One In Christ

The following is the article I wrote for publication in The News Tribune (Tacoma) for Sunday, May 16. To God be the glory!


I am beginning to become unsettled by something I am starting to see develop in this country. Recently, in the state of Washington, the governor has announced increased capacity for venues that have “vaccinated sections”. People would have to provide proof of vaccination. This is just the beginning of those vaccination passports about which we have been hearing. People would be divided – vaccinated people versus “those people” over there. It is a disturbing move as we begin to label people and, dare I say, segregate them. I understand (or at least I think I do) the spirit of this move. Many people are hesitant about these vaccinations because of how quickly they were developed, and our leaders want to encourage more people to get vaccinated in the interest of public health. There is also a sense of urgency to open things up since we are all very tired of the restrictions. But I also see a very slippery and scary slope when systemic separation of people is normalized in such a fashion. Are we really okay with this? Will people openly and wantonly accept this? How should Christians feel about this?

That final question is what I have been pondering recently. As a Christian, no matter your feelings on returning to some sense of normalcy, separating people like this should bother you. It should bother you because it is not biblical. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are united together in the true vine (John 15:1-17). And then we have the apostle Paul in Galatians 3:27-28, For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, there is neither vaccinate nor nonvaccinated, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. I fear there will be churches that will adopt this worldly mentality and create “vaccinated sections”. May that never happen. Even now in this world, may wiser heads prevail and not try to lead us down the segregation highway. Yes, returning to normalcy is desirable, but separating, labeling, and shunning people for not getting vaccinated is not the answer. How can we call ourselves the “United” States if we are not united? I am not suggesting that we are united now, but systemic labeling of people is not going to help. But even more than this little word in the name of our country, in Christ we are united forever.

In Christ, you are simply labeled a redeemed sinner and crowned with the title, ”Child of God”. There is no hierarchy of sinners. There are no levels of “children of God”. We are one in the Spirit; we are members of the same body; we are children of the same God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Politics aside, let us come together and remain united as Christians as a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the oneness that we share in Him. To God be the glory, always and forever, Amen.

Worship Prayers ~ Your Church

Creator God,
through Your Holy Spirit
You knit Your people together,
and thus I take great comfort that Jesus is the head of the Church
and not sinful people.
You raise up leaders and provide for the Church
that we may glorify You in this dark world.
No one person is indispensable.
No one person carries the Body of believers on their own.
It is You and only You.
And since this is true,
create in Your Church a greater faith and confidence that,
though things may change over time,
You are always in control.
It is about Your will being done.
It is all about You.
O God,
hear my prayer in the name of Jesus my Lord and Savior,
Amen.

New Normal

The following is the Sunday article I wrote for The News Tribune (Tacoma) for October 18. To God be the glory!


I have been doing a lot of thinking and praying this year as I know many of you have. This pandemic has dragged on for a long time and, if you are like me, you are getting anxious. You want things the way they were. You are tired of worshiping in a parking lot or online. You miss the sanctuary of your church building. You miss your brothers and sisters in Christ. And I totally get it. But have I come to a realization that may not be too popular with many.

No, I am not going to advocate that we maintain the status quo indefinitely (you can breathe a sigh of relief now). What I want to do is encourage you to pray unselfishly and consider things that maybe you have not considered before. What do I mean? I have been hearing this phrase a lot, but just recently it has caught my attention anew, “I am looking forward to getting back to normal”. And, as I thought about that phrase, God placed this question on my heart:

Have you considered that I am preparing you for a new normal; something you have never even imagined?

I have thought about that in the past, but it never got more than a passing glance; nothing worthy of a full-scaled article like this. So, I asked God, “For what are you preparing us? What does this new normal look like?” Of course, God did not give me a direct answer – He rarely does. But what God did do is give me a series of questions to pray about, and thus I commend them to you:

(1) What if God does not want us to return to “normal”?
(2) What if God has been using this pandemic to completely break what we have been doing in order to create something new?
(3) What if God is using this time to redirect our attention; to hone our vision so it is 20/20 vision on Him? (See what I did there with the “20/20”?)

I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that the Church will never, ever be the same again. We just cannot return to our old “normal”. To do so, we would miss a golden opportunity to glorify Him. I believe that God has been beautifully remolding and reshaping us. Yet, many are afraid of the new. Brothers and sisters in Christ, instead of going full steam ahead in trying to return to “normal”, let us go full steam ahead and pray. Pray, pray and pray some more, and do not be afraid. Pray for the faith, courage and strength to do whatever it is for which God is preparing you. May we not have tunnel vision that is fixated on our comfort zone and “normal” but rather 20/20 vision on our awesome God through Christ Jesus our Lord. He is in control. He reigns and He is sovereign. It is okay to trust Him. He has never let you down and He never will. Let us boldly go into whatever new normal God has for us. To God be the glory, always and forever, Amen.

For the Church

For the Church, that we may dwell in unity, oh God. May we be the people You created us to be and do the ministry You called and commanded us to do:
Where there is division – unite.
Where there is discord – harmonize.
Where there is hurt – heal.
Where there is despair – give hope.
Where there is dissension – unify.
Where there is straying – retrieve.
Where there is hate – sow seeds of love.
Where there is fear – give courage.
Where there is confusion – give clarity.
Holy God, may the Enemy not get a foot-hold in the Church, but rather may we slam the door in his face. For you are our God, our hope, our life and our salvation. Send us Your Holy Spirit – working in and through us – that we may shine Your light – bursting open the tombs of those who are dead. To You be all glory, honor, praise and worship through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Amen.

Aching Heart Prayer

I read a story this morning about a church for whom my heart aches. I hate to see them going astray and so I penned (as it were) this prayer that I plan to use in worship this morning. To God be the glory!


Holy God, I don’t claim to be perfect, but there are many straying from the truth – ones who once held to the truth but now have been seduced away. They have gone the way of the world in search of calmer and more peaceful waters. They search and search, drifting further and further away. They water down Your Word to make it more palatable. And worse yet, they think they are being faithful. Oh, my God and King, my heart aches for them. Their only hope is a supernatural breakthrough by Your Holy Spirit. And so, I boldly ask that You may steer them back on course. Send now Your Holy Spirit – not for the sake of unity but for the sake of Your glory through Jesus Christ our Lord. Raise up faithful leaders in these apostate churches, oh God. Show them the Truth. Forgive them. Redeem them – as you have redeemed me. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

The Church

Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.
[Augsburg Confession, Article VII: Of the Church]

We sometimes forget that the Church is not a building. The Church is people – the congregation of saints. People are made “saints” how – through the blood of Jesus. And thus the Church is wherever and whenever saints are gathered together – where the Gospel is rightly taught/proclaimed and the sacraments are rightly administered.

We also sometimes forget that a building does not and can not save us. The Church can exist without a fixed place to gather on a regular basis. No where does it say that the Church is a particular place or structure. Does a building help? Yes and no. Yes – if our eyes are on Jesus Christ as our savior and our worship is in Him and Him alone. No – if are attention is on a structure that in the end will not last. Buildings fail, but Jesus never will.

I am not saying buildings are bad, but when people start to focus on the building rather than Jesus, then they cease to be a Church. Brothers and sisters in Christ are people – saints – and therefore we need to remember them and care for them. Those who do not know Jesus – lost sheep – need to be sought out and fed. But more importantly we must remember and worship the One who makes us a family through Jesus Christ.

