Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Smoky Mountain Reflections
August 2012

            "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." .......on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. This excerpt from the 16th chapter of Matthew's Gospel makes clear who will prevail in the end—God and his church. We however must live in the interim—the time between God’s promise to redeem mankind, His fulfillment of that promise in Christ, and His second coming.  So what are we as His church to do in this interim? What does God call us to do in this in-between time?  We can rest assured that the victory is ours, the battle won.....but what about today? That is a big question to be addressed in one little reflection, but let’s give it a go.

            We should clearly live our lives to glorify God in all that we say and do. Seek to love God and our neighbor by living out His law as best we can and regularly seeking His love and forgivness when we fall short. But what does that look like for us as individuals and for the body of Christ, his church? Well for us as individuals, it is clearer than we may think.  It is not easy to do, but God’s will in our lives is clear—make God #1 in all that we say and do. Make weekly use of His gifts in Word, Sacrament, and rest. Honor the authority He places in our lives. Love, respect, and protect the life, marriage, reputation, family and property of everyone in our lives. As long as we keep His design for a peaceful God-pleasing life together as the standard, then the vocation (in the broadest sense of the word) that we choose can and will be in accord with His will.

            But how that looks for the church, while also quite clear in scripture, has become quite clouded and confusing in past decades.  Not just within the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, but in wealthy western Christianity.  God's word clearly tells us that His church will prevail as noted above, but what that looks like in how we function as His church in the meantime has become a point of great discord and schism within the body of Christ.  Much of this discord can be summed up with the words "Church Growth".  I once heard a pastor say if you are not for church growth, what are you for? 

            If by church growth you mean an increase in the body of Christ, everyone is on board with that definition.  We can all celebrate together in the growth of the church while being careful to avoid defining success as numerical increase.  If that is a measure of doing the right thing, then Muslims and Mormons are doing the right thing.  However we as Christians must define success as God defines success.  Being steadfast and uncompromising in speaking the truth in love about who He is and what He did for mankind—that  is successful.  It is being the church by boldly and confidently doing what He calls us to do—proclaiming His word, administering His sacraments, loving Him and loving and serving all by caring for their physical and spiritual needs (not felt needs, biblically defined needs, food shelter, eternal salvation).

            If however by "church growth" you mean a body of formulaic practices that have developed in the past few decades focusing on individuals and using marketing strategies to bait them into your church, down playing or dismissing the importance of  all the church’s history and tradition.  Then many are not onboard with that.  While the church in many ways can be run as a business, it most certainly is not a business.  While Pastors or shepherds can and should have, and make use of, some leadership skills, we are most certainly not and cannot function as CEO's of the church. There are things that a good CEO must do for the good of a company that a good pastor could not and should not ever do as a servant leader for the good of the church.  And when these "Church Growth" practices call into question the efficacy of the Gospel by saying how we deliver the message is more important than the Gospel itself, it leads to statements that I have made myself. "I just do not want to get in the way of the Gospel.  Who am I to think I can hinder the Holy Spirit?  Who am I to think that my method is so important that God cannot and will not work unless my method is used?”  Oh little worm that I am, please never think such thoughts again. Those who like to focus on numbers as a sign of success often go to Acts 6 verse 7.  They often miss that right after that verse, Stephen was seized for his good work.  They often ignore centuries of church history where the true church was persecuted.  We should always be suspicious if the world is very approving of what we say and do as His church on earth.  Being in but not of the world is no easy task, but it is ours all the same.    

            God continues to use broken redeemed people to proclaim His Gospel, administer His Sacraments, and live out and speak the Gospel in the presence of the lost. God be praised that His truth prevails as matter of biblical truth.  His power is made perfect in our weaknesses. (2 Cor 12:9)  We should all be thankful that we are blessed with the privilege to take part in the spreading of His good news.

In Christ,
 Pastor Portier

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Smoky Mountain Reflections
July 2012

            Communication......an amazing way God has given us to relay information from one person to another. 
The giving or exchanging and/or receiving of information and ideas, which comes in many different forms, some trustworthy and some suspect. We advise, announce, articulate, assert, commune, commiserate, connect, contact, converse, correspond, declare, deliver, disclose, disseminate, elucidate, express, link, mention, notify, publish, read, receive, reveal, talk, tell, transfer, translate, transmit, utter, and write so many things...... that our world is full of information noise and we often end up filtering more than we receive, sometimes even filtering very important information while spending long periods of time on mindless empty information just to take a break from all that endless information.... 

            We have become so good at communicating that we have developed lots of ways to communicate without even ever having to see or talk to each other. This long list of things which are designed to connect us often ends up sending us farther apart.  I write this reflection and it appears in about 90 printed paper newsletters.  It is also available in color at our church website.  I also post it on my blog while e-mailing a link to this blog to over 300 people and posting a link on Facebook as well.  I am sure that one day you will be able to write something and have it call everyone you want it to, and have it read to them on the phone or some mobile device.  Many books these days are available in audio form, read aloud by the author or a professional and pleasing foreign voice.  By my estimation, the different methods I use to send out this article give at least 1500 to 2000 people the direct opportunity to ignore it. Not to mention the multiple thousands that can ignore it online or if it appears in our local newspaper.  I am of course not complaining because I am sure that at least a dozen or so people give of their time to read over the words I so carefully and humbly put together.  And if where two or more are gathered is good enough for God to be present, how can I complain when dozens take time to ponder my words.

            I once read a comparison that noted that in the late 1800's, a person would process in one year the same amount of information most Americans process in a single day.  How much we process and how well depends heavily on numbers.  They are a big part of how we communicate. We see them on our favorite sports player’s jersey or race car driver’s car.  This is so we will know who is being discussed in conversation about the sport.  Numbers streamline and manage our world of communication. Phone #s, Social Security #s, Zip #s, P.O. box #s, street #s, not to mention that all of our electronic communications are all just 1s and 0s.  You may have noticed some symbols there as well (#)—numbers, symbols, words, phones, computers, newspapers, books, letters—all an amazing list of complex tools God gave us to communicate.

            But with all these great ways to communicate...are we drifting farther apart?  Are all these great methods and processes bringing us closer together...or driving us farther apart?  We do not have time for or make time for sitting down over a cup of coffee (or your favorite beverage). We do not have time for or make time for actually being physically present to visit that sick or lonely friend or family member.  We do not have time for or make time for a brief note, card, letter, e-mail, text or post to remember a friend or family member on a day when they need to be remembered. We do not have time for or make time for the niceties of etiquette in e-mails or text...saying hello, or sincerely yours...take time that could be better spent shooting off a dozen other short encrypted messages.  Is it possible that this 50-year old man laments some of the things that our society once held very important and now does not have time to waste on?  Well yes, but I too benefit from all the conveniences that high-speed abbreviated communication gives me...more time to spend on mediocre articles that some people might read :-), more time to spend with my loved ones, being together, being family as best we can, with God's help in this fast-paced world.     

            The most important piece of communication that exists comes from God.  He gives it to us in clear expressions of truth in His word, in His word rightly proclaimed, and in His sacraments rightly administered.  The amazing clear and lucid nature of scripture shows just how much he loves communicating with us.  There is no debate on what God's word says, only on how we apply His truth, or in some circles, if it even is truth.  This much is sure—God loves us so much that He gave His only begotten son for us. When this reality is communicated to us through the Holy Spirit, we crave communication with Him in worship, reading of His word and direct personal communication...prayer.
            Slow down and be selective in what you process. Take time to communicate with God today.  Lay on Him all your worries and concerns, thank Him for all that is good in your life, and ask Him for help to deal with all that is grievous or painful.  He is with you. He will answer. Trust the love He has communicated to you in word and deed.

In Christ,
Pastor Portier