Archive for category: News & Announcements

What about Love?

Categories: News & Announcements, President's E-news

Dear Friends,

February seems to be designated as the month of love by our popular culture. Valentine’s Day has become big business, and what used to be about candy, flowers and cards has now become about far more expensive gifts to show the depth of our love. What is love really all about? The world seems to define it by the visible actions that demonstrate that love. Ironically, so did Jesus! In fact, in John 13 Jesus said, “By this will all men know you are my disciples if you love one another.” In other words, it was to be a visible testimony of the truth of our faith.

Last month I was driving back to Orlando from Atlanta listening to satellite radio. I had listened on my drive up to a station that was playing holiday favorites from Bing Crosby to Paul McCartney singing about Christmas joy. Now that the holidays have passed the station has returned to playing only love songs. It was interesting listening to favorites from the 1970’s through the current fare, many of the songs I knew, and there were some I had never heard before. What captured my attention was the many ways we try to express this thing called love.

We live in a world that is desperate for love, even if they don’t truly understand what it is. Many seek love in all the wrong places, just trying to fill the hole they feel inside. One of the songs that I heard played by a band called Heart, entitled, “What About Love,” seems to express that well. This is what the chorus of the song says: “What about love? Don’t you want someone to care about you? And what about love? Don’t let it slip away; What about love? I only want to share it with you; You might need it someday.” There are literally thousands of songs expressing similar sentiments. People all around us are looking for real love, unconditional love. In December I became a grandpa for the first time and learned again the true joy and beauty of unconditional love. My little granddaughter doesn’t have to do anything for me to love her and every time I see her I can’t help but smile and rejoice. This is truly a gift from God, and it motivates my love for her. John would later write, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4:10–11). This is not only our privilege, but also our responsibility!

Sometimes the Church fails to capitalize on things that God places right in front of our faith. The world celebrates a distorted picture of love, but we, as believers in Jesus, have the real thing in Him that we get to share with a hurting world in such great need of His love. You are probably aware that the Christmas we celebrate really started as a pagan holiday to worship the sun god, and the Christians sanctified it and turned it into a celebration of the Son of God. How might the Church today redeem the popular misconception of love to show the world what real love is?

Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:34-35. I believe one place the church can begin is by genuinely expressing that love with each other. We often take such great pride in our denominational distinctives, and truly there are things that we just can’t and won’t compromise on, especially as we follow God’s Word. However, collectively, we as the Church on earth seem to give our faith in Jesus quite a black eye as we constantly bicker and battle each other over issues and ideas that don’t really matter to the unbelieving world and often simply confirm what they already believe about the church.

What might happen in our neighborhoods, in our workplace, in our marketplace, even in our congregations if the guiding principle was love? In John 21 as Jesus is feeding the disciples breakfast on the shore of Galilee, Jesus confronts Peter, but notice that He does it in a loving and positive way. Truly Jesus could have belittled Peter, chastised him, ostracized him and talked behind his back, or simply refused to have anything to do with him. Often isn’t that what we have a tendency to do?

I was watching the popular TV show “Shark Tank” and Kevin O’Leary offered a deal that was ultimately refused by the person pitching their product, and as they walked out O’Leary jokingly (I think) said, “You’re already dead to me…” I laughed when he said it, but then it occurred to me, often this is the way we treat brothers and sisters in Christ. We don’t even have to spend a lot of time working on how we relate to other Christians outside the church. Often we have plenty of opportunities to show forgiveness and operate in the love of Jesus within our own congregation or circuit or district or synod.

Coincidentally, Valentine’s Day is on a Saturday in 2015, but more importantly it comes only days before we turn our attention once again to the Cross of Jesus beginning on Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015. It was at the Cross that we saw true love come to life, as Jesus took our sins upon Himself, and then died and rose again. Over the centuries the church has encouraged believers to sacrificially “give something up” for Lent. It’s a great practice when we take it seriously and don’t use it as a simple excuse to serve our own purposes. The goal is always about getting more focused on Jesus. If giving something up assists you in doing that, by all means, this is a wonderful spiritual discipline. Let me suggest, at the same time, that you “take something up.” In fact, let me suggest that you take up the practice of not only living in Christ’s forgiveness, but actively seeking to share that forgiveness in the relationships in your own life. Let me suggest that you take up practicing living in the love of Jesus, and reaching out to others to share that love. Maybe it will be an encouraging word or a smile. Maybe it will be an opportunity to share the deep truths of our faith with someone whose life will be transformed through the power of the gospel. How might God use you as a conduit of His love?

Valentine’s Day is an opportunity for a pre-Lenten celebration of God’s great love. Redeem the day, and let the love of Jesus flow through you to the people all around you. What about love? It’s one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given by Jesus, but it increases as we give it away. You won’t have to look far for opportunities to share His love, and it won’t require candy or a card. But it does take an investment of your time and energy. May the love of Jesus fill your heart to overflowing, not only for Valentine’s Day, but for this season of Lent.  Let the world see that you are a disciple of Jesus because of His love shining through you. Then the world will know we are Christians by our love, flowing from His love for you!

Living in that love,

Greg

LERT (Lutheran Early Response Training) at St. Michael, Fort Myers

Categories: News & Announcements

Pictured here are the attendees at the  most recent  for Lutheran Early Response Training (LERT) in the Florida Georgia District.  St. Michael, Fort Myers was the host for this event on January 17, 2015.

Looking to Jesus in 2015

Categories: News & Announcements, President's E-news

Dear Friends,

What lies ahead in the New Year? What does God have in store for you, for your family, for your ministry life? As I reflect on the past year I never could have imagined some of the experiences, good and bad. Last Christmas, while we certainly hinted enough, we had no idea that our son and daughter-in-law would give us such a beautiful granddaughter (I’m pretty convinced they did this for us…). I couldn’t imagine life without some of the people who are now home with Jesus. I couldn’t imagine some of the transitions that have occurred in 2014. I suspect that it’s probably similar for you. The truth is, we can’t know what the future holds, but we can be confident of the One who holds our future. Someone said, “If you want to see God laugh, tell Him your plans!”

As I look to 2015, I have no idea what to expect. Sure I have dreams and desires, but I also know that God is in control, and the best thing I can do is submit myself to Him. In fact, for me, 2015 will be a year to refocus on Hebrews 12:2. There we read, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” In 2015 I want to lean on Jesus, and learn to trust Him more and more in the surprises of life and ministry. I want to sharpen my focus on what I do, how I serve, and why I’m doing it, to better honor and glorify Jesus.

The writer to the Hebrews makes it sound so easy. Simply fix your eyes on Jesus. As you well know, this isn’t easy at all. It takes some effort. Oh, not in the sense of somehow earning our salvation, but it takes some determination and commitment if we truly desire to fix our eyes and our hearts on Jesus. Sometimes it must seem to God like we all have a bit of attention deficit disorder. Our minds are so easily distracted from the One who loved us and saved us from our sin. We too easily buy into the values of the world around us, caring for our own needs and forgetting to pay attention to God’s Word.

The Barna Group did a survey back in 2013 regarding how many people read the Bible. The survey showed the Bible is still firmly rooted in American soil: 88 percent of respondents said they own a Bible, 80 percent think the Bible is sacred, 61 percent wish they read the Bible more, and the average household has 4.4 Bibles. Yet only 26% surveyed said they read the Bible on a weekly basis. In the past 20-30 years we have experienced the ongoing decline of the mainline churches. Statisticians tell us that less than half of the people that worship regularly are involved in any formal or regular Bible Study. There are a multitude of resources available to help you study God’s Word, as well as personal devotions, but very few “regular pew sitters” take advantage or make use of them. Then when issues arise in the church, the temptation is to solve them in the same way that corporations might solve them using our own wisdom and strength rather than turning to God’s Word.

2015 is a year for our churches to refocus on Hebrews 12:2 also. Who of us doesn’t need to fix their eyes on Jesus? To do so means that we prioritize a bit differently, that we earnestly pray for God’s wisdom and guidance in all life decisions. Fixing our eyes on Jesus means we seek to do things the way Jesus might do them, following His commands and seeking to honor Him in whatever we do. Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Imagine the renewal that could happen in your own life, in your home, at your business place, in your neighborhood, in your church if we each would fix our eyes on Jesus? It would revolutionize our world. At a minimum it would change your perspective and outlook of God’s call to servanthood. Outreach wouldn’t simply be a word passed like a hot potato until it lands in the pastor’s lap. Stewardship wouldn’t seem like an outstretched hand looking for more money. Worship would become more about being in God’s presence than about my personal preferences or likes and dislikes. Rick Warren, in his acclaimed book, The Purpose Driven Life, began with the simple words, “It’s NOT about you.” While I may not agree with everything he wrote, this one statement I do agree with.

There was a time when the Church had such a passionate desire to enter into a community and share the love of Jesus in engaging ways. Somewhere along the line we’ve misunderstood Luther’s beloved hymn, and we’ve erected a “Mighty Fortress” to keep the world out, or at the least, from “tainting” our churches. Yet, it was for this very reason that Jesus died on a Cross to reach a lost and dying world. Certainly the outside world may look different and not understand our “Lutheran” culture (or series of initials… LHM, LLL, LWML, LCMS…), but aren’t these the very ones for whom Jesus died and called us to serve? In fact, we’ve just celebrated His Incarnation, Jesus entering into the world to become like us so that He might save us from our sin. Now He calls us to be His incarnate presence in the world, sharing His love and forgiveness with those who don’t understand. We need to break down the dividing walls to connect people to Jesus. I believe that we do this best when our eyes are fixed on Jesus!  What a joyful privilege.

To fix our eyes is not an easy decision, but it is a decision we each make. In fact, by failing to make a decision to fix our eyes on Jesus, we’ve made a decision not to! By the way, this isn’t decision theology, as if our decision somehow impacts our salvation. Rather this is about discipleship, challenging those who have already been saved by grace but now desire to walk in the good deeds that God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). This is all about our life of sanctification, living in the blessings of His free redemption.

Years ago I had a friend in high school whose parent’s gave him a car for Christmas. It wasn’t brand new, but it sure seemed like it since up until then we were riding bikes. He had a decision to make. He couldn’t earn or deserve that car—it had been given to him as a gift, so that wasn’t the decision. Instead, the decision was how he would care for this car. Would he attend to the maintenance, changing the oil and keeping it clean, or would he just drive it until it no longer drove? Sadly, he didn’t take care of it, and it ended up in a wreck because of a minor missed maintenance issue. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Here’s the point, each of us can choose how we will live out our discipleship in the free gift of new life we’ve received by faith in Jesus. I choose to fix my eyes on Him. What will you choose? I invite you to join me and fix your eyes on Jesus!

Isaac Watts wrote a beautiful hymn that many will sing at the beginning of the New Year. “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past,” reminds us that our God, who has promised to never leave nor forsake us, is with us always. Let me leave you with these two verses, the first and last:

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Still be our guard while troubles last
And our eternal home!

Go read this hymn and let God speak to you once again. As you fix your eyes on Jesus in 2015, may He guide our paths, protect and grow us, and give us confidence that He is Lord of 2015, even as He is Lord of eternity.

Happy New Year!

With eyes fixed on Jesus,

Greg

Lutheran Life 2014 vol 6

Categories: Lutheran LIFE, News & Announcements

The latest issue of Lutheran Life is in the mail to subscribers and is also available online.

This issues features the following:

  • A message from President Walton:  An Engaging Future Ahead…God’s Grace will be Seen
  • A Report from the 2014 President’s Convocation
  • LWML Members Plant Seeds and Share the Joy
  • Report of Thrivent Study
  • LSF Head Sam Sipes Elected Chair of National Board
  • Mission:Haiti Celebrates Milestone
  • Stewardship Program Energized Members
  • National LCEF Leaders Gather in California
  • Regional news
  • and much more

Watch for it in your mailbox, or read it online by using the link below:

Live 2014 vol 6

2015 Hearts for Jesus Announced

Categories: News & Announcements

The 2015 Hearts for Jesus effort was announce at the President’s Convocation in September, 2014.  Materials are now available on our website for churches and schools to use.  Please sign up for materials for your students here.  And watch the first of four videos here:

Two LEA Conferences for 2015 you won’t want to miss

Categories: News & Announcements

stand together

LEA National Administrators Conference – Registration is OPEN

  • February 12-14, 2015
  • Orlando, Florida
  • Theme:  Stand Together

NOW is the time to register.  The earlybird rate is good through January 23rd, but only those registered before January 1 will be able to take advantage of the special Disney behind-the-scenes experience on Friday morning.  See the information below and register now.

Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Resort, Orlando, FL

  • $104 hotel rate including the following COMPLIMENTARY features:  Internet, parking, airport shuttle, fitness center, resort facilities
  • Two worship services; two pre-conference workshop opportunities
  • Plenary sessions and 12 sectional topics; programming aimed at EC directors, elementary administrators, and (new this year) admissions counselors
  • “Disney experience”, including a behind-the-scenes educational experience and free time in one of the parks
  • 20-30 exhibitors

For more information and to register, click here.

grow

LEA Convocation

  • October 13-15, 2016
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Theme:  Grow!

NOW is the time to start preparing for this mountain-top experience that will bring together over 3,000 Lutheran educators from around the world.  Here are some key ways in which you can get involved and, with one option, save you money!

  1. Combination registration/membership option – You can save anywhere from $64 to $85 by spreading your membership payments and Convocation registration out over the next two years.
  2. Make a deposit now or any time before the Convocation to protect your funds and reduce your Convocation registration payment in 2016
  3. A budget guide is available to help you plan for your staff’s Convocation involvement
  4. Become involved as a sectional presenter by responding to the Call for Proposals

Go to www.lea.org to get more information about all of the above.

Incarnational Advent

Categories: News & Announcements, President's E-news

walton3Dear Friends,

It’s hard to believe that once again the season of Christmas is upon us. Of course, in many places it began as soon as the Halloween pumpkins and candy had been set aside. We have a special time in the Church that leads us to the manger. We call it the season of Advent, a season that prepares us for His coming again into the world, and into our hearts.

Observations of Advent seem to be less and less important in the life of the Church. I’m always a bit sad when I learn that congregations have determined not to hold Advent services because not enough people are interested or able to attend. Apart from the fellowship that often takes place at the dinner hour before worship or the coffee hour following worship, or in some cases both, there is the whole issue of setting aside some quiet time to reflect and to make our hearts ready for the celebration.

Advent is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”, which originally comes from the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Jesus. In the Church it is the beginning of the liturgical Church Year. The first Sunday of Advent is the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle which is on November 30th. The liturgical color for this season is deep purple, reminding us of the penitential nature of this time, although many have moved to using the color blue, representing hope as we look to the future and to distinguish the season from Lent. Some trace the establishment of the observance of this season as far back as the 6th Century AD, under the auspices of Pope Gregory the Great—one of my favorite popes… He directed the attention on anticipation of the “coming” of Jesus. The focus was on the return of Jesus, something we should continue to strive for today.

How do you prepare? There are numerous ways that Advent is observed beyond the church so that homes can also be prepared to receive the Christ-child. Advent Calendars and Advent Wreaths are common in Christian homes and help count down to the celebration of Christmas. My wife used to make an Advent Chain with our children and each day a link would be removed during family devotions. Special daily Advent devotions can build anticipation for a truer and more joyous celebration of Christmas. Regardless of how you celebrate or prepare, it’s all about Jesus.

Isaiah reminds us, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6). What Advent prepares us for is the Incarnate God, who came in the form of a vulnerable baby, who would save all humanity from the power of sin. That’s why Jesus is the greatest of all gifts who gives us new life forever. He humbled Himself, became like us to save us from our sin. He saved us so that we might be His presence in the world. As God became like us, now the call is for us to become more like Him. Paul writes, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:11). Paul was living an “incarnational” life, showing the love and grace of Jesus in his very being.

What does it mean to be incarnational? It means that we take the teaching of Jesus and follow His example. It means we actually find ways to live out our faith in concrete ways. It means that we don’t simply observe the season of Advent as some obligation or ritual, but we look for opportunities to truly prepare ourselves and the world for the return of Jesus. It means we do more than light candles on an Advent Wreath, but we actually become the light of Jesus in the world. It means that we take this wonderful, beautiful message of Christmas, of the Incarnation of Jesus, and share it with a world that is often moving at such a hectic pace that they miss the true joy of this season.

I believe this is the opportunity Advent offers each of us. We can spend our time of preparation by decorating and even worshipping. But at the end of the day, what really can make a difference for the sake of Jesus is living an incarnational life—being the presence of Jesus in the world around us. No, I’m not suggesting that we can become Jesus. However, how often I think I could be more Christ-like in how I treat others. How often I miss opportunities to share why the season of Advent is special or why I love to celebrate Christmas.  I believe that as we approach this season God’s call to us is to be incarnational people, reflecting the beauty, the love, the joy and peace of Jesus in a world that often finds its hope in tinsel and wrapping paper.

God calls us to be prepared, but not just in what we know, but also in what we do. Peter writes, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:13). We are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world to proclaim that this season can be so much more than parties and colorful trees; shopping and family gatherings. This season we can make a huge difference in the lives of others as they see Jesus living in us. It’s not the spirit of the season that matters as much as the Spirit who lives within us. And as we gather around the Word and Sacraments this Advent season, look not only for those opportunities to worship, but also to serve in the name and stead of Jesus.

Advent is a time to prepare and remember that Jesus is coming back. His call to each of us is to represent Him until He returns as we connect others to Him. He invites us to become incarnational people, showing His love this season and all seasons as we work together to equip, empower and engage to connect people to Jesus.

May the joy of this Adventide prepare your heart and your home for a joyous celebration of Christmas as we eagerly await the return of Jesus.

In His Advent peace,

Greg

Rev. Gregory S. Walton, President
FLGA District, LCMS


If you’re looking for some good Advent devotional ideas, check out:
LHM.org/Advent (Spanish version available too)
LCMS.org/Christmas-Advent

 

The Heart of the Matter

Categories: News & Announcements, President's E-news

thanks heartI was reading a devotional the other day and this phrase jumped out at me—“with thanksgiving in his heart.” I began to ask myself if this could be said of me. I guess there are times when my heart is filled with anything but thanksgiving. I’ve determined that being ungrateful, living without being thankful, being cynical is really easy. In fact, it’s pretty prevalent in the world all around us. Think about the many circumstances in life that steal our joy and make us feel unthankful. We want more, better, newer, faster, cheaper, and we want it now! We have officially entered into what some have termed “the season of want.” Stores all around us are telling us the kinds of things we should want, and when we don’t get what we want we tend to grumble and blame. We may blame it on circumstances or we may blame it on others, but often what we don’t do is live with thanksgiving in our hearts.

James, the brother of Jesus, writes, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (Jas 4:1–3).  How can we conquer our inner desires that feed on the need to have what we want? How do we find thankfulness in the midst of the chaotic world in which we live? The answer is simple. In fact, it’s the Sunday school answer. You always find thankfulness in Jesus. That’s why we need to keep our hearts and minds on Him.

We have a choice in the matter, and as we keep our focus on Jesus, we can’t help but give thanks, even in those difficult times. It isn’t necessarily something we feel, but rather what we do. Too often we allow feelings to stop us from giving thanks. I know I can give thanks in all circumstances, but sometimes I really just don’t feel thankful. Then it hits me again… “with thanksgiving in his heart.” Giving thanks is, in part, an action and a habit that can eventually intersect with feelings, but doesn’t need to depend on how I feel. For instance, if I gave my wife a rake and gloves for her birthday because she loves gardening rather than giving her some jewelry, she may be disappointed, but she would still be thankful that I didn’t forget her birthday…unfortunately, a true story! How often God has placed me in a circumstance where I have felt less than thankful, only to realize later what a blessing God had given me. It teaches me to be thankful even when I don’t fully understand His plan. God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good.

Like many of  you, as a child I was taught to say please and thank you. It was drilled into my head. Even if it was some food I detested, I still was taught to be thankful for it. As a teenager, I was taught that my giving thanks is not dependent on what someone else has done, but rather on my willingness to recognize the need to be thankful. As I grew in my faith I learned that my ability to be thankful had everything to do with the cross of Jesus, and what He endured there on my behalf. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” God wills that you and I are thankful! What is your will?

Thankfulness is about an attitude of gratitude. John Maxwell has said, in his book, Developing the Leader Within You, “Our attitudes determine what we see and how we handle our feelings…Our attitudes cannot stop feelings, but they can keep our feelings from stopping us.”

I think that thanksgiving, like gift giving, is something we each control. As the season of giving approaches, many of us will purchase gifts and give them to our friends and loved ones. We aren’t obligated to give gifts. We choose to give gifts.  Being forced to give a gift takes away the joy. It makes us resent having to give a gift. We don’t give a gift to manipulate or to build ourselves up, at least not ideally. We give them because we love another. Gifts are not given necessarily because they’ve been earned or deserved. They are given because we desire to bless another.

The same is true with thanksgiving. To be thankful is like giving a gift. We give thanks not because we have to, not to manipulate circumstances, not to build ourselves up, but simply to bless another, or better yet, to bless God. So in this season when our world focuses on Turkey and cornucopias and colorful autumn leaves; as we think about sitting around the table and stating what we’re thankful for; as we watch football and maybe even get a break to spend time with family; as we gather for special worship opportunities, remember that each of us has so much for which to give thanks. We have Jesus, and He’s the One who enables us to live “with thanksgiving in our hearts.”

I have thanksgiving in my heart as I think of each of you, and how God is using you to connect people to Jesus. I am thankful for the partnership we share and the mission that draws us together as a District. I am thankful for our common desire to proclaim Jesus and grow in Him. I am thankful to serve in a mission-minded District that cares about people, knowing that people matter to Jesus, and so they matter to us. With a heart of thanksgiving I rejoice in God’s grace, in His mercy and love for me, for you, and for the whole world. May you be filled with an attitude of gratitude. May your eyes be fixed on Jesus as He fills our hearts with thanksgiving.

With thanksgiving in my heart,

Greg

Rev. Greg S. Walton, President
FLGA District, LCMS

Lutheran Life 2014 vol 5

Categories: Lutheran LIFE, News & Announcements

The latest issue of Lutheran Life is in the mail to subscribers and is also available online.

This issues features the following:

  • A message from President Walton Renewal From the Inside Out
  • Annual report issue
  • Thrivent Grant Benefits District Leadership Program
  • Introducing Thrivent Action Teams
  • LSF Program Enjoy Generous Support
  • A Call to Action Against Persecution
  • Them, Location Announced for 2015 LWML Convention
  • LCEF:  Free, Professional, Architectural Advice Available
  • Pastor, Former Members Reconnect at LCEF Advocate Connections Conference
  • District Outreach Initiative Establishes Bench Mark at Midpoint
  • District Board Welcomes National Synod Repts
  • Regional news
  • and much more

Watch for it in your mailbox, or read it online by using the link below:

Live 2014 vol 5

Engage the World

Categories: News & Announcements, President's E-news

engage lgArriving back in the office after an extended time away is always a challenge. Even when I’m on the road for various activities and come back to the office the mail and email quickly mounts. It will take a little while to catch up after this sabbatical. Kathy Keene did an excellent job of keeping things in order and staying on top of pressing issues along with our very capable staff. Our Regional Vice Presidents graciously took turns being “in residence” during these few months, and while they often had their hands full, they did not miss a beat and I was always confident that the District was in good hands.

As I was going through one of the various piles of mail awaiting my return, I came across our Synod’s Mission magazine, “Lutherans Engage the World.” I flipped through it and found some fascinating and wonderful and informative articles about ministry happening in various places across the world. As I set the magazine back on my desk the name kept jumping out at me, not as a title, but rather as a direction or a command. Instead of it being a heading, it was as if it were shouting out to me, “Lutherans: ENGAGE THE WORLD!!” Isn’t this exactly what our call as disciples of the Lord Jesus is all about?

I suspect that most people who would take time to read a blog like this are already believers in Jesus, that somehow the good news of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has impacted your life. We know that in the midst of a sinful and often hopeless world that there is great hope in Jesus! So when we hear about world events like the things that have happened in Ferguson, MO, or the terror cells of Isis, or even the crimes happening in our own communities, we can lament how terrible this world has become, or we can see this as God’s call for us to engage the world with the message of Jesus, who is our hope and salvation. He alone can forgive our sins and renew us from the inside out. He alone can give meaning, purpose and help us make sense out of an often crazy world.

How can we better engage the world around us? In our day it is less likely that putting up a new sign with glowing letters announcing our presence in the community will have an impact. Even offering the greatest VBS program or food bank or day care seems to have little relevance beyond serving the specific need of a place to drop the kids, get needed food, or garner a good education. During my sabbatical I worshipped in a variety of Lutheran Churches across the United States, and sadly, I would have to say that some were not what I would consider “engaging.” In fact, had I not been a Lutheran looking for an LCMS congregation and just happened to walk in cold to some of these places, I would have walked out the same way. Some remember the days when all you had to do was open the doors and people would come to church. I can’t honestly say that I ever remember, in my lifetime, it being quite that easy, but it certainly was easier than it is today.

The other day Edith and I were engaged in a conversation with a friend about the demise in society and the church today. My friend stated that he feels this is due, in part, to the entitlement attitude that is so pervasive in our world today. You see it all around us—in families, in schools, in businesses, and yes, even in churches. What an entitlement attitude does is put self first. It’s all about me, about what serves me, about what I like or dislike and about what makes me comfortable or causes discomfort. It’s about choices and freedom rather than commitment. It’s been called the throwaway society, because if we get tired of it, we throw it away and get something new. In families it often is seen when a family member thinks only of themselves rather than recognizing the impact it has on others. This attitude creeps into the church when the concern turns from caring about the salvation of the lost and sharing the grace of Jesus with them to caring for creature comforts that only serve those who already know Jesus. It seems that so much of what the church does to engage the world is on our terms, so long as it fits in our paradigm and conforms to what we often deem as acceptable standards. We aren’t alone.

In Mark 9:33-37 we read, “They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’ He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’”  Let me simply say three things here. First, the disciples were embarrassed, and rightly so, because their concern was about jockeying for position rather than the ministry Jesus had been modeling for them. Secondly, Jesus doesn’t scold them, but rather, in His great compassion, He continues to teach them about servanthood. In fact, He illustrates this by picking up that child and reminding them of the mission, serving people—even the smallest child, with His love and grace. Thirdly, what Jesus is really pointing His disciples to, and us as well, is the fact that it all comes down to relationship. This is how I believe we’re called to engage the world.

What impacts this wayward world, my dear Lutheran brothers and sisters, is the method Jesus has modeled for each of us to engage the world by investing the time and energy into building relationship.
There are no quick fixes and often no immediate results. To spend the time to build relationship can get messy and involved. It means listening, and potentially sacrificing our time and resources and serving others in Jesus’ name. It may mean opening our homes and hearts, taking our sights off ourselves and looking at life through the eternal lenses of Jesus. Life changes when we begin to care about other people and engage them for the sake of Jesus.
Earlier this summer Edith and I learned that we will become grandparents later this year. I can’t begin to tell you how excited we are, and look forward to this little girl being part of our lives. I’ve already begun learning how to spoil her. I guarantee that despite messy diapers, despite the potentially cranky moments (I mean her, not me…) despite the things that will no doubt get broken or messed up, this little girl will have the love of her grandparents, and we will do everything in our power to build a relationship with her. In fact, that was modeled to us by our parents who are awesome grandparents!

Jesus gave us a terrific model in Himself. It is about building relationships. So my plea, and the command of Jesus is, “Lutherans—let’s engage the world!” That’s the mission He’s given us. Let’s invest ourselves in others for others for the sake of eternity and connecting people to Jesus! Won’t you join me?

With you in the Mission of Jesus,

Greg

Rev. Gregory S. Walton, President
FLGA District, LCMS