DO YOU HAVE EARS TO HEAR?

Preaching a sermon is a foolish exercise in the eyes of the world. Just like the Greeks and Jews of the past our world longs for clever reasoning and the miraculous or wow factor (1 Cor 1:18-25) Yet, as biblical Christians we put great hope in preaching. Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (Rom 10:17).

As much as preaching properly the Word of God is the responsibility of the pastor, your responsibility is to properly listen to the preached Word.  As Luther said, we deem the preaching of the Word as holy and gladly hear it.

Ears To Listen:

As said in Isaiah 6:9, “They are ever hearing, but never understanding.”  Don’t be a lumpy pew warmer. Being attentive requires self-discipline and faith. Listening to the preached Word is part of the worship you offer to God. When you let this sin-soaked world distract your ears, mind, heart and soul to be inattentive to the very Word of God you have a stubborn and hardened heart. If your heart is stubborn and hardened you will not hear and turn towards God. Having the ears to hear God’s Word is a work of the Holy Spirit. Pray the Spirit will open your ears and soften your heart.

Listen For the LAW:

You may not like what you hear. You may not feel good about yourself when hear the sermon. Take heart. You need to hear the Truth. When you feel accused that is the Word of God pointing us to our limitations so we may run to God for our salvation. Take what is preached personally because God is speaking to you personally.

Listen For the GOSPEL:

The sermon is not to tell you about the LORD. Take what is preached personally because God is speaking to you personally. The sermon is meant for you to encounter the LORD. Jesus hung on the Cross for you. The Lord gives the absolution of sin for you. Listen for the PROMISES of God.

Not There To Entertain, But To Transform:

While pastors may tell stories, use imagery and even try jokes, they are not working to entertain you. Proclamation is the sacred matter of death and life. The purpose of the preached Word is to give you new life. Listen for how you will put the Word into practice.

Pray For Preaching:

Pray for your pastor to be soaked in the Word and guided by the Holy Spirit. Pray for the pastor as he works on the sermon days, weeks, even months ahead of time.

Pray also the Holy Spirit speaks to you through the sermon. Pray your ears will hear the life-giving Word that creates and nurtures faith. Pray against the sin that would dismiss God’s Word and clutter your mind.

Take Notes & Think About It:

Many Christians listen better when they have pencil in hand. Taking notes helps you to pay attention. Provides a basis on which to reflect and discuss later. To focus on the main points. May even give rise to questions you ask the pastor about the sermon. The big question to ask yourself, “What is the LORD speaking to me today?”

If you need a surface on which to write, you could always bring your bible.

Even more, after you get home, you can discuss with your family what the Lord is saying in your lives.

Starting in August, sermon notes will be regularly available for you to actively listen to the sermon and take notes.

May the ears of your hearts be enlightened so that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Eph 1:18-19)

Your servant in the Word, Pastor Douglas

Bring Kids To Church Any Way

At the start of the sermon I said we all know what it’s like to have someone throw you under the bus. Emily didn’t. In her 4 year-old voice she gasped, “No!” The back rows of the church broke out in laughter.

      Bringing children to worship can seem like a battle from getting their socks and shoes on to encouraging them to be quiet during the sermon. At times parents may wonder if all the effort is really worth it. Lean into the grace of Christ, push through the emotions and distractions to bring yourself and your kids to worship. What God has for you and them is totally worth it.

      As we look around our post-Christian society, raising kids in the faith and having a Christ-centered marriage are so hard. Even though you may feel worn and broken, remember the Lord is near.

      When your child misbehaves and people look around, remember most of the adults have gone exactly what you are going through. They are sympathetic, not judgmental. As disheartened and discouraged you may feel, redirect your focus to be in the presence of God. God knows every parent struggling through difficulties of bringing children to worship is engaged in a heroic spiritual battle.

      To all our parents who are fighting the good fight of faith do whatever you have to do to get your family to worship; especially you fathers: be the pathfinders. Remember the only audience you come to see in worship is God. The one who says to bring the little children to him delights in your attendance.

      The LORD has great blessings for your family that cannot be obtained at the school, the mall, or any streaming TV. Knowing God created you, redeems you and walks with you through the challenges of this life are blessings everyone of us needs no matter our age. This Gospel of Jesus Christ that gives us forgiveness and freedom is critical to both your spirit and your children’s spiritual development.

      When your family has a late Saturday night with everyone snail moving Sunday morning, unable to locate shoes and whining about having to go, rally your troop, wear whatever is presentable and bring your kids to worship anyway.

      Hair might not be brushed, socks don’t match, and the only outfit your four year old will wear is a superhero costume; let the kids look a bit disheveled, unkept, and festive. Bring your kids to worship anyway.

      Restless toddlers are often resistant to confined spaces for extended periods of time, climbing up, down and all around, making multiple escape attempts down the aisle. Bring your kids to worship anyway.

      Siblings often must be strategically seated in the pew and bribed with promised donuts afterwards to keep the mischief to a minimum for a solid hour. Bring your kids to worship anyway.

            Know that you have supporters at St. John’s. Activity bags right inside the door in both worship spaces if you need them. Grandparents are around always eager to hold babies. The kids message is a special time for the children to know I am their pastor too. We offer children’s chapel during the contemporary worship so kids receive a message on their level while you get to listen to the sermon. We offer Sunday School during the academic year and VBS in the summer. And we are launching a young family group. 

      Let the LORD build your family so your efforts are fruitful. Let the LORD watch over your family so you may strengthen them for this life. (Psalm 127:1)

Being rooted and established in love, may you have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. (Eph 3:18) 

Your servant in Christ, Pastor Douglas

GET HAPPY?

Want to feel happy?  Isn’t this the elusive goal that every human being is chasing after?  But, what if you would find happiness where you don’t expect it?  Would you try finding it in the unlikely place?

Strangely, research confirms that people find mental well-being aka happiness when they are repentant. When people lead a repentant lifestyle where they “embrace accountability to God” they experience higher levels of psychological well-being according to a study from Baylor University, Westmont College and Hope College.

This happiness didn’t emerge from conforming some social norms of a religious group, known in scripture as keeping the Law. Rather, what researchers call theistic accountability, believers welcome accountability to God seeking to discern God’s will and wisdom in order to be faithful and better understand their purpose in life. Theistic accountability is an academic sociology term for what you and I know as repentance to God.

Sadly, most people in our society don’t look to the One who is the source of Joy to find happiness.

“Why should we expect perceptions of accountability to God to be associated with well-being?” Professor Matt Bradshaw said, “It’s because humans are social creatures and our psychological health is bound up in positive and constructive relationships, not only with other people, but also with God.”

Rather than rebelling against God, people who are happy see themselves as answerable to God. They embrace the responsibilities that come with their faith and view being accountable to God as a blessing that leads them to meaningful and successful lives. 

Who would have thought that telling your offenses to God would lead to life, to joy?

The LORD who designed you said this would be good for your psychological well-being. “If you repent, I will restore you that you may come before me” (Jeremiah 15:19)

The LORD repeatedly tells us to turn from sin to find gratifying life. “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32 see also 2 Peter 3:9)

Jesus Christ began his ministry by telling us, “Repent and believe the Good News.” (Mark 1:15)

Coming before our Holy and Righteous God to unload our sins is good for your happiness.  “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)

Faith practices of worship attendance, prayer and mediating on scripture are all shown to foster psychological well-being. People who pray more often foster a relationship in communication with God that reinforced accountability.  Active participation in the life of a repentant community of faith heals people. “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

Come receive the renewal and restoration promised to boost your wellbeing.  Call on God’s promises like the King David: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:10, 12)

May the unfailing love of the LORD rest upon you as you put your hope in Him. (Psalm 33:22)

Your brother in Christ, Pastor Douglas

SOMETHING MORE THAN TWITTER

Whether you tweet or not, Elon Musk’s $45 billion purchase of the social media platform Twitter is a big deal because he promises to curtail the censorship of certain perspectives. While the promise to curtail censorship of public discourse is promising, what is more remarkable is the apoplectic response of many to the prospect of more free speech. You would think more public discourse would be a good thing.

Perhaps we should be cautious. Do we want more public discourse of pornography or paganism or prejudice? Probably not. Who is to say whether more public discourse will mean a civil exchange of ideas? Based on past social media performance where anonymous posters lob word bombs at distant strangers, probably not.

