Stiff Necked People

Below is my article for the Buffalo Center Tribune. This article is based on our daily Bible reading in a Bible reading Facebook Group that I lead. We have so far read through the Gospel of Mark and Hebrews. Currently we are working through Acts. So I present this to the glory of God.


At the writing of this article, the Facebook Bible reading group that I lead is reflecting on Acts chapter seven. It is the account of Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. He has been serving the people and performing great signs and wonders. Opponents eventually rise up to confront Stephen and debate him, “but they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” (Acts 6:10). They then concoct some trumped up charges and the religious leaders seize him and bring Stephen before the council. Finally, in Acts 7:1, the high priest questions Stephen, “Are these things so?” Stephen then launches into sermon through what we call the Old Testament. Starting with Abraham and going through Solomon, Stephen recounts God’s work among his people. I read through Stephen’s sermon, and it took me about seven minutes to complete it. For seven minutes or so, the council listened without objection. They had no problem with what he was saying. There was no heresy, nothing offensive, and definitely nothing divisive. It wasn’t until verse fifty-one that Stephen got into trouble when he said, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you…” When Stephen applied the text and spoke the truth to them; the truth that they are sinners, the council became enraged.

And whether you like it or not, what Stephen said to that council that day also applies to you: You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. Please do not stone me like what they did to Stephen. Hopefully you can handle the truth. And besides, it is not me declaring this truth but rather God. But even so, many resist proclaiming this truth out of fear of being stoned by others. But as I like to say, you cannot truly hear the Good News of Easter until you have gone through Good Friday.

And so, I invite you to embrace this Lenten season. Reflect on your sinfulness and confess your sins. Remember that from dust you came and to dust you shall return. Remember that without God, death will embrace you forever. Remember and acknowledge your stiff-neckness (yes, I know that is not a word). Remember all of this but also know that there is a Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the Good News. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus is the Resurrection, the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life and the Light of the world. Jesus is the only Gate to God’s pastures, the Narrow Way.

And so, You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, do not resist the Holy Spirit. Embrace this Good News and praise Him, always and forever, Amen.

Fill Us

Come, Holy Spirit come.
Fill us with your peace during this time of chaos.
Fill us with hope as our “normal” has been stripped away.
Fill us with healing as hatred seeks to divide this nation.
Fill us with love so we may see the heart of a person and not their exterior.
Fill us with the Truth that people around us may come to know Jesus.
Fill us with Life that we may not fear the sting of death.
Fill us with peace so that walls may come tumbling down.
Fill us with joy so we may live and work and play together as one family.
Come, Holy Spirit come.
Fill us with You.

God Kicked My Butt

God kicked my butt today. Actually, the butt-kicking started yesterday as a series of tech problems halted my plans – plans that I thought were brilliant and would be joyfully received by the worshiping community. But when our ways are not God’s ways, well, we are not going to win that battle. You see, up to this point I had been live streaming worship on YouTube from my living room but it dawned on me this past week that I could use the church’s video camera that we use to video record my sermons,. I could record a service on Saturday from the sanctuary, instead of my living room, and then upload it on Sunday. I felt this would be more worshipful – to be where we always held worship. People would be excited and that made me happy. So that was the plan. It would be great.

Take one: So, I went to the church building on Saturday afternoon to record a worship service. I set up the chancel area and positioned the video camera. The sermon was done, and my worship notes were ready. I put on my alb, stole and pectoral cross. I knew exactly what I was going to do and what I was going to say. Lights, action, camera – and off I went. Everything went great. I thought I had hit it out of the park until I went to stop the camera. When I hit the record button again to stop the recording, the counter started – as if I was just turning it on. In panic, I hit the button again, pulled out the memory card and ran to my office to upload the video. No video. The worship did not get recorded. The camera said the card was full but there should have been plenty of room. I got a little frustrated, but I quickly settled down and took this as God’s sign that I should do this in the morning.

Take two: Sunday morning came, and I got up at my usual time. I went through my usual routine and then drove to the church building. I got set up again – lighting candles, making sure my notes were ready, my microphone pack was turned on and I got dressed in my worship garb. Lights, action camera – again. I led worship and everything went great. Another homerun – or so I thought. I went to my office to upload the video from a card that was empty when I started. But when I open the card directory there were three files. “That doesn’t make sense.” I thought. Apparently, the worship service stopped and started a couple times giving me separate three files. Grrr… Strike two on the recording. Resigning myself to “settle” for a live stream, I packed up my stuff and rushed home – praying along the way. “Why God, why? I am supposed to have a worship service ready to go for people this morning.” After some more praying and then some listening, I finally heard what God was saying, “Worship is not an event to watch.” All weekend I felt something was off about me recording a worship service, but I thought it was just nerves about how everything would turn out. Apparently, the uneasiness I felt was God tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “Don’t do this.

Take three: With a big smile – as I realized the lesson God had just taught me – I prepared my living room for a live stream of worship – no frustration, no anger, just thankfulness. How could I have been so vain to think I could choreograph a worship service production for people to watch later and then call it good and God glorifying. After getting set up, I prayed some more and just listened. I tossed away the bulletin and just led worship – I don’t think the church in Acts had a worship bulletin. And you know something, the Holy Spirit took over and HE hit it out of the park – Grand Slam!

I wish God had given me a clear Post-it note on my computer or something, but some of the best lessons are learned the hard way. When worship is Spirit-led in the moment, God is glorified. All of man’s efforts to produce something that is too scripted, runs the risk of self-glorification. That is what happened to me. In John 4, Jesus said that the Father is looking for people to worship Him in Spirit and truth. Yes, that is worship and that is what finally happened this morning. Thank You, God, for teaching me that lesson. To God be all glory, honor, praise — and worship — through Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

Holy Spirit Prayer

I am teaching an adult Sunday school class on the Holy Spirit and as i get into this more i am becoming more and move overwhelmed (in a good way) on the depth of this topic. I know i cannot do this justice and thus i pray for the Holy Spirit to guide me. But as i pray, i am being ever reminded on my deep need for the Holy Spirit to teach me, guide me and keep me in the Truth. And thus i continue to pray, in the name of Jesus, for the Spirit of God to help me. I cannot do this – or anything – on my own. Let us pray…

Oh Spirit of God open the Word to me.
Oh Spirit of God how i adore thee.
You are perfect in knowledge and wisdom.
You open my heart to know You.
You show me Jesus my Lord and Savior.
You seize my heart and make me new.
Oh Spirit of God teach me to follow again.
Oh Spirit of God may i shout my “Amen!”
Without You i would be lost to the truth.
Without You i would be condemned to death.
Without You i would leave for the world.
Oh breathe into me Your holy breath.
So Holy Spirit show me the Way.
For i need You each and everyday.
Teach me that i can learn to obey.
Oh Spirit of God, in Jesus’ name i pray.

Blowing

You wave and sway.
You bend and bow.
Your movement is not choreographed by you.
Nothing planned.
Nothing thought out.
You just move.
You don’t resist.
You don’t try to prevent.
You don’t complain.
You just move.
Sometimes you’re still.
Sometimes you’re active.
Sometimes you’re shaped anew.
But not of your own doing.
You simply submit.

And you put me to shame.

The wind blows as it wills and you respond in kind.
The Holy Spirit does the same, but I often resist.
You don’t think because you can’t think, yet it is almost as if you really do know.
For as the wind blows you become stronger and stronger; able to grow larger and larger.
Reaching higher
Higher
Higher
And it’s not you reaching but God reaching for you.
It’s as if you know.
You do know, don’t you?
Oh to be a tree and submit to the wind of the Spirit.
Becoming stronger and reaching higher
Higher
Higher
Oh to be a tree

Understanding

The following prayer was inspired by Psalm 119:169-176.


Father God,
Many seek understanding through science.
Some seek understanding through logic.
Others seek understanding through philosophy.
Oh God, please give me understanding according to Your Word.
Many seek understanding through intellect.
Some seek understanding through debate.
Others seek understanding through experience.
Oh God, Please give me understanding according to Your Word.
For Your Word is
right
perfect
and precious.
You Word is my
delight
Life
and salvation.
All other understanding is fleeting, temporary, lost and flawed.
Nothing else can save.
So God, I long for You.
I long for Life,
I long to know.
I long to understand.
But I have gone astray and I am ashamed.
I have sought understanding in all the wrong places.
So in Your great mercy seek for me and hold me tight.
Bring me close.
Oh God, please give me understanding according to Your Word,
that I may not stray from You.

Making a Name

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate and recognize the giving of the Holy Spirit 50 days after Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead. This is also the birth of the Church as the Spirit would send those first missionaries out to share the Good News of Jesus Christ; proclaiming a peace that surpasses all understanding. This is a day about God making a name for us; a name sealed forever in the Book of Life.

Below, is the opening paragraph to the sermon I will be preaching this morning. If you want to watch the rest, I invite you to visit our church website (link on the right hand side of this page) or go to YouTube and search for “Living Word Lutheran Church, Puyallup, WA). The sermon should be posted later today or early in the week. The sermon text is based in Acts 2:1-21, but I will be starting in Genesis 11:1-9 as I reference the Tower of Babel.

To God be the glory!!!

John 14:27, Jesus says, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. And this fear thing is what people in this world are trying to deal with. They do this through many means, but mainly, through making a name for themselves. Through unity of purpose and thought; through being connected to a group or community of people, many hope to find intimacy, but what they find is a tower that has fallen into a heap of rumble. The only true peace and intimacy that will last, not just through this life, but for all eternity, is what we have with God through Jesus Christ as Paul tells us in Romans 5. It is a peace and intimacy, a purpose and belonging that is only made known through the Helper, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is that moment and manifestation for the believer.

Witnesses

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” [Acts 1:8 ESV]

Witnesses don’t share their opinions.
Witnesses don’t share their theories.
Witnesses don’t speculate.
Witnesses don’t guess.
But rather…
Witnesses tell the truth.
the whole truth,
and nothing but the truth.
So helped by the Holy Spirit.
And YOU, Christian, are called to be a witness for Jesus.
You’ve been subpoenaed by Jesus.
But here’s the thing…
The Holy Spirit will give you power to witness.
Jesus doesn’t send you empty-handed.
Jesus sends you equipped.
Jesus sends you.
Jesus goes WITH you.
You are not alone.
Don’t be afraid of the Truth.
Proclaim the Truth boldly and if the world hates you, then so be it.
Jesus loves you.
You are witnesses.
So go and give them Jesus.

Believing

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
[John 20:29 ESV]

Believing isn’t seeing,
it is knowing that the unbelievable;
that which doesn’t make sense,
is not only believable but,
true.
Believing isn’t trusting your senses,
but it is knowing in your heart;
your heart of hearts,
that which your senses can’t confirm is
true.
Believing is leaping from a precipice
into the unknown,
defying the screaming voice within;
the voice staying, “you will die, this is
true.”
Believing is shutting that voice out
and jumping; listening to the Spirit;
listening with the ears of faith,
listening to the voice of
Truth.
Believing is falling to your death,
knowing that it means Life;
for the hands of our gracious God,
will keep you in the
Truth.
Believing is a gift,
wrapped in the messiness of the cross,
presented through the empty tomb,
and secured in the Spirit of
Truth.
Yes! Yes! I believe! Jesus Christ lives, and that is the
truth.

Small Church, Big Spirit

On Sunday, I got to lead worship and preach at this little church in Elbe, WA; Historic Elbe Evangelical Lutheran Church. What a neat place and what an incredible privilege and honor to be invited.
~ This is not a mega-church
~ There are no projection screens inside
~ There was no fancy multi-colored bulletin
~ There was no loud worship band
Just people, from different congregations, worshiping our awesome God; people who traveled a distance to get to this beautiful part of our beautiful state.

This worship service brought me back to my roots; back to SW MN. I grew up in a small town but in a large church. I eventually moved to a larger town but served in two small churches; one being a small county congregation. Even though I love serving where I do; at Living Word Lutheran Church, is was nice to reminisce with myself and be reminded of an important aspect of the local church.

You see, the size of a church does not equate ministry success. Too many people think that if you have a small church then there’s something wrong. Hogwash. It’s not quantity but rather quality, and I humbly believe quality is what we had on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t because of me but rather the Spirit working through me and the many volunteers that are responsible for this little church in the mountains. There is a reason that this church in Elbe is still operating. There is a reason that people come here on Sunday afternoons to worship. The Spirit is alive here.

So thank you to those volunteers and for the opportunity to worship with you. I hope to be able to come back again sometime. May God continue to bless the ministry of the Historic Elbe Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The Pastor -|—