The Pastor's Perch

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Reports and Notices

For almost 30 years I have been publishing a monthly report, including a running count of actual (?) members, losses, gains, pastoral actions and other statistical data designed to inform the leadership and whomever else is interested of what is going on in our congregation. I began last month to stop trying to figure out who really is a member, how many members we really have and how many people actually gather for worship.

Why?

Covid. 

It has made it pretty difficult to assess how many people we really have in worship, as many like to watch it on the computer, and our denomination has deemed it not kosher to count the online viewers as actual worshipers.  

It makes is hard to know exactly how many people who do gather for worship are really members, as some people attending are local folks who just want to go to church somewhere and their church is closed, and we only make note who is here that we know, so that we can trace any possible problems. 

Most folks are wearing masks, so unless I know them as members I have to get close and ask them who they are. I will not turn away a visitor, and we have had several of them. 

As far as who is a member, it makes it hard to have a running total as our records that go back to the 60's were not totally brought forward into the 2000's, and unfortunately we have three distinct filing systems that did not translate into each other over the years. 

Having said all that, we have never had a Covid outbreak that stemmed from a worship service or congregation activity. Most people do not need to be told to stay home if they are sick. We trust that people are mature enough to handle their own illnesses, and they know that unless I am told not to come to visit them, I will visit them, even if they are sick.

Why am I telling you this? Because we are hurting ourselves by dividing up people by whether they had the Covod or not, whether they had vaccinations or not, whether they are members or not, etc. If we are to get Covid, we will get it. If we live in fear, we will get what we fear, regardless of how well we hide and quarantine ourselves. We may not yet think we are through with this, but we need to stop thinking in until's, such as "Until the Covid is over", "Until the Omicron is over", because none of it will ever be over enough. 

Instead, be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

God is our refuge and strength, a very present and well-proved help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. 

Selah. 

By the way, pay attention to the Selah, as it is a pause, a rest, and rest in Christ as you maneuver through this life.

 

For Thine is the Kingdom...

Often I encounter a person who laments the declining American Century/Influence/Empire. They talk about how once we were great and now we are late.(As in dying) So be it. You reap what you sew. We cannot blame it on all those who sacrificed to build this country. We cannot blame those who sacrificed to defend and protect this country. Who is there to blame? 

Us. What? Didn't I just exonerate a whole bunch of people? Yes and no. The sacrifices of those before us does not stop the human capacity to look inward, to selfishly seek its own good and comfort. It looks bad. Why would I say this? Because deep in the heart of each person is the capacity to destroy one another because we are natural born sinners with sin in us and the rebellion against God is always there. Picture a whole nation of such people and a world outside of our safe confines and you see that the world is always on a hair trigger. What can we do about it?

  1. Pray first to repent of your sin. Receive His forgiveness from His word, from a friend or a pastor.. 
  2. Pray that the Lord Jesus come soon.
  3. Take Him at His word, which really means be in His word.
  4. Think of others instead of our own selfishness.
  5. Gather together with His Church to seek His gifts that help us grow in faith and life.
  6. Remember He alone controls the world, not our military or economy. 
  7. See who our true enemy is, as in the devil, the world and our own sinful human nature.
  8. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. 

This is not a step by step program, but a way of life for the Christian. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Tonga

Why write about an Oceania archipelago's volcano woes? What do they have to do with us? First, this predominantly Christian nation sits on a world-altering time bomb. Not just because it can generate tsunami that can kill people thousands of miles away, but because the volcano can pump into our atmosphere clouds of ash that can block the sun's warming radiation, effectively cooling the earth's atmosphere. Next, this is not an isolated event, but part of the tectonic plate system that sits along what is the Pacific Ocean's Ring of Fire, which means it is part of a larger system that generates the largest percentage of volcanism and seismic activity. This particular event surprised scientists. The experts did not expect this, but you and I can say that we do expect this, because the ultimate scientist predicted this and other things. Remember what He told His followers:

Matthew 24:24 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. 9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. 10 And then many will fall away[a] and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Pray for these people, their archipelago nation, and the advance of the Gospel as the Christians there share hope in the midst of crises and chaos. You know about crises and chaos, maybe not like they do, but you can in your way empathize with them. Our Prayers are the same: Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

Memories, Friends and 8 x 10's

While checking with old acquaintances, I discovered an obituary of a person I had known for more than a decade who died ia few days ago in the Kansas town i served 15 years ago. Not that I am getting too nostalgic, because many have died throughout this pandemic, especially the elderly and the ill. It is odd when you know someone, know that they were healthy and active, and suddenly they are gone like that. As though someone blew a bus-sized hole in life that matched their outline. And like a blast, other things get sucked out through that hole, including parts of you. 

