Born to Bear

 

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December 21, 2016

 

Born to Bear

“Surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows.”   Isaiah 53:4

 This well-known Good Friday verse seems especially relevant to this week before Christmas. We prayed Sunday for various families facing unexpected grief over the loss of young people who have died suddenly and tragically.  Since then, death has visited our church with the passing of two elderly members who had suffered extensive and prolonged illness.  Now, our whole county mourns the sudden death of our sheriff.   Our prayers reach heavenward on behalf of those whose lives have been shattered and forever changed.  May God’s mercy and grace reach deeply into their grieving hearts.

Death is not what we expect or desire to face at a time of celebrating the birth of our Savior.  Yet, it is precisely His birth that enables us to face death with faith, courage, and hope.  The Lord Jesus, one with the Father and the Spirit from all eternity, entered time and physical space to become one with us in our humanity.  Though conceived by the Holy Spirit, He was born and lived as fully human.  He experienced our limitations and shared in the joys and sorrows of the people He came to redeem with His life, death, and resurrection.  During that time He was tempted and tested as we are but never was conquered by sin.  Thus, his death became a perfect sacrifice for all of humanity. He bore the full grief and sorrow that results from the sins of the whole world.

It is by trusting and accepting what Jesus did for us that we experience loss as a temporary sorrow.  Celebrating the birth of Jesus reminds us that in the depth of grief God chose, and continues to choose, to offer new life. When our dreams die, God in Christ carries us to new ones of His choosing.  When our spirits sag from continued stresses, through His Word and Sacrament, God in Christ lifts them with the hope of His ever-present strength.  And when we experience the death of those close to us, God in Christ promises that because He rose, we and all who believe in Him will also have new life forever.

Christmas celebrates a birth—a birth that reminds us that even in death we have life.

May God in Christ, born to bear our sorrows, comfort all that mourn and give peace to all who are distressed!

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

 

Is It Stephen’s?

2-cor-1-3-4December 14, 2016

Is It Stephen’s?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3–4

You Stephenville folks may have experienced this more than a few times. Someone refers to your home town as Stephensville, inserting that second s or perhaps an ‘s. No, it’s not named after more than one Stephen. And no, it isn’t his ville. It is named after John M. Stephen, who settled there in 1854 and donated the land for the town, but it’s our town. We all own community responsibility and privileges of being a citizen or closely associated with Stephenville!

Another Stephen that often gets credit for ownership is the deacon in the book of Acts named Stephen. His name is attached to Stephen Ministry. I sometimes hear pastors who are well acquainted with this care-giving ministry call it Stephens Ministry, with an extra s or ‘s. But again, there is only one deacon in the Bible after whom it is named. It bears his name because he and six other Spirit-filled deacons were set apart by the apostles to care for the needs of widows in the church. Their work supported and supplemented the Word and Prayer ministry of the apostles. He was a good role model for Stephen Ministry.

Yet just as with Stephenville, which belongs to all of us, so Stephen Ministry belongs to every believer. Not that all should or need to be enrolled as trained Stephen Ministers, but the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our afflictions, calls and equips each of us with His Spirit to comfort one another with the very comfort by which God comforts us.

The ministry of caring not only is our privilege to receive; it is also our responsibility to give. Jesus sends us out as lights to reveal His Light in us. Saved by His grace, given through His sacrificial death and victorious resurrection, we pass on His grace in the sacrifices of time we give to comforting and encouraging conversation. By our very presence in each other’s lives, we extend the compassion and care of the living Lord. The role of care giver and comforter is not just Stephen’s. It belongs to all of us to whom our God and Father gives His love in Christ.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Which Way Does Your Finger Point?

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December 7, 2016

 

Which Way Does Your Finger Point?

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,

but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:17

 

There are several reasons for believers in Christ not to be judging other people.  For one, we set ourselves up for a fall, opening ourselves to the accusation of hypocrisy if we become guilty of the very thing we condemn in others. Another reason is that we in fact are not guiltless. Even though our weakness may be in a different area, perhaps a less “serious” one than that which we point out in others, it is still a failing before God. Thirdly, Jesus said, plainly, “do not judge, lest you be judged.”  (That was a prohibition against condemning others, not against believers holding one another accountable, which we are called to do with humility and gentleness.)

But the main reason not to be judging is that Jesus himself did not judge. Yes, He will judge all people on the last day.  He will separate the true believers from those who choose not to follow Him.  But that is not what he did when he walked on this earth, except to call out the hypocrites who by their own thoughts and actions had already judged themselves.

Instead, to the morally weak and wicked, the outcast, and the ones caught up in temporary treasures and vanities, He reached out in love. He came to show a better way. So invested was He in saving sinners that He allowed himself to be nailed to a cross so that we could be set free from the burdens and punishment of our sins. He returned to life, giving us hope that if we entrust our lives to him, receive His forgiveness, we too will live even after we die.

Yet, somehow it is tempting, whether directly to sinners or indirectly when talking about them, to pass judgment, pointing the accusing finger of shame in their direction. The only direction we need to be pointing is up. Up to the cross we point those without hope, to show them that they need not stand before God in shame and despair.  Up to heaven we point to indicate the source of grace and life as well as the eternal destination for those who are humble before God.

It is said that those who judge others are “playing God”, but actually they aren’t. God is more merciful than that. They are really playing Satan, a.k.a. the Accuser. God’s compassion is beyond our comprehension. So let us truly be like God as we go through this world, not to condemn it, but to point it to our Savior.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz