Children’s Sermon/Third Sunday of Pentecost/ June 9th 2024/ Lectionary Year B

Script

Pastor: Good morning boys and girls! Welcome! Let’s say good morning to our friend Sammy and see if she is there. Ready? One, two, three: Good morning, Sammy!

Sammy: Good morning, everyone! Hey Pastor, do you have any brothers or sisters?

Pastor: Yes I do. I have a brother, and I have a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law.

Sammy: What is an in-law?

Pastor: It’s someone you are related to by marriage.

Sammy: Oh! So when you get married, do you get extra siblings?

Pastor: Sometimes, Sammy. I guess it works like that if the person you are marrying has brothers or sisters.

Sammy: I am an only lamb.

Pastor: What do you mean, Sammy?

Sammy: My maamaa and daddy just have me. That’s it. I have lots of cousins and aunts and uncles and friends and neighbors—

Pastor: Hang on a second, Sammy.

Sammy: Yes, Pastor?

Pastor: Did you know that you actually do have brothers and sisters?

Sammy: I do?

Pastor: Yes you do.

Sammy: Well where are they?

Pastor: They are right here.

Sammy: [looking around] Pastor, you are trying to pull the wool over my eyes.

Pastor: No, really, Sammy. Because of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, all believers become brothers and sisters in Christ.

Sammy: What does that mean?

Pastor: That means that you have a lot of brothers and sisters. Everyone here is a brother or sister to you. We are a family—God’s family—and we have to take care of each other and love each other as God loves us.

Sammy: Woah that is really cool, Pastor. I like that I have a family here with all of the boys and girls.

Pastor: Me too. We are going to pray; let’s bow our heads and fold our hands. Dear Jesus, Thank you for my family. Thank you my friends. Thank you for my brothers and sister in Christ. And thank you for the church. Amen.

Sammy: Bye, Pastor!

Pastor: Bye, Sammy!




Resentful Faith

While visiting another Lutheran church in the area as the gathered worshipped the LORD through the prayers and praised God through the songs, across the pews I saw a man, arms folded, a closed lip face saying, “I dare you.”

How can you be resentful in worship when we should be joining the angels in singing and celebrating the glorious grace of God?

If you say to yourself that you won’t sing louder; if you argue within your spirit against the invitation to give yourself to worship – Right there! Right in that thought of your rebellion dwells your sinful resistance.  If you hear the Word in a sermon and you are whispering in your mind, “Pastor, you can pound sand!”; just perhaps you have a resentful, rebellious faith.

Is your resistance because the call to worship is unbiblical or contrary to faith? No. Is being resentful and stubborn to the invitation of God unbiblical?  No. Unfortunately we see a lot of stubborn resistance in the Bible.

After people fled from the Babylonian siege in Judah into Egypt, the wives gave themselves over to worshipping a goddess. Even though idolatry and false values were the reason for all their previous troubles, still they traded the LORD for gods and priorities that have no power to give life. When the prophet Jeremiah warns them, they resent the prophet for meddling (Jer 44:1-30).  Is that your attitude?  “Don’t tell us how to be faithful to God.”  Do you have a resentful faith where you want Jesus, but don’t want him “telling me what to do!” 

In worship, we gather not for our amusement. We gather to celebrate the glory of God. When your pride and your resistance to worship gets your hackles up, you are not worshiping or faith-filled to God. When you are offended for being called to worship regularly, your stubborn nature is resisting God’s grace.        

As redeemed sinners we need to recognize that the very act of worship is spiritual warfare. That the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God and the Gospel of our Crucified Savior are doing battle with the false gods and values embedded and bonded to our human nature. Worship is about the very act of being called, exorcised, out of darkness and brought into God’s marvelous light by the Spirit.

How can we resent the Lord who loves us stubborn folks so much, that not only does he give us the blessing of each breath and each day, but gives his own beloved Son to die on the cross for our stiff-necked sin to release us into the joy of faith?  Rather than stubborn resistance, we have been reconciled to God through Christ so we may bask in God’s grace, love and forgiveness. Rather than arm folded resentment we are called to angel flying joy of praising the One who loves us.

Since Jesus endured the cross and its shame so that we may gather in the joyful assembly, we have something to be joyful and excited about. In the presence of God we glory in the hope and joy we have received through Christ. As God’s people we are celebrating the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. 

Christ wants you to have the full measure of his joy. Faith replaces resentment. Be filled with faith.

May the proven genuineness of your faith result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:7)

Pastor Douglas 




November 2023 Newsletter




In Faith

“We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.” 2 Thessalonians 1:3

The congregation of St. Paul located in Pensacola, Florida began the discernment process of leaving the ELCA in 2018. We had the 2nd vote to leave the Florida-Bahamas (FB) Synod of the ELCA in 2019. We expected some challenges in leaving because of the small group of members who wanted to remain in the ELCA. The congregation voted with a super-majority to leave the FB Synod. St. Paul applied to and joined the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) in 2020. Shortly after being received into the NALC, the congregation council received a letter from the FB Synod informing us that we could not leave.

The congregation council of that period were faithful in their commitment to Christ. They had a strength in faith that was unwavering. It proved to be a blessing for us as the FB Synod attempted to stop the people of God from leaving. To resolve the issue of St. Paul leaving the ELCA, the congregation council filed a motion in court. This was to maintain our rights to the building and the financials of St. Paul. During the legal process, letters with false statements were sent to the church members of St. Paul (NALC). Slanderous statements were made against the council and me. The ugliness of letters from the FB Synod showed a lack of Christian love for others and did not speak the truth of the intentions within the ELCA. The object of the ELCA was and I believe still is to “suppress the truth” of what they are doing or what they have done. We had suggested that the majority (us) and the minority (them) could share the building. But that was met with another ugly response. The Bishop of the FB Synod stated in words like these: Any other denomination but the NALC would have been okay. But not the NALC.

Eventually after many legal disputes the FB Synod Bishop filed a summary of judgment with the claim of ecclesiastical hierarchy. Taking the matter away from the civil court and giving it back to the FB Synod to make the final determination. The ruling gave our building, bank accounts, and endowment funds to the FB Synod and the small group of people who wanted to stay in the ELCA.

This could have been crushing for us if it were not for “faith.” Instead, the ruling of the judge based on the ecclesiastical hierarchy was freeing! Shortly after we lost everything to the ruling, God founded a new name for us. Led by the Spirit, Epiphany Lutheran Church became our new name. In 2021 we sought and found a new location for worship. I was introduced to Rabbi Tokajer in September, and we began worshipping at the Synagogue on Nov. 7, 2021.

In faith we left the building in Pensacola for a new beginning. With our vision clear and our faith steadfast in Christ, we began rebuilding and evangelizing for God’s church in the new location. With little financial stability we stepped out. In our faith journey, we didn’t think about what was lost. Instead, we recognized how much God was providing.

I encourage pastors discerning their call to contact the General Secretary of the NALC. The threats from the ELCA that place fear into individual pastors is nothing more than evil. If you want to remain faithful to the Word of God, I encourage you to place your assurance in Christ not the ELCA. The letters I received informed me that I was nothing without their endorsement. The ELCA didn’t call me into ministry. God called me into the ministry of Word and Sacrament. What about my pension and medical benefits? Have faith! As God is my witness, this question came to my mind too. It was a fleeting thought as I discerned the call to serve in faithfulness. 

In March of 2023, I spoke to the congregation about our faith walk. I referred to the summary of judgment and the loss of our assets and property. In the message of faith I said, “We lost everything for the sake of Christ.” It is in this loss that we found out just how strong and faith filled we were. As I’ve said many times, “It’s easy to have faith when everything is going well in your life.” With the help of God, we’ve grown in number, in spirit, and in faithfulness. Like the letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, we lift up the church and all those who continue their journey in “faith.” We share the love of Christ with new believers and all visitors at Epiphany Pensacola. All are welcome to experience the love and joy of Christ in worship.

As I am writing this article it just dawned on me that on Nov. 7, 2023, when we break ground on a new church building it will be our 2nd anniversary of this new start congregation in Pensacola, Florida. God has blessed us with generous financial support for the church property. The mission and ministry have been financially supported by several NALC churches. We’ve received domestic mission partnerships from other NALC churches. The congregation has grown, and the people of God have been generous in supporting the mission and ministry of Christ. Losing everything for the sake of the Gospel has been transformational to the members of Epiphany Pensacola.   

Faithfully Serving,

The Rev. Dr. Franklin J. Gore

Epiphany Lutheran Church

850-287-5667

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

Photos courtesy of Brenda Ekstrom and Donna Busarow.




You Can’t Have God’s Kin-dom Without God’s Kingdom

With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? –Mark 4:30

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness* with our spirit that we are children of God. –Romans 8:15-16

The first time I read the phrase “kin-dom of God,” I rolled my eyes. It looked to be another attempt to make Christian terminology politically correct—something I have a personal aversion to. So, when I was asked to write a piece on this particular phrase and its usage, particularly amongst progressive Christian circles, I thought I now had an opportunity to academically hammer the phrase.

However, after research, I have become a little more sympathetic to the term. Although, as the title indicates, there is no “kin-dom” of God without the Kingdom of God. Explanation is in order.

The Origins of Kin-dom

Multiple sources trace the origin of “kin-dom” to Georgene Wilson, a Franciscan nun, who spoke it to her friend, mujerista theologian, Ada María Isasi-Díaz.1 Isasi-Díaz then incorporated it into her theological framework and wrote about it in her work “Kin-dom of God: A Mujerista Proposal.”2 Unfortunately, I was unable to find this primary work online, so I am dependent upon a lengthy article by Bridgett Green, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Austin Presbyterian Seminary for insight into Isasi-Díaz’s thoughts.3

For Isasi-Diaz, “kindom” better reflects Jesus’s familial understandings of the community of disciples. Jesus envisioned an extended family with God as father. He announces that all who hear the word of God and do it are his family (Luke 8:21; cf. Mark 3:31-35 and Matthew 12:46-50). Further, Jesus links discipleship to membership in the family of God, saying that any who have left their blood relatives for the sake of the good news will receive back hundredfold in relationships and resources now and in the coming age (Mark 10:29-30, Luke 18:29-30, and Matthew 19:29). Jesus creates and grounds his community of disciples in the principles of kinship—and kinship with God comes not through blood relations but through participation in the duties and responsibilities proclaimed in the Torah and by the Prophets. “Kindom” evokes these values in horizontal relationships among all God’s beloved children, calling disciple communities to live into familial ideals of inclusion, mutual support, and sharing of resources.4


Professor Bridgett Green

I am quite sympathetic to this understanding of how disciples of Jesus interact with each other. St. Paul is emphatic that when we trust in Christ, we are adopted sons and daughters of God. Paul incorporates familial language throughout his letters, in the same vein Isasi-Díaz highlights. If highlighting this aspect of Christian thought was all that was going on, I don’t think there would be much of an issue with using the terminology of “kin-dom” as it would simply be an emphasis of the language of family used throughout the New Testament. However, there are proponents of this terminology who want to get rid of kingdom language totally and replace it with kin-dom. I find this problematic.

Why Erase Kingdom?

According to proponents of “kin-dom,” the language of kingdom presents multiple problems. It has been used by the church to make itself an earthly kingdom with earthly power and might.5 It tends towards exclusivity and can foster competition between kingdoms sometimes leading to violence.6 It is patriarchal in nature.7 And it “includes the specter of humiliation, subordination, punishment, exile, colonialization, sickness, poverty, as well as social, political, economic, and spiritual death.”8

In their view, “kin-dom” represents a much better understanding of what Jesus taught about God’s overall rule and what Jesus’ parables lead us toward.

Let’s work through a few of these things and offer some critique. First, I think we must separate the intent of Jesus’ teachings on God’s Kingdom (and the vision of how it works when God rules) from how sinful human beings have appropriated it. Many of the critiques of kingdom language resonate with the experience of human history, and one needs only pick up a history book to see the truth of what is being said. However, does human failing nullify biblical intent and understanding? Hardly.

Several years ago, I attended a mandatory boundary training in my synod. We were cautioned and steered away from using familial language to describe the church. The reason? Because families are places where abuse takes place; where neglect happens; where harm and pain are caused. It was not until a day or two afterwards that it hit me: not a single good thing was shared about what happens in families. No one spoke about parents who lovingly raise and sacrifice for their kids. No one said a word about how spouses care for each other and build one another up. No one spoke about the emotional support and foundations that are laid to help us cope with things that happen in life. No one said a thing about how the vast majority of parents feed, clothe, shelter, and spend hours upon hours of time with their children raising them to be productive citizens of society. All of the focus was on the bad, and not a single thing was said about the good. Do we abandon the metaphor because there are times of failure? Absolutely not!! Especially when the biblical witness emphasizes the metaphor so much.

I believe the same application is warranted here. Yes, there are, but the vision set forth in the Gospels, epistles, the book of Revelation, and even in the Old Testament lead us to use kingdom language. Why? To emphasize the goodness of God’s rule, and to show that there is a future hope which is a corrective to the failings of humankind.

Second, the kingdom of God is indeed exclusive, and I do not think this is something we as Christians should feel shame about. Paul is explicit in his writings that a person is either “in Christ” or “in Adam.” There is a strong line of demarcation, and the only way to go from one side to the other is through the cross. Essentially, a person either trusts in Christ’s work for salvation (in Christ), or they trust in themselves (in Adam). Either one trusts in grace for one’s righteousness, or one trusts in one’s works. There is no middle ground.

When you trust in Christ and His works, you shift your allegiance. No longer do you live for self: for self-indulgence; for self-affirmation; for self-preservation. Instead, you live for Christ. You live for God. No longer do you lay claim to the throne, but the rightful, righteous ruler is now seated upon the throne of your heart. You now serve a new master. (Romans 6) This is at the heart of the Christian creed, “Jesus is Lord.” You are announcing that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. You no longer rule over your life. Jesus does. And when He is king of your life, you enter into the Kingdom of God.

If you do not trust in Christ’s work, then you are not in the Kingdom of God. You are consumed by other hungers. You are on the outside looking in. In this fashion, the Kingdom of God is indeed exclusive, but, this does not lead to violence and conflict. It is self-righteousness which leads to such things, and a person who knows God’s grace is not self-righteous. They know they have no righteousness of their own. They know their sin. They know their dependence upon God and Christ’s grace. They also know they are commissioned to make disciples of all nations. They know the great command to love their neighbors as themselves. They do not seek to impose the faith or the Kingdom by imposition, but rather by invitation. The doorway to the Kingdom of God is always open, and the desire is to welcome all. Even though it is exclusive, it seeks the inclusion of all. This is not something to be ashamed of in the least.

A final word about patriarchy. Please know that I am using the following definition of patriarchy: a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is traced through the male line. The Kingdom of God is a patriarchy since God is our Father. As such, this is a rather neutral understanding.

However, there is another definition of patriarchy which oftentimes gets applied. “A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.” The Kingdom of God was never meant to be such a thing. One would garner that self-evidently from Jesus’ own teachings on the Kingdom as well as St. Paul’s baptismal theology. However, living this ideal out on earth has proven to be quite difficult, and the Church has fallen very short of the ideal.

But again, the question must be asked: do we abandon the language because the ideal has not been met? No. There is no justification for that. You cannot change reality just by changing language.

Embracing Kingdom

And the reality of the Christian faith is this: you cannot have the “kin-dom” of God without the Kingdom of God.

As I hinted at previously, our Christian faith begins with God’s great grace poured out through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This grace captures and changes our hearts so that our allegiance shifts from ourselves and the desires of the flesh to allegiance to God and the desires of the Spirit. This is a vertical relationship, and it is primary. It must take place first. For through it, we actually fulfill the first and greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Everything starts with this vertical relationship.

Then, it moves to the horizontal. Then, it moves into our relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Then, it moves to the second great command to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is where “kin-dom” language can come into play, but again, we must be careful.

Our neighbors may not share the same allegiance that we do. Our neighbors may not have Jesus as their King. They may still be “in Adam.” They still may belong to the kingdom of the world.

I was struck by a paragraph in Professor Green’s article:

This is the expansive sense of family to which Bishop Oscar Romero appealed when he exhorted the soldiers in El Salvador in 1980 before his assassination. He reminded them of Jesus’s vision of kinship, reminded them that we are all children of God, that we are connected through an honor code that values all, that provides security and a foundation for each person to be able to extend themselves into the community without losing their identity and sense of self.9


Bishop Romero appealed to the idea of “kin-dom” with the soldiers of El Salvador, but they still assassinated him. Why? Because they were serving a different master. They were serving a different king. They were not serving the King of kings and Lord of lords. Their hearts had not experienced the grace of God which would lead them away from committing such a heinous crime. The vertical relationship must always come first, and the Church’s primary job in the world is the proclamation of the Gospel which makes disciples of all nations–which calls our neighbors to have the same allegiance as we do.

To erase kingdom and replace with “kin-dom” means to place the second commandment above the first. It seeks to establish the kingdom without the King. That is not an option within the Christian faith, and it ultimately leads to failure. You simply cannot have the “kin-dom” without the Kingdom.


1. Florer-Bixler, Melissa. “The Kin-dom of Christ.” Sojourners. Nov. 20, 2018. https://sojo.net/articles/kin-dom-christ,

Green, Bridget. “On Kingdom and Kindom: The Promise and the Peril.” Issuu. Fall 2021. https://issuu.com/austinseminary/docs/insights_fall_2021_i/s/13746319

Butler Bass, Diana. “The Kin-dom of God.” Red Letter Christians. Dec.15, 2021 https://www.redletterchristians.org/the-kin-dom-of-god/

2.Green. https://issuu.com/austinseminary/docs/insights_fall_2021_i/s/13746319

3.Ibid.

4.Ibid.

5.Butler Bass. https://www.redletterchristians.org/the-kin-dom-of-god/

6.PCUSA. “Bible study at GA223 will Explore ‘kin-dom’ versus ‘kingdom.’” Feb.12, 2018

https://www.pcusa.org/news/2018/2/12/bible-study-ga223-will-explore-kin-dom-versus-king/?fbclid=IwAR2fVkwtu41Zps66Wvxa_QdQfqVUiMrPeb96vhyHxKSNYAwPCFDQLv4dJuc

7.Montgomery, Herb. “A Kingless Kingdom.” Renewed Heart Ministries: eSights and Articles. May 31, 2019. https://renewedheartministries.com/Esights/05-31-2019/

8.Green. https://issuu.com/austinseminary/docs/insights_fall_2021_i/s/13746319

9.Ibid.





Ingrate Faith

“You’re welcome.” Joy comes from saying those words to someone who recognizes and thanks you for an act of service or kindness. When you perform such gracious acts to express respect, kindness and even love, you hope your service will bless the other person. So, when the recipient of your kind service is oblivious or seems entitled, you might say sarcastically, “You’re welcome!”

Ingratitude is an ugly behavior of people who think they are entitled. Ungrateful miscreants are ever present irritants in our contemporary culture causing much friction. I can understand how secular unbelievers are trained by hyper-consumerism to be lousy ingrates.

But I scratch my head explaining Christians who have an ingrate faith. Ingrate faith is an entitlement that God owes you. Ingrate faith is not joyous for God’s work of redemption. Ingrate faith is selfish with a hardened heart and a stubborn mind.

What in your life is not a gift from God? Can you say you have real faith if you are ungrateful to God who blesses your every moment, redeems you from sin and death and bestows every spiritual blessing? I know people the LORD has rescued personally or a loved one from death, yet they are not moved to give thanks. Not thanking God emerges out from a darkened, foolish heart (Rom 1:21). So, if you take the blessings of God for granted you are an ingrate to God.  Since God created us and we owe him everything, if we simply “live a good life” for ourselves and we do not live for Him, it is not enough. We are not just spiritual ingrates; we are bona fide ingrates.

If you feel slighted when someone takes your kindness for granted, how does God look upon those who do not give thanks. So, when God gives in our lives, repeatedly how do we remain silent (1 Cor 15:57). Ingratitude is the opposite of the spiritual gift of gratitude or thankfulness.

How do Christians become grateful people? By the work of the Spirit, gratitude arises from faith in the redemption Christ bought so preciously for us. Faith marked by gratitude and thankfulness creates joy within us.

Gratitude is a blessing that comes through faith from the LORD. We joyfully thank God who made us his people to live in his kingdom of light (Col 1:12). I am grateful because God delivers me from sin to live a new life through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:25, 2 Cor 2:14)

The funny thing is that gratitude is seriously good for us. Grateful people have better heart health, a boosted immune system, less depressed mood, less fatigue, and they sleep better. Gratitude has the opposite effect of stress. Another study found a simple key to happy and lasting marriage is regularly expressing gratitude. Teenagers who are grateful have higher grades, are less envious, depressed, and materialistic and are more satisfied with their lives.

What does grateful faith look like? Thankfulness expressed in worship (Heb 12:28). As Christians, our lives of faith are to be characterized by thankfulness (Col 3:15-17, 1 Thess 5:18). Rejoicing and praise mark a grateful faith, a grateful Christian (Eph 5:20). We are singing to God with gratitude in our hearts for his victory in our lives (Col 3:16). At the center of our worship is the thanksgiving meal for Christ’s sacrificial cross. Our communion meal is called Eucharist in the Greek meaning “thanksgiving”.

If you are an ingrate to God, you are not living in true faith. Come know blessings of your generous God, give thanks to the LORD who blesses you.

“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father” (Col 1:11–12)

Pastor Douglas 




Should We Put a Loved One Out of Her Misery?

Imagine a scenario where a loved one is suffering from an incurable condition and unimaginable pain.  And yet, antiquated laws have prevented her from finding peace once and for all. Shouldn’t they be changed to allow a medical professional to compassionately put her out of her misery?

This is the argument posed by physician-assisted suicide (PAS) advocates, and it has successfully changed numerous laws in the United States. But is death the only way to end pain? And do laws which allow PAS affect others in unexpected ways as well? Furthermore, could the legalization of PAS be abused?

First, let’s examine the facts. PAS is legal in many westernized countries today, such as Canada, the U.K., and Japan. But the country with the most PAS data is the Netherlands–one of the first countries to legalize the practice. Shockingly, PAS accounts for over four percent of all deaths in the Netherlands today, and the percentage is probably larger, since many such deaths go unreported. Furthermore, many euthanized were either unaware or incompetent to make this decision for themselves. Even children as young as twelve can be euthanized under the law. People can also be euthanized for depression in the Netherlands; eighty-three people were put to death for psychiatric conditions in 2017. Because of these facts, many Dutch citizens worry about being euthanized against their wishes. In fact, it is estimated that 10,000 Dutch citizens carry a “do not euthanize me” card just in case they become incapacitated.

Sadly, the United States is following in Holland’s footsteps. Already ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized the practice of PAS and the number of states which will legalize PAS in the future is expected to grow.

But what are the risks of legalizing PAS? Physician bias is always an issue. One only needs to find one doctor who is willing to approve nearly any request for euthanasia, and numerous unneeded deaths will be the result. Furthermore, as the price of health care increases, the possibility for coercion grows. Families will decide, often for economic reasons, that it’s best to end a loved one’s life rather than pay for long-term treatments which might result in financial collapse.

Is PAS even needed to control pain? One of the positive movements in recent decades has been the growth of the hospice movement and its effort to provide palliative pain care. The truth is that most pain conditions caused by life-threatening diseases can be alleviated using analgesic medications, including opioids. Indeed, proper hospice care has been able to extend life in many cases, even above the expected longevity of undergoing additional treatment.

Ultimately, as Christians, we need to understand how PAS does, or does not, fit into God’s plan for our lives. And as with any moral issue, Gods’ Word has to be our final guide.

One of the problems with today’s society is that there is no perceived value in suffering. Everything is solved with a pill. But God’s Word tells us otherwise. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul reflects on how the Lord told him that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul writes, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Our illnesses teach us about the kind of humility we need in order to have an honest relationship with the living God.

We must leave the power of life and death in the Lord’s hands. After his entire family was killed, Job wrote, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” We need to leave our mortality in the hands of God because we have a bright and shining future waiting for us – even after we die. At the end of time, “[God] will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

Rev. Dr. Dennis Di Mauro is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church (NALC) in Warrenton, VA. He also teaches at St. Paul Lutheran Seminary and the North American Lutheran Seminary.




Stand With Israel

Certainly one of the most complex, difficult, and volatile situations in the world today is the
relationship between Israel and its neighbors. The Jewish people suffered horribly during the
Holocaust. After World War II they needed a homeland – a place to live where they would be
safe. The problem is that there were people who were already living there and had been for
hundreds of years.

I do not agree with everything that the Israeli government has done over the years, just as I do
not agree with everything that the U. S. government has done over the years. There are many
ways in which the Palestinian people have been suffering and we need to be deeply concerned for our fellow Palestinian Christians. But the Israeli government needs to be able to protect its people, just like every government needs to be able to protect its people. The Israeli government and the Israeli people need our prayers and support as they fight off the most violent and deadly incursion in decades.

I believe that the promises of God were fulfilled in Jesus, not in the creation of the modern state
of Israel in 1948. I do not agree with those who believe that the Kingdom of God would be
advanced if the Dome of the Rock were to be torn down and a Temple were to be built in its
place. But still, as I read the Bible, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
played a major role in God’s plan for our salvation. The Lord said to Abraham, “I will bless
those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the
earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12: 3). And the apostle Paul wrote about his people, the Hebrew
people, “To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the
worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh,
comes the Messiah” (Romans 9: 4-5).

The best article I have found regarding how we American Christians should view and why we
should stand with Israel under attack was written by Russell Moore, editor in chief of
“Christianity Today” magazine. Here is a link.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2023/october-web-only/israel-hamas-middle-east-war-christians.html

I urge you to join with me in praying for Israel under attack – for its government, its people, the
wounded, the dying, those who have lost loved ones, those who live in fear and constant great
danger.




“Here Am I. Send Me!”

Of all the voices in the world calling you to be this or do that with your life, how will you discern God’s call? While God calls persons into full or part time ministry, biblically God’s call has less to do with the job you get paid for and everything to do with the kingdom impact you were born to have on the world. Living in response to God’s call involves trusting the Lord in the midst of the darkness and waiting for the light to dawn. But how are we to discern God’s light, as opposed to the light of our own desires or our need to please others?

Isaiah’s Vision

Consider the prophet Isaiah, whose call story is found in Isaiah Chapter 6. “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple” (v. 1). The mention of King Uzziah’s death tells us something about Isaiah’s state of mind. Israel prospered under Uzziah when he listened to the Lord, but he eventually ignored God’s commands, and died in isolation as a leper. And Isaiah had reason to be discouraged. The king was dead, a new inexperienced ruler was on the throne, the nation was drifting into idolatry (again), and their enemies were growing stronger. Where was God in all of this?

“Above him [the Lord] stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke” (v. 1-4).

God answered Isaiah’s question with a vision of heaven in which it became clear that while weak and sinful earthly rulers may die or be unseated, God reigns eternal. The angels proclaim His holiness, which extends throughout the world. The temple is shaken and filled with the smoke of God’s presence and power, echoing the pillar of cloud at Mt. Sinai, and the cloud of God’s glory that filled the temple (Exodus 13:21-22, 19:18 and I Kings 8:10-12).

Isaiah’s Reaction

In a time of uncertainty, God reveals Himself to Isaiah in His heavenly glory to confirm that He is King and reigns in heaven, regardless of what may be happening on earth. His sovereignty is never in question. This assurance is a prerequisite to hearing God’s call! And what is Isaiah’s reaction? And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (v. 5).

Despite his intelligence, privilege, personal integrity and devout faith, Isaiah sees himself for who he really is, a sinful man among a sinful people. In the light of God’s glory, Isaiah’s sins and failings became evident… and damning. He was before God without a mediator, without any covering or sacrifice. And if the priests could only go into the holy of holies once a year, and only after making sacrifices for themselves and the people so they would not fall dead, there was no chance of survival for Isaiah, who was in God’s presence with zero preparation.

God’s Response

In response to this realization, the Lord acts. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (v. 6-7). The altar was the place in the temple where the people’s sins were dealt with through animal sacrifice, foreshadowing the sacrifice of Jesus’ death on Calvary as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  The angel takes a burning coal to purify Isaiah’s lips, which were the source of his sins and the instrument of his impending ministry. As a result of the angel’s action, Isaiah’s guilt is removed, his sins are forgiven, the source of his fear is gone, and he is fit for service.

The Call to Ministry

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, “Here I am. Send me!” (v. 8). God revealed Himself to Isaiah for the purpose of preparing him for ministry. Prior to his cleansing, Isaiah heard only the angels proclaiming God’s holiness, and of course, the accusing voice of his own conscience. But now he can hear the voice of the Triune God speaking to the council of angels, asking, “Who will be the messenger to my people? Who will go for us?” And this time Isaiah answers without hesitation or reluctance, “Here Am I. Send me.” The assurance of God’s absolution and a clear conscience are evident in Isaiah’s desire to answer the call. And from his experience we can draw three conclusions.

1. Worship precedes service – humbly seeking the Lord in worship is the first step in determining the what, where, when, why, and how of God’s calling in a particular season of your life. In Scripture, God’s call sometimes came through a vision, dream, or some other supernatural phenomenon. But most experience an urging of the Holy Spirit to serve in a particular way or to use a particular gift of the Spirit for the common good.

2. Self-awareness precedes action – understanding one’s current condition and circumstances will clarify what you lack that God must provide before he can use you for his intended purpose.

3. Formation precedes confirmation – formation refers to the process of preparation one undergoes in order to carry out their ministry/calling. But formation is not the same as confirmation. Some think that if you have a Bible college or seminary degree or if you have a special skill in service or leadership, you automatically qualify for a particular ministry. But no one in the church is self-appointed. God always uses the Church to confirm a person to ministry after a time of formational preparation, whether lay or ordained.

I pray that in this season of life, as you seek the Lord, His call to you will become clear, as it did for Isaiah. And that you will respond as he did, “Here am I. send me!”

Pr. Jeff Morlock is on the staff of the North American Lutheran Church and is Director of Vocational Discernment for the North American Lutheran Seminary. He may be reached at
jmorlock@thenals.org




Pockets of Hope

When I think of Baltimore, I often think of my early childhood home with a large magnolia tree in the front yard and a tall, hemlock pine in the back, where my siblings and I used to climb and play amongst the branches to our hearts content. I think of the cookies my sisters and I would sell in the neighborhood without supervision, pulling our bright red Flyer wagon full of a variety of cookies behind us. I was only 6 when we moved away, but I remember, even then, after being robbed multiple times and my brother being held up with a gun when he was 10 for his bike, that I felt fear.

It wasn’t until I was older that I began to hear negative statistics about Baltimore and I came to see my siblings’ and my childhood experiences there in a new light. Amidst all the negative media coverage, it’s easy to believe that Baltimore continues in a downward spiral and there isn’t much hope.

This year, from the first day of City Mission, I had the phrase “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” on my heart. As an athlete, I’ve always preferred sprinting over distance running and that’s true in other aspects of my life as well. The Lord has taught me a lot of patience through the years and, through seasons of burn out, He’s taught me to pace myself more and rely on Him instead of trying to make change happen all on my own. So when this impression came to my heart, I didn’t question it. Looking back now, it feels like a gift from the Holy Spirit because He knew how much I needed that reminder.

I’ll be honest…It felt heavy seeing a woman come through a food pantry with her face apparently beaten and her eyes red and to watch as they called a volunteer over because she couldn’t walk through by herself. Then overhearing another volunteer reminding her “I’m only a phone call away, okay? One phone call and we can get you out of there.” It feels heavy when you walk into a tent city, hidden from the road, and see kids running around, documented or not, with people passed out on the ground (you hope it’s not worse than that) and you learn that some of these individuals used to be businessmen and women, lawyers, police officers, etc. – people who hadn’t spent all of their lives at the bottom. It feels heavy knowing that a stone’s throw from one of the churches we partner with is the sex trafficking hub of the city. It feels heavy when a woman graduates from a recovery program and dies after running into someone she once did drugs with; one last hit and she was gone… just as she was beginning to rebuild her life.

One evening someone in the group shared that these churches, ministries, and organizations that we partner with in Baltimore are like “Pockets of Hope.” It felt like the perfect description. That’s truly what these places are.

Because of these “Pockets of Hope,” we also experienced joy and immense encouragement, not just heaviness. We got to see how much good happens on a daily basis to help people in need, some desperately so. One of these places, after operating solely as a food pantry for a while, decided to expand and offer a deeper level of care through education, job resources, clothing distribution and more. We toured a large warehouse that is going to be an additional extension of their non-profit organization. It is so exciting to see their vision for the future and to think of how many lives will be touched there.

It’s a joy working together to be the hands and feet of Christ. Going out as a team and partnering with those who are already aware of needs in the city and who are actively giving of their time and resources is both encouraging and helpful to us as we try to make the most of our time there. These “Pockets of Hope” are essential to the mission there. Without them, not only would we become discouraged and overwhelmed, we would be in over our heads. It’s in these places that we’re given a tangible reminder that God truly is at work—whether we see it or not. We’re not there to fix everything, we’re not there to jump in and take over. We’re there to walk alongside, to plant seeds, to water seeds, to give a word of encouragement, a smile, or a hug.

The phrase I mentioned earlier, “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” served as a subtle reminder to me to let go and free my heart from the burden of expectation of wanting to see certain results and change happen, in order to embrace being a part of what God is doing right in front of me. I really felt free to do that.

As I’ve continued to think about this phrase, I’ve realized how much it really applies to all of life and ministry as a whole. If we’re in this for the long haul, pacing ourselves and living out our callings through the work of the Holy Spirit within us, is essential. Our hearts were never meant to carry the burdens of the whole world. Many of us are often weighed down from the burden of too much news from all over the world, to the point where our discouragement becomes immobilization and we end up doing nothing. It’s just too much.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” My prayer is that we would take this to heart. When we give those burdens to God, we free ourselves up to be a vessel for good instead of being so consumed with worry and anxiety that we can’t be effective at all. When we leave it in God’s hands, it frees us up to allow His love, joy, hope, peace and other fruits of the spirit to take up residence in our hearts and flow out from there. That is such an essential part of being the hands and feet of Christ because those are the things that point others to Christ – the fruit of His spirit within us.

We go, we speak, we care for others and act as His hands and feet, we love, we encourage, we speak the truth… and then we need to let God do the work of the heart. The Holy Spirit changes hearts, not us.

It is such an honor to partner with these “Pockets of Hope” in Baltimore – from recovery programs, to food distribution centers and churches in the heart of Baltimore that are out there every day reaching out to the lost. We are so encouraged and excited by what God is doing in this city and are blessed to be a part of it, even in a small way.

Mother Teresa once said, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference toward one’s neighbor who lives at the roadside, assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.” Her response to that? “Do small things with great love.”

That “small thing” is significant and may have a bigger impact than you or I could ever imagine.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to do infinitely more than we might ask or think.” -Ephesians 3:20

Images were provided by Teresa Dubyoski.