Lutherans & Homosexuality

Amidst controversy, Hallmark started a line of homosexual wedding cards in 2008.

Having just hit 25 weeks of posts, I’m honestly just a little exhausted at this point.  I love writing, but need to recharge the batteries a bit.  I have no intentions of leaving you empty-handed though.  In fact, I think what I’m leaving you with is superior writing.

One of the blessings/curses of being the younger brother is that you 1) get to learn at an accelerated rate by seeing your older sibling accomplish something and mimicking, 2) you almost always feel like you’re trying to play catch-up in terms of accomplishment.  This is the case for me when it comes to my brother’s writing.

Last summer, perhaps the biggest issue in American Christianity was the news of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) approving of homosexual clergy.  It prompted much confusion from non-Lutherans about what exactly a “Lutheran stance” on such an issue would be.  My brother used the opportunity to write a series of articles on it.  I hope you find them as beneficial as I did.

SIDE NOTE: Homosexuality is the issue I’ve received more questions on than any as possible blog topics.  If you have a topic (current event, doctrinal issue, etc.) that you would like to see addressed, please send me a note and I’ll try to cover it in future articles.

Written by Jonathan Hein
Pastor, Beautiful Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church (WELS)

This past week I received an interesting phone call. It was by a well-intentioned individual who lambasted me and my church for teaching that homosexuality was acceptable.

I immediately knew what happened. He had read in the newspaper that recently the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a resolution at their synod convention that not only paved the way for the ELCA to perform same-sex marriages, but also opened the door for openly gay pastors to practice ministry. Because our name is Beautiful Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church, he assumed we were part of the ELCA. We are not. We are part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), so named because it began in 1850 with a union of three Lutheran churches in Milwaukee, WI.

The WELS is the third largest Lutheran church body in the country. The ELCA (which is actually an amalgamation of three different Lutheran synods) is the largest. These two synods could not be more different. The WEL’s theological position has not changed, on any issue, in 159 years. If God and his word do not change, how could theology change? (Theology is simply the combination of the Greek words theosmeaning “God” and logos meaning “word”.) The ELCA has changed its theological position regularly to reflect that which is culturally popular or politically correct.

Today, I begin a series of bulletin inserts which will explain the WELS’s theological position on sexuality, and hopefully help you to articulate that position to anyone you run across who thinks we are the same as the ELCA.

Today, we talk about how the real issue is the Good News of Christ, not homosexuality. We get worked up when people deny what the Bible says about homosexuality, not because we’re homophobic or hold that sin as being “worse” than others. Rather, we are concerned that if you deny any portion of God’s Word, you will eventually lose the Gospel.

Lutheranism & homosexuality part 1 of 5

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has received a lot of news coverage for their recent national convention’s decision to approve a resolution committing the church to find a way for “people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships” to serve as professional leaders of the church. This has led to confusion. We are part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), not the ELCA. But because people see “Evangelical Lutheran” in our title, they often assume that we are part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Not at all.

The WELS’s public written confessions state that the Bible is the Word of God. As such, it contains no mistakes or errors. The Bible is not mere opinion, but is the revealed will of a loving God to his children. The ELCA’s public written confessions state that the Bible contains the Word of God. There is a big difference between saying the Bible is the Word of God verses saying it contains the Word of God. If the Bible only contains the Word of God, that means portions of the Bible are God’s Word, but other portions are not. Thus, if there is a portion of the Bible you don’t like, you toss it out claiming “That’s not really what God would say, but only what Paul (or Moses or Peter or Matthew) said.” Theology becomes nebulous. It can shift with any opinion poll or the morals of the day. But if the Bible is the Word of God, and if God is serious when he says, “I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6), then there is something odd about a theology that changes from generation to generation.

Ironically, the Word “evangelical” is the combination of two Greek words which translate literally as “good news.” Another commonly used word that means “Good News” is “Gospel.” What is this “good news”?

Through the prophet Isaiah, God wrote, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘our God reigns!’” (52:7). The good news is that because of what Jesus has done, salvation can be proclaimed to all who sin (which is the same thing as saying “to all people,” since all sin). The good news is that people who commit even the most grotesque sins – murder, adultery, etc. – can, through Christ, be at peace with God. But when you rip out portions of God’s Word which condemn sin, you lessen the need for Christ. You negate the need for the “good news.” In other words, if you toss aside God’s Law, you will also lose the Gospel eventually. Church history has shown this to be true again and again.

