Friday, May 6, 2016

Pastor, Where Is Everybody?

A Short Note About the Church, Change, Dwindling Attendance,
Bringing Back the Youth, & Capturing the Elusive Millennials.


"Enter by the NARROW GATE. For the gate is WIDE and the way is EASY that leads to DESTRUCTION, >>> and those who enter by it are many. <<< For the gate is Narrow and the way is HARD that leads to Life and THOSE who find it are few." (Matthew 7:13-14)



STOP. Go back and read those 2 verses from Matthew again.
Now read them a 3rd time, this time outloud.
Think about them for a few minutes before reading on.
*
Whenever the number of people in our pews or Confirmation seats or Sunday School folding chairs or whatever-else-have-you starts to decline or even remains stagnant, we are always so quick to assume that we (the pastor and the church workers) are doing something wrong. Our congregations can be quick to point fingers at us, too. Mostly, we tend to believe that we're not making church or Bible Study "fun" enough to attract people, especially "the youth," or "interesting" enough to attract those hard-to-reach "millennials."

It happens again and again and again, and my heart breaks. We throw out the premise that not everything in life should be fun, especially when it comes to the seriousness of our eternal damnation & salvation, and we scramble to change. Sometimes, this is necessary. We're not perfect, and we can be just as wrong as anybody. Some of us have some spiritual gifts, and some of us have others (1 Corinthians 12). “Is there something we should be doing differently?” is always a good question to ask ourselves, but we need to answer it carefully, thoughtfully, and conservatively because more often than not,

We are not the problem.

And we can't fix the problem. We jump to the conclusion that people aren't coming to church because the liturgy is boring or because we're boring or the Catechism is boring or because we're asking too much of our congregation by having them memorize the Ten Commandments and their meanings and take tests and sermon notes or endure twelve hour-long sessions of premarital counseling because the world has a grip on us, too, and we find it just as difficult as anyone else to trust that God is working in this negative event like He is working in Bill's cancer or Lucy's husband's & Cara's father's early death or John & Julie's home foreclosure. BUT we must never forget the fact that we are preaching and teaching “Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles,” ever since it happened (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).


Remember, Christ Himself lost followers in droves after He preached on the Lord's Supper (John 6:60-71). And who could have been a better preacher and teacher than Him? The Word of God Incarnate?? The Truth drove those people away, not Jesus' lack of style or old, boring theology. They left because the thought of eating human flesh and drinking human blood for the forgiveness of sins is offensive. Well, no one likes to be called a sinner. No one likes to have their sins pointed out in sermons or anywhere else; no one likes to be reminded of their weaknesses, failures and imperfections and no one likes to need a Savior. It's not fun to be a sinner in need of a Savior. It's weak. But it also happens to be reality.

If everything about church needs to be fun, we'll have to leave Jesus out back with the organ & crucifixes those big screens & drum set replaced in the Sanctuary.

There is no way to make being tortured, ridiculed, and murdered on a cross both by and for people who hate you "fun." So my point of encouragement to all you weary, heavy-laden pastors and church workers out there who have the blame of waning attendance weighing so heavily on your shoulderseither coming from yourself or from members of your congregation or from Satan or from all of the aboveDO NOT sacrifice sound Lutheran Doctrine and Biblical Teaching & Preaching for numbers. That is exactly what Satan wants. Jesus might have gotten a lot of those followers back in John 6 if He'd back-stepped and called out after them:
“Wait! You don't really have to eat My flesh and drink My blood for the forgiveness of sins! Ha! I'm actually not the Bread of Life! I was only joking! There's no real flesh and blood here!”
And most Christian denominations have done just that to the Lord's Supper, haven't they. And they will pay dearly for it on the Last Day. But Jesus would have been lying if He'd said that, and that would have been impossible because it would have been a sin (something that comes as easily to you and me as breathing). And so Christ did not throw out the Lord's Supper to bring the droves of wayward people back. He made no apologies for the Truth, He didn't dress it up or try to make it something it's not, like "fun." He simply let them go. (John 6)
THOU SHALT NOT LIE.

Don't omit the Law from your preaching and teaching. Don't allow sin to go unanswered in your congregation because someone might get upset and leave. The consequences are severe indeed, for you and for your sheep, much more severe than if they do leave your fold. Instead, pass the blame off to those who deserve it: Satan and the people who would rather go to a hockey tournament or sleep in than worship their Savior and learn the Word of God and our sound Lutheran doctrine. Everyone has a CHOICE, and some are bound to make the wrong one no matter how we plead or what music we play or how many screens we have hanging in our Sanctuary.

