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
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
Perhaps you know these following words from the offertory in Divine Service Setting Three:
Psalm 51:10–12 (ESV)
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
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
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
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
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.)
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
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
Dear Friends at St. John, There is no greater joy and comfort than to know what Christ our Lord has done for us. As this Christmas season approaches, we are filled with the comfort that the baby whose birth we celebrate is the Savior of the World. Jesus gave His life that we might live eternally. We pray that you and your family rejoice in the greatest gift ever given—Jesus.
Wishing love and peace to you. - Pastor, Shelley, and family
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: Thankfulness, studies show, has multiple physical, mental and emotional benefits. Psychologist Robert Emmons calls gratitude “fertilizer for the mind” because of its powerful effects. He admits gratitude isn’t always easy — especially when life throws us curveballs — but says it can be most helpful during and after difficulties. Emmons suggests reframing challenges using thankfulness-based language. Ask, for example: "Though I wasn’t grateful for the experience at the time, how can I be now? What lessons did I learn, and how did I grow as a person?"
Throughout his letters, the apostle Paul reframes his extensive sufferings and urges us to do the same. “Give thanks in all circumstances,” he writes, “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV).
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: In the creeds of the Church, we make our confession about The Church. The Church is, as Luther’s Small Catechism says, “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.” The Church not only spans the world, but all time as well.
We make our confession in these words: “I believe in ... the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.” These two phrases are two ways of saying the same thing. The Church is holy because it is Christ’s body, and He is holy and therefore He makes the Church holy. In the word “communion” we find the aspects of “community” and “union.” What all true believers in Christ Jesus hold in common is their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. And saints are those who are holy—declared holy, declared forgiven, pardoned of all sin because of Christ’s suffering and death on their behalf.
Later in the month of October, we will be observing the Reformation. The Reformation was not a one-day event. The Reformation actually spans years of God’s word and work in bringing the Gospel into a more clear position—starting with Luther in Germany, spreading throughout Europe, and out into the world. God the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, worked in the heart and mind of Martin Luther as he studied the Word of God. Through growth of faith and understanding and learning over a number of years, Luther sought to bring the Gospel into clear light in his preaching, teaching, and writings.
As Lutherans, we treasure the heritage of this work of God. Yes, we call ourselves Lutherans after Luther, but it’s not because of Luther—rather, we rejoice in what God did through Luther for the sake of the Gospel and the truth of God’s Word that reaches out to all the world.
We stand with Luther and with all the Reformers and with all Christians who confess their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation from sin. We rejoice in being members of the body of Christ— believers in Jesus who lived righteously for us, suffered and died on account of our sin, and was raised in victory over sin, death, and the devil. The observance of the Reformation can focus on so many facets of the Gospel; but one facet is remembering God’s work through people in bringing many into faith in Jesus Christ. The Church is holy; it is in Christ; it is a community of saints/ believers. It is one. Jesus Christ is the Head and we are His body.
Rejoice for you are a member of the body of Christ along with fellow Lutherans and Christians who confess faith in Christ. Therefore, we firmly and confidently confess our faith in “the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.”
Peace to you in Christ, Pastor.
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, My favorite color is green. As I appreciate God’s wonderful creation, I have observed that so much plant growth is green. Certainly, there are so many other colors in God’s palette of colors in the work of His hands. Green is the color of summer. And now, with September, we will begin to see a change in colors. The summertime green and warmth will fade into tans, and golds, and reds, and yellows and cooler temperatures. The seasons change.
When I was younger, in my teenage years, I recall people complaining about the heat of summer. And it seemed like those same persons complained about the cold of winter. I decided that I would learn to appreciate each season of the year and what it brings in the variety of its season.
So, I appreciate summer warmth and green plants. The longer time of daylight. Thank you, God, for these. The fall brings cooler temperatures, football, and the wonderful color changes. How awesome is our God! What I like about winter is being outside on a cold, still night, and a clear sky so I can see the stars. And the silence. It can be beautifully quiet and calm and peaceful on cold, clear, crisp winter night. And one can think and wonder about Abraham looking up at those same stars as God invited him to. And then, the anticipation of spring when flowers pop up, and trees bloom, and the smell of a fresh spring rain. Yes, I know, here in Nebraska spring only lasts a day to a week, but still: thank you, God.
The seasons change. But God, in His mercy and goodness does not. And God’s Word is there for us in each and every season. As each season brings its glory of God into our senses, God’s Word continually seeks to enter our ears and into our hearts. Creation does reveal some creative aspects of God, but only God’s Word reveals His true good and loving and merciful heart. For in love, God sent His Son to be born, live, suffer, die, rise, and ascend to secure our salvation.
In all things, the praise is God’s. Each and every day I praise God for His creation and redemption. He made me and saved me. No matter what earthly changes come about, God remains the same. The seasons change, but God is merciful and loving, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love each and every day (Exodus 34:6). Praise the Lord! God’s Blessings to you, Pastor Toensing
Prayer: A Ship or a Boat? Do you know the difference between a ship and a boat? I used to think it was just a matter of size—a ship was bigger, a boat was smaller. But it’s actually more specific than that: a ship is a vessel that has its own boat. That’s right; a ship always has a smaller vessel, a boat, that it carries until it’s needed— for example, when the ship is sinking, a lifeboat. Now, a lifeboat is a very good thing, but the fact is that most ships never need their boat that way. Most ships go their entire sailing life without ever using the lifeboat. Almost all the time, you do your sailing in the ship.
Is prayer a lifeboat, or is it a ship?
“Pastor, would you pray for me? The doctor says I have a tumor.”
Absolutely, yes, and Pastor does. Even when it may appear all hope is lost, the ship is sinking, God answers prayer, and it may be his will to work a miracle, to spare one’s life. Prayer can be a lifeboat.
But God’s intent in giving us the gift of prayer isn’t that we wait to pray until all seems lost. God intends that prayer be an everyday, every moment part of the Christian life, including when life seems to be clear sailing, a pleasure cruise. The fact is that God rights the ship, keeps the world on an even keel, by the prayers of his Church. The saints on earth and in heaven are constantly praying, and God is constantly answering—with good weather, good crops, good health, and all sorts of things we might take for granted. God invites us to pray about everything every day, not just as a last resort.
It’s like the difference between a ship and a boat. The ship— constant, daily prayer—also has a boat, like that life and death prayer Abraham brought before the Lord (Gen 18:22–33). But God invites us to sail every day, pray every minute, in the ship.1
1Robert J. Pase, Midland, TX (CPR:CPH, 2016)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: In 1801, Jonathan Chapman, age 26, appeared on the shores of Liking Creek, Ohio, planting apple seeds. Five years later he was seen again navigating the Ohio River with two canoes lashed together, carrying his cargo of apple seeds.
Legends began to grow. He was given a new name: Johnny Appleseed. According to W. D. Haley, the writer for Harper’s Monthly Magazine who recorded the story, the purpose of his life was to plant apple orchards on the farthest verge of the pioneer settlements. In spite of dangers and wars, he kept planting apple seeds. Why did he do it? He evidently was filled with a compulsion.
Paul says that he was commissioned as a servant of Christ for the purpose of planting the seeds of the Gospel. God filled him with compulsion to do his Lord’s work.—Preaching, July–August 1991, p 30.
This same compulsion should fill you and me too. And when we do share the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, it can give courage to fellow believers and plant the seed of salvation in those who do not yet know Christ.
Something I learned in the last few months is the value of witnessing to fellow believers. Recently, I stopped to get my hair cut in Lincoln. I did not know the gentleman who cut my hair. But as you know, there are boundaries that are lowered when someone is cutting your hair. The conversation turned to matters of the Christian faith. I talked about being a pastor. It opened him up to talk about his “testimony.” Last April, when my father was in the hospital, I saw him give witness of his faith to doctors and interns in front of me and his pastor who was there to visit. How encouraged we are when fellow believers faithfully and courageously talk about their love of Christ and what He did for them on the cross and in His resurrection.
The point is: be under the compulsion of grace to give witness wherever you are—to fellow believers and to strangers. You may find that some stranger is a fellow brother or sister in Christ. And when they see your boldness in the compulsion to plant the seeds of God’s Word, they will be emboldened to do the same. And in this way the Word of God grows.
How amazing that we are both compelled and freed to share the blessings of Christ and His Word. May God’s Spirit continue to compel us and free us for service and witness in Christ.
Peace in Christ, Pastor
Dear Fellow Saints, Did anyone ever tell you that you were the “apple of their eye?” Did you know that God calls YOU the apple of His eye?
A teacher gave apples to the children in her class. “Look at your apple closely,” she said. “Notice the color, spots, blemishes, bumps, and how the stem points. Close your eyes and picture your own apple and everything about it.” After a little time, the teacher collected the apples in a basket and laid them out on the top of her desk, mixing them thoroughly in the process. Then she said, “Come and pick out your apple.” Every one of the 30 pupils in her class picked out his or her particular apple.
Each one of us is unique, just as is every apple. We all have our bumps, spots, shades of color, and differing stems. God can pick each of us out of a million people. He has chosen us to be His own precious apples, and He cares for us, just as He chose Israel to be His holy nation in ancient times. That’s what Moses told the people of Israel, “He guarded him as the apple of his eye” (Dt 32:10).
This image is also found in Psalm 17:8. This image of the apple of my eye is 3500 years old! It is an image that gives us comfort that God affectionately cares for you and me. But even more so, because Jesus Himself is the apple of the Father’s eye. And Jesus gave His live in love and sacrifice to save us from our sins. Jesus Christ lived righteously and gave His life unto the punishment of death for us, then rose and ascended into heaven in glory.
Since we are now saved, we have each become the apple of God’s eye. All God’s love and compassion and forgiveness and grace are extended to you because of Jesus. What joy and peace that you, me, and all believers are the apple of God’s eye.
Peace in Christ, Pastor
Dear Sons and Daughters of our Gracious Heavenly Father. During the Lent 2022 Wednesday services we have been considering a number of Gospel themes for putting together seven-word statements that summarize the Gospel. I have found it interesting and challenging. There are many wonderful Gospel themes to choose from.
The purpose for trying to get the Gospel summarized into seven words is to be prepared to share the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ in a single simple statement. First, so that we can have something memorized about the Gospel. Second, it gives a basic picture for conversation with someone in our witnessing of Christ. Third, it can help us with the outline for witnessing—the bad news of sin and the wonderful news of God’s salvation for us from our sin. Every one of us is a witness to Christ. Each one of us is to confess that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9-10; Phil. 2:11; 1 John 1:9)
And we do have wonderful news to share about Jesus. He is God incarnate. He walked the way of life and followed all the will of God and gives us the credit. He suffered for the sins of which we are guilty. He died the death of hell which we deserved. He rose the third day in victory over sin, death, and the devil.
Such a great love for us and the saving acts of our Lord should enliven us and enable us to courage and joy in sharing the Gospel. However, as we look at the world around us, it seems as if being a Christian puts one under the attack of current trends. But this means that it is ever more vital for us to share the saving message of Christ. In fact, in world history, the Church has actually grown more in places where there is persecution. Therefore, we do need to be ready to confess our faith and confess it boldly and confidently.
Jesus knows what we will endure. But, He says this in Matthew 10:32–33 (ESV): “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
So remember this: Romans 5:10 (ESV): “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” And this: Romans 6:23 (ESV): “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Our boldness and confidence in our confession comes from the love God has poured into us, and from the Spirit who empowers us through the Word of God. All that we have heard from God’s Word comes into our ears, drops into our hearts and creates faith in Jesus, and then spills out in joy from our lips with confession and praise.
I encourage you in the love of God to think about your favorite Gospel theme. Then, create a short statement about sin and grace that you can easily remember. Let that short summary of the Gospel be yours to share when you find yourself in an opportunity to confess Christ Jesus and His work of salvation. God grant you His love and strength to confess the saving name of Jesus.
In Jesus’ name, Pastor Toensing
The Gospel in Seven Words Imagine that a friend or family member who is unfamiliar with your Christian faith asks you to summarize the gospel. She isn’t looking for a laundry list of doctrines. She has no interest in hearing you recite the Apostles’ Creed. She wants to get to the heart of the matter. “In seven words or less,” she says, “tell me what you believe as a Christian.” What would you say? How would you put it? Are you prepared to confess your faith in Jesus?
To be a Christian is to “believe with your heart” and “confess with your mouth” the good news of God’s love for us in Christ (Romans 10:9-10). Peter calls us to be prepared always to give a reason for the hope we have as Christians (1 Peter 3:15). Christians have the best news in the world to share! But are we prepared to share it?
During this season of Lent, we’re going to prepare to celebrate Holy Week by sharing why Holy Week is so important. Out midweek worship services will serve as opportunities to consider the many ways in which the Scriptures proclaim Jesus. During the weeks of Lent, each of us will be working on our own summary, with the hopes that all of us are more prepared to share the good news of Jesus. Come and join us this Lent, and join us by crafting your own confession of the gospel!
In the Love of Jesus Christ, Pastor Toensing
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: Last December we saw the finals of the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament. In January, the college football championship. February brings the NFL championship to our viewing pleasure. Often, there are parties for such events. There are also watch parties that people hold for big TV shows, like the final episode of some popular series. Whatever the show or the game or other event that people gather together to watch, there are many preparations that go into hosting such an event.
It begins with a decision to host the event. The invitations go out. Then, planning what to get. Buying all the necessities and delegating some preparations to others. And there will be lots of cleaning, too. Then, the mixing, the baking, the cooking, the grilling, the gathering and the event. It can be a lot of work. And some people just love doing all this kind of work in order to host such an event.
This reminds me of a really big day that is coming that will affect the entire human population. In fact, it will impact all of creation. The Last Day, the day of Christ’s return to end this world, is coming … soon. How soon? No one knows except God the Father.
But … there are preparations being made for that day. But you don’t have to do any of the cooking or cleaning or preparing for this big event. God is host. So, God is the one preparing for that day.
The planning? God. The buying? Well, it was Jesus’ blood shed on the cross that bought you for that day. The invites? They are constantly going out as God is seeking more and more people to receive His invitation of love and mercy. All the work is done by God. Some has been done. The plan to send the Savior who would die for the sins of the world—that was designed by God. Fulfilling that plan—all of it was accomplished by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for you. Now, getting ready for heaven? God is working on that too.
By His Word God is preparing hearts to believe in Jesus, giving them hope and faith. He does that by His Word— the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins.
So, what work do you need to do to get ready for the Last Day? Nothing. You have the Lord’s invitation. Jesus did the work to get you the invitation. You are invited. Trusting in God’s salvation and in Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are ready for That Day. And the Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the heavenly feast God is preparing. But get this: you can share the invitation. God wants you to share the invite. He has room in His eternal dwellings for everyone.
Praise God! In the Love of Jesus Christ, Pastor Toensing