An example – I have been known to lose my temper, which can be a sin, as God’s Word encourages gentleness. So the way you show love for me is not by saying, “Well, the occasional temper tantrum isn’t that big a deal! I don’t know if you should call that a sin!” The way you show love for me is by calling my temper tantrum sin, and then by assuring me that in Christ, that sin (and the infinite others I have committed) have been forgiven. The way you show love for me is by repeating Jesus’ words to the woman who was caught in adultery. After forgiving her sin he added, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). Those words could apply to homosexuality, or temper tantrums, or gossip, or envy. In gratitude for what Christ did to save me from my sin, I struggle to leave them behind. I will never be able to do so entirely. But I still try. This is the joyful struggle of a Christian who lives in the shadow of the cross. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” Jesus said (Matthew 16:24). I deny myself the impulses of my flesh if they are contrary to the Word of God, precisely because I know that a God who loved me enough to give me his Son would not steer me wrong.

A true Lutheran will tell you there is no such thing as Lutheran theology. Martin Luther simply wanted to rid the church of his day of the error that had crept in through the abuse of pope and council. He wanted to restore the pure theology of the early church, which was built sola Scriptura – on Scripture alone. A true Lutheran is cautious with God’s Word, afraid of ever saying more than it says… or… every saying less than it says.

That is why the resolution of the ELCA saddens me. In calling “good” what the Bible calls “sin,” they lesson the need for Christ in the world. That is not evangelical. And by denying the clear teaching of God’s Word, they make God’s Word seem unclear. That is not Lutheran.

Please realize not all Lutheran congregations are the same. Some take the Bible very seriously. We are one of them.

By Jonathan Hein

I’ve Seen the Light!

"Touchdown Jesus" goes up in flames due to lightning strike on Tuesday night.

There are several “Christian” stories this week that are frankly a little hard to stay away from.  Runner-up award goes to Gary Faulkner, a 50-year-old Colorado man who was arrested in Pakistan recently for having been “hunting” Osama bin Laden ever since 9/11.  Faulkner was discovered at the Pakistani border carrying a pistol, a sword, night-vision equipment and Christian religious books.  Upon undergoing medical examination, Faulkner was discovered by Pakistani psychologists to have “psychological problems”.  Faulkner’s brother, however, a doctor in the U.S. said that Gary meets none of the psychological criteria (as categorized by the DSM) for psychosis.  Who’s right?  Let me point out one detail: he was carrying a SWORD!  Not a hunting knife, not a carving knife, a sword.  Hmmm.  The prosecution rests.

Unbelievably, Gary Faulkner’s personal crusade, at least to me, was only the 2nd most bizarre Christian story this week.  And the winner is……….6-story Jesus statue in Ohio struck by lightning.  Tuesday night a 62 ft, nearly 1/2 million dollar statue labeled the “King of Kings” statue just outside of Solid Rock Church in southwest Ohio burned down after lightning struck it in a severe storm.  The statue, also affectionately nicknamed “Touchdown Jesus” (because it pictured the upper half of Jesus’ body with arms raised to heaven, looking as though he was signaling for a touchdown) had become a well-known landmark driving along I-75.  (Personally, I only saw it once from the highway, but have to say, thought it was a pretty cool piece of artwork.)

This story is crazy to me for a number of different reasons, but I’d like to call attention to one thing – notice the number of comments left on the YAHOO Associated Press link to this story.  As of less than 24 hours after its release, over 15,000 comments were posted.  Granted, I obviously didn’t read all 15,000+ comments, but interestingly there are many different assessments as to what people think the cause of the incident was.  Some take an iconoclastic approach (overly rigid interpretation of Exodus 20:4 where God forbids “graven images”) and suggest God is punishing this church for building such a structure.  Some commentators suggest that they heard there was corruption in this 4,000 member non-denominational church in Ohio, that God was clearly reigning his judgment down upon its leadership.  Numerous self-professed atheists weighed-in and suggested that this was not God, but a natural and ironic stroke of fate that to them just confirms their anti-God stance (Don’t get me started on the inconsistency of someone denying the existence of “god” and yet acknowledging “fate” as some higher power).  Some suggested this was a work of Satan, a visible, physical attack of God’s people.  And, of course, those who have an unhealthy proclivity towards shouting “The end is near!” certainly made their voices heard as well.

If you’d like to see an example of such statements, check out related links like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQKrvuMvfgM.

