Month: May 2012

We need to grow the church.


Lies we tell ourselves about the church:

We need to grow the church.


There’s a lie we need to be wary of. And it is a lie that is very alluring for us here at St. Luke’s. “We need to grow the church.”

Now, it’s a noble aspiration to want others to worship with us. It’s a good thing to want to share the good news with others. So what’s so dangerous?

If we say that “we need to grow the church,” what will we do to achieve that goal? How far will we go to pursue that goal? This morning we began with a confession of sins. Do you have any idea how offensive that is? I mean, seriously. You’re saying I did something wrong! How dare you tell me that? And it scares people off. Maybe it’s time that we just get rid of that pesky confession. All we need to talk about is forgiveness, right? Well, even that is kinda pesky. I mean, forgiveness implies that we need forgiveness. So let’s just talk about God’s love instead of his forgiveness. Yeah. If we’re going to get more people in here, if we’re going to grow the church, we should just not talk about some of the more offensive things. I’m not saying that we should teach something wrong; we just don’t talk about those things that might bother people. And that’s how we’ll grow the church!

And that’s why this lie is so dangerous. If we think we need to grow the church, if that is our goal, we focus on the wrong thing. We focus on putting bodies in the pews; we forget God’s Word. We’re pursuing people in this world instead of his kingdom and his righteousness. (more…)

Call Day!

This image is actually from a year ago at my call day. Sorry; I couldn’t find anything newer.

Last Thursday I trekked to the seminary to attend Call Day. On this day, graduates from the seminary present themselves for assignment to a congregation or other ministry (for instance, teaching). Others also present themselves: for instance, me. I had a one-year call, remember?

Thankfully, there were no surprises about my call: It was in fact made permanent. Yay! Some of my friends got sent to various places around the country or the world.

After the worship service where the calls are announced, the ministerial candidates go to meet with their new district presidents and get some information about the ministry they are to serve. My congregation happens to be in the South-East Wisconsin District. Though I didn’t need to stop in, I decided to poke my head into the meeting.

The District President made a nice welcome speech and introduced the soon-to-be pastors to pertinent people within the district (himself, his wife, a few other prominent pastors that are involved in big doings). After that, the meeting broke up as he moved from candidate to candidate to talk about some specifics.

I noticed a timid form in the corner. I went over to introduce myself and found out that he was the new vicar (or intern) for the congregation where I had vicared! Now, I may have been misreading this man. It was a busy, warm day and there were a lot of things going on. I gave him assurance: The bishop (supervising pastor) was an excellent man. He had talent in being able to read talent and put it to good use. The congregation was welcoming. The city was ripe for evangelism in so many ways! This man is going to have an awesome time at his vicar year.

And then… my bishop was there! We’ve not talked a lot since that year. We weren’t exactly close, though he taught me so much that I still use on a daily basis. (Remind me to mention our evangelism plan for this summer…) He put his arm around me…

…and told me he was proud of me.


I’ve never been good about accepting compliments. And, really, I haven’t done a whole lot here. I’m a tool. When someone puts together an awesome rocking chair, you usually don’t say, “Man, you have a spectacular tool set.” No, you compliment the man! Well, God has used me as a tool to do awesome stuff. And I can admit that. There are amazing doings here. And all of it’s God’s doings. He just used me to accomplish his purpose!

But to have that acknowledgement from a man I greatly respect and in many ways pattern myself after…


I’ve been blessed in incredible ways. I’ve been used in ways that blow my mind. But to have someone of that caliber say that he’s proud of me?

It’s a shadow — a teeny one, I grant you — a shadow of the last day. When God looks down and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” To be acknowledged that what I’ve been used to do is good? That someone like that is proud of me?


