A Message From the Pastor

The Voice of Jesus - April, 2024

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: How many voices do we hear on any given day? The answer is, “A lot.” These voices of people around us offer or give us their advice, information, or opinions on what they think we need or need to know. Then there are the voices of people we listen to on the radio, on podcasts, on TV, and through social media.

Advertising and marketing begin by stating a problem that is known or felt. A storyline is introduced as to how our problem or issue can be resolved by obtaining this or that product. And then we’re shown how our life or situation in the future will be better.

There are lots of voices and lots of things offered. Many of them are self-serving motivations and expectations. Some of the voices around us are people we do care about and who care about us. But there are others which are only trying to get us to buy into their ideas or products. So, we start to think about which voices we really should listen to for our good.

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, demonstrates that He is for us and for our benefit. What He wants for us is what caused Him to give His life lovingly for us. He gave His life in place of ours so we could have our greatest spiritual needs met. His voice is one we can trust with our life. And when we follow His voice, He will get us to our heavenly home with the Father.

Now, thinking about different voices, we will hear some in our worship settings this month. We have two young ladies that will be making confirmation of their baptismal faith one Sunday. A guest pastor will share God’s Word one Sunday. The voices of witnesses and sponsors at a baptism on another. And a former pastor, Rev. Hansen, on the last. How exciting that we have these other voices giving praise to God for the blessings we receive. They too have heard the voice of the Good Shepherd and share in His grace and love with us.

The best voice of all to listen to is Jesus’ voice, our Good Shepherd, who calls us to follow Him. In Him we have salvation, love, wisdom, and our forever home. The love of Christ Jesus be with you always as you hear His voice in His holy Word. God’s Blessings to you, Pastor Toensing

The Pascal Triduum - March, 2024

The Pascal Triduum is the three days of Jesus’ Passion ending Lent and moving us into the Easter Season.

The Triduum begins on Maundy (Holy) Thursday and ends with Day of the resurrection of our Lord. These three days incorporate three (or four if some observe the Easter Eve Vigil) separate services that are one, whole worship service. There is no benediction (final blessing) on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday since these services are not concluded, but anticipate the next worship service as part of the whole three days of worship—The Pascal Triduum.

From within the Passover setting, Jesus instituted and gave us His Holy Supper. That evening He gave final teachings on humility to His disciples and went out to pray in Gethsemane. He was betrayed and put on trial.

Good Friday carries on the Triduum with a Tenebrae service—a service of darkness. This is a day of joy as we remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. This service is not a funeral service, but we do worship with restrained joy and minimized music. It is, after all, GOOD Friday—good for us, that is, as our sins were paid for by Jesus in His crucifixion.

Easter—the resurrection of our Lord—brings the Triduum to a joyful and glorious completion. The resurrection of our Lord means nothing without His death in the sinner’s place. And His death would mean nothing without His resurrection to life and His victory over the grave, sin, and the devil. Therefore, there is a singular unity with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.

God's Great Love - February, 2024

Dear Saints in Christ, Ash Wednesday is on February 14th. February 14th is also Valentine's Day. Valentine's Day is the day we express our love to those nearest and dearest to us. What could be better than recognizing the greatest love that we receive than God’s great love for us in sending Jesus, the Son of God, to save us from our sins. John 3:16 (ESV): “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” On Ash Wednesday we recognize our sinfulness and temporal death as we came from ashes and we will return to ashes (Genesis 3:19). But, in the greatest love, Jesus became man, took on our sin, died for all our guilt, and paid our penalty. In His resurrection we find life and the hope of eternal life. All this Jesus did out of love for us – absolutely the deepest and greatest love ever! It seems very fitting to have a day in which love is celebrated on a day we are thankful for the ultimate manifestation of love that saves us and gives us true life and love – a love that will never end. Valentine's Day plus Ash Wednesday equals Jesus loves you. Peace and love to you in Jesus Christ. Love in Christ, Pastor Toensing

150th Year! - January, 2024

Dear Saints in Christ, A blessed New Year to you. May God’s grace for you be abundant, His love overflowing, and His presence known according to His Word.

This year we will be celebrating 150 years as a congregation. It’s nice when our families enjoy time together when someone in the family has a birthday. As a congregation we have the opportunity to celebrate this big anniversary together. I encourage everyone to join the celebrations we have throughout the year.

During the life span of St. John Lutheran Church there have been many who have attended, participated, and served. Many changes have been experienced in the world and in the life events of the congregation and its members. But one thing remains constant: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God’s grace for His people in the birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus to bring salvation to sinners is the same message of God to all generations. And that is what unites us together now, with all past/passed members, and with all Christians of all time.

Our celebration of St. John’s 150th Anniversary is the celebration of our common faith in Jesus Christ and our blessing to have received God’s gift of salvation. As we join in thanksgiving and praise to God for all His good gifts, we pray that He would bless our year of celebration. Let us come together in praise of our God who has blessed all our generations and united them in His Son and brought us together in one family in Christ Jesus.

To God be the glory. Amen! God’s Blessings to you, Pastor Toensing

A People who Believe - November, 2023

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: Revisit the Catechism - Martin Luther wrote:

“It is not many books that make people learned or even much reading. It is, rather, a good book frequently read, no matter how small it is, that makes a person learned in the Scriptures and upright.” (Letter: To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation)

This is certainly true of the catechism—Luther’s Small Catechism. The catechism is an excellent goto book to help us understand the Word of God. It is a teacher and school in the basics of the Christian faith. It is often the first place pastors go to when looking at a text for a sermon. It is a tremendous resource that helps to explain what the Word of God says.

A few situations lately have confirmed the catechism as a great resource for our understanding of faith and life. This is true in the current conflict in the middle east. There are Christians and Christian groups that think about Israel in ways different than what the Bible teaches. When it comes to the Biblical understanding of who the people of God are, the Word of God tells us that it is believers— those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and God—and they are found all over the world.

In the Apostles’ Creed we confess: “I believe in … the Holy Christian Church, the communion of Saints.” These are two ways of saying the same thing. The Small Catechism explanation teaches: What is the Church? It is the Body of Christ—that is, all people whom the Spirit, by the Means of Grace, has gathered to Christ in faith throughout the world.1

The Church is people who believe in Jesus Christ. It is NOT an earthly nation. The chosen people of God are a spiritual entity of those who believe in Jesus Christ. The promise to them of paradise is resurrection to heaven forever. The kingdom of God is not a location either. The kingdom of God is Christ’s reign through His Word in His Church—His body with Him as the head and believers as the body of Christ. This too the Catechism helps us to understand.

So, two good books to read often: the Bible, God’s Word, and the Small Catechism. May God’s Holy Spirit grant you faith and wisdom as you read, study, and inwardly digest God’s Word. God’s Blessings to you, Pastor Toensing

1Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2017), 206.

Mission Statement - October, 2023

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: Did you know that St. John has a mission statement? Some of you do know, but many of you may not be aware that we do have a mission statement. I do not know when it was put together and adopted, but here it is:

Sharing The Joy Of His News by growing inward through God’s Word, Sacraments and Christian Fellowship; and by growing outward through words, actions, and mission outreach.

Notice: Sharing The Joy Of His News … the first letters of each word are: St. John.

If some of our longer time members could tell me about the process by which this statement came into place, I would love to hear about it from you. I found it on a business card and at times it has been on the back of our bulletins.

It still holds true. We do have joy in our salvation in Jesus Christ. We do seek to share the Good News of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who saves us from our sins.

As the mission statement indicates, there is a time of internal (inward) growth as we gather for worship, hear God’s Word proclaimed, receive the Sacraments, study God’s Word together, and encourage one another in Christian fellowship.

Then, as we grow in our faith and in knowledge of God’s grace for us in Jesus Christ, we seek to reach outward to others. We do this in two ways: first by our personal witness of faith in Jesus. We give witness of Christ as we faithfully live according to God’s grace and by His Word—beginning in our homes and with our family. When we go to work, attend school, participate in community events, we then have the opportunity to make personal witness of our faith to others by what we say, how we say it, and by how we act. We should always be ready to share our hope and faith (1 Peter 3:15).

We also give witness as we contribute to Gospel-centered mission organizations. Some of our financial gifts help cover the expenses of pastors and missionaries, such as Rev. Paul in Grand Cayman. We can also support other mission central missionaries or support the education of future pastors and teachers at our seminaries and universities. Other gifts help to provide food, water, clothing, and other earthly life essentials to those affected by hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods, tornadoes, etc. And when we care for the needs of the body, we can share the love of Christ to many in need. This we do through human care organizations such as Orphan Grain Train, LCMS Human Care, Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dog ministry, and others. And we can give our support to those who promote the sanctity of life and care for those in pregnancy needs so that little preborn lives can be saved.

We are all blessed so that we might be a blessing to others, just as God told Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). A mission statement is brief statement that helps give focus to what an organization is all about. Such mission statements began in the church, but I’m sure you have noticed that many organizations in the consumerist world have also adopted mission statements.

We have a mission statement. It would be good for us to keep it mind so we remember what we are to be about as the children of God who have been saved in Jesus Christ. Share the Joy of His News!

God’s Blessings to you, Pastor Toensing

The World Needs You! - September, 2023

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, THE WORLD NEEDS YOU! Yes, all of you—you who believe and confess in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The world needs you.

All around us we see the destructive works of darkness and unbelief. Many current issues plague our world, our nation, and our communities. And it seems to be digressing because more and more people are not abiding in the Word of God. Many who claim to be Christian are falling away the foundation of Christ and the Church. Moving away from the Light, moves one toward darkness.

When someone distances himself or herself from the Word of God and does not continue to gather together with fellow Christians in worship and study, the further one falls from the Rock that gives a sure foundation for life and faith. Because so many have departed from worship and from hungering after the Word of God and receiving the Lord’s Sacraments, they slip further toward darkness and become part of that darkness.

Jesus tells you and me that we are the light that can dispel the darkness—that is, it is the Light of Christ Jesus that shines in and through us.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:14–16

As you receive God’s Word in worship, as you confess your sins and receive forgiveness from Christ through His death and resurrection for you, as the Word of God shapes and forms your faith, as you receive the Lord’s Sacrament of the Altar, you become His lights to the world. And the world needs you.

The world needs your good character. The world needs your wisdom that is learned from the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 3). The world needs you to be its salt (Matthew 5:13). The world needs your witness of what is true and right and good in God’s creative works. Where you work, at home, on the side of the ball field or the court, where you dine, where you shop—wherever you go, you hold in you the light of Christ Jesus that so many in the world need. They need to see and to know your joy in salvation and the peace you have in the forgiveness of your sins in Jesus Christ.

Yes, many will scoff. Many will reject. Many will dismiss. Many will ridicule. And some might even oppose you with violent words and harmful actions. But stand firm in your faith (1 Peter 5:9) for you know the One Who has saved you and Who has eternal life stored up for you. He is your rock and your light. And with His Light, you are a light to the world. Live to shine the light of Christ in you out into the world because that light is what the darkened world needs. The world needs Christ. Christ is the light in you. The world needs you.

God’s Blessings to you, Pastor Toensing

God Sets the Rules! - August, 2023

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, It is not just important to start right, but sometimes, it is vital to the whole and to the ending to start right. For us, as Christians, the beginning is vital. The beginning of all things is God. And He was there to begin all things—to create them and to set all things in place. Himself excepted.

Genesis 1:1 (ESV): “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

In our world today, to which we are to be witnesses of our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, it is necessary to hold firmly to God as Creator of all things. That God is Creator sets all life in relationship to Him. He Himself has no beginning, but He began and created all that we enjoy in the world. God is the center; God is the originator; God is the source of all that exists.