A Prayer for the Church

Father God, Lord almighty, gracious and merciful, give to pastors a more intimate relationship with You that they would long to preach the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and raised for sinners; a Gospel without the bells and whistles that often distract. Give Your Church receptive and picky ears that they may desire only the pure, unaltered Gospel, not a social justice rant that can not save their souls. May leaders not desire their own glorification but rather humble themselves under the cross of Christ. Your Church, oh God, seems to long to be accepted by the world; acquiescing to its demands to liberalize its message and turn a blind eye to sin. May You convict, transform and embolden Your Church to stand out and be a lighthouse in this dark world. It’s not about being liked or being popular, but rather about being obedient to You and shining the light of the Truth through Jesus Christ. Oh God, send now Your Holy Spirit into our lives that we may draw people to the light of Your love through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

We Will Praise the Lord

Praise the Lord ! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.” [Psalm 111:1 ESV]

I pastor a congregation who can be described as a “church in a box”. What I mean by that is each and every Sunday a trailer is backed up to the building we rent at a county park. The trailer is then unloaded so we can set up for worship. Following our 9:00 AM worship, the take-down crew gets to work as we need to vacate the building by 11:30 AM. As long as this pastor doesn’t get too long winded, we still have plenty of time for Sunday school/Coffee fellowship time. For 10 years this congregation has had that routine. I’ve been part of that routine for the past 3 years.

Now, we are investigating a former church building that is up for sale. The location is a little farther away, but the size is great, the lot is big enough for expansion and the price is in our ballpark. There are still many questions that need to be answered, but the excitement is high. What is God up too? That is the question we are trying to discern. Is this God gift-wrapping a property for us that He may be glorified or is Satan presenting a stumbling block to trip and derail this congregation? Questions, questions and more questions. God help us.

Whatever the outcome I echo the psalmist in the verse above. Praise the Lord ! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Yes, Sundays are a challenge, especially considering this is an aging congregation. We don’t have the freedom to do certain things when we want to do them because the building is not ours (i.e. When funerals happen, we have to make phone calls to find a venue). But where ever God places us, we will worship and praise the Lord. We will praise the Lord in the company of the upright. The upright made that way through our common faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We will worship corporately as a congregation because we love the Lord and we love to be together:

– whether it is at a building in the park or in a school or in someone’s pole barn, we will praise the Lord.
– whether we have to meet in living rooms, basements or garages, we will praise the Lord.
– whether we have to share space in someone else’s fellowship hall, wander from place to place, or meet in a tent outside, we will praise the Lord.

With that said, my prayer is that we keep our eye on the ball and remember who we are and whose we are. We are not here to build our kingdom but we are here to advance THE Kingdom. I can not say that enough. If this place is being gift-wrapped by God for us, I will gladly unwrap it and give glory to God. If this is Satan putting a stumbling block in our way, then I say to him, “Go back to hell. We will worship the Lord where ever God places us.”

Praise the Lord where ever you are, for it is right to give God thanks and praise in all places and at all times. Praise the Lord, all you people – the upright, the congregation – praise the Lord.

Clubhouse

The joy of a childhood clubhouse is that it is a place for a child to get away from the world and hang out with their friends. The clubhouse is secret – only for those who are members. Others may know of its existence, but they know they are not welcome. The clubhouse is a meeting place for the members. What happens in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse. To break the clubhouse code could mean excommunication. To bring guests is met with skepticism from the others. Clubhouses can serve a purpose – for a time – but in the end they become obsolete. A church that adopts or becomes what I have described, will be obsolete. They will serve a purpose for a limited time, but in the end, they will be no more. Jesus didn’t form a clubhouse of like-minded people. Jesus formed a Church that was to change the world.

The Cornerstone

The following is the Great Thanksgiving preface that I wrote for the Holy Communion liturgy for today. I was inspired by the Gospel text from Luke 20:9-18; the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. A church not built on Jesus will surely fall…

It is indeed right and salutary
that we should at all times and in all places
give thanks and praise to you,
oh God,
holy, mighty and awesome.
You built the Church on the foundation of Jesus,
Your anointed and only Son.
Through faith in him our sins have been forgiven
and thus we have been clothed in righteousness
and are justified in Your sight.
Oh God,
what an awesome thing to be at peace with You
and in You
for all eternity.
And so we shout out Alleluias each and every day
as we recall your amazing grace.
And so we join with the Church on earth and the hosts of heaven in singing Your unending praise…