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The Basin and Towel

with Indispensable Churches and Tending the Light

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Jesus

At the Formational Prayer Essentials Seminar Part 2

If we resemble Jesus enough to allow the woman of ill repute to break the bottle of perfume at His feet (Luke 7:36-50), soon others like her will be lined up around the block, each bearing their own bottle of perfume to break as they cry their hearts out for gratitude at the mercy of Jesus we are showing them.

If we are instead like the Pharisees who are around Jesus trying to prevent the woman from approaching Him and breaking the bottle, others who may have brought their own bottles to break will learn that they will be shamed if they do so.  They will keep those bottles hidden and, perhaps, stop coming altogether.

If we receive the broken and the breakers, the wounded and the wounders into the church with the mercy of Jesus, soon word will get out and others will come bearing their own sins and wounds and brokenness, knowing that here is a place where they can receive healing and forgiveness.

If we insist on public shaming of the broken and the breakers, public condemnation of church leaders who “fall” or “fail,” soon word will get out and others who have their own sins and wounds and brokenness will learn to keep their sins and wounds and brokenness to themselves.  The church will not be a safe place for them to be, and eventually, perhaps, they will stop coming altogether.

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Church and Ministry 2

See the previous post for an explanation of what prompted these reflections.

2.  Describe your understanding of the Office of the Public Ministry

If the church is the Bride of Christ, and Christ is the Bridegroom, those who stand in the Office of the Public Ministry fill the role of the Friend of the Bridegroom.  They take care of the Bride, keeping her safe and protecting her so that she is ready for the wedding.  They take care of the arrangements, the food and drink that the guests will have.  They take care of the guests, providing them with the robes of forgiveness and righteousness that they will need to celebrate this wedding properly and enjoyably.  They make sure everyone has a place and feels welcome in the celebration.

And they look forward with great anticipation to the arrival of the Bridegroom.  He has been away a long time and has entrusted all the arrangements to His Friend.  The Friend is glad of His trust, and wants everything to be good and right.  He is not afraid of losing the approval of the Bridegroom or of disappointing Him; but he is such a Friend to the Bridegroom that He cannot imagine how anyone would not want to join in the celebration.

5.   Describe your pastoral approach and practice

In addition to the basic Friend of the Bridegroom image above, my approach and practice center on the idea that the word “Pastor” means “shepherd.” It does not mean any of the following: chairman, CEO, leader, vision-caster, strategic planner, fixer, analyst, or administrator.  Each of these words carry with it a certain array of tasks to be done and skills to be exercised, but even taken all together they do not entirely comprise the calling that is named “pastor.”  Yet in the United States in this day and age many in the church tend to look outside the church for models of how to operate.  We find exciting, “successful,” and “growing” techniques and images, and turn to them because they give us a sense of accomplishment.  Yet it seems like a shepherd rarely “accomplishes” anything – he just cares for the sheep over a long period of time, without any measure of “success” or “achievement.”  But he probably doesn’t care about those kinds of things, because he just loves the sheep that are entrusted to his care.

My “approach and practice” has been growing in recent years to be much more like a “shepherd.” In the end, I’d be disappointed if people summarized my “pastoral approach and practice” by saying things like “he was a successful pastor” or ‘he knew how to run a church.”  In the end, I’d much rather that people summarized that “approach and practice” by saying things like “we caught glimpses of Jesus in him.”

An Indispensable Church

An Indispensable Churches Post

The white frame church sits on a low ridge above the little village.  It’s been on that ridge for over 100 years, looking over the comings and goings of the village and its people.  And there have been plenty of comings and goings here in this pleasant village in southeastern Ohio.  At one time this was a busy place, the home of miners and farmers that would come to this church every Sunday by the hundreds.  Weddings and funerals, baptisms and celebrations and farewells were held here time and again as the people came and went from the area.

These days the strip mines are closed and farming is harder than ever.  The population in the area is way less than it used to be.  Even for the 100th anniversary of this congregation, hundreds of people did not show up, though the celebration was wonderful and fun.  They haven’t been able to afford a full-time pastor for a lot of years, so other congregations in their district have shared their pastors with them.  On Sunday mornings twice a month the congregation meets in the morning to worship, using sermons provided by one of those pastors.  On Sunday afternoons the other Sundays of the month one of those “shared” pastors makes the two-hour trip to worship with them, bring the Good News of Jesus to them, and celebrate Holy Communion in their worship service.   Sometimes he stays to have dinner at somebody’s home. Less than two dozen people come to these services, some of them struggling with the infirmities of age.  Hospitalized members are usually cared for by the pastor of a Lutheran church in the next county.

But babies are born and baptized here.  Young people are confirmed, then married.  Twice a month the saints of God in this place celebrate Holy Communion.  In the summertimes the congregation has opened its building to servant-event groups coming into southeastern Ohio to do mission / service projects in the Appalachian foothills.  Sister congregations have sent Vacation Bible School teams there as well as other service project teams.  (For all the financial people:  this congregation has a higher annual per capital giving amount than the majority of its sister congregations in the district, though it is one of the smallest.)

This congregation is small, and getting smaller.  We don’t know how long it will last, or what it’s future will be.  The kids that grow up there, get married and move away, so it keeps getting smaller.  Is it dying?  Is it on the verge?  Shall we do something to encourage the few who are still “hanging on” there to follow others westward or southward 30-40 miles to the next nearest congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod?  Or shall we think again about whether this is one of those Indispensable Churches

It’s Indispensable because of its location – one of only two LCMS churches in an entire quadrant of the State of Ohio (almost 20 0f the 88).  It’s Indispensable because of the opportunities it offers others to be of service.  It’s Indispensable because it offers sister congregations opportunities to expand their ideas of ministry and fellowship beyond their own walls and embrace the saints of God in this little village.  It’s Indispensable because it offers those congregations opportunities to share their pastors with these saints, and it offers the pastors opportunities to see their own ministries as wider than the communities to which God has called them.  It’s Indispensable because the Word and the Sacrament are there, and so is Christ.  It’s Indispensable because the people of God gathered in this place are the temple of the Holy Spirit in this little village in the hills of southeastern Ohio.  If someone ever asks, “where might I go to find the Holy Spirit’s temple here in Pleasant City, Ohio?”  people could point to the white frame church up on the north ridge.  It’s Indispensable because it is named Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, and together with St. Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church on the south ridge the saints of God in Pleasant City have these visible reminders that the Triune God who loves them, who redeemed them, who sanctifies them, and the angels that He assigns to protect them, are watching over them always.

All in the presentation?

As a friend and I were chatting over a nice lunch today he reminded me that it’s Friday the Thirteenth.  Not that either of us is superstitious, but I happened to know that Joel Osteen is having an event this evening at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland (where the Cavaliers play basketball).  Neither of us plan to go, but we took this news as an opportunity to reflect on the presentation of the Gospel.

Joel Osteen’s version of the Gospel appears to be “God wants you to have your best life now,” and tonight, for one night only in Cleveland, he’ll tell you how that’s possible.  He’ll be accompanied by his lovely wife, world-class instrumentalists, and up-to-date technology.  All this for the low admission price of $15 per person, plus a $3 facility fee.

My friend and I recalled that the Rev. Billy Graham came to Cleveland in 1994 for a multi-night Crusade at the Cleveland Stadium (where the Browns and Indians used to play).  A number of folks from my friend’s church attended the Crusade every evening and sang in the massed choir (including “Just as I Am, Without One Plea,” of course).  Some of the folks from our church went every evening, also, to serve as counselors with people who came forward onto the field at the invitation of Rev. Graham, to follow up with the Gospel with them and get information that could connect them to a local church.  The Crusade had the massed choir, George Beverly Shea (of course), and all the technology the sound system of the old Cleveland Stadium could muster.  Every evening Rev. Graham told the crowd how Jesus was our hope through the forgiveness of sins, and that His promise to everyone who believes is eternal life in the love of the Father.  Hundreds of people came forward every night to demonstrate the beginnings of their faith or their re-commitment to that same faith.  All this for the low admission price of – oh, wait, the Crusade was free!

Every night – no admission fee charged to anyone.  Members of the choir – no fee to participate.  Counselors on the field – no fee, either.  No fee for attending the training sessions before the Crusade came to town, either.  No fees for local churches for people connected to them, either.  All good – all Gospel – all free.

Upon further reflection, this post makes me wonder who it was that Rev. Billy Graham thought would benefit from his preaching at that Crusade?  It makes me wonder who Joel Osteen thinks will benefit from his preaching tonight?  And I suppose it should also make me wonder who I think will benefit from my preaching this Sunday or ever,

 

 

Formational Prayer and Jesus

As you are heading to Ashland for the Formational Prayer seminar this week, I want you to know something about you and Jesus:  everything He did, He did to forgive your sins and give you life with His Father forever.  That means that as you come to Ashland you can be assured that

  • you don’t owe God anything for any of your sins
  • Jesus has completely wiped clean any accusation at all against you, whether from Satan or from anyone else
  • anything that any person may hold against you means nothing to Jesus, who loves you with an unimaginable love
  • in His resurrection He has trampled on the gates of hell and broken them forever – there is no way you can become imprisoned there again
  • He can and does call on legions of angels to surround you with His protection while you are away from home this week
  • wherever you may be hurting or wounded, He knows those wounds intimately; and it is by His wounds that you are healed – that’s another promise of His
  • He will strengthen your faith in every aspect of your participation this week
  • He will surround you with a community of believers so that, like the 99 in the wilderness, Satan will hesitate longer to attack any one of us because of the mass of us gathered together
  • if you don’t have the opportunity to hear it tomorrow in worship, hear it from me now:  as a called and ordained servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by His authority, I tell you that all your sins have been forgiven you, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
  • He has given you and me the Holy Spirit as His pledge and guarantee that all these promises are true.

I’m looking forward to seeing everything that our generous Lord Jesus will be doing for you this week!

God bless us everyone!

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