Balance in the Work

I wanted to follow up on yesterday’s post about whether certain tasks were up to me or up to God. When it comes to eternal salvation, this question is pretty easy: God does it all. There is absolutely no effort on my part that earns or secures my place in heaven. That is done in Christ alone.

But other tasks get more tricky to pin down. The classic example for a pastor would be preaching. How much of what goes on in any given sermon depends on my effort and how much depends on what God himself is doing.

The best answer to this that I’ve heard comes from a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Professor Rich Gurgel. Here’s his explanation: In a sermon I use my first article gifts to proclaim second article truths with third article confidence.

This saying refers to the three parts of the Apostles’ Creed, and I actually mentioned it in a blog post here nearly four years ago (which you can read in full here.) Here’s my explanation of the saying from that post:

My first article gifts are the gifts God my Creator has given me. He’s given me skill in writing, speaking, and teaching his Word. The 2nd article truths are the heart of what I want to preach: that God sent his one and only Son to save sinners through his life, death, and resurrection. The 3rd article confidence is knowing that the Holy Spirit will use that Gospel message to work in hearts. It gives me confidence.

Sometimes I need to remember that it’s not me who converts people or directly strengthens people’s faith. But sometimes I also need to remember that I need to use the gifts Gid had given me in the best way possible to carry out the work he has given.

This leads to a balance and a tension in preaching that might seem like a problem, but is actually just a chance for me to let God be God. and let me use my God-given abilities to serve him.

It’s Not Up to Me

Sometimes I get myself into the mindset of It’s up to me. That mindset isn’t all bad. It can get me moving when my lazy self just wants to do nothing. It can remind me of my own problem-solving skills when I want to rely on someone else to swoop down and fix whatever situation I’m in. It even helps me to make an honest choice when my all-too-easygoing attitude wants me to just shrug my shoulders.

But more often, as a pastor who is both a saint and a sinner at the same time, I need to remember that it’s not up to me.

It’s not up to me, at the end of the day, whether someone actually believes what I’m preaching to them. I can only put it out there, the Holy Spirit is the one who brings faith.

It’s not up to me to get the members of my congregation to heaven. I bring the Word — in law and gospel. I comfort them when they’re pressed down and without hope. I afflict them when they’re comfortable with their sins. I encourage them to make use of God’s gifts in Word and Sacrament. But I don’t strengthen them through these things; God does. I just get the privilege of his using me to do it.

And finally, it’s not up to me to somehow perform up to God’s standards. It’s not up to me to do everything right as a husband, father, and pastor. It’s not up to me that everything I want to do and accomplish is what actually happens. If it were up to me, I’d have failed it all miserably long, long ago.

No, those things are up to my Savior. And it’s not like I’m waiting for him to get these things done. Already from the cross he has proclaimed it to me: “It is finished.”

So when I get caught up in my to-do list, I rejoice that my life (with all my failures and shortcomings) is on Jesus’ done list.

Thankful for Vacations

I just got back from vacation. Vacations are strangely tough for pastors to take. There’s always a temptation to feel guilty for taking the time off.

But it’s worth it. My vacation has helped me recharge in many different ways. I was able to spend time with just my wife, with all my kids, and with other family. These are gifts from God that my vacation helps me to be faithful to in a better way.

And now, I’m back to work. Not dreading it and worn out, but ready to go. I’m ready to keep at the work I was called to do.

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Here I Stand

Today is a big day. Today is one of the reasons why I’m a pastor; it’s definitely the reason I’m a pastor in a Lutheran church. That’s because 484 years ago today, a group of princes in the area we know today as Germany presented their confession to Emperor Charles V in a city called Augsburg. Their confession, which we know as the Augsburg Confession, marks the start of the Lutheran church.

This might seem like minutiae of history, something that only pastors and church history buffs would care anything at all about. But it’s not like that. Today I’m reminded that my spiritual forefathers in the Lutheran church, including Martin Luther himself (who wasn’t at Augsburg because of a price on his head!) — I’m reminded that they stood for something. It wasn’t, “we want our own church” or “we want to do things our way.” It was, “let’s get back to what God actually says in his Word.”

That’s really what the Augsburg Confession does: it points back to the Bible as the true source of everything we need to know about God. For me, I don’t agree with the Augsburg Confession because it’s Lutheran or I’m Lutheran; I agree with it because it is true to God’s Word. And like those people 484 years ago today, I want my church to stand for something, to stand on what God says, on his Word alone.

If you haven’t read it before (and even if you have), today would be a great day to take a look at the Augsburg Confession. There’s a free, online version available to read here. Enjoy!

I got to baptize a little baby yesterday. It’s a privilege I’m always thankful for. The difference yesterday is that we were having our service in our school gym instead of at church. So I had to improvise a bit for a baptismal font.

Thankfully, though, we still had all we needed. Water connected with God’s Word. We had a little child who became God’s child, connected to her Savior, born again by the Holy Spirit.

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Not Just Plain Water

Preaching for a wedding today. I won’t share the whole sermon, but I will share a central thought.

“I want you to remember that the three most important words in marriage might not be “I love you;” they might just be “I forgive you.” Forgiveness is the center of our relationship with God. He is the God who loved us and forgave us in Christ alone. So forgive each other. … Love each other, not for what it does for you, but for what you do for each other.”

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Three Little Words

This nest is in a bush outside my garage. A robin is raising her second nest-full of eggs since this spring. Somehow, despite all the rain, despite my dog, despite all the dangers, this bird and her eggs have survived.

Jesus told us this. God takes care of birds. He knows where this bird has placed her eggs. He knows when they will hatch. But He cares even more about you.

“You are worth more than many sparrows” — or robins. He proved it, not in a backyard bush, but on the cross.

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You Are Worth More

Treading Water

I remember taking swimming lessons as a kid and learning how to tread water. It was kind of exciting to be able stay in one place in the water without sinking. But the novelty wore off quickly; soon I realized that treading water was a way to use a lot of energy to go nowhere.

There have been times I felt I was treading water in life. I was doing my work, I was spending time with my family, I was doing everything I would normally do. The problem was I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere. I felt stuck, flailing around and wasting energy without actually accomplishing anything. There wasn’t so much anything going wrong as much as just an absence of things being right.

There are plenty of possible explanations for this, of course. But just last night in Bible class we discussed a verse that I think gives a valuable perspective on our lives and how to live them without just treading water. The verse is Ephesians 2:10: We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Continue reading

Convention Time

Convention Hallway
For the past two days, I’ve been attending the convention for the Northern Wisconsin District of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. To do that, I drove about an hour to Appleton to the campus of Fox Valley Lutheran High School. The school has a great campus that works well for a convention like this.

Some people might wonder why pastors (and in the case of this convention, teachers and other church members) would take two days aside to meet together. A lot of it has to do with the official reasons: presentations on different topics and reports from different areas of ministry in our church body, as well as doing “official” business and recommendations on the best ways to do our work together.

But I think the bigger value in events like these comes in a different way for me. Being a pastor can sometimes feel like a solitary effort, even for pastors like me at a church with more than one pastor on staff. Much of the work has to be done by oneself: writing and preparing for different sermons, meetings, and classes. Even when I make visits with people at their home or even at their hospital bed, I’m usually making these visits on my own.

And that’s fine. I like working on my own, and I believe I do best work that way.. But even when I work on my own, it’s nice to have a reminder that I don’t do my work alone. There are other pastors out there, doing these things, too. There are other congregations out there, even here in my section of Northern Wisconsin, that are going about this same work. There are different ministries and groups that exist for the sole purpose of aiding this work being done.

That’s why it’s worth my time, even if it’s not always convenient. It’s worth it for me to be built up in the importance of what I’m doing and reminded yet again that I don’t do it alone.

Writers Write

Talents are things meant to be used. They’re meant to be cultivated so they can grow and flourish. They are not meant to be buried to die of disuse. They are not meant to atrophy away to nothing.

Jesus’ parable of the talents says that we are to use our gifts for his kingdom. But I don’t feel that I’ve been using mine in the best way.

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