Loving like Jesus

 

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February 14, 2018

Loving like Jesus

“(Love) does not rejoice at wrongdoing”, 1 Corinthians 13:6

 What a wonderful day to think about and express love. Lent, the season for celebrating and meditating on the greatest act of love ever given, coincides with Valentine’s Day. (Elsewhere I have already written about the connections between the two: Ash Wednesday bulletin and February church newsletter.)  In this space, I want to focus on how love does not rejoice in wrongdoing.

First, why would anyone rejoice in sin?  If it is your own wrongdoing, we should not be happy about violating a command of God, damaging a relationship, or stepping further into a possible addiction in the making. Nothing there to celebrate.

Secondly, we do sometimes take pleasure in the sin of another, because it means we look better to ourselves. Though we are admonished not to gloat over our enemies, we do not mind when they trip themselves up in a public scandal. If they were a business or political competitor, we would consider that an advantage to us.

Yet, the Bible teaches that love does not rejoice in any wrongdoing, because those who love like Jesus loves do not wish any harm in body or reputation on anyone. Had Jesus rejoiced in our wrongdoing, he would have smiled at the prospect of how God would now lower the boom on us. He would not have entered human flesh, suffered the consequences of our sin, and ultimately taken our punishment on the cross.  What a disaster that would have been.

This Lent, we can meditate on our failure to love sincerely and our gloating over the failures of others. As Jesus first loved us, let us love one another, even those who do wrong—for that includes you and me, whom Jesus loves.

May we know and show love that does not rejoice in wrongdoing.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

“You Must Not” or “You Are Free Not To”

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February 7, 2018

“You Must Not” or “You Are Free Not To”

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.

The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:34–36

Chapter eight of John’s Gospel begins with men condemning a woman caught in the act of adultery. “She must not do such a thing,” they yelled. The law declares her deserving of death. After Jesus has them realize that since none of her accusers are without sin, none can condemn her. He then forgives her, setting her free from her sin and setting her on a new path. I doubt that she lived a sin-free life from then on. None of us do. But she lived a life of freedom from sin’s total control. She knew she had choices enabled by grace.

Whether our sin deserves public punishment or is some continuous impulse that robs us of joy and peace, it is by nature enslaving. As a house slave had no authority or power to free himself in the ancient world, so we have no power to break the bondage of our sin. Repeating the prohibition to yourself, “I must not do that again” only makes the struggle more difficult.

While the slave could not free himself, the son of the house could. He would inherit the slave bought by his father and would have authority to free the slave. The Son to whom Jesus refers is himself. By the blood of atonement He shed on the cross, all who will accept His gift of forgiveness He frees from the punishment and penalty of sin. He gives His Spirit not only to confirm that forgiveness, but also to empower and free us to live in that grace.

So next time you are tempted by a sin, instead of saying to yourself with the grimace of self-determination, “I must not”, say “I am free not to”.  Grace is more powerful than law. It turns to God and his love for strength, not to ourselves who have already proven to be weak.

The Son has set you free. You are free indeed.

The grace of God be with you, in Christ.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

When Kingdoms Collide

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January 31, 2018

“When Kingdoms Collide”

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10

We live in two kingdoms. Sometimes they get along famously. Other times they collide with each other with great force. We live in them both and have the challenge of reconciling them with they are in conflict with each other.

What kingdoms are these?  Long time Lutherans know them by various terms: The Kingdom of the Left, and the Kingdom of the Right, the Kingdom on Earth and the Kingdom of Heaven, The Secular and the Spiritual, the State and the Church.  God rules over both and we live under Him in both.  He ordains State to govern for the sake of order in this world. He ordains the Church to proclaim the Gospel of Christ with words of truth and acts of mercy.

We make decisions depending on our understanding of that kingdom applies.  A current example is the question of immigration. This issue calls for law and order by the state. Loss of control of a nation’s border and undermining the rule of law creates chaos. It is the State’s God-ordained duty to maintain that. At the same time, it is the Church’s calling to show compassion and concern for the sojourner. Where we can do so while honoring the State’s necessary role as keeper of order, we do so. The Church should not do so in order to pad its coffers with government largesse, or to inflate its membership roles.  Such motives do not serve the Gospel, but undermine it. We love for motives that are spiritual and heavenly, not secular and earthly.

It is an ongoing and timeless challenge of both the State and the Church to tend to its own business and not to usurp the role of the other. Of course, in real life, it is not as clear cut as all that. I mean this meditation not as solution to a problem, but as a reminder to remember that both Kingdoms are God’s.  Pray that His will is done in both, for the sake of good order and peace, and for the sake of compassion and love.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Changes that Challenge

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January 24, 2018

Changes that Challenge

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; Lamentations 3:22

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. Malachi 3:6

For years, it seems that nothing changes, or at least nothing that was not expected.  Then you run into a period when one change after another meets you.  Cancer shows up on your medical exam, a loved one dies suddenly, or you have to move due to a job change, divorce, or some other stressful event. Not all changes are unforeseen. While births, graduations, marriages, and retirement do not surprise us, but they still can be challenging.  All changes require us to adapt to new realities, adopt new routines, and reestablish a new balance.

Whether or not the changes are wanted or anticipated, they have the potential to draw us closer to God. Years ago, an elderly man told me he liked his worship style to be the same every week. His job and the world events had more than enough changes every day. He just wanted to know that something in his life was constant.

A familiar worship could do that. However, it is not how we worship, as much as whom we worship, that helps us manage all the changes in life that challenge us.  Our Lord, who has steadfast love for us, does not change.  Even if a negative change in our life is due to a sinful choice we have made, God’s love in Christ does not change. He remains faithful even if we are not. His mercies never end. That is not because he changes His mind about sin, but because Christ took away sin’s dreadful penalty and punishment on the cross.

That means that when death, the ultimate change draws near, surprisingly or expectedly, we have full confidence that it will not be a challenge. God’s grace will prevail. Thus, we can join the millions who have sought comfort in these words:

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

“Abide with Me” LSB 878:4

May His changeless grace abide with you,

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Follow the Recipe

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January 17, 2018

Follow the Recipe

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,…, And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:12, 14

 Has it ever happened that you were careful to follow a recipe for a dish you wanted to serve to your guests, but you did not have all the ingredients? If time was short, you may have substituted something else and hoped that would work.  What if you totally forgot to add that essential ingredient, such as a sweetener for a dessert! It was obvious to you and your guests that something was missing.

Sometimes we do that with the ingredients that we use in our relationships. We believe we are doing all the right things, saying what we need to say, but we forget love, the most important ingredient. Love comes from a heart that has accepted the love of God in Christ. Love changes us, and affects how we relate to one another. It is what moves us to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven us and enables us to put the needs of others above our own. “Without love”, Paul said to the Corinthians, “I am nothing”.

So likewise, in his instructions to the Colossians he emphasized that to the relational ingredients of “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” they should add “love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  I read a devotion recently that said, “if the heart is right, everything else comes together.” If you think you are doing everything you should, but the relationship still is not going well, ask yourself, “Do I truly love that person from the heart?”  Ask God to help you truly love the other person–the rest will fall in place.

One of my old favorites from the past is the Judy Collins song, “Cook with Honey”.  In one verse, she expresses her joy of loving others:  “Well, our door is always open and there’s surely room for more; Cooking where there’s good love, Is never any chore.”

Follow that recipe and life will taste just right.

Blessings,

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

All Are Teachers; All Are Students

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January 10, 2018

All Are Teachers; All Are Students

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, Hebrews 10:24

How does a family, business, school, congregation, or any group create an atmosphere of caring, compassion, and patience? In a classroom, what the children learn is what the teacher teaches. In a family, the children learn what their parents exemplify. They learn what they see, hear, and experience.

And in some ways, we adults are not much different. Though we are not as impressionable as children and more ably can filter out what needs not to be learned, we are still influenced by the conditioning of what we see and hear every day.  Advertisers wouldn’t repeat their commercials if that were not true. Cultural changers, for good or evil, know that change does not happen overnight, only after repeated patterns of actions and words.

We all have influence over others, whether we realize it or not. We can all impact how others act by how we act towards them.  We are all “teachers”.  Likewise, we are all impacted, in varying degrees, after varying spans of time, by the words we hear, things we see, and the experiences we encounter. We are all “students”.  That’s the real world.

Now, the question is, what are you learning?  More importantly, what are you teaching?

The video linked below offers possible answers, both good and bad.  Its focus is children, but also applies to how adults treat one another, whether in a marriage, family, church, classroom, workplace or anywhere.

May Christ be our means and motivation to be a teacher of caring, compassion, and patience!

.View “Children learn what they live” (2:10): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlQPJTlt-_A then go, and “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  Ephesians 4:32

 Bless and be Blessed,

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Big Picture Priority

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January 3, 2018

Big Picture Priority

You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Matthew 23:24

According to a survey, if you make a New Year’s resolution you are among only 40% of the population. If you keep it, you are among 44% of those that make them. Since a majority of us do not make them or keep them if we do, you may not need to know about the “holiday” coming up on January 17. It is “Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day”.  Someone decided we needed an official day to acknowledge and drop those New Year’s resolutions that, after all, were not that doable.

That may not be relevant to you if you do not make them to begin with, but, in truth, we actually make resolutions quite often. We call it “bargaining with God” or promising him that we will “do better”.  When yet another failure sabotages our good intentions, we repeat them with even more resolve, often inserting words like “never again” or “always”.

What we often miss is the big picture priority: a life of grace. Jesus took to task Jewish leaders who made laws and lists for themselves and everyone else. Call them resolutions. He called them hypocrites, because their lists were unimportant tasks that they themselves did not faithfully follow, even while demanding that others do. They were “straining at gnats and swallowing a camel.” That is, they majored in minors and failed to prioritize weightier matters such as “justice and mercy and faithfulness.” (v. 23)

Whether it is at the beginning of a new year or after a frustrating failure, focusing only on promises and resolutions we can’t keep perfectly is futile. Let us spend our time on the big picture, the grace of God that he has given us through Christ. It covers our failures and forgives our sins. May we not only receive it daily by faith, but also gladly share it freely with others.  When we do, we will be less concerned about our lists and rules and successfully show “justice and mercy and faithfulness,” resolutions for which there is no day to ditch.

Where there is grace, there is peace.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Christmas Contrasts

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December 20, 2017

Christmas Contrasts

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness on them has light shined. Isaiah 9:2

       Charles Dickens famously began his novel, “A Tale of Two Cities”, contrasting England and France during the French Revolution. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, … it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness”  This quote came to mind listening on C-SPAN to members of both houses of Congress give their one-minute speeches on the tax reform plan.  “It is the best plan, it is the worst plan.” History will judge soon enough.

       What history has already told us is that when Christ appeared in human flesh in Bethlehem it was a “season of Darkness”.  Cynical despair had settled in among the Roman populace. Whatever faith they had in their gods was eroding. The light of hope for the Jews awaiting for the Messiah was growing faint. Their religious leaders had carved out comfortable positions for themselves while oppressing the poor and public sinners. They hated the Roman occupation of their land and longed for deliverance.

        Then Isaiah’s prophecy came true: On those dwelling in a land of deep darkness, a light had shone. The brightness of angels in the night alerting the shepherds and the guiding star over the Magi were merely supporting lights for the Light of the World that had arrived.  No more darkness, no more despair, no more “worst of times”.

         Dickens wrote a novel, based on history.  Our personal history is non-fiction based on our own best of times and worst of times.  The contrast is sharper at Christmas. Families travel far to consume their gifts and feasts while the homeless and hungry endure the coldest month and shortest light. The exuberance of children contrasts with the depression of those who are enduring loneliness and loss.

         It is wise not to expect from the Christmas holiday what it cannot deliver. Family and feasts do not themselves give us the Light that overtakes the darkness of the soul.  Only the Light that outshone the Bethlehem angels and Star can heal the source of all our despair and darkness. Our joy at Christmas is not sourced in our celebration of it, but in the Christ who endured the darkness of the cross and tomb and shone the Light of forgiving grace on Easter morning.

Christmas means we can still have the worst of times, a season of darkness, but ultimately have the best of times, an eternity of Light.

        Blessed Christmas all Year.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

The Gifts of Pain

 

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December 13, 2017

The Gifts of Pain

There are many things in our life that cause us to feel pain. Physical pain and discomfort may result from a broken bone, a muscle strain, a cut, bruise, heart attack, and all kinds of disorders and diseases.  There is also emotional pain felt in broken relationship, personal failure, fear, and the like. In addition, pain can be preventable, short-lived, chronic, or permanent. We prefer to avoid pain, but we would do well also to consider the gifts of pain as it reminds us of the need for care, prayer, and despair.

Care: Pain is a wonderful wake-up call that we need to take care of something in our life, our relationships, habits, or physical condition.  This is the kind of pain that is often preventable and temporary, or at least can be lessened with certain changes.  Proverbs 4:21-22 tells the reader to “keep (God’s Words) within your heart, for they are life to those who find them and healing to all their flesh.”  Much pain is preventable is we take care to mind what brings health. Whatever causes us to make better choices and habits is a gift.

Prayer:  Some pain is neither preventable nor curable.  No medicine will make it go away.  Those who suffer pain because of their faith are said to be “carrying their cross”. Jesus promised persecution, suffering, and tribulation in this life. For some, he prescribed it, as with St. Paul, who suffered a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming proud.  To his request for relief from the pain God said,  “No, you have may grace. That is enough.” Jesus and others tell us to count it all joy when life is painful, for that works Godly qualities in us.  It also demands a life of prayer to be able to live with the pain. Whatever leads us to more faithful prayer is a gift.

Despair: That sounds like nothing positive, but chronic pain, whether of the emotions, mind, or body can remind us that this life is not our final home. We can and should despair of ever finding complete joy in this life, but rather long even more for the life to come. Thus we will not cling to the things of this world, but realize the things of this world are fading and we ought not to make gods of them or pin our security on them. The ultimate spiritual pain was the cry of Paul who despaired that he could not do the good he wanted to do, but rather did the evil he did not want.  He called himself “wretched” beyond all hope of getting it right. But that led him to celebrate Jesus Christ, who rescues sinners from the despair of their helplessness with the all sufficiency of his sacrifice for sin.  Anything that causes us to despair of our own righteousness and by faith cling to the righteousness God gives in Christ is a gift.

May your pains lead you to take better care, to enter deeper prayer, and to despair of all but the righteousness of Christ that will open to you the gates of God’s pain-free paradise.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

The Habitual Life

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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.