Why God, Why

This pastor’s heart is heavy this morning after reading news about a reporter and her cameraman in Virginia being gunned down and killed on live TV this morning. I won’t go into details here as you can click the link above.

As I read this story, my heart broke and immediately send me into a series of questions, many consisting of: “Why God, why?” as I instinctively started looking for answers. It’s a natural response to a tragedy as one seeks consolation, comfort, hope and maybe even an explanation. Something, anything to help make sense of the evil and sin in the world. I hear this “Why” question a lot and ask it myself.

And there are no good answers to explain why this tragedy happened, but there IS hope. The hope? OUR hope?


[Isaiah 43:1] But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

[1 Corinthians 15:55-57]  “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

[Romans 8:35-39, but really, read the WHOLE chapter] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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. 

[John 11:25-26]  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?

…and there are many more, but hopefully this is a start for you. This world is nasty, sin-stained, filled with death, but…

Our God is love, pure and perfect, and filled with Life; a life that is your’s through faith in Jesus Christ. So as chaos reeks havoc in this world, cling to Jesus. May the only answer you search for and cling to be


Mighty and holy God, I lift up to You those affected by this tragic shooting. May family, friends and loved ones know Your love and the hope of the resurrection. Evil may have it’s day in this world but You have overcome this world. May we cling to THAT reality. All praise, glory and worship be to You, oh God, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Pastor -|—

Don’t Kill Jesus (John 11:48)

If we let him (Jesus) go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” [John 11:48, ESV, Bible.com/app]

Earlier on in this chapter, Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and greatly troubled over the people’s lack of hope. Later, when at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, Jesus wept. He didn’t weep because his friend was dead and gone, but rather  Jesus wept because the people were in a state of hopelessness; they didn’t believe that Jesus could do anything. But Jesus knew what he could do and therefore wanted the people to have hope that death is not the end. Jesus wanted people to believe in HIM.

Following the raising of Lazarus scripture says that many people believed in Jesus but others went and reported this to the pharisees; the religious leaders of the day. Their response was troubling (the verse above) as…

They were only concerned about their jobs and not the people.
They were only concerned about their “Church” instead of the Kingdom.
They were only concerned about their job descriptions.

The people were coming to faith in Jesus and that would change the course of the “Church”; the course of history, and (as they feared) the course of their nation. So something must be done (as we read in the rest of the chapter):

[53] So from that day on they made plans to put him (Jesus) to death.

Kill Jesus
Stop this Gospel
Get control of the situation
Stay relevant

Wow, that sounds familiar (and not because I have read this text before). This is familiar because this is happening today in a couple ways:

(1) The Gospel, the Church, biblical interpretation are changing because many feel if they don’t change these then the Church will get left behind. And so in order to “protect” the church; 2000 years worth of doctrine is changing, interpretation of the Bible is “evolving”; and all in a effort to help the Church become/stay “relevant”. So this Pharisaical concern is nothing new as leaders are trying to protect their jobs, positions and status.

(2) This Pharisaical concern is also happening in the local church. This appears through churches afraid to take a stand for what they believe. “Let’s just go along with how things have been done and not upset the apple cart”.Let’s just continue with what the higher ups tell us is the truth,” The fear is that change will cause a disruption in the peaceful status quo.  And so the status quo is fought for, tooth and nail, when fighting for THE Gospel should be the way.

We can not allow things to go on like this. THE Gospel of Jesus Christ is what we should be clinging to and not this Pharisaical concern of relevancy. The Church can not let the culture dictate it’s doctrine. Our doctrine comes from God and God alone through Jesus Christ. Our doctrine is the unaltered Bible; the Word of God. This hasn’t changed and it is not going to change. People need to hear THE Gospel and not some watered down version that meets their needs. To do that causes great harm as anything watered down loses it potency.

Jesus (and him alone) is the Resurrection and the Life. All who believe in him, though they die, will live; and all who lives and believes in Jesus will never die. That is the Good News. Do you really believe this?

If so…

Worship GOD through Jesus Christ
Spread THE Gospel
Give GOD control of the situation
Stay in Scripture

Cultural relevancy is something Jesus never advocated but rather Gospel faithfulness; no matter what the culture thinks or says.

So with Jesus I weep and thus pray…

That the Church remains faithful/returns to faithfulness
That Christians stand strong for what they believe against all odds
That the authority of scripture is held high and untarnished
That the unaltered Gospel is proclaimed with boldness
And that in the face of relativism, the Church does not budge

JESUS is Lord and King. Let’s boldly and proudly announce this and stick with this confession…

…and not kill Jesus.

