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I didn’t realize how much I would miss the FLY (Free Lutheran Youth) Convention until this week arrived. I have attended every FLY Convention since 1997 until this year. FLY is offered every other year. I have been a student camper, counselor, treasurer on the FLY Committee, morning Bible study speaker for all the high school students, and president of the FLY Committee. The FLY Committee is the team that plans all of the details of the convention. For the last number of years in my life, this convention has been near and dear to my heart. A lot of prayer, brainstorming, and work has been put in to make this convention a stellar time in God’s Word in the setting of the beautiful Rocky Mountains in Estes Park, Colorado.
As I write, FLY 2015 is starting to wind down. I tuned in to watch the live stream of the first night and have been following the posts of pictures and comments made by those attending. Two thousand people are gathered and are learning about their identity in Christ. The theme, “Identity” comes from Ephesians 1. Check out flyconvention.org if you want to learn more. Why do I miss FLY?
In reflecting on this question, I believe it has to do with weightiness of the truth of God’s Word and the reception of it by young people. I’ve been one of those youth who heard the powerful Word of God and was shaken to the core while at a FLY Convention. I felt the call to attend AFLBS at another FLY. At each FLY, I was more convinced that I wanted to use my life to serve in ministry. In addition, I’ve personally witnessed and heard many testimonies of how God grabbed hold of individuals while at a FLY Convention. I can’t get enough of seeing that happen. While many other camps and conventions are also near and dear to my heart, FLY has been my favorite.
Who is going with me to FLY 2017?
Many of you know that Theresa, Stella and I hopped on an airplane last week with Seattle, Washington as our landing spot. We went to the 53rd Annual Conference of the AFLC (Association of Free Lutheran Congregations). The Conference officially kicked off Tuesday night with an opening service. We heard an excellent message from Pastor Ken Moland of Kirkland, WA who preached on the theme, “A Watchman” from Ezekiel 33. This post is a little introduction to what Annual Conference is all about.
Each year people from AFLC congregations all over the country (and world) gather at a location to hear reports from the directors of each “arm” of the AFLC. These directors oversee our collective effort as congregations working together in missions, schools, youth work, etc. To read these reports, click here. I encourage you to do so. A highlight for me personally was hearing the first official report that Pastor Wade Mobley gave concerning the schools. He was elected the new Dean of the Seminary and president of the AFLC Schools at last year’s Annual Conference in Valley City, ND. He did a great job expressing a clear mission for the schools and also impressed upon the Conference the excellent education students receive at AFLBS and AFLTS (the seminary). All of the reports were given on Tuesday of Conference week.
From Wednesday through the conclusion of Conference on Friday, we spent time hearing resolutions that were crafted in light of needs and concerns regarding each area of ministry. This year most of the resolutions included a prayer point. “Be it resolved that we pray for___” One of the exciting resolutions involved praying for newly commissioned missionaries in the AFLC. Brent & Emily Raan and Matthew & Ednay Abel (son of missionaries Paul & Becky Abel) are the new missionaries. By the way, Brent & Emily will be coming to King of Glory in October to share about their ministry in India. Here is part of an example of a resolution: "It is the sincerely held belief of the AFLC that the Word of God makes clear that homosexual behavior is sinful and that marriage is only between one man and one woman."
Many describe the Annual Conference as a “family reunion.” We are, generally speaking, a small national church body. Relationships develop quickly. For us, this time was perfect for connecting with old friends. Our seminary friends serve all over the country. It was especially great to see our friends, Pastor Jeremy & Lacey Crowell. Jeremy is a missionary pilot in Naknek, Alaska.
Any member of an AFLC congregation can attend and vote on the resolutions. We don’t have a “delegate” system. I encourage you to consider attending an Annual Conference in the future. Next year it will be held at the ARC in Wisconsin. I am so grateful to be part of this wonderful association! Praise God for what He has done through our congregations in the past year.
We have experienced a "baby boom" recently at King of Glory Lutheran. Having four babies born in one month has created a buzz. I love it! Someone even told me that I’ll have to preach louder over the cries of all the babies during church. Seeing these precious newborns has brought back to mind Scripture about being a baby. As you see the newborns in church, perhaps your mind could drift to these pertinent Scriptures.
1 Peter 2:2 is a good place to start. "Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the Word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Peter is using the illustration of a baby to describe a reality in the lives of the disciples. We intuitively know what he is writing about when he describes the “longing” that babies do for milk. Believe me, as one of the fathers of the newborns, I know that there is no doubt when a baby longs for milk. Especially at 2:37 AM. Through their crying, babies are saying, “I NEED MILK!!!!!!” Though they can’t speak, they are saying, “I think I won’t live unless I have this milk!!” That is true. Without that milk, they will not live. Christians will not live spiritually without the “pure milk of the Word.”
