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

God Incomprehensible

VBS

July 26, 2017

God Incomprehensible

“… no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 1 Corinthians 2:9

Even with all the faculties that God has given us we still cannot comprehend what He has done, who He is, or what He has in store for us. Nor can we even imagine it.

Yet, to enable children to grasp somehow that knowledge on some level, the dedicated and talented volunteers of Vacation Bible School are making their best effort. Their students use all their senses: ears that hear music and words of praise and prayer, eyes and hands that see and create art and music, voices that praise, pray and shout, “The victory is won”, minds that learn the Word from its stories of faith, hearts that embrace the wisdom of that same Word, and the whole body that runs, jumps, and throws as they express without words what the Word means. Fed with food for the stomach and the soul, the children can perhaps begin to comprehend how much God loves them and believe what He has in store for them.

By the time you read this, Vacation Bible School may be done. It has been a lively week of learning, rejoicing, and growing friendships. Who knows what fruit the Spirit will produce and grow in the receptive souls of children, helpers, and teachers as they have all sought to imagine God’s love for them. “God’s Word does not return to Him void,” is Isaiah’s promise to us.

People of Faith, give thanks to God that a mighty and incomprehensible thing happened at your Church this week. Faith was shared, love was shown, God was glorified and the Good News was proclaimed. We do not yet know what faith was cultivated. We do know that God equipped His people to labor in His vineyard this week. Their work was well done. God will get the glory as we get the grace.  That is enough, for even that is incomprehensible.

Thank you VBS.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Timely Advice

 

Timely Advice

June 28, 2017

Excerpts from Proverbs 18.

My daily devotion brought me to Proverbs 18.

I present these selected verses that seem to be particularly relevant today:

1Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.

        (Addictions love secrecy. Have fellowship with others and God, for in doing so, the needs that addictions cannot satisfy are met in friendship with God and others.)  

 2A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

        (We look foolish if we cut off understanding of other people as we form our opinions.)

5It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the righteous of justice.

            (In the end the wicked will not reward you for your partiality, while those who remember the righteous God Himself will remember.)

9Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.

        (This is straight talk for those of us who are tempted to underperform in our vocations. Slothfulness is not morally neutral.)

10The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.

        (His name is Jesus, and He is indeed grace for the sinner, and hope for the weary. “Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.”)

 12Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.

        (This is so much on display today in our political world, but truth be told, this verse is a warning for us all.)

 15An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.

        (Before you expound on a subject, do your research on the matter. You could be wrong. If you don’t know something, see verse 12.)

 17The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

        (How relevant today, whether you sit on a jury, consume news media output, or form an opinion about anything.)

 22He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.

            (On a personal note, the Lord favored me with a “good thing” 41 years ago yesterday. May all spouses work to be “a good thing” for their mates!)

 24A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

        (“What a Friend we have in Jesus, all and sins and griefs to bear.” He will never leave you and is ever present to hear your prayers. Would he who gave His very own body on the cross for you, not also give all that is needed today?)

  Timely advice, no matter what time it is.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

The Nearness of God

Jesus and guy on bench

June 21, 2017

The Nearness of God

“I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

Perhaps you have you have read this before, a story that was recently sent to me.

Do you know the legend of the Cherokee Indian youths’ rite of Passage?  His father takes him into the forest, blindfolds him and leaves him alone.  He is required to sit on a stump the whole night and not remove the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it. He cannot cry out for help to anyone.  Once he survives the night, he is a MAN. He cannot tell the other boys of this experience, because each lad must come into manhood on his own.

The boy is naturally terrified. He can hear all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be all around him. Maybe even some human might do him harm. The wind blew the grass and earth, and shook his stump, but he sat stoically, never removing the blindfold. It would be the only way he could become a man!

Finally, after a horrific night the sun appeared and he removed his blindfold.  It was then that he discovered his father sitting on the stump next to him. He had been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from harm.

After sharing this legend, a pastor who is part Cherokee, added: “Whether it’s true or not, I don’t know. But, it has a very good lesson for all of us. Even though the Cherokee youth couldn’t see his father sitting next to him, his father was indeed there, ready to fight for his son. We, too, have our heavenly Father with us all the time. The truth is that we are never alone!”

Well said. Your pastor adds this: Whether or not the legend is true, the Word of God always speaks truth. Jesus, who is God and Lord, promised, “I am with you always.”  In every doubt, every problem, every illness, every fear.  Always.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Two Allegiances

June 14, 2017

 Two Allegiances

Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:17

two flags

 

Today is Flag Day in the United States, which honors the June 14, 1777 resolution of the Second Continental Congress to call for an official United States Flag. It called for thirteen alternating red and white stripes, and thirteen stars against a blue background, representing a “new constellation.”  It honors the federation of independent yet united states with colors that stand for valor, loyalty, and purity.  Flying that banner shows that we still honor those values, and pray that our nation continues to practice them.

That we are to “honor everyone, love the brotherhood, and fear God” is implied in the pledge to that flag: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

As we consider our allegiance to a flag and its country, we remember from last week’s message that we have two allegiances.  While as Christians we always honor God above all else, we also respect that His rule also takes the form of our nation’s civil authority.  When we “honor the emperor”, we respect the authority of God himself. This lessens my often-felt angst about displaying the American flag in church. We do so with the understanding that our nation is a gift of God under His rule.

About 120 years after the United States flag was mandated, Charles C. Overton, Sunday School superintendent from New York, proposed that Christians should also have a flag. About ten years later, in 1907, he teamed up with Ralph Diffendorfer to create one.

It uses the same colors with the same meanings as the U.S. flag. Instead of white stars of the states, there is the red cross of Christ. The red represents His valor, shown in the blood He shed to make us pure. This demonstrated the loyalty of God the Father to keep His promise of a Savior. The national flag reminds us of what our forefathers did and what we are to continue to do.  The Christian flag points to what God has done for us in Christ. That too, is expressed in a pledge: “I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands, one Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again, with life and liberty for all who believe.”

With that, we can honor two allegiances, our State, and our Savior. One is for this life only; the other is for this and eternal life. Both are gifts of God. So let us display our allegiances not just with flags, but also with daily displays of valor, loyalty, and purity, in honor of Him who displayed them for us.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

 

What Do You Expect?

heb111

May 31, 2017

What Do You Expect?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Expectations are fickle and malleable phenomena. For example, when your favorite ball team is on a winning streak, you watch the game with a different set of expectations than if they were on a losing streak.  During the Texas Rangers recent ten game winning streak, the expectation was that they would just keep winning. During a game in which they trailed, fans didn’t wonder whether they would win, but only when and who would get the winning hit. Likewise, in a losing streak, no lead is safe enough. Fans would expect the bullpen to give up runs that they didn’t allow when they were in the winning streak. Expectations can make someone overly optimistic or overly pessimistic.

That’s why faith is so important. It doesn’t base expectations on recent history or current circumstance.  Instead, faith remembers God’s past actions and rests its expectations on His words and promises.  By faith, in obedience to God, Abraham would offer his only son Isaac on an altar. He expected that God would keep his promise to make him a father of a great nation and raise him from the dead. And why not? Had he not seen God’s faithful promise already fulfilled in Isaac’s birth to his 90 year old wife Sarah?

By faith, we can dare to expect God’s forgiveness for our many sins.  Our expectation is not based on our current behavior or circumstances, for in truth, we daily fall short of God’s will. Rather, we base our expectation on the promises fulfilled by Christ on the cross and risen again for the forgiveness of our sins.

What do you expect from God?  Sin puts us all on a losing streak of sin.  You might expect punishment appropriate for your sin.  However, if by sincere repentance you hold to the promises fulfilled in Christ, then you can expect eternal life. Let faith, not history, or your personal losing streak, shape your expectations.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Revolution!

Is26

May 24, 2017

Revolution!

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

 The 60’s were a time of much change.  Songs and demonstrations about revolution were common. Today, political revolutions are still called for from both sides. Some produce positive changes, while others result only in death and destruction.  There is another revolution, often called “revival”—when the Spirit of God stirs the hearts of a nation for good.  Revolutions can be a welcome change to correct systemic abuses by arousing people from complacency.

What kind of revolution we get depends on what or whom we revolve around.  In our solar system, the planets orbit in an orderly and predictable fashion.  On Earth, because the sun’s gravitational pull is pretty constant, we get a stable life-sustaining climate.  Were we to leave this orbit and somehow start encircling a distant star that was too hot or too cold, we could not survive. That would be a destructive “revolution” indeed.

Likewise, if we revolve around influences that do not sustain life, we would experience much harm.  History is littered with destructive revolutions that have revolved around false gods.  Men have sought to change the world (in their mind, for the better) by making themselves, their philosophy, ideology, money, security, or power be the “sun” around which their every movement orbits.  But when we human beings seek to make those things the center of the universe, the revolutions create chaos and disruption, not peace and good will.

Isaiah spoke of one who finds perfect peace by staying his mind on God. When our lives revolve around the One who gives, preserves, redeems, and sanctifies all life–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we will have the revolution that brings peace, stability, grace, love, and all that we need to sustain both physical and spiritual life.  As we need to orbit the Sun for physical life, we need to revolve around the Son, Jesus Christ, to have spiritual and eternal life.  To experience a good revolution in your life, it matters around what or whom your life revolves.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

God Loves Hate!

romans-12-9

May 17, 2017

God Loves Hate!

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, love what is good. Romans 12:9

“Oh, you’re just a hater,” says the one who loves his sin and seeks to deflect all righteous criticism and loving correction. And he would be half right, if he were speaking to a Christian whose love is genuine. (Note: “genuine” is a translation the Greek, “without hypocrisy”. The world labels Christians “hypocrite” if they claim to love but still have hate in their hearts. The opposite is true–we are hypocrites if we say we love, but do not hate evil, because it is contrary to love.)  Real love, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, does not “rejoice in wrongdoing”.  In this section of Romans 12 he teaches how we are to regard our fellow Christian. All the verbs point to loving and supporting one another.

Except this one: Hate.  We hate what is evil, because we hate what evil is doing to those we love. If we truly love a person, or people in general, or a nation, we cannot treat sin with apathy or a “hands-off” approach.  That doesn’t mean we come at people with a judgmental attitude. We must always remember that we also have our own sins to hate as well.

But it is true that other people, as well as we ourselves, are often blind to or desensitized to the failings within. That’s why Paul also wrote in this chapter that we are to think of ourselves with “sober judgment”. That means we will be honest about our own sins, and with gentleness and patience we will help others see the harm sin is doing to them.

This world says not to hate anyone’s sins. That is nice, but it is not good. It will eventually lead us to call evil good so that we can be nice all the time, having a numb conscience and hypocritical love for a fellow believer caught in hurtful sin.

Genuine love will always hate evil enough to confront it. The cross reveals that God is the greatest lover and biggest hater of all.  So much does he hate what is evil that He loved us enough to take human flesh and die to remove evil’s power to condemn us.  Yet if we continue to ignore, accept, and not repent of evil, it retains its power over us. So pray that God may make your love for Him and for your fellow believer so genuine that you will genuinely hate the evil that harms your neighbor and yourself.  If we don’t hate what is evil, we don’t truly love what is good.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Valley, Shadow, Death

 

Untitled drawing (23)

May 10, 2017

Valley, Shadow, Death

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; Psalm 23:4a

This familiar verse from the beloved “shepherd’s” psalm brings great comfort as we look ahead to the inevitable conclusion of life: death. “Even though”, not if, means we will walk through that valley, but also implies something positive in the midst of the valley of death and other low places through which we walk.  “Through” means that we don’t linger or encamp in the valley, but that we pass through it. “Shadow” means that it is not all dark. Where there is a shadow, there is also light.  The Light with us is Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.

The current Lutheran Witness theme is the persecution of Christians around the world. Many are being killed for their faith, as was St. Stephen, the subject of one of the readings for next Sunday. As it has been from the beginning, is now, and will increasingly be in the future, the valley of the shadow of death is a reality for any who follow Christ. Peter, writing about persecution, told the church not to be surprised by it. Jesus told us that a disciple is not above the master. If they persecuted Christ, why would his followers be exempt?  Expect it.

Whether death is by disease, accident, or intentional persecution, it is something we can always be ready to face if we remember two things:

1) Jesus died.  In that death God signaled that though our sins separate us from Him, Christ reconciled us to Him. Death no longer brings the fear of eternal separation from God. The cross means that God has forgiven us for past, present, and future sins.

2) Jesus rose from the dead.  He said, “Because I live, you too will live.” If we die with him in repentance, then we will live with him in the resurrection.

I recall two vacations in which our family entered a cavern. On my own, I would not have ventured in. However, the guide who was leading us had been in and out of the cave many times. I could be confident that with him, I would walk through that valley of darkness.  Since Christ has entered death and come out on the other side, we can trust him to take us through it when it is our time to walk that valley.

May God so comfort you that there is no fear of death, but only gratitude that it’s a short walk into the darkness until we get to the Light on the other side.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

The Price of Reconciliation

Untitled drawing (21)

May 3, 2017

The Price of Reconciliation

“Be reconciled to your brother”  Matthew 5:24

 This week I asked a Korean born pastor what would happen if North and South Korea were united under a free democratic government. He talked about the patience the South would have to show as their Northern countrymen went through a sharp learning curve to adapt to a new way of life. As we started to compare it the unification of East and West Germany, we invited into our conversation a German born pastor/professor who had lived through it. He remembered the high monetary price of unification the West payed to catch up their Eastern brothers and sisters.

Paying the price and patience are part of any reconciliation between individuals and groups.  When adversaries put aside their differences, confess and forgive sins, life doesn’t just automatically get better.  People don’t always get over their hard feelings overnight, even though they want to.  The pattern of distrust and suspicion lingers.  Besides the patience required by parties to adjust their attitudes and expectations, there is also the price of restitution, making good for any harm that the previous animosity created. Though reconciliation comes with a price, the joy of peace and lessened tension are worth the effort.

As in all good things, we can look to our Lord for help. Jesus Christ first reconciled us to Himself by paying the price of His own life.  By His saving work, we know that God desires to be reconciled to us, and that we be reconciled to each other.  He makes this happen, not only by the cross, but by His enduring patience with us. As we go through the learning curve to live out the reconciled life, He walks alongside us, continuing to forgive us and give us His Spirit of peace.  Germans reconciled with fellow Germans. We pray that Koreans might do the same.  Likewise, we pray that we may pay the price to live in the patience of reconciling with our Christian brothers and sisters.  For the sake of peace, and the glory of God.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz