Thursday, October 12, 2017

Happy Birthday Reformation!


 
          This month marks the 500 year anniversary of Luther posting his 95 Theses on the doors of a Church in Wittenberg Germany. It was an event that sparked what we know as the Protestant Reformation and at the beginning of this history-shaping, Jesus-focused revolution was one man, one pastor, who simply saw something wrong and offered a solution. He was a man who believed that every once in a while; something is so bad that you simply can’t stay silent. Sometimes you have to speak up!

In Luther’s day the Christian church was a much different deal than it is today. While you and I live in a world in which Christianity is like ice cream, different flavors for different tastes, it was completely different 500 years ago. Catholicism was the only game in town. Plus, church and state were so closely mixed that the church at the time had significant political power in almost every town. Rather than a common understanding that God’s Word was to be upheld as the highest authority, at that time the pope was often given the last word. Not to mention the fact that Pastors in those days did little preaching, and there was almost no Bible study among the people.

Knowledge of the Scriptures was considered something for university professors, so parish pastors were best used for walking the public through mass and hearing personal confession. It’s no wonder the message of God’s work on behalf of the world through Jesus Christ had become frighteningly hidden. With the Scriptures largely unpreached, and the people mostly unaware, the focus shifted off of Jesus and onto us. That is, rather than a message of grace that glorified God’s Son, it became a message of works that put the burden of salvation on God’s people.

As we prepare to celebrate the Reformation perhaps we should consider how well we’ve personally absorbed and how we live out the gospel. Maybe we should take a little time to think about how our faith in Christ continues to impact our existence in this world. Are our efforts to be a decent dad, a patient mom, a good kid or a faithful Christian flowing toward our salvation, as if to secure it, or from our salvation, as a joyful response to it?  These are good questions for us to ponder.

For Luther, such questions were essential for ensuring that the Church universal — and we, as the church local — are walking in the freeing light of grace, not under the evil burden of believing that God’s love is contingent on our works. And while some people might argue that such a Jesus-centered, grace-alone view of salvation could lead to lazy and licentious followers of Christ, Luther rightly proclaimed the opposite. In fact, he would later teach that such an understanding was key to what Paul referred to as works that give the greatest glory to Jesus!

In his work on the book of Romans, Luther writes: “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all other creatures … without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him his grace.” For Luther, this message was so freeing, so wonderful and so good for the world that if it was being twisted, forgotten or fought against, something simply had to be said, even if that would get him in trouble.

Similarly, just as it was for Luther, sometimes there are moments in life when you just have to speak up. There are certain moments, certain situations where you think, “I know someone might be mad or disagree, but I just have to say something!” May we be a church that welcomes those moments when they arise in others. May we be people who can’t sit still in the face of injustice, error and oversight. Most of all, may the unwavering confidence we have in God’s grace drive us to do good, loving, selfless, joyous, Jesus-glorifying things. Let it free us to serve our neighbors, share our goods and, when necessary, speak our minds. Why? Because sometimes doing so can change the world!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Life-Long Discipleship


I’m fairly certain that most of you, if not all of you, were aware of the Solar Eclipse that took place on August 21st, 2017.  This spectacular event in nature has been all over the news lately and the areas in our country that were in the path of complete totality experienced a vast number of visitors coming to witness the show. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that many of the friends and members of Dekorra picked up some special glasses, or crafted a pair for themselves and/or family members, so that they could witness the solar spectacle in all its glory. 

            Of course with all of the attention that was being given to such a rare and extraordinary incident taking place on our planet, it isn’t hard for us to imagine that there were rumors flying that this was a sign of a forthcoming apocalypse, or God’s judgment upon our nation.  And I can somewhat understand that for the conspiracy theorists out there it wasn’t too much of a stretch for them to see the solar eclipse as a symbol of the darkness in our world extinguishing the light.  After all, with the recent protests by hate groups in Charlottesville, and the numerous threats from terrorists and countries like North Korea warning us of an inevitable nuclear attack, it isn’t too hard for panic and anxiety to cause people to wonder if the end of the world is at hand.