So, how are we as Christians to consider this potential Twitter loosening of tongues? Already we see posts and memes begging Musk The Benefactor to take over Facebook so the untweeting generation can be freed from FB prison. One of the complaints for how these social media platforms operate is that their use computer code to limit the reach of messages they deem unwanted. Many Christians think their bible posts could get more eyeballs. Maybe.

Is the intolerance of this world to the posting of God’s message new? When the Logos of God, the Word of God was posted in the world, the world did not receive it (Jn 1:11). Even the very people to whom the Word was shared rejected and tried to censor it completely by hanging it on the cross.

What limits the reach of the Gospel message in people’s lives? The Bible prophesied about social media. “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of tweeters to say what their itching ears want to hear.”(2 Tim 4:3)  Jesus anticipated the hours and hours this generation would spend on their phones, saying, “they may be ever seeing but never perceiving”(Mk 4:12)

The censorship of the Gospel message is not new, even if it is new to us. Apostle Paul dealt with so much more than mean tweets, restrictive algorithms, or shadow banning.  So, what is the answer to getting more follows and subscribes on social media?  Do we have an advocate? What will overcome the censorship of this generation that does not want this Word? 

The Word of God relies not on Twitter or Facebook, nor does it even rely on us. The inherent power of the Word comes from the Holy Spirit. The Word creates faith where there was none, not by boosting posts, but because the Spirit speaks the Truth of God.

So, our Advocate encourages us to pray the Holy Spirit will open doors.(Col 4:3, Rom 15:30-31)  Paul’s request applies to every Christian, “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” (Eph 6:19).  Rather than worry about Sam in San Francisco or Denise in Dallas, we will share with our relative, co-worker or neighbor the reason for our hope with gentleness and respect.(1 Pet 3:15)

May the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you glorified in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thess 1:12)

Preacher of the Word and your servant in the Gospel,

Pastor Douglas

ABRASION

Often the quote, “Iron Sharpens Iron” (Prov 27:17) is used to describe men’s ministry.  Iron sharpening iron is an abrasive process. Abrasion is necessary to grind down an edge; to clean up caked on gunk. The green side of the sponge, right?

But what if we aren’t iron rubbing against iron? What does that look or feel like?  Uncomfortable caustic grinding. Make it stop! 

Yes, spiritual growth is a process. We start out as spiritual infants (1 Pet 2:2, Heb 5:13, 1 Cor 3:2). But the expectation is that we grow mature in faith. Peter, Paul and the author of Hebrews mocked Christians who were still immature in their faith. “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)

Do you think the disciples ever found Jesus abrasive?  Many times.

At the beginning of following Jesus, the disciples were eager and excited. Their enthusiasm to be with Jesus fueled their confidence even though they had no experience or depth. The disciples had no spiritual strength because they had no spiritual struggles.

The enthusiasm and comfort faded when the disciples began to realize they are following a messiah everyone rejects. Worse, their confidence hit rock bottom as they recognize they really have no idea what they are doing.  As they question and doubt Jesus and their call, they felt overwhelmed. They are not having fun anymore.

The call to become to disciples is abrasive. The call to die to self and pick up the cross is caustic. Even the resurrected Christ created lots of spiritual discomfort. He challenges the disciples to go out and make other disciples. Jesus sends them beyond their neighborhoods out to the whole world.

Jesus tells his disciples, “Have no fear little flock for the Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”(Luke 12:32) Jesus tells them to let go of their earth-bound securities and to trust in him. Even as Jesus was challenging their comfort, Jesus gave them the promises of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. While they were still learning, Jesus sent them out to share the Good News.

As the disciples lived more and more in the presence of Christ they are now his friends. They shared life with Jesus including his objectives and aims. They have a joy that comes from knowing Christ.

This joy only came through the abrasive process of walking with Jesus. Now that they are his friends the disciples have a strength and power that gets through the opposition of this world. They have a strength and power that enables them to raise up other disciples.  

Who would think being rubbed the wrong way is the process of growing in faith?

May you grow in grace and knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)      

Your servant in Christ, Pastor Douglas

Take Courage, Don’t Be Afraid

Annunciation Painting by Patricia BrintleFear is hardwired into our psyche. We are programmed for fight and flight in the deepest recesses of our brain in the amygdala, our reptilian brain. When something triggers fear in our lives, the amygdala gets the rest of the body responding with heart pounding, breath quickening, muscle tensing, sweat beading stress.

We all have been in a stress induced fight or flight response for the past 20 months, wouldn’t you say? Our bodies and psyches have been overacting to the pressures of the societal chaos we have all been slogging through. This overdrawn activation of the stress response to fear is taking its toll on us, body, mind and spirit.

We can all recognize that regardless of economic or political persuasion the entire $130 billion news industry thrives on pumping fear into our society. They herald bad news to inspire fear and dread.

While we are hardwired to respond to fear, we are not created for Fear. You certainly are not redeemed through Christ to live for fear.  The promise of the resurrected Christ over fear and death is “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36, John 20:19, 21, 26, Rev 15:33)

The entire bible addresses the stress of fear. A word that appears more 340 times in scripture. The answer to fear is not fight or flight, but faith. Faith is trusting the LORD cares for us in the midst of the chaos and threat of this life.

When we let fear overrun our lives and our spiritual devotion, we are not living by Faith and trust in the LORD. When we let fear overrun our lives and spiritual devotion, we are listening to Satan and his lies.  Do you trust the Lord is with you? (Luke 1:28) 

Some version of “Be Not Afraid” occurs 110 times in the scripture. The encouragement to move past fear occurs in all critical stories of scripture. Over and over again people of faith are urged to keep up their courage; to be steadfast and courageous.  As the angels say to the shepherds, the Spirit says to you, “Do not be afraid, I bring you good news that will cause great joy.” (Luke 2:10)

When we look at the story of the birth of the Messiah we hear over and over again the heavenly heralds urging Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, and Mary not to be afraid and to trust the LORD.  As Mary proclaims, God promises “to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” (Lk 1:74–75).

Join us throughout the season of Advent and Christmas to be encouraged and strengthened by the Word of God and the Presence of Christ.

May the Holy Spirit come upon you, and the power of the Most High overshadow you. (Luke 1:35).   Your Servant in the Gospel, Pastor Douglas

Ashen Lump or Hot Coal?

This is an old story, but a good one.

       There was once a dour old Scotsman who rarely went Church. The pastor of the church went out to see him in his small cottage home along a muddy country road. The pastor knocked; the old Scotsman came to the door, opened it, saw the pastor, and without a word motioned him inside. He pointed to a rocking chair in front of the coal fire and drew up another chair for himself. The two men sat quietly and watched the coals burn brightly.

       After a time the pastor stood up, took the pair of tongs, lifted one of the burning coals out of the fire, and put it off to the side of the hearth. Both men watched the lone coal as it grew ashen and cold. After a few minutes the pastor tooks the tongs, picked up the now dead coal, and put it back in the fire. He sat down and both men watched as once again it burned brightly with all the rest. Then without a word the pastor left.

       The next Sunday the old Scotsman was in church, and he seldom missed worship from that time forward.

       Every coal needs the fire and warmth from other burning coals. The fire and passion of Christ’s love cannot grow or be sustained in isolation.  “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:28-29)  

       What are the tribulations and inducements that sap the warmth of God’s grace from your life?  What are banal idolatries that distract you from the love God demonstrates so powerfully for you? What dark skeptics are robbing you of the hope in the gospel you have been given? Why do you let yourself grow ashen and cold?

       Come and worship to be ignited by the fire of the LORD’s Spirit. Gather with God’s family around his Word and his life-giving presence in the Lord’s Supper.  Let the fire of Christ warm you through your worshipping church, so that together in Him we can warm the world and our community. Jesus Christ needs you to be a witness to God’s power and salvation and to touch, alight and set on fire other people’s lives with his love.

       The Peace of the Lord be with You

       Pastor Douglas Schoelles

IN THE SHADOW OF YOUR WINGS

  I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; 
     turn your ear to me and hear my prayer. 
Show me the wonders of your great love, 
     you who save by your right hand 
     those who take refuge in you from their foes. 
Keep me as the apple of your eye; 
     hide me in the shadow of your wings 
from the wicked who are out to destroy me, 
     from my mortal enemies who surround me.     (Psalm 17:6–9).

We pray for the Lord’s protection in the Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver me from evil.” We can often take God’s protection for granted.

In Acts 27-28, Paul and his band of missionaries go through a hurricane-like storm, get shipwrecked, and he gets bit by a snake, yet the LORD protects them.

Catastrophes should have over taken me so many times. I know the Lord protects me from my own stupidity and naivety. But even more I know the LORD is protecting me from my mortal enemy who seeks to destroy me and who is coming at me all the time. The devil is like a lion prowling around waiting to devour me.

Yes, I have down times. Yes, I have slip ups. Yes, I have bad things happen to me. But the truth that I continue to have hope, love and forgiveness in my heart all point to how the Lord is shielding me. The more I seek to dwell in His presence, the shadow of God’s wings, the more I would enjoy his protection. (Ps 36:7, Ps 57:1, Ps 63:7, PS 91:1, Isa 49:2)

Necessary Innovation?

“Why Be You when you can be New?” [Robots, the movie]

We are always tempted with the new and the innovative, even in ministry. (One time even hymnals were cutting edge!)

Some ministry leaders listening to Jesus asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?” (John 7:15–18).
– Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”

The very creator of the universe, the originator of new out of nothing, the source of all inspiration says he only passes on what has been given to him. Jesus is not aiming for originality or a fresh approach. He is not giving a new teaching. He is not convey something of his own devising.

Rather the Word of God the Christ is passing on what is bestowed to him. Why? Because Jesus is not about his own prestige or glory. He is pointing to the Father.

Perhaps we should recognize that the temptation to come up with our own unique word or teaching is not inspired, but that Satan tempts us to be “new” and innovative.

Rather we are encouraged by the Spirit to rest in Christ, be content to be who we are in Christ and simply share what God is doing in us.

PRAYER: Heavenly LORD, help us to rest in your revealed Word which is far more innovative and creative and life-changing than any “new word” we devise. Help us to delight in seeking your glory and honor by letting your revealed word shine with the light of Truth, in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

RAISING HAPPIER ADULTS

What are your hopes and dreams for your children and grandchildren? 

Do you hope they possess good mental health?  I can’t believe you would want them to have depression, low self-esteem, discontent, or anxiety disorders.  

Do you hope to encourage their physical well-being?  Again I can’t believe you would cheer them to take up smoking, alcohol, drugs, or promiscuous sex; all of which would diminish their physical health.

Parents and Grandparents, what do you insist your children do to set them up for this life?  Sports, school, good friends?  What sacrifices do you make so your children live a better life than you?

Do you want to help your child succeed in life? Pass on a living faith in Jesus Christ.

While all kinds of factors impact what happens in a child’s life, one of the most significant factors to improve and safeguard the mental health and physical well-being of our children is for parents to pass on their faith to their children.

A recent study by Harvard University’s School of Public Health found kids raised going regularly to church grow up to be happier adults.  The study explored the association of the religious involvement of children and teens with their mental health and physical well-being as young adults. The study was published by the American Journal of Epidemiology which is dedicated to research related to health and well being.  Empirical research suggests that religion is associated with better health and well-being in adults.

When they say “religious involvement” they mean weekly worship attendance and regular or daily devotional times in children’s lives. The researchers found found little difference existed between “never attending” and “less than weekly” attendance to move the needle on many of the measurements of mental and physical health.

When we talk about attendance, we are not talking about the kids being dropped off.  To effectively pass on our religious values and practices “occurs largely through parental modeling”.  Am I saying going to worship and praying together are the magic ticket? No. But spiritual growth helps all of us run this life race with perseverance and come out ahead.  As the apostle Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7; cf. 1 Cor 9:24-27, Acts 20:24, Gal 5:7, Heb 12:1)

Attending worship was associated with greater life satisfaction and positive affect, greater volunteering, greater sense of mission, more forgiveness, and lower probabilities of drug use and early sexual initiation. Being involved in the faith community was linked to a wide range of positive outcomes, such as greater psychological well-being, character strengths, reduced mental illness, and healthier behaviors.

To cut to the point. You want to help your kids run this race with perseverance? You want them to have a mental and physical edge over this world that is unkind and unfair? Put them in the lap of Jesus who calls on you: “Bring the little ones to me, for the kingdom of God belongs to them.”(Mark 10:14)  

May we continue to grow in the grace and knowing Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. (2 Peter 3:18)

Your servant in Christ, Pastor Douglas

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