My favorite comment of all, however, was one that was fielded as a an email write-in to a local news team covering the event.  Unfortunately, the video has since been removed from YouTube for copyright reasons.  The local observer said, “I don’t mean to sound pompous or insensitive, but couldn’t the reason for the fire be that they put flammable materials on a giant steel frame on a hill?”  🙂 I can’t tell you how much I loved that comment and how it was treated as a novel thought.

People have always liked the idea of signs.  People have always looked for signs.  The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” Now the Jews wanted signs for a variety of reasons.  However, in general, do you know why people want signs from God so badly?  It’s because you don’t have to exercise your faith if every time you need to make a big decision or are looking for direction in life, a “sign” is given to you.  If you were making a big decision about your career path, you prayed to God asking for a sign, and then the heavens opened and God say, “Eric, you really should become an accountant”, would that require faith?  I suppose you could say that you might believe it was a hallucination or something.  But no, if you believed you weren’t crazy and this happened, that kind of “sign” from God wouldn’t require you to exercise faith.  It would require obedience, but not faith.

God doesn’t typically work that way though, does he?  He presents you with options for deliberation.  He gives you and I the opportunity to study his Word, pray about things, gather input, make a wise decision (that as far as we can tell is wise) and trust that God is going to bless this decision – an exercise in faith.

Across religions, people like to look for signs in the stars, in their personal lives, and in societal events (as in the case of the burning of the “Touchdown Jesus”).  Here’s the thing: God doesn’t say in Scripture that there won’t be any signs.  However, he does tell us what kinds of signs in life to look for.  If you read through Matthew 24 for instance, Jesus teaches his disciples that things like wars, earthquakes, famines, and false teaching around the world are “signs” that the world is drawing to a close.  Notice though, that you could turn on the news on almost any given day and recognize these signs.  The intention is that when we see these relatively regular events, they are reminders of a sense of persistent urgency in watching for Jesus’ return.

God really doesn’t promise us any further “signs” in life.  It isn’t as though he couldn’t give us signs.  God can do whatever he wants.  But he doesn’t promise us any.  And he doesn’t say he’s going to be any less involved in our lives, but he simply suggests that the communication he’s going to offer to us is through the recorded Word.  That is where he promises we can find his input on our lives.

As for those who demand signs from God or truly look in unhealthy ways for God signs from God, check out Jesus words from Matthew 12: “Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.”  He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:38-40).  The “Sign of Jonah” as Jesus calls it (i.e. his own death and resurrection from the grave) is really the only sign we need in life because it covers our most base need, the need that, when all is said and done, really matters – forgiveness and salvation.  There were over 500 witnesses to Jesus resurrected from the grave.  It happened.  We have all the signs, all the facts we need that we’re saved.  Needing a sign in life for anything else would indicate that A) we’re grossly misunderstanding life’s priorities, or B) we’re afraid/unwilling to exercise the faith that the Holy Spirit has given us.  Obviously neither is a good thing spiritually speaking.

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge that God may be “leading” you in a certain direction in life.  But getting into looking for “signs” is dangerous and completely unnecessary.  We have all the sign we need that we have a God who loves us and will bless us – a Risen Savior.  Diligently search the Scriptures.  Fiercely pray to your Father.  Boldly make decisions.  Enjoy exercising the faith of knowing God will bless you.

iCan’t Keep Up

This week, Steve Jobs revealed another device that can help us all feel a little more outdated.

On Tuesday, Apple CEO Steve Jobs held a press conference introducing the world to the new iPhone 4, Apple’s fourth-generation cell phone.  From what I can tell, the improvements from this iPhone over previous iPhones are that it is thinner, has HD recording capabilities, has video chat, a longer battery life, is capable of streaming Netflix videos, has a high resolution e-reader, and has a host of other features that will supposedly change the way we communicate with the world.  

One of the things that amazed me about the release of the new iPhone was an article I read on Yahoo.com shortly after the news conference.  The author suggested that Steve Jobs, while highlighting all of the great things going on at Apple,  failed to even mention Apple’s Mac laptop computers, and reading between the lines, what this means is that Mac computers are now yesteryear’s gadget.  The thought is that they’re now too passé to even mention.  Imagine that.  I must have blinked and poof!  They’re gone.  Seems like yesterday that Macs were considered the sleekest, most stylish tech gadget to own.    It’s not even close now.  It’s not that Apple has intentions to stop making MacBooks.  But Jobs, always considered a business and technology visionary, doesn’t consider them relevant enough to the future of technology to even mention them anymore.  What an incredibly fast world we live in. 

Ever feel like you’re unable to keep up?  Ever feel like as the world appears to be getting newer, faster, and thinner, you’re getting older, slower, and…..hmmmm…..not thinner?  The issue is bigger than tech gadgets though.  Surviving technology advances just so that you can record the big game on tv or talk on the phone in 2010 is one thing, keeping up with the rest of the schedule of life is another.  Can anyone do it?  Does anyone honestly feel like they have it altogether?  Let’s play this game: If you had to break your life down into percentages of how much of the time you feel like you’re thriving vs. how much of the time you feel like you’re merely surviving, what would it be?   

Sometimes people refer to this type of existence – putting tons of time and energy into spinning the wheels for life’s common pursuits – as a “rat race”.  As a Christian who tries very hard to keep a good perspective on things, I don’t know if a “rat” is the furry disease-carrier I’d compare myself most to.  If I had to choose, I think I’m probably more of an opossum – often they’re fairly solitary, carry a lot of baggage with them, and sometimes get so stressed out that they nearly die, a defense mechanism that we refer to as “playing dead”.  Did you know that opossums don’t technically pretend or “play dead” at all?  Rather, what happens is that they get so stressed when they recognize a potential predator that this overwhelming feeling causes them to pass out!  Funny animal.  Then again, it’s not uncommon for me to awaken some mornings only to think about the things I “really should get done that day” only to find myself waking up 1/2 hour later, having overwhelmed myself (i.e. “possumed myself”) back to sleep.  And I could be wrong, but I don’t think that the feeling of not wanting to get out of bed because the world sometimes seems too fast to keep up with is uniquely mine.   

So when we read the front pages of life’s goings-on and we see another genius prodigy who has made another billion dollars by another internet company or we see another tech gadget that by the time we figure it out is going to be obsolete or we see another professional athlete or entertainer half our age who is living the life we’d always envisioned for ourselves, how are we supposed to feel?  We’re struggling to get bills paid, projects done, kids to practice, and dinner on the table and Time magazine isn’t exactly knocking our doors down to ask us how we’ve accomplished such feats.  The experience can be exhausting and deflating and you can bet that Satan will be right there in our ears whispering “loser” to make matters worse.   

Maybe the Amish have it all right?  They don’t ever look particularly stressed out.  Certainly not because their battery died, their hard drive crashed, or their flight got delayed.  Then again, they don’t look particularly happy either  (not to mention they’ve run into a host of other concerns as a culture, like inbreeding-related genetic disorders).  So maybe just giving up on modern life and isolating ourselves isn’t the answer.   

Where do we turn?  When we just can’t shake that “loser” feeling, when we’re up to like 8 Excedrin a day just to help deal with it all, Christians MUST remind themselves of the victory that they have in Christ.  Life is going to get wild and crazy and overwhelming at times.  There’s no “maybe” here.  Jesus promises this is going to happen.  Thank goodness it’s not our job to tame this world.  Jesus already conquered it for us.   

I love the dialogue Jesus has with his disciples knowing they are about to go through some sadness and fear (a feeling of being overwhelmed by the loss of Jesus and eventually by ministry tasks that seems larger than them).  Jesus, nearing the end of his ministry, prepares them for surviving this life without his visible presence by saying to them, “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy….I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world”  (John 16:20-22, 33).  

Now Jesus wasn’t talking about tech gadgets or jam-packed schedules, but he was acknowledging that the world is an easy place in which to get overwhelmed and discouraged.  His opinion on it: no need to feel that way.  He already won the battle so that we don’t have to feel like unaccomplished losers anymore.  Much like Christ, whose victory on a cross didn’t initially resemble victory, our lives don’t always smack of success to the world.  Then again, maybe just taking this world in stride, handling it the best we can, and doing so with poise and grace does seem special to the world.  Did you know that several of the most influential writers/leaders in the early Christian church became such by seeing the strength with which early Christians faced persecutions in Rome?  Tertullian said that the sight of martyrs aroused the wonder and admiration that impelled him to investigate Christianity.  Justin of Caesarea (often called “Justin Martyr”) suggested, “the more such things (Christian persecutions) happen, the more do others, in larger numbers, become believers.”   

You never know how your slow, simple, far-short-of-extraordinary, maybe even persecuted Christian life is affecting others.  God does though.  No matter how uninspiring you feel, if you let him, God will use you to inspire.  No matter how far from “cutting edge” you perceive yourself to be, if you let him, God will use your faith as a startling revelation to another.  Let Steve Jobs teach people how to instantly chat face-to-face with people around the world.  You can teach people how to eternally speak face-to-face with God himself.  Hmmm.  Not so insignificant after all, are we?  

I’m not advocating a hectic life.  I’m simply acknowledging the fact that when you’re living in a meaningful way – working, parenting, serving, etc. – things are indeed going to get a little hectic at times.  Allow yourself to be underwhelmed by this life though, knowing that Christ has already defeated this world, knowing that the chaos will one day come to an end, knowing that your healthy outlook will inspire others.  Don’t worry so much about this world passing you by, but “Take heart”, because a better one is yet to come.

5 Great Reasons to Skip Church & 1 Better One Not To

We'll be sure to fire up the "NO VACANCY" sign when we get too full :).

Someone asked me recently what prompted me, from week to week, to write about one topic or the next.  I told him my scientific formula – it simply boils down to whatever happens to be consuming my thoughts that week.  So, for instance, several weeks ago when I wrote about the popularity of “living together” nowadays, it came in a week where I’d run across this issue numerous times during the week.

Well, having just come off of Memorial Day weekend, as a pastor, I can’t help but think about the issue of worship attendance.  Now, please understand what I’m saying and what I’m not saying.  Memorial day is absolutely a worthwhile holiday.  However, from a church worship perspective, Memorial Day weekend is like the Lex Luther to Easter’s Superman.  It, and it’s uglier stepsister Labor Day, serve as bookends to the consistently worst worship attendance throughout the year.  People in the north, in particular, having endured a long and bitter winter, don’t like to miss the opportunity to get out into the sun, onto the lake, or up to the cabin.

Don’t get me wrong, I live in Minnesota too, so I understand that you have to take advantage of nice weather when it’s available.  Family time, vacation, camping, boats, sun tans, it’s all great.  It’s all fun.  It’s all a blessing.  But when northern worshippers exodus from the pews to the sun during the summer weekends, let’s be honest here, a statement of priority is made.  I’m not talking about taking a weekend off for a family trip.  I’m talking about treating worship from June-August as you would a summer vacation from school.  What does this do to a faith?  What does this mean about a person’s priorities?

Years ago I overheard the conversation of a person in a moral crisis that had a lasting effect on me.  Some of his buddies were planning a bachelor party for their friend.  They were discussing the night’s itinerary, which included a trip to see “lady dancers” (just so we’re all on the same page here, they hadn’t purchased tickets to “Swan Lake”).  This young man simply said, “I can’t.  I just keep thinking ‘what if Christ came back while we were there.’  What would I possibly say to him?” I didn’t tell him that I’d overheard his comments, but his words have stuck with me.  Now I’m far from perfect, but that thought consistently pops into my head when faced with decisions.  I think it definitely applies to our topic for the day too.  What if Christ comes back in July or August or any other time of life where worship really has not been a priority?  What if he says to me, “2 hours for worship and Bible Study on Sunday mornings is approximately 1.2% of your week and I wasn’t enough of a priority for you than that?!”.  Am I prepared to answer that question?

Now, if someone wants to call the “legalism” card on me for guilting people into church, go ahead.  But as a pastor, if I’m not using both law and gospel where needed to encourage God’s people to be in God’s Word with brothers and sisters in Christ (the occasion we call “church”) then frankly I’m probably not much of a pastor.  The Holy Spirit established “The Christian Church” with the intention of keeping us spiritually on track throughout our lives.  So if “church” isn’t part of my life at all or much of a priority in my life, spiritually speaking, I’m off track, heading to a dangerous destination.

As was the case with the “living together” situation, I’ve heard many arguments from logic regarding public worship absence.  Through door-to-door canvassing, following up with people I haven’t seen in worship for a while, and simply talking to non-churchgoers, I believe I’ve literally heard 1000 “good” reasons people give for not regularly coming to worship services.  I’ve narrowed it down here to the 5 I hear most frequently.

REASON#1 – “I’ve heard it all before.” You’ve gone to Sunday School as a child.  Your parents made you attend worship and maybe even get confirmed.  Perhaps you even attended a Christian school at some point in life.  At the very least, if you’ve ever heard the story of Jesus – his life, death, resurrection – the fundamentals of Christianity, you have some familiarity.  Over 70% of America, despite our fairly poor worship attendance, claims Christianity as their faith.  That means that most of America (and for that matter much of the world) has heard the simple gospel story before.  If the Christian faith were like riding a bike, maybe hearing the gospel a couple of times might be enough.  That’s a horrible analogy for faith though and yet that’s how many people view it – “I know the facts so I’m good.”  That’s not the way Scripture talks about faith.  The Bible depicts faith more according to the analogy of nutrition and exercise.  Faith is something that either moves forward or backwards, up or down, grows or shrinks and dies.  In the same way that I wouldn’t expect to lift a dumbbell once and be ripped for the rest of my life, when it comes to faith, you can’t just sit there.  That’s not what faith does.  The ONLY way for faith to increase, according to Romans 10:17, is “by hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” For the past 2000 years, the way God has most frequently facilitated the planting and nourishing and strengthening of faith, is through the gospel proclaimed through Word and Sacrament when believers gather as a church.

REASON#2 – “I’m really busy right now.” This is a very easy excuse for a lot of things in life.  And for a lot of things in life, it’s a legitimate excuse.  I don’t have time to put a new patio on the house.  I don’t have time to get together with friends as much as I’d like.  I don’t have time to do as much volunteer work as I’d like.  People are busier today than people have ever been.  We carry Blackberry phones with us today because we have so many items scheduled every day that the human brain can’t keep them straight.  And we feel VERY important when we have so many things going on.  In our minds, as stressed out as it causes us to be, it validates our existence when every minute of every day is consumed because we’re just that important to the world.  The reason this excuse just doesn’t work when it comes to worship attendance is that it clearly indicates a not-God-first pecking order in the priority list of our lives.  If dedicating 2 hours to public worship and Bible Study on Sunday morning is too much that it can’t be done, how does that reflect on my priorities as a Christian.  The things in our lives that take precedence on our schedules are typically the things which we recognize as most important.  God doesn’t tell me to dedicate X hours/week to Bible Study, worship, & prayer.  But Jesus clearly made me a priority in his life – every thought and every movement was calculated with me as a priority in his mind.  This is what motivates me to dedicate my life to him (and a portion of my hours to this concept of church – his body).

REASON#3 – “I feel closer to God when I’m _____________.” There is a fascinating truth involved in this statement that is a testimony to what Lutheran theology refers to as the “Natural Knowledge of God”.  In a true sense I can feel God as I stand in awe of the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls.  “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1).  The problem is, by jogging or fishing in nature, by listening to beautiful music, by standing on a golf course, I can’t be reminded of the essentials of the Christian faith – I am a sinner, I need a Savior, I have a Savior, this drastically affects my eternity as well as my day-to-day life.  That can only be proclaimed through the “Revealed Knowledge of God” (i.e. the Bible).  Church is an occasion that revolves around the Bible.

Wherever or whenever we feel God really isn’t the issue.  Feelings are perhaps more deceptive than anything on this planet outside of the devil himself.  Somedays I feel good about myself.  Other days I feel lousy.  One day, when all dolled-up, a woman might feel like the most beautiful woman in the world.  When she first wakes up in the morning, that same woman might feel like the ugliest creature on the planet.  The truth is that the rest of us think, relatively speaking, she looks pretty much the same most of the time.  Feelings can be based on the truth or they can be based on internal chemicals or they can be based on something you had for lunch.  The point is, feelings, or lack thereof, aren’t always the best barometer for faith.  As a pastor, my hope would be that when you come out of a worship service you would feel rejuvenated by God’s love and promises.  However, you might come out of a worship service and not “feel” any different.  That doesn’t mean you haven’t been touched by the gospel.  If you are actively exposed to the gospel, the Holy Spirit has worked and you can trust that you have been spiritually nourished.

REASON#4 – “Church is so boring.” One of my favorite Christian parenting techniques is to tell children “You don’t have to go to church.  You get to go to church!”  While there is an element of truth in the statement, there is so much wrong with it that I’m not quite sure where to begin.  I understand the idea – going to public worship would ideally always be gospel-motivated.  That’s certainly true.  I hope and pray that people enjoy public worship.  But is worship something we do simply because we enjoy it, or is it something we do because we know it’s good for us, and it’s an additional blessing when we enjoy it?  I don’t know anybody who enjoys paying their taxes.  I don’t know anybody who enjoys being on a specific diet.  But I know plenty of people who recognize the necessity of them for their well-being.  As faith matures, it recognizes that what is essential for me can also be something that I enjoy.  For instance, I know that to maintain health I have to have some physical exercise.  I enjoy playing basketball.  Through basketball I also can get the physical exercise that I need.  The two – enjoyment and necessity – don’t have to become mutually exclusive.  Both enjoyment and necessity are then good reasons for coming to worship too.

In all honesty, I truly sympathize with people who feel this way.  I had a number of classmates in school who wanted to become pastors because they enjoyed the church experience so much growing up (often even had fathers who were pastors).  I got into this line of work for other reasons.  I can’t say that I began truly “enjoying” public worship per say until about the time I got to the seminary.  When I recognized its professional relevance for me, I started paying more attention to it.  At that time I also happened to start worshipping at a location that had several pastors who were very gifted communicators, the music was incredibly polished, the people were very friendly, and I became more involved in volunteer service (an active member in the body).  For me, it was a combination of circumstance, experiencing a certain level of excellence,  and personal maturity.

If you’ve felt “bored” with your public worship experience, talk to your pastor.  Pastors in general and worship in specific always benefit from productive feedback from members.  Typically pastors desperately want things to be done well and want members to be inspired by public worship.  Tell them what is connecting for you.  Tell them what isn’t registering.  You’ll feel better.  Worship will be better.

REASON#5 – “I know I should, but…”(i.e. “I’m apathetic about it”). It’s hard to say much about this.  It’s a scary moment when Christians just stop caring about sin.  That typically means that it’s been so prevalent that the conscience has become calloused to it.  And yes, lack of faithful use of God’s Word in worship is a sin.

The most terrified I’ve ever felt when reading the Bible was one occasion when I happened to stumble upon Hebrews 10.  Verse 25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” The writer to these Hebrew Christians addressed a people who formerly had been commanded by God to meet on the Sabbath day.  Recognizing that Jesus had fulfilled all ceremonial regulations on their behalf, the converts recognized their newfound freedom from these ceremonial laws.  They needed to be reminded here by the author that just because God hasn’t given them a specific day anymore on which they have to meet certain worship regulations, it’s still good for them to gather as a body of believers regularly in God’s Word.  The scary part is actually the next couple of verses.  Having just told these Christians the importance of not sinning by giving up on public worship, the author goes on to say, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (verses 26-27).  In other words, don’t use Jesus’ forgiveness of your sins as a license to sin.  If that’s your attitude, you’re not forgiven.  We don’t ever want to think that Jesus forgiving us for our mistakes entitles us to further mistakes like avoiding public worship.  That’s not how faith treats the object of our faith – our Savior Jesus.

There are a lot of great reasons for worship.  Some have already been cited.  But finally, it boils down to one essential reason why public worship should be part of our lives:

ONLY REASON NECESSARY – Gospel proclamation (as found in worship) is the single most important thing on this planet. God created this planet.  Mankind ruined it.  God saved it through Christ because he personally loves us that much and he continues to demonstrate that same special care in our lives.  That’s it.  We get bogged down filling the 24 hours of our days, worrying about stuff that doesn’t amount to much of anything in the end.  Stepping back, we realize that we desperately need to be re-centered and refocused on the secrets of eternal life and how that impacts this life.

So when I hear the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen for me, I know I always have reason to be optimistic since God will always be in my life, I know that I am a special creation, and I know that my life (particularly when passing into heaven) is only getting better from here on out.  That proclamation has historically best been heard in church.  Likewise, when I see the light of Christ in the eyes of fellow believers, I am touched to experience what sacrificial and selfless love really means (btw, was very humbled to see and hear the many comments of concern after last week’s article.  Thank you.)  The love of Christ has historically been best experienced through fellow believers in the church.  Knowing God is inseparable from being in his body.

If public worship either hasn’t been regular for you or you feel hasn’t always been as fulfilling to you as you’d like it to be, please pray with me: Heavenly Father, you have done great things for me.  I have sinned.  You have freely forgiven.  I have needed.  You have graciously provided.  I was lost.  You found me.  Help me to find a home in my church, that I may enjoy regularly hearing your promises of love and forgiveness proclaimed to me and that I may experience Christ in my fellow worshippers.  I trust that you, Father, will give this to me, your child.  Amen.