Thursday, March 9, 2023

Are we ready?

Our study group continues in chapter 8 in the book "We Are Witnesses of These Things." --Prepare the Way of Jesus.

We talked briefly about one question--How does our faith community's life together align with its confession and witness of Jesus?  We talked about ways in which we serve in and with the community.

How does our community receive and accompany people desiring to follow the way of Jesus?  One way doesn't fit all!  We offer varying Bible studies, some small groups have arisen organically, we pray for one another.  How else might we receive and accompany people on their journey?

And the big question--are we ready to receive and accompany new disciples of Jesus?  New people will bring diversity and change. Not all people do things the way we have always done it.  Are we a congregation that says our way or no way?  We have to realize that some of the things some of us have found lifegiving are not what people are seeking now as they reach out to Jesus.  We have to admit that sometimes we just want more people in church, more people to do the work or better take over the way we do it our way and give money, so we don't close.  I just don't think that is what Jesus was asking of us when we are called to accompany people on their journey of faith.

One place to start is how do we present ourselves.  What about how we present ourselves on social media.  We have a Facebook Page, a website (, a YouTube page.  What do these pages communicate about who we are?  Can you find us easily, including worship times?  Is the website directed toward people who already have faith or would those who are new to faith figure out who we are.  Do we present a positive and realistic impression of who we are?

How are visitors welcome when they enter the building?  The author likens what we as church need to do to get ready as that which we do when we are expecting company at our homes.  We spiffy up.  We want to make sure the space is uncluttered, clean, functional.  How might a visitor experience our building?  Are there signs to the worship space, bathrooms, fellowship hall?  

Do we offer other ways to become part of our community, the "back door" as was mentioned in the book?  Some congregations offer Pub Theology or gatherings at restaurants for discussion.  

Do we mind our manners?  Do we leave people standing alone at coffee time, too engaged in seeing friends again that we ignore the visitor?  Do we watch what we talk about in our gathering area after church--I have overheard some interesting conversation that those of us may just think oh that's just how Alfred is--but what do visitors think?  Are we open about telling people why we like our church--maybe we have never even thought about that question. 

How do we adapt and proclaim Jesus' story to those who know it best and those who have never heard?  

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Preparing the Way

 The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight"  Luke 3:4 and Isaiah 40:3

These are the words of the prophet Isaiah and the words of John, the Baptizer as they "prepare" the way of the Lord.  According to the author of "You are Witnesses of These Things," John prepared people to see Jesus.  Likewise, the church is called to prepare to receive those who seek Jesus.

What is Church?  The church is not a building where praying, worship, study, and meetings happen.  We know the church as the people who pray and worship and study and meet.  The church as the people also do outreach, in the community, as we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the community and world.  

When I was ordained, I can't remember word for word the sermon that was preached by my long-time mentor pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Nebraska--the Rev. Thomas Hallstrom.  He spoke to the reality that as church we are going to be called for a lot of things--we will be called to social service issues, fellowship, and I don't know what else he said.  But we are NOT another social service agency or a club where people join and meet.  As church, we have a call to proclaim Jesus, to introduce people to Jesus--to proclaim to those who know Jesus best and those who have never heard.  

In the book, Satterlee writes: "While we seek to attract busy young families who find belonging in multiple communities, the ancient church reached out to people who needed to belong-widows, orphans, and the poor.  While we make it easy for people to join (and therefore to leave) the church, the ancient church expected people to invest themselves by learning to behave differently, in ways Christians behave.  While we frequently approach faith as a matter of individual mind and heart, the ancient church was convinced that believing comes from doing.  Chrisitan faith in embarking on a chosen way of life that includes belonging to the way or community of Jesus, behaving like Jesus in the world, and trusting and sharing the good news of Jesus."  (page 82)

How have you witnessed this in your life and in the church?

They go one to say, "People who receive the story of Jesus seek out communities that prioritize extending belonging in the name of Jesus, behaving in ways Jesus embodies, teaches and commands, and trusting the good news of Jesus above all else. Even more disheartening and demoralizing than witnessing to Jesus and bearing no fruit is someone receiving our witness and seeking out the church to learn more about Jesus, only to turn away because what they find undermines or contradicts the good news about Jesus they received."  (Page 82)

Have you ever witnessed a stumbling block in the church?  Though we often think of individuals as being stumbling blocks, as a community we can be stumbling blocks as well.  

We are going to spend a little more time talking about this chapter in our class and online.  But there are a few questions I would ask that you consider:

1.  How well does our faith community's life together align with its confession and witness of Jesus?

2. How does this community receive and accompany people desiring to follow in the way of Jesus?

3. Is Ascension/your congregation ready to receive and accompany people new to the story of Jesus?

Thursday, February 23, 2023


 As I re-read chapter 7 of "You Are Witnesses of These Things," I found myself preparing for the conversation ahead on Sunday during our discussion time.  I will see if what I expect is what happens.

One of the reasons I believe people do not share their story, do not witness Jesus, is that we lack confidence.  Whether it is because we are afraid of questions we won't know the answers to, or how we are going to be perceived, or any other number of reasons--we don't share Jesus with others.  I am aware of this even when we are in worship and I ask about experiences or ask any question and there is a difficult silence.  

The author suggests that we prepare to share our story by finding a partner to practice with; embrace the role of sower not reaper; and prepare the way to welcome others.

European Lutherans are not generally used to or comfortable sharing a testimony. We don't have alot of examples of this.  Some denominations have a time of testimony in their worship serve.  We have periodically asked if there were any God moments or God sightings.  This has been uncomfortable for me because either no one says anything or people want to share and others will tell me that we need to stop because worship lasted too long.  I am seriously contemplating reintroducing testimony, God sightings, or whatever we call it in worship.  And I'm guessing that it will take a while for it to become a practice, because we don't even want to comment on blogs or posts (hint hint)

I also wonder if the introduction of prayer partners would be a good place to start.  Again, I can hear it--as long as we get to pick our partner.  I concur with Chelsey in the example given--when you are strangers or know each other not that well, people tend to share more about themselves, work on the assignment--not just sit around and talk.  This is my experience in confirmation when people was to only be paired with their friends or adults in their groups.  Would anybody be interested in a prayer partner--one to share things with and to pray for each other (even out loud)?

The comment about recognizing we are the sower and not the reaper speaks to the reality we want to see results, and the truth is, we may not see results.  Evangelism committees and strategies often turn into membership drives, and if we share the story of Jesus with people, they may not join our congregation.  The image of the sower is a powerful one--the sower sows indiscriminately.

And we need to prepare to welcome others.  We can get caught up in our own groups, with those we know.  Our worshipping at three different times in many ways splits our congregation into three groups--hence the introduction of the re-member-ing services.  

Some questions to consider:  How open are yout sharing a testimony?  

Would you consider sharing a testimony with a small group or even in worship?

Idea--what if each day you reflected on what God sighting and experience you had that day.  Does it tie into a biblical narrative?  What impact do you believe that experience had on you that day and in the future?  This might become a great journaling practice!

Monday, February 20, 2023

They saw no one except Jesus? What more do we need?

In the transfiguration text from the gospel of Matthew, verse 17:8 really hit me: And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Peter, James and John had been chosen by Jesus to go up the mountain, and they were the witnesses of Jesus' glory and the presence of Elijah and Moses.  They were struck with such awe, they fell to the ground.  And when Jesus came to tell them to get up, Jesus touched them--and we are told when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Were they disappointed? Would I be disappointed?  Would we?

The question comes to mind--what more do we need than Jesus, alone?!

My sermon a couple weeks ago talked about what Jesus calls the church to be--the body of Christ in the world.  We think we need a band, or a large youth group, or this or that.  Some might suggest a gimmick, a marketing strategy--with the goal to get "butts in the pews."  We see what other places are doing, how they look "successful."  I am reminded daily that Jesus calls us to be faithful.

I am struck by the revival at Asbury University where a few students stayed after a regular worship service to pray, and they were continually praying and worshipping--apparently without any sort of band or generally agreed upon contemporary features. They didn't rush off to the next event on the schedule, or say they were too busy. I believe they were moved and saw Jesus and responded! 

I believe people are searching for depth and meaning in life, and what more do people need to see than Jesus?  What more do we need?

I don't know where to go with this--but I think I am cautious about looking for the next thing that we do to bring people to the pews.  Instead, I believe my call, and the call of our congregation is to introduce people to Jesus, through our worship, through scripture, through prayer, through service, through how we cherish our relationships with people and with God. 

Our humanity draws us to look for the faults in ourselves and in others, God calls us in grace to look at ourselves and each other as creatures created in the image of God, created good, and loved unconditionally.  How might we look up wherever we are and see only Jesus, and let that be enough?

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Good News? Jesus

 "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people."  --Luke 2:10

As I sit in the office today looking at the snow and the possible cancellation of dinner plans and other things, I sit and think of the news I have received this week.  Honestly, none of it is good news.  The shooting at Michigan State, or the death of a church member, or the death of a mentor for one of our youth.  Then there are those government news briefs that I generally don't call good news.  

It is an intentional choice and with the hope and promise of Jesus that I write about good news this day!

As we read and discuss chapter 6 of "We Are Witnesses of These Things" (Craig Satterlee and Chelsey Satterlee), we must first realize that bringing good news is a choice. It doesn't just happen most of the time, we have to be intentional and thoughtful about it.  

The good news we share is Jesus!  We share Jesus with others, and that is the good news.  Jesus is the focus of who we witness.  So often we feel the need to witness with the hearer in mind, and maybe that is when we get caught in the trap of thinking and telling people how they need to change their lives to live according to Jesus, at least as we see it.  Witnessing to Jesus puts the focus on the one who saves, the one who brings and who IS the good news.  

Good News does not promise or guarantee that things will always work out the way we wish them to, or that bad things will not happen.  In times of tragedy, we often hear platitudes that I believe people use to comfort the other, or themselves.  They are trying to make sense out of the tragedy.  I imagine some have said to others in trying to make sense of the shooting or untimely deaths, "everything happens for a reason" or "God must have needed them."  Let me be clear, I don't believe there is any reason anyone can give me for what happened at Michigan State, or at Oxford, or anywhere else.  You can give me facts, anticipated motives, but God does not have a reason for these things happening.  God grieves, God cries, I believe God says you people need to figure this out and stop this--this is not my way of living.  Sin abounds in our world, and we are called as instruments of peace, to bring the transforming love and good news of Jesus to a world that is in clear need of transformation!

Good News in this situation is the promise that God is with us, always. Those who died were not alone and they were not and will not be forgotten. Good news to those students who are afraid to return to their school or class, you will not be alone.  Jesus, and the community will be with you.  Good News are the events that other MSU students are putting together to welcome students back, to say we are strong together.  

Good news depends upon God, made known to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  

What would your testimony look like?  How would it read?  What would you share in your good news testimony?  

1.  What is an experience you have had witnessing to Jesus?  Describe it, bring people into the experience.  What emotions were you experiencing?

2.  What Bible story helps you connect to that experience?  The story doesn't need to be memorized, or even quoted--it is the story in your own words as you remember it.

3. What is the good news in this experience?  What ties your experience and the Biblical text together?

4.  Condense your story into what Satterlee calls an elevator speech. What can you say about your experience of Jesus in a short time, from 20-30 seconds to 5 minutes?

This week I encourage you all to reflect back on an experience you have had and tie it to a Biblical narrative.  Go through the above four steps and begin to draft a testimony.  Some of us will come up with many, and for some of us this will be difficult to do.  In the words of my seminary professor who taught about preaching (which is a method of giving witness!), pray, pray, and then pray.  

I would love to see some testimonies.!

Friday, February 10, 2023

You are released from the Witness Protection Program!!!!

I love to Tell the Story.  This is one of my favorite songs in church—I particularly love that the song says I love to tell the story for those who know it best, and I love to tell the story for some have never heard.  I sing with gusto when we sing this—but, do I mean it?

Jesus tells his disciples they are witnesses.  We often associate witness with the court system—a witness gets on the stand, as one with first-hand knowledge—what they have heard from others is inadmissible.  We are witnesses with both firsthand knowledge of our experiences with Jesus, and as people who witness to what we know from what the early witnesses recorded.

I wonder how many of us think we are in the witness protection program.

A few weeks ago, we listed the stories that came to mind about Jesus in the gospels.  If we are witnesses to Jesus, we probably should know these stories.  We begin teaching them early in life, as children.  In our congregation, the children receive a children’s story Bible around the age of 3.  It is the time they begin to hear the stories of Jesus, at their level.  They aren’t asked to figure out what it means, just to begin to learn the stories.  It isn’t just the stories of Jesus, but I remember learning about Moses, and Noah.  The creation story.  And yes, the Christmas and Easter Stories repeated every year. 

But as we grow older, we begin to remember these stories and think about what this may mean in my life.  How does this affect how I live out my life?  When I see how Jesus went out to be with people who others rejected, I have to ask myself if I live in Jesus’ name, am I also called to reach out to those that others reject.  I hear the stories of forgiveness, welcome, new life—and I explore them.  And the more I realize the love and joy in these truths from Jesus, the more and more I want to share the message of Jesus, I want to share Jesus with people. 

One of the challenges I have faces in my over 20 years in public ministry, and in my time as a lay leader prior to this is that evangelism, sharing the message often turned into a membership drive. We shared the message not so much of Jesus, but of the church.  Our goal was to get members.  Our thought was members meant more money and more people to do things.  As a pastor, it means my numbers on my annual report would look better. 

That is not the purpose of being a witness.  We are called to witness to Jesus whether or not the person ever steps foot into our church!  Those who tell the story of Jesus, who witness to Jesus are not salespeople.  Our goal in witnessing is to share the good news of Jesus.

Maybe the first place to begin witnessing is to our family —especially if we have children and grandchildren, many of whom do not know Jesus or any of the stories of faith.  Witnessing can be done by telling stories, by reading the Bible stories with them.  The church has covenanted to help with this through our teaching through children’s church, worship, and other ways we gather. You can witness by placing Jesus as a priority in your life and making decisions based on your faith and commitment.  Others are watching what we do, and if we say one thing and do another, our message just doesn’t come through as well.

In the book “We Are Witnesses of These Things” (by Craig and Chelsey Satterlee), we have to ask ourselves what are “these things.” 

For me the key is new life, which flows from the pivotal story of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.  In this witness of Jesus, we experience Jesus’ suffering, helplessness, fear, worry shame and death.  Most of us can relate to feeling these things.  And through Jesus’ experience, we can reflect on these passages and on what the significance of Jesus’ experience means.  The author lists “these things:”

Repentance and forgiveness:  Luke 24 tells the disciples to witness to Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection by proclaiming “repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name.”  Jesus offers another way of life, a change in path, a change of heart and mind; and in this we find forgiveness.  This forgiveness is not just for us, but for all nations. 

A Ransom for Many: Matthew 20:28: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ Jesus gave his life in redemption, to make us righteous before God, knowing that as humans alone, we could not do it.  This is a free gift, there is nothing required in return.  This ransom liberates us for the chains and bondage we that we find ourselves enslaved with in the world. 

New Life from Death: John 12:31-32: “Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ This is a reminder that Jesus’ death and resurrection was not for a chosen few, or just those in the church—Jesus is speaking new life into the world, the whole world.  The rulers of this world will not win.  Out of death is life, new life.  It doesn’t make death of anything easier, but there is the reminder that there is hope.

There are many other things we may find important to share about Jesus.  I like to share the unconditional love and commitment Jesus has for us, no matter what! 

What other things are part of Jesus’ story you want to share?

Do you think we have a choice about witnessing to Jesus?

What if anything prevents you from witnessing to Jesus?

What is any way of understanding Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection appeals to you? 

What do you most need Jesus to save your from? To save us from? To save the world from? (avoid churchy words)

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Our Experience of Jesus

 Luke 24 is packed with people who experience Jesus. 

The Resurrection Story--The women came to the tomb to prepare the body with the spices they had brought--but the body wasn't there.  Perplexed!  They encounter two men, and the women were terrified!  The men asked the women, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen.  REMEMBER how he had told you!  They now remembered and went back to tell the others.  The others thought it was an idle tale.  Peter ran to the tomb and looked in.  Yep, it was empty, and the linen cloths were laying there--Amazed!

The Walk to Emmaus--When I was in seminary, someone dubbed the "duh" experience!  There were two disciples walking to a village called Emmaus from Jerusalem.  They were chatting amongst themselves about all that had happened--the death and burial of Jesus.  And we are told that while they were talking a man comes near them, we know him to be Jesus from the scripture, but these men are kept from recognizing him.  Jesus notices they are sad, and he says, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?"  One of them looked at Jesus and said, duh--ok, he didn't really say that, or maybe he did, and it just isn't well translated from the Greek.  Anyway, he says to Jesus, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn't know the things that have taken place these days?"  Jesus draws them in--"what things?"  And them men tell the stranger (Jesus) about how the prophet of God was arrested, condemned to death, crucified.  They told the stranger, "We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel, but it has been three days since all this happened."  Duh!  They went on to tell how the women had come back and reported the body was gone. The stranger then goes on to talk about how foolish they are, slow of heart to believe. The stranger says, "Wasn't it necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?"  And he went on to tell them, remind them of Moses and all the prophets.  

When they got to Emmaus, the stranger walked on ahead, but they invited him to stay.  It was at the table, at the TABLE, where he took bread, blessed and broke it--sharing it with them.  And then, AHA, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.  Remembered.

Jesus appears to the disciples--The disciples were sharing the story with the others, and Jesus comes and stand among them, "Peace be with you." They were STARTLED and thought they were seeing a ghost.  Had they not just been told by the others? But he asked why they were afraid and showed them his hands and feet.  And he ate with them.  And he opened their mind--they remembered.

The Ascension of Jesus-Jesus leads the disciples out to Bethany, and he lifts up his and and blessed them.  As he is blessing them, he is lifted to heaven.  And their response?  They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were CONTINUALLY in the temple blessing God.

Notice the vast emotion with these experiences.  Notice how in most of them, they didn't notice in the moment that Jesus was present--it took some time.  How quickly they forget, and how quickly we forget.

It has to be about twenty years about that I was asked to write an Easter article for the Saginaw News.  I wish I had a copy.  As I recall I spoke to the many tombs we find ourselves trapped by--it isn't just death.  It isn't until we step out of the tomb that we experience life.

The amazing thing about Jesus is that Jesus has been there--in the tomb, but he is no longer there.  Blessed by Jesus, meaning we live life according to Jesus, he invites us out of the tomb to live new life.  Jesus meets us where we are, but also loves us enough to not let us stay there.  

Where have you experienced Jesus?  Where do you experience Jesus?  I admit that I often encounter Jesus in worship--in a song that is sung, or in a phrase in a prayer.  I will admit I have to turn off my mind thinking about everything going on around me, or the stupid thing I said in my sermon, or sometimes those songs that don't really sound like planned.  But when I remember Jesus, I encounter Jesus.  

One of the joys of the call to Word and Sacrament ministry is the opportunity to share Jesus' body and blood regularly--to look into the eyes and see the person. It is the opportunity to taste, touch and see Jesus in ways I don't regularly do throughout the week.  And I need that reminder.  

I also see Jesus when I am out and about.  There is a place at Stony Lake Camp where when you sit during the sunset, there can be no doubt about God's presence (Bob Aldrich was able to capture a great picture of this once.)  Or I encounter it in volunteering, or while I listen to music on the radio.  

As we read and discuss chapter 4 of "You Are Witnesses of These Things," think about your encounters with Jesus.  Did you recognize it right away, or did you realize it after some reflection?  

Do you think you have had "duh" moments?