Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Many Christians can tell you from experience that it is truly wonderful and inspiring to share the story of Christmas with others. In John’s Gospel, the essential point of the Christmas story is made without the details we find elsewhere in the Bible. He simply states that Jesus came to live with us in our sometimes-dark world so He could bring us back into the light of God our Father in Heaven. When we hear the message of hope that Jesus brings, we do not lose heart even when our world may at times seem dark.
This Christmas we will celebrate Jesus who is the light of the world. This light cheers our spirits, reveals to us the truth of who we are, shows us where we need God, and invites us on the way to go forward in faith. If you sometimes feel that the world is dark and hurting, look to the light that is Jesus. He has come to give light to all who call on him. The people of the Bible and Christians today have hope because we know that there is light in Jesus our Savior.
As Senior Pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, I wish you a very merry Christmas and a blessed New Year. We hope that the Spirit of Jesus Christ may enlighten you this Advent and Christmas season and that you may be filled with the joy of knowing our Lord and Savior.
We of Holy Cross Lutheran Church invite and welcome you, your family and friends to come and see the glory of Christ as we worship him on Christmas Eve.
We hope you can be with us to experience the wonder and the joy of the season with your family and friends. We hope that you will hear, taste and see God’s message of hope for our world. The carols we will sing and Candles we light remind us that Jesus is “the true light which enlightens everyone.. (John 1:9).
Our Friday, December 24th Christmas Eve Schedule is as follows.
3:00PM Living Nativity on the Church Lawn
4:00 PM Family Christmas Eve Service
7:00 PM Christmas Candlelight Worship and Communion
Wishing you a blessed Christmas in the name of Jesus Christ,
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
First, I wish everyone a blessed thanksgiving! I hope that your holiday will be blessed with good food, good company, and lively fun. Yes fun! Whether you celebrate thanksgiving with your family, friends or even strangers I pray you have fun. This is not merely a good wish. This is health for your spirit and rest for your soul. Genuine thankfulness always leads to fun. If you give thanks in a dour or dreary way, are you really being thankful?
When Jesus preached his first sermon in his hometown, Luke tells us that he started from the following text from the prophet Isaiah:
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor… Isaiah 61:1-2 NRSV
The most succinct sermon ever delivered simply said: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Luke 4:21 The plain meaning that the Messiah had arrived to bring the Good News to life is all that needed to be said. So it’s time to party!
The hoped for response sadly did not occur as people were not able to get the party started. Jesus, setting the example for his later teaching, would move on to the next town in Galilee to find some more lost souls to party with. Sadly I must confess that at times I have behaved more like those sticks in mud at Nazareth than a joyful disciple of Jesus. My sin turns me inward to worry too much about tomorrow rather than being thankful for what God has so richly blessed me with right now.
In his book “the Church in the Power of the Spirit” the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann makes the point that when we through the Holy Spirit meet the risen Jesus we join the party without end. This party is the celebration of the freedom from sin and death won for us at the Cross. Our earthly lives are then transformed by our anticipation of our attending Jesus’ unending party in the next life. Through Jesus we are always free to have a twinkle in the eye and cheerful voice.
For this reason I pray that Jesus be the center of your thanksgiving and you realize the joy that comes from knowing him. I also hope that his Spirit will be with you. The Bible reminds us that during his earthly ministry he rarely passed up a good meal, so invite him into your heart and home this thanksgiving. Then you too can party on!
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
"Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (NRSV)
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gives us some simple and direct recommendations for prayer. The first component is simply to ask God for what it is we need. The presupposition of this recommendation is that God is good. Martin Luther recommended in his Small Catechism that we do this boldly and confidently because God is a good and loving Father. For example, since the annual congregational meeting in June I have been asking for God’s favor that we reach 220 in worship a year from now. I do this because I believe that God has given us a mission to proclaim Jesus Christ as the light to the world. I also believe that people who know Jesus need to be part of a community of people that help them live out their hope and remain in Christ’s light. In your personal prayer life, you can be direct about what it is that you need. One need not be embarrassed to ask God for anything.
Jesus then instructs us to search. Searching paradoxically requires both action and waiting. It requires action because we need to be paying attention. Active listening through prayer is used so we remain humble and hopefully we learn that we are not just asking God to simply acquiesce to our wishes or desires. Searching through Scripture reading, worship, prayer, and faith conversations is all about being open to God’s Word for your life. It is a test to find out if what we are asking for is what we really need. Therefore, in our searching we need to be diligent in seeking the Holy Spirit’s answer, but also still enough to hear His voice so that we are not just confirming our own selfishness.
As I bring my prayer for 220 in worship at Holy Cross, I must be humble enough to receive the Holy Spirit’s answer. If the Spirit tells us that this prayer is only about our pride, then we must be gracious enough to listen to the truth. If however God responds that this is a genuine prayer for what we as a church need, then we must work to make it so. Sometimes the Spirit may actually be leading us into a place in between, so that for which we pray may be transformed into something holy. So in asking God’s favor for 220 in worship we are asking that each person who arrives is coming for God’s reasons and that each will genuinely find healing, hope, and renewal through Jesus. Following Jesus’ recommendations in the Sermon on the Mount ultimately means asking God to transform our longings to conform to His purposes.
Jesus teaches that once we have asked and search then we must knock. We are called to embrace God’s reality as presented to us. We do this by responding to what God is telling us. For example, since starting to pray for 220 in worship, I have become more proactive about inviting people to church. In social situations and casual encounters where previously I would have been content just to be friendly, I now directly ask people to come to Holy Cross and give them my card. What made the change was the simple setting of the numerical goal and praying for it. The Spirit immediately laid on my heart that I had previously been too passive. God is inviting me and giving me the privilege to work for what I am praying. I have used an example from my ministry to provide an illustration of Jesus’ principles of prayer, and to invite you to join with me in this prayer for 220 in worship.
Please know that the most important aspect of this article is following the pattern of prayer laid out by Jesus. This pattern of prayer will have unlimited applications in our daily lives. If you pray for a new career, to raise healthy children, to understand the purpose of your life, to be healed, given peace, or anything else concrete, or abstract, the same pattern will apply. As Christians we boldly ask, we search to find God’s answer, and we knock so that we can work with God along our path of discipleship. As those of us who have been doing this a while will tell you, God will not always give us what we ask, but our loving Father in heaven will always give us what we need. The truth is that we will never know the difference until we ask. Therefore, I invite you to ask, search and knock for anything that is on your heart to bring to Jesus this day.
Keep the Faith,
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done... Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:11-16 NRSV)
There is no better time to be the church than today. There has never been a greater need for people to come and know Jesus Christ than now. There has never been a more important time to teach people who would like a closer walk with the Lord how to call on His name, listen to His Word, and be His hands than this very moment. There is only one reason to be the church and that is to learn how to live with God every minute of every day. My wish for Holy Cross this coming year is simple; I hope that we will walk with God.
I am ever hopeful that we will be able to heed Jesus’ voice to follow because I have seen the fruit of those who are working to build on the foundation laid by Christ at Holy Cross. I have seen those working to call our congregation to prayer. I have seen others give of their limited time and resources make sure that knowledge of God is passed on to the next generation through our Christian Nursery School and Children’s ministries. I have seen our small groups work to help our church know that we must live out our faith in between the Sundays if we are to be counted among Jesus’ faithful disciples. I have seen a dedication and passion for worship among our four worship teams and our worship arts volunteers. I have seen faithful groundwork being done by our ushers, counters, trustees, and property volunteers to help make sure that we are good stewards of our resources so we can continue with the mission to bear Christ to our community. We are currently planning to restart our youth ministries as soon as we can so that our teenagers will both have the opportunity to learn about Jesus in a deeper way and also witness to us what God is doing in their lives. I pray that as God continues to build us up we will be able to follow faithfully in new areas of mission.
As we work together to build on Christ’s foundation we will face some challenges. Our ongoing financial struggles are still with us. Our leaders have diligently prayed and discerned how best to live within our means and have helped us to reduce our operating expenses as much as possible. We will need to continue to address these issues for the foreseeable future; we must follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance to find ways for us to continually fund our mission and ministry. I would ask you to be in prayer in how you can help us respond to this challenge.
Our second challenge will be learning to live according to God’s expectations rather than our own. The world attempts to measure success by accessing various statistics. When they are on the rise, the world tells us that we can puff out our chests and justify ourselves in the illusion of our own achievements. However, God does not demand success, but asks for faith. We are called to follow in faith and trust that the results are in God’s hands. This means that we must live in hope. Living in hope is a good thing because it means that we are waiting for and relying upon God.
This past year our communication team gathered to work on how best to communicate the vision and mission of Holy Cross to those our neighborhood. This led the group to discern not only strategies, logos, and colors but to prayerfully examine who we are at this time and come up with a way to talk about it so our community can understand. The tagline that they came up with is simple yet profound. Holy Cross is “living hope in the light of Christ”. We are living hope in that we are by our actions demonstrating that our hope is Jesus Christ. Therefore, we call each other to prayer and worship, we teach the faith, support each other and serve our neighbors in need because we have hope in Christ. We do this in the light of Christ as we realize that Jesus is the only way that we can go forward. This light is both joyful and illuminating. The hope we have in Christ allows us to examine ourselves for who we really are and also understand the truth of what Jesus has done for us in the cross so we can have faith and be joyful in all circumstances.
In order to continue to foster our future growth we have begun a process to access the overall health of our church. Some of you will have already taken a church health survey. The natural church development survey monitors the quality of church life in eight areas demonstrated to be vital for a church to grow. The eight areas are empowering leadership, gift-based ministry, passionate spirituality, effective structures, inspiring worship, holistic small groups, need-orientated evangelism, and loving relationships. The process would then be to focus some of our effort to address the area in which we need the most work. Often congregations are not able to grow because there is some issue of which it is not aware. Our goal is to have the courage to address any issue that stands in the way of our being a community that spreads God’s Word faithfully. After we receive our results there will be an effort to involve the entire congregation to work together to help address the area where God is calling us to work toward.
I am confident that God is calling us to a particular mission in this place and time. I am also sure that we are being tested in the fire of adversity, however I know that if we are in prayer God will continue to lead us through any dark valley. He has brought us so far already; I have no rational reason to doubt his continued presence and help. In conclusion, I ask you to be in prayer for our church and each other. I ask you to remember the blessings that God the Father has so richly showered upon us. I also ask you to pray that God see us through any adversity we might face. May our Lord Jesus be with you.
Submitted to you faithfully in Jesus Christ,
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
This is a question that is in the minds of many who attend church around the world. Every church no matter what denomination or persuasion will have people that answer this question in three ways.
- Some will confidently trust that it will be so. They will participate faithfully trusting that it will be so. They will faithfully work to make it so.
- Others will find it harder to trust that it is so, their experience of having expectations let down will give them pause. They may even answer that the church will not be there for them and depart from the church or from a life of faith all together.
- Some however, will not even ask the question. They will assume that church will be there. The church has always been around so why worry. There are more important things in life anyway. “I can always come back to church when I need to.” Afraid to miss some chance that life has placed before them, they ignore the place that can hold their whole life together.
It is interesting that the Bible does not answer this question! There is no guarantee, rather there is an imperative. Jesus asks us to be there for each other. "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35 NRSV)
According to the Bible the church is those who gather in Christ. The truth is this; if we are not there for each other, the church will not be there for you.
Right now because of the economy and where we are in our journey of faith as a church, we need to be there for each other. Some ways that we can be there for each other that God may be calling you respond to are:
- Make Sunday worship a priority (if we don’t show up we can’t be there for each other);
- Join a small group (we can be there for each other in a more meaningful way);
- Consider an increase in financial giving to ensure that we have the resources to reach to our community with the Good News of Jesus Christ (so we can have the joy of getting to know new people in Christ);
- Step up to help with a volunteer ministry (so we have time to be there for each other).
Holy Cross is not a thing, it is us. We are Holy Cross. We are the people who God has called together in this place and time. We are God’s household in the here and now. We are called to depend on God and be there for each other so please be in prayer for how you will respond.
Keep the Faith,
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Sometimes we get distracted in our lives. We lose the focus of what we really want to do and where we would really like to go. In the world today we face many distractions: television, Internet, the race to have more possessions, and all the pressures that are part of normal American life. Often we become distracted because we have trouble setting limits on our own wants and desires. These can cause us to drift away from the center of our lives. Time with loved ones is reduced, adequate rest becomes scarce, and an active faith life is squeezed out. If we let the pattern of distraction continue in our life, then stress and isolation will build and we will indeed be headed for certain trouble. Each of us can only handle so much. Many contemporary sociological studies are saying that this is what is precisely happening to many people in America today. While we are getting busier all the time people are less likely to have dinner with their family, an evening with good friends or quiet time with God.
There is however another option. We can break the cycle of distraction by intentionally concentrating on the basic practices of our faith. In the Christian church we have set aside six weeks out every year to do just that. The season of Lent is the time in the church where we prepare for the celebration of Easter. We do this by focusing on the basic message of the death and resurrection of Jesus and what that means for us today as a community of believers and as individuals. In addition we commit ourselves to prayer, worship, witness, and service so that our lives have grounding in a living relationship with our God. By commitment to Christian practice we allow ourselves to be strengthened by being watered and fed once again. The living out of the faith allows for our lives to be restored anew as Isaiah spoke of in the quote above.
One of the things that living out an active life of faith can give you is focus. Disciplined time for prayer gives you a moment to slow down and examine what is really going on in your life at any given moment. The act of expressing how you see God working in your life can help give you a new perspective on how to continue to live. The expression of pains or doubts can create a space for your fellow Christians to show you love in tangible ways. A commitment to help others through service can provide a sense of meaning in life. Worship can remind you that you are not alone in your problems and distractions. Confession and forgiveness can provide a healthy accountability to God and others.
Through a renewed commitment to living out the faith you can create an environment where it is easier to see God working. When our relationship with the Lord is strong it is easier for us to stay on the course God is calling us to follow. We become able to discern what is important and what really doesn’t matter so much. I pray that the Holy Spirit continue to guide you this Lent and that through a renewed commitment to living out the faith you may see all the great things that God has done.
Keep the Faith,
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Get me out of here?
I am always up for a good movie. The problem is that I never know if the film is good until I actually watch it. I recently received a film via the mail in the familiar red package from Netflix. It came recommended by film critics; the actors and the director were accomplished academy award winners. It was supposed to be the kind of movie that someone like me should like, but I didn’t. While the film tried its’ best to be shocking and deep, it turned out to be an unimaginative succession of stereotypes and had nothing to really say at all. The film was about a happy young couple whose life becomes a train wreck because they decide to move their kids to the suburbs. This film belongs to certain genre of film popular these days that likes to point out how suburban American life is supposed to be empty. It is as about as realistic as films that always depict our cities as “urban jungles” or rural areas as populated exclusively with “rubes”.
I have spent the last 15 years ministering in Northern New Jersey the last 13 of which have been in the suburbs. I have seen that the life characterized in films such as the one I recently saw is a fiction with little connection to the lives people actually lead. It communicates this lie: the place where you live gives your life meaning. It is a lie because where you live matters less than who you are living with. It is the relationships we have with God and others that give our lives true meaning. Those who walk with Jesus find meaning and purpose in their lives no matter where they might live. Certainly the life I see today going on in the suburbs in which I have lived in is not empty. If anything our lives might in fact be too full.
A Meaningful Life
This leads me to discuss another lie of our culture: a full life is a meaningful one. Don’t we say upon a person’s death as a compliment that they “lived a full life”? Life and God’s Word teach us something different; an empty life or a full life is not the point. The point is revealed in the question “what are we actually filling our lives with”? A life filled with real people and real prayer will have more meaning than a life filled with random stuff. According to the Word of God contained in the Bible the place where life happens is not particularly important. How life is lived in that place is what will really matter. How that life will be lived will depend upon who or what we are filling our lives with.
Early Spring Cleaning
When St. Paul wrote to those Christians long ago in his letter to the Ephesians he advocated that we fill our lives with Jesus Christ and those who gather around him He argues powerfully in chapter 4 quoted above that when we do we will find purpose, peace, and solid ground to stand our lives upon. By remaining centered in Jesus Christ we will grow to learn who or what is best to fill our lives with. This coming month we will begin the season of Lent where we get back to what is essential about our faith. It is a perfect time to clean out our spiritual attics and garages of the random stuff that crowds out what is truly necessary to live a life of meaning. It is an opportunity to relearn the basic message of our faith. It is a time to meet Jesus once again and fill our lives with activities guided by God’s spirit. We have a chance to live a life of meaning if we so desire to fill our lives the grace bestowed upon us by his son our Lord Jesus. The message of the Gospel is that there is more than enough grace for all because of what was done at the cross.
Keep the Faith
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Jesus asks “What are you looking for?” The two new disciples of Jesus reply that they want to know where Jesus is staying. Jesus grants their request not by giving them any information at all but asking them to come on a journey and to see for themselves. The two who set out on this journey will be transformed by him. Andrew will be the first Christian evangelist as he will invite his brother Peter to come along on the journey to meet the Messiah he has found. The other disciple who will remain unnamed will occupy a special place in Jesus’ heart as John’s Gospel will call him beloved. (Church tradition names him John).
This simple encounter reveals to us God’s desire for those who seek Him. God does not want to merely give us information about Him; he wishes that we begin a journey with Him to see for ourselves. Jesus desires this out of love because He knows that good journeys always transform us. People need God because they are incomplete without Him. The only way to be with Him is to walk with Him.
To have some information about a place is never the same as taking a journey to that place. We may know all the facts there are to know about Europe or Asia or even the Holy Land, but until we go through the security checkpoint and get on the plane and make the journey we will actually know very little about those places. Indeed the most important aspect of the journey will be getting to know the people who actually live there. The same is true of our faith, until we take the journey by actively following Jesus we will in reality know far too little about God. Until we meet those who are living with God we will know little about our faith. Please know that I understand that these journeys are expensive. I also know that they are messy, inconvenient, and we can sometimes lose sleep or even some of our luggage. There is a clear cost of discipleship.
The Real Danger
This is why the devil tries to tempt us with information. Satan is a master of information (just see his portrayal in Matthew 4, Luke 4, and Job 1-2); and he wants us to have the illusion that by obtaining only information we will have enough. The devil wants us to believe we can have it all free of any price. The devil wants you to stay home! Satan wants you to think that you can have it all without getting up and getting on the road with Jesus and may even try to convince you that the there is too much danger on the journey. Jesus reveals the truth that real danger is to stay home and miss the transformation that can happen in your life when walking with Him. This I know is true; Jesus turns around to us just as he did when we turned around for Andrew and John and asks us to come and see. There will be adventure and challenge on the road. These experiences will reveal to us what we are really made of, but there will be no danger because we will not be alone. God will be with us. So I plead to you, don’t stay behind; come and see! You will find Jesus, who will help you find your own soul.