We Need to Get Busy

Lies we tell ourselves about the church:

We need to get busy

What lies do you believe about the church? Things like, “We need to grow the church. As long as we keep doing good things, the church will grow. It’s the pastor’s job.” Over the next month, we’re going to look at the early church and see what they thought of these statements. We’re going to see how they dealt with the lies. We’re going to then apply their answer to our situation today. And we’re going to confront the lies in our own lives. It might make you a little uncomfortable. It might strike a little close to home. I hope it does. I hope this gives you a chance to reflect on how you approach this thing called “church.” I hope you grow as you consider all the many ways in which you have been lied to and how those lies have seeped into your life. I hope it draws you closer to the one who has saved you from those lies and freed you to worship Him joyfully.

Today, we’re going to take a look at a lie that is very dangerous for us here at St. Luke’s. You’ve even heard it spoken here. I’ve fallen for it. “We need to get busy if we’re going to survive!” It’s easy to fall into this lie. It would have been easy for the apostles to fall into this lie. I want you to picture the situation: It’s about forty-three days after Easter. Last Thursday, Jesus ascended into heaven. He retook his throne. And now there’s about a hundred and twenty believers left. If they’re going to survive, they need to get busy! But what did they do? Let’s take a look.

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus— he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.”

“For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms, “ ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’and, “ ‘May another take his place of leadership.’ Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.  Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen  to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.”Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles. (more…)

Wait… Someone Listens?!

I got a huge compliment yesterday, and it’s hard for me to really grasp it.

Yesterday we began a new sermon series: Lies we tell ourselves about church. This is especially important here for us; now that we know I’m sticking around for a while, the congregation has two inclinations: Either relax, because the pastor will handle it, or hurry up and get busy so that we can take advantage of the blessing of the pastor. I’m very thankful that the congregation is leaning toward the latter. Yet, I’ve already seen (and fallen for) a certain lie that says, “We need to get busy!”

You see, we don’t need to “get busy.” We need to get into the Word and apply it to our situation. Throughout the sermon I made that point, applying it both to our congregational life, pointing out where we — and I, personally — had failed at this in recent memory. I also applied it to individual lives, using the example of deciding whether or not to move.

Now, it’s true that I expect the congregation to listen. But when they give evidence of not only listening, but then applying God’s truth in the sermon to their lives — wow!

We’re hosting a block party in a little over a month. The man in charge of the festivities came up after the service to make some announcements (pretty normal for us) and stood up and said, “We’re going to have to put this on hold. I realized I’ve been so busy getting the block party ready, I never asked what God says about something like this. I’m going to take some time in the Bible and get back to you all next week.”


Now, I have every confidence that we’re still going to host a block party. I also have every confidence that this study will sharpen our focus. Why are we having a block party? What’s the goal? How can we use this to give glory to God?

And even more: to have a sermon have such an immediate effect… well, it’s not what I expected, and I’m humbled God would use me in such a strong way! It is so encouraging to have someone listen and immediately display a change because of that. And even more encouraging to see this person be driven to the Bible for their answers, and not necessarily to me. My desire is not to connect people to me, after all, but to God’s Word!

What Does Christian Fruit Look Like?

John 15:9-17 9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.


What does Christian fruit look like?

  1. It keeps Jesus’ commands.
  2. It is self-sacrificial.
  3. It trusts Jesus’ promises.


What Adventures May Come

Today I visited a member of the congregation. It was the anniversary of his wife’s death. He ached to be with her again. And as we talked, he told me that he wasn’t allowed to go where he wanted anymore. He longed to be somewhere that no one had ever been before. He told me about exploring as a boy and how he wished he could be victorious again.

I told him how he was more than a conqueror through Christ. I shared with him the battle that had been won. He was victorious.

But that’s not what he wanted to hear.

I turned to something else. We talked about heaven.

I told him, “Benny, heaven’s so big that you’ll be able to explore a place that no one’s ever been before — every day. At the end of the day, you’ll come home, and your wife will be waiting.”

His eyes lit up. Suddenly heaven was something worth looking forward to.

Heaven is not sitting around plucking harps. Yes, in heaven we will praise God in all we do. Yes, we will be sinless. Yes, we will be in our physical bodies made perfect. But there will be more. We will serve God. We will finally fully be what God created us to be.

And men were made to have adventures.

What adventures await us in heaven? God knows. And I can’t wait to see what he’s got lined up.

The One-Year Call


“I’m going to let you look at the bulletin for the announcements. I only have one announcement for today, and it’s pretty important.

“Some of you know I received a one-year call to serve here. That means that I was only going to serve here for one year. There was a number of reasons for this, but the biggest was that we’re a small congregation. Our larger church body wanted to make sure that this congregation could support a pastor.

“I spent a lot of time talking with the district president last night. We discussed the call. And a decision has been reached.”

I choke up. I take a second to compose myself. It doesn’t work.

“I hope you can live with me as a pastor, because I’m going to be here a while. The call has been made permanent.”

I barely get the words out. I don’t know if anyone can understand me. But then the church bursts into applause. I smile. Stupid tears.

“The Lord be with you this week.”

I have never gotten so many hugs on the way out of church. The congregation was grateful. Their pastor is staying. I’m staying.

In a few months, I’m going to have a nervous breakdown. As part of my training to become a pastor, I’ve moved nearly yearly for a good long time. Staying in one location longer? It’s going to break my head.

But for now… for now, it is good to be here. It is good to stay. It is good to serve. And I’m looking forward to continuing to serve for a good long time, Lord willing.


(Incidentally, there is no good image for “crying pastor” on Google Images. Someone fix this.)

God Still Laughs

–Written at 9:34 pm on May 12, 2012, after getting off the phone with the district president –

I received a one year call. That means that the church that I served was only guaranteed to have a pastor for one year. That means I was only guaranteed a parish (as much as any pastor can be guaranteed) for one year. That means that at the end of the year, given the circumstances, I may be asked to move to a different parish in a different city, state, time zone, or nation.

This decision to give a one-year call was based on a number of factors. The church is small; could it support a full-time pastor financially? The church has a history of problems; was it better to pull the plug? The church has a history of breaking called workers; would it do so again? Better to allow the new pastor – me – an out in case it appeared that history would repeat itself.

It’s been a year. I arrived in the heat of July. I survived the mild winter (constantly complaining about the lack of snow). I have forded my first Advent as well as my first Lent as a pastor.

And God laughed the entire way. (more…)

If you think you’re going to sit around doing nothing…

John 15:1-8 15      “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.


If you think you can just sit around, you’re going to have a hard time.

  1. You’re going to bear fruit.
  2. You’re going to be cut.


Be Dangerous.

Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.


Be dangerous.

  1. You are invading hostile territory.
  2. Trust your general.


Grace, mercy, and peace to you, dear people of God, and especially today to you, Zach and Demitri.

Today is a big day. Today, you become dangerous. Today, you are declaring war. You have spent years learning about your weapon, the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. You have learned all about it. You’re not experts yet, but you’ve got the basics. Today you’re getting out of boot camp and joining the war effort. You chose as your class verse Psalm 23:4. It says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” And that is your rallying cry as you move to the battlefront. Today, I tell you: Be dangerous! To do that, recognize that you are invading hostile territory. Also, trust your general.

First, you’re invading hostile territory. You’ve been stationed in the valley of the shadow of death. You’ve been stationed at a dangerous, dangerous place. No one escapes unscathed. Death casts a long shadow. It is very, very cold, and there is no one who can hide from it. You’re surrounded by dying people. Unless Jesus comes back first, every person you know will die. You will see your friends die – unless you die first. You will see them in a coffin. You will see your parents in their coffins. You will visit the graves of your brothers and sisters. And you will witness all this, unless death visits you first. You battle in a place where death casts a long shadow. You are soldiers, fighting until the end. And you will see your fellow soldiers taken off the field of battle.

You will see more things than just death. You’ll see everything leading up to death. You need to recognize what a terrible world we live in. It’s so tainted with sin, every single thing we humans touch dies. Love dies. Friendships die. (more…)