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

 

Evil and the Two Kingdoms

do not be overcome with evil

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

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

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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

The Big Picture in a Small Frame

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April 26, 2017

The Big Picture in a Small Frame

But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Matthew 10:30

When I paste a picture from the internet onto a bulletin cover or Bible study, I start with a big original. I can reduce a big picture in size without losing any quality or clarity. In fact, it may appear even sharper than the original. However, enlarging a small original will result in a grainier, less focused picture. A big picture in a small frame, or text box, is the best view.

If we try to get a clear picture of our big God from the small snapshots of our lives, we end up with a distorted or grainy view of Him.  For instance, a bad day does not mean we have an uncaring God; and being blessed in spite of our sins does not mean that God is indifferent to them. We do not necessarily get an accurate and sharp picture of God from the small pictures of our life.

On the other hand, when we start with the big picture of God revealed in Scriptures, His divine qualities come into even sharper focus in the small frames of our lives.  On a bad day, we can see His love more clearly by trusting His promises never to leave us, to care for and to count even the hairs on our head, and to hear our prayers. When our sins do catch up to us and we confess them, we can see more clearly the God that His Word describes: “Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love”. His patience and forgiveness come into sharper focus.

The biggest and best picture of God that we begin with is the one of our resurrected Savior who bore our griefs and atoned for our sins on the cross. When we bring that big picture into the small frames of our lives, God’s mercy and grace become much clearer.

Peace and mercy,

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz

Help Needed!

Galatians 6-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 19, 2017

Help Needed!

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

What is the first thing you think of doing when you read the above text?  Think of people you can help?  Feel guilty that you haven’t been thinking of people you can help?  Resolve to help people and be kinder and more compassionate?  Pat yourself on the back because you are doing that already? It’s natural to read this and think that you have a caring responsibility to another Christian. Clearly, you do.

Let’s also look at it from the other direction. Isn’t there someone else in this verse besides the burden bearer? Could that someone else be you? If Paul is telling some of us that we need to bear another’s burdens, then it also must be true that some of us are the “another”. Some of us have the burdens that require bearing by our brothers and sisters.

Are we willing to admit that?  Do we have enough trust that the Spirit of Christ living in a fellow believer can bring encouragement and hope back into our lives during a particularly burdensome period?

When you say you belong to the Church, you are not testifying to your membership in an institution or club, but to your membership in the body of Christ. Paul compares it to the human body. When one part of that body hurts, other parts hurt as well. Therefore, being connected to each other, we help each other so that the whole Body can be well together. The Holy Spirit would not have called and gathered us into one holy Christian Church if we could go it alone.

Likewise, when man first sinned, God knew that we would need a Savior. Sin is not a disease we can overcome on our own. Therefore, Jesus redeemed us from sin with His holy life and holy blood. The risen Lord now empowers us to care for each other. As He never left it to us to solve our own problem of sin, neither does He expect us to resolve on our own all that results from sin. Christ, the third person in our verse commanded us to love each other as he first loved us. He gave us all the Church, each other, to help in crisis, loneliness, loss, helplessness and other challenges.

At different times we are either giving help or needing it. When it’s your turn to help, help; when it’s your turn to need help, just ask. It’s what Christians do.

Pastor Tom Konz

Pastor Tom Konz