If our church services, Bible studies, and Confirmation classes become simple social gatherings where the ugliness of sin is never mentioned, and the need for Jesus is forgotten as we bask in our collective "perfection," a whole bunch more people will be going to hell, starting with those of us who led them there (Matthew 18:6Mark 9:42Luke 17:2). We don't have to be more “fun” or more “interesting” or more “worldly” and “exciting” if we preach and teach the Truth of Christ crucified and risen for a world full of sinners and administer His Sacraments rightly. You'll find all of the necessary instructions for doing so in that inerrant Bible and in our tried-and-true-stand-on-the-shoulders-of-giants-quia-subscription-to-it-which-is-what-makes-us-LCMS Book of Concord.

The world will always hate us for proclaiming the Truth, and our membership will always be small. We can't get around it: it's written in Scripture (John 15:18-27Matthew 7:13-14). That's probably why Jesus says, "Where TWO or THREE are gathered my My name, there am I among them," not two or three THOUSAND or even two or three HUNDRED (Matthew 18:20). Satan will always try to steal our sheep and oftentimes, he will succeed (Acts 20:18-35). Trust that God will not stop seeking lost and neither will we (John 10:1-21).

But eventually, we have to shake the dust from our feet
just like Jesus had to do in His very own hometown
and give it up to the Trinity in prayer.
(Mark 6:11)

Let the entirety of our loving God do His part in bringing His prodigal sons and daughters home because there is only so much we as flawed people and forgiven sinners can do. (Pastors, that includes YOU!) So please, give yourselves a break when it comes to the empty pews in your church and the full pews in the heterodox and even blasphemous church down the street. Re-read and re-study Matthew 13:1-9; John 6:60-71; 10:1-21; 15:18-27; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31Acts 20:18-35 with your elders and the other leaders in your congregation before making changes in your church to try and “bring back the youth” and attract those shifty millennials, keeping in mind that their choice to worship God or to walk away from Him is just that: THEIRS.

TRUST GOD, not the works of your hand.

It all boils down to trust. Trust that not a single person goes to hell if they don't belong there. That's a hard fact to swallow, but it's the truth. We can choose to walk away from Christ and we can choose to come back; we can choose to lead people away from the Truth and we can choose lead them to it, but only God knows where every one of our choices ends. >>> The bottom line is that we have to trust God, not ourselves and our own cleverness: His Word, His Sacraments, His promise, His TRUTH, and not our own works when it comes to the salvation of our sheep. <<< Trust that God won't let anyone remain fallen away from the faith if He means to keep them faithful. 

But do not go so far as to think that you're helpless, or that your calling and your work here is meaningless! God's plan for each person is known only by Him. We don't always know what part we play in it, which is as frustrating as it is liberating. And so in our ignorance, we must err on the side of grace and assume that each soul we meet is meant to be saved and do our best in leading them on that narrow path to life. Then we must rest assured should we happen to make a mistake or drop the ball, someone else is already chosen by God to pick it up, but we cannot force, manipulate, trick, guilt, reason, charm or party anyone into heaven. All we can do is preach and teach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (John 6:44John 15:16Romans 9Romans 11:28-361 Corinthians 2:1-5Revelation 13:8)
*
So please, prayerfully consider the fact that maybe
people are leaving your congregation for the same
reason so many left Jesus' 2000 years ago:
because you've got it RIGHT.
*
"That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And GREAT CROWDS GATHERED about Him, so that He got into a BOAT and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And He TOLD THEM MANY THINGS in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the PATH, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on ROCKY GROUND, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, >>> since they had no depth of soil, <<< but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among THORNS, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on GOOD SOIL and produced GRAIN, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:1-9)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Pastor, Where Is Everybody?

A Short Note About the Church, Change, Dwindling Attendance,
Bringing Back the Youth, & Capturing the Elusive Millennials.


"Enter by the NARROW GATE. For the gate is WIDE and the way is EASY that leads to DESTRUCTION, >>> and those who enter by it are many. <<< For the gate is Narrow and the way is HARD that leads to Life, and THOSE who find it are few." (Matthew 7:13-14)


*
STOP. Go back and read those 2 verses from Matthew again.
Now read them a 3rd time, this time outloud.
Think about them for a few minutes before reading on.
*
Whenever the number of people in our pews or Confirmation seats or Sunday School folding chairs or whatever-else-have-you starts to decline or even remains stagnant, we are always so quick to assume that we (the pastor and the church workers) are doing something wrong. Our congregations can be quick to point fingers at us, too. Mostly, we tend to believe that we're not making church or Bible Study "fun" enough to attract people, especially "the youth," or "interesting" enough to attract those hard-to-reach "millennials."

