Archive for category: President’s E-news

Targeting the Future

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

Dear Friends,

As we head into the fall season, I want to share a few thoughts about the work we do together as the District. The Florida-Georgia Board of Directors, a number of years ago, adopted three critical targets. They include Leadership, Congregations and Outreach. The thought is that if we are to stand back and reflect on what is necessary to best equip, empower and engage to connect people to Jesus, these three things are essential. We want to raise up leaders, strengthen congregations and always keep our mission-focus through outreach.

In archery a target is what you aim at and the goal is to hit the target. When it comes to critical targets for an organization, the goal isn’t simply to hit the target, as if once you’ve hit the target you’ve completed it and are done. Rather, with critical targets the goal, as in archery, is to learn to continually hit the target. Over the many years that I have served in the Florida-Georgia District I have experienced many times when we’ve “hit” these three targets, yet they are still before us.

The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 3:12-16, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” Our gracious God has done marvelous things in, and through, the Florida-Georgia District. Many have been touched with the love of Jesus, many have been baptized, confirmed, married and buried in the faith because of the work that has been done in this District. However, God’s call to us is to press on!

These targets are not linear, but rather cylindrical, always moving in a circle. Strong and healthy leaders will lead to strong and healthy congregations, and strong and healthy congregations will naturally be engaged in outreach with the good news about Jesus, which leads back to the opportunity to raise up more leaders, and so on. Here are some of the ways that we are pressing on and “practicing” to continually work at hitting those three targets.

In the area of leadership we are working to provide the best resources and opportunities for our professional church workers that we can. We have committees that have put together awesome conference opportunities for workers to challenge and strengthen their skills sets for ministry. Certainly anyone will only get out of a conference what they put into it, but I can assure you that for both the pastors and educators conferences, great attention and care is taken to ensure that it is worth the very valuable time of those who participate.

In addition, we have brought in ministry partners to make it easier for our workers to participate in national programs. We have a working relationship with Pastoral Leadership Institute, Grace Place Wellness, and Doxology, who will all operate within the boundaries of the Florida-Georgia District this coming year, beginning this fall. In addition we have created with Kurt Bickel and Cornerstone a program called “Emergent Leaders.” What is unique about this training is that it is not only for professional church workers, but is inclusive of lay leaders as well, an area that we hope to spend more energy and focus on in the days ahead.

In the area of congregations the focus is on revitalizing ministries, encouraging them to embrace their community and engage in the Master’s business. We have several outside consultants available to congregations who desire to invest and renew their commitment to mission and ministry. Among them, I have deployed on a number of occasions Pastor Scott Gress, who serves on the staff of Lutheran Counseling Services in Orlando. Scott will work with congregations to help assess areas of challenge. In addition, he is a certified coach, and has coached a number of pastors, and in some cases lay leaders, to move them forward in ministry.

In this target of congregations we include the excellent work of Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF), your ministry partner. LCEF has come alongside many of our ministries providing capital funding services, stewardship programs, not to mention loans. Our LCEF District Vice-President, Daniel J. Reichard, is constantly out on the road sharing the many free resources available to congregations through LCEF, including bringing Architectural Advisor, Greg Beste, along to help assess the physical needs of a campus.

All these things are done to help you hit the target of serving Jesus in your local community. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16. The District Office and Staff don’t exist to draw attention away from your ministry, but instead, to undergird your ministry so that it shines in your community. Like the foundation of a house, our job isn’t to be seen, but to support you so that you are better equipped to reach people in your community with the good news of the gospel.

The target of outreach is one of the most crucial, but I believe that it often fails to happen because we often lack leadership or healthy congregations. The final command that Jesus gave His disciples before ascending into heaven was an outreach command. He said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” Jesus also gives that privilege and responsibility to each of His followers. As a healthy rose will bloom naturally, outreach is the natural outcome for believers. It’s what we were created to do.

Certainly a part of this is planting new missions. Many of us can remember when it was common to plant new missions, and we marveled at how quickly they often grew. That doesn’t seem to be as common in our day. Could it be that we’ve not taken the command of Jesus seriously? Could it be that we’ve neglected the One who chose us and called us to bear fruit by failing to bear fruit for Him?

We have partnered with Lutheran Hour Ministries and even participated in a pilot program, The Outreach Initiative. We have seen some great things from this, but it’s only one avenue to explore. Shouldn’t it be our goal to find as many ways as possible to build relationships and share the good news of Jesus?

I was blessed last month to visit the North Georgia Mountains with my family. We visited the Vineyard of one of our LCMS members, and in the middle of the Vineyard was a giant Cross, very visible from the tasting room. Over and over, as guests entered that tasting room the question was asked why there was a big cross in the vineyard. It was an open opportunity for witness from my friend, who didn’t miss the opportunity. The truth is, these opportunities to testify to our faith in Jesus are all around us. Reaching out in the name of Jesus isn’t the same as growing a church. It’s all about caring for the eternal welfare of a soul. If we love people with the love of Jesus it may just be the seed that God plants to bring someone into faith or back into a faith relationship with Him.

For this reason we were chosen in Christ and called as His servants. Outreach isn’t only about pastors reaching their communities with the good news of Jesus. It’s about all of us being disciples of Jesus and telling the good news to those who need to hear. Maybe that means where you work or go to school. In some cases, maybe it’s just in your own family.

It has been said that actions speak louder than words. I didn’t grow up in a typical ministry family. I’m the first pastor in my family. But my father’s faith was a huge influence on my life. He was the manager of loans and finances, and I remember as a kid visiting his work from time to time. In fact, my first job was near his office. I would stop in occasionally at lunch, and almost every time he was studying the Bible during his lunch hour. His employees would see him studying, and knew his character, and would often ask him questions about faith and spirituality. He never had to push his faith. It was evident in how he lived. I pray that it would be so for each of us as well. This is the heart of outreach.

Critical Targets of leadership, congregations, and outreach, form the focus of our ministry together. May God grant us wisdom and grace to always be about the Master’s business as we work together to connect people to Jesus.

 

Your fellow servant,

Greg

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

Living for Jesus All Summer Long

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

This month the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod gathers in Milwaukee for the 66th Regular Convention. The theme that gathers us is “Upon This Rock,” pointing us to Peter’s confession of Jesus, and Jesus’ response to Peter in Matthew 16:18. We confess our faith in Jesus, and we do that through repentance, through proclamation and through praise. As the Synod meets in convention, this is the chief legislative group within our denominations, decisions are made, issues are addressed, and fellowship ensues. Occasionally things get heated…

Over the years I’ve attended a few conventions. I’ve seen the turmoil, I’ve experience the exuberance, and I’ve renewed acquaintances from years past.  Conventions offer delegates the chance to see the church at its very best, and sometimes, struggling with our sinful humanity. I have often thought that when you move a group of LCMS people into a confined space for several days, while emotions can run high, we always ought to bear in mind the public witness that we portray. In a day when many have, by and large, already written off the church, how we live out our faith in the world matters. Jesus said, “By this will all men [and women] know you are My disciples, if you have love one for another” John 13:35. The world is watching us, and when what we proclaim doesn’t match how we live, especially with one another, it creates confusion.

Our witness is almost more important in how we treat one another within the household of faith. Even the world knows that if we can’t treat each other with love and respect, how can we love the world with the love of Jesus? John writes to the Christian community in 1 John 4, “We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

When we become believers in Jesus He calls us to live for Him and to make disciples for Him. Our privilege and responsibility to live for Jesus isn’t meant to be only when it is convenient. His intent and desire is that we live it out every day. There really is no summer break from our faith, or at least there shouldn’t be.

One of the things I love about summer is that often schedules slow down, families go on vacation or at least spend more time together. I know companies that will flex their hours during the summer months, providing families an opportunity to travel. I remember how the traveling sometimes had a negative impact on the church attendance and that had an impact on the service. It always seemed like everyone picked the same week to go away. I remember certain members who would always bring back a bulletin from the place they had worshiped while away. I had one who used to say, “I may take a vacation from work, but I don’t take a vacation from church. Just because I’m not here doesn’t mean that I haven’t found another place to worship.”

I really appreciated his attitude. We never take a vacation from our faith! In fact, how we live our lives, whether at home, work or vacation, or even at a convention, should reflect the love of Jesus within us. Did you realize that each of us can impact how someone views Jesus? You might be the only representative of Jesus a person ever meets. How we live is important.

In May I had the privilege to travel with some of our Circuit Visitors to a training event in Charlotte, NC. One evening I was with a couple of other participants, and we decided to go to an Indian Restaurant. I have to be honest that I was a bit hesitant, simply because I know that Indian food can often be spicy, and I don’t always get along well with spicy food. The Lord had a plan. On our way into the restaurant we met one of the trainers, and he encouraged us to talk to the owner about his mother who had passed away recently. He told us that the man had a powerful story. So as we were seated we asked if the owner was there and if we could speak to him.

He came over to our table and we told him what our friend had said. The man had not been a believer in Jesus, but was converting to the Christian faith. Here’s why. His mother was sick with cancer, and they all knew she was dying. He told us of the small village where he was raised as a child. There were over 600 Hindu families in his village, but only two Christians in the whole village. They were kind of outcasts. When his mother was diagnosed with cancer the two Christian women came and visited her. One of them offered to pray for her every day, which she did. About two weeks before she died his mother made a profession of faith, and became a believer in Jesus. When he arrived about a week after his mother’s conversion he could immediately see a difference in her, even though she was being eaten away by cancer. He said that she had a joy and a peace, and she would offer prayers to Jesus. He had never seen her like this before.

The son was perplexed by the changes, but not completely convinced. Interestingly, he moved to Charlotte to marry a Christian woman from there who had a very conservative Christian background. He told us that his in-laws were very concerned at the wedding because he didn’t share her faith. Anyway, he spent about a week with his mother before she died and the Spirit was at work in him. He knew that death was coming, and that she was at peace with it, but when it happened he told us that he didn’t know what to do. So he immediately sent for the Christian lady, the prayer warrior. He said she came immediately, and was there within five minutes of his mother’s death. She prayed with him, and stayed with him, comforted him, and her witness, along with the change he saw in his mother, transformed his life.

Here was a man who was married to a Christian lady who was living out her faith, who had heard the stories of Jesus from his in-laws, who simply had no interest. What seemed to make all the difference was the love of Jesus flowing through this Christian prayer warrior. He was so deeply touched that he couldn’t wait to get back and tell his family. We saw him about two weeks after he arrived home and the excitement in his voice served to remind us all of our calling to be witnesses of Jesus. We prayed with him and for him. It was exciting to see that joy in him! And, by the way, the food was great—although I had the least spice you could possibly have…

How we live out our faith in the world should not be discounted. People aren’t often convinced by our words only, but when our actions support what we say, it can be a powerful witness. James, the brother of Jesus, expressed this to the followers of Jesus when he wrote: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (Jas 2:14–18). James seems to be saying that faith is always expressed through actions that amplify that faith, not in order to earn or work for God’s grace or forgiveness, as if we could deserve it, but rather as an expression of one who has received these gifts.

Pray for our Synod in Convention, that we would stand “Upon This Rock” of Jesus and make a bold confession together to the world of our love for each other, and for all whom Jesus died to save. Pray for your church in these summer months when people are traveling and things sometimes get tight financially. Mostly, pray for your witness to the world right in your own community, that you would grow in imitating Jesus as you grow in His grace and love.

In His peace,
Greg

Pray for Orlando…

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Somber greetings in the Lord of Life, Jesus!

Early Sunday morning I received word about the catastrophic slaughter of what is now reported as 49 people mercilessly gunned down at a Club in Orlando. While details continue to emerge and in some cases remain sketchy, this has a tremendous impact on this whole community, and the world is watching us. While the incident took place at a gay nightclub, the effect is felt well beyond. These victims, including the shooter, were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends. They were co-workers and probably even some who worshipped in area churches. So many lives tragically cut short. Many are still hospitalized and we don’t know if the number of dead will continue to grow.

In these days there are very few families that aren’t impacted in some way by the LGBT community. Our hearts are broken for these families who have been torn apart. This has been described as the worst killing spree in the United States. It has left many in fear, traumatized by these heinous events. It’s a stark reminder that we live in a broken world.

Orlando Mayor, Buddy Dyer, has asked that community vigils not be planned right now as it puts a further strain on already stretched law enforcement officers. Both Trinity Lutheran and Prince of Peace are planning their own vigils for later this week.  We will post information as it becomes available about other activities. Right now law enforcement is focused on protecting and assisting victims of this crime and doesn’t need additional community concerns. We are working with the City of Orlando, through Pastor Billy Brath, to provide assistance in whatever way might seem best. Dr. Rick Armstrong with Lutheran Counseling Services has assured me that they stand ready to help as well. In addition, Tim Hetzner with Lutheran Church Charities in Chicago has offered to bring K-9 Comfort Dogs to help bring comfort to those who are grieving, throughout Orlando.

What can you do? Please pray for this city. Satan is working overtime, instilling fear and hate in many. We need to respond in the love of Jesus. Yesterday morning I worshipped at Prince of Peace in Orlando, and Pastor Ken Green preached on the Good Samaritan. While this was not planned with this present tragedy in mind it spoke loudly. Jesus commended the Samaritan for putting his personal beliefs aside to help someone in need. He didn’t focus on the differences or the things that kept them apart, he simply led with his heart and cared for the one in need. Hurting and confused people are all around us, not just those impacted by this event, but in all our communities impacted by hate, prejudice and fear. We can make a difference by standing together in the love of Jesus. Regardless of all the differences, despite the fact that we are all sinners, the love of Jesus is more powerful! His love is more powerful than fear, more powerful than hate, more powerful than differences, even more powerful than our sin, which often divides.

The Apostle John writes, in his first Epistle, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 Jn 4:18–21).

This is the time for us to brightly shine with the love of Jesus; to be those havens of love and grace that Jesus has called His church to be. This is a time to be not just hearers of the Word, but doers. This is not a time to be arm-chair quarterbacks. This is not a time to stand in judgment or condemnation. This is a time to not only talk about the love of Jesus, but to find ways to show it, wherever we may be.

Satan continues to wage his war, but we know how the story ends! We have the victory in Jesus! He is the solution to the problems of the world. So with the writer to the Hebrews, I encourage you, “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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart’” (Heb 12:2–3).

In times like these, when our hearts are aching and filled with confusion, we can still trust the God who brought order out of chaos, and continues to do that even now. In all these things He is somehow at work for good! We can place our trust in Him.

Again, please pray for Orlando, as we trust the Lord to give us wisdom in the midst of hurt.

 

In God’s peace,

Greg Walton
President, FLGA District, LCMS

 

Love is All Around Us

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

Dear Friends,

This is a special year! It’s not very often that Ash Wednesday and Valentines’ Day fall in the same month, much less the same week! Too bad for all of you who gave up chocolate for Lent! Seriously, there seems to be a dichotomy between the two. Ash Wednesday is all about remembering our frail humanity, while Valentine’s Day celebrates romance and love. As I reflect on the diverse nature of these two days, one very somber, the other very merry, perhaps the common theme that ties them together is love.

The Apostle Paul writes, in Romans 5, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Ash Wednesday points us to the greatest love that mankind could ever experience as we rehearse again the truth that God willingly sacrificed His beloved Son, and Jesus willingly gave up His life to show us the depth of His love. At my last parish we would exercise the imposition of ashes early in the service, but following communion I stationed elders to wipe the ashen crosses off as people left the communion rail with these words: “Christ has cleansed you; you are free.” It was to be a beautiful and powerful testimony of the power of the Sacrament of the Altar. “If we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Far from penitential somberness, maybe Ash Wednesday should also be a celebration of God’s love!

There are many tales about the origin of Valentine’s Day, but suffice it to say that Valentine was purportedly a priest, and His love for God and for God’s people made an impact that, while far from what perhaps was originally intended, is still for us an opportunity to witness to our faith in Jesus. In fact, I believe Valentine’s Day could be a great time to tell of the real love that God has lavishly poured on us. John, the beloved Apostle, wrote in his first epistle words that may have influenced St. Valentine. He wrote, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. 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.”

I heard a scathing review of Christianity not too long ago. The author stated that Christians speak a lot about love, but they aren’t so good about practicing it. Or as someone has stated, “Your words say you love me, but your actions say otherwise.” I don’t know about you, but when it hits that close to home it kind of stings! Jesus said to His disciples, right before He would be crucified, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” No amount of flowers and candy can make up for a perceived lack of love! And likewise, the non-believing world around us can sense when there is a lack of authenticity in love. Maybe Burt Bacharach had it write, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s much too little of.”

Speaking of old songs, I know I’m aging myself, but I remember back around 1978 when John Paul Young sang the song, “Love is in the Air.” For some of you reading this, you will no doubt start humming it to yourself—but beware, because you won’t be able to get the tune out of your head! Others of you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. It was an instant disco hit.

“Love is in the air everywhere I look around; Love is in the air every sight and every sound; And I don’t know if I’m being foolish; Don’t know if I’m being wise; But it’s something that I must believe in; And it’s there when I look in your eyes.” Of course, the song goes on (and on and on) from there… Okay, this may not be a “church” song, but what if the eyes we’re looking into are the eyes of Jesus? His eyes are filled with His love for us, and for the world around us. That’s why He’s called us to engage in the Master’s business, so that His love becomes evident, not only by our words, but by our actions! Then maybe His love will become more evident in our eyes, too!

All around us are symbols of God’s love for us. We talk about it in the explanation to the First Article of the Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism. God provides us with so many blessings each day, yet often we choose to focus on what we believe He has failed to provide. All around us are opportunities for us to share God’s love. The good people at Lutheran Church of Providence in Deltona, FL have begun carrying little wooden crosses in their pockets, and as they eat in restaurants or talk to clerks at the store they ask a few simple questions, and if they sense that people are going through a struggle, they hand them the cross and share how the cross has brought them peace and hope. A very simple way for us to share God’s love. The opportunities are all around us. His love is in the air—so breathe it in and share it with the world! Don’t just let it be about what we say we believe, but let the world see His love living in us. That’s how people are connected to Jesus!

I pray that we would celebrate Ash Wednesday with joy, focused on God’s love. As we begin our Lenten journey once again to the foot of the Cross, there we see God’s love manifested in such a powerful, transformative way. The world has taken over the celebration of St. Valentine, but we can still redeem it by first remembering God’s love for us in Jesus, and then sharing that love in small ways that reflect His love living in us. His love is all around us. May God make each of us, during this season of Lent, reflections of His love.

In His awesome, life-changing love,

Greg

Rev. Gregory S. Walton, President
FLGA District

The Force Awakens

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

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year! January 1st is a great time for new beginnings. It’s also a great time to reflect on the past year as we take time to look forward, learning from the past, and understanding the real meaning of grace. We get another chance. We get the chance to try to exercise more and eat less, to spend more time with loved ones, and to even strengthen our walk with Jesus! Now is a time to set some goals and make some plans for how you want 2016 to go, always trusting in the Lord who charts the path!

For me one of the most important parts of the New Year is how I will grow in discipleship this year. I know that there will be times of struggle and maybe failure. I also know a faithful God who promised to never leave me nor forsake me! That was set up long before I ever saw the light of day, but still holds true to this very day!

The other great thing about the New Year is that in just a few days we celebrate Epiphany, remembering the star that led the magi to Bethlehem. Speaking of stars, you can hardly turn on the TV or see a magazine cover without knowing that there’s a new Star Wars picture that has recently come to theaters near you. Are you among the millions of people that waited in line to get tickets to the long awaited Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens”? I would have to admit that I am among those anxious to see the continuing saga. It’s almost nostalgic! “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Many of us remember those words from the original that came out way back in 1977. It was a revolution in cinematography, at least for a teenager in the 70s.

The special effects were outstanding for that day. I’m not even sure how many times I saw the original in the theater, but there was a time when I could recite the lines… So many great memories about the people I was with and the fun we had mimicking the movie. The fact that many of the original characters are reprising their roles almost 40 years later is really quite impressive. I suspect that it will quickly become a box office smash. The Force Awakens is set approximately 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, where the Rebel Alliance and the Empire have become the Resistance and the First Order, respectively, and it will have lots of twists and turns. In the end, of course, we would expect the Light side of the Force to win. It will be fun entertainment.

Get ready to hear those familiar words over used again, “May the Force be with you…” Someone has joked that you can always find the Lutherans in the theaters for any six of the Star Wars films because they respond to the screen when the words “May the Force be with you” are spoken by saying, “And also with you…” While I haven’t seen the movie yet, I am intrigued by the title. The mythical Force that is either evil or good is an age-old movie image.

Theologically, we don’t agree with the viewpoint that sees a balance in the Force, partly good, partly evil, partly light and partly dark. Perhaps it’s a way for the non-Christian world to grapple with the good and evil all around us with the hope that the good will win out! Even in the Christian Church some might equate the light “Force” with the Holy Spirit and the dark “Force” with the devil. However, we know that there really is no comparison. There is no equality between the light and dark. The truth is, good will win because God is good! In fact the Bible says in John 1, “In Him (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The Light of Jesus destroys the darkness in the world!

Let me take a little liberty with this image and try to make a point. We have a Force within us through Holy Baptism—it’s the Holy Spirit! Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” We were purchased with the blood of Jesus, and now sanctified by the Spirit who is at work within us—a tremendous Force indeed!

As we stand at the beginning of the New Year of 2016, wouldn’t it be great if we recognized the real Force—the One and only Force who lives within us? Jesus said in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” We serve a Mighty God and we know that our Mighty God is at work among us through His Spirit, even when we fail to recognize it, to guide us into all the truth. What might our personal lives and God’s Church look like if that “Force” was somehow reawakened in our conscious so that we were constantly more fully aware of His presence with us and in us each and every day and every moment of the day? The truth is, while we know that God’s Spirit is present with us, we often fail to live in that promise. Even among those who worship regularly, read God’s Word, maybe even serve in some ministry, there is a struggle at times to live out our baptismal calling and the promise of the Spirit living in us and through us as a representatives of Jesus. Often there seems to be another “force” at work in us—and it isn’t Jesus. The unholy trinity of the world, the devil and our own sinful flesh seems, at times, to dominate us and display itself in the worst way, leaving us feeling shame and guilt. This is exactly where the devil wants us to be because it tarnishes our witness in the world for Jesus and we are less useful to God.

The beginning of a New Year is a great time to make some resolutions and recommit ourselves to living for our Mighty God. As we seek to engage in the Master’s business, I pray that the Spirit becomes an active “force” in your life. I pray for your awakening in the new reality of your faith in this year ahead as you walk in His light. You—yes you—can make a difference for the sake of the Gospel as you live your life in such a way that people see Jesus living in you. This connects people to Jesus. The Church has often thought that we could reach people more effectively through new programs. The truth is, people aren’t connected to Jesus by new programs or initiatives. People are connected to Jesus through caring people that share the love of Jesus. It’s all about relationships. My suspicion is that the unbelieving world around us is weary and leery of the programs in the church. Many think that the only reason we want them in our church is so the church can benefit financially, and if that is the case, they sense it the minute the come through the door. We don’t need to worry about survival of the church if we’re living out our faith. God has promised that even the gates of hell couldn’t prevail against His Church. Our goal is about reaching people before it’s too late. It’s really all about sharing the message and hope of eternal life that comes to us as a free gift in our Lord Jesus.

Over the past weeks as we’ve celebrated our faith we’ve remembered and rehearsed those events leading up to the birth of our Savior Jesus. What a joyful time to proclaim, the real reason for the season. The truth of this season doesn’t end once the decorations are down and things get back to “normal,” however you define normal. For the Christian, celebrating Jesus every day is our new normal because of the waters of baptism and the renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Living in His Spirit is the “Force” that desires to be awakened in us new each day, as we remember our baptism, and how Jesus has cleansed us and claimed us to be His servants. Working together, carrying out the Master’s business, His Epiphany light shines in us and through us!

There are no (Hans) Solo acts when it comes to our faith life. We need the partnership, the fellowship, and the support of each other. We are called into community so that we can be more effective in standing together in our proclamation, carrying out the Master’s business. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 4, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecc. 4:9–12). God didn’t create us to be alone. While our individual faith is important and needs to be nurtured every day, there is joy as we live our faith out together for the sake of Jesus in His church, and then in the community all around us. We are living testimonies of Jesus as the Spirit who lives within us and awakens us to the opportunities to share the joy of Jesus with the world!

So take time in the first days of this New Year to renew commitments, set new goals, and map out a plan for the days ahead, especially in regard to your faith walk. As you go through whatever process you may use to do that may the Spirit guide you and help you recognize His plan for your life. May the Spirit of Jesus, our “Force,” be awakened in you so that your chief goal is to live for Him in ways that others see Him in you and are drawn to Him. May you grow in your commitment to the community of believers into which God has placed you. May you find ways to engage in the Master’s business as you are equipped, empowered and engaged, to connect people to Jesus. And finally, “May the true Force be with you…”

Awakened in Jesus,
Greg

Shepherds Share the Good News

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

Dear Friends,

Can you feel the excitement in the air? It’s only early December and already the streets are laden with decorations and lights, all announcing the arrival of a very special guest. Now, for many in the world, that special guest wears a red suit and drives a sleigh with magical reindeers. However, we know that the most special guest is the One that God sent so many years ago to a manger in Bethlehem. We celebrate Jesus, our Savior, who came to bring us forgiveness and hope, and who continues to bring us joy and peace beyond human understanding. There are so many things around us that can distract us from the real meaning and message of this season if we allow it. How easy it is to get caught up in the commercialism and miss the real reason for the season! I believe that this is the season for the Church to shine with the good news. At this time of the year we have a great opportunity to share the message of the Gospel with many who choose to have nothing to do with faith or religion.

I think we have a wonderful example in the Christmas story from Luke 2. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the story focuses on the shepherds. Luke writes: “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Lk 2:8–20, ESV).

Once shepherding was a noble task. After all, King David started out as a shepherd. Things had changed in the days leading up to Jesus’ birth. The shepherds were often viewed in a negative light. They were considered by many as dishonest, dirty and outcasts. They were alienated from the mainstream of that society. Yet, it was to the shepherds that the angel’s announced the good news of the Savior. Maybe it was because they were the neediest, or maybe because God wanted to display His transforming power to the world. We can speculate but God had His own reasons. These shepherds were so transformed that they sought out the Holy Child, worshipped Him, and then became among the first evangelists as they made known what had been told to them concerning this child.

At the risk of stretching the image too far, let me offer this Christmas lesson. In our postmodern day Christians have often been, like those shepherds, labeled as dishonest outcasts. The truth is, we are all sinners, in great need of God’s grace. That grace came to us in the gift which the angels announced to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem. Like them, we don’t deserve to hear this good news, but God chose us from before the foundation of the world. Paul reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9, ESV). God chose us with great purpose, even as He chose the shepherds.

My family had some sheep when I was growing up. They taught my brothers and me many lessons, not all of them pleasant! One of the most important things I learned was that if you care for the sheep they respond. They know who will feed them and protect them. Shepherds form a bond with their sheep. Perhaps this is why the shepherds have a special meaning to me. I think the shepherds teach us about how we can reach out those who may have all the right ideas about celebrating, but fail to grasp the One we celebrate.

The response of the shepherds is a wonderful example of how we can spread the true Christmas cheer. When they heard that good news, they didn’t allow how they were viewed by others stop them from sharing the good news. They weren’t concerned about who would listen. They were so overjoyed they couldn’t contain the good news. Shouldn’t this also be our response to the good news?

I believe that God gives us so many opportunities—from the Christmas music to the lights and decorations – that can all be used as “handles” to point to the story of Jesus. So many of the songs we hear at Christmas, even some that are more “secular” can point to the good news of Jesus. The lights remind us that Jesus is the Light of the World, who entered into the darkness of the world to give us hope. The gifts point us to THE GIFT, Jesus! With a bit of creativity, we can find bridges to tell the true story of Christmas. A case could even be made for sales at the stores—how Jesus came as our Redeemer to buy us back from sin and death!

If the shepherds, despite all their challenges, could share the good news, then how much more can we? God is opening the opportunities all around us. Take some time to find someone with whom you can share this wonderful and joyous story. They are in your neighborhood, in your work place, maybe even in your own home.

We are indeed privileged “shepherds,” chosen by God, called by Him, and now sent to the  world that has so commercialized this celebration that many are growing up not really understanding it’s true meaning. We have a part in the story.  We aren’t called to be like the ceramic shepherd figurines in so many nativity sets.  Ours is a call to action.  We have the privilege to tell the real story of Christmas joy–unto you a Savior is born! Take time to share the real reason for the season, Jesus, our Savior. May the excitement of the shepherds fill you as we anticipate our celebration once again!

God’s blessings for a very Merry CHRISTmas!!

Peace
Greg

Thanks

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

Dear Friends,

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!” So writes the Psalmist in Psalm 107:1. There is so much for which to thank our Lord. How easy to take it all for granted. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude,” as some have coined it, is not always easy or natural for many of us. Someone was asked if they are a glass half empty or a glass half full person. The response was, “I’m a broken glass that keeps leaking…” At first I thought this was an odd statement, maybe even a depressed statement, but the person continued, “But by God’s grace I am daily refilled and fully dependent on Him.” It brought to mind Paul’s words to the Corinthian Church in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

Thanksgiving isn’t really about a day to eat turkey and watch football. It’s more than family get-togethers and plotting out a strategy for “black Friday” sales. It’s more than decorations and place settings and menus and guest lists. Thanksgiving is about a lifestyle lived out in the world for the sake of Jesus. It’s about being conscious of His blessings day-in and day-out, in the good times and in the not-so-good times. The Psalms are filled with calls to give thanks to the Lord. That’s why they are such a great devotional guide for us. The Psalms remind us to be thankful.

Thankfulness is such a privilege, and can be an attitude changer for us. When we recognize that we are dead in our sin and trespasses, but that God, in His great love, sent Jesus to die in our place on the Cross, how can you not find joy? William Arthur Ward wrote, “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” My mother-in-law, who went to be with Jesus earlier this year, had a custom on Thanksgiving Day as we would gather for dinner. After grace, before we began the feast, we would go around the table and state one thing for which we were thankful. My youngest son always resisted. Last year, which we didn’t realize at the time would be our last with her, we had the rare opportunity to all be together. My youngest son, who is now an adult, still didn’t want to participate, which was an option. My older son and his wife were then expecting their first child, our granddaughter and hadn’t revealed her name yet to anyone. After we got around the table sharing our thankful thoughts my younger son stated that he had one. He was thankful for his new niece, and then he gave her some crazy name that my other son had named her. My mother-in-law’s reaction was priceless. I am thankful for laughter! That little incident will long be remembered as we cherish the memories of Edith’s mother!

Have you stopped lately to just say “thanks” to God? Have you thanked Him for the simple things like family and friends? Have you thanked Him for food and shelter? Have you thanked Him that you have a faith, and confidence of eternal life in Jesus Christ? Have you thanked Him that you get to receive the body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine of Holy Communion; that you get to worship with fellow believers; that you have access to His Word? Truly we have, in the words of Irving Berlin, “plenty to be thankful for!”

November points us to be thankful all month through. It begins with the celebration of our sainthood in Jesus on All Saints Day! What a great reason to be thankful—through the blood of Jesus we have been made His saints. Then, just a couple of weeks later, we celebrate Veterans Day, when we remember those men and women who have so graciously served this Nation to protect our rights and keep us safe—another tremendous reason to be thankful. In fact, be sure to find a veteran to give thanks to on Veteran’s Day! Just a short time later we stop and celebrate the day of Thanksgiving. Don’t miss out on all these opportunities to cultivate a thankful heart! This could be how the world around you sees Jesus living in you!

John Clayton writes, “Thanksgiving is a time when the world gets to see just how blessed and how workable the Christian system is. The emphasis is not on giving or buying, but on being thankful and expressing that appreciation to God and to one another.” What a wonderful opportunity we have to grow in giving thanks to God, and allowing that thanksgiving to overflow by sharing it with those whom God has placed in our lives. At the same time, what a difference we can make by thanking the people we love and those who have blessed us by simply saying, “Thanks for being a part of my life!” We are a very blessed people in Jesus, called to engage in the Master’s business, and that always means reaching others, in the midst of our blessings, to share the love of Jesus. Through this God refills the broken glasses of our lives and keeps us looking to Him. So give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever! May that love live in us so others may see it, and somehow be connected to Jesus!

And while we’re talking about thanksgiving, I want to thank each of you. I thank you for the support and prayers, for the welcome acceptance I’ve received, for the forgiveness which I have needed and been given, and for the partnership in the Gospel. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:3-6, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” I thank God for you and the privilege of serving together with you for the sake of Jesus! May He fill our hearts with true thanksgiving!

With thankfulness in my heart for Jesus and for you,

Greg

It’s Still All About Jesus!

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

Dear Friends,

What’s not to love about October in Florida and Georgia? In Florida the temperatures begin to slowly descend to a more pleasant heat, while in Georgia the leaves begin to glow and then fall, reminding us of the cycle of life, and that death brings new life forth. October also happens to be my birth month, and the older I get, the more I seem to think about that cycle. Jesus said in John 12, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” This Scripture passage has always reminded me that death brings forth life. Obviously I am not a proponent of reincarnation, but I am a huge fan of eternal life. When I die to my sin, new life emerges, empowered by Jesus. Knowing that God always has a plan, I can be confident that when some door closes, God is close by, ushering me toward a new one! That’s kind of the story of the Reformation!

