July 2019 The Empty Pew
It was an eerie feeling Sunday morning, June 16, with no small children present in the church. I wonder what they missed. They didn’t hear how Jesus loves them. They didn’t receive a blessing at the communion rail. They didn’t see the example of adults in worship. What else?
There were other empty pews – seems there always are. I see an empty pew and I wonder about the blessings that are missed by the person who could have been setting in that pew.
From the very beginning of the service when those present greet one another with God’s blessing and the empty pew reminds me that someone missed that exchange who might have had their spirits raised by the friendly words someone spoke to them. Or perhaps they could have been a blessing to hear a friendly word.
And what comfort God gives as we hear those precious words spoken by Pastor following our confession of sins, “I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Those words just bounce off the empty pew.
As Pastor prepares his sermon he prays that God would give him the words that we need to hear. Perhaps God had a message for the person who could have been sitting in that empty pew. How sad to miss a message from God.
When Jesus was born the shepherds rejoiced at the news they heard from the angels and they went to Bethlehem to see him! Jesus comes to us – in the flesh – in the sacrament of Holy Communion. That wonderous gift is offered every Sunday – but the empty pew reminds me that someone is missing out on that blessing.
Finally, before the last hymn is sung, Pastor speaks the benediction, words of blessing found in Scripture. Those words mean nothing to an empty pew but are so sweet to a believer.
May each one of us remember that when our pew is empty we are missing out on so much that God has to offer. May we also encourage others to fill an ‘empty pew’.
Pastor Emeritus M.J Meyer
January 2019 Rethinking Stewardship
“Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you.
Imagine for a moment that your parents were getting older, and having some health problems. They decide to sell off their home, cars, property, and possessions and give all their money to you. They tell you that the money is now all yours, and all they ask is that you see to it that they are taken care of until the Lord calls them home.
What would you do with the money they gave you? Would you buy a new house, car, boat, or vacation for yourself? No! I think most of us would be humbled and honored that our parents put such trust in us. Out of love, respect, and honor for all they had done for us we would gladly do what we could to give them the best care we could for the rest of their lives.
Dear Christians, that is exactly what the Lord has done for us. He has given us everything starting with our very lives, to our talents, family, jobs, homes, possessions, and money. All this he has given us for one purpose only. Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you. Deuteronomy 16:17 Everything is for his Kingdom. Everything we have has been given us by the Lord for the spreading of his Love, his Gospel message, his Word, his Kingdom, that all might come to faith in Jesus Christ, and be saved.
Our first thoughts about how to use our life, talents, and money ought only be focused on the only lasting treasure there is – the salvation of all nations. Now we don’t do the Lord much good if we starve ourselves to death because we gave away all our money, worked ourselves into an early grave, or lost our family out of neglect due to spending all our time in service to the Kingdom. But so often when we think of the stewardship of our time, talents, and treasures we find ourselves asking how much can I spare for the Lord, how much can we afford to give, or how much does the church really need? How much of a slice of the pie should we give?
Sadly, we fail to see that all our life belongs to the Lord and glorifies him and serves his Kingdom when we simply live our lives in faith. What we eat we eat to the Lord. What we do we do to the Lord. There is nothing wrong or less holy about spending time or money caring for the needs of our family. There is nothing more or less holy about an honest job. God has given us these things for our care and enjoyment that we might live peaceful and quiet lives. He has given each of us talents, desires, and dreams that we might serve one another and support the whole body of Christ. If we were all pastors and teachers, we would starve to death, our cars wouldn’t run, no buildings would be built, no trash collected, electricity generated, or computers made to write this newsletter article. No, God knew what he was doing when he gave us the talents, desires, opportunities, people, and places that make up our lives. But instead of asking, “What can we afford to give the Lord?” Perhaps, a more faithful question might be, “What can we do with all we have been given to best serve the Kingdom?” “How can we best use all the Lord has given us in service to his Kingdom?” We don’t give leftovers. We give first fruits. We give in proportion to the way the Lord has blessed us. “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you.”Stewardship of what the Lord has given you, is stewardship of everything! We glorify God and serve his Kingdom with our entire life and everything we have every day. Another familiar way to speak of the stewardship of our lives is to say, “We are blessed to be a blessing!”
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
October 2019 Your Children Are Watching You!
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 11:18-20
The phrase, “Your children are watching you.”, can be frightening, intimidating, and sometimes annoying. “Quiet down! The kids will hear you.”, “Not in front of the kids.”, “Watch your mouth. There are little ears around.”, are phrases that have often reminded us, “Your children are watching you.” As imperfect people and parents it can be intimidating to fully grasp the responsibility, and importance of being our children’s faithful Christian parents, modelers, teachers, examples.
I pray, however, that all parents, no matter how old your children are, see the Christian education of your children not as a frightening burden, but an exciting, and glorious calling. God promises you that what you teach your children and the examples you are for your children is never for nothing. Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
Parents you have a God given, God commanded, and God blessed ability to share eternal life with your kids. The relationship and bond of parents and children provides the safety, trust, and love that are vital for sharing the gospel. Even your children’s pastor, or teachers don’t have anything close to that same bond or influence in their lives. Even in those teen years when they seem to have more love for a rock than for you the bond remains, and your guidance is vital for their future. Parenting is a gift from God, an opportunity to share your faith with your children in a way that you can share with no one else in the world. “Your children are watching you!” Praise God! Show them Jesus in what you teach them, how you live and act toward others, what is important to you in life, and as you frequently ask for forgiveness. If your kids haven’t figured out that you are not perfect give them time they will catch on.
That is when you will have opportunity to teach them the most significant truth you will ever pass on to them. When they see you ask for forgiveness from them and from Jesus you make real and present and vital our need for daily repentance (the very life blood of every Christian) and also the endless, undeserved love of God who, “so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” It isn’t when you are the perfect parent, but in the midst of your mistakes, weakness, failures, and sins that you have opportunity to share your faith, your hope in the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Your children are watching you! Let them see how much God loves you, and them.
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
From Pastor's Desk
blessings vs BLESSINGS!
And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. "Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. "Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. "Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. Luke 6:17-26
So far in Epiphany and continuing this month, the divinity of Jesus has been manifested in many ways. First, there was the star in the sky pointing out to all the world that the Savior, the King of the Jews, had been born. Then Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, where the Father spoke about his beloved Son and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the bodily form of a dove. Jesus is then rejected in his hometown of Nazareth as the fulfillment of Scripture, and even though the people wanted to kill him, he walked through their midst and went away to perform miracles of turning water into wine, casting out demons, healing various diseases, and bringing in a large number of fish.
However, these are not the miracles that the Word made flesh came to do. These temporal, here-today-and-gone-tomorrow gifts are not the gifts and blessings that God became man to give. He gives us these things for today, yes, but that’s not all. No, not just for today, but Christ makes us blessed forever. The physical gifts God gives us in this life do not reflect our standing before him. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that reflects our standing before God. For richer, for poorer, in abundance or in hunger, in suffering or in rejoicing, Christ and his kingdom are yours.
No matter what you’re going through in this life, at this moment or the next, Jesus is with you. God is with you. The God who created the heavens and the earth has promised never to leave you or forsake you. He has written that promise to you, not with money, food, happiness, or fame, but in the blood of his Son.
The season of Epiphany shows us the power and divinity of Christ that he is true God, but all those miracles were only the little blessings pointing us to the Big BLESSINGS! Soon Epiphany will end with Jesus’ transfiguration and the beginning of his Lenten journey to the cross and empty tomb. In him, we have the certain promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation. In him, we have a promise that does not fade, change, or decay with time, but a promise that remains sure and firm forever. As long as the Son, the eternal Word, lives, you shall live. You have God with you now, and you shall have him and all of his gifts for eternity, for Christ makes us blessed forever. In this Epiphany season and in your life guard against fixing your eyes on the little miracles, the little blessings. The best is yet to come! When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:51
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
FIGHT! One simple word was all it took. As a child on the playground someone yelling, “FIGHT!”, could command our attention and assemble us together quicker than the lunch bell. As a pastor I often wish it were that simple to get people’s attention or get them to assemble on Sunday morning.
Pastor Meyer wrote a beautiful article for this month’s newsletter extolling and holding before our eyes the priceless and eternal gifts the Lord delivers to us each Sunday in the Divine Service. He also points out his sorrow at seeing empty pews and thinking of those who missed out on the Lord’s gifts that day.
I don’t know exactly what it was as a child that excited us so much about a schoolyard fight. As an adult I find myself praying more and more for peace in our world and an end to all the violence in our schools, country, and world. I don’t think that just comes from age, but from knowing Jesus. For nearly 20 years now I have spent almost every Lord’s Day telling others about his love and forgiveness and sharing a peace with God, and from God, that surpasses all understanding.
I think being in church every Sunday and receiving Jesus and his gifts through his Word and Sacraments has changed me and the people I have served. I still have times when I get frustrated, angry, even vengeful, but I am more often loving, kind, patient, joyful, thankful, helpful, and no matter what happens I have a peace that does surpass my understanding. I know God loves me, cares deeply for me, and wants only good things for me even when my life might not look like it.
I think I am changed by the Lord’s free gifts that he lavishes on me through his Word, Baptism, Lord’s Supper, liturgy, hymns, and through each of you encouraging me through words, handshakes, hugs, smiles, and simply from your presence. I hope you see the same changes in yourselves and the abundant eternal blessings the Lord gives you each time you come to his House.
You know, there actually is a fight that occurs in church each Sunday. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12 ESV) Whether you are on vacation or here in town and are tempted to stay in your hotel room or at home on Sunday morning I have only two things to say, “The Lord has wonderful gifts to give you today.”, and secondly, “FIGHT!”
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
June 2019 Blessed be the Holy Trinity
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
This month we will be celebrating Holy Trinity Sunday. It is the Sunday of the Church year on which we rejoice in the teaching of the Holy Trinity, namely, that we worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God. In Deuteronomy 4:39 the Lord makes it clear what we are to believe. “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.” Clearly scripture teaches that there is only one God in heaven and on earth, and no other. In Matthew 28:18-19, however, Jesus speaks of God’s authority when he says “All authority in heaven and on earth”, but he attributes that authority to three persons. He says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Because of these and many other scriptural proofs that, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have “All authority”, and are truly God, we believe teach and confess that we worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God.
Well, so what? Why is this doctrine that we can’t humanly understand, so important that we have a special Sunday to celebrate it? Why is this teaching, that is beyond our human reason, so glorious that churches are named after it? For all of us who have been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit it brings great comfort and joy. For by the doctrine of the Trinity, we stand unshakable in the knowledge that the Father who gave his only Son, and who promises eternal life, the Son who cried from the Cross, “Father forgive them.,” the Holy Spirit who calls, and keeps us in the one true faith, these three persons of the Trinity have “All authority” to do what they promise. There is no higher authority to countermand their promises. No restrictions can be laid on the promises given us in our baptism. The promises of forgiveness, of the Spirit, and of eternal life, bestowed on us in the name of the Trinity, can be taken from us by no one. Indeed, “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us.”
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
Happy Mother’s Month!
May 12th is Mother’s Day. Believe it or not Mother’s Day is not a church, but a secular holiday. We, however, in the church certainly celebrate and give thanks to God for our mothers. Christian mothers are indeed a treasured blessing to every Christian home. The church calendar as I have taught before is centered on the life of Christ, and so our church holidays are all based on the life of Christ. There is, therefore, not a specific day on which we celebrate Mother’s Day, rather we celebrate all month long!
Although St. Mary Mother of Our Lord day is August 15th, the month of May is recognized as a month dedicated to honor her. May Devotions as they are called originated in the eighteenth century at Rome. Father Latonia of the Society of Jesus, noticed a group of children who, in the month of May, brought flowers to deck a wayside shrine of Mary before which they devoutly knelt in prayer.
Edified and inspired by the example of the children, Father Latonia established May devotions in the Jesuit Roman College in order to foster the virtues of purity and piety in the students, and through them, counteract the destructive forces of immorality and infidelity in the world. The devotion spread rapidly to other colleges and schools, was approved and indulgenced by the Holy Father, and soon became one of the most popular devotions of the year.
Don’t worry I haven’t gone Catholic, but perhaps we aren’t getting the full celebration of Mother’s Day that we should have. Theotokos is the Greek word for what Mary the mother of Jesus was called. It meant “Mother of God”. There are few if any gifts more precious in this world than our mothers. Yet Christian mothers would be the first to point out one gift more important than all others – God’s gift of his One and only Son. His was a gift delivered to us only by way of a mother. Mary the mother of our Lord faced trial upon trial as the mother of God. His tumultuous birth and circumstances surrounding it, to Mary looking on as her holy child now loaded with the sins of the world is forsaken by God the Father and dies alone on a cross in torment for her sins and for ours, to Mary being chief of the holy women who were with the Apostles on the day of Pentecost.
Perhaps this Mother’s Day could become a Mother’s Month as we not only thank God for the enormous blessing our mothers are to each of us, but also thank him for his mother. To contemplate the plight of the world without the Virgin Mary gives a whole other facet of appreciation for all mothers. Just as Mary the mother of our Lord was vital for God’s plan of salvation, so it is with our mothers whose witness, teaching, guiding, and love first introduced us to the Savior of the world. Thank and love your mothers this month, and if your mother is already resting in the paradise of heaven, then thank and love another who has been like a mother to you. Happy Mother’s Month!
BEHOLD THE MAN!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him not anything made that was made... The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. and we have seen His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of Grace and truth.
John 1:1-3, 14
" Behold the man!" proclaimed the unwitting preacher Pontius Pilate in one of the shortest, yet most profound, sermons ever recorded. This will be our endeavor this Lententide and Easter Sunday. Behold the man, God in human flesh, Jesus. His incarnation will provide the basis for our meditation and proclamation on His Passion. And His real , bodily suffering and death will provide the basis for our full-throated proclamation on Easter morning of a bodily resurrection, not just of Jesus but also for His saints. Real bodies that have suffered, wept, bled, prayed, eaten, hoped, and more will be those raised incorruptible from their graves on the day of Jesus' return.
We will fix our eyes and our preaching on the man Jesus, contemplating the inescapable fact---indeed the most important fact in the course of human history---that God became man. The Second Person of the eternal, triune God, who we confess in the Nicene Creed as "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God... of one substance with Father, by whom all things were made," became a living, breathing, fles-and-blood human being, a man.
In some ways, you can understand that the first herey the Christian Church had to contend with was that of Gnosticism, the hyper-spiritual religion that held that because no man could be God, Christ could not be God. Gnosticism is alluring because it tidies everything up, gives Christianity a more attractive, spiritual veneer, and pulls its adherents out of the mire of the world and gives them something other-worldly to strive for.
Considered correctly, it becomes pretty hard to spiritualize Christianity---a religion that bases its existence on the enfleshment, the incarnation, of her God---into the mess of disembodied, matter-rejecting, hyper-spiritual Gnosticism. When God has flesh and blood, skin and teeth, cells and nuclei, DNA and RNA, it's difficult to contend for the disembodied spiritual against the material. If God has a body, bodies must matter.
Incase you aren't convinced of the pervasiveness of the second-century heresy of Gnosticism, even in twenty-first-century context, attend a funeral. If you hear talk only of heaven any nary a word of a bodily resurrection, you've witnessed firsthand modern-day Gnosticism. If the preacher doesn't deal with the body in the casket as the real person whose death has assembled the mass of grieving relatives and friends, if he talks only about the bodiless soul in heaven, he hasn't preached a genuinely Christian funeral. In other words, if he gives preference to spiritual over material, he succumbs to the Gnostic heresy the earliest generations of the Church sought to guard against by preaching the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus.
This Lent, we will consider what it means that God became man. In preparation for the celebration of a real, bodily, flesh-and blood, bone and sinew resurrection, the resurrection without which our faith and our preaching are all in vain, consider the body of Jesus that exists in order to be nailed to a cross. The spiritual, bodiless Son of God became the embodied, enfleshed, incarnate Son of Mary. In Jesus, God has human flesh, just like you. What could be more profound?
Each week, we'll consider a different aspect of the body of Jesus Christ. What does it mean that, in Jesus, God Has hands, feet, lungs, lips, eyes, and ears?
Behold the man! In sermon, in study, in devotion, behold the man!
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
November 2019 Setting the Theme
Each Sunday Connie prints in the bulletin the Thought or Theme of the day. The theme for each Sunday is not just a random selection of the pastor or church secretary, but rather the central message of the Gospel reading for each Sunday. We use the historic three year series of Gospel, Old Testament, and Epistle readings long established in the church.
The purpose of following this lectionary series is to present the entire life of Christ starting with Advent then Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and Second Coming in Judgment. This month we transition from Pentecost to Last Sundays of the Church Year and begin a new year in December with Advent. In this way it is really the Gospel message the good news of Jesus’ life and ministry that sets the theme for each Lord’s Day. Rather than a pastor getting fixated on his favorite scripture passages or themes the Lectionary Series keeps us focused on Jesus and his life and message.
At the end of each bulletin Connie prints the readings for the following Sunday so you can read them in advance and get an idea of what the message or theme is going to be. If you get to church a little early you can read the Thought for the day at the beginning of the bulletin, or you can challenge yourself a little by reading the Introit which comes right after Confession and Absolution. The Introit is a psalm or antiphon that also speaks or at least hints at the theme of the day. Likewise, the Collect of the Day is a prayer focused on the theme of the day. Read through those before you read the Thought of the day and see if you can identify the theme without help from Connie.
Let me give you an example. On November 3rd the Gospel reading is the account of Jesus coming to Zacchaeus house, Zacchaeus rejoicing that Jesus cares about him and repenting of his sin, and Jesus stating that “salvation has come to this house.” The Introit for that day begins with the Psalm verse, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” Zacchaeus orders his way rightly in that he repented of his sin of dishonestly taking from others and instead gives back 4 times as much as he had taken. Jesus showed him the salvation of God.
The Collect of the Day has us pray “O Lord, stir up the hearts of Your faithful people to welcome and joyfully receive Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, that He may find in us a fit dwelling place;” Our prayer is that like Zacchaeus, we would eagerly and joyfully receive Jesus as our Savior. The Theme of the Day, “Jesus chooses to be the guest of sinners! . . . To repentant sinners, Jesus is the welcomed, gracious gift – the one whose blood thoroughly cleanses us from sin. . . .”
Once you have used the liturgy to identify the theme for the day then you get to see how well the pastor applies the Gospel and that central message and theme of the day to your life through the sermon. Keep him on his toes, and rejoice that Christ is always delivering through his Word and liturgy his forgiveness, teaching, love, salvation, and life in every theme and on every Lord’s Day!
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
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In Case You Missed it
August 2019 Ad Hominem
Ad Hominem is a Latin phrase meaning “to the man”, or “to the person.” It refers to the approach, in arguing or debating, of attacking the person rather than their position. You may remember such tactics being implemented when you were in elementary school. “No cutting in line! I was here first.” The argued position is that those who arrive first should get to go first. The Ad Hominem response, “So what, your breath stinks.”
Today politicians and the media use words like racist, bigot, left wing, right wing, liberal, conservative, etc. to somehow diminish, or dismiss, obscure, or evade arguments being made on all sides of the political arena. Whether on the border and illegal immigration, foreign policy, infrastructure, the economy, or health care real debate and realistic solutions are often far from the topic of conversation. All the focus is on one Ad Hominem argument to the next. Our country needs better answers than, “So what, your breath stinks”, or “My dad is stronger than your dad.”
"This man receives sinners and eats with them." Luke 15:2 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Luke 7:34 "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." John. 9:16 "They are filled with new wine." Acts 2:13 These are a few of the Ad Hominem arguments brought against Jesus and his disciples. The tactic is nothing new.
With Jesus, however, Ad Hominem arguments might be a good thing. Attack the man, focus on the man, dig deep into Jesus’ character and life and you are still confronted with his platform, his message, his mission. Jesus and his work are one in the same. He is the friend of sinners, because that’s what he came to do, befriend and rescue sinners. There is no hypocrisy with him. There is no daylight between his character, who he is, and his mission and message.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:28-29 Ad Hominem arguments don’t get to the truth of who you are and what your mission and message is as brothers and sisters of Christ.
When our focus is on ourselves, Ad Hominem, we find only sin and death, faults and failures. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, however, we see ourselves as God sees us, we see ourselves as those who are baptized into Christ, conformed to the image of God’s Son, we see Jesus and all he has done for us. We see forgiven sinners, redeemed holy saints who have been precious to God from before the creation of the world. Only Jesus can stand up to the world’s and the devil’s Ad Hominem arguments, and of course all of you who are in Christ clothed with him covered by his robe of righteousness. Isaiah 61:10, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,”. You can’t argue with that.
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
Oh Give Thanks Unto the Lord!
I want to give thanks to the Lord for twenty years of ministry and the abundant blessings the Lord has showered upon me. It has been an honor to serve for fifteen years at Zion Lutheran Church and School, during which time I went on three missionary trips to Thailand, a one year vacancy at Genesis Lutheran Church in Buchanan Dam, assist at St. Paul Lutheran Church here in Austin, and already three years here at Beautiful Savior. Time goes by very quickly.
I am still amazed that I actually get paid to study the Bible and tell people about Jesus. What a blessing God’s people have been to me throughout the years. It was humbling to see all the pictures from years ago and all the faces of people I had the honor of serving and who were a true blessing to me. We hear about St. Paul in Acts 21, “After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.” This newsletter isn’t big enough for me to list all that God has done through his ministry these past twenty years; what is noteworthy is that it has always been God’s grace and doing through his ministry.
I want to especially thank Mary Jane and the Harned clan and Karla and the Barlow clan for months of work to contact former congregations, relatives, and friends, and assemble pictures, timelines, and history. I appreciate their hard work and Jake and Sarah putting the slide show together and photographing the celebration. Thank you to the Seguin decorating and baking team for the wonderful cake, and to Connie for assisting with history compilation, and my Mom for all her work on invitations. Special thanks to Debbie who “single handedly” with the help of many others decorated and set up for the dinner. Thank you also to Jean Mehochko from Zion, Litchfield for getting pictures and history together from there. Thank you all who sent cards participated in putting together the dinner and have shared twenty wonderful years of ministry with me. And very nice work keeping this all a secret!
Many people have asked me what my future plans are. St. Paul puts it well in Acts 20:24, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” For another twenty years or as long as God gives me strength, I hope to remain a minister in his ministry, a servant in his service. 1 Chronicles 16:8-11 “Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!9 Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!10 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!11 Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!” That. That’s what I want to continue to do. Those are my future plans. Thank you all!
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
A FEW GOOD WORDS
December 2019 God’s own Son is born a child . . . ;
God the Father is reconciled.
What peace is found in those words. As the Church draws nigh to the Nativity of Our Lord, many also draw nigh to the harsh reality of broken families and friendships. The sting of estrangement intensifies in this season as many delight in family gatherings—a delight that is glaringly absent for others.
We long for reconciliation—a marriage healed, the return of a prodigal child, the open arms of a formerly harsh parent. Advent is just the season for reconciliation. It is a penitential season, calling us to examine ourselves, acknowledge our sin with contrition, and trust that our sin is forgiven for the sake of Christ. Such self-examination reveals that the fault for our broken relationships is not one-sided. The sin visited upon me by another has driven a wedge between us, but so has my sin. Part of the distance between me and others is due to my sinful actions—my sinful refusal to forgive, my sinful pride that will not admit my fault, my sinful contentment with a cold shoulder.
Advent calls us to repent of our divisions. Advent calls us to rejoice in reconciliation. Though you can forgive another even when he refuses to acknowledge his fault, reconciliation is found when both parties are willing to admit their culpability, seek forgiveness, and amend their ways. That can seem so difficult. It is hard enough for one sinner to confess his sin and trust that the Lord purges it from his life. How much more challenging it is for two sinners to do so. Yet that is exactly what Christ works among and within us. He grants us confidence in His forgiveness so that we forgive one another, receive one another’s forgiveness, and are thus reconciled.
Reconciliation with some remains ever elusive. We hunger for it; we pray for it. Yet the distance remains. When a parent apologizes to a child so that they embrace for the first time in decades, we rightly rejoice. When our longing is not realized, sorrow results.
The only consolation amid such sorrow is the certainty of your reconciliation to the Father. It is certain because it is not dependent upon sinners humbling themselves in repentance. It is certain because it is dependent upon the sinless Son of God humbling Himself to take on human flesh and be born of a virgin.
That is the glorious, biblical proclamation found in “The Quempas Carol.” We are blessed to hear therein the refrain, “God’s own Son is born a child . . . ; God the Father is reconciled.” This is not wishful thinking driven by our longings. It is reality driven by Christ.
You are reconciled to the Father. Each stanza of “The Quempas Carol” announces our reconciliation to the Father in Christ. Wednesday of the first week in Advent will greet us with the first stanza, in which the angel of the Lord makes known that reconciliation is had because Christ has come “For You and All the World.” The second stanza will serve us on Wednesday of the second week in Advent as we hear that Jesus reconciles us to the Father “To Set You Free from All Your Sorrow.” Then, our ears will be filled with the promise that we are reconciled to the Father because Christ comes “For You, to Bear Your Flesh in Weakness.” Our joy will find its climax at the Nativity of Our Lord, when we hear the fourth stanza’s message that Jesus’ birth is the Lord’s visitation of “All the World with His Free Grace Supplying.”
Behind it all is the Word of God that the Spirit might quicken in us faith to trust these promises. Please join us each Wednesday night starting December 4th for a lite meal at 6:30pm and Advent worship at 7:15pm.
Everyone His Witness
“…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,…” (1 Pet. 3:15 ESV)
Starting January 5th during our 9:30am Sunday School hour I invite and encourage all our members to join us for a new Lutheran Evangelism study. This is not about making door to door evangelism calls on strangers, but rather a way of preparing yourself to share the reason for the hope that is in you with the people you already know from work, school, neighborhood, or community with whom you already have a relationship. The Everyone His Witness program is designed to equip disciples of Jesus Christ to share the Gospel in their everyday lives with the people whom God has placed into relationships with them.
We will take a look at the theological foundation for witnessing and explore how to witness through an intentional approach called the LASSIE approach. Listen, Ask, Seek, Share, Invite, Encourage. If you have ever had a friend in the hospital or going through a challenging time in their life and not known what to say or do, then Everyone His Witness will be a blessing for you. The focus of this study is not to get more members or grow God’s church. St. Paul writes, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Cor. 3:5-7 ESV)
We don’t grow God’s Church. We don’t convert people, nor has God commanded us to. We love people, care for people, tell them about Jesus and what he has done for us to give us hope even in our darkest times, and most importantly we speak God’s Word through which the Holy Spirit works to create and nourish faith in our hearts and in the hearts of our friends, coworkers, classmates, and relatives who need a reason for hope in their lives too.
This study is just to cover the basics of witnessing to the people in our everyday lives. There are, however, online modules that you will have access to for learning how to witness specifically to people belonging to a certain world religion, cults, dechurched, unchurched, people experiencing significant life events, and those in the context of mercy work. I pray you will all join us for this important study. We have been so blessed by the people in our lives who shared with us God’s Word, their faith, and the reason they have hope for this life and the life to come. This is your opportunity to be that same blessing for those in your life.
This is the kind of Evangelism Jesus taught, “As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him.19 And he did not permit him but said to him, "Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you."20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.” (Mk. 5:18-20 ESV)
“Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:21-27
“If”, can be a very sad, and discouraging, and frustrating word. “If”, often begins sentences of regret, of wishing things were somehow different. If only I had been more careful. If I would have thought before I spoke. If I hadn’t eaten so much! “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” If both recognizes that things could be different than they currently are, and it expresses our wish that things were different than they currently are.
Funerals are a place where “ifs” often flow freely. If he would have taken better care of himself. If the doctors had done more. If we would have caught this earlier. If she hadn’t been driving in that storm. Most of our “ifs”, however, are short sighted, because most often we are just focused on the present not on the big picture of our eternal destiny, or God’s purpose in our lives.
“Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She was right. Jesus could have easily healed Lazarus and prevented him from dying. But Jesus had a greater purpose for Lazarus, a bigger picture to paint. He had already done the healing thing with countless others, but for Mary and Martha and for grieving families some 2000 years later he needed to make the picture a little larger, that they might know that he didn’t just have power over sickness, but even power over death. Martha believed and confessed, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."
Today Jesus wants to comfort you with that same belief. “Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."” And he says the same to us today, “Your brother, father, mother, sister, child, friend will rise again.” And we will be with them in a paradise where there are no hospitals, nursing homes, cancer, sorrow, death, or tears. All this because Jesus is here. And as he says, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” It would be nice if we could just cry in a loud voice, “come out!”, and our loved ones would come out of their graves. Did you hear that “if”? “It would be nice If we could just cry in a loud voice.” We would be happy and amazed and thrilled and overwhelmed and we would definitely make the evening news, but just like Lazarus our loved one would be leaving the paradise of heaven and stepping back into a world of cancer, and pain, and frustrations, and sorrow only to eventually die again.
Our “ifs” always paint the picture too small. Jesus didn’t come just to keep us from dying, or to bring us back to life in a world of sin and death time and time again. He had a bigger picture for our future -- a canvass that stretches to all eternity. By his death for you and for me Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and then did something even greater than he did for Lazarus. He rose victorious over sin and death once for all, never to die again never to be burdened by sin and all its effects. That is the true resurrection and life.
You know, not every “if” is about regret or wishing things to be different than they are. 2 Timothy 2:11 “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;” Listen again to what happened to you at your baptism and what happens to all who believe and are baptized. Romans 6:3-5 “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
In baptism we are united to Christ in such a full and complete way that his death for sin is now our death for sin. “If we have died with him, we will also live with him;”. That’s a good “if”, a certain “if”, an Easter “if”, no regrets, no doubts, no wishing things were different. We will rise again and live with the Lord forever, and all who also believe and are baptized will too. “Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"” Easter brings an end to all uncertainty, to all our, “ifs”.