Looking at pictures does not do it. Reading old letters or even an actual document they produced does not do it. Medicine, science, positive thinking--none of that stuff cuts it when you lose someone close to you or someone with whom you shared life. When the funeral is termed a celebration of life, that is one of the hollowest descriptions of a person's existence now ended on this side of heaven. You cannot fool me; When they are gone, they are truly gone forever--on this side of heaven, that is.

And I would not want them back if they would have to go through it all over again. I prefer the reality presented by John the Apostle:

Revelation 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

With this as your future, why look back? With this as the reality that is guaranteed by the Christ through His death and resurrection, why worry about what was not done or done--it will all be made new, including us in Christ. 

So. go ahead, grieve and mourn, but not as ones without hope. Paul tells the Thessalonians:

1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

When you remember your loved ones and friends who are believers in Christ Jesus, remember that you will see them again, as Christ will include all those in Him in a new life, physical and eternal, in new bodies that will not be subject to death or anything because of sin. You have that waiting for you. God be with you and comfort you always.

Tradition and the New Life

The definition of a tradition is doing something twice, with an eye to continue doing it, like hosting a Super Bowl party each year, until you move, die, etc.

In our Lutheran tradition, we often get this tradition confused with necessary things, as all Christian denominations probably do. Think of your particular congregation's traditions, how they are presented, executed and reviewed, and you understand what I mean. As a child, Christmas Eve was the Children's Christmas Program, and that meant recitation, singing, laughter and the inevitable bag of candy, peanuts and oranges. I once asked my Sunday School teacher why we received the same stuff each year and she could only say nervously, because we always have done it that way.

If i were to write a book, I would call it, Neurotics in the Church--but I think someone already beat me to the punch. It is too easy to get upset about either changing tradition or maintaining it. Covid has monkey-wrenched so many of our sacred traditions over the last two years, so a healthy dose of common sense helps us:

Colossians 2:20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Sometimes traditions become so ingrained and inbred that it is hard to see that they are not necessarily needed or even wanted. Think about how you may have fallen into the rut of tradition, where you hold to something that is not necessary for/to your salvation. Think of these things and repent of them as they are becoming idols. You are in Christ through faith, so walk in faith and pay attention to what you do, why you do it and how you enforce it. It may not even bring you closer to God, but only closer to your comfort zone and Jesus may call you to leave your comfort zone.

Back where we started

Well, Omicron variant Covid is shooting through about every place on the globe, and we are not immune, it seems, regardless of vaccination status. You cannot stop an enemy that not only is invisible, but is already past the gates. 

Surrender?

Yep, but not to Omicron, and not to fear. Surrender to God and His infinite mercy. For those of us who trust in the LORD, this is not a new thing, but part of being on this side of heaven, waiting for the Lord Jesus to return, to make all things new and to live eternally on a new earth. 

And now, for a richer discussion of what that looks like: check out this link and let Dr. Paul Raabe take you into his assessment of what is coming to a new world near you.

https://scholar.csl.edu/cj/vol40/iss2/5/

Also, check out Dr. Peter Kurowski's, Animals in Heaven, Pets in Paradise

And as far as all this stuff goes, for those in Christ, it is a win-win, as St. Paul says in Philippians 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Go in His peace and know He will guide us through the madness of this present age.

And now...

For something completely different. Like there is a real break from 2021. And on top of it, the snow, ice, gale force winds and subzero temps. And there does not seem to be anything different from yesterday, way back in 2021. But in the Church Year, we hear Jesus fulfilling the Law, first by being circumcised and being given His name, which is part of the fulfilling the whole Law of a righteous son of Israel. He did it for you. He began His substitution for you when He was conceived in His mother, but now it becomes physical and public, as every firstborn Israelite son must be set aside as a living sacrifice to YHWH. This is the start of His life in substitution for each and everyone in history. The Church recognizes what He is to us: all humanity reduced to one person. 

Next Sunday, January 9, 2022, He is at it again: the Church commemorates His Baptism for us, and while He did not need to be washed of sin, He did this for us, substituting again for each person. It is as if He washes His righteousness off and when we are Baptized, we receive by faith this alien righteousness upon ourselves. But He receives our sin and sinfulness upon Himself, bearing our sin, accumulating it until He is raised up on a cross and punished with it all upon Himself.

All this for us, and the white snow that covers our communities symbolizes His righteousness that covers us, covers all our sin, and all His work to fulfill what we could never do on our own. And we receive these gifts from Him through faith, not by anything we could ever do to receive any of it. Forgiveness and salvation as a free gift. 

So, while waiting for above freezing temps later this week, my prayer is that you see Him at work in you daily as you gaze upon the frozen landscape. Under the snow white righteousness of Christ, you are alive, and soon the spring.

God bless your New Year.

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