I wonder if Luther was motivated by the fact that new life was around the corner. Led by Paul’s words to the Ephesian church, Luther knew that the traditions of the church that had been passed down and often emptied of their meaning became ways that only led to hopelessness and despair that demanded change. People seemed to be guided more by fear of God than faith in Him. It was a literal dead-end. God touched Luther’s heart and opened his eyes to the truth of His Word. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:8–10). Doing all the right things, but doing them for the wrong reasons, doesn’t please or appease God!

It’s all about grace—knowing that God bestows His favor on us, not because of the good things we attempt to do, not because of our theology, or our hymnody, or our pious living. It’s purely a gift! Strip it all away and God would still love us in Jesus. We are His workmanship! He finely crafted each and every one of us and recreated us in Jesus with great purpose. He calls on us as His witnesses to bring life to the world by sharing the good news of salvation in Jesus. He is the giver of new life, who on the Cross bore the burden of our sin, and made the great exchange—His life for ours! We bring nothing to this. That was the message that motivated Luther and made him so passionate about reform.

Luther’s heart’s desire was to see the Church he loved prosper in the grace of Jesus. He wanted people to experience the new life that he, through the Gospel, had experienced. He had a new found freedom that he wanted all people to understand. We are saved by grace, not by the things we do or fail to do, but solely by the merits of Jesus Christ.

That same truth stands as boldly and as strongly today as ever. Our Synod has recently published a new logo for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, with the tag line, “It’s Still All About Jesus!” I love that phrase. It’s what drew me to a life of service in the church. I grew to love our liturgy and traditions. I cherish our theology, the architecture, stained glass windows, the hymns, because they point me to Jesus! What draws people to the church isn’t any of the peripheral things, but rather it is the love of Jesus, and seeing that love flow through His people. It is always all about Jesus.

Having a Reformation birthday, it always seems ironic that God called me into the ministry of the Lutheran Church. Honestly I fought it, especially early on. It had nothing to do with my faith, or my desire to serve Jesus. From the earliest of my faith memories, I have always loved and wanted to serve Jesus. I wanted others to know His love, forgiveness and grace—things I had personally experienced, and still do! I wanted people to know His healing power, His abiding presence, to hear His clear voice in His Word speaking directly to each of us. Isn’t that really His call to discipleship on each of our lives? Jesus saved us so that we could do the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do, not to somehow earn His favor or show Him how great a Christian we are—in Jesus God couldn’t love us more! But as His children, saved and redeemed through the blood of Jesus, we now get to share Him with the world.

What a great joy and privilege that is! It would mean dying to ourselves. Paul, in Galatians 2, reminds us, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Can you imagine the Reformation that would take place in our day if we, who claim Christ as Savior, fully lived out our faith? Imagine if everyone lived as a representative of Jesus how that would change our approach to and participation in worship, or our congregational meetings, or council meetings, or even meetings with strangers on the street? It’s really all about Jesus, and Jesus is all about relationships.

I grew up seeing my pastor live out his theology and doctrine in such a visible way that I wanted to be like him. There was no doubt that he loved Jesus, and while I don’t think I understood it at the time or could have identified it, he was a Lutheran through and through. Looking back, everything we did was Lutheran, but the focus was always on serving Jesus in our day to day life. To me, that’s just what a Lutheran does! I remember using page 5 and 15 (and occasionally 32) and singing the liturgy—wonderful memories of my faith formation. But the greatest impression was the living testimony of a pastor who wasn’t out to change the world, but simply to touch the people in our community with the love of Jesus! Pastors are important people!

During this month of October we have the privilege of honoring pastors during Pastor Appreciation Month. I strongly encourage congregations to lift up these men of God. Pray for your pastor, and be Jesus to him, as he strives to be Jesus to your community. Celebrate God’s call on his life, the gifts God has placed within him, and encourage him in a world that has increasingly become hostile to pastors and ministry in general. Remind him of his privilege to share the love of Jesus with all people, and, again, pray for him regularly. Someone has said that if you want a better pastor, pray for the one you have and trust God! These servants are men who are learning to serve in an environment very different, in most cases, than they were trained to serve in. And the partnership you share with your pastor not only deepens the relationship, but it also strengthens your ministry within your community. Take time to celebrate your pastor during Pastor Appreciation Month.

October is a great month of celebration. We get to celebrate our heritage as Lutheran Christians in the Reformation. We get to celebrate our pastors. Mostly we get to celebrate our faith in Jesus as we live it out in such a way so that others can see it and know His love. It’s still all about Jesus! It’s about living in such a way that His beauty is seen in us. It’s about cycling through our life, confident of His leading, and strengthened day by day in the knowledge that in Jesus all things are made new, including each of us. We are now the seeds of hope and joy, planted in Jesus to bear fruit for Him as we die to ourselves and grow in sharing the new life He gives us with the world around us. There’s nothing we can do to add to or take away from what Jesus has already done. However, in another sense, we each add a lot to it as we live out a proclamation of Jesus in our lives. Saved by grace, saved for works, we celebrate this month of Reformation boldly proclaiming it’s still all about Jesus! Amen!

Being reformed like you,

Greg

Pastor Appreciation Month ….. Celebrating Those Who Serve

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

This month is recognized as Clergy Appreciation month and let me urge you to take time, in some way, to recognize and celebrate the pastor or pastors who serve God’s people in your worshiping community. A simple note of encouragement or affirmation can be so significant. Even if there isn’t a pastor currently serving in your congregation, this is a great time to celebrate the Office of the Public Ministry, which God has given to His Church. In an escalating secular society Clergy Appreciation is more than just another Hallmark opportunity.

It is truly an opportunity to lift high God’s shepherds and then encourage them for the work they do. So much of pastoral ministry goes on “out of sight” of the average congregational member. And while there are a variety of opinions among congregational members of what a pastor “should” do, it is primarily the role of a servant. I can testify that many of the pastors I encounter are faithful chosen men of God in carrying out their responsibilities. We aren’t called because of our skills or wisdom. It’s an act of grace. Jesus reminds us in John 15:16, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you to bear fruit, fruit that will last.”  Certainly that applies to all Christians, but I think it is especially relevant for God’s pastors.

In Jeremiah 23:4 we read, “I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.” God has called the pastor to be a care-giver. His is the role of foot washer. His leadership is derived from the relationships He builds. The Holder of this precious Office should never misuse it as a platform for authority or to abuse God’s sheep. In fact, God warns against this.

So, let me encourage you to take time to celebrate Pastor Appreciation Month. Certainly this is a time to show honor and appreciation to those serving in the Office of the Public Ministry. However, it’s also an opportunity for the clergy to celebrate and appreciate the calling God has placed on their life and to celebrate the relationships we are privileged to have among the sheep! May those who pastor and the flock they pastor celebrate the special relationship God has given us in Jesus.  Happy Pastor Appreciation Month!

Check Out a variety of resources at these web sites:

Your fellow servant,

Greg

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

Freedom

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

Dear Friends,

The other day I was thinking about putting out my American Flag for Labor Day. It’s a holiday that reminds me of the freedoms we have as a nation to work and prosper no matter where we’ve come from or what our background might be. At the same time, I’ve always found Labor Day to be filled with a bit of irony.  Only in America can we celebrate our hard work by taking the day off… Seriously, once we recognized this as a celebration of those who came before us who creatively worked to make this nation great. In our modern time it has become more a Labor Day of bargains, highlighted by mattress sales, clothes shopping, and watching football on television. What happened to the picnics and homemade ice cream? You don’t often hear about parades and marching bands playing and flags waving. Perhaps I’m waxing a bit nostalgic, but it just seems like in the past when I was growing up we had a greater capacity to really celebrate.

Maybe it was simply that Labor Day, for so many of us, marked the real end of summer, and it was our last chance to celebrate freedom. Where I grew up school didn’t begin until the Wednesday following Labor Day. It was always a bittersweet celebration as we anticipated putting all those newly purchased school supplies to good use. At the same time, it meant we gave up the freedoms we, as children, enjoyed all summer. In fact, there’s a great festival in Atlanta on Labor Day weekend called “Celebrate Freedom.” It’s a great time to celebrate before the routines of fall get fully entrenched in our lives.

Giving up freedom is a difficult thing. In fact, we don’t like to be restricted. We like our freedom! So many in the world today think that if they truly commit to following Jesus they are giving up their freedom. Sure, we know that there are blessings that come from following Him, but often we focus far too much on what we “have” to give up. Paul sheds a bit of a different light on this. He writes, in Galatians 5, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” What we often view as restrictions are things that aren’t that great for us anyway, and as we grow in Jesus they become things we don’t really want.

Paul is reminding us that if you want to experience true freedom, it finds its real beginning in Jesus. In Him we are free to be the people God created us to be. That freedom shapes our hearts and minds to be outwardly focused rather than simply focusing on ourselves. Paul goes on to write, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” Paul was not alone. Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:16, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” Isn’t it interesting that both Paul and Peter point us to the fact that our freedom is not a license, but rather an opportunity to serve. There is great freedom that comes in serving others, not to mention joy. It’s a service not born of obligation, but rather from the love of Jesus flowing through us. Freedom is all about choice, and choice can be a great reminder of grace.

God chose each of us and rescued us from the sin and death we deserved. Like unfaithful laborers, we have betrayed God time and again, and yet, in love He has chosen to forgive us and cleanse us through the blood of Jesus Christ. By faith in Him we have true freedom—freedom from eternal death and condemnation. It’s a freedom that reminds us that no matter how bad things get, we still can have peace because of Jesus and what He accomplished on our behalf at the Cross. He’s the One that really made the sacrifice for each of us. That’s very freeing.

To follow Jesus does indeed mean that we relinquish some things. There are habits that need to be challenged, and places we shouldn’t go, and things we shouldn’t do. To be sure, there is some sacrifice. Jesus said, in Matthew 16:24–26, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Our problem often is that the things we think are freedoms, outside of our faith in Jesus, are sometimes the very things that restrict our freedom in Christ. Sure, we’re free to act as the world does, but in Jesus, do we really want to act as the world does?

There are times when I see the behavior of a sinful world and my heart aches as I imagine how God’s heart breaks for the world He sacrificed His Son, Jesus, to save. Everywhere you turn it seems like we have become increasingly depraved as a society. The voice of the church has often been silenced by charges of being intolerant, judgmental, uncaring and irrelevant. At times, the world has unfortunately been right. Holy wars are still being waged with accusations and anger. To the world we look like the scene in Acts 19:32, where we read, “The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.”

It just goes to show you that Solomon was right—there’s nothing new under the sun! Here’s the hope to which we hold fast: Jesus died for our sins and rose again! He sent us His Spirit to give us freedom so we could be diligent in our labors for Jesus. What can we do to change the world’s perception? I think it begins by living in the love and freedom of Jesus. We can make choices that focus us more on Jesus and less on us. We can work together for the sake of the Gospel so that the light of Jesus shines in our lives, individually and as a church. God gives us great purpose in Jesus. Peter reminds us, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” We get to share that mercy with the world. We are bearers of the light of Jesus in a world filled with darkness. That dispels the confusion!

On Labor Day, if you are able, sleep in late. Enjoy the day. But remember that you have been set free in Jesus to serve others with joy. God chose you, so let’s get to work!

Your fellow servant,

Greg