2 Peter 3:13 We are looking forward to a new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

In recent months, we’ve been having a congregational conversation about houses and homes, due to my idea of possibly selling our home in Watertown, purchasing a home here, and moving out of the parsonage. Your encouragement in the congregation has been a great blessing during this time. I am glad this has been a happy discussion for many in the congregation.

That being said, the whole process of getting to the point where we will actually move this first week of October has had a lot of twists and turns, “unexpecteds” as some call them these days. The “homing instinct” is a powerful one, one that I think the Lord may have wired into us. It gave us strength to endure all the twists and turns. All of this has been exhausting for me and the family personally, but it’s a good sort of exhaustion.

It comes at a time when I am working with the largest number of prospective members in my time here as your pastor. Indeed, I think it’s the largest number I’ve ever worked with. Quite a number of people, it seems, have a similar instinct to make a church “home” here at St. John’s. My conversations with these people have been an absolute joy. While preaching and worship come to the fore in a lot of these discussions, the most wonderful thing I hear from them I must share with you: I hear quite often these days about how they feel welcomed on Sundays by all of you. While I could argue that preaching and worship might be more important in some ways, it’s that last compliment to all of you that makes me the happiest of all. St. John’s, as a congregation, is doing a good job these days of making others feel at home. And your love and support in this conversation to me personally is also proof of that.

Some have said that one way to look at the Good News is to see it as the story of a God who wanted to provide a quality home for His people. Eden was precisely that sort of quality home before the Fall, a paradise which God had given to His human creation. Since the Fall, God promised a Messiah and in Christ, He has begun the work of restoring His creation. He has given us a hope which sees beyond the grave to a new heavens and new earth, the home of righteousness. The Church has sung for a long time now, “I’m but a stranger here; Heav’n is my home.” This certainly is true, but if this homing has something to do with the Gospel itself, then it is also true that the Church on earth is where heaven touches earth. We should be a “church home” to others, a place where they are at home, where they are part of the family, a foretaste of the feast to come.

Christ intends to give us a home. He has made His home with us and has prepared for us an eternal home, a home of righteousness, to which we all look forward and in which we all share. My prayer is that we can continue to be a welcoming home to young and old, friend and stranger, all people who come through our doors.

God bless St. John’s. May she be a welcoming home to all for years to come.

With gratitude to God for all of you,

Pastor T.

Rebuilding A Broken Bridge

For a friend who is struggling with the possible loss of a friend.

Good friends are blessings from God. And yet, in the tragedy of a sin-sick world, good friendships can come to an end. Probably everyone who reads this post knows what it’s like to lose a friend. It’s painful and, quite often, not even desired.

Failing friendships have a sense of helplessness to them. Either one side or the other or both change, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly, and the foundations of the original friendship shift and start to crumble. It feels often like the earth is moving under the feet of the two friends and the friendship often ends because it is reckoned that two people can’t fall together into that abyss. Better to hold on for yourself than to perish together.

It’s painful to lose a friend and, I must say, it’s almost as painful to watch other friendships fail. (From my vantage point, I see this happen every now and again). Even among Christians it happens. The love of God in Christ Jesus doesn’t automatically mean we will always be best of buddies, but so often I wish it did.

God didn’t make us to work well alone and while most people have entire networks of friends, much of which don’t endure a lot of change, each and every friend in the network brings something to us that makes us better than if they had never become our friend. Even when friends have spouses, it’s often true that the friend still provides something to us that even our spouses may not provide. The pain of a lost friendship is often not dulled by the number of friends we retain. It’s still painful, because that friend fulfilled a specific role in our circle. The hole left behind is hard to ignore. The bridge has collapsed and all it feels like anyone can really do is stare at the wreckage.

Of course, when this happens among Christians friends, it is particularly poignant. Paul reminds us that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12), but the devil is always trying to get us to wrestle against one another. It’s his number one weapon in getting us to deny that he even exists. Adam blamed Eve and God. He never blamed the devil who was really at fault. When Christian friends start to become enemies, they have already lost a fundamental tenet of their Biblically-based faith: they now have the wrong enemy. And if we get the enemy wrong, we will get Christ wrong. And if we get Christ wrong, we will get each other wrong again and again.

Thus, I have always felt that the end of a friendship is a satanic activity, particularly the end of a Christian one. What can be done, particularly when there is no outward sin that is tearing two friends apart?

Keeping the Enemy the Enemy. Our friends may frustrate and hurt as much as they encourage and help. But that doesn’t make them different from us. It only demonstrates the same simul justus et peccator (same time saint/sinner) reality we share. Christians friends should be uniquely poised to recognize this fact. The friend may frustrate, hurt, or anger us, but they are never the enemy. Indeed, a Christian should only have one enemy, the devil Himself.

Staying humble.  We often obsess about the behavior of others without giving any thought to our own behavior. People may hate change, but it’s a fact of life in a fallen world. It’s quite possible that your former friend is not the only one who has changed. Reconciliation may be possible if both parties can find their way to the humility to ask the question, “How have I changed?” and “What does my reaction to the other’s behavior say about me?”

From humility to repentance to confession to absolution. Jesus’ instructions in Matt. 18:15ff. are often misconstrued as a power play, but the goal is “to regain the brother.” Commenting on the same activity, Paul reminds us in Gal. 6 to restore the brother “in a spirit of humility.” It is better to come to the friend confessing one’s own sin than demanding an explanation for their sin. Perhaps the walls will come down and the two will confess mutually. Perhaps not. But if not, then what I wrote above about Satan’s activity still stands. God’s love covers a multitude of sins. If He can forgive us our many sins, then we surely can reconcile and forgive one another as well.

These are just a few thoughts and they are not offered as a failsafe method for saving a friendship. At the end, God’s love and grace can be rejected and the gracious attempt at reconciliation can be rejected. But even if one says the friendship is over, the other does not have to accept that fact. The command to love one another is as constant as the love with which Christ has loved both of you.

In the meantime, I’ll let Paul finish this thought:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal,be fervent in spirit,[g] serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.[h] Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [Rom. 12:9-21]

Praying with you for solid, healthy, friendships established in Christ’s love,

Pastor T.


The Challenge Of Hope

From the September 2014 Prairie Preacher.

Rom. 15  13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

This summer we “preached and teached” our way through the book of Revelation. I had been told from my earliest training toward being a pastor that Revelation was intended to be a book of hope. I must admit, I may never have appreciated that fact until now. I know what it’s like to think of Revelation as “scary.” I think most Christians know this problem.

A good friend in the ministry—and indeed since our college days—put me on to the “good stuff” when it comes to Revelation. Let me itemize what I have learned with regard to the Church as a whole today and us here at St. John’s in particular.

  1. Christ’s resurrection is our hope because we too will be resurrected. Even though we confess them every Sunday, the most forgotten words in the Apostles’ Creed are “the resurrection of the body.” The Church is guilty, for many centuries now, of not preaching this enough. I know what I’m going to be working on! J
  2. This hope was the primary factor in helping early Christianity spread and become a worldwide religion. While Christianity is still the only religion that has real “Good News” in that God saves us freely in Christ, hope fills out more of the picture for us. That salvation includes our own resurrection. That truth probably made Christianity truly distinct in the late Roman empire and contributed to its success.
  3. Hope is something we always have in Christ. Christ’s death and resurrection are fact and they are the finishing of the battle with Satan. When we tell ourselves that things are hopeless, the devil is blinding us to the truth. You have hope. It’s yours today! Nothing makes me happier than to tell you that.
  4. Hope keeps its eyes on the future, but lives itself out in the present. Perhaps people and churches wait for things to get better too much, rather than act hopefully in the present toward making them better. Similar to the last point, hope is our energy today and that energy well spent gives us a brighter future.

Frankly, that’s just the beginning of everything I got out of Revelation this summer. But those four points right there are enough to give all of us the energy to do the work God has given us to do. My prayer can only be Paul’s prayer in the verse above from the end of Romans. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Working with you today for a bright future,

Pastor T.