Freedom Well-Played

Untitled drawing (34)

October 17, 2017

Freedom Well-Played

3Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. … 21It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. Romans 14:3, 21

 Certain activities that do not violate the Word of God some Christians are free in their conscience to do, while the conscience of others does not allow them to do the same activity. Paul’s letter to the Romans reveals that this has been an issue requiring wisdom and love from the very beginning of the Church.  How can God’s people conduct themselves in the freedom they have while not providing a stumbling block for others?  For those whose consciences are more restrictive, what should be their attitude toward those for whom “all things are lawful”? It is apparent that love and respect are mutual obligations among us all. Paul cautions us to neither despise nor judge the other.

Yet, while not yielding his freedom to do what does not violate the Word of God, Paul calls for a quality even greater than freedom: love.  Love obligates us not to exercise our freedom when it would knowingly do harm to the faith of another, that is, when it might encourage someone to act against conscience.  The matter at hand in Rome referred to food and drink first offered to idols then sold in the marketplace. Since idols represented gods that did not exist, it was of no importance to Paul whether one ate and drank of that offering. It was important, however, not to let his freedom be a stumbling block for another Christian.

Those whose consciences allow for less liberty in matters of food and drink may be encouraged by these words of Jesus: “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, ….  (Thus, he declared all foods clean.) … What comes out of a person is what defiles him…evil thoughts, etc… All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mk.  7:18-23.)   At the same time, those whose consciences allow more liberty within the boundaries of God’s Word do well to heed Paul’s words: “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 1 Cor. 10:23.    Freedom well-played is tempered by love that is willing to give it up for the sake of another.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

One Foot After Another

Untitled drawing (3)

October 11, 2017

One Foot After Another

“we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, (Paul, in Romans 5:3–4a) 

Do you ever have one of those days when it’s hard to get out of bed and get the day started?  Sometimes, all you can do is tell yourself, “Just keep moving. It will get better.” So then, you determine just to put one foot forward, then the other, until you finally feel like taking on the day. Sometimes, the body has to operate on auto-pilot until desire catches up.

That is often an apt description of faith. While some times faith is bold and energetic, at other times it barely hangs on. Disappointments, spiritual and physical exhaustion, and guilt sap our strength and drain much of the joy of life. We may not be ready to quit, but we wish we could. Life is hard.

Paul tells us that we can rejoice in these difficulties because they produce the ability to endure, making us stronger in character.  The more we “hang in there” the firmer our grip will be for the next challenge. Faith is like a muscle that grows stronger with use.

This is possible because of what we learn in the verses that come before: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” In other words, we are never without access to the source of our strength. Because Jesus gave Himself for our transgressions, they do not block our access to the peace that come from God. Before Him we are reconciled and renewed.

Said another in Philippians 4:13, Paul wrote “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”– even putting one foot in front of another.

Walk by faith, no matter how you feel.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Where is Jesus?

Untitled drawing (33)

October 4, 2017

Where Is Jesus? 

I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. Isaiah 41:17c

Hurricanes that ravage three coastlines, many cities and a whole island–then a massacre described pointedly and accurately as an act of “pure evil”. That is just what makes the headlines. Many more are killed daily by shooters and stabbers, drunk and distracted drivers, abortionists, religious zealots seeking to eradicate Christ’s followers. Where is Jesus in all this?

Before praying in chapel, Faith School children sing a simple song. “Where is Jesus?” The song answers that question. Pointing to heaven–“He’s up there”; pointing to our hearts–“He’s in here”; pointing all around–“He is everywhere”. The folding our hands we finish, “He hears our prayers, He hears our prayers”

In the midst of these tragedies, Jesus is still up there at the right hand of God, interceding for us. Yet He is also allowing us to choose our path with the aid of His Spirit. He dignifies us with the freedom to do evil or to do what is good. Made in His image, our relationship with Him is real and sincere, not coerced and forced.  Thus, He does not make evil people do good. Though He wants all to repent, He gives people the freedom to refuse His grace. Sadly, too many do.

He’s in here, in our heart.  We move as His hands and heart and feet and mouth, to do and go, to feel and speak His love. In tragedy, we go and do. In sorrow, we open our hearts to receive with gentleness the tears and burdens of others. We speak the truth of His loving presence that has overcome the world. To the persecuted and mournful, we repeat Jesus’ promise that justice and comfort they will find in the end.  A reporter ended by saying, “the worst events bring out the best in the human spirit.”  I would say that is where God is most active in His people.

He is everywhere. By His Spirit, He empowers first responders, law enforcers, recovery and construction crews, ambulance drivers, doctors and nurses, counselors and clergy, and volunteers who sacrifice time, money, and their very lives for friend, family, and stranger. They pour out the love that Jesus poured out to them from the cross, and continues to pour out from His Word and the sacraments.  

He hears our prayer. To Him we bring our sorrow, grief, anger, confusion, frustration, hopelessness, helplessness, loss, weakness, weariness, doubts, and despair. Jesus suffered all these things that we may know that they are temporary tragedies for this life alone. Purchased by His blood, we have a new life ahead.  Raised and ascended, Jesus is where he said He would be. He is here.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Dig Deeper

 

Dig Deeper (1)

September 27, 2017

Dig Deeper

… let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity,… Hebrews 6:1

One morning in exercise class, I mentioned to the instructor that it seemed like a particular exercise was getting easier. He replied with what should have been obvious to me: “You can use heavier weights.” Point taken. What I was tempted to celebrate as a “mission accomplished” was actually a signal that it was time to keep improving.

That applies to our spiritual growth as well.  It is certainly a blessing that our Lord has delivered to us free and full salvation received simply by faith in Jesus. Given our propensity to feel unforgiven for sins God has forgotten, we do need to receive that Good News frequently in God’s Word and Sacrament.  However, if we are to grow in the faith, for our sake and for those we mentor in the faith, it is incumbent upon us to grow in knowledge about that faith.

To dig deeper into the meaning of Scripture is as rewarding as it is difficult. In a television series, a man was digging for a treasure his sister had buried twenty years earlier. Just as he was about to give up, his shovel struck the desired target. He had to dig deeper than he originally planned, but it paid off.

What treasures of God’s Word will you find when you dig deeper into the precious ground of God’s truths?  As I continue to explore more deeply, I often discover new meanings and applications in familiar verses. When I teach what I learn, students ask questions that remind me that I have even more to learn. How many parents have searched the Scriptures (or asked the pastor) because a child asked a question they could not answer?

There are many reasons to dig deeper and to grow in knowledge of our faith. One of these is faithful stewardship of God’s gifts for the spiritual good of others. To give wise counsel, disciple a young believer, or witness to an unbeliever is more rewarding and effective when God’s Word has equipped us.

So I invite you to continue to dig the treasures of the Word.  Whether you do so on your own or with others in a class, the rewards are great. If you have plateaued in your faith, and it starts to seem too easy, use heavier weights.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

A Monument Worth Saving

Untitled drawing (31)

September 20, 2017

“A Monument Worth Saving”

“We preach Christ crucified, an offense to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

1 Corinthians 1:23

 These days, there is intense disagreement and very strong feeling about whether or not certain monuments and statues should be removed from public view.  While the statues of those who lived in a different time of our history cannot do any actual harm today, it is understandable that there would be a desire to forget what they commemorate by removing them.

However, remembering what we would rather forget has solemn value.  Several years ago, I visited the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich, Germany, the first Nazi camp of many to follow.   It was a depressing reminder of atrocities committed not only against Jews, but also political enemies, non-Germans, and clergy, to name a few whose lives ended miserably on those grounds. The torture rooms and ovens remain as a grim memorial of man’s inhumanity to man.

Yet, it is maintained as a tourist destination—not for entertainment purposes, but to remember that we should never forget what sinful human nature is capable of doing. A 1991 movie about death camp survivor Mel Mermelstein and his battle against revisionists who claim the Holocaust never happened is fittingly titled, “Never Forget”.  Monuments that preserve our past can help us to never forget that evil resides in human nature and must be resisted.

No monument does that more completely than the one that commemorates every evil, great and small, that has ever been committed in the history of this planet: the cross of Jesus Christ. It was our collective wickedness that nailed Him to it. Yet it was the will of the Father that He should suffer to make satisfaction for our sins and reconcile us to Himself. Now alive and in heaven, Christ will never suffer again for sins. His work for our salvation is complete.

Sadly, some misguided churches have removed the cross so as not to offend others. Instead, we should gladly lift high the cross and never forget the blood that was shed for us on it.  Let us remember the cross not just with our eyes, but with our hearts in humble daily repentance, believing that by it, our sins are forgiven. While the cross does offend the proud, for the humble it is the greatest source of joy and freedom in Christ.

It is a monument worth saving, for on it God counted us worth saving. .

Grace, mercy, and peace,

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Free Love

Untitled drawing (30)

September 13, 2017

Free Love

“Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” Galatians 5:13

The sinful world would give an entirely different meaning to the title of this meditation than what Paul would give. To some people, “free love” means to have carnal lust for anyone you want. It’s been that way since the sexual revolution took off in the 1960’s and is accelerating toward a painful crash into natural consequences and Divine judgment.

What free love means to Paul is summed up famously by Martin Luther in his essay, “On the Freedom of the Christian”. He wrote,

“A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”

Paul taught that loving one another is fulfilling the law, and there is none better able to love than those who are fully loved by Christ and motivated by that love to love others. Such love has set us free from the fear of death, and want, and guilt. It sets us free to do as we please. But what is Christ’s love in us pleased to do?  Love our neighbor. So we keep the law by doing what we want, because what we want to do is to serve in love. It’s not a matter of having to do something, but rather doing it because we want to do it.  Love freely received, freely gives. That is it’s nature.

So when given the opportunity to serve your neighbor, do not sigh and grumble that you “have to do it”. Instead, take a moment to reflect on that willing love that served you salvation with nails in its hands and feet 2000 year ago. He who so freely served us at such a great cost is the One who sent His disciples with power to do great works of service in His name. As Jesus sent them He said, “Freely you received; freely give”. Matthew 10:8

With these words He sends us.  Free love, free to love.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Why Me, Lord

Untitled drawing (28)

September 6, 2017

“Why me, Lord”
My grace is sufficient for you. 2 Cor. 12:9

“Why do bad things keep happening to me?” When I was asked this question recently, I replied that it was one of life’s mysteries that misfortune follows some people more than others. We could probably look at a person’s life and trace a series of decisions that brought “bad luck”. Or, as I have discovered too often, what others have done to some people in childhood has set them up for choosing the wrong people in their lives. This, too, brings much sorrow and hardship. In general, sin has ruined our world, and whether in fires, hurricanes, or personal misfortune, we will have trouble in the world because of sin.
We could say some people are getting what they deserved. Yet for others, we just shake our head and ask, “Why her, Lord? What did he do to deserve that? Ultimately, it remains a mystery. Through the prophet Isaiah God says “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (55:8-9) We may never know the answer to our hardest questions.
What I do know is that we can’t determine God’s grace or our unworthiness by what suffering we have to endure. In spite of some of the televangelists, life is not guaranteed to work out pleasantly even if we have enough faith. In reality, it’s a greater sign of faith it we still have it when life is decidedly unpleasant.
So that we neither become conceited because life is good, nor despair because it isn’t, we learn to take the good and bad both as God’s will for us. It strengthens our faith when we have little, and fills our heart with gratitude when we have more than we deserve. Whatever life gives us, God has his reason for letting it, whether good or bad, much or little.
The important point is that we always have Him. He promises in His word, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” His grace is enough for every need. Forsaken on the cross, Jesus died so that our sins will never cause God to forsake us. In rising from the dead, He showed that death will never separate us from the love of God. If it feels unfair for us to suffer for being good, it’s even more unfair that we sinners receive anything good from God at all. That’s His grace at work, and it is enough, always.
May God’s presence keep you in His peace,

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Never Weary

Untitled drawing (27)

August 30, 2017

 Never Weary

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Galatians 6:9–10

Ever so often, and too often, we face the kind of widespread tragedy that we witness now from a distance on the Texas coast. The trouble is varied, from blown-down houses, lack of infrastructure, floods, rain, lack of necessities to the intangible but very real problems of weariness, worry, sadness, loss, and despair.  The sustained length in time of all the above is unusual and especially tiring this time.

At first, the survival mode keeps everyone moving because they have no choice. Yet, that can only be sustained for so long. The sheer weariness of body, mind, and spirit, starts to sap the strength. People eventually require a time-out and rest.  The rescued find that in shelters where they can. The rescuers do not. They keep going. But they too must rest at some point.

That’s why it takes all hands to hold, to lift, and to strengthen the worried and wearied. God always seems to grant supernatural strength and endurance to hurricane heroes who never seem to grow tired of doing good, even when they are exhausted. We praise God for them, and we pray to God for them. So then, lift up also the rescuers in prayer, as you pray for your family and friends who are among the millions of others also in need of God’s sustained grace.

For those whose lives have been devastated by the floods and winds of Harvey, let us not be weary in doing good either.  The first responders are doing a remarkable work of God. We can be second and third, and perpetual responders for the long term needs that will still be there years from now.

To never weary in doing good is but to follow the example of our Lord’s work in rescuing us from the unthinkable disaster of eternal death.  Jesus did not grow tired as he ministered the love of God in His life and in His death. We love because he first loved us, and as He loved us.

For strength we pray that we may strengthen others.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

 

P. S. That we may render aide “especially to those who are of the household of faith” consider donating at http://txlcms.org/how-can-i-help-hurricane-harvey/ .

Other aide can also be given at helpsalvationarmy.org. or redcross.org. or any number of other ways.

A Forgotten Cause of Conflict

Untitled drawing (26)

August 23, 2017

A Forgotten Cause of Conflict

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot. Proverbs 14:30

The song “Satisfied Mind” includes this verse: “The wealthiest person is a pauper at times compared to the man with a satisfied mind.”  Envy, on the other hand, brings a poverty of the spirit. Often disguised as ambition and a motive for hard work, envy is a disease of the soul that “makes the bones rot.”  It disrupts our tranquility and tempts us to compromise our values and violate our conscience.

Scripture shows that it is a cause of conflict. It was out of envy that the Jews handed Jesus over to Pilate.  Envy of the wicked who seem to go unpunished tempts us to join them.  The desire to acquire money by any means has led many to abandon their morality, betray their neighbor and neglect their families. It gives birth to worry and faithlessness when we compare our finances, health, beauty, strength, assets, popularity, etc. to those of others.  Envy creates a false standard for success based on comparison rather than on contentment with God’s gifts.

On a societal level, it causes much strife, unrest, and violence.  It can work into the human heart so much anger and bitterness that people lose their minds and behave in unreasonable ways.  One author even pointed out that for him it was a major factor in the confusion about his gender identity and behavior.   It is the opposite of love and faith.

Have you lost peace, sleep, contentment, and faith because of envy? The cure is the peace of God that the world cannot give, which is beyond our understanding. Paul invites us to bring all our needs in prayer to God through Christ Jesus, with thanksgiving, so that we may know that peace. (Phil.4) Faith that operates in such a prayer brings contentment. It trusts God that we do not need to fret when the wicked prosper, or feel that God has abandoned us because we don’t have it as good as others. Contentment, a “satisfied mind”, is the greatest wealth we can have.

Jesus empowers us to be satisfied because He has filled our greatest need: acceptance by God. His death and resurrection brought peace between the human race and the divine Judge. He answered the underlying fear of death and abandonment that creates such strife in our soul and pushes us to want and fight for more.  There is no peace possible until that peace comes from God through Jesus Christ.  When we can say with the hymn writer, “It is well with my soul” envy will vanish.

May it be well with your soul and may you have the gift of a satisfied mind.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

 

 

You Are Special!

Psalm 139

August 16, 2017

You Are Special!

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14

This week’s title can be interpreted in unhealthy ways.  First, I could think, “If I am special, I am beyond criticism or correction. I am to be catered to.”  That is the response of immature people of any age.   Secondly, one’s inflated ego might boast, “I can do and be anything I want.”  That vain view lacks the wisdom of knowing that we are born with some gifts to do certain things well, but not all gifts.   We are not so special that we can live independent of others or of God’s constant care and guidance.

On the positive side, that we are special is a much-needed antidote to the prevailing social disease of groupthink and identity politics.  Society likes to invent categories of people by age, race, gender, and political party. By doing so it reduces us to a set of expectations about how we are to act or vote.  Marketing experts and politicos use groupthink to steer us to their way of thinking or product, but it tempts us not to see ourselves as individuals with our own set of opinions and values.  We project upon one another stereotypes that hide the uniqueness of the individual.  Consequently, we don’t really know people, and that makes it hard to love them as they need to be loved.  This is true not only in broad circles of society but also in the intimacy of marriage.

This is especially dangerous to our salvation when we fail to see how special God Himself is.  It is the height of hubris for us mortals to subject the Immortal to categories limited by our own small minds. The result is that we make Him to be what our experience or desire interpret Him to be: loving, but not challenging; or judgmental, but not merciful; or any shades in between.  Our source of revelation concerning God’s character is God Himself.  Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah he declares, “Am I only a God nearby,” declares the LORD, “and not a God far away?” (23:23)  In Christ’s death and resurrection, God the Father reveals Himself as Holy, taking sin seriously enough to  punish it with death. Yet He is also Merciful, loving us so much that He took that punishment upon Himself.

Yes, made in the image of God, you are special. Christ died for you. In Christ, we see that uniqueness not as a reason for pride, but as a reason for gratitude and personal commitment to employ the special grace and gifts of God to the service of others.

Go in God’s peace,

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz