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April 8, 2018, 1:52 PM

Don't Send Me Black Balloons


It’s a milestone birthday for me – 40!  But don’t send any black balloons.  My future is bright.

If you count the anniversary of my birth by the date on the calendar, my birthday was a few days ago (as I write) on April 2.  If you count it by the Sunday in the Church year, it is today, the Second Sunday of Easter.  Forty years ago, on the Second Sunday of Easter, April 2, 1978, a group of people gathered together in a house and held a church service.  As they read the Word of God, I was born. 

Soon they would name me “Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church.”

I struggled to survive from the very beginning.  My founding members worked and gave and taught and loved and corrected and welcomed—they did more than support the mission, they were the mission of God in action. 

But what a challenge lay before them! 
No building,
no land,
very few people,
an elderly pastor who would only be able to serve them for a few months,
and the teaching of God that is unpopular, though it grants life to those who believe. 

In the “consumer society” (yes, already back then and even more so now), how do you attract new members, and young families with children, and mature stewards, and people willing to work at the daunting task of nursing a baby church? 

You don’t.  You don’t attract them. 
Rather, you make an every Sunday and every day habit of
speaking the truth of God
and loving people with His own love
and you see which lives you will touch. 

That’s what my people did, and God blessed me richly. 

I survived my early years by the grace and strength of God.  Don’t send me any black balloons.  My future is bright.  Now I have a sanctuary, a Family Life Center, classrooms and offices, and I sit on acres of land.  I have hundreds of families.  God is good! 

But this, however, leads to an opposite problem.  Now I attract people. 
And people attracted to a building and land,
or to a program or ministry,
or to one particular worker,
or to the music,
or to any piece or part of me
are only casually connected

They easily come, and they easily go.  And that’s not good enough. 

I want each of them to know Jesus personally. 
I want them to hear the fullness of the truth of His Word. 
I want them to be able to experience the tenacious love of the other members who are here. 
I want them to know the joy of serving along with my people. 

How do I make that happen?  There’s no easy solution.  So, I must do the hard work that I did in the beginning: my people must make an every Sunday and every day habit of
speaking the truth of God
and loving people with His own love
and then see which lives will be touched.

I am, after all, only this: a body of baptized people (sinners) who are called, gathered, and enlightened by God through his Gospel.  His Spirit is at work in my people, moving them to hear the Word of God together, to receive the Lord’s Supper together, to serve together, witness together, weep together, rejoice and sing together.  And when other people don’t see the beauty and fullness of it, I genuinely feel sorry for them. 

And when some people only choose to come to worship once in a while,
or use their Bibles only in emergencies,
or are unwilling to accept right teaching;
when their funds are spent on sports and there’s nothing left for the Lord,
or when they have no time to join my people in serving their neighbors;
when they leave to worship something that is not Christ,
or when they leave and worship nothing at all;
when their priorities are seriously messed up, I pray for them. 
I strive to reach them. 
I worry for them.

But I don’t worry about me.  Don’t send me black balloons.  My future is bright.  For God’s Word is taught in me, and that Word is living and active. 
I rejoice at every baptism,
every confirmation,
every addition to the family. 
And I have people here who are shining stars in this dark world. 

You see, I am made up of people who are filled with the Spirit of God
and they work their fingers to the bone,
they wear out the knees of their pants in prayer,
they dig in their heels and will not yield one inch of doctrine,
and yet they love with their hearts wide open. 

Where there is tragedy, my people rush in to help. 
Where there is gladness, my people are quick also to rejoice. 
They sit in the hospital room with the sick. 
They bring food (lots of food!) to help the hungry. 
They show up every Sunday to greet one another with a hug or handshake,
they sing loud praises to the Lamb,
and teach the children about Jesus and walking in His way. 

They are born, they live, they die;
workers come and go but the Spirit remains;
I am ever changing, for I am an organism, not an organization,
and yet somehow staying the same.
Made up of people. 
The best people. 
People who refuse to become complacent. 
People who refuse to quit. 
People who love Jesus. 
People who do more than support the mission, for they are the mission of God in action. 

Will I be around until Christ returns?
Will I continue to grow?
Will I reproduce a daughter church?
What is in store in my future?  I don’t know.  I do know there will be struggles.  Strife within.  Struggles without.  Pressures, even attacks.

But I also know this:
God’s promises are true.
So even in these dark days the gates of Hell will not overcome me.
I am founded on Christ, the rock of salvation.

Don’t send me black balloons.  My future is bright.

- Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church




January 4, 2018, 1:23 PM

a time of change


If it weren’t for Nicole, I’d be that guy who goes to the same restaurant on the same day of the week, sits in the same place, and orders the same dish.  I like routine.  I like tried and true.  I like dependable and reliable.  I like simple.  I don’t like change.

I’m not anti-change.  Sometimes I get really excited for new things.  But most of the new things in my life are not my idea, not my default position, not my modus operandi.  So in my personal life, I am blessed to have Nicole and the boys, who keep things lively and interesting.

I don’t need anyone in particular to keep things interesting for me on church side of my life, however.  That happens naturally.  People move into the area and join the church, and then they move away.  I visit someone for years and years, and then they are transferred to the Church Triumphant and are with God.  Elected leaders are termed out, and a cycle of turnover is completed and begins again.  Called workers are led by God to serve elsewhere.  First a DCE (2010).  Then a Senior Pastor (2014).  Then another DCE (2018).  And I’m here, that guy who likes routine, the guy who likes tried and true, the guy who likes things simple and reliable—I’m here not only as “a guy” at church who has to cope with change and pitch in where I can, but I’m “that guy” who is supposed to oversee the transition and make sure we successfully set a course for the church (if you want to use a directional metaphor) so we can fill our vacancy and grow this Body of Christ (if you want to use a biological metaphor).

I’m not feeling ready for 2018.  Oh, you can be sure that we are hard at work making plans for the interim.  I think what we have in the works is a good plan.  We’ll follow all the proper channels before making any public announcements, but you can watch for them in the near future.  Plans for the interim will hopefully fall into place quickly, since the need is great and ministering to our children and youth is of utmost importance.  However, the “permanent” solution, calling someone to fill the vacancy, may take a while.  The process is unpredictable.  But the process is designed so we have an opportunity as a church to reflect, regroup, pray, trust, focus on the mission, and make decisions together with God’s Word in our minds, a prayer on our lips, and His love for all in our hearts.

Past experience has taught me that even in changes that feel like a loss, God is able (and does!) work good things.  When we “lost” our DCE in 2010, it brought Korey and Tiffany and family to us.  What a blessing!  And Pam was added to our staff.  What a blessing!  When we “lost” our Sr. Pastor in 2014, it ended up bringing Pastor Chris and Jessica and their son to us.  What a blessing!  And now that we have “lost” our DCE again, we can trust that God has a plan, a good plan in store for us.  Though we are challenged, we will be blessed.  And you can be sure that whatever it looks like for us to fill our youth ministry needs, we will be able to thank God for the provision.  Not someone we can call “better” or “worse” than before.  Not someone who is perfect (hint: no church workers are; far from it!).  But a worker or workers who is/are different, gifted, flawed, talented, and strengthened by God’s Spirit for the task.  It will be change.  But God’s promises are sure and trustworthy, so He will be with us in the midst of transition and beyond.

Meanwhile, I’ll do my best to cope with another vacated office at church and the extra work that entails.  Truth be told, I’m (literally) limping this morning, and I don’t know why.  I have a pain in my hip.  It’s probably a sign that I’m another year older.  Or maybe I pulled a muscle or tweaked a ligament playing dodgeball with the FIRE kids last night.  But as I’m thinking about BSLC’s ministry and feeling some hip pain this morning, I’m recalling the account in Genesis 32 when Jacob wrestled with God and refused to let go until he received a blessing.  God touched his hip flexor, and he came away limping—a constant physical reminder (albeit a strange one!) that God had given him a new name and a promise.

I’m no Jacob (though I am part of the New Israel, the Church). I did not wrestle anyone last night, and I did not see God’s face.  But it’s not wrong for me to wonder (is it?) if my hip pain is a blessed reminder from God to wrestle with all this in prayer, and cling to His every promise, and to not let go until we at BSLC see His blessing.  Maybe I’ll take some Ibuprofen.  Maybe I’ll let it hurt for a while as a reminder.  I don’t know about that.  But I do know that I will pray.  And trust.

And work.  And I am confident that you all will work with the ministry team here at BSLC.  I am joyful that I still have an excellent ministry team to work with in Pastor Chris, Tiffany, Pam, and Dawn, and a host of other leaders who are faithful disciples, using their time and abilities for service in the Church.  In the (almost) forty year history of this congregation, time and time again, God has provided.  This church has persevered.  Christ has been championed in the community and in the lives of the members.  The Word has been taught.  The sacraments have been given.  God’s love has been shared.  Many have been baptized, taught the faith, sent into their vocations to serve their neighbors.  Some have been carried safely home to be with Jesus.

In this world of continual change, there is one constant: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  That brings me great peace and hope as I contemplate all our recent change and the transition ahead.  It helps me to rejoice in all the good changes (we have a new roof, security cameras, a gorgeous new sign).  It helps me to be hopeful in our intentional changes (moving confirmation instruction, other various ministry adjustments).  It helps me to have peace when change is thrust upon us (the DCE vacancy).  Jesus is our salvation.  Jesus is the message.  Jesus is our strength.  Jesus is our reason and purpose.  Jesus is the Lord of the Church.

He’s got this.  I don’t.  I’m just...

..that “guy”,

Pastor Jon




January 1, 2018, 9:00 AM

Just As I Am



Just As I Am

            If everything in your life is perfect, I guess you don’t really need God, or a community of believers, or to go to worship, or to take time to study the Bible and pray.

            But I suspect that everything is not perfect.  I suspect you often feel empty and lonely, guilty and burdened, worrying and fretting, longing and searching.  So, it is to you that Jesus calls with an invitation and promise: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).

            While meditating on this verse, Charlotte Elliott penned some words that have struck a chord in the hearts of many. The story goes that her brother, Charles Elliot, was a pastor who sought to help poor girls become educated at a low expense.  While he was arranging fundraisers and beating the streets, Charlotte, who had poor health, spent her hours at these events writing what is now a famous (to us) hymn, “Just As I Am.”

            Her brother recognized the hymn’s great value and remarked, “In the course of a long ministry I hope I have been permitted to see some fruit of my labor, but I feel that far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister’s.”  (Story from “The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal” p. 279).

            Why is it so powerful?  Because it simply and beautifully communicates the pure Good News of Jesus.  The Gospel news is this: though you are blind and dead and wretched in sin, though you are weak and frail, though you have many fears and fight many battles, though you have many enemies who seek to harm you, you can come just as you are to Jesus.

            And Jesus, who delighted in making the lame to walk and the blind to see and the dead to live, will not leave you the same as you are now.  He suffered crucifixion and hell for you.  He rose in great power.  And now with forgiveness, great mercy, and ever-present help he will pour out his grace upon you.  You are cleansed and renewed, now and forever.

            Are you tired?  Empty?  Sad?  Frustrated?  Guilty?  Searching?  Read or sing aloud this beautiful truth:

1

Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

2

Just as I am and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

3

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many_a conflict, many_a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

4

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

5

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

6

Just as I am; Thy love unknown
Has broken ev’ry barrier down;
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

 (LSB 570; Public domain)

Just as I am, and loved by God anyway,

Pastor Jon




November 27, 2017, 12:00 AM

New Confirmation Plan, Beginning 2018



Parents have a God-given responsibility to raise up their children to know the Lord and walk in His ways.  The Church has also always had the mission to baptize and to teach the faith.  So, from the very beginning, training children with the Word has been the work of both the church as a whole and parents specifically.

In our modern age, because many Americans have very busy and active lives and because we are all on different schedules, it can be difficult for parents to make faith formation a priority for their children, and it can be difficult for a church’s education program to accommodate the many and various scheduling needs of its families.  It is not easy for a church to fulfill as it ought our Lord’s commission to “teach” and to support parents in their role.

So, what to do?  Since there is no one-size-fits-all education plan outlined in Scripture, churches and parents of every time and place must figure out how best to pass the faith along to future generations.

For years and years a system of “Wednesday Night” confirmation has worked well for Beautiful Savior, and, in truth, it still works.  However, we recognize that our Lee’s Summit culture is changing.  More and more Wednesday night activities are competing with our Midweek and Confirmation classes.  Sports, recitals, competitions, concerts, rehearsals, and the like are popping up regularly on Wednesday nights.  This puts parents in a difficult spot because they want their children to be able to participate in those activities and receive spiritual instruction.

It used to be that Wednesday Night was “Church Night” in our culture.  That is changing before our eyes.  But rather than griping about the culture shift, we have brainstormed options, surveyed parents, and processed with the Board of Elders.  We have decided to trial an innovative and creative approach for the second half of this confirmation year.

Beginning January 7, 2018, confirmation instruction is moving to Sunday morning during the education hour (9:15-10:15). Because of this adjustment we hope and expect that student attendance in confirmation will improve.  We expect that family attendance in the Divine Service (worship) will increase since there will be additional incentive to be there (not that more was needed).  We also hope that this will better help families that want to prioritize their time.  Of course, we want you here on Sundays and Wednesdays (yes, we’ll still have something for your students on Wednesdays!—more on that below), but if families feel forced to choose between Sunday and Wednesday, we are encouraging you (without diminishing the importance of Wednesday) to come on Sunday.

On Sunday, we are formed by the Word.  On Sunday we are founded on the solid Rock of Christ.  On Sunday we receive Word and Sacrament in worship.  On Sunday, the Word taught in Sunday School, Confirmation, and Bible Classes impacts our lives.

Wednesdays, then, will be C3 night.  C3 stands for “Christ Centered Connections.”  Wednesday is a night for all ages, and each person will connect with others in the family of God, and connect to the Word of Christ that dwells in us richly, and will therefore connect with Christ Himself.  What does it look like?  Mostly the same as it does now with a small change to the FIRE Jr. High ages. There will still be nursery care.  Midweek classes will be held as normal.  High School and Adult Small Groups will continue to meet.  The confirmation age kids (FIRE Jr. High) will now have Small Group time as well.  It’s a chance for them to play together, study together, pray together, to build lasting friendships and to be connected (most importantly) to Christ.

Remember, this will be a half-year trial, from January through May 2018.  (Dates and Locations of classes will be published separately.)  We will review the results after the school year and will determine what the 2018-2019 confirmation year looks like early in the summer.

So, in summary, here is a snapshot of what Sundays and Wednesdays will look like at BSLC:

Formation
Saturday

Divine Service at 6 p.m.
Sunday
Divine Service at 8:00, 10:30, and 10:45 a.m.
Education Hour - 9:15 - 10:15 a.m. (Sunday School, Confirmation, High School and Adult Bible Classes)

C3
Wednesday

Meal - 5:45 - 6:15 p.m.
C3 Groups - 6:30 - 8:00 p.m. (Nursery Care, Midweek, FIRE group, BLAZE group, Adult small groups).

Do you have any questions or concerns?  Please contact the Called Staff or Board of Elders.

In Christ, who is unchanging and yet reaches a changing world,

BSLC Ministry Team and Board of Elders




November 14, 2017, 9:17 AM

Give thanks to the Lord, for...


            I love Thanksgiving.  It’s one of my favorite holidays, but I’m panicking a little.  I realize it is closing in on me fast and I am not yet ready.  As a pastor, I have some extra preparations to make before Thanksgiving: an extra worship service to plan, an extra sermon to write, some of next week’s work that I need to get done now so that I can take off Thanksgiving Day and hopefully the day after.  And then Advent is right around the corner.  I am not yet ready.
            My wife loves Thanksgiving too.  She has many preparations to make, but they are different from mine.  She is planning the entire menu from the shopping to the cooking.  She’s thinking about putting up Christmas decorations that weekend.  She’s got a running list of “Christmas Attractions” on a sheet of candy cane striped paper, and most of those activities could begin anytime on or after Thanksgiving weekend.  She’s thinking about gift shopping and Black Friday deals.  She is very well prepared.  I’m blessed to have her and her fantastic organizational skills!  But is she ready to give thanks?  (She is, but not because of the things I mentioned).  That leads us to the question…

Are you ready?
            What is it that makes us ready?  I don’t mean ready for Christmas or the Christmas season.  I mean are you ready to give thanks?  You won’t be ready, you can’t be ready, if you are not ready to recognize and worship the Giver of all that you have. 

Give thanks to the Lord, for…
            “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” says Psalm 136:1.  This psalm is one that reminds you to recognize the unfailing mercy and undeserved love of God and invites you to praise Him for who He is, for what He has created and provided, and for the salvation story of Israel coming out of Egypt and into the Promised Land (a salvation story that anticipated and foreshadowed your own rescue from slavery to sin so that you can be called holy and receive the promise of heaven).  You are not ready for Thanksgiving if you do not recognize and praise your Creator, your Redeemer, your Sanctifier—the One True God who saves you.  Therefore, you are invited to join in the psalm’s refrain (that appears in every verse) and acknowledge: “His steadfast love endures forever!”

Thanksgiving Sacrifice
            The psalms are full of thanksgiving and worship of God for His saving work.  Take a moment to think about what God has done for you.  I’ve referred already to the salvation we have in Jesus Christ.  Think of that!  He has paid for sin on your behalf on the cross.  He has conquered death in His rising triumphant from the prison of the grave.  He has cast down Satan and delivered you from the Devil’s reign, transferring you to the Kingdom of light and grace, which is yours already now and will be yours fully and forever when you are with your victorious Christ.  The Giver has given you all you need, for His salvation is everything!
           
In addition to that gracious gift, He has provided all that you have and all you need: food and drink, clothing and shelter, family and friends, even pets and toys and competitive sports and Black Friday sales and blessing upon blessing upon blessing.  In fact, we are blessed so richly that one of the biggest challenges in our culture is to learn contentment.  We are often overcome with selfishness and greed.  How do we overcome our greed and have a true heart of thankfulness?
           
Again, we turn to the psalms.  “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” (Psalm 50:23). Here we are encouraged to voice our praise, give an offering to the Lord out of gratitude for all he has done, and walk in his ways.  Yes, that means we are to learn His Ten Commandments and strive to keep them.  Yes, it means we rejoice in His mercy, grateful that we are forgiven so many sins.  Yes, it means that we give thank offerings to the Lord to support the work of the Gospel.  And in giving to the Church, not only are we learning contentment by depriving ourselves of something valuable, but we also have the joy of knowing our offering is used for work that makes an eternal difference in the lives of many.

Don’t forget to sing!
            Psalm 107 not only mentions a sacrifice of thanksgiving, but also invites us to lift our voices in prayers and songs of thanks: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!” (Psalm 107:19-22).  When you sing to God with a joyful heart, you are a witness to others.  So tell and sing of His deeds in your life.

What are you thankful for?
            Salvation through Christ?  That you are baptized?  For God’s sustaining Word?  For the Body and Blood of Christ given for your forgiveness?  Are you thankful for your family?  Your material possessions?  Your dog?  Your hobby?  Every good thing is a gift from God, for He loves you dearly as His own precious child.  So make your preparations, carve out a little time and space for a holiday (holy-day).  Join us as we worship our giving God.

Pastor Jon

Thanksgiving Eve Worship at BSLC is Wednesday, Nov. 22, at 7pm.  Join us as we give thanks to the Giver of every good gift!

Special Door Offering? - Typically we collect a door offering on Thanksgiving Eve to help support families in need.  This year our “Help Fund” is already sufficient and we will be able to provide any needed assistance.  Please consider giving any special thank offerings this holiday season to support the ministry of BSLC in its active witness to the community.


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