The NALC Pastors’ Conference: One of the Best

It is always a joy when you go to a Pastors’ conference and leave with a sense of energy and enthusiasm for ministry.  Over my twenty-eight years of ministry, I have been to my share of such events.   They have been a mixed bag.  To quote Forrest Gump, they “are like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’ll get.”  Some are definitely worth your time.  Others are mediocre, but since you have the chance to see old friends, you don’t mind.  Others leave you positively frustrated.  Of all the conferences I have attended, good, bad and indifferent, I must say that the NALC Pastors’ Conference held in Orlando, Florida, from February 15 to 18, was one of the best. 

Although I am not a pastor in the NALC, I was able to attend as a representative of Lutheran CORE.  The theme of the conference was: “Always Be Ready: Apologetics in Real Life,” based on 1 Peter 3:15.  The keynote address was given by the Rev. Dr. Mark Mattes, with plenary addresses by Rev. Dr. Maurice Lee, Rev. Dr. Dennis DiMauro, and Rev. Dr. Thomas Jacobson.  Each speaker addressed the topic of apologetics from a different perspective.  Rather than giving a full synopsis of every presentation, I will mention what were the highlights for me.

Mark Mattes identified one of the major mistakes that Christians made in the second half of the 20th Century.  This was to adopt the world view of unbelievers and skeptics, in an attempt to show that the Christian faith can be made to fit into those worldviews.  Instead of arguing against people from the point of view of modernity or post-modernity, we should argue with them from the point of view of the Christian faith.  Our goal should be to help people see what difference it would make if the Christian worldview were true.

Maurice Lee reminded us of the approach taken by Justin Martyr.  As his name indicates, Justin Martyr was not only an apologist, but died as a martyr.  Justin sought to refute false rumors about Christianity and engaged with pagan philosophers like Socrates and Plato.  However, he had a third strategy.  This was to describe what happens in the liturgy of the Eucharist.  In addition to saying what Christianity is not, we need a picture of what it is.  There is no better place to find this than weekly Sunday worship.  The same is true in 2022.

Dennis DiMauro recounted an experience he had while doing door to door evangelism.  A young man whom he met shocked him.  He wasn’t interested in general information about Christ, or the Church.  What he wanted to know was what had happened in Pastor DiMauro’s own life to make him believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He reminded us that while there are intellectual arguments and rhetorical strategies that can be helpful, what is most important is being able “to give an account for the faith that is in us.”  Lutherans tend to shy away from the term testimony.  Nevertheless, we need to be able to testify to what God has done for us.

Thomas Jacobson reminded us of the class differences that need to be taken into account in reaching the unchurched.  Lutherans have tended to follow Schleiermacher by focusing on the “cultured despisers” of Christianity.  The problem is that the largest group of un-churched people in America today are not the cultured people of the upper middle-class.  They are the blue collar and the poor.  In recent decades, church attendance remained fairly stable among the successful and well to do.  Meanwhile, among the poorer classes, the bottom has fallen out.   We need to find a way to speak to them too. 

While at the NALC Pastors’ Conference, I was also able to attend two break-out sessions.  The first was led by Rev. Doctor Russell Lackey of Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.   He spoke about the NEXUS Institute, a summer theological institute for high school youth, which is held each summer at Grand View.  (This summer it will be held on June 12-18.)  Pastor Lackey shared information about research that has been done on such summer theological institutes.  This research was cross-denominational, cross-cultural, and multi-faith.  It indicated that summer theological institutes are very effective.  As many as 25% of young people who attend these summer theological institutes end up entering the ministry in their respective religious communities.  With the growing shortage of ministers in the Lutheran Church today, institutes like NEXUS are extremely valuable.

In the summer of 2022, there are twenty-five spots for young people at NEXUS.  Bishop Dan Selbo challenged the pastors at the conference to make sure that there will be fifty attending NEXUS in 2023.  I was so impressed that I rushed home and nominated a young person from my congregation for this year’s institute.

The second break-out session that I attended featured Pastor Dave Keener.  It was an introduction to the newest phase of the Life-to-Life Discipleship.  I was excited to hear that the NALC is developing its own resources for Discipleship ministry.  These resources will be tailored specifically for Lutheran congregations. The first will be a 24 week-long introductory curriculum on discipleship.  Those resources are meant to be available on the NALC website in the near future.

Of course, like most conferences, there was good fellowship.  I was able to reconnect with old friends and make new friends.  I also enjoyed visiting my hometown of Orlando, where I was born in 1964.  As I returned home, I was grateful for the six insights that I shared above.  They either confirmed what I am already doing or gave me new areas of ministry to explore.  If you have never been to the NALC Pastors’ Conference before, I encourage you to attend next year.  I also encourage you to get in touch with the speakers above if you want to learn more about what they shared.

Rev. David Charlton

Vice-President, Lutheran CORE




Weekly Devotional for Christ the King Sunday, November 26, 2017

FIRST WORDS AND FINAL WORDS

Devotional for Christ the King Sunday, November 26, 2017 based upon Matthew 25: 31-46

I retired on June 30, 2014, after serving as pastor of the same southern California congregation for forty years.  My final Sunday was June 29.  What I would say during the sermon on my final Sunday was very important to me.  There were certain things I wanted to be sure to say to the congregation, whom I had known and loved and been pastor for for forty years.  I spent a lot of time and prayer thinking through my final words.

Our Gospel lesson for Christ the King Sunday contains Jesus’ final words – His final message before the crucifixion.  I am sure that what He said during this final message was very important to Him.  What did He say?

In Jesus’ final message before the crucifixion He tells of the day when He will come in His glory.  All the angels will be there, and all the people who have ever lived will be there.  His first act as the newly crowned, rightful King of the universe will be to separate all people into two groups – sheep and goats.  To those on the right – to the sheep – He will say, “Come, you that are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (verse 34)  Then he will give a whole list of human hurts and will describe the response of the sheep to those hurts.  The first act of Christ as the newly crowned King will be to applaud His people’s acts of compassion.  What Jesus makes the biggest deal of in this – His final message before His crucifixion – are the works of compassion of His people, who have received His compassionate work of salvation.  

Now if Matthew 25 contains the last recorded message of Jesus before the crucifixion – the last recorded message of His three-year public ministry – what about His first recorded message?  What did Jesus say during the first time that the Bible says He got up to speak?

To find the answer to that question we turn to Luke 4 – to a time when Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth.  He went to the synagogue – to that community and religious gathering place where He had gone many, many times while growing up.  He went back to the synagogue, where He had studied the books of Moses, the law, and the prophets.  The law He had come to fulfill, and the prophets who spoke of the day of hope when He would be coming.  Luke tells us, “He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written. . . .” (Luke 4: 16-17)

As best-selling author Max Lucado, speaking on this passage, points out, this is the only time in the Bible where Jesus chooses a place in the Bible.  This is the only time in the Bible where it specifically mentions that someone handed Jesus a Bible and said, “Here, please pick out a passage for us.”  Imagine handing God a Bible and asking Him to pick out a verse.  Just imagine.  If you were to hand God a Bible and ask Him to pick a verse, what verse do you think He would pick?  What one passage from the entire Old Testament do you think He would select?  Luke tells us, “He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written. . . .”

You might think that He would have stopped at Isaiah 53 – the song of the suffering servant that speaks of Him so clearly – “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities.” (Isaiah 53: 5)  But instead He kept on going until He got to Isaiah 61, where He read, “The spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.” (Luke 4: 18)

Here we have the first sentence of the first sermon of Jesus recorded in the Bible.  The only time mentioned in the Bible where Jesus selects and reads a passage from the Bible, and whom and what does He read about?  He reads about the poor.  “The spirit of the Lord has anointed Me – has chosen Me – to bring good news to the poor.”  

The only time in the Bible where it is specifically recorded that Jesus reads a passage from the Bible – and a passage which He Himself chooses – and whom does He read about?  It must be those whom He must have a special heart for.  The poor.  And in the rest of verse 18, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed.  

If the first act of our Lord Jesus Christ – after He is crowned as the rightful King of the universe – is to separate the sheep from the goats.  And if the factor that makes sheep sheep and goats goats is the way their faith leads them to respond to the hungry, thirsty, sick, naked, and imprisoned.  And if in the first sermon that Jesus gave He talked about God’s concern for the poor, that must have a lot to say to us today, who live in a world where so many people are living in extreme poverty.      

If in His last recorded sermon and in His first recorded sermon, Jesus talked about God’s heart for the poor, we need to ask ourselves, What kind of heart do I have for the poor?  Do I have God’s kind of heart for the poor?  

Dennis D. Nelson

President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE