Pastor Lee Harder from St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bulverde, Texas here to visit with you for another week.
This week’s blog is taken from the mission theme that guided Walt Disney all his years — Keep Moving Forward. I found myself caught between a huge helping of nostalgia and preparing to deliver two small group presentations on addressing the needs of small churches for pastors to serve in the future. I got to remembering years gone by and briefly wishing . . . you know, wishing to relive some of those years.
First, I had the chance to pick up one of those NES Mini Classic game consoles with 30 built in games. If you didn’t have kids growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, you have no clue as to what I’m talking about. It’s video games, the originals. Playing those old games we used to play with the kids brought back some fond memories. Right now, even as I am writing this blog at home, Karen is playing Kid Icarus and before that Donkey Kong. I recall we used to be better at it than we appear to be presently. The hand-eye coordination just isn’t what it used to be. (And for the record, we are still gamers, playing Skyrim and the Lego games on X-box One among others.)
Second, before writing this week’s blog, I checked my mail. Low and behold, there was a letter of invitation asking us to be a part of my previous congregation’s 50th anniversary up in Minnesota. It’s been 50 years since the church changed it’s name to Our Savior’s after merging with another church in the town of Lamberton. It was surprising because the night before a good friend from those days called to check up on us and let us know about the upcoming anniversary. The timing makes it impossible to go, but it made me think of all those years (22 of them) serving Our Savior’s. I hope their celebration is a good one with old relationships renewed.
One can’t help but think of the good times and wonder, “Wouldn’t it be nice to go back?” My answer to that is “Not really.” Remembering the good old days with family and friends is a warm fuzzy, like a comfortable favorite chair at the end of a long day or a blanket and fire on a chilly night. They are fond memories and even the not so fond ones have softened with the passage of time. Yes, it’s good to remember and renew, but return? I don’t think so. There are too many tomorrows to come yet.
I believe God wants us to use the past and learn important lessons from it that will enrich us for today. That’s why I fail to understand those scholars in the church who have the opinion that the Old Testament of Scripture has nothing to say to us in the “modern” church. They are merely stories, fictions, like the faery tales we tell little children, fit only for Sunday school faith. Really? Useless? I’ve heard dumb before, but that’s using and abusing the God given right to be stupid in the extreme. It’s true that God doesn’t want us to wallow in the past. I truly believe He desires for us to focus ourselves and our energies on the future, but to take the lessons of the past as guides for our tomorrows. He’s got plans for our future and that means moving forward eagerly by His side to whatever lies ahead.
Case in point, this last weekend of July has me addressing a few breakout sessions at a Texas gathering of Lutheran churches. The topic is how to help small congregations get pastors to serve them in an atmosphere of diminishing numbers available. More and more pastors and priests are retiring and fewer are entering into the ministry to fill this role. When one adds these frightening stats to the changing religious scene in our nation and the Christian church frightening is transformed into downright scary.
We need to find ways to rise to the challenges we are facing in the world while maintaining the absolute truths of God’s Word as the ultimate guide for our living. God’s goal for His church is still that we go forth into the world and make it fit His image of what is good and right and not surrender the church so it will fit the world’s view of how things should be.
Remembering yesterday is nice and even desirable because it keeps us in touch with our roots. However, as believers and disciples, we are to be about building for the future. The nostalgic moments are a good thing, but there’s still a lot of work to do before us. There are new memories to make.
And those are my thoughts. God bless.
It was Monday. I didn’t get any calls from church and all seemed to be quiet. So, Karen and I had surf (shrimp) and turf (steak) for supper. Ah, beef, it’s what’s for supper. I had been to HEB and got a really good price on Jumbo shrimp, but I had to devein them myself. I mention this not to impress you with my culinary skills or good luck, but to lay the groundwork for this week’s blog and vlog.
I suspect many of us have had our fair share of peel and eat shrimp, unless one doesn’t like shrimp. Such a shame, but your loss is another’s gain. Hey, a little butter (a lot in some cases), some crusty French bread and a good glass of wine — a touch of heaven. Salad optional. I mention this because in most instances when I have purchased prawns or jumbo shrimp they have come deveined. Well, the sale price of these shrimp had required me to perform the necessary surgery on each and every shrimp. No big deal, I’ve done it before, but it’s been a while.
As I was engaged in administering this delicate surgery, I realized two things. First, these shrimp had been eating quite well because there was a lot of (you know) “stuff” inside. That’s actually what deveining is all about. Second, when you eat peel and eat shrimp (which are usually smaller versions of bigger shrimp, but are still shrimp), you are also eating the “stuff” that is removed by deveining, unless you get some where that act is done for you. If it doesn’t say deveined, they’re not. Just cause you didn’t see it doesn’t mean you didn’t eat it.
So, as I was deveining and had this brief epiphany, I was also contemplating what I would do for the coming week’s blog. And it hit me. Sin is a lot like the “stuff” found in shrimp which needs to be removed. Sin desperately needs to be removed, too.
With shrimp, it needs a sharp knife, a little skill with the blade so as to cut the shrimp just deep enough to get at the “stuff” without going too deep thus decimating the shrimp, and care not to cut yourself. I have the tools, I have the talent, and, fortunately, I have the necessary patience to do it to all the shrimp. It’s tedious. Sin is more complicated and even more time consuming.
First, it must be exposed as a reality in our lives. Too many of us go around consuming what the world offers us without realizing that much of it is “stuff” that will separate us from God and one another. Oh, it may be satisfying at the moment, but it’s still not good for you because it’s undesirable “stuff”. God’s Word in Law is what exposes sin. It cuts through all our attempts to hide our sin from the world, ourselves, and from Him. It makes it a reality. When we recognize the presence of the sinful “stuff” in our lives (with the help of the Holy Spirit), we can come to God with a repentant heart, humbling ourselves, and surrendering ourselves to His mercy. We confess, “I am a sinner. God help me.” The Law is the sharp blade that reveals the sin in our lives.
We can’t remove it ourselves. Christ is the one who strips the vein of sin in our lives making us clean again. His sacrifice on the cross, His blood shed for the forgiveness of sin, is the way we are washed clean from the sinful “stuff” of which we are guilty. This is the Good News of salvation in the Gospel. Unfortunately, Christ’s gifts of forgiveness and life don’t come easy because we resist. We are reluctant to admit we are guilty of sin. Worse, we have even gone to the point of thinking that if we simply ignore the whole topic of sin we need not concern ourselves with it’s horrible consequences. To consume sin, to become comfortable with sin, to ignore sin and think it doesn’t matter means we become sin.
Thanks be to God that He has tremendous patience with us, His little children. He refuses to give up on us. His Word continues to help us come to know who and what we are — sinners in need of His cleansing action of removing sin from our lives. Unlike the deveining of shrimp, it’s not a one shot deal because we keep engaging in sinful thinking and living. We refuse to live as Christ, but God refuses to let go.
Sin is sin. Just because we can’t see it or won’t acknowledge it doesn’t mean it’s not there tainting our lives. God would clean us if we would open ourselves to Him by believing in the salvation He makes possible in Christ Jesus our Lord. And even the ability to believe, to have faith, is a gift that God gives to us through His Word. All we need do is let God work in our hearts and we will be made clean.
And those are my thoughts. God bless.
I think I’m getting old — not older (Well, I’m getting that too) — but OLD. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, just observing. Overall it’s not a bad thing, especially when one considers the alternative. However, there are certain signs that indicate the reality of old, as opposed to getting older. The following are about getting older.
1. It’s not getting to be 68 years old. When I was 20 that was old, right up there with Methuselah, but at 68 I am mentally still growing and learning like a kid, even if the body isn’t keeping up. I look at it this way: I have the mind of an Olympian athlete housed in the body of an overstuffed, well worn recliner.
2. Speaking of the body. I never used to take any medications. Now, I take 2 cups filled (shot glasses) twice a day — some meds, some supplements, but they are keeping me going.
3. I make sounds when I get up which I never used to do.
4. I must make at least one nightly visit to the god of porcelain (about 3:00am) which causes that athletic dynamo of a mind to kick in thinking, creating, figuring all kinds of stuff.
There’s more, so much more, but that should make my point about getting older. I can live with these things. In fact, in some cases, I live because of these things.
Becoming OLD means, to me, I can no longer accept, embrace or tolerate some of the NEW changes that invade my world, our world, THE world. Allow me to elaborate.
1. Lately, I’ve taken personal joy in curling up with a good book and reading for the pure pleasure of reading for fun. The feel of the book (its weight and bulk), turning the pages and placing a bookmark to show my progress and not lose my place. I have a kindle and it’s okay, but it’s not a book. I know, print is dead, but I like books — the real things — not a computer screen, tablet, audio equivalent or the kindle universe to store a library of material. I like books. I’m OLD.
2. I like my CD’s and DVD’s on a shelf in MY house, not in some invisible cloud. I even still use my LP’s (These are the original long play discs of music played on a phonograph player. If you need to know what a phonograph player is, check out Wikipedia, because you are not OLD and I am.). Yet, I’ve heard that CD’s and DVD’s are on their way out because our music and movies, like our books, will be waiting for us in the cloud. I suppose it’s a great idea until the day when, for whatever reason, they become inaccessible. I’ll take the hard copy versions taking up space on my shelves. That way I’ll know where to find them. I’m OLD.
When it comes to God’s Word in Scripture, I need to be aware of God’s desires and plans for me and the world He created. I have to preach and teach His message of salvation exclusively found in Christ Jesus and no where else. The reality of sin, my sin, must be acknowledged so that I can humble myself before the Lord with a repentant heart.
3. Today, even the church seeks to embrace the politically correct, technologically advanced attitude of today’s world. To do that is to turn my back on God so I can recreate Him in the world’s image. I won’t do that, so I guess I’m OLD.
Maybe what I am isn’t OLD, but old-fashioned in a positive sense. Old fashioned by being grounded in Christ centered morality and ethics of right and wrong; old fashioned in thinking more of the needs of others than only concerned with myself. Old fashioned in preferring something of substance to hold on to instead of some imaginary perfection to constantly pursue. Yeah, I can be content with myself if it’s old fashioned values that God would have me live.
Maybe the world should pause, take a moment to reflect on our core values and stop rushing head-long into chasing after the latest fad of self-satisfaction and “me” gratification. Newer isn’t always better.
But those are just my thoughts, for what they’re worth.
Grace and peace to you this July as we rejoice in a glorious summer.
Last week we celebrated the 4th of July, how we as a collection of people living in different states and backgrounds came together and forged a nation. The more I watch the news, the more concerned I am for our country. Never have I seen such vicious, vitriolic hatred expressed toward people of a different point of view then that which exists now. There have always been small groups of fanatics on both sides of the political spectrum or social issues opposing one another. Likewise, there have always been those who close their minds to alternative ideas. I had a father who always voted republican and a father-in-law who always voted democratic, effectively cancelling each other out, but they didn’t hate each other. They disagreed and even argued, but they didn’t despise the air the other breathed like now.
While it is not my place to judge (and I am not starting now), I truly question in my heart the sincerity of faith of anyone who in one breath proclaims to love the Lord and in the next refers to someone with an opposing point of view as a terrorist, bigot, racist, homophobic extremist Nazi. The violent efforts of some to silence the voice of others at any price scares me. Scripture makes it clear that where one does not love neighbor, one does not love God. Jesus’ words, not mine, but we had better start taking them to heart.
As a student of history, I can’t help but remember when similar forces of anarchy have arisen in the past to crush all opposing opinion. Anarchists demand that all must believe in the one true standard [theirs] or be utterly destroyed. Such thinking has resulted in the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, the rise of Mayo in China and more. The voice of reason cannot be tolerated, nor can it even be heard when drown out by shouts of hateful condemnation. Sadly, we seem to be journeying down that fatal path.
Is this what happens to a nation, a people, a culture and a society that has effectively abandoned God? One cannot deny that direction seems more and more the choice being taken for our country and our world. Even the church is not innocent of contributing to a questionable standard of a “soft-serve deity”, when it condones activities that run contrary to the Word of God in Scripture. When we discard the Old Testament as a mere collection of stories for Sunday school children, we dismiss the very foundation for the coming of Christ into the world. When we abandon Christian morals and ethics for the sake of self satisfaction and gratification, we embrace the beast. When we forget the reality of sin and fail to take into account its consequences upon our lives and the lives of others, we have turned our backs on God’s love and mercy. That the world is doing this is understandable and grievous. That the church is contributing to this condition is unconscionable.
I encourage you to pause a moment and pray that we remember what this nation stands for and represents and commit ourselves to that truth. No, as a nation and a people we are not perfect. Far from it. After all, we are by nature sinful and unclean. Yet, despite our shortcomings, we established a nation that is founded on liberty, justice and freedom for all UNDER GOD. We still have a ways to go, for not everyone experiences those God given rights to the same degree and should. However, what’s happening in our country today is causing us to lose some of the ground we’ve gained in making those principles a reality for all. It’s got to stop before it’s too late. May God help us turn ourselves around from falling off the precipice of disaster turning our nation, a God given nation, into an historical footnote.
And those are my thoughts. God bless.
Lee Harder, senior pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church of Bulverde, wishing you a wonderful and safe 4th of July.
This week’s vlog is a little different in that I have been encouraged to do a version of a sermon I gave on Independence Day a few years ago. Considering where our nation seems to be headed as of late, maybe it would be a good idea to remind us of our roots as a nation. You’ll have to decide for yourself.
I know this, our nation was most certainly founded as one subject to God’s rule and authority despite efforts to re-write history to say something else. Any doubt as to the Judeo-Christian heritage that marks this nation’s discovery & colonization must be dispelled with a clear picture of those who first set foot on the American continent.
Take Jamestown, Virginia, founded in 1607 as led by Captain John Smith who established this first English settlement. He recorded in his journal that one of the first structures built was a church, a sail stretched between trees and a bar of wood nailed to two trees as a pulpit. The Rev. Robert Hunt gathered these settlers and declared, “The Lord is in His Temple; Let all the earth keep silence before him” taken from the book of Habakkuk. He then prayed, “Almighty God, . . . we beseech Thee to bless us and this plantation which we and our nation have begun in Thy fear and for Thy glory . . . and seeing, Lord, the highest end of our plantation here is to set up the standard and display the banner of Jesus Christ, even here where Satan’s throne is….Lord, sanctify our spirits & give us holy hearts, that so we may be Thy instruments in this most glorious work.”
If that isn’t enough, try the Mayflower Compact written in 1620 which declares, “In the name of God. Amen. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves into a civil body politick …”
Those people that risked everything to cross the sea in search of a new land, a new home, did so trusting in God above all. We founded colonies, communities, states where our culture, our governance, our morals and ethics were all ground in our belief as Christians. When it came time to move from a colony of some distant nation to a nation of our own, still, our dependence to God prevailed.
The United States, became an experiment in democracy for the ages, under the authority of God. When our nation could no longer tolerate rule without representation, it chose to stand on democratic principles as a nation under God. Consider the opening statements in the document that laid the foundation for this nation — the Declaration of Independence. Read in the Congress, July 4, 1776 as the unanimous Declaration of the 13 United States of America, it begins: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” Jefferson, in the Declaration, wrote that liberty was a gift of God and an “unalienable right” to be secured by government. One of those liberties, according to Washington, was the right to worship God, a “right” not only among the choicest of [our] blessings, but also of [our] rights.”
As this soon to be new nation struggled with its governing documents, Dr. Ben Franklin not only called for prayer during deliberation on the Constitution, but also later stated that he had “so much faith in the general government of the world by Providence, that [he could] hardly conceive a transaction of such momentous importance [as the Constitution] to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent and beneficent Ruler, in whom all inferior spirits live and move and have their being.”
During this same Constituting Convention, its president George Washington declared that the “event is in the hands of God.” Later, in his Farewell Address of 1796 he also said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports … Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” By the way, this address was annually read in Congress for decades and printed in schoolbooks, just not now in our own time. Revealing, isn’t it, about what’s happening to us as a people and a nation?
John Adams, our second president, wrote “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” He saw that our Constitution would not work unless we retained moral and religious principles. If he were here today, I suspect he would be among the first to question political candidates on their moral and religious views of God’s sovereignty over the government. If a presidential candidate, one running for office in the House or Senate, does not clearly understand that God is the source of liberty, they will not protect those liberties from intrusive bureaucracy and cultural popularity.
Our nation has been blessed by God. If ever there was a land flowing with milk and honey, it is this beloved America. Yet, it is not a gift that we dare take for granted — Not it riches — Not its beauty — Not its freedom and liberty. More important is our need to acknowledge the author of this blessing called America and its democracy. It is not a political party, any party. It is not any individual or social standard. As with our founding fathers, it is God alone.
If we abandon divine Providence, God, we may discover to our shame that He will abandon us by withholding His blessing. An America devoid of God cannot exist. Democracy’s beacon will dim, flicker and die, overwhelmed by the darkness that seeks any opportunity to prevail over it. It has happened throughout Scripture to God’s chosen people, Israel, and it can happen to us. The promised land was taken from them or they were taken from the land by God in His great anger over their sin. Our sin today in this land of milk and honey, of freedom and prosperity, is no less great and God’s wrath could soon be kindled again.
I do not want this vlog to be oppressive or down-heartening, for we are not without hope for the future. We can step back from the brink of disaster. But to do so, we must risk the abuse of a narcistic culture and re-dedicate ourselves to the morality and ethics God has given us in Christ Jesus. It won’t be easy, either. Jesus assured us of that. The world has rejected Him and His message of salvation. We live in a time where God and our heritage are being written out of our history because they pose a threat to the dark forces that have risen to oppose truth. However, the ultimate victory over sin, death and the devil, the darkness of evil, has already been won by our Lord. We just need to remember to fear the Lord more than we fear the world.
The 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence wrote one of the great lines of history. “And for the support of this Declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” And they did, at great price.
There’s a line in the movie “National Treasure” that says, “People don’t talk like that anymore” and in its sequel, “People don’t think like that anymore.” They’re right, we don’t. Too bad. We’re missing out on something truly wonderful. If we could trust, really trust in God again — wow. The beacon of freedom’s democracy would again burn with a fierce light.
Let me close with a verse of the Star Spangled Banner, the 4th, which nobody knows and nobody ever uses. If we did, those who seek to deny God and erase Him from our national thought, would change our national anthem in a heartbeat. “O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand, Between their loved home and the war’s desolation! Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation Then conquer we must, when our cause, it is just, And this be our motto: “In God is our trust” And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall waveO’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
To this end, let me voice those words we no longer hear today for myself, and I hope you voice them for yourself, “I will pledge my life, my fortune, and my sacred honor” that this IS a nation under God. To that I would add from Martin Luther, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” So help me God.
And those are my thoughts. God bless and I pray you have a 4th of July that remembers that our existence is a gift from God.
Pastor Lee R. Harder