Letter from the Director for April 2017
LUTHERAN CORE: FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
A LIVING HOPE
Peter begins his first epistle by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1: 3) During this Holy Week season – as once again you travel with Jesus from the upper room to the garden to the cross and then to the empty tomb – may you receive God’s great mercy, experience a new birth, and rejoice in the living hope that we have because of Easter.
I am looking forward to being with the congregation of Zion Lutheran Church in Wausau, Wisconsin. I will be speaking at their Maundy Thursday men’s prayer breakfast, and then preaching at both of their Maundy Thursday services. On Good Friday I will be giving the message on three of the seven last words at their noon until 3 PM service. I am very grateful to Pastor Steve Gjerde, vice president of the board of Lutheran CORE, for the invitation to spend these sacred days with the congregation. Rob Kittel, treasurer of Lutheran CORE, and Jim Speckhard, volunteer office person, are both active in the leadership of the church.
Pastor Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE
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ARE YOU ROOTED AND GROUNDED IN LOVE?
DO YOU HAVE A FAITH THAT CAN WEATHER THE STORM?
On Sunday afternoon, January 8, the historic Pioneer Cabin tree, a thousand-year-old giant sequoia in California’s Calaveras Big Tree Park, fell to the ground and shattered on impact. A tunnel that had been carved into the trunk in the 1880’s made the tree famous and attracted visitors, but ultimately it was a major part of the cause of its demise. With the gaping hole in its trunk, it could no longer support the growth at the top, had less ability to resist fire, and, with the shallow root system that is typical of sequoias, it was unable to withstand the rain that flooded the park.
As I read about that tree, I thought, What are the dynamics in the church today which weaken people’s ability to sustain and support growth, resist the fires of tragedy which will happen, and survive the storms which will come?
In his first letter to his young friend Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote, “Certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith.” (1 Timothy 1: 19) Paul certainly knew what it was like to be in a shipwreck. What factors today lead people to suffer shipwreck in their faith?
Matthew 7 records Jesus’ famous parable of the wise man and the foolish man. Concerning the house built on sand (probably the sand of a desert wash which is dry almost all of the time), Jesus said, “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell – and great was its fall!” (Matthew 7: 27) Storms will come. Even the storm of the century will come once a century. What kind of theology, and what kind of teaching and preaching will and will not enable people to weather the storm?
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote, “I pray that . . . you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” (Ephesians 3: 16-17) Whether you are a pastor, a church worker, or a lay member of a congregation, you have a ministry. Is your ministry – what you say and do and how you live – strengthening people in their inner being, bringing Christ to dwell in their hearts through faith, and helping them be rooted and grounded in love?
In my February letter to you, I told of hearing a sermon on Easter Sunday, where the preacher first told of the women who came to the tomb looking for Jesus. He then said, “Wherever you find people doing good, there you find Jesus.”
Easter is about God’s great victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil. How could God’s greatest act for our salvation be reduced to people’s doing good? As I become older I am less able to do as much good. Plus, when the needs are so great, how could I ever do enough good? How can a faith that is based upon not what God has done, but what I need to do, enable me to weather the storm?
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain, our faith is futile, we are misrepresenting God, we are still in our sins, those who have died in Christ have perished, and we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15: 14-19) How could I ever think that something as life-changing as the resurrection of Jesus can be reduced to people’s doing good?
The end of last year I heard a prominent ELCA theologian – one who is often on the speaking circuit – say in a presentation about the letters of Paul, “Whenever Paul talked about justification by faith, it was always within the context of racial reconciliation.” Now I would agree that racism is wrong and racial reconciliation is important. I agree that being in right relationship with God gives me the power to become and needs to lead into my being in right relationship with other people. But how could I ever think that the way that God in His goodness, grace, and mercy provided a way for me to be reconciled to Him and to be accepted and declared by Him as righteous through faith in Jesus Christ is not something to value, give thanks for, and experience life change because of in and of itself, but instead only is a context for pursuing racial reconciliation?
With the big, gaping hole in the middle of its trunk, the giant sequoia fell. Built on the sand, the foolish man’s house could not withstand the storm. People of God, are you rooted and grounded in love? Do you have a faith that can sustain spiritual growth? Do you have a faith that can weather the storm? Pastors, are you preaching Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and coming again, so that your people are rooted and grounded in love, have a solid basis for sustaining spiritual growth, and can weather the storm? For as we all know, storms will come.
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WHERE WILL OUR FUTURE PASTORS COME FROM?
For me two of the most powerful and convicting passages in Scripture come at the end of the book of Joshua and then also at the beginning of the book of Judges.
Joshua 24: 31 says, “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.” Almost the same words are said in Judges 2: 7.
But then it says that Joshua died, and all the leaders who had served with Joshua died. And then Judges 2: 10 adds these sad words, “That whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.”
There was a smooth transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua. Joshua, and all the leaders who served with him, had experienced the Lord’s delivering them from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of the law at Mount Sinai, the daily provision of manna, the water from the rock, being guided and sheltered from the hot, burning, desert sun by the pillar of cloud, being reassured of God’s presence by the pillar of fire, and the conquest of the Promised Land. So that generation worshiped, served, and obeyed the Lord.
But it was inevitable that eventually that entire generation would die, and the generations that followed them would not have experienced firsthand God’s great acts of delivering and providing for them. And so the following generations did not serve the Lord, because they did not appreciate what the Lord had done. All of which resulted in the chaotic time of the period of the Judges, when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21: 25)
A generation who faithfully served the Lord. A generation who believed that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions rightfully interpret the Bible as the Word of God. A generation who took seriously the moral and ethical standards of the Bible. A generation who believed that fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, rather than addressing every social and political issue that comes along, is our Lord’s prime purpose for His Church. A generation who built up the Church, who started and established congregations, who built church buildings and paid for them, who founded various educational and social service agencies – that generation is retiring, has retired, or already is in God’s presence in glory. What is going to happen now? What will be the values, priorities, basis for motivation, sense of mission, and foundational theological understandings of those who will be leading the church in the future? In many ways it feels like we have come again to the period of the Judges, when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
How much better than the situation that developed after the time of Joshua is the plan that Paul set forth for providing for future leaders and teachers for the church. As Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy, “And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well.” (2 Timothy 2: 2) From Paul and many witnesses to Timothy to faithful people to others as well, Timothy was to make sure that the Gospel was always passed on from one generation to another.
Somebody once said, in any one particular part of the world, “The Christian faith is always only one generation away from extinction.” We know that “built on the Rock the Church will stand.” “The gates of hell will not prevail.” (Matthew 16: 18) Someday there will be a great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, that will be standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7: 9) The Church will endure no matter what happens to any one particular congregation, Christian organization, or church body. But don’t we want to be among those who will be faithful and who will faithfully pass on the faith to the next generation, who will faithfully pass on the faith to the next generation, and so on?
If any of those thoughts resonate with you, please be praying for the Summit on Pastoral Formation, which Lutheran CORE will be holding on Wednesday, June 21, at Grand View University in Des Moines. We will be gathering a group of leaders from several different Lutheran church bodies – ELCA, LCMC, LCMS, and NALC – to begin wrestling with the question – What can we do to raise up, support, nurture, and sustain a whole new generation of Lutheran pastors who love God, love people, and will be Biblical and orthodox in their theology and evangelistic/outreach-oriented in their perspective and practice?
And as you pray, may we suggest that you consider giving an extra gift to Lutheran CORE – over and above your current giving – in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation to help cover the expenses for this strategic gathering which is intended to help ensure that in the future there will be pastors who will preach and teach the Gospel that we are saved by grace through faith.
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WEEKLY DEVOTIONALS AND SERMON STARTERS
Please remember that weekly devotionals, written by three members of the board, can be found on the blog, which is accessible through the home page of Lutheran CORE’s website, www.lutherancore.org. Two of us are writing devotionals based upon one of the following Sunday’s readings. A third person is writing devotionals based upon one of the previous Sunday’s readings in the Missouri Synod lectionary series. A link to these devotionals is then posted on a number of different facebook and twitter accounts.
Please help us get the word out about these resources. It is our desire that they be an inspiration to all who read them and also a source of ideas, thoughts, illustrations, and images for pastors as they prepare for the following Sunday’s sermon.
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Please consider a gift to Lutheran CORE in support of the summit which will be held on June 21 in Des Moines to begin wrestling with the question, How can we raise up a new generation of Lutheran pastors who will believe that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, and who will be committed to fulfill the Great Commission? We estimate the cost for the day to be around $11, 000, which includes travel and housing expenses for the ten church leaders from different Lutheran church bodies who will be participating plus the seven members of the board.
Your gift to Lutheran CORE – in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation – will help ensure that in the future there will be pastors who will preach the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith.
Please detach, enclose your gift, and return to us at –
Lutheran CORE, P. O. Box 1741, Wausau, Wisconsin 54402-1741
Or, if you prefer, you can give online by going to the home page of our website, www.lutherancore.org and designate your gift for the pastoral summit
Please find enclosed my gift. I want to help make sure that in the future there will be pastors who will preach the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith.