That’s going to tick some of you off. Good. It’s meant to. Keep reading, if you’ve got the guts.
We just finished the Being Challenge, and the fifth keystone habit that Jesus inspires is Choosing Church. Jesus expects us to come to His House, every week. He wants us to come together as His Family. He inspires us to worship Him, in person, for all that He’s done for us, for all that He’s given us. And that includes everything and everyone in your life. Do you believe this?
Jesus meets us in His House to talk with us, listen to us, strengthen us and heal us. Only in His House, and at His Table, do we find the forgiveness we so desperately need. In His presence we experience the relief of redemption, the joy of justification, and the hope of heaven. Do you believe this?
If you’re relying on a vague misunderstanding of “He’s with me everywhere” to justify staying away, you clearly haven’t listened to Him very carefully. If you think your private prayers are all there is to your life with Jesus, you don’t really know Jesus. If you say you can worship Him anywhere – and then you really don’t – the only one you’re fooling is yourself. The truth is, you need Jesus, in person, every day, every week, for life.
Do you believe this?
Let’s get to the honest truth, shall we? The great theologian, Sister Mary Clarence (a.k.a. Whoopie Goldberg in Sister Act) once said, “People don’t like coming to church? Why? Because it’s a drag.” So many of us are addicted to entertainment. We want and need everything in our life to amuse us to some degree. That’s why we spend 10 hours a day looking at screens, playing our games, binge watching our shows, and ordering more and more streaming channels to stir up the dopamine in our brains. You don’t want to come to church because it doesn’t entertain you like all those other options you have.
Here’s the secret: it’s not supposed to. While there is an entertaining component to inspiring worship, the purpose is not to get you laughing or dancing or glowing over some majestic performance. The goal is not to put more butts in the seats to pay the bills (though some TV preachers seem to operate that way). The purpose is to drop off my garbage at the foot of the cross, to hear the voice of the One who loves me more than anyone else ever has, to know that He is putting me back together again so I can go our and face another week in a world trying to tear me down. Do you believe this?
And here’s the topper: Jesus wants you to share this part of your life with people who are experiencing the same challenges, the same obstacles, the same struggles. God created us to connect with others, and He built His church on the gathering of His children to share in the grace of Jesus, and in the life He has prepared for us. He paid for that life with His own. He paid for you in blood. Do you believe this?
I can hear it now: “I have my faith.” Do you? Is that what you call it: faith? Faith wants more of Jesus, not less. Faith is constantly hungering for more grace to fuel it. Faith isn’t knowing about Jesus; it’s knowing Jesus, personally, and wanting more out of that relationship every day. Faith gets me over myself and moves me past my childish, selfish motivations to involve myself only in those things that benefit me. Real faith in Jesus changes my life by turning me inside out, and instills in me an intense desire to want to share that life with others, and help them discover a better life for themselves – one that lasts forever. Don’t be so juvenile that your only spiritual thought is knowing enough to get to heaven. Love and care enough to take as many people with you as you can. Do you believe this?
Here’s how it turns out: if you figure that Jesus isn’t worth the extra time and energy, that you can appease Him by showing up once a month or so, your faith is almost dead. Jesus is looking for faith on fire, but if you think you can get by being lukewarm, you make Him want to puke (Revelation 3:16). But that’s not all. The people around you will see your example and follow it. If you have children, and they learn that Jesus isn’t a priority in your life, He will be less of one in theirs. So you’re once a month will become their once or twice a year. And their children – your grandchildren? Not at all. No Jesus. No faith. No hope. What a legacy! The parent who worships faithfully ends up with faithful kids, around 90% of the time.
That’s a whole lot of Law. But it’s true. The Good News is that Jesus breaks you down to build you back up. He has to nail you between the eyes to get your eyes refocused on Him. He breaks your me-and only me-heart so that He can create in you a new heart, a clean one – rebuilt by His amazing grace to be a loving, caring, joyful heart, just like His.
Right after He talks about puking, He says this: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. Do be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:19-20).
I’m not asking you to go to church. I’m asking you to come to Jesus. And I could use the company.
Jesus is talking to you the way He did to Martha, when her brother Lazarus died. He said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though He dies…do you believe this?” (John 11:27).
She said, “Yes, Lord. You are the Christ, the Son of God.”
Formerly doubting Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!”
The father whose son was healed said, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Jesus says, “Come to me, you who are wearied and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).
Now what do you say?