It happens again and again and again, and my heart breaks. We throw out the premise that not everything in life should be fun, especially when it comes to the seriousness of our eternal damnation & salvation, and we scramble to change. Sometimes, this is necessary. We're not perfect, and we can be just as wrong as anybody. Some of us have some spiritual gifts, and some of us have others (1 Corinthians 12). “Is there something we should be doing differently?” is always a good question to ask ourselves, but we need to answer it carefully, thoughtfully, and conservatively because more often than not,

We are not the problem.

And we can't fix the problem. We jump to the conclusion that people aren't coming to church because the liturgy is boring or because we're boring or the Catechism is boring or because we're asking too much of our congregation by having them memorize the Ten Commandments and their meanings and take tests and sermon notes or endure twelve hour-long sessions of premarital counseling because the world has a grip on us, too, and we find it just as difficult as anyone else to trust that God is working in this negative event like He is working in Bill's cancer or Lucy's husband's & Cara's father's early death or John & Julie's home foreclosure. BUT we must never forget the fact that we are preaching and teaching “Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles,” ever since it happened (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).


Remember, Christ Himself lost followers in droves after He preached on the Lord's Supper (John 6:60-71). And who could have been a better preacher and teacher than Him? The Word of God Incarnate?? The Truth drove those people away, not Jesus' lack of style or old, boring theology. They left because the thought of eating human flesh and drinking human blood for the forgiveness of sins is offensive. Well, no one likes to be called a sinner. No one likes to have their sins pointed out in sermons or anywhere else; no one likes to be reminded of their weaknesses, failures and imperfections and no one likes to need a Savior. It's not fun to be a sinner in need of a Savior. It's weak. But it also happens to be reality.

If everything about church needs to be fun, we'll have to leave Jesus out back with the organ & crucifixes those big screens & drum set replaced in the Sanctuary.

There is no way to make being tortured, ridiculed, and murdered on a cross both by and for people who hate you "fun." So my point of encouragement to all you weary, heavy-laden pastors and church workers out there who have the blame of waning attendance weighing so heavily on your shoulderseither coming from yourself or from members of your congregation or from Satan or from all of the aboveDO NOT sacrifice sound Lutheran Doctrine and Biblical Teaching & Preaching for numbers. That is exactly what Satan wants. Jesus might have gotten a lot of those followers back in John 6 if He'd back-stepped and called out after them:
“Wait! You don't really have to eat My flesh and drink My blood for the forgiveness of sins! Ha! I'm actually not the Bread of Life! I was only joking! There's no real flesh and blood here!”
And most Christian denominations have done just that to the Lord's Supper, haven't they. And they will pay dearly for it on the Last Day. But Jesus would have been lying if He'd said that, and that would have been impossible because it would have been a sin (something that comes as easily to you and me as breathing). And so Christ did not throw out the Lord's Supper to bring the droves of wayward people back. He made no apologies for the Truth, He didn't dress it up or try to make it something it's not, like "fun." He simply let them go. (John 6)
THOU SHALT NOT LIE.

Don't omit the Law from your preaching and teaching. Don't allow sin to go unanswered in your congregation because someone might get upset and leave. Consequences are severe for you and for your sheep if you change doctrine in a desperate plea to get them to stay, much more severe than if you just let them go. So, pass the blame off to those who deserve it: Satan and the people who choose a hockey tournament or sleeping in over worshipping their Savior and learning the Word of God and our sound Lutheran doctrine. Everyone has a CHOICE, and some are bound to make the wrong one no matter how we plead or what music we play or how many screens we have hanging in our Sanctuary.

If our church services, Bible studies, and Confirmation classes become simple social gatherings where the ugliness of sin is never mentioned, and the need for Jesus is forgotten as we bask in our collective "perfection," a whole bunch more people will be going to hell, starting with those of us who led them there (Matthew 18:6Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2). We don't have to be more “fun” or more “interesting” or more “worldly” and “exciting” if we preach and teach the Truth of Christ crucified and risen for a world full of sinners and administer His Sacraments rightly. You'll find all of the necessary instructions for doing so in that inerrant Bible and in our tried-and-true-stand-on-the-shoulders-of-giants-quia-subscription-to-it-which-is-what-makes-us-LCMS Book of Concord.

The world will always hate us for proclaiming the Truth, and our membership will always be small. We can't get around it: it's written in Scripture (John 15:18-27; Matthew 7:13-14). That's probably why Jesus says, "Where TWO or THREE are gathered my My name, there am I among them," not two or three THOUSAND or even two or three HUNDRED (Matthew 18:20). Satan will always try to steal our sheep and oftentimes, he will succeed (Acts 20:18-35). Trust that God will not stop seeking lost and neither will we (John 10:1-21).

But eventually, we have to shake the dust from our feet
just like Jesus had to do in His very own hometown
and give it up to the Trinity in prayer.
(Mark 6:11)

Let the entirety of our loving God do His part in bringing His prodigal sons and daughters home because there is only so much we as flawed people and forgiven sinners can do. (Pastors, that includes YOU!) So please, give yourselves a break when it comes to the empty pews in your church and the full pews in the heterodox and even blasphemous church down the street. Re-read and re-study Matthew 13:1-9; John 6:60-71; 10:1-21; 15:18-27; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Acts 20:18-35 with your elders and the other leaders in your congregation before making changes in your church to try and “bring back the youth” and attract those shifty millennials, keeping in mind that their choice to worship God or to walk away from Him is just that: THEIRS.

TRUST GOD, not the works of your hand.

It all boils down to trust. Trust that not a single person goes to hell if they don't belong there. That's a hard fact to swallow, but it's the truth. We can choose to walk away from Christ and we can choose to come back; we can choose to lead people away from the Truth and we can choose lead them to it, but only God knows where every one of our choices ends. >>> The bottom line is that we have to trust God, not ourselves and our own cleverness: His Word, His Sacraments, His promise, His TRUTH, and not our own works when it comes to the salvation of our sheep. <<< Trust that God won't let anyone remain fallen away from the faith if He means to keep them faithful. 

But do not go so far as to think that you're helpless, or that your calling and your work here is meaningless! God's plan for each person is known only by Him. We don't always know what part we play in it, which is as frustrating as it is liberating. And so in our ignorance, we must err on the side of grace and assume that each soul we meet is meant to be saved and do our best in leading them on that narrow path to life. Then we must rest assured should we happen to make a mistake or drop the ball, someone else is already chosen by God to pick it up, but we cannot force, manipulate, trick, guilt, reason, charm or party anyone into heaven. All we can do is preach and teach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (John 6:44John 15:16; Romans 9Romans 11:28-36; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5Revelation 13:8)
*
So please, prayerfully consider the fact that maybe
people are leaving your congregation for the same
reason so many left Jesus' 2000 years ago:
because you've got it RIGHT.
*
"That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And GREAT CROWDS GATHERED about Him, so that He got into a BOAT and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And He TOLD THEM MANY THINGS in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the PATH, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on ROCKY GROUND, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, >>> since they had no depth of soil, <<< but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among THORNS, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on GOOD SOIL and produced GRAIN, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:1-9)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Why of This Blog


Suffering is bearable if you can find meaning in it. Pain feels a little less like an attack and a little more like a challenge if you can see some reason for it. I've been looking for that "why" ever since I got sick with ulcerative colitis in 2007 and never got better. 

Why...? I kept wondering why. What was the purpose of all this pain and humiliation? All these upset plans of mine? What? To make me better person? Wasn't I humble enough? Didn't I depend on God enough? Did I think too much of my work, my looks, my skills, my life? To make me stronger? Cripes, I've never been weaker in all my life in every sense of the word. Was I so terrible at my career that God would rather I be locked in my bedroom unable to share His Word? Would I be such a horrible mother that God put this here to keep me from having a family? What was God trying to tell me???

I, I, I, I, me, me, me... It's funny how self-centered being trapped in your own body makes you. I admit it. It's hard to look past your own nose when you can't get out of your own bed. Well, I got out of my own bed, and it turns out my pain wasn't about me at all. It's about Christ. And it's about you. 
"For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested on our mortal flesh. So that death is at work in us, but life in you." (2 Corinthians 4:11-12)
If you really want someone to believe something, if their life truly depends on it, you don't stand on a soapbox and lecture. You get on your knees and you beg. The true rhetorical stance is on your knees, a wise man once told me and WOW, has the Lord ever brought me to mine. (Thank you, Charles, I shudder to think of living this life without that knowledge).

Consequently, when my Mayo Clinic Pain Rehab Bestie suggested that I start a blog, I couldn't say no. Although I am as hesitant as anyone to share my struggling for fear of some reprisal, I couldn't shake the reality that if by reading about death in me, life starts to work in you even a little, well... maybe that's a part of God's why to my pain. Selfishly enough, in you, my suffering has meaning. As far as fear of reprisal goes, my struggle--like my suffering--has very little to do with me. This is a public post about very private things in my life. Everything worth doing comes with a risk, but I hope that very few people would be malicious enough to use it as a tool of judgement against me. If they do, let's hope the good out ways the bad, and pray that their repentance isn't far behind.
"I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak." (Ephesians 6:20)
And so, to those of you struggling with chronic pain, physical or emotional, injury or grief, sickness or sadness, whether your back hurts or your heart, I find solace in pointing you to Christ in hopes that you, too, will find some solace there. "And hope does not put us to shame," (from Romans 5:5).

Click here for my first post: "Heal ME." and come back to When Suffering Doesn't Stop: Life With Chronic Pain on your difficult days to visit posts that include Scripture, art, music, and humor, and are dedicated to making the unbearable portions of life bearable through meaning in Christ. I more or less closed this blog on December 22nd, 2014 in order to begin a new project, Mother's With Chronic Illness (MWCI), but I'd like to keep this blog up for a while and post on it every now and again. I enjoyed writing for this blog so very much, and I have no doubt that it helped me at least as much as it (hopefully) helped some of you. The following is a rough outline of my posts by topic. Click on the topic that interests you to see articles, videos and devotionals on that subject. Thank you for your patience and prayers. 





Featured Post for April: "Jars of Clay"
Published: August 17th, 2012
“...Say what I will, no matter what good comes from my pain, no matter how I understand God to be working in it, no matter what I believe of God and heaven, what I know with my mind and trust with all my heart, some days the pain and the illness are just too much. On these days, the only thing that brings me any kind of comfort at all is the fact that Jesus chose to endure pain―not just pain *like* mine, but MY PAIN...” [continue reading]

Monday, February 2, 2015

Coming Soon: MWCI


...a blog for when you're hugging your child, sobbing that you're not a good enough Mom because your disease keeps you from being the Mom your little one deserves. We discuss the challenges of parenting with chronic illness and chronic pain, offer suggestions, tips and how-to's to get through the bad days and to make the most of the good days, wrestle with the guilt of being less than the world tells us we ought to be, and tackle our self-hatred head on because we are not weaker than everyone else. We are stronger. We have to be.


But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)


My new blog will be unveiled on Mother's Day, 2015 with a new original post every month
and contributions from readers.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

I Believe

*I'm not sure who to credit with this beautiful song, but beautiful it is. I don't even know if it's Christian per say because it doesn't mention Christ, but I absolutely love it. Ebola and other epidemics, abortion, rampant reports of atrocious child abuse, never-ending pain... I've been refusing to take anti-depressants for years now, much to my doctors' extreme aggravation. Don't get me wrong: some people really need them. But for me, the cause of my depression is painfully clear and painfully physical, and to cure the depression without curing the cause just isn't right. So I choose to stand in the pain and silence because I know there is an end. I know there is a sun even if it isn't shining. 
This, my friends, my fellow-victims, my loves, THIS is what baptism does in the here and now. Not only does it assure us a place in heaven, but it gives us the strength to endure hell on earth. Go to church and be renewed. Enjoy.*

I Believe in Love

How long will my prayers seem unanswered?
Is there still faith in me to reach the end?
I'm feeling doubt. I'm losing faith.
But giving up would cost me everything,
So I'll stand in the pain and silence,
And I'll speak to the dark night.

I believe in the sun even when it's not shining.
I believe in love even when I don't feel it.
And I believe in God even when He is silent.
And I, I believe.

Though I can't see my story's ending,
That doesn't mean this dark night has no end.
It's only here that I find faith
And learn to trust the One who writes my days.
So I'll stand in the pain and silence,
And I'll speak to the dark night.

I believe in the sun even when it's not shining.
I believe in love even when I don't feel it.
And I believe in God even when He is silent.
And I, I believe.

No dark can consume Light;
No death is greater than His life.
We are not forgotten.
Hope is found when we stay,
Even when He is silent.

I believe in the sun even when it's not shining.
I believe in love even when I don't feel it.
And I believe in God even when He is silent.

And I, I believe.


*

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35-39)