During my growing up years I loved to guzzle milk. Okay, I still love to guzzle milk. We’ve heard the slogans: “Milk. It does a body good.” and “Drink milk for strong bones.” Milk helps us grow. The parallel between physical milk and the milk of God’s Word is identical in this regard as well. In Ephesians 4:15, the Apostle Paul states, "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.” As we feed on the milk of God’s Word, He brings growth into our lives. We grow into Christ.
After trying it, I do think it is a good idea. About a month ago I came across a Bible reading plan that piqued my interest. The plan encouraged people to choose a book of the Bible, read it, read it again, and then read it again over and over. It suggested reading the book up to 20 times! The idea is that as you read the book, you would begin to “master” it, or as I like to think about it, to have it master you.
I decided to give it a whirl. What book should I read? I certainly wasn’t going to choose Psalms, a book of 150 chapters. No, it had to be a shorter book. Since I have spent quite a bit of time in the New Testament lately, I was drawn to something in the Old Testament. In looking at the list of books of the Bible by amount of chapters, the book of Amos (nine chapters) stood out to me. Amos it was! Now that April is coming to a close, I’d like to offer you 3 reasons why it is a good idea to read and reread one book of the Bible many times.
1) You notice something different each time you read the book. I knew this before this experiment but it was extremely evident as I recorded my thoughts as I read each morning. Each time I found myself saying, “I can’t believe I didn’t see that before!” or “Wow, that’s an awesome truth that popped out!” Faithful Bible readers will notice that reading Amos 8 will impress you differently as a high school student as compared to reading it as a grandma. The Lord feeds us what we need through His Word through whatever situation or station of life we find ourselves in.
2) You get a great “big picture” look at the book. In sermons we hear a “chunk” of verses explained and fleshed out. Other devotional material may encourage us to read “Book of the Bible, chapter 2, verses 7-21.” Before this month I was using a Bible reading plan that encouraged reading and studying one chapter of the Bible each day. While those ideas are great, sometimes we zoom in so close to observe a text that we forget what the big picture is. Have you ever flown in a small airplane over a city? That’s what reading through a whole book of the Bible in one sitting feels like. You see everything all at once.
3) You start to feel like the book of the Bible is your friend. When you read and reread a book of the Bible, you start to become really familiar with the book, somewhat like what it feels like to really know a good friend. “Good morning, Amos!” Sometimes, we might get frustrated with each other. There were mornings where I felt like I hit a wall in this experiment. Did I really want to keep hanging out with Amos? Honestly I wanted to find a new “friend.” As I pushed through that wall, I came to appreciate my friend Amos even more.
I haven’t decided if I will choose another book and do the same next month or if I will return to what I was doing before April. Either way, I’m excited about receiving from the Lord each day in His Word. Have you ever tried a Bible reading experiment like this?
Towards the end of my sermon last Sunday (Romans 13:1-8 “The Christian and His Government”), I said, “There is much more to say on this topic.” So, it’s time to say it! One of the many themes that could be unpacked more is that of the "doctrine of the two kingdoms.” Stop! Okay, maybe I thought you were thinking that this would be a discussion of the “separation of church and state.” No, the doctrine of the two kingdoms, which has been a bedrock of Lutheran teaching, does lay out how the two (church and state) are distinct and how a Christian is a “dual-citizen,” so to speak, of both kingdoms, or realms.
Here’s a simple summary of this important teaching. God rules overs both kingdoms. Both Law and Gospel/Grace play a part. One the one hand, the “spiritual kingdom” is led by the Gospel and the grace of God. On the other hand, the “earthly kingdom” is led by the Law, or power and coercion. The role of the spiritual kingdom, or the church, is to proclaim the Gospel. The role of the earthly kingdom, as most often thought of in terms of government, is to rule by enforcing Law.
History is littered with examples of both of these kingdoms trying to serve the role of the other. That has never worked out. Case in point: the Crusades. When the church takes up the sword, coercion to Christianity happens. That is not the calling of the church. As the late Chuck Colson used to say, “We don’t impose, we propose.” Our role as part of the church is to proclaim the life-giving message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We don’t force people to become Christians (unlike Muslims) but we seek to persuade people of the truths of Christianity. As the Holy Spirit works in lives, people come to believe in Christ Jesus. Furthermore, when the earthly kingdom seeks to proclaim the Gospel, they do a poor job of it. Most often secular people trying to be religious boil Christianity down to Law, ignoring the death and resurrection of Jesus.
As Christians, we have callings in each of these kingdoms. In the right hand kingdom (the Church), we are called to receive the good news, praise the Lord, and proclaim that good news to those around us. In the left hand kingdom (the earthly realm), we are called to participate in the process of government by voting, expressing our opinion in the public square, and in general being a "good neighbor.” These two kingdoms are not meant to be separate, as if God rules over one and not the other. They are meant to be understood as distinct. Knowing and understanding that distinction will guide you in how to interact in the midst of both.
If you would like to learn more about the doctrine of the two kingdoms, please let me know. I will point you to some resources for further learning.
A few years back the Chicago Cubs hired two men, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, to be their new leaders in making decisions about which players to aquire and sign. This hire represented a major change in philosophy. They would come in and “tear everything down to build it back up again.” Part of their plan included a comprehensive review of each player, from the youngest member of the lowest level minor league team to the highest paid all-star on the major league squad. As they seriously examined each player they marked the weakness, strengths, and areas of needed growth. A unique “game plan” was crafted for each player. At the end of the year they would reevaluate and rejoice in the progress made.
While the Cubs are my least favorite baseball team (In Chicagoland it is anathema to “cheer for both teams”), I have been watching intently the progress of this baseball philosophy. Though they've struggled, they seem to be nearing a point of thriving.
As a pastor I have wondered if there is anything to learn from this philosophy of business. I have been reading and reflecting on Colossians 1:28-29 in the last week or so. For me, it serves as an overview of what I do as a pastor. “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”
My goal is to clearly and compellingly proclaim Christ and Him crucified. As that is done, both publicly and privately I seek to admonish and teach every person. Admonition is speaking out against sin and calling a person to repentence. Teaching is the positive aspect--the idea of showing a person which way to go. All of this is done with a singular purpose: “so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” What does it mean to be “complete” in Christ? Another very good way to translate this word is “mature.” The goal is maturity in Christ.
If I were to sit down with each one of you in our congregation like the Cubs management did with their players, what would we find in terms of areas of strength and weakness? Whatever we would find, it would be a great privilege of mine to apply the Good News of Jesus to your particular situation. Verse 29 shows us where the power comes. My biggest concern regarding this topic is that we would tend to see maturity in Christ as becoming an almost sinless person. A mature person in Christ recognizes his or her desperate need for grace. If the goal is maturity in Christ, where are you on that path and how can you move towards maturity? Next question: what can I, as your pastor, do to help you along that way? Let me know by leaving your comments below, in person, or by email.
One of my hobbies is learning. OK, you have permission to snicker. I enjoy the process of gathering information and studying a topic or issue that strikes an interest. Usually this takes the form of listening to podcasts and audio books, and reading books, magazine, articles, and blog posts (like this one). Leaders read and readers lead.
Yesterday I heard something in a lecture that has stuck in my mind. The speaker, a pastor from a church in Indiana, asked the question, “What is your church known for in your community?” This question had a way of crystalizing something I have been thinking about lately. As a church of roughly 100 people, give or take 15, who is nestled in a community of close to 40,000 residents (not counting surrounding towns), for what is our church known? It hasn’t surprised me to receive a blank stare from a local person when mentioning I am pastor at King of Glory Lutheran. Sometimes I say, “You know, the old Methodist church?” “Oh, oh yeah, I know where that is,” is the typical response. Though we may be a small group compared to the surrounding population, that should not and will not stop us from being salt and light. As I ponder this question, here are a few thoughts of how I’d like people in the community to respond to “What is King of Glory Lutheran known for?"
1) They preach and teach the Bible, God’s Word, and primarily the life-giving message of Jesus Christ. How will people who don’t come to church here know this? By visiting or simply by hearing this via word of mouth. I think people often view churches as “always talking about money,” or “they are just against everything.” How neat would it be to have a reputation of a church that, yes, preaches against sin, but also preaches grace?
2) They really love people. I would love to hear this about our congregation. I have sensed that people do generally feel really welcomed when visiting on a Sunday morning. We can be--and in fact you are--salt and light. Let that love that Christ has poured out on you flow to those around you.
3) They are really helping people. The speaker that I mentioned above is the lead pastor at a church that offers free biblical counseling to anyone in their community regardless of psychiatric label, etc. That sounds like a really great vision to me. Other churches offer different types of outreach into their community. I would really love to hear someone say of our church, “You know, I don’t know exactly what’s going on there, but I know someone who was really hurting before going there and now are being helped in their struggle.”
How about you? How would you (or how would you like to) answer the question, “What is your church known for in your community?”
“Don’t shoot the messenger!” That’s how I have felt the last few weeks as our sermon series in Romans has taken us into chapters 9-11. I admit I really wasn’t looking forward to tackling topics such as “what is the role of the nation of Israel?” and “free will.” But, as the text goes, so goes this preacher. Here are a few lessons I have learned from preaching these “hard texts” of Scripture.
1) Don’t apologize for preaching what the Bible teaches. I had a sense that one or many would strongly disagree with what I had to say in these sermons. Not being one that enjoys conflict, I said something to the effect of “I didn’t really want to preach this, but here goes.” After the service a number of people said to me, “Don’t apologize for preaching God’s Word.” Ouch. So, so true. Thank you to those who said that to me! In my weakness, I displayed what it is to be ashamed of the Word. When you might sense that someone will vehemently disagree with God’s Word, remember that they are disagreeing with God and not you necessarily.
2) Be bold in proclaiming the Word. If I were to preach the last few sermons again, I would ask God to grant me boldness to proclaim His Word (Acts 4:29). Boldness conveys belief in what you are proclaiming. God will use us in our weakness. How can God give you boldness to say and insist on God’s truth to those in your life?
3) There is great freedom in coming to grips with #1 and #2 above. I sense that the Lord will use this experience to shape me into a unapologetic, bold preacher of His truth. It is liberating to realize that you don’t need to apologize for how God’s Word might offend someone. (You may need to apologize for how you shared God’s Word). Being set free from a “what do people think of me?” attitude ushers forth a “Let ‘er fly!” attitude. When that happens, God’s truth begins to be talked about, shared, and insisted upon.
Last week (click here to read) I wrote a post chronicling the people that had a huge influence on my youth. The time frame I covered included my middle school and high school years. But God didn’t stop bringing people into my life! As I entered college, went to seminary, and have now served the first five years (almost) in pastoral ministry, He has brought even more of His faithful servants into my life. I am so blessed by all of these people. Last week I was struck by the diversity of the group. Each one brought his or her unique personalities and gifts from God to bless me as a young man. This list will be no different in that sense.
Mel- After my first year of AFLBS, the church you pastored called me to be their summer youth leader. I will never forget those hot summer days in central Illinois as we gathered in your office to “talk shop” about ministry, pray, and even study Greek! You showed me what it is to be hospitable as a pastor family. Thanks for handing me Kleenex as I weeped over the lost for whom we were praying. Thanks for encouraging me to “get out there” to visit youth and their families.
Jim- As the dean of AFLBS, you were influential on my life for those key years immediately following high school. You are tremendously gifted in many ways, but I will never forget how you went out of your way to see how I was doing as we bumped into each other. Thanks for the leadership you provided at AFLBS. The “prayer & pie” nights at your home were unforgettable. Thanks for the role you played as a disciple-making dean.
Phil- After my time at AFLBS, I was blessed to plug into InterVarsity at JJC. Thank you for noticing me and pulling me into the student ministry team for that year. Those friendships were very meaningful during that transition time in my life. I believe it was through this ministry that God taught me what it means to love, serve, and minister to people who are different than me. It was such a joy to watch you highlight that ministry truth and live it out.
Phil- As I came back to the AFLC Schools to enter seminary, I was excited to take your classes again. This time around I got to see your humility and extremely high quality of teaching on a different level. As you opened up God’s Word to us as you dissected the intricacies of the Greek text, my mind and heart were blown away by the pure Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was through these times that my convictions were cemented in Lutheran doctrine. Thank you!
Fran- You are the only one on my two lists who has now passed on to our heavenly home. As the dean of our seminary, you exhibited humility and dignity through your leadership and teaching. I think the thing I learned from you most was what it meant to have integrity as a pastor and spiritual leader. Your influence on many, many lives is felt so palpably in the AFLC and beyond! Blessed be your memory.
Jason- Though I could have included you on my last list, I want to mention you now. My first interaction with you came during your seminary internship during my eighth grade year. Little did I know that one day I would serve alongside you in an important ministry. I have learned a lot from you, including how to lead with respect and a genuine love for people. It was a joy to help plan a few FLY Conventions with you and others. Thank you for teaching, modeling, and promoting what it means to “win, build, and equip” young people.
Tim- Like Jason, you were brought into my life at different stages. First, I served as a summer youth worker in your church the year after I served at Mel’s church in the same role. But, my biggest memories with you come from the year I spent serving alongside you in ministry as an intern pastor. Your sense of humor and solid preaching of God’s Word impacted me in many ways. I treasure the time we spent together as “coworkers in the Gospel.” You exemplified what it means to serve as a ministry team. Thank you, friend, for your influence on my life.
Mark- Like Tim, I had the great privilege of serving in ministry with you. I always felt that we had a good “Batman and Robin” relationship as we served as a pastoral ministry team. I will never forget the lessons I learned by observing you as a pastor day-in and day-out. Your genuine love for people overflowed in so many ways. You taught me what it means to "put your hand to the plow" and work hard in ministry. I’m forever grateful for that. I miss your day-by-day friendship in the context of ministry but am so thankful for getting the opportunity to toil together for the winning and equipping of precious souls.
So, what about you? Who has God brought into your life to impact you? As I come to this point, I smile in wonder as I ponder who God will bring into my life next. I’m also wondering how God has used and is using me to impact and influence others. Please take a moment and thank these types of people in your life. I know they will be tremendously encouraged. And who doesn’t need that today?