov. 3:9; Lev. 27:30); and
- With a spirit of eagerness (2 Cor. 9:2), earnestness (2 Cor. 8:7), cheerfulness (2 Cor. 9:7), and love (2 Cor. 8:23).
In other words, giving to the Church is not to be an afterthought, given after everything else is spent. In this way, it is deliberate. We give regularly – weekly, biweekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly – keeping in mind our own strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. We set it aside beforehand – before anything else is spent.
From those first fruits, we set aside a proportionate and generous amount. Ten percent was the standard for the Israelites. This was a command for the ancient Israelites. We can give as much as we want, but ask yourself: Do we really want to be less generous than was commanded of the Israelites? Is the job of the New Testament Church bigger or smaller than the job given to Israel?
And how are we to give it? We give it with eagerness and earnestness. We give it cheerfully and with love, not out of compulsion. For through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments, God has made us His children, forgiven us all our sins, given us grace upon grace, promised us life everlasting with Him in His kingdom, and filled us with His own Spirit, the Holy Spirit. This makes giving a joy, as Jesus said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
It’s that easy. And it is joyful. For in stewardship, our gracious and giving Lord invites us to take part in the work that He accomplishes here on earth, providing for the ongoing preaching of the Gospel as well as those who are in need. Taking part in that makes all our work holy – work that is done in service to the Lord as priestly members of His kingdom.
What should I be doing as a steward of the gifts the Lord has given me? Our Small Catechism, from Scripture, shows us our duties in our God-given vocations. Each month, I plan to cycle through parts of the Table of Duties:
Table of Duties Monthly Review: To Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers
The overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 1 Tim. 3:2–4 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 1 Tim. 3:6 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. Titus 1:9
Table of Duties Monthly Review: What the Hearers Owe Their Pastors
The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. 1 Cor. 9:14 Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Gal. 6:6–7 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 1 Tim. 5:17–18 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 1 Thess. 5:12–13 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. Heb. 13:17
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