Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pastor Knecht's Christmas Letter 2011

I wish everyone a blessed Advent and a very merry Christmas. There is a lot wondering out there about where we are headed these days. The Gospel of Jesus at Christmas has something wonderful to say about where we are going

On the right track?

One of the common questions pollsters ask is “is the country on the right track?” The question is used to help evaluate the chances of our leaders remaining in power and pursuing their intended policies. When we are on the right track, we are joyfully moving toward some supposed bright future. If the answer is no, then we are on the “wrong track” steaming towards some horrible destination. In my lifetime, we have hopped back and forth from the right track to the wrong track multiple times, so much so, that we never really seem to get anywhere. Like hikers lost in the woods we keep circling back to the same spot over and over again. To further the confusion one person’s right track is another’s wrong track.

Who’s driving the train?

The assumption of the right track wrong track question is that we have the power to drive the train and switch the tracks. It presupposes that only human effort matters in life. History and current events are therefore only the actions of men and women. It is a comforting illusion to believe that we have that much power, but it is still only an illusion. The reason our supposed tracks never lead anywhere is that we human beings have much less power to influence events for the good than we think we do. We can indeed act. Our actions have real consequences, but they are limited in scope. Only God can see the whole picture and only God can act in a way that fulfills the course of history. So we ride the train, we don't drive it. The Jewish Scholar Abraham Heschel writes: Human power is not the stuff of which history is made. For history is not what is displayed at the moment, but what is concealed in the mind of (God).

God’s Christmas train

For people a Christmas train is simply the circular loop that the model train makes around the tree. This train too never really goes anywhere, but this time of year, we Christians remember God starting a journey that really does go somewhere, to the place of peace. This is the journey of faith started in Bethlehem with the birth of our Savior. This train is certainly being driven by God. The real fun of this trip is that you actually do not worry about the destination because you feel so good about who you are with along the way. The God of all things who became as one of us. The ride then becomes the point, and not so much the destination. Perhaps if we feel unsettled these days it is because we are too obsessed with where the tracks are leading rather than who is with us as we ride the train.

No train in vain!

In the song “Train in Vain” by the Clash, lead singer Joe Strummer asks: “Did you stand by me? No, not at all. Did you stand by me? No way!” He laments that his beloved has abandoned him in his darkest days. Perhaps it is our fear of abandonment that leads us to focus so much on our destination rather than whom we are with on the journey. The promise of Christmas and the sending of God’s Son to our world shows us that we indeed are not alone. We read in Matthew:

She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. "All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." (Matthew 1:21-23 NRSV)

We have a God who is promises to be with us every mile of our journey. We know this because he came as child in the manger to be with us in our world. This same Jesus promises to be with us until the end of the age. In Christian theology, we call this “incarnation” that God wants to be with us so much that he becomes one of us. This same God also secures the place where we are going through the action of Jesus at the cross and resurrection. So with the destination assured and God with us on the way we can indeed be joyful in all things this Christmas. If you would like to hear more of the Good News of Jesus Christ, we’d love to see you at Holy Cross this Christmas our schedule is as follows:

December 24rd at 3 pm Creatures at the Crèche Featuring a camel, sheep, donkey & more!
December 24th at 4 pm Family Christmas Eve Service
December 24th at 7 pm Candlelight Communion
December 25th at 10 am Christmas Day worship

Keep the Faith,
Pastor Knecht

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Myth of Atheism

I don't believe in atheists. I do not merely mean that I reject what they espouse; (although that is obvious since I am a Christian pastor) I do not believe they actually exist. Now there are lots of people who confess some sort of atheism. What I am saying would anger them and they would protest that they do exist (not that they would listen to me anyway). I would counter that they are not really people without gods; people who call themselves atheists do have gods. They just do not recognize the fact that is what they are.

The first commandment is “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) When Martin Luther taught student pastors these words, he also used the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:21) to explain how hard the first commandment is to keep. So he revealed the truth, “Where your heart is, there you will find your god.” Twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich would further elaborate on these words and say that our personal god is that which is our “ultimate concern.” Therefore, if you start from this preposition, atheism is impossible. They are just people worshiping the wrong god, not people without one. All of us place our hearts somewhere; everybody has an ultimate concern. As Bob Dylan said, “you gotta serve somebody.”

Where is your heart?

In this letter I am actually asking you to examine where (or with whom) your heart is. What (or who) is your “ultimate concern”? Not everyone who confesses that he or she is Christian places their heart in the hands of Jesus Christ. For many of us our ultimate concern may not be God; it might be something else. Therefore, I am asking you to examine your life critically and honestly to look where you are actually giving your time, your resources, and attention. Use the tools of prayer, scripture, reflection, and trusted conversation to find out in what way are you actually living out your life.Where you are putting those things of value in your life will tell you the object of your ultimate trust. So a prayerful look at your planning calendar, checkbook, and the topics of your daily conversation might help you discover where it is you are actually placing your faith.

Some false gods

Common to contemporary American life is to spend time, treasure, and effort in self-improvement. We live in a DIY (do it yourself) culture. Books, classes, video courses, and motivational speakers all teach the American gospel of self-improvement and make billions of dollars doing so. According to the preposition above, the self or ego of the person functions as a person’s god in this case. Likewise, if you spend lots of your time obsessing about the state of the country and hoping for the next political savior to get it back on track again, maybe your god is somewhere in our political system (oh perish the thought!). Indeed, if you let the fact that your favorite sports team has just been eliminated from the playoffs ruin your day so much that you make your family miserable, maybe that sports franchise serves as your god (Think I’m joking, just listen closely to how much religious language sportscasters, athletes, coaches and fans use). These are just some of the places where we place our hearts and concerns; we have not even begun to speak about money, sex or power.

The faith question

The question is not whether or not you have a god, but which god do you have? Moreover, there are lots of false gods out there. Some of us may even be putting our hearts into more than one at a time. These false gods are incapable of leading anywhere but death. The truth is that the God revealed to us in the Bible is the only one who leads to true life. This is why worship is so important, it is a time to remember to put the only true and real God first. It is a time to connect with others who are trying to live out the first commandment and learn that in order to do so we must all care for each other along our journey. As a church, we work with each other to answer the question of how to put God first, so that our lives are in the hands of the one with the power over all eternity and not something that is not even alive. Jesus invites you to come and live. I invite you to come this Sunday and learn how you just might find out where a real and blessed life might lie so you can place your heart there with Him.

Keep the Faith,
Pastor Knecht

Thursday, August 18, 2011

This Fall at Holy Cross

"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14-16 (the Message)

New Beginnings 

As you come to church this fall, you will notice that God is doing amazing things with and among us.  The first thing I would like to share with you is that God has richly blessed us financially this summer.  We have been able to catch up with back payments on our debt service ahead of schedule and are now free to concentrate on the ministry and mission of our congregation.  This has happened because of the generosity of our members, the wisdom of our Administration Board in finding ways to use our space to help other ministries, and by continuing to keep expenses low.  While we still have to find ways to pay down the debt and keep expenses in check, the really good news is that any additional gifts you can help us with now will go to help our ministry grow.   So please understand now is a time when your giving can be of a profound impact to this church’s ministry.   It can help us keep the momentum to bring the light of Christ to our wider community.

We have been grateful for the ministry of Ed Nicholson at Holy Cross this summer.   Ed has decided to continue the journey with us at Holy Cross to help us build a worship ministry of excellence that engages our entire congregation.  We are blessed to have him working with us; his skills and passion are readily apparent.  If you have not yet had a chance to introduce yourself to him please do so.   Ed is a member of the band Three Crosses and has done various solo projects.  He is an accomplished and experienced worship leader who has helped other congregations strive to use their gifts to give their all to God in dynamic and powerful worship.  As we move into the fall, Ed will continue to help lead consistently excellent worship and work to expand congregational participation in the worship ministry.  Please be in prayer that the spirit leads us to a deeper life of worship of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

We also would like to welcome Jennifer Rossi as our new office administrator.   Jennifer is a committed Christian who brings a diverse set of skills to help our office run effectively and provide a structure for our ministry to thrive.  Please come and introduce yourself to her over the coming weeks; also please be in prayer for her ministry of administration with us. 

We now have the unique pleasure of welcoming Katharina Köhler-Will to come and work with us for five weeks beginning in September.  She will be serving with us as a pastoral student-intern.  She is studying theology at the University of Munich.  She comes to us through a program from the Lutheran Church of Bavaria designed to give her some practical experience working in an American congregation.   She and her husband Roland were married earlier this summer and she has three younger siblings.  During her time with us, she will be staying at the Frantz home.  Let’s all give her a warm welcome and be in prayer that this experience can lead to more opportunities for our congregation to help students in ministry practice and develop their skills. 

Our Journey Together Continues
On September 11th we will pray for the start of the school year for our Christian Nursery School.  We will have a ceremony of blessing for our teachers and staff.    We will also lift up prayers for our country and world as we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the tragedy at the World Trade Center and ask God for the healing and renewal of our land.  After church, I will meet with the families in our confirmation ministry to start another fun filled but powerful year together.  The following week, September 18th we will kick off our Sunday School program year. We will dedicate our volunteers to God’s care and have a congregational celebration after church.   We are also very excited to be starting with a new curriculum, which will focus on the central stories of the Bible to give our young people a firm foundation of scripture knowledge in the coming years.   When you have a chance, speak to our Children’s minister Gail Werner about how you can help make a difference by helping out with our Sunday School ministry.   Our Small Group ministry will also be bringing some exciting things to you in the coming months as we live the hope we have in the light of Christ though fellowship, scripture, prayer and service.   Please take the opportunity to try one out this fall. 

Living God’s Time!

I hope you are able to see the hand of God in all of this, I certainly do.  The sacrifices and struggles that we have been through as a congregation have been preparing us for a time like now when we can bring the hope that is the light of Christ to a community and world in need of the Good News.  This fall we will examine in our sermons what it means to live in God’s time rather than the illusion of the world’s view of the times.  We will be working through the later chapters of the Gospel of Matthew where he presents the teachings of Jesus on the way the cross.   The urgency they demonstrate and the teachings of what Christians should value in critical times can help people know that Jesus is with us in the midst of our times today.   Please pray that the light of Christ will shine brightly in the hearts of all who come to Holy Cross this fall and that His light spread out in to the darkness where people need God’s hope. 

Keep the Faith,
Pastor Knecht  

Monday, June 20, 2011

Summer Reading

Have you made out your summer reading list yet? Are looking for a good thriller, an engrossing biography, a gripping account of a unique time in history? Perhaps you are looking for some inspirational reading to provide you with some hope to empower you, or perhaps you are looking for a book to give you some practical advice, which will make your life healthier and richer if you follow it. If you want one book that has all of these things and more, I would recommend you put one more book on your summer reading list, the Bible. Perhaps you just might have something new happen in your life as God speaks to you through the words of its authors.

Mix it up!

If your Bible reading has fallen by the wayside, or your devotional life has gotten stale perhaps you should try a new translation. When you go to bookstore or search on Amazon, you will usually see a translation identified by its initials, which are usually printed on the spine. If you are looking for a basic translation of the Scriptures the New Revised Standard (NRSV) and New International Version (NIV) are reliable translations written about at an eighth grade reading level. The New Living Translation (NLT) is a less wooden and more accessible translation (I read this one with my 3rd Grade daughter); the New Century Version (NCV) and the Contemporary English Version (CEV) are also in this class. If you want to experience the English language in
all its poetic glory then the King James Bible (AV or KJV) is the way to go, but be careful,  English grammar and many of the meanings of the words we still use have changed dramatically since it was translated in 1611. Finally if you want the most readable version of the Bible out  there today try The Message by Eugene Peterson. His translation reads like a novel and one can meet the Bible in a new and unique way.