            In the Word for Everyday Alvin Rogness writes, “We live with an uneasy feeling that catastrophe may be just around the corner. We are human, and as such are dependent and independent beings. We know that we don’t have everything under control. In a twinkling of an eye our lives can be changed or gone.” He goes on to remind us that although we can’t be sure what will happen today or tomorrow, we are to remember that as Disciples of Christ we need to continually remind ourselves that our lives in God are sure!  It is only in our Heavenly Father that we can find strength and certainty.  He has shown us that he loves us unconditionally and that his ultimate desire for us is to have a loving relationship with Him and with each other. 

To make this even more clear, in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus is teaching a crowd of people about their inability to serve two masters (God and Wealth) he reminds them that they need not worry about their life because God knows what they need and will provide for us. In fact, not only does he provide us with the basic necessities of life such as air, food, and water, he has also taken care of our eternal future through the death of Jesus on the cross. Our eternal existence with the creator of the universe is assured and instead of worrying we are called to participate in the kingdom of God as we seek to be disciples who not only spend a lifetime learning about God, but also who put into practice all the wonderful things we are taught by Him.

As September begins there will be a number of wonderful opportunities for us to grow in knowledge and understanding of the Lord at Dekorra Lutheran.  Sunday school will kick off with a Rally day on September 10th, our Confirmation program will begin with an orientation for parents and children on September 13th at 6:30pm, Bible studies will continued to be held on Thursdays at 4:45pm and Fridays at 9:45am, and to celebrate the 500 year Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation Pastor Ryan will be leading an adult study called By Heart: Conversations with Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.  All of these things and more will be offered up this fall to help you as you seek to follow Jesus and grow in your faith.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Freedom in and from Christ


            A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the 4th of July and many of us did so in a variety of different ways.  Perhaps you went out and purchased a ton of fireworks to set off with your children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews.  Maybe you jumped in a pontoon boat and headed out onto Lake Wisconsin to enjoy the water and some rays of sunshine.  Perhaps you decided to stay home and avoid the craziness of all the partying and revelry that comes with a holiday that celebrates America’s independence with booming and lots of flashes of light. Whatever you decided to do I’m guessing that at some point you may have taken a little time to think about the freedom that we enjoy as citizens of this great country. After all, countless people have sacrificed more than we will ever know, so that we can enjoy the liberty and independence that has been given to us.

            As I think about the freedom we have in the United States I am reminded of a different kind of freedom that has been won for us through the sacrificial actions of Jesus Christ on the cross.  In fact, as I was reading a devotional written by Alvin Rogness, I was inspired by his understanding of the Apostle Paul’s words in his 1st Corinthians chapter 7. In his letter Paul reminds us that each of us is to lead a life that the Lord has assigned to us, which God has called us into. He informs individuals who had actually been slaves that even though they may become free, they are to still consider themselves to be servants of Christ. Alvin Rogness summarizes this by saying, “In Christ we are set free from the passions that chain us to ourselves. We are set free to turn to another’s need.”

            I often wonder if we sometimes take the freedom that Jesus fought for, suffered for, and died for, for granted.  We may confess that we have faith in God’s son, and we may recite the core principals of the Christian faith (that our savior sacrificed himself so that we can enjoy an eternal relationship with our heavenly Father), but do we truly understand what Jesus has done for us and does it actually make a difference in how we live out our daily lives? After all, if we are freed from sin, which is often tied to our selfishness, our self-centeredness, and our self-interest, than why do we find it so hard to let go of ourselves so that we can put God first, as well as the needs of others?

            Whenever I am teaching our Confirmation students about the grace of God, I always remind them that Jesus didn’t die for us so that we can obtain a get out of jail free card.  He didn’t do what he did so that we could live our lives in whatever way we see fit.  Our Lord and savior came down to this earth, became one of us, took on our human nature, and was crucified so that we could learn about the unconditional love God has for us.  So that we could also be transformed by his actions, and with the help of his Spirit, seek to live our own lives in a different way. As he reminds his disciples in Matthew 16:24-25, and that includes us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

            Thanks be to God that Jesus has delivered us from the power of sin and death! That is definitely something worth celebrating, and yet, as we celebrate this freedom I think it is important for us to remember that Jesus has set us free so that we can learn to be like him. This may mean learning to let go of what we want all the time, it may mean making certain sacrifices in order help others by giving up our time, talents, and treasures, and it most certainly means making an effort to put God first in everything we do at home, at work, in our community, and at church! As Alvin Rogness writes, “To be set free from anxiety about ourselves, to be set free from defending our own rights, and turning to ‘swing free’ in service to others –these are the truly rich moments of life. We know the joy of a slavery that is freedom!”

 

                                                                                           

Friday, August 26, 2016

Why Worship?


            One of my favorite things to do when driving in my car is to listen to the uplifting Christian music played on Life 102.5.  The songs that the radio station plays seem to always put me in a better mood and I really enjoy having the opportunity to praise God as I am traveling around doing visits or heading to and from work.  I also find myself inspired by many of the short inspiring messages that are offered up by radio announcers and the ones given by well-known pastors and theologians.  In fact, the other day Chuck Swindoll a preacher associated with Insights for Living shared a thought/faith provoking bit of knowledge that was so encouraging I felt I needed to share it in my newsletter article this month!

            While attempting to provide an answer to the thought provoking question, “why people attend worship”, Mr. Swindoll offered up a rather perceptive but simple reason that would be hard to argue with.  After briefly talking about people going to church because they have friends and family members who attend, because it is something they have always done as a force of habit, or because they hope to get inspiration from the sermon and/or the music, he informed his listeners that individuals should go in order to experience God in Word and Sacrament.

 After all, it is at church where we fully experience Jesus in a tangible way through the bread that becomes his body and the wine that becomes his blood.  It is at church where we can truly share the kind of forgiveness and love that God offers to us as we confess our sins together and share God’s peace with one another. It is at church where we can begin to figure out our place in the body of Christ that Jesus and the Apostles encouraged all believers to be a part of.  After all, as the author of a devotion in the Bible in One Year reminds us, “The Christian life is meant to be lived in company with others, not alone. Hebrews 10:19-25 urges us to live in community with other followers of Jesus.”

This fall as we adjust to our new worship schedule with worship every Saturday Night at 5:00pm and every Sunday morning at 8:30am (beginning September 3rd), I think it might help us to take some time to think about why we come to worship. Is it something we do for ourselves so that we can be uplifted, inspired, so we can learn and grow in our faith? Is it something we do for God as a way of showing our gratitude and thankfulness for everything he has done and continues to do for us? Is it a combination of the two?

There are lots of different places we can feel welcomed, places where we can meet and hang out with friends, places where we can sing songs etc…..There is only once place, however,  where we can actually taste and see the wonderful goodness and love of God! As Alvin Rogness shares in The Word for Every day, “Worship is not designed to create or stimulate a mood or a feeling in the worshipper. If the worshiper, and not the one worshiped, becomes the focus or the center, then everything has gone wrong.”  Whatever your reason is for attending church I think we should all try to remember Chuck Swindoll’s response as to why worship is important, “The church is the only place we can experience God firsthand in the sacrament of communion.”  Finally, we worship because God deserves and desires our worship. I look forward to seeing you in church!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Priorities


During a recent staff meeting I shared a devotion that truly inspired me!  I think what struck me the most about the words that I read was that they really made me think about some of the struggles our congregation, and other Christian churches, appear to be dealing with in regards to decline in worship attendance and the apparent lack of people willing to step up to participate as active members of the body of Christ.  Although I know that there isn’t necessarily one exact answer to be found as to why this trend is happening, I do think that Alvin Rogness, in his book The Word for Every Day, has some wonderful words of encouragement that address these two issues.

First of all, these days I know that people have all kinds of things going on in their lives!  The kids have countless activities that they participate in: from Boy Scouts to dance, and from karate to that softball game at school, their extracurricular activities abound. I am also well aware that it takes a lot of time and energy to put food on the table and to pay the bills these days. Parents often need to put in a lot of hours at work to be successful, to get ahead, so they can provide for their families. What surprises me the most, however, is that when we are faced with having to cut certain things out of our lives so that we can find some form of sanity and/or relaxation often times God and Christ church are neglected as people decide to skip worship, give less, or they fail to volunteer by sharing the gifts they have been given that might benefit the church body.

In the devotional that I shared at our staff meeting Alvin Rogness talks about the importance of family, especially the big family of God that we are each brought into on the day of our baptism. He reminds the reader that, “God loans us to each other to love one another,” and that sometimes, as a family we need to be “lost in love of God and neighbor.” With all of the activities and things demanding our attention, in order for us to be successful at doing this, I think we need to take a good hard look at our priorities. After all, if we truly want to be Disciples of Christ, if we want to grow in our faith and in our relationship with God and one another, we seriously need to think about where God falls on our list of concerns. Is he number one in our lives or does he have little to no influence on what we decide to do, or not do, daily in this world?

I believe that Alvin Rogness says it best when he writes, “If you are a parent, remember that, more than anyone else, you will determine the outcome of your child’s life.  If making money and having fine things are your important concerns, these are the values your children will have. If you are indifferent about church, it will be difficult for them to take God and his will seriously. If success (however that’s defined) is more important to you than honesty and compassion for others, you’ll probably have children who will use people for their own purposes instead of being true friends.” In other words, Parents are the most influential and primary teachers in their children’s lives.

Of course, ultimately the church, Christ’s body in the world will continue to exist despite our mistakes and failures.  If it was able to survive persecution, martyrdom, the Crusades, and some of the darker and shameful events that are often associated with Christianity, we can trust that God’s body on Earth will continue to live on.  Nevertheless, I still think we need to do all that we can to make God and our discipleship a significant part of our lives. As Sunday school begins next month (we are still looking for teachers and helpers), as Confirmation commences (we will need mentors and small group leaders), as we launch a new worship schedule on Labor Day weekend (5:00pm every Saturday, and 8:30am every Sunday), I hope you will think about the bigger family that you are a part of and that you will strive to make God and the body of Christ you belong to a priority!


 

                                                                                   

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

An Abundant Life!


            During the season of Lent I find myself reflecting quite a bit on the cross of Christ and on the great sacrifice that he was willing to make for all of humanity. I know I’m not the only one who does this, but the more I contemplate the meaning of our Lord’s sacrifice, the more inspired I am to do something that might draw me closer to him.  Eventually this led me to a decision of giving up alcohol and sweets until Easter, and it has been the thoughts of Jesus’ suffering through his trial and crucifixion that have kept me from giving into temptation.  Thinking about the tragic events that led to his arrest, the beatings that took place, and even the emotional turmoil that Jesus must have experienced when one of his own betrayed him, and when his disciples abandoned him, has motivated me to keep going. 
By observing the spiritual practice of fasting (avoiding 2 things that I enjoy) I have learned that sometimes it is the sacrifices that we make that can help bring us closer to God.  I have also discovered that as I am drawn closer to God, and my relationship with him becomes deeper and more personal, I can let go of other things that I think I may need to enjoy life more fully.  After all, things like money, possessions, alcohol, desserts, movies, television shows can only satisfy us or fill us with purpose for a short amount of time.  Eventually we run out of cash, we get a stomach ache from all that sugar we consumed, we get bored of a certain TV program, and then we have to find something else to fill the void.
While reading a recent Lenten devotional I came across a passage from scripture that I think can help address this issue. After healing a man that had been born blind, and after dealing with the Pharisees, who investigate the incident appearing to be blind themselves to who Jesus is, our Lord begins to talk to his disciples and the crowd with them about who he is and why he was sent to them. He informs them that he is the Good Shepherd and that his sheep will follow him and that they know him (or will know him) by his voice. He goes on to mention that he is the gate that the sheep may enter into in order to be saved and then he declares in John 10:10, “I came that they have life, and have it abundantly!”
So have you found this saying of Jesus to be true in your life? Have you found an abundant life through the faith that God has so graciously given to you?  Has the sacrifice that our Lord made for you on the cross helped you to understand the deep and unconditional love that our creator has for you?  These are all good questions for us to ponder as we celebrate on Easter Sunday!  When we hear the words, “He has risen,” on that special day, and we respond, “he has risen indeed,” perhaps we too will remember that in the Resurrection of Christ we have all been given a new kind of life!  An abundant life where we don’t have to worry about sin or death, because Jesus has defeated them both! 

 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Heading into the Unknown


         During worship, on my last Sunday before leaving for vacation, I preached a sermon on one of my all-time favorite stories from the Bible.  Now I don’t know if I love it so much because it was the very first text I had to translate and write a paper on when I was in Seminary, or, because I just like all of the action and imagery that takes place within it. Regardless of my reasons for enjoying the tale of Peter walking on the water, I think the idea that we are called to step out into the unknown is going to be our theme for our congregation this fall and beyond.
             I strongly believe that we need to do a number of things here at Dekorra to help us grow, and I’m not just talking about increasing the number of people we have sitting in the pews. I firmly believe we have some work to do in order for this to occur such as: educating our members to be active disciples who are inviting others to join us in learning about what it means to have faith in Jesus, and being willing to make some changes in order to be a more welcoming and inviting church to new comers.
            One of the biggest challenges that we have to deal with when we are faced with change, or doing things differently, is our inherent ability to think only of ourselves and what we want or don’t want.  It can be difficult for us to alter this mindset because we live in a society that is so consumer driven that it teaches us to be selfish and to believe in the false reality that we are the only ones that matter.  And yet, the God in which we confess to believe in taught us through his Son that we are called to love and serve others.
In order for us to be successful at doing this we can continually use the story of Peter’s adventure out on the stormy sea as a reminder that we are to keep our eyes and our focus on Jesus.  What happens when Peter gets distracted by the waves and the billowing weather? What happens when he looks away from Jesus? Not surprising, the man who Jesus calls the Rock begins to sink into the water and he needs to be saved. The good news is that our Lord and Savior is always there to lift us up and to carry us so we don’t need to worry about drowning when we are faced with having to make some changes, when we are called to step out of the boat into the unknown such as: modernizing worship so that it might be a little more welcoming to newcomers who haven’t grown up in the church.
Starting in September it is my hope that we can try out a blended worship experience at the 10:30am service. By blended I mean that the service will have some contemporary music, along with a traditional hymn or two, and it will be somewhat less liturgical. It is my hope that having a more kid friendly service will encourage our Sunday school students and their parents to stay for worship after Sunday school lets out.  If you were able to help with Vacation bible school you would have witnessed firsthand how excited the children can get to praise God when they get to sing songs that appeal to them. How cool would it be to be able to sing some classic songs from when we were kids during worship like the B.I.B.L.E, Our God is an Awesome God, or He’s got the Whole World in his Hands?
As change comes our way let us each try to remember to keep our eyes focused on Christ and on God’s will and desire for our congregation. We must never forget that we are all part of something that is bigger than our wants, our needs, our likes and our dislikes. Our Lord and Savior is inviting us to join him, to walk out into unknown waters and we don’t need to worry because if we concentrate our attention on him he will be there to carry us and lift us up through the good and bad weather.

                                                       Blessings to you all as we head into Fall,

                                                       Pastor Ryan