The Habitual Life

Untitled drawing (4)

December 6, 2017

The Habitual Life

Daniel … got down on his knees three times a day and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Daniel 6:10 

It seems that I have formed a good habit that I’m not sure I can break, even when I try to.  Catching up on some sleep seemed to be the most reasonable option this morning at 5am, instead of rising to join my wife and others for a 5:30 work-out we do three times weekly. After she left I awakened anyway without an alarm, and since my body and mind were in the habit of exercising during that time, I couldn’t go back to sleep. So, out of habit, I arose and joined the group, just a few minutes late. It turned out to be far more beneficial than what little sleep, if any, I might have added to my morning.

Habits, of course, can be ill-chosen and become addictions that do harm. Inactivity is also a bad habit. However, good habits, like flossing, daily devotions, prayer, exercise, and worship are good for the body and soul. It is good when they become habits, because we don’t need to waste time and mental energy having to decide each time whether we will do them.  If it’s beneficial, why debate with yourself whether or not you will do it. Just do it.

Daniel was in the habit of praying three times a day. When a decree went out that praying to anyone but the king would land a person in a den of lions, he prayed anyway. He knew where his real security could be found. His friends, who previously did not bow to another king, but nevertheless survived a fiery furnace, also testified to the importance of well-placed faith.

It’s not likely that a godly habit will actually cost us our physical life, at least not yet, as it might have for Daniel without the Lord’s protection. But a habitual life that strengthens our faith and encourages others in their faith, which corporate worship does, will keep us secure whether life brings good or evil.

May you be blessed with a wonderfully habitual life.

Pastor Tom Konz

       P. S.  I’m still struggling to make flossing a habit.

The Communion of Saints

Untitled drawing (36)

November 1, 2017

The Communion of Saints

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  Hebrews 10:22–25

     The passage above tells how we got to be saints:with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”  Because of our baptism into Christ, we can come with full assurance, holding to our faith without wavering. We can come bold to praise, pray for our needs, and confess our sins, knowing that God in Christ readily forgives them.

However, the passage continues by pointing out other salutary effects of worship. We “stir up one another to love and good works.”  We “encourage one another” to remain faithful to God’s will and word.  While we are encouraging others, we too are being encouraged by others.

Having said that, here are some truths that others have written over the years about why it is not good to get in the habit of staying away from the fellowship of God’s people in worship.  Though some of the writers may be unknown to you, their words are worthy of serious thought.

S. Lewis: “We don’t come to church, to be a church. We come to Christ, and then we are built up as a church. If we come to church just to be with one another, one another is all we’ll get. And it isn’t enough. Inevitably, our hearts will grow empty, and then angry. If we put community first, we will destroy community. But if we come to Christ first and submit ourselves to Him and draw life from Him, community gets traction.

Gene Getz: “Though true Christianity uniquely involves a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it is also a corporate experience…Christians cannot grow spiritually as they ought to in isolation from one another.”

John Wesley:  The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.

Kent Hughes:  On the most elementary level, you do not have to go to church to be a Christian. You do not have to go home to be married either. But in both cases if you do not, you will have a very poor relationship.

Kevin DeYoung: The man who attempts Christianity without the church shoots himself in the foot, shoots his children in the leg, and shoots his grandchildren in the heart.

Mark Dever: Nonattendance, in the early years of our church, was considered one of the most sinister of sins, because it usually veiled all the other sins. When someone began to be in sin, you would expect them to stop attending.

Mark Dever and Paul Alexander: “If a member shows prolonged negligence in gathering with God’s people, how can he say he loves them? And if he doesn’t love them, how can he say he loves God (cf. 1 John 4:20-21)?”

Martin Luther: “To gather with God’s people in united adoration of the Father is as necessary to the Christian life as prayer.”

Unknown Author “An empty tomb proves Christianity; an empty church denies it.”

I pray these spurred you on to more consistent worship, or encouraged you to continue in it.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

The Treasure of Time

Untitled drawing (35)

The Treasure of Time

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15–16

“Oh my, where did the time go?” “I wish had more hours in the day.” “Where do you find the time for that?”  What do these expressions have in common?  They count time as a subjective, changeable, commodity—as if time could really speed up and slow down, as if it could be expanded, or as if some are given more time than others. All of those are false assumptions. Time is constant and evenly distributed to each of us.

When we get frustrated with the shortness of time, of course the problem is not with time itself, but with us.  If I have waited too long to start a project, I might complain about the time that “flew by” or “was stolen.” Then as I think back, I realize that had I treasured my time in the past and used it more wisely, I would not be experiencing my time crunch in the present.

That makes me wonder how Martin Luther had time to write so prolifically—especially when I see on my shelf 53 volumes of his works, averaging close to 400 pages each. These are not everything he wrote! Where did he find the time, without a computer, with only candle light, while teaching university classes, preaching, studying, debating, reforming, raising a family, and suffering from illnesses and depression? His days contained the same number of hours and minutes as yours and mine. What was the difference?

You don’t have to be a famous reformer to understand the importance of time. The key is to know your calling, or purpose.  For example, we wisely manage our money if we have a goal to purchase a certain item that is important to us. Likewise, we can manage time to serve a goal, or calling, that we deem important. So often we fritter away time because we don’t know what we are to use it for. We are far less clear about our purpose in life than was Luther about his.

In the Bible verse above from Ephesians, the word for time is kairon (opportune time), distinct from, but related to, kronon (clock time). The verse means basically, “don’t waste your opportunities (kairon)”.  If we ask God to help us to treasure our kronon, we will be ready for the kairons.  Take time to consider your purpose in life, then steward your time to fulfill that purpose. The opportunities you did not see before will suddenly show up, because you will have time to see them and act on them.

Now, that you’ve got extra time on your hands, go start a Reformation.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

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