December 2023 • Out of Time
As we enter the month of December, my sense is that many of our lives seem to parallel that 1977 song, “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne. Yet as we enter this season of Advent, a more appropriate theme arises in my thoughts and prayers, “Out of Time.”
When Advent arrives, have you ever noticed that it’s as though a push notification pops up telling us, “Christmas is Coming.” “Time to shop.” “Don’t forget those mid-week Advent Worship services.” Or simply to remind us that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” Yes, with Advent comes this internal “push notification” that says: “‘Jesus is coming! Would you like to do or plan something?” In short, as a season of preparation, Advent reminds us that our time is limited, and in ways, it even calls us to understand that we are nearly “Out of Time.”
Yes, Christmas is about the birth or first coming of Jesus, but as Christians, before we rush to singing Silent Night or listen to the beautiful account of Jesus’ arrival as our Emmanuel God, we also recall that Jesus promised to come again.
So, instead of just focusing on the first coming, our attention is turned during Advent to reminders that “People will faint from fear of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory” Luke 21. We are further warned to “Be on guard…be alert at all times praying that you may have the strength to stand…” These words from the Gospel of Luke also describe our world today.
They are words of NOW: Our cities and even churches are full of people who are afraid — afraid of loss of their jobs, income, health, compassion, safety, change, irrelevancy, and of so much more. Yet, in truth, there has never really been a time in human history when we’ve not had such fears. Luke’s words are also the words of our yesterdays. We may imagine that the past was better, safer, cleaner, or more stable, but that’s not the case. We are fragile humans, and our history is filled with fear. And sadly, they are probably the words of many of humanity’s tomorrows.
But listen! Jesus says, “When you see these things, do not cower in fear, for your redemption is drawing near!” Advent teaches us that in the darkest places suffering, the pain, the violence, the heartache of grief, and all the uncertainty…that God’s reign is among us!
Yes, my friends, all of this reminds us that we are at any moment “Out of time.” Therefore, there is an urgency for us to not only be prepared personally for the Lord’s return but there is an urgency for us to share this message of hope with all people! Now is the time! Now is the time for us to realize that our “redemption is drawing near”, the Lord is coming, and He will redeem and save us!
It is with the certainty that the Lord keeps His promises that we go forward in faith, that we utilize each moment knowing that we are soon to be “out of time.” This, my friends, is no time for fear but for celebration. The Lord sent His Son to take our place and be our Savior. How awesome that even though we are running out of time, God, who knows no time, cuts through our fear as He enters human time to dwell with us, Emmanuel, God with us!
November 2023 • A Season of Feasting
My soul will feast and be satisfied, and I will sing glad songs of praise to you. Psalm 63:5
Are you ready for the feasts?! This month we begin a two-month journey of celebrations and feasts, beginning with our National Day of Thanksgiving. December will not only be filled with gatherings and feasts on Christmas but for many, the whole month will be filled with feasting!
Over the years, holiday feasts in our family have varied. Some years we lived far from our family. So, for a holiday feast, we gathered around the table with friends and co-workers who had become like family. Other years we would invite those who had no family to join us.
Yet many years, we have been blessed to live close enough to our families that we could travel and enjoy the holiday celebrations together. With Martha and me both having 3 or 4 siblings, these holiday feasts have often been around a huge table that still couldn’t seat all our family!
Our family loves to talk and laugh, and as a result, our gatherings are loud and full of life. However, some years it has been different when we’ve lost someone through death or sickness that has kept them from being with us.
This year, we once again have so much to give thanks to God. Yet, in some ways, it seems a bit quieter and reflective. It’s not so much what’s happening in our family but in the world and the lives of others around us. There’s the war in Israel and the Ukraine. There’s increased violence, crime, and mass shootings, and then there are so many who are dealing with depression, loss, and uncertain futures.
When I read the above Scripture, I imagine a feast. I picture a lavish table, beautifully decorated and overflowing with the finest foods. Words like satisfied and sing capture my attention. As people who love to host others, I’m tempted to try and make everything perfect so that our celebration will be filled with abundance and joy like I imagine. Yet the picture I get in this verse is not entirely accurate. When we read the verses that surround this text, it paints a very different picture. Instead of a feast, it’s famine. Instead of the blessing of community and family, it’s wilderness. David wrote Psalm 63:5 when he was in the wilderness of Judah, “My soul will feast and be satisfied, and I will sing glad songs of praise to you” Psalm 63:5 GNT.
While none of us would ever wish to be in such a wilderness, I’m encouraged because this truth helps us see that a feast is not reserved for the best of circumstances. When our circumstances leave us empty, hurting, alone, afraid, or lacking, we can still feast and be satisfied!
In fact, this isn’t the only time that Scripture speaks of feasting in unlikely places. David writes in Psalm 23 of how the Lord prepares a feast for him in the presence of his enemies. Jesus found sustenance in the wilderness when He responded to Satan’s temptation saying, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Matthew 4:4).
I know that I can relate to that. Life, at times, has had its difficulties, hardships, looming questions, and uncertainties. Yet the Lord not only provided for us and carried us through, but satisfaction was found in Him and His Word. Such satisfaction doesn’t just come in one moment of reading or feeding, it comes as we continually seek the Lord and are assured of His faithfulness in His Word day after day.
Indeed, where there is a celebration, there is often a feast. As I’ve come to this realization, I am trying to apply more feasting on God’s Word in my life. I’ve started looking for reasons to celebrate. Whether it’s a simple text sent to celebrate something in another’s life, a brief but refreshing interaction of coming along-side someone, or a pause to praise God for an answered prayer, we can feast on God’s Word and His goodness even in the midst of life’s difficulties, sorrow and uncertainty.
October 2023 • Living as Long-Siders Means… Giving them What you Have!
Then Peter said (to the lame beggar), “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. Acts 3:6
Life and living as a follower of Jesus is an incredible journey! I love how through all of life’s circumstances, realities, trials, and experiences, God is present and working. My last parish before being elected District President was truly an incredible journey. I’m still amazed that God chose me to come and work with 13 people outside of The Villages to plant a new congregation. I’d never planted a church. I’d not gone through any specific training to do so. Sure, I had a deep passion for mission, but starting a new church from nothing?!
Yet from the time I received the Call to serve as mission planter, God taught me time and time again that He was in charge and all He was asking of me and the core group I began with was to not worry about what we lacked but instead to give from what we have!
In 2007 it all began with no bank account, no place to worship or gather, no incorporation or constitution, and no plan. Yet within a short time, the Lord provided a Baptist church right in the area we were targeting that had a building we could use exclusively and only for $500 a month. God brought together a growing group of people who not only wanted a place where they could receive God’s gifts of grace but to reach the existing and growing community living without Jesus. Small group Bible studies began almost immediately; six months after arriving, we had our first worship service, and we were able to charter with over 100 people in less than two years.
After 4 years, 140 members came together and bought 10 acres. Some said, “But we don’t have enough people or money…it’s too soon.” But the Lord said to us, “Give what you have!” Then just a year later, we were challenged again with the words, “Now is the time!” As we discussed building a facility on our newly purchased land, some again said, “But it’s too soon. We haven’t paid off the land. We’re only 150 people. We can’t afford to build.” And the Lord again said, “Give what you have!”
I am still moved when I think of what the Lord did in and through His people at Amazing Grace. During those mini self-run campaigns for the land, church, or school, the Lord exceeded what was needed each time! No one ever said how much anyone should give or even how or what they should give. Instead, we were encouraged to “Give what you have.” So, we gave…we gave from the heart…we gave after prayerful consideration and struggle. We gave sacrificially, and we gave joyfully, knowing that whatever we gave – it all belonged to the Lord anyway.
Nehemiah was doing a great work for God as he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. But his enemies tried to convince him to come down from the wall for a meeting, and they were relentless. It was a diversion to get Nehemiah off the wall so they could attack Israel, but he refused to come down. Nehemiah said, “Four times they sent the same message, and each time I gave the same reply” (Nehemiah 6:4 NLT). “I realized they were plotting to harm me, so I replied by sending this message to them: ‘I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?'” As I think about this, I can’t help but also remember Jesus’ words in the feeding of the 5,000. Where shall we buy bread for them to eat? Philip said: Here is a boy with five loaves and two small fish. Jesus’ reply was You give them something to eat. In summary, “Give them what you have!”
We just concluded one of the greatest events in the history of the Florida Georgia District, our President’s Equip Conference, where over 1,000 people gathered around the theme, Living as Along-Siders: Disciples Making Disciple Makers! It was a reminder that as God’s people, we are called to “Go and Make disciples…” (Matt 28). And it was a reminder that the best way for this to happen is through individual relationships where you, me, and all of us as followers of Jesus “Give them what you have!”
Yes, give them what you have…give them the love and mercy that you experience daily as one of the Lord’s redeemed. Share with them the message of hope and compassion as they cry out for someone to hear them and walk along-side of them. Give them the gift of forgiveness, unconditional love, and life that you yourself receive daily through Christ. Give them what you have – give them Jesus!
For 75 years, the Florida-Georgia District has been about connecting people to Jesus. My dear friends, our mission remains the same! As we enter this new era of disciple-making, we do so in order that many more will be connected to Jesus and the Lord’s Kingdom will grow! Therefore, may each of us be assured that we already have what we need to live as Along-siders. Let us boldly and faithful “give them what we have!”
September 2023 • Celebrating the Gift of Labor
This weekend we observe the Labor Day Holiday. I know for many, this has become little more than another holiday or a sign that summer is over. Yet I believe that this holiday gives us a wonderful opportunity to consider the gift of work!
I believe that work has been given to us by God as a gift. From the beginning, man was placed in God’s creation to work, serve, and honor Him. As such, we are to work in a way that results in bringing blessings and value to the society and community where we work. Work is, therefore, not only for our benefit and joy but is also about our relationship with the Lord and one another.
The integration of faith and work allows and provides for a purpose-driven view of work. Work is to be done to God’s glory and celebrated as an endeavor that brings joy to the worker and blessings to those who benefit from what we do. Sadly, most people today view work in terms of benefiting the individual rather than for the purpose of glorifying God or even doing work for the joy of the work itself. In reality, we’ve seen work reduced to being primarily or even solely about personal financial benefit.
Yet I believe that Labor Day is not only the opportunity to thank the Lord for the work or jobs that He provides for us. It is also an incredible opportunity for us to consider our Christian vocations. You may remember that our “Christian vocations” are not just what we do for an income or living but about how we serve and honor the Lord in whatever we do and wherever we are called to do it. I believe Paul’s words to the Colossians echo this when he wrote: “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” (Col. 3: 17).
So, my dear friends and fellow servants of God. If you are serving the Lord, you are doing great work for God. Maybe you’re an usher, a youth volunteer, a Sunday School teacher, a Small Group leader, a member of the Welcome Team, a Board member, a prayer warrior, a coach, a cook, a musician or singer, a part of the clean-up crew or an office volunteer. You’re doing a great work for God!
No matter what you are doing for the Lord in His church or elsewhere, one person’s work for God is not greater than another’s work. It is not about better or worse. It is all about responding to the God who is always faithful to us. It’s about doing what God has given each of us to do.
Nehemiah was doing a great work for God as he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. But his enemies tried to convince him to come down from the wall for a meeting, and they were relentless. It was a diversion to get Nehemiah off the wall so they could attack Israel, but he refused to come down. Nehemiah said, “Four times they sent the same message, and each time I gave the same reply” (Nehemiah 6:4 NLT). “I realized they were plotting to harm me, so I replied by sending this message to them: ‘I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?'”
Whatever work God has called you to do, do it fully, stay engaged and focused, knowing that what the Lord has given you is a “great work.” It is with this in mind that we should make every day and every task we do count! Yes, “Whatever you do, do it to the glory of the Lord!”
One of the most powerful images of joy in God-centered work is illustrated in the movie, “Chariots of Fire.” When Eric Liddel, the Scottish athlete portrayed in the film, is confronted by his sister over her perceived higher calling of missionary work to the work Liddel is engaged in, he responds with the blessing of an integrated view of work and faith. He says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” May you, my fellow servants of Christ, feel His pleasure and the joy of Laboring for Him in all you do!
August 2023 • A More Perfect Union
I know you’re probably wondering why I’m beginning with a quote from something other than Scripture. Yet, since returning from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Convention in Milwaukee, that phrase has risen in my mind as I’ve assessed the decisions and spirit of the Convention.
We all recognize this phrase from the preamble of the U.S. Constitution. We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union… Although the intent and mission of the Church is far more critical and a worthy cause, there is something to be applied in our calling as the citizens of the Lord’s Kingdom, and for that matter, of the LCMS.
Indeed, I rejoice along with many of you in being part of our church body. We are a church that has consistently sought to proclaim, extend, and preserve the message of God’s love and the free gift of salvation through Christ Jesus alone. In a world where many church bodies have forsaken the truths of God’s Word and the very faith that saves, the LCMS has continued to hold up that God’s Word is unchanging, that He is the One true God who is Father and Lord of all and desires to see all come to saving faith. In His Holy Word, He has revealed that He is a God of mercy and grace and blesses us through His Law to see our sin and need for a Savior, and in the Gospel, shows us our Savior through whom we receive forgiveness and life.
A more perfect union. Sometimes, I sense there is a view that, at one time, we were perfectly united as a church body. Although, in many ways, we may have been united in doctrine and mission, I believe we would all agree we were not perfect. I hear many concerns over where we are as a Synod. How we are divided or have given up our primary purpose for existing – the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and extension of the His Kingdom. Yet I would suggest that is still at the heart of who we are and what we are about. Yes, we may approach mission and ministry in different ways based on our settings and the communities we have been called to reach. I believe we should honor such a faithful response to our call to be His witnesses. I also believe we should cling to our unwavering stance in the inerrancy of Scripture, that salvation can be found in no other Name, and that our doctrines are a true exposition reflecting God’s teaching and will.
No, we are not a perfect union or church body, but in Christ and through Him, we are forgiven and go forward. I came across a quote recently from Jon Meacham that seems to reflect my prayers of late. “To know what has come before is to be armed against despair. If the men and women of the past, with all their flaws and limitations, ambitions and appetites, could press on…then perhaps we, too, can right wrongs and take another step forward toward that most enchanting and elusive destinations: a more perfect Union.” (2018).
In truth, we will not experience a perfect union or unity until the Lord returns. Yet my prayer is that in this fast-changing and decaying world, in this time of discord and misplaced agendas, we would recommit ourselves to living as “Synod”; to living as those who “walk together” in seeking to proclaim the only true message of hope, the Light of the world. That we would seek to listen and trust each other, to love and serve our neighbors as Christ’s servants so they too may have the same hope and joy we have, that all may receive the gift of life and salvation through our perfect Savior and Lord! By the grace of God, I do believe we can work towards a more perfect union in our Synod for the sake of fulfilling God’s mission.
Equipping, Empowering, and Engaging…to Connect People to Jesus!
P.S. Our District was wonderfully blessed by well-prepared pastoral and lay delegates to the Convention. Please note that we will be working to help communicate a summary report from the Convention. Our hope is this report will be shared and expounded upon by your delegates in a Circuit Forum or other appropriate setting.
July 2023 • Free Indeed
This week we will celebrate our Independence and the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. I pray that you and your family will not only enjoy this national holiday but truly reflect upon this great gift and heritage.
For nearly two hundred and fifty years, citizens of our nation have been blessed to celebrate our independence on The Fourth of July. We fly the flag; put up red, white, and blue decorations; march in parades; shoot off fireworks and enjoy BBQs and picnics. This day was set aside so that throughout all our celebrations, we would be reminded of the gift of our freedom as a nation. Indeed, we are blessed in the United States with exceptional liberty, for which we ought to thank the Lord. As a follower and servant of the One true God and Savior, I pray that each of us will also count the significance of our freedom’s impact upon our faith lives. This impact includes the freedom to believe and worship as we choose, to pray and praise the Lord when and where we are led, to share our faith and the hope that we have with others freely, and to know that no matter what, our future and freedom is eternally secure!
As I consider these incredible freedoms, I seem to regularly have God’s Word rise in my mind and heart. The Lord says through the Apostle Paul: “In and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
These words in Ephesians 3:12 celebrate another kind of freedom, a freedom that is even more amazing than the freedoms guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Greek word translated here as “freedom” refers specifically to “freedom of speech” (parresia, with a literal meaning of “all speech”). The word rendered as “approach” suggests one’s authorization draw near to a king. Slowing down to look at this Scripture is somewhat mind-blowing. Who am I to “approach God”, our King and Lord, with confidence? Yet, these words of our Lord remind us that “through him,” we can be confident in our “freedom of speech” and “authorization to approach” God!
Incredible right? In Christ, you and I have the freedom to draw near to God, to tell God anything, without holding back. We can express to God not only our joys, our hopes, and dreams but also our sorrows. We can share with Him not only what we are confident in and thankful for but also our doubts or anger. This is an amazing freedom.
However, it is a freedom that we, as Christians, can easily take for granted, just as citizens can hold their political freedom too lightly. When we’re used to praying to God at any time, in any place, with any words, we can forget the stunning nature of our access to God. Think about it. The God who created the universe, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the God of all wisdom and justice, this God invites us to speak our mind, to share with him our thoughts, our feelings, fears, dreams…and failures and sin. The more we reflect on this invitation, the more I believe we’ll come to realize and celebrate just how amazing it is.
There is one more verse that always seems to come to my mind as Independence Day approaches. Jesus said in John 8: 32, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. In this day when many are using their freedom for things our forefathers, nor our Father in heaven, ever had in mind, when people are so adamant about their individual freedoms and rights over those of society and community when it seems the government is limiting our real freedoms in various ways while on the other hand affirming freedoms that are anything but, it’s time for us to focus our attention and energy on celebrating and defending our greatest and truest freedom of all!
So let us cling to our freedom in Christ, the Son who has set us free from Satan, Sin, and Death! Let us cling to the freedom we have to profess and share this true freedom giver. Finally, let us approach His throne of grace no matter the circumstances or what our world and others may say or do. For He is the One true God who loves to hear from His children and has given us unconditional access!
So, my fellow Americans and citizens of God’s Kingdom, take time this week to thank God for the freedom we have in this country. I also encourage you to step back to consider the freedom Christ has given you to approach God with deep confidence.
June 2023 • Cornerstones
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4-5
Prior to being elected District President last summer, I was blessed during my fifteen-year ministry in planting Amazing Grace Lutheran in Oxford to lead it through three building projects. Those were exciting days, and I thank the Lord for the ways He worked through His people to see Christ’s Kingdom grow!
From our modern perspective, it’s easy to think of the Church as a building made of steel, wood, bricks, and mortar. Yet when the New Testament speaks of the Church, it is talking about people. In fact, some suggest that the earliest evidence of a house being converted architecturally into a place of Christian worship is not until approximately 241-256 AD.
In Peter’s first letter, he describes the Church as “living stones”, people who are “built up as a spiritual house” with Jesus as the “cornerstone.” From Peter’s perspective, the Church is not so much a physical building or an institution but people that God is molding and bringing together in Jesus. The Church…is you and me! Therefore, it’s important to remember that what makes us as “living stones” fit together in a cohesive unit is that the cornerstone is in place. In the construction of a building, the cornerstone is set first in the foundation, and all the other stones are positioned in reference to this stone. If the cornerstone is weak or not set in the right place, everything else in the building will be off.
How we view the Church greatly influences how we approach mission & ministry. Our understanding of the Church influences why we, the members of our respective congregations, are even here. It’s not about a building, although the building is a vessel that can further support the work of bringing people together or connecting them to Jesus. It’s not about us having a place that is everything we want or envision for our own enjoyment or worship. No, instead, it is about a people who gather to hear the Word of God and the message of hope and life in Christ faithfully proclaimed. This further becomes evident through the lives of God’s people in word & deed. The Church is where the unconditional love of God is shared with all and where lives continue to be transformed through Christ.
We live in a day when so many are living in darkness, hurting, and looking for that which is true and unchanging. As the Church, may we regularly remind ourselves that what we do is not about buildings or an institution but about the living, breathing Body of Christ. May we take these words to heart, that we, like living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. It is vitally important that our churches are built on the only foundation that can stand, Jesus. May each of us continue to be those “living stones” so that many more may be connected to the true “Corner Stone,” Jesus!
ONE FINAL WORD
In March, we launched the District’s 75th Anniversary Capital Campaign. We have committed to raising $1.5 million dollars by our President’s Equip Conference at the end of September. These funds are designated to provide grants for ten new Congregation Starts over the next five years! You see, the Florida-Georgia District began as a mission district and today remains a “mission” district! Since our beginning in 1948, our focus has been and remains about reaching people throughout Florida and Georgia so that they, too, would be connected to Jesus!
We are asking each congregation and each member of the District to be part of this wonderful opportunity in the following ways:
- That each congregation and all members see themselves as a “church planting” church and start something new. The opportunities around us are limitless, and each congregation can find one new way to reach their community for Christ.
- That every congregation will accept the challenge to give a thank offering for 75 years of mission and ministry together. Let’s be bold, but at a minimum, if each congregation raised $7,500, we would meet this overall goal.
- Pray – pray about personally participating. My wife and I have prayed and have modeled this in thanks for the Lord’s many blessings in our lives. How has the Lord blessed you in your relationship with Him? How can you respond with a bold gift in thanksgiving for His love & faithfulness?
Please call me if you have questions or would like more information. Thank you for joining us in Christ’s mission of reaching new people!
May 2023 • Out of the Grave and into the Garden
“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.” Psalms 30:11-12
As Jesus arose and came out of the grave, the first steps He took were into a garden! For me, the use of that word causes me to envision it as one filled with life, beauty, and hope. The apostle John writes, “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41). Mary was the first to see Him alive there in that garden. Given who He is, what He had done, and what He promises to do for us, it’s no surprise where she found Him.
The tomb was His first and only grave, but He was very familiar with gardens. In the garden, God had placed the first man and woman. Genesis 2:8–9 When Jesus came to earth and declared the Kingdom of God, He used illustrations from the garden. Matthew 13:32 As the hour of His suffering drew near, He prayed, “…not my will, but yours be done.” in a garden. Luke 22:42b And one day, when He comes to judge the world and make all things new, He’ll establish a great city, and there will be a garden in that city. Rev. 22:1–2
So why might the Lord repeatedly choose a garden? While graves, like His, may stand for the death He conquered, gardens captivate us — with the hope and joy of the new life, He gives. I believe that’s why I still love taking care of my own lawn and garden. There, week after week of mowing or watching new growth occur on the trees and plants reminds me of the new life that Christ gives.
In contrast, graveyards are solemn, even frightening places. Row after row of tombstones stare back at us with the finality of death. Life comes and goes, advances and changes, but not in the grave. Not among those stones. Walking through a graveyard, we realize again just how short and how fragile life really is! For many, that thought easily feeds one’s worst fears. Hebrews 2:14–15
Graves may inspire fear, but gardens…gardens awaken hope! Spring brings a stunning reminder each year, that death is not as invincible as it seems. All that died a few months ago suddenly emerges again — and before long, is vibrant and alive again! Each new bloom is a wonderful reminder that Christ came out of the grave and into the garden of life!
If Christ did not come, there would be no hope of life beyond the grave. In 1 Corinthians 15:17-19, we read about the only real hope that counts. This passage is often read at Easter, but it shouldn’t be the only time to read it. The hope of the Resurrection is an awesome and powerful thing to celebrate 365 days a year. In this passage, Paul describes what would have happened if Christ had not been raised from the dead. What would our lives be like? Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless” (v. 17). If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then you are still in your sins. If there is no resurrection, then you and I still must face the judgment of God for our sins. Yet, by faith in Christ, we are a people of Hope who can rejoice & dance! We can rejoice that Christ has made room for us because He has broken the chains of death and the grave.
Many of us have relatives who went to war, and they may have shared stories of those that they served beside. But I read a fascinating story recently. In the chaos of battle and the death of brothers, it wasn’t always possible to return their bodies to their homeland for burial. Many lay where they fell and died and are only remembered today by anonymous graves. After one battle in France where a group of US soldiers was fighting, a group of them approached a Catholic priest to ask if they could bury one of their fallen brothers in the small graveyard adjoining the church. Their request seemed reasonable. However, to their surprise, the priest turned them down for two reasons. First, the dead man was not a Catholic, and secondly, there was no room in the overcrowded graveyard.
The men were deeply upset and, with heavy hearts, returned to their platoon. They had no choice but to bury their friend just beyond the small wooden fence that marked the cemetery boundary and put up a simple cross to mark the burial spot.
A few months later, the war came to an end. The military prepared for the journey home. But those men longed to return to the grave for a last goodbye to their dead friend. They traveled back to the church. The cemetery looked the same, but they couldn’t see any sign of the simple wooden cross. They walked around and around the perimeter, feeling very angry. Surely the priest hadn’t removed that simple memorial to their dead friend. So, they ran towards the church to confront the priest. But as they got closer, the priest came out to meet them: “I’m so glad you have returned. After you left, I was troubled by my decision. I saw the dignified way you buried your friend. I can sense the anguish my decision caused you. I couldn’t change the fact that the cemetery was full. So, I decided to solve the problem in a different way. I moved the boundary fence so that your friend’s grave is now within the graveyard itself. I hope you can forgive me”.
This powerful story actually happened in the horror and devastation of war. Yet, I am struck by this, we could not change our sinful condition and due judgment. But Christ solved our problem in a different way. He made room for us! No, not in a grave but with Him for eternity where there is no war, no sorrow, no death, and no grave! He made room for us in the garden of paradise by His suffering, death, and resurrection on our behalf! Therefore, let us rejoice, for He has turned our morning into dancing! “He has clothed us with joy, that our hearts may sing His praises and not be silent.” Out of the grave… From mourning to dancing in the garden!
April 2023 • Needing to Hear the Story…Again!
He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross! Philippians 2:8
This week we begin our Holy Week journey. I have to admit that this year I have come to see Lent and Holy Week differently. Although I preach regularly around the District for various occasions, this year, I have not preached and led mid-week Lenten services. Like many people, my days are filled with appointments and the work that I am blessed to do as your District President. But by the time I finish at the office or get home from my appointments, it’s been difficult to drive the hour to get to church by 5:30. As a result, I’ve joined in the services by live stream. But because I am not writing and preaching the sermons, I find that I must work at being fully attentive to what the pastor preaches and what we sing in the songs.
Whether tired from the drive, learning to listen to others preach more than myself, or because I’m getting older (I did just turn 60), I’ve caught myself being distracted or even dozing off. My first inclination is to point the blame elsewhere. Even to the extent of thinking, “The story is always the same — Jesus lives, He dies, and He rises.” There are no surprise endings. The Passion readings have been the same for years. The hymns are loved but so familiar. And listening to or watching various pastors reveals how challenging it is to be original or help people connect to this familiar message.
But, you see, the problem lies not so much with others but within me. I have an Old Adam that makes a Pharisee out of me. I’ve learned the motions and routines, but I can easily miss just soaking up the message and Word for me. My head can interfere with the message getting to my heart. In truth, I know that many experience this challenge. Even the Apostle Paul wrestled with doing things he knew he shouldn’t do. So how do we get over it?
We have a wonderful tool in our churches that helps. In front of our sanctuary, fastened securely to the wall, is a captivating cross. There it hangs with two different types of beautiful wood, finely sanded. It is hardly the picture of torture that it represents. But that cross helps me.
The story of Lent and Easter may be familiar, but its elements are both shocking and amazing. It all began thousands of years earlier with two people in a perfect garden called Eden. The prelude to the passion account is illustrated in thousands of years of history about a people struggling to honor God and do right but often doing wrong. Yet God, in mercy and love, pursued His people to redeem and save.
When Jesus broke into history being born in Bethlehem, we already knew we were in for something out of the ordinary and out of this world. Imagine God, the King of all creation, being born in the lowliest of conditions! Then again, this week, entering Jerusalem triumphantly on the back of a donkey! What kind of God is this?
Well, we have the answer in the cross. “He became obedient unto death.” Now here is where looking upon that cross becomes so helpful. The death Jesus was obedient unto…was my death! The King of the universe took my sentence. He had a crown of thorns upon His head when it should have been a crown of jewels and gold. He was nailed to the cross. He suffered beyond my ability even to imagine. He bled, and He died. As I gaze upon that cross again this Holy Week, I see my Savior and Lord take what should have been mine! He became obedient unto death to pay the price for my sin. He did it all so that I might be forgiven and have life eternal! For as we profess in Luther’s Small Catechism, “Christ redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, bought and won me from all sins, death, and the power of the Devil.” My friends, He did all this for me, and He did all this for you!
What made dying on the cross so terrible? Not only did it bring death, but it was a torturous and humiliating death. Death sometimes took days to come. When it did come, it usually did not result from piercing wounds in the hands or feet. It came from asphyxiation. The trauma that leads to the execution soon combines with the inability to take a deep breath. In time, after hours or days of struggling, death comes. It was also a humiliating way to die. Crucifixions were designed as the ultimate public spectacle. It was to ring out a warning that certain crimes carry with them the worst punishment. This is how our God was treated.
Today we place the cross front and center, but it is more than a decoration. It is a bitter reminder of just how serious our sin is and how hopeless we are on our own. Our wrong thoughts, words, and actions demanded the highest of all prices — the execution of God’s perfect sinless Son.
You bet that this story hasn’t changed — and it better not, for there are no other means by which you, me, and all others can be saved. How do I fight my Old Adam? I focus on that cross. When I listen carefully, I sometimes imagine I hear the pounding of the piercing nails. And then I remember I caused it with my sins. Now I am listening to hear the forgiveness He brought and the victory of Easter Sunday. Now I am looking upon that cross as a reminder of the victory that is mine and yours through the One who was “obedient unto death!”
“Hey, Satan! Get behind me!” I must never grow weary of this story. It is the most important of all that we are privileged to hear, believe, and share!
March 2023 • He Wants You!
I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me. Hosea 6:6
What I want instead is your true thanks to God; I want you to fulfill your vows to the Most High. Trust me in your times of trouble, and I will rescue you. Psalm 50:14-15
Relationships are truly one of the greatest blessings in life. Yet sometimes, they are one of life’s most challenging, especially with those who are closest to us. For many, when we discover that a friend or family member has a problem, we might find ourselves jumping in and trying to “fix” the problem. But in truth, what they want most is us.
God had a similar complaint regarding His people Israel. His people were active in religious practices and festivals and in offering animal sacrifices. Yet God said: “I have no complaint about your sacrifices or burnt offerings you constantly bring to my altar” Ps. 50: 8. But He was not looking for their bulls and goats. He had no need of anything from them because it all belonged to Him. More than their gifts, He wanted them! God’s people had forgotten that it was all about the relationship He desired with them.
As part of that relationship, God wanted His people to thank Him (Ps. 50: 14). He wanted to be thanked because saying “thank you” can be evidence of a healthy relationship. Those who recognize who God is in their lives and how much they depend on Him are people who know all they are and have come from Him. As we recognize this essential connection with God, we overflow with gratitude.
God also wanted his people to fulfill their promises (Ps. 50: 14b). It was God who took the initiative and told the people of Israel that He would be their faithful God. In response, they assured Him they would be His faithful people. The closest of relationships was born. But sadly, the people tended to forget – so vows went unfulfilled, promises ignored, and the relationship deteriorated. Yet God still longed to have His people back again.
God also wanted His people to trust Him (Ps. 50: 15). Imagine God’s pain when we, His children, get ourselves into trouble and then turn away from Him to seek help in other people and things. However, He doesn’t change. He still wants us to turn to Him for his help. And do you know what? He is always ready to respond. What God wants is no mystery. He wants thankful, trusting, and faithful people. He wants people who will actively live in relationship with Him. He wants people He can delight in and love who love Him! He wants us!
This month we launch our 75th Anniversary Capital Campaign. We have committed to raising 1.5 million dollars by our President’s Equip Conference in September. These funds are being designated to provide grants for ten new Congregation Starts over the next five years! You see, the Florida-Georgia District began as a mission district and remains a “mission” district today! Our focus from the beginning in 1948 was about reaching people throughout Florida and Georgia so that they, too, would be connected to Jesus!
We are asking each Congregation and member of the District to be part of this wonderful opportunity through the following ways:
- Pray for the lead gifts that are being gathered that we will see $500,000 raised this spring to provide a $1 for every $2 raised match from individual & congregational gifts
- That each Congregation and all members see themselves as a “church planting” congregation and start something new. The opportunities around us are limitless, and each Congregation can find one new way to reach their community for Christ.
- That every Congregation will accept the challenge to give a thank offering for 75 years of mission and ministry together. Let’s be bold, but at a minimum, if each Congregation raised $7,500, we would meet this overall goal.
- Pray – pray about personally participating. My wife and I have prayed and have been led to give this year 1% of the total goal ($15,000). How has the Lord blessed you in your relationship with Him? How can you respond with a bold gift in thanksgiving for His love & faithfulness?
It is appropriate for us to tell those we care about and value that we love them. Likewise, may we recommit ourselves to expressing our love to the Lord by daily growing, celebrating, and living out our relationship with Him. Yes, He loves us unconditionally! May we love Him with all that is His!
February 2023 • God So Loved… And He Still Does!
I have loved you with an everlasting love. Jeremiah 31:3
I bet as you read the title of this E-blast, your mind immediately added the rest of the verse…that He gave His one and only begotten Son (John 3:16)! Yes, we know that God loves us and, in a sense, views us as His valentines! It’s that time of year that we express with cards, flowers, chocolates, and in other ways, our love for those who are dear and special to us. Whether spouses, children, or valued friends, sharing how much they mean to us and our love for them is a wonderful thing.
For many of us, our earliest recollection of Valentine’s Day was the anticipation of getting a valentine from the one we liked or secretly “loved.” We couldn’t wait to open our decorated bags with the children’s greeting cards or the candies that said, “Be Mine!” or “Kiss Me” or “Cutie!” We would even read into the cards and candy all kinds of meanings! Then there was the heart-pounding that came with not getting a valentine from someone that you cared about and how crushed that would leave us.
I love how the Lord addresses us…with love. “Dearly beloved.” God addresses every one of us, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” in Jeremiah 31: 3. In truth, God just acknowledging our existence would have given us great joy…but to have Him care so much about us to put His love in writing and to demonstrate that He means it when He says, “I love you!” is amazing. Yes, for God proved His love by giving us His most precious possession, His only Son – and that makes Him the best valentine of all!
Think about it. God didn’t leave us guessing as to how He views or feels about each of us. In the waters of our Baptism, He claimed us as His own. He gave us His Spirit, He washed away our sins, and He gives us forgiveness and life. On the cross, with His outstretched arms, He made it clear, “This is how much I love you” by taking your place and my place. Yes, for God, love is not an emotion or a feeling or a sentiment but an action. So, whenever you feel unloved, open His valentine – His Holy Word – listen and take each promise personally because they are for you!
Truly, God does not love as the world. Instead, His love is not just bound in words but in action. His Holy Word points us to the ways in which He has loved us in action! As the Apostle Paul records in Romans 5: 8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Halleluiah, right!
In John 15:13, Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friend.” That is what our Lord Jesus has done for us and all people! Dear friends in Christ, I believe that as those who have experienced and received this undeserved gift, we must share it. The Apostle John continues this teaching when 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. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” 1 John 4: 7-12.
Florida-Georgia District, may it be said of us, “They know how to love…like Jesus.”
Compelled by Christ’s love 2 Cor. 5: 14,
January 2023 • Mercies New… Same Purpose!
Not to us, Lord, not to us but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness. Psalm 115:1
I’m quite sure you’ve been hearing some of the same phrases: “New Year, new me!” “New Year, New Resolutions!” “New Year, New Purpose!”
As I’ve been hearing and reading these phrases, I’ve been struck by how easily we do two things. We throw out the year past like there is nothing of value worth retaining. Secondly, at the heart of these statements, there is an underlying focus on self.
Yes, each of us desperately needs the Lord’s “mercies new every morning”. Yet here’s the problem. Our lives as Christians, the Church, and our faith are not about us. It’s not about our agendas or our plans. No. It’s about the Lord and His plans. Our lives, the Church, and our faith are about His Kingdom and His glory!
For many of us, that’s hard to hear. It’s counterintuitive. Especially today, when we live in a time where more than we realize, it’s every man or woman for themselves. It’s the source of conflicted relationships. It’s what distracts us and derails us from what we should be doing or who we should be. It’s that constant mirror that assures us of our need for God’s grace. As Luther would say, “It’s a First Commandment issue.” I say this because putting ourselves above God is what drives our focus on our agenda and glory. However, when we come face to face with these realities, God uses it to remind us that life is simply not all about us. It’s about Him – His plan, His kingdom, and His glory.
Have you ever thought about how God made that clear from the very first words of the Bible? “In the beginning, God . . .” When we consider this reality, it can truly change how we think about ourselves, our purpose and how we deal with life. Everything that was created was made by God and…for God. All that was created, all the wonders and glories of this world, were made to point to His glory. Everything. That includes you and me. We were not made to live self-directed lives…living for our own moments of glory. No, we were created to live for Him.
So how do we do this? Is it in some great tasks or work you do for God? Is it through some religious act? No, but in every aspect of our lives. I love how Paul helps us understand this in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Did you hear it? “Whatever you do!” Paul’s view of how we live for the glory of God isn’t about big, glorious moments or accomplishments. Instead, he focuses on the mundane daily tasks such as eating and drinking. Do you get it? From the simplest to the greatest tasks of life, our focus and desire should be to bring glory to God.
Consider again the Psalmist’s words: “Not to us, LORD, not to us but to Your name be the glory.” Yes, this is not an easy thing to remember or do, but as we begin a new year, let us rejoice that His mercies are new every day! Christ whose birth we have just celebrated came that we might be forgiven and that He would receive the glory!
So, as we celebrate His mercy, may we remember that our purpose in this new year has not changed. It remains to give Him the glory and to point others to the same!
A blessed New Year as we give God the glory!