Freedom Well-Played

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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

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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?

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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

 

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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

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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

Repeal and Replace

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July 19, 2017

“Repeal and Replace”

1The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me…                                       3to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful                                        headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning,                 the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; Isaiah 61:1a, 3a

In the context of today’s headlines, “repeal and replace” may evoke a number of responses: “replace with what?” or “I’ll believe it when I see it.” For some it suggests a broken promise, for others, a threat. We have heard these words often enough to wonder if they are just that—words. Though our Lord did not express His plan for us in these exact words, He did promise to repeal and replace. The question is, “repeal what and replace with what?”

Isaiah’s prophecy cited here is one of many Messianic promises that would begin their fulfillment with the first coming of Christ.  In fact, after Jesus read these words in the Nazareth synagogue, He proclaimed that Isaiah had written them about Him. These words promised that Jesus would repeal the ashes of mourning over sin and faint spirit and replace them with a beautiful crown, joy, and praise.

Our Lord is not someone who makes promises, or threats, which He does not intend to keep, or which He is unable to keep. He does not need our vote or even our consent to keep them.  Nor does He wait for us to be worthy of His blessing.  What a relief that is.  We who mourn our sins may have confidence before God, because He has forgiven them fully and freely. He who promised is faithful and He does what He promises.  Therefore, let us not doubt, but respond with joy and praise, for even now we wear a crown of victory and will forevermore.  Jesus has repealed our sin and guilt and replaced it with grace and salvation.  Amazing: a promised kept.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Grip, Stance, Sight

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July 12, 2017

“Grip, Stance, Sight”

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. Psalm 119:11, 15

Yesterday I had my first lesson and practice on how to shoot a pistol, while deepening a friendship and creating new ones.  Besides reviewing the vital and valuable safety measures, I learned the essential elements of successfully hitting the target: How to grip the gun, stand, and align the sight of the gun with the target. With these properly accomplished, we can hit the target when we pull the trigger, which in itself is another skill to be learned.

Reviewing these steps brings to mind the essential elements of hitting the target in our Christian walk.  Since the Biblical word for “sin” means literally “to miss the mark”, we definitely want to “hit the target”, in other words, to live in alignment with Christ’s teachings.

First, we need to get a good grip of what those teachings are. We can only follow Christ if we know what He has taught.  So we “store up” God’s Word in our heart and mind. Just as weak grip on a gun can result in a missed target, a loose grip on truth will cause us to “miss the mark”.

Secondly, we need to take a proper stance on the things that God has revealed in His Word.  Sometimes, we dig in our heels about things that do not matter for our salvation.  If we fail to focus firmly on the Gospel, we will “miss the mark” because we will have let lesser concerns create conflicts with others and needlessly bind our conscience.

Thirdly, properly aligning our sight on the goals of Christ helps us to stay on target. If we let our attention wander, letting distractions tempt us, we will certainly miss our goal.  The sinful nature, the world, and the devil are only too eager to have us look at other targets.

Jesus certainly set his sights sight firmly on the way of the cross. He took a stand on the truth of His mission, instead of being sidetracked by tricks and traps. He knew the Truth, because he is the Truth.  He had a firm grip on who he was and why He came: for our salvation.

To live the life of Christ that is, to pull the trigger and successfully hit the target instead of miss the mark, we need to get a grip, take a stand, and fix our sight on His saving work of salvation for us. May you, by the grace of God, hit the target.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Join the Side You’re On

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July 5, 2017

 “Join the Side You’re On”

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve,

… But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15

The title of this week’s meditation comes from a recent article written for Imprimis by journalist Michael Goodwin.  He is encouraging citizens not to sit on the sidelines and passively watch those with whom you agree fight the culture wars for you.  Join them.  If you believe in a cause, go all out and fight for it, support those on the front lines, engage, and participate.

Why is that so important also in our walk of faith?  In an interview with Brother Andrew, who for the last 60 years has ministered to persecuted churches throughout the world, he shared the following conversation:

A pastor came into my office. He said, “Andrew, those Muslims now they have brought another empty church and they are going to convert it into a mosque. Isn’t that terrible?” I said, “No, that is not terrible.” He said, “Why not?” I said, “You know what’s terrible–that your church was empty. That is terrible. If your church were full there would not be a mosque, would not be a place nor a demand for a mosque.”

I just experienced another Independence Day parade in our community, but this time from the sidelines, with friends, in a shaded and grassy area.  Nice breeze.  For the first time in a long time, I was not “in” the parade walking the hot street in the baking sun.  Of course, there is no point in a parade if there are no sideliners to watch and cheer.  Yet, in sitting on the sideline, I realized how tempting it is to be the one who never takes the heat or does the preparing and hard work–not in parades, but in the significant causes of life. Just as there would be no parade if people were not willing to be “in” the parade, so there would be no free nation, family, civic club, or congregation if people did not put their convictions into action.

Thanks be to God, Jesus did not, and does not, sit on the sideline.  He came to us, died for us, rose to secure our life, and sends His Spirit to work through us the mission He gave us—to share that Good News of sins forgiven with everyone.  By His grace and gifts, you have all you need to “join the side you’re on.”

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Evil and the Two Kingdoms

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June 7, 2017

 Evil and the Two Kingdoms

14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them … 17Repay no one evil for evil, … 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God…  20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink;  21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. …  4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.  Romans 12:14—13:4

Without skipping a beat, St. Paul contrasts the two kingdoms of God and how they are to respond to evil. Both kingdoms, the Church and the State, are under God’s authority and are ordained by Him.  Neither is an invention of human reason, nor has permission to usurp authority from the other.  The Church is to do its Kingdom work, and the State is to do its Kingdom work.

By “Church” I do not mean only the institution whereby we collectively preach repentance and forgiveness (Luke 24:47) through the ministry of God’s Word and the administration of the Sacraments.  We are also the Church individually as we personally apply God’s grace in everyday life.

Such is the content of Paul’s 12 chapter of Romans cited above. The Church (collectively and individually) does not curse those who do evil, seek revenge, or is unkind to its enemies.  We are not only to be innocent of the sin of commission, but also of the sin of omission. Therefore, we “overcome evil with good”.  To our enemies we do the opposite of what they do to us.

It is what God did and still does for us in Christ. Though our sin gives God every reason to curse us eternally to hell, he reached into this world with sacrificial love on the cross.  He continues to reach us with love, communicating in Scripture and Sacrament the never-ending and ever-patient mercy of God.

That is not the role that God has given His other Kingdom, the State, as Paul explains in Romans 13.  While the Church is showing mercy, the State has the responsibility to impose order, even by way of punishing the evildoer.  That too is a work of God.

Therefore, a Christian law enforcer or member of the military serves in both kingdoms. He or she will have two vocations: one as servant of the Church, the other as a servant of the State, in one to show mercy and kindness, in the other to punish evil.

The purpose of pointing these distinctions out is that our society gets them enmeshed and confused. When we try to make the State a place of mercy, ignoring the law and not protecting with force those it is to serve, chaos ensues. The Church is not free to fulfill its ministry.  Likewise, when the Church becomes militant it gets in its own way. It presents only the vengeful God, not the Lord known in Christ as one who forgives and restores the penitent.

There are other finer points to this that are fodder for latter discussions, but suffice it to say here that God has ordained two kingdoms.  Pray that each may do its own work, and not that of the other, so that the citizens of both kingdoms will be blessed.

Blessings,

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Subjective “Sins”

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February 22, 2017

Subjective “Sins”

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

                                                                                                       Proverbs 19:11

 In my personal observation of others and of myself, I come to realize that we are all prone to take offense at what I call “subjective sin”.  It is subjective, because we label what someone else did or said as sin, based on our feelings about it, not on whether God’s Word actually calls it a sin. By contrast, objective sin is “every thought, desire, word, and deed that is contrary to God’s Law” (question 78, Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation.) That definition of sin has nothing to do with our feelings.

For example, if you take offense in a sermon when I truthfully speak God’s law to you, I am not sinning against you, no matter how you feel about it.  Likewise, if you speak truth to someone that needs to hear it, it may be taken as an offense, but you have not given offense.  The Proverb above recommends having the good sense not to get easily offended or to be quickly angry. Consider whether the words were true and if so, the motive behind speaking them. By doing that, we may realize that while we took offense, no offense was given.

However, that does not take the “truth” teller off the hook. He or she has the Christian responsibility to speak the truth in love and with gentle humility. (Galatians 6:1-2)  This month’s character theme for Faith School is “Sensitivity”, described as “being aware of the true attitudes and emotional needs of those around me”.  So yes, again, the hearer is to be sensitive to the “true attitude” of the speaker, not attributing to the speaker unkind motives that are not there. But the speaker is to be sensitive to the emotional needs of the hearer. That means we speak with consideration to the meaning of our words, the tone of our voice, and the motive of our heart.

Still, no matter how careful the speaker may be, he or she may still commit subjective sins, unintentionally causing offense. At such times, the offended hearer would do well to acknowledge the feeling without ascribing an unkind motive to the speaker. “I felt offended,” rather than, “you offended me” is more likely to result in a humble apology from the one guilty of the “subjective sin”.

Whether a sin is subjective or objective, love and forgiveness is the best Christian response. Christ himself forgave those who sinned against him by having him nailed on the cross, “for they knew not what they did”. He daily forgives us our sins as well. Seek reconciliation whenever you can, but understand that is to His glory that we overlook an offense.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz