From Pastor's Desk
Is Worship Still Worship
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking ofbread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47
Acts chapter two gives us a glimpse into how Christians worshiped in the earliest days after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven. We know that they devoted themselves to hearing and learning what the apostles were teaching them and what is now written down for us in Holy Scripture. We know there was fellowship. Each Christian didn’t just worship alone at home. There was the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or “the breaking of bread.” Prayer was a part of their worship. In verse 41 of this chapter we hear that about 3,000 people were baptized on the day of Pentecost. Baptism was an important part of their worship. Scripture, however, doesn’t go into great detail on the “how” of Christian worship.
What musical instruments are appropriate for worship? What style of song should be used? For two thousand years the central structure of our worship has not changed. The structure of Word and Sacrament has not changed. We devote ourselves to the words of the apostles still today. The reading of their words and preaching of their word is central to our worship. The celebrating of the Lord’s Supper continues, and of course with the very words Jesus used and the apostles used when they celebrated the
Lord’s Supper. “On the night when he was betrayed . . .” We baptize using the exact words that Jesus told the apostles to use in baptizing. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We pray the Lord’s prayer as Jesus taught us to pray. All the things that God is doing in the Divine Service are sure and certain and unchanging. He speaks his sure and certain Word. He gives us his body and blood for our forgiveness. He puts his name on us in the waters of baptism. There is no uncertainty
or change in the Lord’s Word and Sacraments.
Our part in the Divine Service, however, does see variety and change. How we respond to the Lord’s gifts to us has been expressed in a variety of ways throughout the centuries. Through a multitude of stringed, wind, and percussion instruments songs of praise have been played. The church has passed through numerous musical periods or eras each finding expression in the hymns and songs of the Church. All of us are united in our need for the Lord’s forgiveness and united in our faith that through his Word
and Sacraments we receive that forgiveness. We are not united, however, in how we express our thanks to God for his gifts. Some like one style of music and others another. Some like one musical instrument and others don’t. With our current pandemic we have been forced to employ new means by which we hear and study God’s Word, and receive the Lord’s Supper, yet by his grace we have not been without his forgiveness, blessings and means of grace.
As we return this month to face to face services our worship will look and sound a little different for a while longer, but what will never change is the Lord’s presence where we gather in his Name and around his Word and Sacraments. Some will continue to worship on Zoom and commune as a family, others will worship in person and commune with other families, and all will receive forgiveness, be blessed by God’s Word, and comforted with the fellowship of one another. During this time of transition please choose for yourself the way you are comfortable and safe worshiping. Please respect everyone’s choice and pace in which we all work our way to a new normal. Some were eager to come back a month ago others will wait for a vaccine, and all will find that God has come all the way down into human flesh so that there is no distance that we must travel to get to God. He meets us in Word and Sacrament to forgive, heal, rescue, and deliver us to life everlasting.
In Case You Missed It
Dressed Up and No Place To Go
I have heard that phrase a lot recently. I think we are all starting to feel that way. After months of quarantine we are all eager to get out of the house and go do simple things. We would like to go to our favorite restaurant, or any restaurant for that matter. Go see a movie. Go on vacation. Even a weekend at the beach seems too dangerous.
We are ready to go places, but there is no place to go! Even school, college, or work would be a relief from sitting around all dressed up and no place to go. As Christians, however, we should be most prepared for a life of patient waiting. From the moment we were baptized we have been clothed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness. We were dressed that day and every day since in the wedding garment freely provided by the King who invited us. (Matthew 22)
We are all dressed up and ready to attend the wedding feast of the Lamb in his Kingdom, that has no end. We wait, and watch, and remain ready, but have no place to go . . . yet. The whole world is getting to experience what we have lived our entire lives, but maybe this is working more for our benefit than theirs. We are intently reminded by this pandemic that we are
waiting for better days. Days of freedom. Days no longer imprisoned in our homes. Days when we once again are oblivious to the possibility that anything like this could ever keep us from the places we want to go and for our whole lives have taken for granted.
Perhaps, we have forgotten our true destination, the place the Lord himself has dressed us and readied us to attend. More than our favorite restaurant, movie theater, or vacation spot we are dressed and ready to go to a place of everlasting freedom, pleasure, and life. I pray the joy of that knowledge will bring you peace and patience in all your waiting.
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge--even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you--so that you
are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:4-8 ESV)
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
Happy Lent! . . . ?
And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow,46 and he said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation." Luke 22:44-46
It sounds natural to say, “Merry Christmas!”, or “Happy Easter!”, but how do we express our celebration of Lent? Is Lent even something to be celebrated? It is a time for self-reflection, confession, perhaps fasting or sacrificing some pleasure to remind us of our mortality and Christ’s great sacrifice for us. Normally, however, we don’t associate Lent with a time of celebration or joy, but a time of sorrow and humility. The greeting, “Happy Lent!” doesn’t make its way on to any Hallmark card I have ever seen. Yet without these 40 days of Lent Christmas and Easter and really every other celebration would be hollow and void of any true substance or meaning.
“And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation."”. Jesus’ disciples clearly weren’t too happy about Lent either. Their sorrow and grief over Jesus impending arrest, crucifixion, death, and burial were not how they wanted their Passover celebration to end. Their grief was exhausting. In this dark hour of Lent in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t worry everything is going to work out just fine.” He didn’t say, “Get some rest because you have a big day ahead of you.” He didn’t say, “Relax and stop stressing out about everything. You are going to be ok. I believe in you.” “Rise and pray.”
Those were his words. “Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” When darkness and despair was at its greatest. In Lent’s darkest hour, Jesus did not point his disciples to themselves, but to the One who hears and answers prayer.
Like the disciples we often enter into the temptation to carry the weight and the darkness on our own shoulders. To believe that we are alone in the darkness without help or hope until we are found “sleeping for sorrow”. Lent is not just about focusing on ourselves, our faults, failures, and sins, but a time to, “Rise and pray.” A time to believe and confess that there is One to whom we can raise our prayers, who will listen and answer, and more than that there is a Savior who was there in the dark night of Lent with his disciples, praying, bleeding, dying, and three days later rising victorious over all sin, darkness, and death.
You are not alone this Lent or in any time of darkness, sin, guilt, or even death. Do not enter the temptation to doubt and sleep for sorrow. There is a Champion who came into the darkness for us to end every reason for sorrow and give us hope. Jesus is with you. “Rise and pray.” Happy Lent!
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
Martin Luther To the Reverend Doctor Johann Hess
In August 1527 the bubonic plague had come to Wittenberg, Germany. Martin Luther and his wife Katie opened their home as a ward for the sick. The following is part of a letter he wrote to Rev. Johann Hess sharing his faith and advice.
Others sin on the right hand. They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are. They say that it is God’s punishment; if he wants to protect them he can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health.
If one makes no use of intelligence or medicine when he could do so without detriment to his neighbor, such a person injures his body and must beware lest he become a suicide in God’s eyes. By the same reasoning a person might forego eating and drinking, clothing and shelter, and boldly proclaim his faith that if God wanted to preserve him from starvation and cold, he could do so without food and clothing. Actually that would be suicide. It is even more shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and to fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have. He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor’s death and is a murderer many times over. Indeed, such people behave as though a house were burning in the city and nobody were trying to put the fire out. Instead they give leeway to the flames so that the whole city is consumed, saying that if God so willed, he could save the city without water to quench the fire.
No, my dear friends, that is no good. Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.
Luther demonstrated his faith in God by staying in Wittenberg to help the sick and those in need, but also by obeying sound medical and governmental guidelines and procedures to protect himself and his neighbor. We trust God. We don’t tempt God. That balance is what is called for in our current situation.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Ps. 46:1 ESV)
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
Eyes on Jesus
O come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Gradual for Lent, based on Hebrews 12:2)
When the characters in the Passion narrative look at Jesus, what do they see? In most cases, people misunderstood who He is and what He was doing. In some cases, by faith, people recognized Him aright. Our Lenten series this year, based on the Gospel according to St. Mark, will examine how the various people around Jesus viewed Him—and how we should view Him. We will “fix our eyes” on what Jesus has done to save us from our sins by His holy, precious blood and innocent sufferings and death, and celebrate what God sees on account of His work: our justification for His sake.
On Ash Wednesday, we will see how, in spite of Jesus’ repeated predictions about His upcoming Passion, the disciples with “Misjudging Eyes” fail to recognize that soon He will not be with them, and they cannot see the anonymous woman’s anointing of Jesus as preparation for His burial. But Jesus sees her actions as a beautiful deed that will be proclaimed throughout the world wherever the Gospel is heard.
At our midweek service after the First Sunday of Lent, we will look through Judas’s “Betraying Eyes” and learn why he did this awful deed. Yet the behind-the-scenes-reality is that Jesus was “handed over” (another way of translating the verb for “betray”) by God the Father Himself, so that Jesus could die for the sin of the world.
“Sleepy Eyes” is the theme for the second week of Lent. In Gethsemane, Jesus’ inner circle of Peter, James, and John cannot keep their eyes open to watch and pray with Jesus for even an hour, while Jesus comes to see that His Father’s will is that He drink the cup of God’s wrath when He comes to the “hour” of His suffering.
In the third week of Lent, we stare into the “Denying Eyes” of Peter and the other apostles. They could not see how they could ever fall away from Jesus, but after Jesus is betrayed by Judas, ten of them flee, and Peter—when he is spotted by a servant girl and sees that his own neck is on the line—sees fit to deny Jesus, which leads to his own eyes weeping in remorse. We sinners likewise deny our Lord in many ways, but Jesus denied Himself to take up the cross for our salvation.
“Murderous Eyes” is the theme of week 4 in Lent. The chief priests and scribes saw Jesus as an obstacle to be rid of by murdering Him through the Roman judicial system. Yet during the Passover festival, they would unwittingly bring about the Father’s sacrifice of the ultimate Passover Lamb.
In the fifth week of Lent, we look through the “Worldly Eyes” of Pilate, the Jewish leaders, and the Roman soldiers. Pilate can only view matters in a worldly, pragmatic way, wishing to placate the worldly Jewish leaders and crowd, so he consents to handing Jesus over for
crucifixion. The soldiers see the opposite of a worldly king, but their ironic hailing of Him as “King of the Jews” proclaims who He really is. The world looks for power and glory; God’s way is suffering and the cross.
On Maundy Thursday, there is “More Than Meets the Eye” to the Lord’s Supper. We will look into the Old Testament background of the Last Supper and rejoice in the mystery that Jesus, in and with, bread and wine, gives us His body and blood in order to deliver to us the benefits of His Passion.
On Good Friday, we look through “God’s Eyes” to see what is happening during the Passion: the once-for-all atonement for the sin of the whole world and the justification of all sinners on Easter.
Finally, Easter Sunday gazes upon “Angel Eyes.” The angel in the tomb knows the whole story of Jesus’ resurrection. When he sees the women, he proclaims the Gospel to them, shows them where Jesus’ body had formerly lain, and tells them that they can see Jesus themselves in Galilee. Likewise, the “angels” or messengers of the Church in the apostolic ministry tell God’s people where they can find Jesus and His salvation in the Means of Grace.
Eyes on Jesus will continuously focus our eyes on Jesus Christ and Him crucified, buried, and risen for our justification. This is a vision that will never disappoint, for by trusting in Jesus, He promises that we will gaze upon His beautiful face now by faith and forever in heaven!
Join us Wednesday February 26th at 7:15pm for Ash Wednesday with the imposition of ashes and Holy Communion. For the following 5 Wednesdays we will share a meal at 6:30pm and continue with our Lenten Service at 7:15pm. “O come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus”
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
Hindsight is 2020
We have all probably heard and perhaps even spoken the phrase, “Hindsight is twenty-twenty.” It indicates our inability to see what was coming our way early enough or clearly enough to react appropriately. Only looking back, only in hindsight are we able to see what we should have said or done. Others may use the expression Monday morning quarterbacking. After Sunday’s game is over, then we offer our “wise” suggestions as to what the coach should have done.
This year the phrase, “Hindsight is twenty-twenty.”, has been used a lot more frequently. For most of us that phrase has taken on new meaning. We just want the year 2020 to be behind us, in our rear-view mirror, forgotten. The pandemic has turned our lives upside down and hindered or ruined many joyous occasions. It is still looming over us. If we would have just . . . locked down travel from China, locked down our country sooner and harder and longer, if we would have just let the virus play out and not locked down anything, if, if. Even hindsight isn’t twenty-twenty.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. . . . 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Heb. 11:8-16 ESV)
Thankfully, we live by faith, not by sight. Looking back over this past year there is perhaps one truth we can see with twenty-twenty vision. We are not in control. No matter how clear our vision we cannot remove all the fear, division, hatred, poverty, sickness, or death from this world in which we live. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Our ancestors of faith were not looking back, they didn’t resolve themselves to the only twenty-twenty vision being hindsight. Through God’s Word of promise they saw the baby in the manger, the Christ the Anointed One healing the sick, raising the dead, the Lamb pierced for our transgressions, the Living One standing victorious over sin and death and crushing Satan’s head. “Abraham was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. . . . But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” Our peace over 2020 and our hope for 2021 doesn’t come from hindsight, but from acknowledging that we are strangers and exiles on the earth, and by, looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor. 5:7 ESV)
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)
Pastor Jonathan Bontke