Reformation 2017: Refocus, Reflect, Renew

Every month this year (the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation), we will consider one of the 10 commandments as explained by Martin Luther in his Small Catechism, written for parents to help teach the faith to their children.
Martin Luther and the Second Commandment:
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”
What does this mean? Martin Luther says “”We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie or deceive using God’s name, but instead that we use that very name in every time of need to call on God with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. ” From Luther’s Small Catechism

What’s in a name? We all have names. We like our name to be used in positive, respectful ways, not in sneering or attacking, right? Well,the same goes for God with God’s name. Of course we use many names to call on God – Dear God, Lord, Our Father, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, and many others. God wants us to use God’s name early and often to call on him in prayer and thanksgiving, to use God’s name to get God’s attention, so to speak. To have an ongoing relationship with God throughout our day.

But our culture tends to use God’s name in vain so often that it tends to simply become not a connection with God, but merely an exclamation point, stuffed between words to give them some emphasis, but it doesn’t mean anything -“OMG!” or “Good God!” This makes God’s name meaningless to us.

Damning someone in God’s name, cursing, is another use of God’s name, but it assumes that God is on our side whenever we want revenge, which is highly unlikely, since God has said “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord!”

Another way God’s name is taken for nothing is in propping up a lie – “Honest to God!” we say when we have honestly just told an untruth! Swearing on God’s name in court, “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God”, and then giving false testimony is the same thing. Jesus tells us to not swear on God’s name at all – “Simply let your yes be yes, and your no be no, anything more than that comes from the devil! ”

The good news is that there is freedom in knowing and calling on God’s name – we are free to seek God whenever we need him, we can praise him for all he does for us, and we can turn our lives over to the care of God knowing we are in good hands. So yes, call on God’s name early and often!



What does it mean to be Peacemakers in a climate of hate and violence?

What does it mean to be Peacemakers in a climate of hate and violence?

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they shall be called

sons and daughters of God.

Jesus, Matthew 5:9

The entire nation has been rocked again by acts of hatred and violence this past week in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and closer to home in Dallas. We are shown yet again what comes of hate and fear as motivations for actions. 

As Christians,  how is our response to be different from that of the world around us? How do we be peacemakers? First of all, what is a peacemaker? Quite simply, it’s  someone who is actively seeking to reconcile people to God and to one another   —   in our spheres of influence – our family, our friends, school contacts, our work associates, our communities, in whatever ways we impact the world. So what do we do specifically? No simple answers here.  But I offer some passages of scripture to help us think and pray about our role as peacemakers in challenging times like this…

For God did not give us a spirit of fear,

but a spirit of power,

and of love,

and of a sound mind.

II Timothy 1:7

Peace I leave with you, my own peace I give unto you.

Not as the world gives, do I give unto you.

Let not your hearts be troubled

and do not let them be afraid.

John 14:27

He has told you, o human, what is good:

And what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

And to walk humbly with your God? 

Micah6:8

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ,

and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

That is, God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself

not counting their trespasses against them,

and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us:

We entreat you on behalf of Christ,

Be reconciled to God.”

II Corinthians 5:17-20

 

We have a lot to think and pray about. For one person’s perspective on peacemaking,  I invite you to google an interview with Kellon Nixon, a witness to the disaster in Dallas. And may the Spirit guide us all as we discern how to be peacemakers in the name of Christ.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Gary



Pastor Gary’s Blog

psalm 95

Fasten your Seatbelts!

O come, let us worship and bow down

Let us kneel before the Lord our maker

For He is our God,

And we are the people of his pasture,

And the sheep of his hand…

Psalm 95:6-7

Years ago, our family was in a major transition. I had left the church I had been serving as pastor for ten years, and had gone into full time counseling ministry. In finding a new place for our family to worship, we landed in a church in downtown Milwaukee which was entirely different in style from the beloved gothic – style sanctuary that had always felt like “church” to me. In this new church, the chairs had to be moved out into place each week for worship, because during the week the space was used for an adult day care center. So they were always in a somewhat different configuration. It seemed like a metaphor for our family’s uncertain and ever-changing life… but we arrived each week with our two little girls and their big diaper bags full of books, treats, My Little Ponies, and teddy bears. It felt like we were bringing our carry-on luggage onto an airplane for a flight, situating ourselves to get ready for take-off. We didn’t know where God was taking us on this flight, neither in terms of the worship service, nor in terms of our life. I always heard this voice in my head: “Fasten your seatbelts!” I assume it was God.

In that in-between time, it seemed like a good way to approach worship. God is taking us somewhere – we don’t exactly know where, but the Lord is our shepherd, our pilot. In all the anxiety and uncertainty of that time, at least when we were at worship I felt that I could trust God, and that we would take off and land safely in his care, both in terms of where God was taking us in worship and in terms of where God was taking us in life. And we have taken off and landed safely in worship services and in life, many times since then!

Lord of Life is in another time of transition – with our building as we kick off the Welcome One Another initiative (look for details of the Council plan to manage this process in next month’s Lifeline), the process of calling a permanent Associate Pastor and other staff changes. I suppose if we were honest we would have to say Lord of Life is always in some sort of transition; and it’s all a matter of how we see transitions. It’s all good, because it’s all in God’s care.

So, come to worship, and…fasten your seatbelts!
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Gary


Pastor John’s Blog

(Claimer [as opposed to a disclaimer]: The following is a shameless plug for small groups accompanied by an earnest plea that you take part in one or more, if you are not already doing so.)

According to the gospels, Jesus taught crowds. But there were also times that he spoke only with his disciples. On at least one occasion, Jesus went apart with just three others. Why?

Peter delivered his first ‘sermon’ to over 3000 people. Yet, most of the earliest meetings of the followers of the Way (they didn’t call themselves Christians) were in homes. Why?

Sunday worship at Lord of Life brings together about 400 folks weekly. Some members avail themselves of smaller groups opportunities for bible and book studies, fellowship, and hands-on mission. Why?

Sunday worship offers a time for prayer, hearing the word read and proclaimed, sharing sacramentally, greeting friends and acquaintances, fellowshipping and contributing to the life of community both inside and outside the walls. But it’s tough to ‘go deep’ during the community worship time, or to share what’s been happening with the kids, or the new job, or job loss, or parenting parents, or struggling with the challenges of living.

Earliest scriptures affirm that God saw it was ‘not good’ to be alone. Moreover, Jesus guarantees his presence when two or more gather in his name. Some 50 times in the New Testament, the phrase, ‘one another,’ reflects the mutuality of relationship recommended in following Jesus: love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor; live in harmony with one another; no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of another; welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you; bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ; be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Personal devotions are important. Personal prayer is important. Solitude can have its own rewards. Small groups offer opportunities to dialogue, to wrestle with the great (and not so great) questions in our lives, to share deeply our hurts and joys or with the hurts or joys of sisters and brothers, and to experience the joy of service. And sometimes, it’s just downright fun to get together.

When we share our experience of God with one another in close-relational groups, we can’t help but reaffirm our faith. When we hear others share their experience of God, our spirit opens to possibilities. There is a difference between the dining table discussion (or pub discussion) and Sunday worship. It’s not an “either/or;” it’s a “both/and.” What is planted in the classroom or the sanctuary can be nurtured – even harvested – in small groups.

Here are four benefits that small groups make more likely:
• Personal discovery
• A greater sense of community
• Deeper friendships
• Opportunity to share

Soon, we’ll be asking you in what kind of small group you would participate. There may be interest in additional small groups centered primarily on hobbies, or physical activity, study, family life (marriage enrichment, parenting), mission, or social interaction. Please take advantage of the good they can bring into your life.

Grace & peace,

Pastor John


Pastor Gary’s Blog

We pause for this brief message…

Ponderings from the preacher
 
How then shall we talk to each other?
Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ… Ephesians 4:15

ephesians 4 15 truth loveSeveral years ago, a couple came into my counseling office, referred by their pastor. After 26 years of seemingly happy marriage, the lid had blown off their relationship right in the choir room after worship. All sorts of things they had never spoken to each other came out right in public, as other choir members were carefully, discreetly walking around them to put away their robes. Words of resentment, anger, distrust, blaming, threats of divorce… hurtful words coming from both of them as they threw at one another past errors, omissions, and sins committed in the course of their 26 years. Someone ran and fetched the pastor, who was greeting people at the door after church. She got them to her office for some privacy while she finished greeting people so she could sit down with them. After two painful hours of pouring out their hurts, their pastor called me to set up an appointment. Two days later, they began a slow process of healing and learning how to have a happier life together. With God’s help, several sessions and support of friends at church, they succeeded in having a happier marriage than they had ever had before.

But, you may ask, what happened that led to such an explosive, horrendous episode? Both such good, caring people, overcommitted at work, church, coaching of their children’s soccer teams, dealing with the normal stresses of their teen children, they had lost track of each other, their own selves, and God. They found they had been avoiding conflicts for years by just walking around them, putting up with things to avoid the discomfort of disagreement, and as a result, never resolving longstanding issues.

In stressful times, we can all revert to old unhealthy patterns of communication we have learned where we came from – in our families, in our schools, our churches even! And we lose track of the promise of Jesus of life abundant – good, satisfying, fulfilling.

The good news is that there are ways to restore relationships that are broken. In the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are being set free from bondage to old unhealthy patterns rooted in fear, resentment, and distrust. We are being set free to find in our relationships what God promises, and what Jesus died to give us – life that is good, joyful, healthy, whole. Brimming not with hostility hurt and resentment, but with loving, supportive and encouraging words and actions toward one another! And that can be when we trust God to help us “speak the truth in love”, both the positive and negative stuff we need to say to each other, so that we can grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ!

Grace and Peace, Pastor Gary



Pastor John’s Blog

hirling johnThere are many things to celebrate here at Lord of Life.  High on my list are your missions and outreach.  Someone once said all churches decide, consciously or unconsciously, to be clubhouses or lighthouses.  I’m pleased that Lord of Life is more lighthouse than clubhouse.   Apparently, you agree.  Of the top thirteen responses to the question, “If Lord of Life disappeared tomorrow, what would the community miss?”  ten were missions or outreach.  Second only to Kids of the Kingdom, was Hands of Faith.
 
Many of you are aware how big a fan I am of Hands of Faith because of its commitment to fair trade.  My first stoles coming out of seminary were gifts purchased through fair trade.  The fair trade stoles I now wear come from Guatemala.  To me, it’s all about our call to social justice and stewardship.  Those who participate in fair trade, “promote safe, healthy working conditions, protect the environment, enable transparency, and empower communities to build strong, thriving businesses” ( http://fairtradeusa.org/what-is-fair-trade).  Additionally, fair trade is a partial answer to poverty, insures there was no child labor or forced labor in the production of products, and is committed to non-discrimination (See:  http://wfto.com/fair-trade/10-principles-fair-trade).
 

george eason council nominee 2015

There are dedicated followers of Jesus, committed to social justice and stewardship, whose understanding of scripture (especially Jesus scourging of the temple) raises questions whether a church building is an appropriate setting for a fair trade outlet.  Here is the experience of one such member in his own words.
 

“I have been a member of Lord of Life for many years but I was not raised in a church family and have been favored gracefully in finding and understanding my faith.  I read the Bible to broaden and enrich my faith and the stories captivated me.  The brazen, rebellious and daring story of Jesus in the Temple overturning the tables and driving out the cattle was significant to me.  I only wished to be so bold in faith as to affront hypocrisy and challenge the establishment with such abandonment.  This story taught me that right is right and the integrity and solemnity of our worship should be upheld vigorously out of love and respect for the Father.  This story in particular tempered my feelings.

peru 2014 eason belinda 3I was ok with buying a few bags of Fair Trade coffee now and then when it was offered on a table outside the fellowship hall.  I’m sure I bought a few chocolate bars for the girls as well. I mentally categorized this as an act of charity.  I never consciously rationalized it at the time, but it was a way to indulge myself in “Exotic” goods from a foreign land, to taste, smell and experience things from another culture that I had never been exposed to and likely never would experience otherwise. A novelty for me and my family and the belief that this would somehow benefit someone less fortunate in a distant land, well that’s a “Fair Trade”, right?  Then, when the Fair Trade Store was first suggested at LOL I remember thinking they are taking this notion way too far.  The commandeering of a teaching room and the establishment of a retail market in the Church was not the direction I thought we should be taking.  A dedicated market place for these items exceeded my definition of charity.  I   remembered the story of Jesus in the Temple and could not reconcile this action by my Church with my understanding of what Jesus did in the Temple courts.

