In Case You Missed It
There is No Silver Bullet
I recently heard a very law oriented presentation on evangelism. I was told that the reason people won’t respond to my evangelism efforts is because I am not willing to suffer with those I am trying to reach and become relevant to their lives by first meeting their needs so that they associate Christianity with being helpful to addressing their problems and struggles. Then only will they be open to hearing God’s Word and becoming a Christian themselves.
“You are not willing to sacrifice and be persecuted and so you will not be blessed in your efforts to reach the lost.” I wish evangelism were that simple, and his teaching were the silver bullet to spreading the Good News in the community surrounding our church.
The truth is the Church should be relevant in our communities and seen as helpful in caring for those in need. The threefold emphasis of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is Witness, Mercy, Life Together. Mercy is that emphasis of stepping out of our comfort zone and showing tangible care and support in our neighborhoods and communities. Jesus did much to care for the poor, sick, demon possessed, those mired in sin. He made it clear that we are to care for all people no matter their need or sins.
That doesn’t mean they will all magically respond in faith in Christ. Remember what Matthew tells us about Jesus going to his own hometown? “And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” (Matt. 13:58 ESV) There is Mark’s account of the man who had great wealth whom Jesus loved. “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Mk. 10:21-22 ESV) Luke records what Jesus says of the Holy City Jerusalem. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Lk. 13:34 ESV)
Jesus perfectly loved everyone, cared for everyone, provided for everyone healing, miraculous food, victory over the Devil, forgiveness of sin, resurrection from death, peace with God, everlasting life, glorified sinless bodies, eternal treasures in heaven, and yet John writes, “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?"” (Jn. 12:37-38 ESV)
We serve and love others because Jesus has served and loved us freely. We show mercy because we have been shown mercy. By God’s grace some are brought to Christ when the Holy Spirit uses our witness and our sharing the Good News about our Savior from sin and death, some will not. There is no silver bullet. There is only Jesus loving and forgiving us so much that we can’t help but do the same for others. Apart from Jesus there is only law.
Pastor Jonathan Bontke
Where Is Your Center?
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 ESV)
Is your life ordered around God’s goodness? That was a question that we were encouraged to ask our members at our last Tri-Circuit Pastors’ meeting. The goal of the question was to be more gospel focused and non-judgmental. It encourages us to focus on God and on the places his goodness, blessings, forgiveness, life, peace, joy, righteousness, favor, love, comfort, guidance, etc. are being delivered to us.
Often, we are asked questions that lead us to fix our eyes on ourselves. Are you living a life that honors God and reflects his will and word in what you think, say, and do? We are asked to examine our lives and identify our sin by applying God’s Law to ourselves. The whole season of Lent was spent identifying sin in Jesus’ disciples, the religious leaders, Pontius Pilate, the Roman soldiers, even the women at the tomb, and then seeing the same sins in our own life. There is great importance to delighting in God’s Law and looking into the law as into a mirror to see our true selves, and our deep need for forgiveness and a righteousness that doesn’t come from our works.
If we stop there, however, we are left with guilt, shame, hopelessness asking like Jesus’ disciples, “"Who then can be saved?"” (Matt. 19:25 ESV) In our recent Epistle and Gospel readings John has been encouraging his hearers saying those familiar words that the early Christians adopted as part of the Church’s common liturgy, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn. 1:8-9 ESV)
Is your life ordered around God’s goodness? The description of the early church that Luke gives us is summed up when he says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Is your life oriented around the Bible, particularly the apostles’ teaching? Are you involved in fellowship with other Christians especially in Holy Communion or as they called it “the breaking of bread”? Do you spend time in prayer? God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness through his Word, through Confession Absolution, through his Holy Supper, through Prayer and the mutual conversation and encouragement of fellow Christians. He loves to give us free gifts through these means and places. He loves for us to remember our baptism every morning and the promise that we are his children and heirs of eternal life.
The answer to sin isn’t solved just by identifying we have it, but in having a life ordered and oriented around God’s goodness, his means of grace, his gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation delivered in Word and Sacrament. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” You are a sinner. I am a sinner. We are all sinners. The real question is are you addressing that reality. Is your life ordered and oriented in a way that reflects your love for the underserved mercy and grace that God so desperately wants to lavish upon you? “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” God has great gifts to give you. Is your life ordered around God’s goodness?
Rev. Jonathan Bontke
Easter Hope in a Year of Pandemic
The Editor of Concordia Pulpit resources writes, “Whatever we eventually determine the long-term effects to have been, the initial spread of the coronavirus into a true pandemic in the spring of 2020 touched almost all of us profoundly. Everyone has a personal story to tell. Certainly our worship and our delivery of the Gospel—and Sacraments—was impacted. In the United States, the president, after the first few days of stay-at-home orders in March, hoped publicly that the churches could be filled for Easter Sunday. That didn’t happen. In fact, Christian preaching addressing the pandemic or the delivery of preaching being altered by the virus was perhaps nearly as universal around the world as Easter sermons themselves.”
The following pastors engage the COVID-19 pandemic in quite different ways, depending on the preachers’ local situations. Rev. Stephen Pietsch, PhD, lecturer in pastoral theology, Australian Lutheran College, Adelaide, South Australia reports that the virus affected Australia less than many countries, but that all churches were closed and the work of the seminary where he teaches was jeopardized by the economic impact. Rev. George A. Kirkup, PhD, pastor, St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, Holbrook, New York says his congregation, near the US “epicenter” in New York, lost members, with the tragic complication that he was unable to visit during the last days or conduct at least one of the funerals. Rev. Peter C. Cage, STM, senior pastor, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana delivered his Easter message from a high pulpit to a huge, empty cathedral sanctuary. Rev. Don C. Wiley, PhD, assistant professor of pastoral ministry and missions, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana who’s streamed sermon may have seemed just another day at the office, given CTSFW’s entirely online spring quarter.
As we begin to start live services and hope to return to “normal”. I want to thank all of you for your patience, love, encouragement and adaptability to a new way of worshiping and receiving the Lord’s Supper. I couldn’t have asked for a finer congregation full of faith and love to endure this storm. I wanted to share the closing words of Pastor Kirkup’s Easter sermon from one year ago.
Jesus’ resurrection is the proof we need for our doubts; it’s the most historically verifiable event from the ancient world. Witnessed by hundreds, the apostles would never stop preaching their resurrected Lord, even under pain of death. Since Jesus was raised from death, the firstfuits of those who have fallen asleep, those who belong to Christ will certainly be raised to eternal life (cf 1 Cor 15:23). This is a comfort that no quarantine can take away.
I wish you were here today. But more than that, I am comforted knowing that Jesus hears our prayers and he is with us always. His death gives us life, and his resurrection gives us hope. Whether you’re in grief like Martha or Mary, whether you’re facing death like Lazarus, the Son of God has come into the world to bring life.
God willing, we will be gathered together soon. We will grieve those whom we have lost. We will cry together and console one another with God’s promises. And in the resurrection on the Last Day, we will be gathered with all the saints in heaven around our resurrected Lord. Amen.
Return to the Lord your God
“return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” Joel 2:13
Last month I shared the theme for our Lenten series this year. What some of you may not know is that our Sunday School class is also studying this same theme. I encourage you to join us on this very timely and relevant topic. “Return to the Lord your God,” is what the congregation sings before the Gospel reading to mark the season of Lent. This particular Lenten season, we will focus on God’s historic call to His people to repent and the things that might get in the way of us returning to God. Even if our desire is to return to God, there are many stumbling blocks, not the least of which is ourselves. That is the subject of our Lenten theme this year as we dive into God’s Holy Word and consider carefully the distinct difficulty experienced by the people we encounter in each biblical narrative.
We will also explore in each study how that particular difficulty might be keeping us from returning to God or, equally important, how God may be using that very difficulty to draw us to Him. Whatever the case may be, it is always God’s desire to be our God and for us to be His people. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31:33)
In many ways, this is a very timely study after the whole world experienced a time of plague and social distancing last year during Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and it’s still going on!!! That holy season was unlike anything we had ever experienced. It was a time when God, during the season of Lent, was clearly calling to us and saying once again, “Return to the Lord your God.” Throughout the Scriptures, God has time and time again called His people Israel back to Him.
It will be interesting, and perhaps also challenging, for us to look back at the COVID-19 outbreak and see ourselves in the place of the biblical people we are studying. How did we handle things when we didn’t really understand what was going on? Did the event itself, and the challenges and complications it presented in our lives, cause us to draw further away from God or to “return to the Lord our God”?
We will explore and try to answer these questions and many others through these sessions: A Call to Return; Prayer; Betrayal; False Witness; Denial; The Kingdom of God; and The Resurrection and You: Come and See. If you aren’t already joining us for Sunday School, I encourage you to do so. As we do, we remember in faith to “return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13).
Return to the Lord
Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Joel 2:13 ESV)
In the Book of Joel, the prophet paints a vivid picture of the coming judgment of God, the Day of the Lord. The imagery is bold and terrifying: hordes of locusts swarming over the land and decimating everything. Joel’s prophecy has teeth even today as wars rage, natural disasters threaten and destroy, and our culture seems to be unraveling. But right in the middle of this frightening portent, we find a tender invitation from the Lord: “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13). God’s invitation and promise finds its fullness in Jesus Christ, who
personifies and accomplishes all that God declares.
During this season of Lent, we will consider the theme “Return to the Lord” and examine how the call to return played out in practical ways for the people who walked alongside Christ as He demonstrated and carried out God’s grace and mercy on our behalf, taking God’s wrath upon Himself, setting the stage for God to “turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him” (Joel
Each sermon in this series focuses on a particular event in the Passion, with a special focus on the people involved in the event. Studying the events and people helps to connect the hearers with their own sinful nature, to emphasize how we have turned away from the Lord, and to reinforce and rejoice in God’s call for us to return to Him with all our heart. Ash Wednesday: “A Call to Return”. Joel's prophecy is dark and terrifying, and the imagery is vivid. It sets the stage for God's invitation and promise: "You have turned away from
me in your hearts and minds, and I have now shown you where that path will take you. But it is not too late. Turn back! Return to the Lord! I am gracious and merciful, and I will bless you." This sermon sets the stage for the Lenten path that we will follow together.
Wednesday of Lent 1: "Return to Prayer". This sermon focuses our attention on Peter, James, and John in the Garden of Gethsemane, and explores the topic of prayer. Our prayer life ebbs and flows; we have seasons of abundant prayer and seasons of drought. Throughout all of it, though, Jesus prays consistently. Indeed, “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too
deep for words” (Romans 8:26). When God calls us to pray, He provides the means to do so and even fulfills what we ourselves are unable to do. So also Jesus takes our sins upon Himself and dies on the cross, satisfying the wrath of God and fulfilling what we ourselves are unable to do.
Wednesday of Lent 2: "Return from Betrayal". Judas appears in the in the Garden of Gethsemane and betrays Jesus into the "hands of lawless men" (Acts 2:23). This sermon explores the theme of betrayal, specifically the ways that we betray one another and Jesus through our denials and rejection of the faith.
Wednesday of Lent 3: "Return from False Witness". Judas' betrayal brings Jesus before Caiphas and the Council. In this sermon we examine what God actually means in the Eighth Commandment when He said that you should "not bear false witness against your
neighbor?" (Exodus 20:16) and what to do when our failure here leads us away from God. Thankfully, God calls us to turn from our sin, to look to Him, and to find our rest and identity in Him.
Wednesday of Lent 4: "Return from Denial". Peter stands in the courtyard, watching his Lord and master being wrongfully accused, having promised that he was ready to follow Jesus both to prison and to death. But when asked directly, Peter denies Jesus. But Jesus will have the last word. He calls us to return to Him . . . to return from denial. Wednesday of Lent 5: "Return to the Kingdom of God". Pontius Pilate reigns at his Headquarters and is forced to wrestle with the question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), but the real question is “Who is truth?” In this sermon, a King calls us to return to His rule and reign so that He can pour out blessings on us.
Holy (Maundy) Thursday: "Return to the Table". Jesus’ invitation is such that He draws us into a place where we have fellowship with all believers. And yet, our fellowship is stained by sin. Our Lord’s invitation to return is accompanied by His promise to make all things new, when once again we will share the fruit of the vine with Christ Himself.
Good Friday: "Return to Truth". In this sermon, we remember the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for each of us. Our focus is on the One who is the way, and the truth, and the light, even as He hangs on the cross, wracked with pain and writhing in agony.
Easter Sunday: "Return and See". Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! In this sermon we rejoice that our Lord’s call to return was issued so that we might have life in abundance through the one who lived, died, and rose again to secure our salvation.
We will be having our Lenten services on Zoom starting with Ash Wednesday February 17, 2021, with a time of fellowship starting at 6:45pm and worship starting at 7:15pm. We hope to be together again in church for Holy Week services and Easter. We will make those decisions as we get closer to Easter. Christ is Risen! Alleluia!
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)
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Sola Fide – By Faith Alone
Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, (Jn. 12:37 ESV)
We sometimes think that if God would just speak to us, appear to us, or if we could see Jesus perform a miracle we would easily believe and live our lives much differently than we do now. What if I saw Jesus face to face? What if I saw his crucifixion and his resurrection? What if I saw him give me his body and blood for my forgiveness and life, but I kept on sinning? What if I still got angry short tempered, thought money, liquor, good food, and the pleasures of this life would bring me security happiness and peace? What if I still doubted and feared that to lose my life in this world would be the end of my existence?
What if I knew not by faith but by sight that Jesus is Lord, Savior, God but I still lived like the sinner I am? What would my excuse be then? What would my hope be then? We often shake our heads at Jesus’ disciples and the people who saw and experienced his signs, and wonders, and miracles. We think if we had seen those things our lives would be different somehow. We would easily believe and live our lives completely in service to him and in happy obedience to his Word, but that’s not true. “For there is no distinction:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (Rom. 3:22-24 ESV)
“And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Matt. 26:75 ESV). Peter had seen Jesus’ miracles, even his Transfiguration. Those things did not bring an end to his need to be forgiven and reconciled to God, only deeper bitterness and shame over his sin. Our problem isn’t that God won’t reveal himself to us physically and visibly in human form and do miracles for us so we can know he is real, his death and resurrection were real, and our salvation is real. If he did all those things, we would still be sinners. Uncontrolled helpless sinners in need of undeserved mercy, grace, forgiveness, is who we are. “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,”.
Jesus isn’t our Savior because he appears to us visibly or performs miracles before our eyes. He is our Savior because he died for our sins and rose from the dead victorious over all that would keep us from him and his eternal Kingdom. That is the Savior we need. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn. 20:30-31 ESV) That is how Jesus would have you believe that he is your Savior. Through his Word, his Promise not through sight.
Sola Fide – By Faith Alone.
There is no uncertainty to the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross and delivers through Word and Sacrament. Luther writes, “Everything, then, depends on this faith, which alone makes the sacraments accomplish that which they signify, and everything that the priest says come true. For as you believe, so it is done for you. (Matt. 8:13; 9:29) . . . Not the sacrament, but the faith that believes the sacrament is what removes sin. St. Augustine says this: The sacrament removes sin, not because it takes place, but because it is believed.” (LW 35, 11) Our certainty doesn’t come from seeing, “Then he touched their eyes, saying, "According to your faith be it done to you."30 And their eyes were opened.” (Matt. 9:29-30 ESV) First comes faith, then sight.
From Pastor's Desk