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

Thursday
Sep072017

August 2017

There are a few people who love working out. I have brothers who love to run. I am not one of those people. If exercise makes me feel better or gives me more energy, I am willing (although grudgingly) to do what it takes. I want to be healthy, but often the motivation is not there.

Likewise, there are people who seem to be born into a love of the liturgy, of studying the Scriptures, of hearing God’s Word and receiving His gifts in the Divine Service. (Obviously, this is not really the case, since we are all born sinful, but you know people who do seem to have a natural joy in the things of God.) Most people probably think pastors fall into this category, although there are plenty who follow every trend and fad in an attempt to be always relevant. I do love the liturgy and the things of God, but it did not come naturally; I was not born with it. Nor did I really grow up with it.

I remember, specifically, a time when my parents were filling out a survey on worship at my home congregation, and I wanted them to check “contemporary music,” or some such thing, as their preference. (Thank God they didn’t listen to me!) But even now, the music on my computer and on my iPod are not what most people would call “church music.” It is as foreign to the Divine Service as the Divine Service is foreign to our culture. It takes work to come into the joy of the liturgy, just as it does for physical exercise.

For most people in our culture, especially those who did not grow up or are not comfortable with liturgy and structure in the Divine Service, these things do not come naturally. That fact is compounded by our individualistic preferences, which rule in every other area of life: we have thousands of television channels, dozens of choices at restaurants, and supermarkets, shopping malls, and internet sites full of choices. Whatever you want, you can find on Amazon, or iTunes, or eBay. And so when it comes to church, we want what we want, or we will go somewhere else. If it doesn’t fit our style, or desires, or time limits, or any number of other categories, we can easily find another church in the American religious marketplace.

But if we are serious about knowing Christ for us, and not just about Him; if we hunger and thirst for righteousness, rather than just the junk food of culture; if we want the Truth, rather than religious opinions; in short, if we want what God wants to give us, rather than what we think He should give us, then we have to do a little work to discipline our sinful flesh.

It is, in fact, a lot like exercise. The only difference is that with physical exercise, the only limit is your own body. Otherwise, if you work hard enough, you can get whatever results you want. Spiritual “exercise,” however, cannot take you all the way. It is not your salvation, nor can it please God in itself. But that does not mean that there are no benefits to expanding spiritual strength, spiritual endurance, spiritual lung capacity. While everyone is in a different place with regard to knowledge and wisdom, those who have been Christians since God claimed them in Holy Baptism, should, by the time they are adults, be eating solid theological meat, rather than still slurping superficial milk. We should pray that Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians does not apply to us: “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2; see also Hebrews 5:12-14).

We do not ever move on from the basic and saving truth that Christ has taken all our sins on Himself and that He is our salvation, our righteousness, our holiness. But much like physical workouts, where we expand what we understand about how our bodies work and work muscles we never knew we had, so also in spiritual workouts, we should be expanding our knowledge of how Christ is for us in every aspect of our lives, how He is our life, what it means that Christ is our salvation, righteousness, holiness. This can happen only through the Word of God, whether that is in the preaching of the Divine Service, the study of the Scriptures with the other members of the Body of Christ, or individual reading, memorizing, and digesting of the Word of Christ at home and with our families. In fact, it is the Word that will work us out: the Word that will create true sorrow for sin; the Word that will create ever greater thirst for Christ; the Word that gives Him whom it promises.

Our choice is no choice at all: understand where the truth of God’s Word in Christ is spoken and given out without fail, and cling to it because our life depends on it. In this truth, we are exercised (maybe exorcised!) and He strengthens us in the knowledge and hope of His promises. There is nothing better or more worthwhile than that.

Pr. Winterstein

Friday
Jul072017

July 2017

 

Why Does the Pastor Read the Readings?

Notice: the title of this is not “Why Must the Pastor Read the Readings.” Which means that this is not about why no one else can or may read the Scriptures in the Divine Service. It is about why I, as the pastor in this place, read them.

It starts with Paul's instructions to the pastor in Ephesus, with whom I share my name: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). This refers explicitly to the reading of the Scriptures in the assembly of the congregation, as Nehemiah 8:7-8, Acts 13:15, and 2 Corinthians 3:14 make clear. Paul's instructions in 1 Timothy are certainly enough for me. But, it's true, Paul does not command that it must be so everywhere and always.

The second half of why I read the readings publicly is—as you probably get tired of hearing from me—vocation, vocation, vocation. Must a nurse be the one to check your blood pressure when you go to the doctor? Must a mechanic be the one to check your oil or fluid levels when you take your car in? Must the plumber be the one to undo the pipe that leads from your sink to the ground? Must the pastor be the one who reads the readings? To all of those “musts,” we must say no. There's nothing that would prevent anyone from doing any of those things. There's no command or law that rules any of those things off-limits to someone who hasn't been trained as a nurse, mechanic, plumber, or pastor.

But that's not really the point. The point is the realm of responsibility that's been given to particular people for particular things. The pastor has a very limited sphere of responsibility: the Word and the Sacraments. That's it. Only when it comes to what is spoken from the Word of God and what pertains directly to that does the pastor have an explicit responsibility. About everything else that happens in a congregation, the pastor may—probably does—have opinions. But the pastor's opinion has no more weight than anyone else's about a budget, or the church grounds, or schedules and times, or any number of other things that do not fall within the realm of the Word and the Sacraments.

But why does God call pastors to congregations? Precisely to give His people His Word and His Sacraments. This is why the very first two items on the “Supplement to the Diploma of Vocation[!]” that you sent me when you called me to be your pastor say “In the name of the Triune God and by His authority, in order that we may carry out His mission to the world, we hereby authorize and obligate you: To administer the Word of God in its full truth and purity as contained in the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and as set forth in the confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as found in the Book of Concord; To administer the holy sacraments in accordance with their divine institution.”

That's my goal: to do what you called me to do the best that I can do it. The “administer[ing of] the Word of God” includes reading that Word publicly and regularly in the Divine Service. I do not read the Scriptures out of a misplaced sense of having to be in control, or having to be in front, or having to be seen. If you know me, you know that the last thing I like is drawing attention to myself. (Ask my wife: if we have the music up loud in the car, I have to have the windows closed so the people around won't look at us.) I simply want to carry out my vocation among you: to give you the Word and Sacraments that are Christ's life for you as you go out each week to do the responsibilities of your vocations. God has given us each unique, though sometimes overlapping, vocations. Let's rejoice together in the way that God distributes His gifts to all the members of Christ's Body, and the ways that He serves all of us through each of us.

Pr. Winterstein