No Separation (Romans 8:38-39)

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:38-39 ESV]

There is nothing more horrifying than that thought of being separated from the love of God. And that separation would be the definition of hell. Even among the flames; in the midst of pain and suffering, if God’s love were still there, there would still be hope of rescue and healing and restoration; even if not in this life. Without God’s love, though, there is:

No hope
No rescue
No healing
No restoration and…
No God

THAT is hell and THAT is something that no one would ever want a taste of for even a second. So when people say things like, “That was just hell going through that” or “I’ve been through hell and back” or other such sayings; people have no idea nor do they want an idea. I think we too often minimize hell and therefore we don’t take it seriously enough. Hell is separation from God. The Good News, though, is that through faith in Jesus, you have never, ever been separated from God and never will be.

death
life
angels
rulers
things present
things to come
powers
height
depth
anything else in all creation

None of these things will or can separate you from God’s love. You may think your suffering feels like hell, but it is not. Your suffering here is for but a moment and believe me, you are not alone. If Jesus is your Lord and Savior, you are not alone; you are not in hell; you are not separated from God. Granted, I don’t know what your suffering is like. I don’t know how you may be feeling. I don’t know exactly how I would respond in your position. But the one thing I do know is that in Christ Jesus…

GOD LOVES ME

and God loves YOU.

Cling to this wonderful promise in Jesus Christ and rejoice that hell is not your place but rather God’s love is your reality and hope.

God of life and salvation, we praise You that Your love over comes the powers of this world and therefore gives hope through Jesus. May those who suffer know Your love and may they know they are not alone. Give them hope. Give them strength. In Jesus name I pray, Amen

The Pastor -|—

Lent re-thought

I am excited about Lent this year…not to say that I haven’t been any other year, but this year is going to be different.

At the Belmont Lutheran Church (the small county congregation I also serve) annual meeting on Sunday we decided to try something new for Lent.  For our Wednesday Lenten services we have been averaging around 10 per week.  So for a while now I have been pondering the future of these services.
–Do I need to re-think what we do on Wednesdays?
–Do we need to change the time of the worship?
–Do we need to change the location (share a service with Salem in town)?
–Or what?

Well…on Sunday I offered an idea that I heard from our Methodist friends down the street.  Instead of Wednesday evening Lenten services what about having home cottage meetings on Tuesday nights?

Are you intrigued…then allow me to elaborate…

What Belmont decided to do is meet in someone’s home on Tuesdays during Lent at 6:30pm.  We will gather together in a circle and have a time of worship/devotions (I am not sure how this will look yet).  The bulk of the time will be devoted to some teaching.  I envision this to be a cross between a sermon and a Bible study.  I will do the majority of the teaching but allow for questions, feedback or discussion.  People can come and just sit and listen or get involved…it’s up to them.  After we are done there will be some refreshments and fellowship time.  The thinking is that this will be a more intimate setting and thus more attractive to people.

I am not sure what the topic will be; whether I will do a series in a particular book of the Bible, some aspect of Jesus life or whatever.  The idea was suggested that I use the topic from the Lenten small group that I will be leading called “The Seven Wonders of God’s Word” from Augsburg Fortress.  That idea intrigues me so I am going to explore that as well.

So I am excited about this new thing we are about to do (I will post updates here during Lent).  I am not sure how it will be received.  My hope is that the home we meet in won’t be big enough, but we’ll see what happens.  But in the end we need to remember that where 2 or 3 are gathered there is Jesus right there in the midst of them.  So either way we will praise God.

-edh-

Making Sense of Scripture

I am tackling a new book.

I usually don’t read much this time of the year but this book looks interesting.  It’s called Making Sense of Scripture by David J. Lose (my preaching professor from Luther Seminary)…and of course it’s from Augsburg Fortress.  I received this FREE copy from the Book of Faith Initiative because I responded to one of their tweets (on Twitter) about the challenges of encouraging people to engage scripture.  I didn’t respond to the tweet to get this book but it just so happened that I came across the tweet during a frustrating time.  Maybe this is God’s response to me.

But as I muddle through this challenge of encouraging people to engage scripture I hear words of hope…

…This past Sunday, as kids were coming up front for the Children’s message, one of my 5 year olds saw me holding the Spark Story Bible (I read the Christmas story out of it for them), which she has at home.  As she came up to sit by me she said “We are almost done reading that”.  I know her parents read that to her every night and she loves it.  Hopefully this becomes a long-term “habit” for her.

Stories like that are encouraging, but they seem few and far between.  Maybe this Making Sense of Scripture book will prove to be a good resource.

I don’t have much to say about the book yet since I just finished reading the Introduction, but hopefully I will have more to report as I read, discover and learn.  My struggle to get people to engage this book of faith is going to be an ongoing one but hopefully I can start to make some in roads very soon (at least it looks like I have with one 5 year old).

-edh-

New Bibles

Yesterday in worship we gave Bibles to our 3rd graders (one at Belmont and one at Salem).  In the past I have ordered children’s Bibles from somewhere (I can’t seem to remember now), but this year we gave away a NRSV Spark Bible (Augsburg Fortress).

During the worship service I had the student and their parents come up front and I spoke to the student about the promises their parents made when they were baptized.  I told the 3rd graders that one of the promises their parents made was that they would place in your hands the holy scriptures (among a number of other things that I mentioned as I walked through the baptismal liturgy).  I then handed the Bible to the parents and they in turn handed it to their child.  We then all prayed together over the 3rd grader and their new Bible.

The fun part for me (besides getting to hand a 3rd grader a new Bible) was watching them (periodically) during worship.  Both these 3rd graders spent the worship service paging through their new Bibles…checking it out.  They didn’t seem to be paying attention to anything that was going on (if they ever do) but at least they were paying attention to their new Bible.  My prayer is that their curiosity doesn’t end.

At what point does this curiosity end for many people?

-edh-

Lutherans and immigration

I am reading a fascinating book right now titled They Are Us: Lutherans and Immigration by Stephen Bouman and Ralston Deffenbaugh…

…I have yet to finish the book but I will be done shortly.  It’s a short book and a quick read.  It is also an eye opening book.  I hope to have more insights for you soon but in the mean time, here are some thoughts and highlights that have jumped out to me.

–We are all descendants of immigrants.  How often do you actually think about that?

–Scriptures command us to welcome the widow, orphan and the stranger.  How often do we do THAT?

–Our immigration system is indeed broken.  I do not have the answer, but something needs to be done.  Families are being torn apart.

–Since 9/11 it has become “okay” to discriminate against immigrants all in the name of national security.

–I need to readjust some of my attitudes and pray for my brothers and sisters who are simply here to make a better life for them and their families.

Like I said I do not have the answer to the problem of our broken immigration system, but as Christians how are we called to respond to these brothers and sisters in Christ?  Maybe our first order of business is to pray for our national leaders that they may actually figure something out so all people are treated with respect and dignity.

More to come later…

God bless!

-edh-

“New” blogs and websites

O.K…they’re not really new sites but they are fairly new to me…in any case…

…I thought I would highlight a couple recent additions to my blogroll and my favorite website section on the right side panel of this blog.

First my blog roll:
(1) Angry Lutherans is an interesting site I came across through a new website I will mention in a bit.  It is worth your time to check out.

(2) Augsburg Fortress: One Mission Blog obviously is the blog for Augsburg Fortress.  This is a great way to read about new publications coming out or things going on in connection with Augsburg Fortress.

Favorite websites:
(1) Lutheran Central is a website I stumbled upon through someone else.  It is a site that has a bunch of Lutheran information, resources and links.  They are currently updating some links but what they do have is neat.  My blog is also featured on Lutheran Central (hence part of my motivation to return the favor here).

(2) Working Preacher is a great sermon prep resource.  Each week there is an in depth write up about each of the lectionary texts.  There are also various other preaching resources and even a discussion board to chat about the upcoming texts.  I have found this sight to be very helpful in my sermon prep during the week.  Even if you are not writing a sermon you can still find some helpful insights into scripture.

I hope you find these useful/interesting.

God bless.

-edh-

P.S.  It is VBS week here so hence my relative lack of posting anything recently.  I am checking back to see if any comments need to be responded to though.  Hopefully I will have a “meatier” post coming up soon about the Sunday texts and maybe even some thoughts/highlights from VBS.  So I will catch ya later.

More reading — Missional Congregations

I started reading a new book today (I often have a couple I am working on at the same time).  This book is called, “A Field Guide for the Missional Congregation” by Rick Rouse and Craig Van Gelder.  It is an Augsburg Fortress selection that was recommended to me.

I am just getting into this book but I wanted to share something with you that has already struck me and got me thinking.  Here’s a short excerpt:

The premise of this book is that becoming an effective witness to the gospel in today’s world — becoming a missional congregation — requires us to revision the way we ARE the church in order to more faithful DO church.  Consider the following shifts in an understanding of what the church is and does.

FROM:                               TO:
Maintenance                  Mission
Membership                   Discipleship
Pastor-centered           Lay-empowered
Chaplaincy (Self)         Hospitality (Others)
Focus on ourselves     Focus on the world
Settled                              Sent

That above list got me thinking about my own setting and context.  Are we a missional congregation or are we satisfied with the status quo?  Are we inward focused or outward focused?  Or consider this question:  If this congregation ceased to exist, would the community miss us?

More from this book later.

-edh-

Spark Story Bible

Story Bible

At the risk of sounding like an Augsburg Fortress commercial I wanted to highlight this story Bible that I came across.  This Bible is geared towards age 2 through grade 2 kids and contains 150 Bible stories. It has great color pictures, stories that are short and each have a question or an action statement; something to help the kids think more about the story.

After buying one copy to look at I bought another 10.  So far two people have come in to buy one and others said they are also interested.  I may need to buy more.  There is also a Spark Bible geared towards grade 3 through grade 6 students.  And all of this is part of the Spark Sunday school curriculum.

My plan is to read out of this story Bible on Sundays for the children’s message (trying to coordinate with the Gospel text)  and also to give one to parents who have their children baptized here.  I have been trying to encourage people to get into the Bible more so let’s start them young.

My point here is not to give Augsburg Fortress free advertising but rather to highlight a resource for getting kids into the Bible.  One of my fondest memories took place one Sunday morning.  One of my 3 year olds came into the narthex before worship and was carrying a couple books.  She ran up to me to show me and the first one she showed me was her new Bible.  She was pretty excited and proud of her Bible.  Now…what pastor is not going to get excited about that.

I hope more kids will develop a love for scripture early and keep scripture as a huge part of their lives as they grow up, but it all begins with the family.

-edh-