As often happens though, my understanding was challenged with a “Mission” trip to Peru. peru 2014 eason george1 My family and I were blessed with the opportunity to visit our Brothers and Sisters in Filadelphia Church on the outskirts of Lima Peru.  Our mission was to meet, establish relationships with and serve the people there.  We were to check on the progress of their new library, evaluate the Sombrando preschool program and to explore other opportunities to support the ministry of Christ in that area.  Beth Miller was a member of our party and part of her calling on this trip was to
look for Fair Trade opportunities.  I watched as Beth meet with the women of Filadelphia and the artisan members of that congregation to discuss Fair Trade.  I saw the faces of those” less fortunate people” of my earlier belief.  I witnessed the emotions, the excitement of these people who could not believe that their efforts, their skill and their artistry could be a means of supplementing their existence.  I participated in the negotiations with a young man who asked so little of his handiwork that the cost of materials was marginally covered by the price; it was what he was used to in selling his wares.  I saw Beth and others evaluating products and commenting to the people on quality control and the return value of well made goods.  We made a return trip to Peru later that year to follow-up on our previous efforts.  I saw the development of and collaboration between the members of Filadelphia and their Fair Trade contributions. They were proud of their efforts; they had diligently worked to improve the quality of their wares and had encouraged peru 2014 eason hannahothers in their community to participate.  I saw the difference in the faces of the people.  I saw the emergence of hope where before there was only faith.  For me our “Mission” to Peru resulted in the congregation of Filadelphia serving me and my family more deeply and genuinely than any experience I could have imagined. In my mind now, we went there for their “Mission” to us.  Not least was their service to my understanding of the Fair Trade ministry.  My perceptions of the actions of Jesus in the Temple have evolved.  His action was, as always, an act 
for  humanity and fairness rather than an angered assault against profiteering and hypocrisy.
 

I wished then to be so bold in faith as to affront hypocrisy and challenge the establishment with abandonment.  I think that the lessons about righteousness, integrity and the solemnity of worship are still valid. A vigorous love and respect for the Father are certainly commendable. But my narrow perspective then prevented me from seeing Jesus’ motivation as I do now; the love of humanity was the motive for His actions.

I wish now to overcome my limited perceptions, to be bold in faith, to seek fairness and to act for  humanity. Fair Trade markets are a step in that direction. “  (George Eason, Lord of Life member since 1999, used with permission)

 

That is said so much better than I ever could. 

 

Two things were necessary for worshipers in the temple at Passover: an appropriate animal sacrifice and Temple coins which local merchants would accept.  Many travelled long distances to Jerusalem and were unable to bring their sacrifice or obtain appropriate currency elsewhere.  Thus, the exchange of coins for animals or foreign currency for Temple coins was wholly compatible with the worship of God’s people.  But the particular money changers Jesus encountered were, in his words, a “den of robbers” charging exorbitant rates, and taking advantage of those who options were limited if they had any at all. Moreover, they interfered rather than facilitated the worship of God.  Lutheran pastor, Edward F. Marquart, writes:
 “We can easily visualize the money chargers, the oxen, sheep, pigeons and the general chaos in the Temple area, especially in the Court of the Gentiles. The historian Josephus informs us about the “bazaars of Annas.”  . . .  This family made big money off the temple business. It was the biggest racket in town. People would bring their Roman and Greek coins with images of the emperor on those coins . . .  In equivalent dollars of today, Annas had an annual $170 million dollar business going.  Yes, Annas and his high priestly family, had the best and biggest business in the country, and it was concentrated in the temple. Josephus was right: the temple area had become a bazaar.” (http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_the_cleansing_of_the_temple.htm)
 

Hands of Faith seeks no profits.  Nor does it interfere with worship.  Instead, it helps fulfill God’s desires:  that we “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.”  

Grace & peace,

Pastor John