Tuesday, December 15, 2015

SMR #166

Smoky Mountain Reflections #166

            Is it ever good or healthy for a church to get smaller? Well, if you understand the church to be people and not a building, there are some realities we should consider when answering this question. Much church growth literature will point out that 80% of churches in America have either plateaued or are in decline, but plateauing or declining is not always a terrible thing. In fact, the numerical size of any congregation is at the discretion of the Holy Spirit. We should always strive to reach out to the lost with God’s truth, but we do not cause a congregation to grow; we are but workers in the harvest field. We as Americans often think that more and bigger is always better, but I feel that this is a faulty assumption when applied to churches, causing us to be unsatisfied with God’s provision and support. So, let’s look at some reasons why a good church, that is doing God’s will in the community in which He called them to serve, might see a healthy decline in membership or attendance.

First, unconverted people may leave because the gospel is being preached. Of course there are unsaved people within the visible church, but sadly, many of these individuals only want to hear a typical feel-good, better-yourself, itching-ear kind of message (which sadly is all that is preached in many churches). Such people will not like the Biblical message of law & gospel (“You are a sinner, but Jesus Christ died for you”). This type of church member will either repent and grow, leave, or stay and cause problems, especially if they are in a leadership position. Preaching the gospel is the right thing to do and is the only thing that can give life to a church. No pastor or congregation should ever be discouraged if they lose people as a result of declaring the gospel. We should, however, always remember those who leave in our prayers, and continue to try to reach out to them.

Church members also pass away and go to be with Christ. In my 10 years here, 23 of our members have left the church on earth for the church triumphant. In some years a church may have more funerals than baptisms or new member receptions, but this is part of the typical life cycle of any church family regardless of size.

Pastors, teachers and other missionaries are trained, tested, affirmed and sent out to serve the church in other places. If a church experiences decline in numbers because they send workers out to be trained or serve the broader church, that is a good thing.

An intentional process is in place to catechize people before they become members. Sometimes people do not join a church because the church takes a stand on Biblical truth. People declined to join or have left St. Paul because they did not like scriptures’ position on women’s ordination, close(d) communion, cohabitation, or homosexual marriage. Speaking the truth in love is not always received well, but it is better to be upfront and honest than to pull a bait-and-switch.

Sometimes a church has been in decline for a long time, but the membership roll has not been cleaned for many years. After an honest evaluation of the congregation’s roster, if it is discovered that many members have moved, gone to another church, or no longer consider themselves members, then reducing the number on paper may appear drastic, but it is simply acknowledging the reality of the situation.

Finally, if the demographics of a community are on the decline, fewer people in the community will mean fewer people in church. For example, Detroit has shrunk from almost 5 million to less than 380,000, and as a result a great many churches have closed their doors. We should of course always seek to have a church wherever there are people to serve, but if a church is a reflection of the community it serves, then it should not fret, but thank God for the opportunity to serve that community.

In Christ,
Pastor Portier

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

#165 Go to Chruch

Smoky Mountain Reflections #165
            “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” We should all be familiar with these words, whether we memorized them in our youth or learned them as an adult. However, we often have a skewed view of how to apply this commandment. I was at an elders meeting in one of my previous congregations when I learned that sadly, only about 35% of our members were in worship on any given Sunday. I was further saddened to find out that for a congregation of that size, this was an average percentage. “Regular attendance” is a term that is defined clearly in scripture as weekly, but many Christians define it as every other week, or monthly, or quarterly, or occasionally, and some who attend only for Christmas and Easter would even call themselves regular in their attendance.
            When I was a Vicar, Pastor Dettmer and I were having a conversation about attendance and I mentioned to him that it seemed to me that some folks were just looking for any good excuse to avoid church. His response was, “No, they will take the first excuse that comes along”. The evil one is trying to take God’s gifts away from you and two of those gifts are His Word and Sacrament, because that is where you are fed spiritually. If he can tempt you while you are spiritually starving, his odds of success increase. So he provides a long list of excuses and distractions to get in the way of your regular weekly attendance in God's house to receive God’s gifts.
When I was in that meeting I mentioned earlier, one of the elders mentioned that it was unrealistic to expect 100% attendance because of all the legitimate things that cause people to miss worship. This may be a true statement, but it should still be our personal goal to attend worship weekly. However, let’s look at some of those things that make us miss church.
I think one of the first on the list would be travel; many of us use the weekends to get to and from faraway places, and while being on vacation in Hawaii is a good reason to miss church in Tennessee, it is not a good reason to miss worship altogether. God has good churches all over the world; one should put as much time and effort into looking for a place to worship on vacation as one would into finding a good restaurant.
The list of “reasons” (excuses) we do not attend is long: boredom, tiredness, laziness. So while Jesus bleed and died on a cross we can’t be bothered to miss our only weekly opportunity to sleep in. Some avoid church because they are angry with someone and do not want to run into them, which is really difficult if that someone is the pastor. Sometimes we are just mad at God for some pain and suffering in our life and blame Him instead of trusting, learning, growing and attending. And let’s not forget those all-important sporting events. It's much more fun to attend a softball tournament than to listen to my pastor tell me that I am a sinner. And if in your mind a sporting scholarship is the only way you think you can afford college, then working for your future then becomes more important than what some would call just singing a few hymns of Sunday. Or maybe you have a hobby or project that just needs a few more hours to be finished. Or maybe you are participating in or helping to coordinate the Santa Run. And don’t forget all those all important political news shows that only air on… you guessed it, Sunday morning.
So what is a church supposed to do with all that competition on Sunday mornings? Well first, some of these things are out of the control of some of the people who are absent. Some have to work or have other real obligations that make church attendance nearly impossible for them. To help with this we have a Wednesday service year-round to provide an additional worship opportunity.
But we must also admit that we make time for things that are important to us, so please pray that with God's help, weekly worship could be and remain a high priority in your schedule. Good habits are hard to start, but once begun, progressively easier to maintain. Our attendance here at St. Paul is actually a little above the average for a congregation our size, floating usually between 65-70%, though these numbers are a little bit padded by the fact that we get a lot of vacationing Lutherans. So while we can agree that a 100% attendance goal is a pipe dream, we can also do our best with God’s help to make missing out on God’s gifts a less regular part of our lives.

In Christ,

Pastor Portier

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Reflection #164 "Say Thank You"

Smoky Mountain Reflections #164
Do these phrases sound familiar to you? “90% of the work is done by 10% of the people.” Or, “Nobody wants to do anything around here; it seems impossible to get people to volunteer to do anything.” You may have been in places in your life where things seemed that way to you, and you may even think that this might apply to our church family here sometimes. However, I think it is more true that this is a result of so many people doing so many little unseen things that we do not even realize how much everybody is in fact doing, not to mention some famous guy about 500 years ago who said something about “putting the best construction on things” or “explaining them in the kindest way” when speaking of our neighbors.  Re-read the opening statements (in quotes) and see if they seem like the ‘best construction’ to you.

As your pastor, I have a unique view of this congregation because it is my vocation to know and be pastor to all of you. I know the names of all our members (although it may have taken me a while to learn one or two) and have had one-on-one conversations with all of you. I also know most of what gets done around here and most of the people who do it. Consequently, I would like to take this opportunity to brag on the congregation of people for whom I am blessed to be shepherd. As I pondered this, it occurred to me that over half of our congregation is actively involved in some sort of activity that makes Saint Paul Lutheran Church the bright beacon of Gospel truth that it is in our community.  I have on more that one occasion had perfect strangers complement me regarding the good that our church does for Christ in this community.  I have in the past bragged about all the ministries and services we support, and also about the diverse geographical and cultural heritage that make up our church family.  But what I have not bragged about in a long time is all the hard work that so many people do to make this church such a lively bunch of servants for Christ.

Now, our Lord speaks against bragging in a conceited way, but I think it is fitting to humbly recognize the many and varied efforts the members of our congregation make on behalf of Christ’s church. Most of the work people do here is to the glory of God and not for themselves, but how can a person say thank you for a job well done if they do not know who did it? Also, God tells us in His word to encourage one another.  The list that follows is given so that you can thank each other for a job well done.  This list is mostly alphabetical, and it is important to note that it is also brief and incomplete. Many are not on the list, but that does not mean they are not doing their part; quite to the contrary, some have served God’s church for decades and are in a different season of their life now. Others are new to the church and are still discovering what it is God would have them do. Still others are praying for and providing resources for God’s work.  And my final caveat: your human pastor probably has forgotten the great job you did for God’s church because so many are doing so much, and some of you do so much that I only listed a few things for each of you.  So here goes…
Donna Allen: recording engineer, Lavonne Berry: Women’s Care Center volunteer, LWML treasurer, Keith Brandt: Webmaster, Susie Brandt: choir, Robin & June Brown: greeters and choir, Nelson Calfee: Elder, Laura Calfee: Youth volunteer, Tucker Calfee: Acolyte, Gwen Cody: church secretary, Roger & Myrna Dance: Food Bank volunteers, Pastor Dettmer: Worship & Elder, Pat Dettmer: LWML President, Nancy Donaldson: Altar Guild, Norman Edelman: Trustee assistant, Ann Edelman: Acolyte, Gerald Frank: greeter & usher, Sue Frank: greeter & historian (scrapbooks), Joni & Billie Joe Geszvain: bulletin board & sign coordinators, Bob Hansen: choir, Keith Jenkins: Elder & adult Sunday School teacher, Dana Jenkins: Financial secretary, treasurer & Sunday School teacher, Clare Jenkins: Acolyte, Dean Johnson: usher, Jerry Johnson: Head Elder, Judy Johnson: Stewardship, Marc Johnson: Elder & usher, Chris Johnson: usher, Barbara Jones: Education & organist, Mary Ellen Kasten: Fellowship assistant, Rod Kuzynski: President, Jean Kuzynski: Choir, Elisabeth Leiser: Trinity Hope volunteer & choir, Bruce Lerche: Evangelism, Tom Malinowski: usher, Bill Matthies: choir, Dick Medley: Food Bank volunteer, Gary McCaffity: VP & choir director, Jan McCaffity: Newsletter & ICU Coordinator, Bob McMahan: grounds clean up, Carl Parsons: Elder, Mike Prall, Trustee assistant, Jay Purkhiser: usher, Beth Purkhiser: Fellowship assistant, Gerda Portier: Thrivent treasurer, Sunday School teacher, Chris Ramsey: Elder, Penny Ramsey: Sunday School teacher & paper calendar, David Roberts: head usher & Elder, Debra Roberts: Alter Guild, Dave Reptik: Trustee, Debbie Reptik: Youth, Trish Rupholdt: Alter Guild, Veronica Sawyer: Prayer Chain, Mandy Smith: choir and fellowship assistant,  Betty Stover: Alter Guild & Prayer Chain Captain, Tony Stover: Trustee assistant, Riley Spencer: Acolyte, Bill Sproat: Elder, Angela Sproat: Fellowship chair, Josh & Jenni Swiger: ICU delivery, Steve & Shelly Turner: lawn care & landscaping, Lois Vicknair: organist, Joanie Wagner: Altar Guild, Cheri Wales: choir, Eva Walker: Altar Guild. That is a lot of people doing a lot of good work for God.  Now find someone you did not know was doing something for the church and thank them. Thanksgiving is just around the corner!

In Christ,

Pastor Portier

Friday, September 25, 2015

#163 Love your neighbor

Smoky Mountain Reflections #163

            “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is how Jesus summarizes the second table of the law; (commandments 4-10) Honor, protect, and be proactively concerned with the authority in our lives, our family, friends and neighbors, and the property, reputation, and relationships of everyone in our lives. Those simple 7 rules tell us who our neighbor is and how we are to love them.

            The problem with putting that into practice is that we have to push the old Adam out of the way. When we try to do this together as a congregation what does it look like? If we try to love our neighbor by employing man centered marketing strategies designed to appeal to the old Adam, then most millennials will ‘smell’ that you are trying to sell them something and discount you as just another hawker of goods to be peddled. So maybe instead of trying to find newer better ways to love our neighbor, we should just let our relationships with them dictate how we love them. Looking over the list of ministries we support here, you find good examples of how we can love our neighbor both here in our community and, through larger organizations, we share God’s love on a regional or even international scale.    

            We here at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Sevierville rarely have a worship service that does not have at least one new face. Only about 20% of those guests are people who live in our community and are looking for a church home, the rest are out of town Lutherans or other vacationing Christians who appreciate traditional, liturgical worship. Either way, they are all guests, so how should we treat them? Only a few decades ago it was a common practice to have guests stand and introduce themselves, and maybe present them with a small gift, until many churches discovered that lots of people would avoid visiting a church for fear of just such an awkward moment. Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, to just ignore people so as not to call attention to their presence so they do not feel uncomfortable. This is common in larger congregations, but creates a problem. Many people attend the same church but do not know each other, so anonymity becomes the norm, and even members can feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. So what is a person to do? The next thing you know, that crazy pastor with the French name will start encouraging people to greet each other with a holy kiss!! No, nothing as drastic as that… how about a simple sharing of the peace; greeting one another in the Lord, then, when the closing hymn is over, the awkward shaking the hand of a stranger part will be over so you can introduce yourself and get to know each other through a bit of small talk as you leave the sanctuary together.

            While that might take care of some of the awkwardness of being a loving neighbor in a church sanctuary, our world is loaded with social land mines which give different responses to the same action. For example, I have been thanked and praised most of my life by people of all ages and genders for a simple act of kindness, holding a door (incidentally, my last name translates to door man). However, I have also been scolded by the occasional toddler or feminist who assured me they could take care of that door themselves. If your motives for loving your neighbor are desires for praise or adulation, you will eventually be disappointed or even have your feelings hurt. On the other hand, if your actions are based on a biblical strategy… “Love your neighbor as yourself”, then regardless of how your neighbor responds, you remain faithful, and by loving your neighbor in accord with God’s will, you are showing your Love for God.

In Christ,
Pastor Portier

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Reflection #162 Hell

Smoky Mountain Reflections #162
Hell is a bad place, and we would not want even our worst enemies to spend eternity in a state of eternal torment. There is no mistake that it is a real place; God’s word is clear. There are twenty words in Hebrew that directly or indirectly mention the place of eternal torment, and there are forty Greek words that do the same. In most reliable English translations, the word hell appears 50 times. If you count the other words brought forward into English that mean “hell” or “a hell”; places like: Sheol, Hades, Hinom, and Gehenna, there are over 100 other occurrences. Suffice it to say that hell is real, it is where all sinners deserve to go, and we are all sinners. “What a bleak reflection for this month pastor, why so much talk of hell?”

We find ourselves in a society in which the bulk of the population seems to be on a fast track to hell.  This is very sad news that should motivate us to get out of our comfort zone and share what Christ did to free all mankind from being destined for hell. Most people who reject Christ fit in two main groups; those who reject Christ because they do not believe that he exists, and those who reject Christ because they because what they know of Him is incorrect. You cannot argue anyone into the faith, however, you can speak the truth in love so that the Holy Spirit can gather and enlighten those who live in darkness. I would like to offer two friendly conversation starters to present the Gospel to these two groups of unbelievers.

            First if you do not believe that Christ exists, what do you with all the evidence and witness to the fact that he does? By all historical standards the man named Jesus that is described in the Gospel accounts did exist. We have thousands of copies of manuscripts, some only decades away from the events themselves. By all ancient textual standards it is agreed that the Gospels are reliable witnesses to the events of His life. So the question really is, if you do not believe that Jesus is who he claimed to be….what do you do with the empty tomb? This should start an interesting conversation allowing you to share the Gospel, and answer or offer to get answers to any questions of faith they might have.    

The second group often rejects Christ because of those who claim to be Christians but represent Him poorly. Now at some level, we are all guilty of this. We have all said or done things that have reflected poorly on our savior. The first and best thing to do here is to admit to our misinformed neighbor that no matter how hard we try, we are sinners; all Christians are sinners who misrepresent their savior. Then we can ask them not to blame Christ for the weakness of His followers. Yes, Christianity has a long history of misrepresenting Jesus. The Crusades and the Inquisition are classic examples; even though the Crusaders and Inquisitors invoked Christ’s name in their actions that does not mean that they were following His will and guidance or His clear word. So if you want to know who Christ is and what He came to do, read His word; start with the Gospel of John, then go to a good biblical church; one that follows biblical principles no matter how unpopular they may be. Go there so God can feed your faith in word and sacrament.

            So to wrap this up I give you a simple analogy; I hold in each of my hands a tablet; one is an aspirin and the other is cyanide. While both are tablets, one will alleviate aches and pains, and the other will kill you. It is a good idea for us to tell people about the benefits of a medication like aspirin. In the same way, it is not just a good idea, but we are called as Christians to tell our neighbor about the benefits of the Gospel. It is an equally good idea to warn people about the dangers of cyanide. It does not matter if people do not like hearing about how bad cyanide is, it is the loving thing to do to warn them against its deleterious effects. In the same way, just because people do not like hearing about hell and our sin which gets us there, the loving thing to do is to tell our neighbor that sin is a real thing, defined for us in scripture, making us all worthy only of an eternity in hell. Because we do not want anyone to go there, we explain how our sinful nature condemns us and Christ paid the price for our sins because he wants all people to spend eternity in a much better place; the new heavens and new earth. We know this because He tells us so, and a word count on heaven shows he liked talking about heaven more than hell. The word “heaven” appears in scripture over 650 times! So as we speak the truth in love, we should not shy away from the truth about where we deserve to spend eternity, but we should spend more time telling people where God wants us to spend eternity, and how Christ death and resurrection makes that possible!

Praying that you have a heavenly month,
In Christ,

Pastor Portier

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

SMR #161 Words of Encouragment

Smoky Mountain Reflections #161

            It is my desire in this reflection to encourage you, so this reflection will be a condensed version of two well-written articles by two men I highly respect; our synodical president the Reverend Dr. Matthew Harrison, and the Reverend Dr. Peter Scaer, a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling……There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, 
….The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; 
   the God of Jacob is our fortress (Psalm 46: selected verses).

“A one-person majority of the U.S. Supreme Court got it wrong – again. Some 40 years ago, a similarly activist court legalized the killing of children in the womb. That decision has to date left a wake of some 55 million Americans dead. Today, the Court has imposed same-sex marriage upon the whole nation… Now shall come the time of testing for Christians faithful to the Scriptures and the divine institution of marriage (Matthew 19:3–6), and indeed, a time of testing much more intense than what followed Roe v. Wade…
As faithful Christians, we shall continue to be obedient to just laws. We affirm the human rights of all individuals and the inherent and equal value of all people. We respect the divinely given dignity of all people, no matter their sexual preference. We recognize that, under the exacting and demanding laws of God, we are indeed sinners in thought, word and deed, just as are all (Romans 3:9ff.). We confess that the “blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all our sins” (1 John 1:7). We confess that God’s divine law of marriage and the entire Ten Commandments apply to all, and that so also the life-giving sacrifice of Christ on the cross is for all. It is a “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:22).
However, even as we struggle as a church to come to a unified response to this blatant rejection of the entire history of humankind and its practice of marriage, “We shall obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). …God help us. Amen. Pastor Matthew C. Harrison”
For the full version of this letter I encourage you to visit

            The following discussion points concerning the sanctity of marriage and the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision were prepared by the Rev. Dr. Peter J. Scaer, associate professor of Exegetical Theology, Concordia Theological Seminary (CTSFW), Fort Wayne, Indiana.
1. The Supreme Court decision changes nothing about our Christian faith. There is still a higher court and Christ will be our final Judge. As Christians, we obey the government (Romans 13), but we recognize that our greatest allegiance is to God and His Word, and that in matters of conscience, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
            2. We continue to support one man one woman marriage, as it is taught in Genesis 1 and 2, and as
it is taught by Christ Himself (Matthew 19:1-9 and Mark 10:1-12).
5. We are all called to repentance. As a people, we have not treated marriage with the respect that it deserves. Divorce is far too common among us, and too oft­en we condone and support even our fellow Christians as they live together outside of wedlock. Knowing that we cannot rely upon worldly wisdom, we are called to hear and reflect upon God’s Word and once more come to Him for forgiveness.
6. True love calls us to speak the truth so that all may know the forgiveness and love of Christ. We cannot celebrate that which God calls sin (Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9). By doing so, we leave people in their sin and apart from Christ.
            8. The Court has been wrong before. In the Dred Scott decision, African Americans were counted as less than human. In Roe v. Wade, the rights of the littlest children were ignored, leading to the deaths of 57 million
children. The Supreme Court, like any human institution, is prone to error. As Christians, we recognize that there is a higher, heavenly court and that God’s Word does not change. We also recognize that unjust decisions must be challenged for the good of our neighbor.
            11. Marriage is the only institution that binds a man to his wife and to any children that result from that union. Only the union of one man and one woman is able to produce a child, and that is the reason the state should be involved in marriage, because it is good for children and society.
14. So-called “gay marriage” is not the end of the debate but only the beginning. There is now no consistent logical argument against polygamy, group marriage or temporary marriage. Such arguments, once thought to be extreme, are now commonplace. In the midst of such confusion, the Church must continue to speak the truth in love.
            16. As same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, Christians will be increasingly persecuted for their belief. Already, florists and bakers have come under fire. Businessmen have lost their jobs and reputations.
Christian adoption agencies have been forced to close. Pastors have had their sermons subpoenaed. Christian schools have already come under assault, having to fight for their accreditation. The free exercise of religion, a constitutionally protected right, is under great assault. We therefore must stand together with people of conscience. We must support those who speak God’s truth in love and are persecuted for living according to their faith in Christ.
This is about half of the talking points, for the full list visit; http://www.ctsfw.edu/document.doc?id=1834

            We have a tough road ahead of us but the gates of hell will not prevail against God and His church. Be informed and be encouraged.           
In Christ,
Pastor Portier

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

#160 Just Words....

Smoky Mountain Reflections #160

            The summer is upon us and as I ponder things to communicate I find myself wondering, ruminating, if you will, about why there are so many words in the evangelical vocabulary that make me cringe a little bit every time I hear them. Please know that I am not saying that these words cannot be used in a context that is perfectly orthodox (right practice) but for the most part, I think they are used in ways that are unorthodox and a misapplication of the Christian faith. Here are some popular evangelical terms I do not like, and explanations for why.

            Jesus Follower: There is no shortage of good Biblical passages that clearly teach that we should follow Jesus, however when this term is used it is often used to focus on the Christian instead of Christ, in what I believe is an unhelpful way. Instead of reinventing the wheel I prefer the tried and true, 2000-year-old “Christian” because it is more difficult to misuse such a Christocentric term and it keeps the focus on the one to be followed instead of the follower.

            Revitalization: This term has no real Biblical resonance; the closest things to it in the Bible would be to “distill” or “purify”, but these terms are never used in that way. Unfortunately, this term is loaded with a lot of theological and enthusiastic baggage. Most often when this term is applied to the church, it is used to downplay the value of centuries of orthodox practices in favor of newer, trendier, man-centered practices for the sake of “the Gospel”.      

            Seeker: I feel that this term is a misnomer and should be replaced by what it really means: “a dissatisfied church shopper”, because people who are dead in their trespasses and sins do not seek Christ. But don’t take my word for it; St Paul says in Ephesians 2:5 …we were dead in our trespasses…and in Romans 8:7 we read “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God. I do not see how we can be “seeker-sensitive” without appealing to the flesh, which not only is not Christ-centered, it is antithetical to Christ.

Vision: We are not speaking of seeing with our eyes here, we are speaking instead of a 21st century version of the 5-year business plan. There is nothing wrong with the body of Christ in a community finding out what the real needs of a community are and looking for ways to share the love of Christ through works of mercy and kindness in order to establish relationships and share the Gospel through word and deed. However, this term is often used by modern evangelical Pastors (who sometimes act more like CEOs than Pastors) to give the authority of holy inspiration to their priority list. Pastors are called to serve God’s church, not dictate plans.

            Felt needs: Let’s call those what they really are: wants. We live in such a narcissistic society that we have come to the point of letting the world set the priorities for the church. When the church starts looking and acting like the dark world…., who is inviting whom into what place? How about we help the world see what they really need: God’s means of grace; inviting them to come out of the darkness in to the marvelous light, which exposes sin but also washes it away.

Life-changing: Becoming a Christian is clearly a life-changing event, whether it happens when you are 12 days or 12 years old. However, with this term, we again find ourselves falling into a ditch of sorts, focusing on temporal results instead of the eternal reality. Another example of this is the term “Redemptive power”, which is often used as a rabbit’s foot that will guarantee a big house, nice car and beautiful spouse. God’s word guarantees only our eternal condition; there are no temporal guarantees. Will those who live a life in accord with God’s precepts have a long prosperous life? That is possible, but we must also acknowledge that the Bible includes a book called Job, in which a man living in accord with God’s precepts suffered greatly. We must acknowledge that a man “after God’s own heart” (David) suffered greatly. We must acknowledge that history’s wisest man (Solomon) suffered greatly. Over the past 2000 years, many millions of Christians have also suffered and died, simply because they refused to deny Christ.     

            Authentic: The problem with this word is that it is often used to determine in a practical fashion whether what someone is doing is God-pleasing. Meaning, “if it moves you spiritually then it must be authentic!” This idea, however, has been known historically as the heresy of enthusiasm (the notion that God speaks to us directly, through our feelings, rather than His revealed word). The best way to determine true authenticity is to ensure we are communicating God’s truth in accord with His word, using the means he instituted (word & sacrament) to distribute and receive the faith and forgiveness Christ bled and died for. Keeping Christ central is not an easy task, but it is one that Christians are called to. We should then use our words carefully in order to communicate the Gospel clearly.

In Christ,

Pastor Portier 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reflection #158

Smoky Mountain Reflections #158

            Back in 2006 while I was the Vicar here, I spent the year getting to know the people that made up Saint Paul Lutheran Church here in Sevierville (some 125 souls in about 70 households). Over the past 9 years, however, that number has fluctuated considerably. We are part of an unusually fluid rural community and the way our church family has changed reflects that reality. Through a mixture of baptisms, transfers, funerals, and other events that affect our church roll, we have received 196 souls into membership and removed or transferred 129. Because of these changes, only about 30% of the congregation’s current membership was here at the time I arrived. We are now 184 souls in 96 households and we come from all over the place. We come from 34 of our nation’s states and 4 different countries. We also know how to do many things and have filled many vocations; individuals in our small group of people have held or currently hold jobs as the following: carpenters, domestic engineers, shop owners, clerks, tellers, teachers, sailors, soldiers, airmen, marines, farmers, ranchers, cable car operators, trolley drivers, servers, musicians, students, office managers, hospital technicians, construction workers, sub-contractors, landscapers, architects, mechanical engineers, performers, machinists, factory workers, executives, politicians, dog trainers, accountants, hotel owner / operators, electricians, police, phone sales and service, restaurant owner / operators, truck drivers, secretaries, clothiers, distributors, dispatchers, counselors, and I have probably missed a few. With such a diverse collection of individuals I think that there is little we cannot, with God’s help, accomplish.

              The city of Sevierville has an estimated population that is just a few thousand more than the total number of taxi cabs in New York City.  However, we can also say that we see 2 or 3 million more people come through our community each year than the total population of New York City.  What does this mean?  It means that every day is an opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with an ever-changing audience.

              It is somewhat mind-boggling to consider the diverse nature of who we are and the potential we have to be a positive influence for God and His truth in this community.  While we come from all over the country and even the globe, we are all equally proud of now being Tennesseans. While we also come from many religious backgrounds, we are all equally committed to the truth proclaimed about God’s Word as expressed in the Lutheran confessions.  While being a Tennessean is important and being Lutheran is even more important, it is the title of Christian that should be our greatest source of comfort, because it says to whom we belong. It is that title that identifies us as members of the body of Christ; children of the one and only true living God.

So go out wearing your Tennessee orange and your LCMS lapel pin, but most importantly share the love of Christ that you carry in your heart. Show it in your actions for the sake of the lost and the needy, and comfort others with what comforts you in your time of need.

In Christ,

Pastor Portier

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Reflection #157

Smoky Mountain Reflections #157

            Sometimes information can be interesting and fun, though relatively useless. For example, the word “excellent” has had many slang renderings over the years. In 1375 it was “gay”, in 1794 “dandy”, while “neat” and “swell” date back to 1810. In 1896 it was “fly”, in 1920 “wicked”, then “solid”, “groovy” and “cool” came out in the 1930’s. In the 1970’s we had “bomb” and “rad”, and in the 1990’s “beast” and “chronic” came to denote excellence. I come from a time when “killer” and “awesome” were the words of choice, but I find myself uninformed as to the current slang rendering of “excellent”.

            Sometimes information is interesting, puzzling, or frightening. For example, we spend on average 2.66 hours per day on leisure and sport activities while at the same time watching an average of 2.77 hours of television. It seems TV watching is overlapping into other activities, which means we have a nation of multi-taskers doing lots of things (poorly) at the same time instead of one thing at a time with focus and care. If you are considering parenthood, it is estimated that it will cost you $245,340.00 to get your child to the age of 17.  Any parent knows though that a quarter of a million is a small price to pay for the privilege of being a parent, even with its ups and downs.

            Finally, information can also be helpful as we seek to understand our neighbor so that we might speak the truth in love to them and share the Gospel. Just that phrase “share the gospel” causes some of us to shrink in fear, but that need not be the case. Helpful information can strengthen our resolve, making it easier to share that sweet Gospel with others. So, here is some helpful information about our nation, our community, and our church. While there has been an increase in the “nones” (those who do not claim any faith) and while there has been a 2.2% decrease in membership of the mainline churches (from 1991-2012), not all of the information is bleak. Conservative Bible teaching churches have seen a 0.6% increase according to General Social Survey Data from that period. These may seem like small numbers, but remember that these small percentages represent millions of people. While it is sad that 18% of Christians are abandoning the faith, it is encouraging to know that 82% are holding to God’s promises. There is also an interesting link between successful marriages and regular (weekly) church attendance.

            Enough on the national figures though--let’s look at some data on our own community. Our neighborhood here in Sevier County is similar to most of the nation; half of our neighbors have a church home but less than 20% of our neighbors regularly (weekly) attend church. That means that 4 out of every 5 people you live and work around are spiritually starving but our community is well above the national average when it comes to Faith in Christ. We are below the national average when it comes to pro-choice and pro-homosexual-marriage views but 49.3% of our neighbors still believe abortion should be legal and 33.5% believe same gender couples should be allowed to marry.

So, how is this helpful in sharing your faith? Well, now you know what sort of people you may be speaking with so that when you speak the truth in love you can ask a few questions and be ready with some good answers. What is your faith background? Do you have a church home?  What do you believe? Invite your neighbor to tell you about their faith. You would be surprised how willing people are to talk about what they believe. If you discover that your neighbor is part of that 20% figure (an active member of a Trinitarian Christian Church), then you can encourage each other in the faith while learning about your differences. If you discover them to be something other than a saved Trinitarian Christian who is regularly being fed in church, you then have a great opportunity to share the light with someone who is in darkness. If they are not interested, then politely offer to answer or find answers to any faith questions they might have in the future, and respect their request, change the subject and of course keep them in your prayers.

Have a blessed Lenten season,

In Christ,
Pastor Portier

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Smoky Mountain Reflections #156

Smoky Mountain Reflections #156

            How does your view of Christ affect your application of who He is and what he came to do for you and your life? A simple biblical answer would be that Christ came into human flesh, suffered, died, rose from the dead to redeem all people and will come again to gather His resurrected saints to Himself in His new heavens and earth for all eternity. While this is true and should be preached and taught at every opportunity, how does one apply it to daily life?

            Daily drowning the old Adam by remembering our baptism and thanking God for this gift is a very good place to start, but then we have to get through the rest of the day. Keeping Jesus first in all that we say and do is easier said than done. Doing everything to the glory of God is and will be a constant struggle with that drowned old Adam. I would like to propose that as we struggle, staggering from ditch to ditch, struggling just to get up with God’s help, only to fall again, we still press on. We are not fatalists, but we are realistic and we acknowledge that as sinners we will often disappoint and hurt each other. We should however still strive every day, with God’s help, to disappoint and hurt a little less…..maybe even love God and our neighbor in the way He would have us do it. 

            I think that the ways in which we tend to apply Jesus and His gifts can be characterized in several ways. This month, let’s look at five of them with the help of metaphors. The first four can be seen as misapplications, while the final one may be a helpful way to understand and apply Jesus’ love to our lives. As I play a little with these metaphors, I would like to thank my classmate Pastor Bryan Wolfmeuller of Hope Lutheran Church in Aurora Colorado who used most of these on his Table Talk Radio program and planted the seeds for this article. The metaphors I’ll use for commonly held views of Jesus are those of a dating service, a bank, a school, a drug store, and a courtroom.

So let’s play with these metaphors a little, shall we?

Dating service: Many see their relationship with Jesus as being similar to one between a boyfriend and girlfriend. The songs these people like to sing have a sort of longing to see Him and touch Him and feel His presence in some way. Their prayers express the same sort of things. When they talk about Jesus they do not talk about what He did for them on the cross or what He does for them in Word and Sacrament, but instead about how He makes them feel. Consequently, these individuals see their church as a place where they can get connected with their boyfriend and snuggle a little bit. Do not misunderstand me; I am not saying that as the bride of Christ we should not seek to be nurtured and comforted by Christ who is our bridegroom, using the means he has instituted, I am simply saying that focusing on the good feeling misses the point of the love and forgivness which provides that feeling.       

Bank: Some see their relationship with Jesus as being similar to one between a banker and an account holder. These people like to talk about how they and their church have stored up in the “bank of good works” all that is needed. These sinners feel comfort that in God’s eyes they are each “good persons”. When all of the good and bad are measured on the scale, they say, the good will outweigh the bad or at least they hope it will, and the pearly gates will be opened wide. The Roman Catholic Church will still today sell you an indulgence to make a withdrawal from this “bank”! But if we look at the Bible, in James 2:10, we find that to break even one of God’s laws is to break them all. So in essence, we are all bankrupt in God’s sight. The scale of righteousness does not measure good and bad on a curve; it only has two possible readings: 100% guilty and condemned, or, through Christ, 100% redeemed.

School: At this “campus”, well-meaning Christians claim to be able to prove that God exists. While every area of scientific endeavor provides good information to shed light on God and His presence, it all boils down to this: without the Holy Spirt making the clear connection between God and His creation, the sinner sees only what he wants to see. While any well-educated Christian can make a rock-solid, rhetorically sound argument for God and His existence in any field of study, only the Holy Spirit can crack the stone of a hardened heart so that faith can take root and grow.      

Drug Store: This view often takes root when a church stops talking about sin, the cross, and forgiveness, and turns Jesus into what is essentially a vitamin, putting all of their focus on how being a Christian will make one wiser, happier, healthier, and wealthier. Besides ignoring Christ’s primary purpose for coming into human flesh and dwelling among us, namely, our salvation, it cheapens His example of how we should live and turns it into a recipe for success instead of a principal by which to live. But the worst thing about this approach is that it sets people up for failure; when being a Christian does not produce what the false prophets promise, they do not give up on the false prophet…they give up on God.

Courtroom: While all metaphors have their weaknesses, this one can still do a very good job of properly showing how Christ’s gift of salvation applies to our lives. We are all guilty and sitting in the defendant’s seat, as the prosecuting attorney (Satan) correctly proclaims our guilt. However, our defense attorney (the Holy Spirit), calls Christ to the stand and asks Him to speak in our defense. Christ says to the Father on the throne of righteousness (the Judge in this courtroom scene): “Justice has been served in this case; what the accuser says is true on all accounts, but he left out one detail: I have already suffered and died for those crimes. Therefore, that defendant is mine; a redeemed child of the triune God.” Amen.

Have a blessed February full of candy hearts and friendly smiles!
In Christ,

Pastor Portier        

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Reflection # 155

Smoky Mountain Reflections #155

            Happy New Year!

            As we get this year started I would like to encourage you all to not make a New Year’s resolution. Instead, be about the business of serving God and neighbor because of your gratitude for His great gift of salvation and because your neighbor needs to be loved by you for God.

            I would like to propose that you do this in three simple ways: Engage, Discern, and Speak.

            First let’s engage. Live the life you have been blessed with in a productive proactive way that has you interacting with your family, coworkers or fellow students, friends and neighbors. Do not make this a project; instead make it a life style choice.  Choose to eat meals at the family table whenever possible, not in front of the TV. Choose to have face to face conversations instead of electronic ones whenever possible. Choose to make a deliberate effort to look for opportunities to spend a little time actually talking to your neighbor. When you are communicating electronically, choose to make an extra effort to be kind and thankful when texting, tweeting, e-mailing or talking on the phone. You cannot share your faith in your home at work or at school or in your neighborhood if you are not having regular conversations with people. So unplug from that regular one way radio, tv or ipod, use and have some two way conversations. You may even find out through such conversations that there is some way that you can be of service to your neighbor.     

Next do a little discerning. Spend time in God’s word so that you can clearly tell right from wrong. In an age where we are always speaking about the infamous gray area, where we are unsure what is right or wrong, take the time to get a sound Biblical answer to such questions when you come across them. Read His word. With digital versions of scripture abounding it is easy to find text that addresses your question. Pray for guidance. If we diligently seek His will in all things He will not let us down. Get fed regularly, with daily devotions, regular fellowship, Bible study, and of course fed by Word and Sacrament fellowship weekly. Also add regular rest, to be still and know that He is God.

            Finally speak up, Have the courage to speak the truth in love when you are having all those conversations and you find someone God has called you to love has a hard question to deal with. Take the time to help them find a good Biblical answer to whatever that sticky problem may be. If you find yourself unable to help with such an answer I offer myself as your own personal pastoral advisor, ready to help you find good answers to life’s tough questions.

            So Engage, Discern, and Speak in 2015 and the Lord will be at your side all the way

Blessed New Year
In Christ
Pastor Portier