Essential Reading: the letter to the Romans

I ask you this summer to pay attention to one particular book of the Bible: Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul wrote this letter to introduce himself to the Christians gathered in the various  house churches of Rome. Much like a minister today would write a statement of faith or testimony to introduce her or his ministry to a congregation, Paul wrote out a comprehensive statement of his teaching and how he would apply it to the situation of the time that the Roman Christians lived in. In the letter Paul outlines the core principles of his faith in the crucified and risen Christ, how one can be a part of the hope that Jesus provided, and what implications and  applications this faith has for the daily life of ordinary people of faith. It is the only letter or book of its kind in the Bible. It has been the most influential book of the Bible for the development of the basic teaching of the Faith. Nearly every great Christian leader has used this resource to help lead and teach others in the faith.

Often summer reading lists contain some classic literature that one never got around to reading, I would like you to consider this an opportunity to do the same for your faith. This letter will help you re-examine the hope of your calling in Jesus Christ, know God in a new way, and find concrete ways to live out your life a as a Christian disciple. I will be reading through the book with you this summer and in the sermons each week I will be highlighting the themes of the major sections of the letter. It is my hope that through the power of the Holy Spirit we can use the gift of the summer to mature and grow in our faith and discipleship of Jesus Christ.

The Core Mission

Paul introduces the letter and his theme by reminding the Christians of Rome of their common mission to their Savior. Through (Jesus) we received both the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in (him). You are who you are through this gift and call of Jesus Christ! (Romans 1:5-6 the Message).

These words are as true today as when Paul of Tarsus planned his trip and thought about what it would be like to board the boat and start his journey to what awaited him in Rome. May God inspire and lead you in the hope of your calling as you prepare for the next stage of your journey following your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Keep the Faith,
Pastor Knecht

Monday, May 16, 2011

Live Church vs. Virtual Church

OK, I admit I am completely biased in this area.

For me a live church experience beats a virtual church every time. There is something to be said for being in the room as opposed to watching it on television or streaming over the internet.While I love the new opportunities that technology brings I find that it often brings more limitations to our spirits than we realize.

Virtual church is not something all that innovative; it has actually been around since the 1920’s when radios began to proliferate the country. People could listen to a church service over their radio in the home. With the advent of television after World War II many preachers took to the airwaves the so called “TV evangelists”.  Some did good work; others gave complete justification for the negative stereotypes that have developed around them. With the growth of the internet in the 1990’s many more grasped the idea that the church could be broadcast directly into the home. Many churches today have virtual church ministries that stream over the internet to computers, tablets, and mobile phones. Most are just broadcasts, but some who realize the limitations are trying to make them more interactive and leverage the available social networking tools particularly Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook vs. Face to Face

While I myself use these same tools in my daily life and find them useful for certain things, there are some things that Facebook, Twitter, and the like are not able to do well at all. They do work well in helping people maintain contact over distance and time, to give people short updates about what is going on in their lives, and they can certainly get a whole bunch of people out to a party or flash mob very quickly.

What they are not able to do is tell a good story. They are also of little use for you to hear a good story. Listening and telling stories are the foundations of meaningful relationships. In a healthy marriage, a husband and wife find time to tell the stories of their lives each day. A healing conversation for a friend in trouble can only happen if you take time to hear his or her story; there are no shortcuts. While a broadcast can tell a church’s story, or more accurately, stories that people like me want you to hear, they are exclusively a one-way street. A virtual church is not able to hear your story in a meaningful way. The only way I can explain it is while a Facebook chat is nice, sitting with an old friend on my back deck sharing food and drink is way better. I really don’t know your true story until I am face to face with you sharing real food and real
drink. Therefore, a virtual church can never be sacramental, because to be so requires real physical contact. There are no hugs in cyberspace. Sacred things need a physical reality.

Live Church: Home and Away

I do share some things with those who advocate the virtual church. I am convinced they can be good tools to help people learn about Jesus and engage a real church. More importantly, I share the goal of the attempt to bring the church into your home. However, I am unwilling to settle for “virtual” church, at Holy Cross we want to bring the real church home. It is written the book of Acts Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46NRSV). It is a vision of church at home and at a community location.

It is much in line with what Moses taught Israel to do to bring their faith home. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9NRSV). This is much more than passively staring at screen, it is really living the faith. So I invite you to come out again to church, bring the best of it home, and most of all, keep it real.

Keep the Faith,

Pastor Knecht

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why Church?

In the coming weeks in worship, I will be exploring the question of “why church?” Why did Jesus leave us this vehicle that seems so imperfect at times? Some of you may wonder why even ask this question. The Church has always been there for you and you see the values of it plainly.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for many these days; church attendance in the United States overall has been in decline for many years. While there are examples of growing and thriving churches, their gains have been more than offset by the decline of the vast majority of Christian congregations. Society’s support for the church is also on the wane, the courts, the media, and the schools no longer encourage the activity of the church they way they once did. Left wing extremists blame the church for all the world’s problems even as its influence and power declines. Some libertarians and extreme individualists argue that one doesn’t need a church at,all that matters is your individual choice. Harold Camping and his so-called “Family Radio” says that every church is apostate (working against God) and that all you need to be saved is individual Bible study. The Church seems to be under attack from all directions.

Jesus’ Strategy

But as I heard while I visited another local church while on vacation this past Sunday, the Bible teaches that the Church is Jesus’ plan A, there is no plan B. The sad fact is that the attacks on the Church and its own acts of self-destruction over the years have left many confused about what he Church really is and why they should bother. Many are drifting off into false paths happiness and meaning, which only lead to further deterioration of individual lives and the health of our society. What is the greatest tragedy is that these people are the ones who may benefit from Jesus’ gift of the Church the most.

Reconnect with Your Faith

I recently completed reading a fascinating book by Dan Buettner called Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way. As part of a research project for the National Geographic Society, he examined what factors lead people to report high levels of happiness in surveys. When comes to conclusions about what a typical person can do to help promote happiness in his or her life, he writes the following:

“Just about every study done on the connection between religion and well-being shows that the two go hand in hand. While we’re not sure if churchgoing makes you happy or if happy people tend to be religious, research shows that people who belong to a faith-based community—regardless of the particular faith—and attend at least four times per month may live as much as 14 years longer than people who don’t. Churchgoers are less likely to engage in risky behaviors (which can lead to profound unhappiness), are satisfied with less money, have less stress, and—to the point of this section—have built-in social networks. You’ll amplify benefits if you join thechurch choir, volunteer as a greeter, or commit to read for the congregation. If you don’t belong to a church or have drifted away from the church of your birth, seek out a new church that matches your current values and worldview.”

The Abundant Life

Jesus told us in John 10:10 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” The Church is part of God’s plan to bring this about. The good news is that this plan still works. Never get blinded by numbers. Remember Jesus started out with 12 disciples. The book of Acts tells us in its first chapter that at the time of Jesus’ ascension the church only had 120 people. And while the Church is in numerical decline in the United States it is growing exponentially in Africa and Asia. The question for you is whether you want to come aboard for the abundant life or not. Does the Church need you, yes! However, never forget that you need the Church.

I invite you to rededicate yourself to Jesus, or come to him for the first time and become part of the Church, which is nothing less than God’s strategy to fulfill His plan for you and our world. Come to Holy Cross this May and June and learn why God answers the question of why Church, with a resounding yes!

Keep the Faith,
Pastor Knecht

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Power of Mealtime Prayer!

Amazing Grace

A recent book titled American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us by Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam examines the role of religion in the public life of our country. The book has many powerful observations about the state of religion in America these days. It uses detailed and comprehensive collections of survey data about religious belief and practice to come up with some surprising conclusions. One I would like to share with you is the role that simple mealtime grace has in the life of faith of contemporary Christians.

According to Putnam and his team, the one faith practice that has the strongest correlation with religious participation and belief is saying grace before meals. The correlation is stronger than Bible reading, financial giving, small group participation, volunteerism and the like. Those who say grace more often are more likely to be actively involved in a faith community. Please understand me I am not advocating that mealtime prayer has more or less value than any other Christian practice. A committed life of Christian discipleship will have multiple practices that help keep it alive. However, there seems to be something powerful in the ordinary act of giving thanks to God for the food that is set before us.

Grace matters

If you are concerned about the state of your faith life, a reasonable recommendation for action is therefore simple and direct. If you don’t pray before meals, start now. If you only pray at home, try praying at the diner next time you are out. I do it often and nobody seems to stare or care. Quite the opposite, servers tend to be respectful. If you don’t have family prayer before meals I encourage you to do so.

If you want to pass on the faith to your children grace is an easy starting point. If you already say a simple standardized grace like “Come Lord Jesus be our guest and let these gifts to us be blest. Amen”, try a spontaneous grace. A common and fruitful practice that encourages dialog at the dinner table is to ask people around the table to give thanks for one thing that happened that day. The prayer leader of the family then prays for each of them and gives thanks to a Gracious God for providing good food to eat. Please come see me if you need some practical suggestions for encouraging mealtime grace.

Grace for Faith

Despite being one of the simplest faith practices, saying mealtime grace rests on the firmest theological foundation. The name itself gives away the key “grace”. Grace comes from the Latin word gratis or gift. So the daily bread that sits at your dinner table is a gift from a loving and providing God. When we are saying grace at a meal we are doing two things, we are first giving thanks to God while simultaneously saying something about God. The act of saying grace before meals reminds us of the true nature of the God who sent Jesus Christ. As Jesus speaks Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6:26 NRSV)

The saying to mealtime prayer is not some magical incantation to keep a distant god happy, but a simple witness to the loving Father who provides our daily bread. Often used by Christians as a basis for mealtime grace Psalm 145 states: The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing. The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings (Verses 15-17 NRSV).

In verse 15 The word translated as “look” is shavar, which more is commonly translated as wait or hope. So when you pray before meals you are also expressing your hope in the actions of the God who sent Jesus to bring salvation to all. In verse 17, the word translated “kind” is one of the most important words of the Hebrew Scriptures. The word hesed can mean steadfast love, faithfulness, kindness or mercy, and is often used to speak about how God acts. Most importantly for our discussion can be at times faithfully translated into the word “grace,” meaning that God is gracious.

Bread for the World

As Holy Week and Easter approach, I am reminded of the grace I speak each Sunday at the altar before we celebrate the meal of Jesus. The prayer is technically called the Eucharistic Prayer,which just means a prayer of thanksgiving. I would argue however that it is also “Grace.” For we give thanks to God and we are witnessing how gracious God is for sending Jesus to be the hope of all the world.

I am encouraging you therefore to take the gifts of Jesus’ meal into your homes. The life-giving Word of Jesus, that we have a gracious Father who loves us, and a Holy Spirit that abides with us, can be used before each simple meal to create community in your home. Mealtime grace creates a bond between you and God and those who share their bread with you. No wonder it is so central to faith formation. I wish you all a blessed Lent and Easter so that we may all know the God of grace.

Keep the Faith,
Pastor Knecht

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Playing at Prayer

Why Play?

People love to play games. Some like board games, others like cards, and others play athletic games long into adulthood. Recently I have been thinking about why people play games, everything from professional baseball to Candyland with their toddlers. While there may be a plethora of reasons people play games, they boil down to two basic needs. Some people play because they are competitive, either against others, or against themselves (like the drive to get a faster time in individual sports).Others play because it allows them to spend time with friends and families, or even make new connections.

In short, some play to win, others play to have fun and relate to people; in reality most of us do both. How the mix of competition verses interaction “plays out” when you play games may have an affect how you experience the game. Without completion you may get bored, without interaction you may become miserable (especially when you lose!). Therefore, healthy play involves a creative balance between these two competing poles.

Why Pray?

There is often a similar dynamic at work in prayer. Although, prayer is no game there are also two competing poles in prayer participation. Some pray to have a result and some pray to be close to God. Those who emphasize the results we expect from prayer tend to be more “religious”. Religion involves engaging in spiritual practice for a specific result. Prosperity preachers teach people pray so they will get rich. This is classic religious thinking. It sets up a quid pro quo with God. If I do this, God must do that. This thinking sets up God as an impersonal machine whose code can be cracked so one can get the results he or she wants. Their god becomes no God at all but an impersonal force to be manipulated.

People who pray without thinking about the results at all tend to be “mystics”. The good vibes, warm fuzzies, and intimacy are paramount. The problem with mystics is they tend to become too detached from reality. God only occupies space outside the world not within it. Thus, their god becomes a false god who only has limited power. Whenever God has a challenging word, they think they can retreat to the world where they can escape. When the world beats them up some more, they come back to their safe place and hide. Then they never become transformed into the person God has created them to be, and stay stuck in a tragic cycle of jubilation and despair.

Why Jesus?

When Jesus taught prayer, he taught us to care about the results. For example, he told us to pray in Matthew 6:11 NRSV “Give us this day our daily bread.” However, Jesus also taught us to care about the relationship. "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. (Matthew 6:7 NRSV) Therefore, in Jesus, there is something more than a religion, or a mystical experience, there is the One True God who relates to you through the Holy Spirit. In Jesus, both the results and the relationship are held together in His person.

In a healthy prayer life, there will be times when you will need to be focused on the results. There will also be times when you just need to be present with God. The key for the disciple is to open oneself to God’s Holy Spirit to see where God is leading you at this place in time. The point is to hear the voice of Jesus through his Word and then apply it to your life. The Bible will be your most valuable asset in this task.

A living relationship in Christ will have concrete results, but it will also be intimate and even warm as all good relationships are. The goal directed life of the disciple is always focused on the next step of the way. Paul writes in Romans 8:26-27 NRSV; Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Come Pray!

This Lent as we seek to lead people in prayer, we will be offering a five-week prayer course Tuesdays at 7:00PM starting March 15th and Wednesdays at 1:00PM starting March 16th. The goal will be to introduce some different ways of praying that help maintain the creative tension between praying for results and being present with God. We hope these tools will help you have a more fulfilling relationship with your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May God bless you as you seek to find Him this Lent.

Keep the Faith,
Pastor Knecht

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

End Time Truth

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:5-6NRSV)


According to basic cable television, we only have one year left because the Mayan calendar runs out in 2012. According to the weather channel, the “snowpocalypse” is upon us, and as the Middle Eastern revolutions take hold, I am sure that there will be much talk of an upcoming battle of Armageddon.

In common parlance, the word “Apocalypse” means ultimate destruction. This is quite unfortunate, for the Bible uses the word in a completely different way. A Greek word, “apocalypse” simply means “revelation,” an open showing of the true situation and nature of things. The Apocalypse of John is in fact a common and accurate name of the last book of the New Testament. It is probably because of superficial readings of the book of Revelation that the word apocalypse has had a change of meanings over time.

One of the main themes of Revelation is that our current world is mortal. It, like us will have an end. The cause of that end will be the sin that has led ultimately to death. Focusing on that truth to the exclusion of the rest may lead us to confuse apocalypse with destruction. However, when we do this we limit the truth of what the Bible is trying to reveal to us. So when we read the Bible do not just focus on the big picture, but look for what God wants us to know about the little daily things that may have an impact on our selves, the world, and others.

Real Time Help

Before John even begins to speak about the end times, he teaches the seven churches whom he writes to about how to deal with their contemporary circumstances and daily challenges. Far less ink has been spilled and press given to the first three chapters of Revelation as the more dramatic visions that will come later in the book. This is unfortunate because they contain a key Biblical truth. The current state of your faith relationship matters.

How you treat people in this very moment is important. If you are not walking closely with God now, then how will you have any hope when things get bad? John gives each church both a word of affirmation and a word of challenge because the closer you hold to God, the less likely you are to be rattled by the headlines. For example, he writes to the church in Ephesus “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance…. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. (Revelation 2:2-4) It as Rick Warren has spoken “your character today matters in eternity.”

Walking in the Light of Christ

A central premise of the book of Revelation is that the closer you walk with God the less you have to fear. The book and the Bible as whole close with John of Patmos’ vision of the New Jerusalem where “there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:5)

When we participate in the classic practices of the Christian Faith, such as prayer, Bible reading, and service to the vulnerable, we work on living in God’s light. When we do this, we are reminded that we can be close to God. Whenever we are close to God, we understand the hope that has been given to us through Jesus our savior. So I invite you to keep the faith and continue to live hope in the light of Christ with us as we follow Jesus, the Christ.

Keep the Faith,
Pastor Knecht

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Built up For Peace

Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. (Acts 9:31 NRSV)

Back on track!

When I went to the gym this week, I noticed that I was not alone. In December, I had free run of the place, and at night it could almost be a place of contemplation as only the truly dedicated were around. Now the gym is full, it is noisy from the equipment being used and the conversations people are having while trying to get in shape. People seem to be using the New Year to get back on track. To build themselves up again, perhaps so they can feel better about themselves and have peace.

The verse in Acts above serves as a simple transition between the story of the conversion of Paul and the story of Peter bringing the Gospel to the gentiles for the first time. Luke who wrote Acts often uses verses like this to provide for a smooth transition between parts of the church’s story. However, they do more than that; they communicate the virtues and values of the early church that Luke finds so important.

Built up for peace!

Luke tells us that the church was built up and had peace. Since so many of us are looking for these exact two things in our own lives, perhaps we should look to what he says. What we find in Acts 9:31 is that being built up and having peace in our lives is conditional. The condition that allowed for this to happen in the churches of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee was that they were “walking in the in the fear of the Lord.” They understood that God was present and close. They understood that God was working with and among them. They also respected what God was doing with them.

Just as important, they were walking “in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” The word we translate to mean “comfort” in the original Greek version of the Bible also means to counsel, to advise, or to advocate. Thus they were allowing the Holy Spirit guide and direct their decisions every moment of the day. The results were startling they were built up to become the people God had created them to be and they had peace, which in biblical terms means that they were completely whole once more.

Where to turn?

That the gym is full is sign to me that people are looking to be built up and have peace. That the churches are empty in January is a sign that people are looking in the wrong direction. The myth that you can whip yourself into shape without God and the power of the Holy Spirit is a lie of our culture. If you accept this temptation, you do so at your peril. For in reality the true Christian knows that there is in reality no self-help; there is only a path to follow. The path that our Savior trod to the cross and resurrection. By the first week in February most will abandon the gym again and it will quiet once more (good for me!) as people learn that being built up and having peace requires more than exercise.

For self-help will never be answer to our mortality, and until there is answer for that you will have no peace. So don’t leave the church just for the truly dedicated, come be built up and have peace which the world cannot give, but Jesus does.