Are you ready to get rid of the masks? Had enough of social distancing and quarantining? Let’s bring on the new normal, whatever that is! The problem is, the new normal will not arrive for a couple years yet. At least.
That’s according to Thom Rainer, a highly respected pastor and consultant, in his new book, The Post-Quarantine Church. We have no idea the lasting impact of quarantining and masking and social distancing on mental health, social interaction, our children or the Church. But the early signs are not good – for the first three.
Many churches have closed permanently during the pandemic, and the autopsy results are inconclusive as to whether they would have closed anyway: COVID may have hastened the inevitable. A lot of churches, though, have discovered some amazing and wonderful new directions in ministry. That includes us at Shepherd of the Hills. The question becomes: how do we sustain these new approaches to reaching others with the love of God, or do we need even more creativity to navigate the pandemic waters?
Right near the top of our recently developed strategic plan is this: Rebuild our relational culture. That means living through the masks and preparing for life without them. It means restoring our people connections and building new ones. That sounds easy enough, but it’s not a matter of just opening the doors again. Re-opening is easy; re-connecting, not so much.
Here are the challenges we all have to deal with:
Challenges are opportunities, so here’s where I believe we need to go (the technical term is Desired Outcomes):
Toward these ends, God has inspired in us a roadmap (our Action Steps):
That’s a lot to take in, so we’ll all have to read through it a few more times and pray about it even more times. As you do, consider these Action Steps from Hebrews 10: “Because of Jesus, let us draw near to God with a since heart in full assurance of faith… Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together … but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” I call this passage the Church Salad because of all the “Let Us” (see what I did there?).
And the Day approaching is not the day of herd immunity. It is the Day of Jesus, coming back to see how we’ve done. Starting now.
Pastor Steve Kline
From the title, can you tell who I voted for? Let me give you some more detail: the old white guy I voted for has been accused of sexual misconduct by several women, used his position to financially benefit his family members, has serious difficulties telling the truth and seems to have questionable mental faculties.
You still can’t tell, can you? Not if you’re being anywhere close to objective and honest. But in our world of confirmation bias, we assume all the negative applies to the other side, and all the positive applies to our side.
I’ll spell it out: I voted for Trump. Twice. In each case, I thought he was the second worst presidential candidate of all time. Given that choice of incredibly morally defective personalities running for office, I voted for the one whose policies aligned closest with my own. I’m speaking especially of those policies that God speaks to directly in His Word, rather than those personal political preferences that I cannot ratify nor reject based on Scripture alone. I prayed over my vote. I hope you did, too.
Want to unfriend me now? Need to pile on me the blame for everything wrong in our country? Go ahead. In doing so, I can only conclude that you are actually part of the problem rather than the solution. You have bought in to what the political parties and the demonic elements of the media have bombarded us with for years now. They have successfully pitted us Americans against one another, and we are complicit in the angry and hateful divide that now exists between our fellow citizens.
We’ve all been remarkably stupid. And we should be ashamed of ourselves.
Once we face that reality in the mirror, then we can take the time to be ashamed of our political leaders – whom we elected. We say we want good, decent, honest men and women to run for office and concern themselves with the needs of the country and their constituents, rather than the power brokers and money grubbers who don’t give a damn about the country, or us. But then we buy into the personal destruction, we believe the commercials and we listen to Lucifer’s lackeys on TV and the internet distort and disembowel the truth and we no longer just respectfully disagree. We reject. We fight. We hate. And good people decide not to run.
It is not the politicians’ fault. They’ve been doing this for decades. It’s not the media’s fault. They abandoned the core values of real journalism years ago. It’s our fault. We choose. We choose who to listen to, to fit the rising temperature inside. We choose how we will react to success and to failure, to victory and to loss. We choose to share, copy, post and forward the acid of our bias with willful disregard for who it will burn – ironically, people on our “friends” list. We feel the fire raging from our chest to our skull as we literally pound the send key, when the backspace or delete would have been far better choices.
I know. I’ve done it myself. And I am repenting before my Lord Jesus and you, asking both for the mercy and grace I do not deserve but so desperately need.
There’s another step to repentance, though. The Holy Spirit calls me to turn away from my sinful attitudes and actions, and turn toward God. If my repentance is real and my faith in Jesus is true, I will not then return to and re-embrace those same attitudes and actions. Paul hits me where I live: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2). And Jesus nails me with, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin,” (John 8:34). I refuse to incarcerate myself yet again! The blood of Jesus sets me free, and I will stay that way.
Jesus looks for the fruit of repentance: a new heart, a new mind, a new attitude, and an overabundance of love, even for those with whom I disagree. I’d rather be known for my peacefulness rather than my politics.
I abhor what happened at the Capitol, just as I do what happened in Minneapolis, Portland, et al. We can sit back behind our screens and our keyboards and blame whoever we hate for the violence and death, but the reality is that the people on the ground who lashed out in hate and violence, who killed and injured innocent people, who chose their actions based on their attitudes – they are responsible to the legal authorities, and to the Almighty God. And I pray for them, and for those they hurt.
To quote our Congressman, Mike Gallagher, “I’m done with Trump.” While I like some of the things he’s done as president, I believe he will serve the country better by just heading off into the sunset. Impeachment is a political issue, not a spiritual one. So that’s up to those fine heroes of virtue that work in Congress. But I do not wish any harm on President Trump, nor on President Biden. God commanded His people to pray for our rulers when the rulers were Roman emperors set out to destroy Christians and Christianity. Neither the outgoing president, nor the incoming one, is truly that bad.
I’m also done with the vitriol. I ask for forgiveness, and I offer it in return. No strings. No conditions.
I hope you can join me in a far more peaceful journey, one we can share in love for God and God’s. Unless you couldn’t get past my third paragraph.
In Christ -
Pastor Steve Kline
Few words in the English language elicit such universally warm reactions are the word home. Home brings back memories. Home is comfortable and familiar. Home is where the heart is, even if the body isn’t. Home is where the love is.
Home is better than house. House is a structure, an inanimate object that can be beautiful in its own right. But the building doesn’t make itself a home. Only people can do that.
We just built a new house – God’s House – here at SHLC, for the worship and faith life of those called to follow Jesus. It is most certainly a beautiful house, as well as highly functional. Now we need to make it our home.
Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my Word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23). Jesus knows the beauty and meaning of home. He wants us to be at home with Him. He wants that presence, that relationship, to last long after the house is gone.
Paul says, “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-9). The home we have with Jesus now, along with the brothers and sisters with whom we share it, is a foretaste of our heavenly home. Our eternal life in Christ doesn’t wait for death. Our life at home in Christ starts right here, right now.
God wants (and we need) our church building to be our Home and our church members to be our Family. We’ve done fairly well over the years at being the Family of God He’s called us to be, and making His Home warm and inviting. But COVID has taken a lot out of all of us, and has forced us into an ongoing separation from the people we love.
It’s time to come back home.
Here’s what I believe Jesus wants from us in 2021, to keep His Word and please Him as His Family, in His Home:
I know we still have to stay safe, so it may be awhile before some of us can physically walk through the door again. We should pray that the new vaccines work (whether we like them or not), and that God blesses us with healing in 2021.
Before, during and after that time, you know where to go, where to be. Welcome Home!
I was really planning to write something this month that didn’t have anything to do with COVID. In fact, my intention was to focus entirely on God’s gift to the world: His Son, Jesus Christ.
But COVID keeps getting in the way of even the best laid plans. Still, nothing gets in the way of the amazing, unconditional, unbounded saving grace of God in Christ. Not the masks. Not the social distancing. Not even the overflowing hospitals and the growing business at the funeral homes.
Not even death itself can separate us from the love of God in Jesus, and no pandemic can steal the hope and the joy we experience when Jesus comes into our world, into our homes, and into our hearts.
So we will have our Christmas. Carefully and as safely as possible. But we are having Christmas, because we’ve all tested positive for Christ. He’s in our blood. He’s part of us.
Barring any extreme shut-down orders, we will return to in-person worship on Christmas Eve,
according to plan:
9:30 a.m. - Traditional
3:00 p.m. - REACH/Blended
5:30 p.m. - REACH/Blended
8:00 p.m. – Traditional
There’s one condition to in-person worship on Christmas Eve: you need to register in advance. That’s what Joseph did in Luke 2: “Everyone went to his own town to register.” The reason is that we are capping attendance at 200 for each service, and we’d rather not turn people away at the door.
You can register in any one of three ways:
You’ll need to tell us which service you plan to attend and how many in your family are attending. Registration opens November 29 and closes December 14. In the event that we get a massive response, we will plan to add an additional service or two to accommodate the crowd. Registration only applies to Christmas Eve at this point.
This is not the way we wanted our first Christmas in our new Worship Center to go. This is not the way we wanted our 2020 to go. But the devil tried to use Herod to stop the first Christmas, and he failed. Now he’s using COVID for the same purpose. He will fail again.
Christmas belongs to Christ, and to Christians. Amen?
Pastor Steve Kline
Let me give you a list of all the Bible verses that address your vote in an election:
Did you get all those?
The Word of God forms and shapes who we are as His children. You cannot have a relationship with God apart from His Word. He speaks through His Word to our hearts, our minds, and our entire lives (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Through the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit teaches us, tells us when we’re wrong, leads us to be right, and equips us to live a life worthy of the calling we have received.
But when God is silent – when He does not speak directly to a particular matter – we do not invent words for Him. We take what He has taught us, with the Spirit of wisdom He imparts to us, and make decisions and take actions that reflect the love of Jesus and refrain from offense to God and to our brothers and sisters.
What that means for the election, therefore, is that no one can say, with Biblical authority and certainty, “This is the only way for a Christian to vote.” One of us may vote for Trump, with the full conviction of our conscience that this is the right thing to do. A brother or sister in Christ may, with equal conviction, vote for Biden, with the same mental framework behind that decision.
Let me give you a different arena in which a similar result happens: a split decision among Christians. Which worship style do you prefer (choose; vote for)? If you choose to attend traditional worship, does that mean the contemporary worshipers are wrong, stupid or evil? If you choose contemporary worship, are you saying the traditional worshipers are wrong, stupid or evil?
Where we invite sin into our hearts, into our nation, and maybe even into our church, is when we judge someone else’s faith or intellect based on a decision they make that has neither God’s command nor God’s prohibition to guide them. The theological term for such things is adiaphora: neither forbidden nor commanded by God. The Holy Spirit will certainly guide our decision-making process, but we cannot, with Scriptural integrity, say that God wants all Christians to vote Republican or Democrat.
God doesn’t pick sides in our games or contests or campaigns, at least not like we do. I’ve heard Christians say that Trump was “anointed by God” and given by Him to lead us as a Christian nation (we’re not a Christian nation anymore, but that’s a different newsletter article). If that’s the case, then we also have to accept that Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were anointed and sent by God. And God loves the Packers so He made them win the Super Bowl four times. What about the other 50 – did God screw it up? We need to understand how the will of God works in these things: the active will of God, when He inspires us to believe, live and love His Son and each other in real time and real ways; and the passive will of God, when He allows things to happen in our lives that test our character and strengthen our faith. God doesn’t pick the winners and the losers in our little games and elections.
Here’s the dilemma we Christians in 2020 face: there was no democracy in Biblical times. It was all authoritarian, no popular elections. So without that clear mandate from the Word on how to vote, we need to assess our choices and apply what God has actually said. Some issues involve specific spiritual principles that God clearly addresses. Other election issues are not spiritual in nature, in terms of Biblical theology. We need to take these into account, and distinguish between the two. We also need to distinguish between what I say and what God says. Sometimes I get those two voices mixed up.
With those core values in mind, I will address those issues that God addresses, and touch on those that He doesn’t.
Freedom of Religion: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1).
God expects us to honor and respect those who govern us, that we are to pray for them and obey them. The Catechism goes so far as to say we should “love and cherish them.” God does not say they need to earn or deserve it first. Christians respect the office of government, and obey its laws.
That holds true right up until the point that the governing authorities try to force us to participate in or condone practices or policies that directly violate the Word of God and/or our sanctified conscience, or keep us from teaching and practicing God’s Word. Then “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
In political terms, if a candidate or party designs to force churches or religious organizations to hire people whose lifestyle or belief system stands directly in opposition to the Word, they are denying our freedom. If a political entity wishes to compel Christians to participate in a ritual or ceremony that contradicts God’s clear teaching – regardless if said Christian is in business: I don’t stop being a Christian just because I opened a bakery – their hostility to Christ and Christians must be opposed. If a state institution or political agency wants to discriminate against religious individuals or groups just because they’re religious, I will not help them with my vote.
So I will share my viewpoint on a few key issues, as the Holy Spirit has led me through the Word to view them. You may not see it the same way. God bless us both.
Abortion: God is abundantly clear on this subject, starting with Exodus 20:13. God never uses the word fetus for an unborn child; He uses the word baby.
We proclaim our faith in God, Maker of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible. All our days are in His hands, including those before we actually show up (Psalm 139). He is the Lord of all life, and He does not surrender that role to any individual who wishes to destroy a life He has created.
Scientifically, the unborn child is a human being, with all the genetics and characteristics therein. Theologically God calls that child a baby. The Lord also calls upon each one of His disciples to protect and support those who cannot do so for themselves, especially the widow and the orphan. Therefore, Christians care and provide for the child and his/her mother.
Politically, I just cannot vote for someone who advocates for the butchering of an unborn child – which is exactly what the procedure entails. Nor can I reconcile in my mind the canard that pro-choice is not pro-abortion, because leading or encouraging a young woman to reject God and His Word is what Jesus talks about in Matthew 18:6 – “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” In other words, the “I’m opposed but it’s ok for you” argument doesn’t fly with God.
You cannot, with any legitimacy, build a Biblical case in favor of abortion, or the right of a woman to choose…to have the baby God has created inside her killed.
Racism: Hate and Christian faith cannot coexist in a believer’s heart (1 John 4:20). The grace of Christ unites us as one, regardless of skin color or ethnic background (Galatians 3:28).
What we’ve seen on the news in recent months has truly revealed the divisiveness and hatred the human heart is capable of harboring. God rejects all of it, including responding to violence with violence. He expects us to love one another unconditionally, as He does, and to put the interests of others before our own (Philippians 2:3-4).
We need to hear from our candidates how they will help heal the racial wounds we’ve inflicted, and how what steps they would take to improve the lives of those who live in daily need and daily fear. I want to know which candidate advocates policies that will rebuild families and reunite communities, and I will not vote for someone who wants to put them down and tear them apart.
Character: God doesn’t say much about the character of an elected leader, since Jesus first proposed the separation of Church and State (Matthew 22:21), which Martin Luther echoes in his distinction between the two kingdoms. Church leaders, yes; elected leaders, not so much.
I would love to vote for a candidate who demonstrates high Christian character. If I could find one. One of our members, whose politics are not my own, recently posted a plea for two different candidates to choose from. Conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru recently wrote, in an essay detailing why he will NOT vote for Trump, that neither candidate has character worthy of the high office. I agree.
If you are truly moved by the character issue, integrity calls for realizing that the two main candidates cancel each other out, unless you’re drawn to the “lesser of two evils” debacle. Then character really isn’t your issue after all. In my opinion, if Christian character is that crucial, you have to step back to the VP candidates, and Pence is the only one who comes close to filling the bill. I have not seriously researched all the other third-party candidates, but realistically, none of them will be our next president.
There are a lot of other issues. If your priorities are different from mine, God bless us both, because He loves us both, no matter how we vote. And I love you, either way.
Some of us have already voted. Maybe you held your nose, or looked the other way, or let out an exasperated sigh as you cast your ballot. That day is rapidly approaching the rest of us. I pray that you are able to cast your vote with pride and joy, but you may be in the minority with those feelings.
Search your heart. Pray continually. And vote, with the best discernment God gives you. But vote, nevertheless.
Please remember this: divide and conquer is Satan’s favorite strategy. On November 4th, if we even know the winner by then, we need to throw away the rhetorical weapons of bigotry and hate that are fired by both sides. We need to put an end to sides, period.
It won’t happen in the outside world. It must happen in the community of believers.
Take note of the lyrics from the hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” hymn number 964 in our
Lutheran Service Book. I’ll come back to the hymn in a few minutes.
Now I’d like you to consider the first two banners that adorn our new Worship Center.
Jesus said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Jesus speaks these words to a couple of brothers who, up until that time, new very little about this new teacher who had come to town. They were professional fishermen – not scholars, not priests, not leaders. But there was something about this Jesus of Nazareth that was very compelling, very inviting. So Peter and Andrew immediately left their nets and followed him.
The Gospels don’t give us much more detail about how they handled leaving everything and everyone else behind. I can picture Peter telling his wife, “Honey, I’m going to go out for awhile with my new friend Jesus and the fellas. Don’t wait up.” I’m sure that went well.
Or James and John, who were next on the invite list, telling their father Zebedee that they were leaving the family fishing business to follow this Jesus: “You told us you didn’t like the guys we were hanging out with…” However it went down, they too left everything to follow Jesus.
Everyone needs a Come-to-Jesus moment. I’m not talking about the colloquial use of the phrase as the flash of enlightenment when you finally realize something important. We need an actual, in-person, face-to-face Come-to-Jesus moment, when He comes to us, makes Himself known to us, and calls us as His very own. Those who disregard the invitation will miss out on the adventure of a life in Christ that starts now and lasts forever. They will have their face-to-face later, whether they like it or believe it or not.
If you’re going to follow Him, though, it inevitably means some things have to change, and you will have to let go of some components of your life that you’ve grown used to, and even to depend on. The question becomes: What are you willing to leave behind?
Most of us would promptly say we’d be happy to leave our sins behind. And Jesus will gladly relieve us of them. But a lot of us spend all sorts of time and energy reclaiming those faults and failures and lugging them around in the present like a piece of luggage we can’t seem to part with. We carry the guilt of sins past around like they’re permanently attached.
God tells us things like “I will remember their sins no more,” and “I will remove their sins as far as the east is from the west,” but we just cannot seem to forgive ourselves, and we rarely forget. So we need to leave the luggage behind.
We are also hindered in our following Jesus by our addictions and our attitudes, and sometimes we’re addicted to our attitudes. We’ve become so used to our own way of thinking and being and seeing that we start measuring others by them. Jesus expects us to leave those behind as well.
What you will need to follow Jesus is a faith and a cross. Jesus doesn’t always tell us exactly where we’re going or how we’re going to get there. Peter and the boys had no idea what their following Jesus would entail. But Jesus inspired in them what He inspires in us: a trust in the Son of God to love us, lead us, and save us, even when we cannot see the road ahead.
He also tells us, “If anyone would come after me, let him pick up his cross and follow me.” In other words, following Jesus is not a promise of a pain-free and problem-proof existence. We’re going to have pain and problems whether we believe and follow Jesus or not. The grace of Christ gives us the strength we need to carry the unique cross God has called us to bear, no matter how heavy or awkward the carrying. And if we become too weak or exhausted, Jesus steps in and carries it for us. He’s done it before.
He told Peter He would make them “fishers of men.” They would lead others to Jesus, to faith, to life in His Kingdom. This was their new purpose in life: to bring others along on the ride of a lifetime.
Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
This passage describes the impact of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday. After all the cheering and singing and celebrating the coming of the Son of God into the Holy City, John describes an encounter with a couple of Greeks who were in town. They were the outsiders, the foreigners, maybe even non-believers, who came up to Philip and said, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and found Andrew, and together they told Jesus, because this was an extraordinary moment when non-Jews would join the party. Jesus celebrates the new inclusion.
What we need to understand is that the path of real life begins and ends with Jesus. And in the middle, stride for stride with us, is Jesus. He does not exclude anyone based on their heritage or history, but welcomes sinners of all persuasions into His Kingdom of Grace. Forgiveness comes only from Jesus, connects us to Jesus, and takes us to Jesus, ultimately in His Father’s House.
When Jesus talks about “when I am lifted up,” He’s pointing the Greeks and the disciples and us to the kind of death he would undergo just five days later. Jesus does the dying, the rising and the drawing because we can’t. We cannot pay what we owe, we cannot bring life out of death, and we cannot come to our Savior or believe in Him on our own. He draws us close, closer every day, to the point where we are in Christ and He is in us. Sin separates and divides. Grace unites us.
Notice that Jesus draws all people, not just the right people. He doesn’t just reach out for the people who think like us, look like us or vote like us. And we dare not join the Pharisees in labeling those whom we have deemed lesser than ourselves. That leads to anger and division, and sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
Let me give you an example. I came across the results of a poll question on Facebook this week. Take a look at the question, and then the percentages of the respondents’ votes:
The comments section got rather heated, with varying degrees of “no” laced with all caps or flaming arrows. Apparently when you put the labels “American” and “Arabic” in there, folks get fired up.
Now let me show you what Arabic numerals look like:
That’s right! The numbers we’ve been using forever in American schools are called Arabic numerals – and they’ve always been called that. But erring attitudes and hair-trigger anger reveals a couple more things we need to leave behind.
Now back to the hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” It was written in 1905, and as I said, is now included in the Lutheran Service Book in the section of Nation/National Songs, hymn #964. Not long after it was first published, in 1919 it was first dubbed the “Black National Anthem.” Further irony is that “The Star Spangled Banner” was not officially proclaimed the American National Anthem until 1931.
I had never heard the phrase “Black National Anthem” until a couple months ago, and to be honest, I had never heard the hymn either. But here is a song that praises God for all He’s done, and gives witness to the Lord of ALL people. When’s the last time the NFL, or any professional sports league, gave Jesus center stage? Even if they don’t realize it, Jesus does.
So for one week, let the NFL sing the song, and in doing so, do Christ and Christians a favor. They are not replacing “The Star Spangled Banner.” And just because someone placed a label on a good hymn doesn’t make it less good. We’ll leave that judgment behind.
Pastor Steve Kline
YouTube censored our worship service. My sermon from August 2, to be exact. They deleted our worship video from that Sunday because it “failed to meet our community standards” and was “spreading misinformation” regarding COVID-19.
What was my mortal sin in that service? In my sermon I dared to share an email from one of our members. This particular member, who I kept anonymous and will continue to do so, has over 20 years experience in microbiology, and they explained that because of what they know about how viruses work and masks don’t, they would not be wearing one. I then went on to share some of the data that supports wearing masks, and informed the congregation that we at SHLC would indeed be adhering to the governor’s recent mask order, despite the informed opinions that suggest otherwise. But apparently, my even mentioning a thought process not conforming to the will of the social media gods warrants censorship.
We appealed their decision, and we are contacting our congressman and senators about this infringement on our First Amendment rights by an entity that now controls the communication of over 1.3 billion (with a B) people. This has led me to consider what we do next, in terms of coronavirus precautions. The governor’s order is set to expire on September 28. The virus won’t be gone by then, but it is already showing signs of retreat. We’ve already seen – and recent studies confirm – that the virus is not nearly as lethal nor contagious as we feared back in March when the experts were projecting 2 million (with an M) deaths in the US alone. Positive strides have been made. That sounds great … unless you’re one of the vulnerable who fall victim to this disease. Or their family.
We cannot just jump back to mask-less, fellowship-full existence as long as the virus poses an imminent threat to our own brothers and sisters in Christ. We should not put a stumbling block in the way of our brother (Rom. 14:13), nor do use our freedom in Christ to indulge our own thoughts and desires, but through love our freedom serves others (Gal. 5:13).
That being said, what do we do come September 28th? What do we do in the Aftermask? We’ve already rolled out reopening plans for children’s and youth ministries, along with guidelines for our worship gatherings. But we know how long the best laid plans last when the data keeps changing.
Eventually, the masks will come off, and that’s a good thing, because it means our God-given immune systems are getting back to full time employment like they’ve always done.
Eventually, the social distance will close, and we’ll be able to sit together, talk together, eat together, worship together and live together in holy love as God designed the crown of His creation to do.
Eventually, the exponential increase in depression, domestic violence and suicide brought on by the masking distancing closing will subside (yes, shutting everything down and shutting everyone out kills people, too).
And eventually we will be able to have conversations and differences of opinion without censoring, attacking, unfriending or abandoning our relationships with one another. We are not the same people we were back in February, and we probably won’t be ever again. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb. 13:8), and at no time did He stop being our Savior and Lord these last six months. He has made His power, His presence and His peace known even louder and deeper and in more creative ways for those who know the voice of their Shepherd, who hear Him even in the midst of the chaotic screeching of a society that has lost its way, if not its mind.
We follow Him. We follow Him alongside the same fellow lambs we loved before the mask. Now we will love them even more in the Aftermask.
Pastor Steve Kline
By now Target and Walmart have entire sections of their stores dedicated to school supplies. Various retailers will try to entice you into buying new clothes for the kids – and, while you’re at it, spend a few bucks for new threads for yourself, too.
The school districts will fill your inbox with calendars, schedules, meeting dates and supply lists. The sports teams are ready to start their preseason camps. And you might still have the time and the weather to slip in one more weekend up north before it’s time to get back to … well, you know.
Actually, I don’t know. Nobody knows. By now the marketing wizards have normally zapped us with every “Back to School” hook they can dream up. But normal disappeared a few months ago. We’ve put out a missing person report on normal. Nobody has seen normal since March.
We all want to get back, but get back to what? What will school be like? What will church be like? What will America be like? Our requisition of questions has vastly exceeded the supply of answers.
Let’s start with the schools. The Hortonville Area School District has put out a 37-page Reopening Plan. Essentially they are planning on a 5-day school week. They’re even entertaining teaching classes outside. This is northeast Wisconsin. That should be a wonderful two weeks.
I actually applaud their effort, and I have a mountainous level of respect and compassion for our school administrators, teachers and staff. They’ve already proven that they can turn on a dime when calamity strikes, as it did in March. They are trying to foresee the unforeseeable, and makes plans around the chaotic and disjointed lifestyle imposed upon all of us by the virus known as SARS-CoV-2. I prefer to call it the Little Slimeball.
For our church, we’re working on a plan to start up Sunday School and DOGs in September. In all likelihood, we will have adult leaders and helpers wearing masks, but not so likely for the kids. Based on the scientific expert I heard on the radio – choose your sources wisely, but they’ll probably say something different tomorrow – children are not susceptible to the Little Slimeball, nor do they transmit it (unless they have underlying medical issues). We’ll do our best to keep it safe.
We will still offer in-person worship, but with the guidelines we set out at the beginning still in place:
As for our country, we need to get back to work without getting into arguments. We need to get back to unity as Americans without hyphens. We need to get back to liberty and justice for all minus the vitriol toward the other side and the violence toward anyone at all. We need to get back to the foundational freedoms that dressed this nation with the finest attire any republic has ever worn, without obsessing on the couple of stains we picked up from years of wear. Treat the stains without trashing the whole outfit.
I know I’m oversimplifying, but freedom does not come easily nor quickly, and it’s never cheap. It took centuries of societal evolution to devise a national structure built on freedom; it takes centuries more to see that it reaches every heart, soul and life within its borders. It’s the harsh reality of human enlightenment that great ideas and noble principles must slowly work their way in to the cultural conscience. America had to start before slavery could end. Now let’s put an end to the lingering bigotry, too.
For the children of God, there’s only one place to go:
~ Pastor Steve Kline
June 25, 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
We are just a little over a week away from starting worship in our new Worship Center! This has been a long time coming, and words cannot describe the excitement I feel toward finally stepping into this beautiful new house of worship. Our Lord has certainly blessed us beyond all imagination! Our first worship in the new space will be Sunday, July 5.
A couple notes about our new building:
With this new chapter in our ministry about to be written, we also need to enhance our security measures. I need not tell you about the world we live in, and the time has come where we will take extra precautions to keep our Family and families safe while they are here in God’s House. These steps have been carefully and thoughtfully vetted by a team of members with knowledge and experience in the security field. They’ve done their homework.
We have already implemented locking the doors during business hours, with a doorbell and camera at the new Atrium entrance by the covered drop off. The office staff will be able to buzz you in from there.
Our security team, along with our Facilities Ministry Team, have devised a plan for locking doors after worship begins, and similarly on Wednesday nights after DOGs and youth group begin. Beginning in July, the doors will open an hour before large group events like worship and DOGs, and then will be locked again 10 minutes after starting time. We will have doorkeepers posted by the Atrium and MMC entrances to open doors for latecomers.
While this will be noticeably more inconvenient and take awhile to adjust to, the obvious goal is to hinder bad actors from inflicting harm on anyone in the building. We are also working on an Active Shooter Plan, along with other security measures that will be designed to help keep our minds at ease, knowing that we’re doing all we can to keep all God’s children safe while they are here together to join in Word and prayer.
This will also create the opportunity for more servants in the House. We need more ushers, greeters, and doorkeepers. With the advent of a new worship space, we are offering training for all worship helpers on one of two upcoming weekends:
WORSHIP SERVANT TRAINING
for all ushers, greeters, doorkeepers, worship assistants, altar care:
Saturday Worship Helpers: Saturday, June 27 - 6 p.m. or Saturday, July 18 – 6 p.m.
Sunday REACH Helpers: Sunday, June 28 – 10:45 a.m. or Sunday, July 19 – 10:45 a.m.
Sunday Traditional Helpers: Sunday, June 28 – 11:30 a.m. or Sunday, July 19 – 11:30 a.m.
Please choose just one training session of your preference. Meet in the new Worship Center.
Keep in mind also that starting July 5, we are restoring our regular summer worship schedule:
Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. (REACH Worship **No Saturday worship on July 4th**)
Sundays at 8:00 a.m. (Traditional Worship)
Sundays at 9:30 a.m. (REACH Worship)
Mondays 7:00 p.m. (iWorship Blended Worship **No Monday worship on Labor Day**)
Finally, our next Drive Thru Communion will be Sunday, July 19, 11 a.m. – Noon, by the MMC entrance.
Pastor Steve Kline
Pastor Steve Kline was installed as Senior Pastor at SHLC on May 25, 2014, after serving 12 years as Senior Pastor at Zion in Wayside, WI. He was ordained in 1992 and previously served congregations in Pulaski and Hales Corners.