God, King of all creation, make us bold in our faith that we may boldly proclaim Your glory. Make us strong to stand, that when push comes to shove; as relativism tries to assert it’s so-called claim on the culture, that we stand. Make us unashamed of the Gospel that our hope may be secure in Jesus. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Pastor -|—

The gate (key)

The Gospel text for this Sunday (May 15) is from John 10:1-10.  This is the account of Jesus saying “I am the gate…“.  Call me goofy but this great scene from the Princess Bride came to mind.  There has got to be a way to use this in the sermon 😉




I was asked a question about God yesterday:  “Why does God allow little children to suffer terrible illnesses?”  It is the age-old issue of God, evil and suffer.  How do they coexist if indeed God is a loving God.  I don’t like watching little children suffer.  I don’t like watching footage of earthquake and tsunami damage.  But suffering is part of life…but why?

My first response was that God created this world perfect but sin messed it up…and God was grieved (to put it mildly).  But the suffering we experience in this world is not the end for God has overcome the world.  God overcame the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  As I sat and pondered this issue some more I was drawn to John 16 where Jesus is comforting his disciples.  Jesus closes that chapter by saying I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world. Praise be to God!

I still don’t like suffering.  I still grieve when little children suffer terrible illnesses and when I see reports of natural disasters.  And…I still ask that age-old question from time to time:  Why God, why?  But each time God comes through with words of reassurance and hope; strengthening my faith through reminding me of his love. And through this faith strengthening I am reminded that this is not the end.  My faith tells me that when I am going through hard times that God is right there with me.  My faith tells me that in the midst of suffering God is right there whispering those words of Jesus in my ear and in my heart.  My faith tells me that when Satan takes his best shot to drive me to despair I can respond by saying, “You have already lost!  My God has defeated you and has given me the victory through Jesus Christ so go away!

Evil and suffering are here to stay…for the time being…but take heart…Jesus has overcome the world FOR YOU and FOR ME.

Praise be to God!


What now?

The morning after…

…actually it’s the first day of the week following the historic vote at the ELCA CWA09 last week in Minneapolis; a vote that changed ministry policies allowing homosexuality clergy in committed, life-long, monogamous same sex relationship to serve ELCA congregations.  The vote also opened the door for ELCA congregations to bless same sex unions if they so choose.  But also recognizing that fact that people across the church have “bound consciences” and that we are to respect that.

With this vote I knew I would get lots of questions (as I did as I walked into the coffee shop this morning) so I decided to address this right away on Sunday morning in the sermon.  Below is the newsletter article I wrote that is a very brief summary of what I preached on Sunday.  I used the text from Joshua 24:14-15 about choosing whom we will serve.  Here’s my newsletter article:


“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:14-15)

By the time this newsletter reaches your mail box and is in your hands, the ELCA will be forever changed.  ELCA Church wide assembly met Aug. 17 – 23 in Minneapolis.  The big agenda item (and one that garnered the most passionate discussion/debate) had to do with lifting the ban on homosexual clergy, who are in life-long, monogamous, committed relationships, from serving on the ELCA roster and allowing congregations to bless same sex unions. Many of you are no doubt experiencing a number of emotions surrounding this that include but not limited to:  anger, confusion, disappointment, sadness, etc.  Some of you no doubt believe that scripture is clear when it comes to homosexuality.  Some of you no doubt are not even willing to discuss/debate this because you believe there is no discussion/debate.  But I also recognize that some of you may be very excited and happy about this change.  Wherever you fall and however you feel the reality is still the same:  We live and serve in a Church that has been forever changed.  In a way we now live in a foreign land.  So what now…

…As with everything there are decisions to be made, but in our case there is only one faithful option:  We will continue serving our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ in advancing the Gospel with all our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ…who are all as equally sinful as you and me.

This may be hard to accept for some, but when you consider how Jesus treated the outcast, it makes a lot of sense.  In the sermon on Sunday, Aug. 23 (one that many of you were not in attendance to hear) I reminded people of the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8:  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.

Jesus taught us to separate the sin from the sinner; to hate the sin NOT the sinner.  So what does all this mean?  Simply this:  In light of the change in ministry policies here in the ELCA concerning homosexuality I echo Joshua’s words, “As for me and my household we will serve the Lord”.  Basically…nothing is going to change.  The ELCA vote will not change what I preach or how I preach; I will continue announcing forgiveness and presiding at the table; I will continue to baptize, marry and bury people; I will continue teach and love people.  And (as I expect everyone here to do) I will continue to welcome ALL people.  I may not approve of their lifestyle but I will continue to separate the sin from the sinner and serve the Lord through loving my neighbor.  That is what Jesus commands us to do.  Loving people and accepting ALL people is serving the Lord.

The ELCA has been forever changed (there is no question about that), but Salem Lutheran Church has not been changed.  We will continue to serve the Lord; we will continue to welcome ALL people; we will continue to advance the Gospel.  But as we do this I urge you to dive even deeper into scripture and explore the Good News that God has for us.  Know what the Bible commands us to do AND know what God promises to do for us.  Get to know God better through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So join me, as we travel through this uncertain time, and continue to serve the Lord…all the while praising God always and forever.


I know that more and more questions are going to come.  There is going to be much spirited discussion and debate through blogs, Facebook, Twitter and coffee shops.  But through it all we need to remember that we are all children of God.  And my hope and prayer is that we can somehow move forward in mission.  We need to get out there and announce to people this awesome love we have from God through Jesus Christ.  Forgiveness needs to be proclaimed; people need to experience love; the stranger still needs to be welcomed.  Let’s not lose focus.

We serve an awesome God…let’s continue to do so…praising God always and forever.


The Bread of Life

We are continuing in John 6 this week with verses 24 – 35.  This scene picks up where we left off last week; Jesus feeds the 5000 and then goes for a walk on the water; scaring the disciples half to death.  After calming the disciples down and climbing into their boat they head to the other side of the lake.  Once over there the people that were fed by Jesus realize Jesus and the crew are gone, so they climb into their boats in search of Jesus (looking for breakfast).  Once again, the people still have no clue who Jesus really is and what he really did for them.

Now we get some talk about Jesus being the “Bread of Life“.  The people are looking for real bread; talking about how Moses gave the Israelites manna from heaven.  But Jesus fires back and says that it’s not Moses that gives bread from heaven but God who gives the TRUE bread.  And this bread means life.

I am the Bread of Life” Jesus says.

The quote that jumps out to me (besides, of course, the Bread of Life comment) is the one Jesus says to the people when they come looking for him.  Jesus tells them that they are only there because he gave them something to eat.  Jesus then goes on to say “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”  This statement may not have shocked the people too much then, but what about today…a society that is based on “working for food that spoils“?  This verse is reminiscent of the verses that talks about storing up treasures in heaven where moth and rust can not destroy.  This is an intriguing connection.

So maybe I will “play” with this connection some more…Hmmm…

What do you think of this connection; not working for food that spoils and storing up treasures in heaven?


Awesome worship (explained)

O.K…time to share with you what happened at worship on Sunday.

I said that worship was awesome on Sunday.  Two things contributed to that:  (1) My wife and her team of singers lead worship with the guitars (with me playing as well…which I really enjoy); and (2) continue reading below…

…The Gospel text was from John 6:1-14 (The Feeding of the 5000).  This is one of my favorite miracle stories (next to the Resurrection of course).  I talked about the miracle as something that the people (the 5000 present) did not really get.  I mean…after they had eaten and realized what happened they thought Jesus was the prophet who had come into the world.  They probably likened him to Elisha who fed 100 in 2 Kings 4 (the OT text on Sunday).  In any case they wanted to take Jesus and make him king by force, but that is not what Jesus came to do.  They missed the point…they did not get who Jesus really was.

From that I moved to talking about Holy Communion…another great meal that we a lot of times miss.  We come forward for Holy Communion in a ritualistic kind of way and totally blow off the words that are being spoken.  I mean think about it…Holy Communion is about the death and resurrection of Jesus and the promise of the forgiveness of sins, but how many times do you REALLY really think about that when you receive the bread and the wine?  I urged the people on Sunday to think about this.

Then I went on to say:
When you come here to Salem on the 1st or 2nd Sunday of the month you expect to receive Holy Communion.  You know that Holy Communion happens towards the end of the worship service.  You know the liturgy and how to respond.  Well…I am going to throw you off guard today.  It may be the 4th Sunday of the month but we are going to celebrate Holy Communion right now.  I did not get permission from the altar guild, the worship/music committee, the deacons or the church council.  We are just going to do it.
I did not use the “normal” liturgy…actually I didn’t use any liturgy.  I went on to invite people to come forward whenever they felt ready to encounter a miracle.  I urged them to listen to the words “The Body of Christ broken FOR YOU…the Blood of Christ shed FOR YOU“.  I urged the people to listen to these words and hear the miracle…the forgiveness of your sins.  I invited them to pray before hand and confess if they would like and then come forward.  There was going to be nothing that was ritualistic about this celebration of Holy Communion.

Everyone came forward (except for one person) to partake in this miracle.  And after the worship I got so many comments from people who were very appreciative of what happened in worship (Praise be to God!).  I think people liked it because Holy Communion was not ritualistic.  Maybe some people were hearing for the first time the miracle of this sacrament…I don’t know…but what I do know is that is was powerful for me (and for my wife who was helping serve communion and obviously for a number of others).

Worship was awesome on Sunday.  And all I can say to summarize it is:  “PRAISE  BE TO GOD!”


Encountering a miracle

In John chapter 6 a miracle takes place…

…Jesus feeds 5000 men with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.

After everyone ate, people realized that something amazing happened, but didn’t truly know what happened (they wanted to forcibly make Jesus their king).

During Holy Communion do we truly pay attention to what is taking place or do we see Holy Communion only as some ritual that happens once/twice a month (or however often)?

Do we comprehend that a miracle take place?

Do we truly understand that we are getting a tangible, physical reminder that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins (The Body of Christ broken FOR YOU…The Blood of Christ shed FOR YOU)?

Or do we simple walk up front during worship to receive some bread/stale wafer and some wine/grape juice and feel that we have done what we are supposed to do on this particular Sunday of the month.

In Holy Communion a miracle happens.

Praise be to God!


Sermon prep on a busy Thursday

Today is Thursday…

…and that means sermon prep.  But being that it is July 23 it also means day #4 of VBS…AND…wedding prep day (I have a wedding on Saturday for a couple of friends).  All in all…it will be a busy day (with any luck I will also get my lawn mowed).

In any case…back to sermon prep.  The text I am preaching on is from John 6:1-21.  This is John’s account of the Feeding of the 5000 with Jesus walking on the water to boot.  It’s almost a 2 fer today.

My plan right now is to start things out with a prayer (like I usually do) but this time I am going to use the second lesson text (which is a prayer for the Ephesians — Eph. 3:14-21).  I am going to change some “yous” to “we” and use it for us…here and now.  I thought that sounded like good way to start.  It talks about being strengthened by the Holy Spirit; being rooted and established in love; that we may know Christ; but in the end all glory and honor to God forever and ever, Amen.

Now on to the Gospel text…

…here I don’t really know where I am going yet, but that’s what the Holy Spirit is for.  With everything going on today I am trying not to get too nervous.  Normally I would leave my office at 11am and head to Coffee Choices to eat and write, but with VBS today I can’t leave here until after 12noon (that will throw off the routine).  To the naked, untrained eye this may not seem like a big deal, but routines (for some) are important.  And when I get thrown from mine I often need to focus a little harder to stay on track.

<There I go again…off track…I am supposed to be talking about John 6>

Anyway…here are some initial thoughts about John 6:1-21:
(1) A foretaste of the Feast to come.
(2) When we are “hungry” Jesus WILL feed us.
(3) Jesus can do much with what we consider little.
(4) With Jesus in our life, we will have more than enough.
(5) A defense of youth ministry — a small boy was encouraged to contribute and 5000+ people were fed.

These sound like small tag lines but sermons often start with thoughts such as these.

What do you hear in this text?

In your particular place in your life, how does this text “feed” you?

God bless you today and always.  Praise be to God!


Sheep and THE Shepherd

The Gospel text for Sunday seems like a piece meal deal that cuts out a major story (The Feeding of the 5000).  But before we get too excited, the Feeding of the 5000 account is picked up next week when we begin a 6 week stretch in the Gospel of John.  This stretch in John starts with the feeding story and then a series or texts that talk about Jesus as the Bread of Life.  We will deal with that more in the coming weeks…but back to sheep and the Shepherd.

This Sunday, Jeremiah mentions the shepherds who have scattered God’s sheep and God’s response to their irresponsibility.  The Psalm is Psalm 23…”The Lord is my shepherd…“.  The second lesson is from Ephesians 2.  It doesn’t talk about sheep and shepherds specifically, but some correlations can be drawn.  The key verse that jumps out to me here is 2:19 “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone.”  And then the Mark text from chapter 6 has people flocking to Jesus.  And even though he and the disciples are trying to get some R & R, Jesus has compassion on the people “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  So he began teaching them many things.”  Lots to deal with here.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I still haven’t totally figured out what I am preaching on yet (actually I should say that the Holy Spirit hasn’t revealed it to me yet).  But here are some thoughts I am pondering (at least until further notice):

(1) “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” (Jer. 23:1)
–As people who know the truth of God through Jesus Christ, we have an amazing responsibility.
–God WILL bring all his sheep back under one righteous King (referring to Jesus).
–God has a heart for “sheep”.

(2) Psalm 23…”and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Picking up where Jeremiah left off.

(3) Ephesians…God’s gift of salvation is for ALL people through Jesus Christ.

(4) As “sheep” we all need a shepherd.  But as we see from Jeremiah, we need to be aware of what shepherd we are following.  There is only one GOOD Shepherd.

Those are just a few things I am pondering and I am sure others will pop up today.  So with that I ask you:
What preachable moments are you seeing in the texts?
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

As a lay person sitting in the pew (and I know there are a number of you out there reading this…and many who are here in Jackson) what do you need to hear…right now…in this place?

What does it mean for you to be considered “sheep” and that Jesus is our “Shepherd”?

Until next time, happy scripture reading and have a blessed “sheepish” day following our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Praise be to God!