Because God is Creator, then it is God who sets forth the laws and rules and the way life is to be lived on earth before Him. God is the source of light and life and purpose. Not only did He say His creation was good, even very good, but we come to know that HE is good. His ways are right. That is what we confess Sunday after Sunday: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH.”

God set the rules in His commandments. The summary of the commandments is love: love God and love your neighbor in the way God says is good and right. But we sin against His commandments. Then God shows us His righteousness and His mercy. His righteousness is seen in rightly punishing all sin and sinfulness. See Jesus on the cross. That is God’s judgment against all sin. BUT: see Jesus on the cross and you see His mercy—for Jesus is the pure, holy, innocent Son of God who took your place, for you should be on the cross suffering your sin. But God, in mercy, in Jesus the God-Man, took the wrath for sin upon Himself.

The sinful world—not just today, but since the fall of man into sin—rebels against God and His righteousness. The denial of a creator is the refusal to be accountable to God. Mankind wants to be his/her own little god so they can set their own rules. So they get the Ten Commandments out of schools and out of public viewing. The deny the biological gender they were born into and want to determine their own subjective “self,” even to the irrational denial of factual biology. They “follow the science” when it fits their agenda; but then deny good science when it doesn’t. Personal choice leads to a denial of God’s will and a murder of innocent ones.

“A good beginning makes a good ending” is often attributed to American writer Louis L’Amour. However, this proverb has appeared in some form as early as 600 years ago. Consider this proverb in light of our faith and salvation in Jesus Christ. If God is not the beginner and Creator of all things, then life has no purpose; there are no standards; and only chaos and uncertainty follow. And in God’s terms: darkness.

But if you begin with God as Creator, it leads to having a relationship to Him and with Him. If one regards His rules as good and right, then one confesses his/her sin against them. And then, we find the deepest, most wonderful, most gracious love as God reveals His salvation for us in His Son’s life, death, and resurrection. This is truth and it is the true Light; for God is Light and Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12). Therefore, we have hope in the restoration that is coming in heaven.

Hold firmly to the good and right beginning; then all that follows will run the right course too. “In the beginning … GOD CREATED the heavens and the earth.” - In Christ’s Love, Pastor Toensing

Create in me a Clean Heart (& Mind?) - July, 2023

Perhaps you know these following words from the offertory in Divine Service Setting Three:

Psalm 51:10–12 (ESV)

  • Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
  • Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
  • Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Oh, to have a clean heart. To have a heart that rests in the peace of God. Oh, to have a heart not troubled by the troubles of the world. Sin. The devil. Our range of emotions and frustrations. Joys and sorrows. The journey of life on earth in this fallen world is one of trials. And we are affected in our whole persons: body, soul, and spirit (emotions). The body is not divided from the soul. Emotions are certainly affected by the health of the body. Our spirit and faith are tested by the pains and sorrows of the body and our mental health. The whole body is one connected being—body, soul, and spirit.

In the last decade our church—the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and its districts—has made an effort to address the mental health of our congregations and our church workers. Studies and counselors and retreats and many other resources have been provided to our church workers and their health—spiritual, mental, and physical. It is good that we care for the whole person.

Mental health is also something we need to think about for ourselves and for our neighbors in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic really affected a lot of our mental health. Although there has been a greater emphasis to recognize the issues of mental illness, the provision of resources still seems to be lacking. Some efforts are being made.

But the stigma of mental illness and mental well-being also needs to be overcome. Many of us still would not want to admit that we suffer with mental and emotional difficulties. But we do in greater and lesser degrees. What can we do?

First, let’s recognize that we are whole persons, and that body and mind are intimately connected. Second, admit that we and others may sometimes suffer mental and emotional difficulties. Third, we pray for those who suffer and where we can and where we know we offer support—loving, brotherly/sisterly compassion, and show of care.

And then, let’s recognize where our help begins. And the first place is with God and the treasures of His gifts; yes, His Word and Sacraments. The Word of God gives us identity: You are a child of God through Jesus Christ. God has adopted you as His child in Holy Baptism. In great love for you, God assures you of the forgiveness of your sins in the Lord’s Supper. “It is truly meet (good), right, and salutary …” Salutary means “healthful.” It is healthful and healthy that we give God thanks and that we receive His gift of a new mind in faith and the sustaining of a wonderful relationship with our Father. In the Lord’s Supper we take into our bodies the true body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is good for us in our whole being—good for our body, good for our soul, good for our mind. God saves us as a whole person. We are His.

God has redeemed us to be His own. We are His. He seeks to make us right. The work is in process now through His Word and Spirit as He seeks to create in us a new heart and daily renew our spirit with His love and grace. May God’s Word dwell in us that we might know Him and His love. And where we struggle in life, or if we know others are struggling, let us turn to God, pray for one another, and let us be bold to search out help when we need it. We seek doctors out when our bodies are not well. Let us also be bold to seek out help when we are suffering emotionally. We can be thankful for those professionals that can assist us in our mental well-being. And we continue to pray as the psalms teach: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

In Christ’s Love, Pastor Toensing

The Holy Spirit Leads Us to See Our Sin - June, 2023

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: A couple was walking through the mall when they passed an eye-care/opticians office. And he said to her, “You should get your eyes checked.”

“No,” she said, “my eyes are fine and have been for years.”

“Please. I care about you. Get your eyes checked.” So she did.

The optician, after the exam, came out and said, “You need glasses. If you were to take your driver’s exam right now you would fail the vision test.” She was just short of being shocked. She was very surprised.

Frames were picked and lenses ordered. When she wore her glasses she was amazed at how much she could see clearly. She had taken her eyesight for granted. Her eyes had been bad and she did not even know it.

This is how the Law and the Spirit work to help us see that we need Christ Jesus and salvation in Him alone. St. Paul writes in Romans 3:20: For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Or in Romans 7:7: Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

You see, we do not know what we do not know. We don’t see a need for salvation in Christ Jesus if we are not sinners. We cannot see our sin if the Law does not show it to us. And it is God the Holy Spirit who helps us to see our sin through the Law that we might be humbled and led to repentance of our sin.

THEN: the Gospel comes; the Good News is proclaimed: Jesus Christ died for you to save you from your sin and sinfulness. Like the woman in denial about her poor eyesight, so are we in darkness without God.

It takes the measure of the Law like an eye exam that measures our sight to reveal to us that our sight is poor. Like the woman with poor eyesight we may be shocked to find that we are sinful and dim of sight, blind even, when it comes to God. But when we get past the shock (and the humbling), we are helped to see: glasses for eyesight; God’s Good News in Christ for our salvation. And the Holy Spirit gives us faith—faith to see Jesus.

Thank God that He has worked to help us see the Law in its stark reality: we are sinners. But rejoice even more for God shows us our Savior, Jesus Christ. In Him we have forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. God helps us to repent of our sin and then to see Christ our Savior clearly.

Rejoice in the faith-sight you have been given by God in Christ Jesus who saves you. Amen! In Christ’s Love, Pastor Toensing

The Ascension of Our Lord - May, 2023

Dear Saints of St. John, On May 18th we observe the Ascension of our Lord. This event occurred 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The ascension of Jesus is something we don’t often consider as a main celebration of the church, but it most definitely is part of Jesus’ saving work. Brian Saunders gives us an illustration of the ascension:

"The marathon, the most historic event in the Olympics, is 26.2 miles long. Olympic champions will complete this grueling race in something over two hours. (Regular folks—who are still to be commended big time!—will take three hours or more.) When the Olympic winner crosses the finish line in the stadium, he or she grabs their national flag and runs another lap, waving the flag for all to see who won. That’s called the victory lap. It could be said that on two occasions Jesus took a victory lap. First, upon his descent into hell after his crucifixion and resurrection as he declared his victory over Satan. Second, at his ascension. Today, Jesus demonstrates to all creation that he is Lord and master, as well as King and Victor, for the sake of all righteousness (Ps 47:5)." (Brian Saunders, Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

It is very helpful to consider the ascension as a victory lap. And that victory was for us and for our salvation. Jesus defeated sin, death and the devil for us. Now, through faith in Jesus Christ, we are assured that we have the gift of eternal life. So we are blessed to celebrate and observe the ascension of our Lord in worship on May 18th. Let us praise our Lord together for all He has done for us. -Pastor Toensing

No more “ifs” - it is finished in Jesus - April, 2023

Dear Fellow Saints in Christ Jesus, “If ” is a word that might express doubt or uncertainty. It can give evidence of a lack of faith. What if it all this stuff about Jesus is not true? Paul addressed this in his letter to the Corinthians: 1 Corinthians 15:12-14: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

However, Paul, with certainty, proclaims in 1 Corinthians 15:20: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Our faith is not in vain. Life lived in faith in Jesus is not worthless or uncertain. Life is wonderful, a gift from God to be lived in holiness and with great blessing. Yes, life can be hard; it is sometimes very difficult; full of trouble; and often frustrating. The fault is our own—our own sin and sinfulness. We ruin what God made good.

When we turn in faith to God and trust in Him we receive the peace of sins forgiven. We hold on boldly and confidently to His assurance of eternal life given by Him in Baptism. We find that God the Holy Spirit moves us and strengthens us to live as God calls us with purpose and meaning and blessing in His Word and in faith.

Jesus’ death was not in vain—it paid the penalty of all our offenses against God—our failures to do as He commands and our failures of crossing the lines we are not to cross in disobedience. Jesus did suffer on account of our sin and die for us. And to seal the deal He was raised to life again! He lives! His payment for our sin was accepted and our debt is paid—in full. He is risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia! Rejoice in your salvation. No more “ifs”—it is finished in Jesus who died but is alive now and forever. Amen. Pastor Toensing

Muddling through the “Good, Right, and True” - March, 2023

Not many years ago, a Lutheran pastor was putting his children to bed. One was banging on the bathroom door, appealing to her brother to let her in. “Stop that!” the father called out. To his son in the bathroom, he said, “Open the door. We’re all waiting to get in and brush our teeth!” When the father came closer to the door, he could hear that the water in the sink was running much stronger than necessary. So he called out again, “Son, open the door and turn off that water!” No response. The father got serious. “Son, open the door or I’ll take it off the hinges myself!”

Soon after, the father, the daughter, and now a small crowd gathered on the outside of the door to see what was going on inside. A hand was heard on the doorknob, the lock was clearly released, and the door began to open. To the surprise of all, water flooded every corner of the bathroom. The father yelled at his three-year-old son, “Where did all of this water come from?” From chin touching chest, and a thoughtful expression on his brow, he slowly looked up and answered his father and pastor, “God?” Immediately, the father’s stern demeanor and high shoulders relaxed into a more casual posture. “I guess that’s true, son,” he said. With siblings now laughing behind him and attempting to keep the smirk off his own face, the father continued, “Water does come from God, but the mess came from you!”

Paul exhorts the Ephesians in Ephesians 5:8-9: “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).” Though we are to walk as children of light, it’s a challenge for sinners to put good and right and true together all at the same time, isn’t it! We often end up standing ashamed like the little three-year-old drowning in his own mess.

Yes, we make the mess. We want to hide our sins from everyone. But God sent His Son to die for our mess of sin. And in Holy Baptism we receive forgiveness for all our sins. Praise and thank God for His unending love and the forgiveness of sins we have in Christ Jesus. In Christ’s love, Pastor Toensing

(Nathan Sherrill, Council Bluffs, Iowa; slightly adapted from Concordia Pulpit Resources, Concordia Publishing House copyright 2022; used with permission by purchase.)

Walk Through the 40 Days in Lent - February, 2023

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, As Lent approaches you might hear someone talk about giving something up for Lent (fasting). Perhaps you have thought of doing so too. But what is the purpose of giving up caffeine, chocolate, pop or something else like that for Lent? Do you feel you need to suffer something? Do you connect this with something for spiritual growth? I’m not sure what purpose this kind of “giving something up” serves. Lent is not a time to punish one’s self with misery by missing something they like.

Now … if you were to give up a favorite TV show, spend less time online, limit your texting time, and set aside that time for devotion, reading Scripture, and prayer—now you’ve got something. Time for spiritual reflection and prayer is what true fasting is all about. Fasting in Biblical times was about giving up meals and meal preparation time so that one could devote him/herself to prayer, devotion, or perhaps to have time to do good works of charity for others in need. This manner of fasting does have a purpose.

Giving up your daily pop, coffee, or favorite sweet can serve a good purpose if you take the money you would normally spend on them and give it to those in need (charity). “Almsgiving” is the practice of giving to the poor and has a rich traditional focus during Lent. So giving up treats to contribute to others in need is a good, fasting, devotional practice.

Jesus says in Matthew 6:16-18 (ESV): “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

True fasting is between you and the Lord. It should not be done for pity or for bragging rights. Make the sacrifice of time for prayer and use the sacrifice of some purchases in order to give and be generous to others.

As you walk through the 40 days of Lent with Christ, rejoice and reflect that He suffered for your sins. He has taken on Himself the misery of sin, death and hell for you. Yes, this is a somber season for reflection on our sinfulness and guilt, but even more to be in awe of God’s love and grace. God gave His only begotten Son to die for you so you can see the generosity of God. Therefore, in faith, respond in generous gifts of love and good works to your neighbor.

God bless you this Lent. As He has been generous to you, God grant that you may be generous toward others. Fast. And if you do, please, don’t tell me or anyone else about it. Let your fasting be between you and God alone. But do share the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus with all, for Christ did walk the way of the cross to save you from your sin. In Christ’s love, Pastor Toensing

Thank God for Our Service to Him - January, 2023

Dear Friends in Christ Jesus, It is with many thanks that I thank you. All of you serve our Lord in some capacity, so thank you. But more than that, I thank the Lord for you.

Many years ago I recall thanking a fellow Christian woman for the work of service she had done at that congregation. Her reply was something like this: “Please don’t thank me. Thank God. What I am able to do I can do because of God’s gifts to me. So, please, don’t thank me; thank God.”

I think she was right. What we are able to do in service to our Lord is only done by God’s gifts to us first and foremost. I know that it is true for me. I could not serve as a pastor without the gifts God has given to me: created life and breath; salvation in Jesus Christ; the ability to learn and share the Good News—which I have received through the ears God made and the work Jesus did to save me; the Holy Spirit who helps me to believe and then to do what God’s Word calls me to do.

Perhaps we can do both—thank God and thank each other. I thank God for you, and I thank you. And there many thanks to hand out. I thank all who serve as officers of the congregation. I thank everyone who serves on a board or committee. I thank all who volunteer to do things in service when called upon. I thank all who give and donate time and supplies for all that serves our ministry. I thank those paid to provide services for even that is done with a willing and joyful heart for the Lord.

Some work of service is done quite openly and seen by others. But there are many things done quietly and without recognition in love for God and in service to the congregation. There are services rendered that no one sees but God. God knows and God will bless those who serve to serve not seeking recognition. There are many acts of loving service done at church or for the church. But I am certain that there are many things done by our congregation members that are “out there”, in daily life, for neighbors, friends, family, and strangers. There are gifts given, time given, compassion given for which only the Lord sees and knows. And for such things, we hear from God’s Word:

Matthew 6:2–4 (ESV): “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

So, as we begin this New Year of 2023, we thank God, for God has given us this time. We thank God for the ability to serve Him and each other with our time and love and donations. We thank God for each other—and, we thank each other. I thank all of you for your service of love to God and I thank God for the gifts He has given to you that you use to serve Him and your neighbor. Most of all, none of this is possible without Jesus Christ, through whom we have been made and through whom we have our salvation. Thank God for Jesus and all that flows from His heart of love. Amen. God bless you all, Pastor Toensing