Wednesday
Feb212018

February 2018

For very many people in our current society, joining something—anything—is a foreign concept. People simply do not join groups, clubs, or organizations as often as they used to. If they are going to join, they want to know what sorts of benefits they will get in return. And they want to know if they will be forced to take on burdens and responsibilities, and whether those will be worth the cost of joining.

What is true for organizations in general is also true for churches, and perhaps even more so. Whereas the benefits of joining this or that club or group may be obvious, the benefits of joining churches are not as apparent. And when people do not see the point of actual membership, they are, of course, unlikely to become a member.

This lack of interest in joining churches is what makes Peter Speckhard's little book called Connected to Christ: Why Membership Matters so important. In just over 100 (5x7) pages, Pr. Speckhard (a nephew of our own Mim Schwich!) makes the case for, as the title states, why membership matters. It is a very succinct book, but I was surprised at how in-depth it is for its length.

Pr. Speckhard lays out why membership in a local congregation is required: because the Body of Christ is physical and located in time and space, as well as throughout history and eternity. But he also points out the benefits and responsibilities of members of the Christian Church, which are carried out in the local congregation.

Connected to Christ is not only the best explanation and defense of membership in a local congregation, it's the only one written by a Lutheran of which I know. If you've ever wondered why membership matters, or struggled with the question of why you are a member here (or anywhere else), I would encourage you to pick up and read this short book. You can find it at cph.org or amazon.com.

Pastor Winterstein

 

 

Wednesday
Feb212018

December 2017

Advent, which means “coming,” is a time of patient waiting and watching. These are not things at which we are very good. We do not like to wait, so we put it on credit. We do not like to wait until tomorrow (or on December 25) to do what we can do today. We have no sense of the slow building of momentum and expectation that the Church has given us with the season of Advent. We will not wait: we turn up the volume to 11 on the carols as soon as Thanksgiving is over (if we can wait even that long). I know that many people do not see the point of Advent, or its putting-off of Christmas until the actual Mass of Christ and its Twelve Days. We have trouble doing things differently than the world around us does them. We all have our Christmas parties in December, and as soon as December 26 comes, we are more than ready to be done with anything green and red. We get ourselves “into the Christmas spirit” as soon as the advertisements and stores instruct us to do so.

But there are some things we cannot force. We cannot force ourselves to be happy and “Christmasy” if we find ourselves in any of the myriad disasters or difficulties living in a world of sin can bring about. Death and sickness, all the consequences of sin in our lives and the lives of others, do not lend themselves to the superficial “joy” plastered over every inch of our consumer and commercial culture. Unmet expectations are the order of the day, and unless we realize that it will always be that way in a world of sin, we will continue to be disappointed. Advent gives us hope—actual, real-live hope—in the midst of this world the way that it is, rather than the way we wish it were. Advent gives us hope when we celebrate the first Christmas after a death in the family. Advent gives us hope when we celebrate the first Christmas after a divorce. Advent gives us hope when nothing goes according to plan, and our facade of control—especially over our own lives—is torn from its hastily constructed frame. Advent gives us this hope because it gives us the One for whom it is named: the Coming One. It gives us, as every season of the Church Year does, Jesus Himself. Without Advent, Christmas is reduced to a single day of feasting and family and some generic “spirit of giving.” It is Advent that makes sure we know and expect the Christ in the Christ-mass.

Christians keep observing Advent, even if the world has absolutely no conception of waiting or watching or hoping or longing. Christians keep observing Advent because we know that the Christ whose birth we will celebrate is the same Christ who will come again, no longer humble and hidden, but glorious and majestic. The same angels who proclaimed His birth will proclaim Him as Judge of the living and the dead. Advent is the season that teaches us to wait in confident hope for that second coming, even as we celebrate His first coming to accomplish our salvation by suffering and death.

So don’t hurry through this season. Stand a moment with the crowds as your King enters Jerusalem on a donkey. Stay a while in the wilderness with John. Hear the angel Gabriel speak to a Virgin about the One who would save His people from their sins. And learn from all of these what it means to wait and watch and live in this world: a world which, because it does not know Advent, does not know Christmas. This is as C.S. Lewis described Narnia before the coming of the King: “always Winter, and never Christmas.” Jesus has indeed come and the Mass of Christ goes on!

Pr. Winterstein

 

Wednesday
Nov222017

November 2017

There are a lot of things that make effective communication difficult. But one major part of communicating with each other, whether in regular conversation or in times of conflict, is called the “suppressed binary opposite.” In simple words, this means that each of us has a second (“binary”) person or thing in mind to whom or which we are responding (“opposite”), but we often do not make that clear in a given conversation (“suppressed”).

We all do this, because we all have past experiences, conversations, arguments, and conflicts. We hear things and we respond (too) quickly, because what we hear sounds like something we heard once before. What is in our minds is the thing we heard before, which may or may not be what the other person is saying now. And, yet, we respond to the person before us now as if they were that other person or saying that other thing.

This is the moment in a conversation to take a breath, slow down, and ask clarifying questions. It may be that the other person is saying something to which your response is appropriate. On the other hand, maybe my assumption about what the other person is saying has gotten in the way of genuine understanding, which might lead to a genuine pursuit of reconciliation and resolution.

This is something that we need to understand and examine about ourselves. But it also is something that we can realize about others. What is their “suppressed binary opposite”? What do they think you're saying? If you're both using the same words, are you using them in the same ways with the same meaning?

I've found it helpful to think about my past experiences and conflicts and to take a moment to question whether or not I've unfairly assumed that other people are taking particular positions. Maybe they are. Or maybe they're not. But the only way I can find out is to ask. It's simply another expression of the love that I have for that person, regardless of whether the conversation is in the midst of conflict or not. It's just one more way to practice the humility by which I acknowledge I am not always right. Neither am I God, who can see hearts. I have to ask, and then I have to take that person at his or her word. The heart is open to God, who sees and judges all things. It is not open to me or to you, which requires a humble and slow response, rather than an arrogant and quick one. May God grant us the humility of Jesus Christ so that we can live together in love with one another. By such love, others will know that we belong to the One who humbled Himself all the way for each one of us.

As a post-script, I'd be happy to talk at any time and explore some of those “suppressed binary opposites” that make us think and act the way we do. Please don't hesitate to give the office or me a call and set a time, if you'd like to talk over questions or concerns.

Pr. Winterstein

Wednesday
Nov222017

October 2017

By now, things seem to have settled back into regular routines. Summer, broken up by vacation and other activities, is now over (and the weather has confirmed that!). Sunday school has begun, and adult Bible study continues. So this is my short note of encouragement not to neglect the corporate study of God's Word.

Bad habits are easy to fall into. Good habits require work and cultivation. One good habit is to set aside time not only to hear the proclamation of God's Law and Gospel during the Divine Service itself, but to set aside that additional hour for going deeper into parts of God's Word that we might not hear within the lectionary (series of readings).

While in some Christian traditions, the sermon is essentially a verse-by-verse exposition, running straight through a book of the Bible, we most often use that time for the Holy Spirit's work of killing our sinful nature and raising us up as new creatures in Christ (something that, as Luther points out in the fourth part of the catechism on Holy Baptism, also happens every day as we live in our baptism).

But our hour of Bible study offers more opportunities for exploring God's Word through questions and answers and the combined experience and wisdom of those Christians gathered there. Finally, then, both the proclamation of the Word in the Divine Service and the study of God's Word with other Christians under the guidance of your pastor lead together to a better hearing of the living voice of Christ who speaks to us in His Word.

“Blessed is the man,” Psalm 1 says, whose “delight is in the [Instruction] of Yahweh and on [whose Instruction] he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (1:1-3; see also Joshua 1:8).

As Moses tells the people, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children [by word and example!], and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

The danger—which we are seeing again played out before us—is what happened to the people at the time of the Judges, after Joshua and that generation died: “And there arose another generation after them who did not know Yahweh or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10).

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25).

“But as for you,” Paul writes to Pastor Timothy, but which applies to all of us individually, “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from infancy you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:14-16). He says that this is so the “man of God,” the pastor, “may be competent, equipped for every good work, but that, too, applies to each of us in our vocations.

Let us all devote ourselves to the Word of Christ through His prophets and apostles, not only within the Divine Service, but also during our Bible study together and our individual study throughout the week, that we may be confirmed and strengthened to hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.

 

Pr. Winterstein

Thursday
Sep072017

September 2017

To paraphrase Jesus: conflict you will always have with you. Anyone who's been married for even a few years knows that there is no such thing as a conflict-free marriage. No one who's raised children has done it without conflict. No congregation has ever been conflict-free, going back to Acts 5-6.

The question for Christians isn't how to avoid conflict. Conflict doesn't go away because we ignore it. Instead, the conflict gets shoved underground or swept under our numerous rugs, and (to paraphrase the Lord again) the state of that house is worse than at first.

We know these things intellectually, but they are far harder to put into practice. The Spirit wills it, but our sinful flesh is weak.

But conflict, like marriage and child-raising, should be a school that teaches us how to live with one another in repentance, Christian love, and unity. We are warned by the Eighth Commandment that we must not bear false witness against each other. “For honor and good name are easily taken away but not easily restored.” It is very easy to pretend that the circumstances of a particular conflict free us to act sinfully against another person. We put the worst construction on their words and actions, and we assume the worst about their motives for saying or acting how they did.

Luther writes in the Large Catechism:

The third aspect of this commandment, which applies to all of us, forbids all sins of the tongue by which we may injure or offend our neighbor. “Bearing false witness” is nothing but a work of the tongue. God wants to hold in check whatever is done with the tongue against a neighbor. This applies to false preachers with their blasphemous teaching, to false judges and witnesses with their rulings in court and their lying and malicious talk outside of court. It applies especially to the detestable, shameless vice of backbiting or slander by which the devil rides us.

In fact, the Greek word for devil, diabolos, means slanderer. Speaking evil of others, regardless of the circumstances, comes from the devil. How much more damaging and cancerous it is in the Church when people refuse to bring their problems to the person against whom they hold those things. Our mothers knew what they were talking about when they told us that if we couldn't say anything nice, we shouldn't say anything at all. “Therefore, God forbids you to speak evil about another, even though, to your certain knowledge, that person is guilty. Even less may you do so if you are not really sure and have it only from hearsay.”

Much of the reason for intractable conflict comes from a lack of understanding. We assume far more often than we ask. Perhaps you know what happens when we ass-u-me. As sure as we are that we know why someone has said or done something, it is far better to exercise some humility and ask first anyway.

The only assumption Christians should be making about each other is that we are, each and all, baptized members of the Body of Jesus Christ. Beyond that, we daily sin much. Since our sinful flesh is not fully dead and buried, we can always find room to repent. None of us does everything that we should, nor do we refrain from doing everything we should not. When we approach conflict with another Christian, we do so knowing that Christ has covered all our sin. Therefore, because we are forgiven much more than anyone knows, we forgive what little we know of the other person's sin. Begin with your sin, and Christ's forgiveness of you, and you are much more likely to approach another person in that light and with that grace.

Pastor Luther teaches us how to pray the Eighth Commandment:

[We recognize that this] teaches us, first of all, to be truthful to each other, to shun lies and calumnies, to be glad to speak well of each other, and to delight in hearing what is good about others. Thus a wall has been built around our good reputation and integrity to protect it against malicious gossip and deceitful tongues; God will not let that go unpunished, as he has said in the other commandments.

We owe him thanks both for the teachings and the protection which hea has graciously provided for us.

Third, we confess and ask forgiveness that we have spent our lives in ingratitude and sin and have maligned our neighbor with false and wicked talk, though we owe him the same preservation of honor and integrity which we desire for ourselves.

Fourth, we ask for help from now on to keep the commandment and for a healing tongue, etc. [“A Simple Way to Pray,” LW 43:208]

May God grant it to us for Jesus' sake.

Pr. Winterstein