Whoever is slothful will not roast his game,
but the diligent man will get precious wealth. Prov. 12:27
It is sometimes true of everyone. We have what we need, but we lack the basic gumption to do any of the work to make it useful for us. It takes a certain basic diligence to make use of the good things God gives us. One potentially precious gift God is giving us is the chance to come together as a congregation and study a good book together with the help of the author. Here is the schedule for the 4 week study of Pr. John Nunes’s new book Meant for More. Each session will take place on Wednesday evening from 7-8 p.m. via Zoom. I’ll send the Zoom link out early next week.
Jan. 20 - Preface through chapter 4 (pp. VII-51)
Jan. 27 - Chapters 5-9 (pp. 53-94)
Feb. 3 - Chapters 10-14 (pp. 97-141)
Feb. 10 - Chapters 15-20 (pp. 143-190)
It is all on the schedule and worked out. If need be you can even get the book for free as long as you promise to read it with us. This great gift is there for the taking.
But moderate interest and good intentions won’t get you started reading. You do have to “roast your game” so to speak. You actually have to order the book rather than decide you’ll do that later. Or you have to call the church office or drive by to pick up a copy. You have to make sure you have access to zoom, and look for the link in next week’s updates. Those things are not really that hard, but that is precisely why they’re so easy to put and so frequently on the list of things we had good intentions about but never got around to doing. Don’t let that be you in this case. Do the basic diligence to be a part of this opportunity.
I’ve asked the whole staff and the lay leadership of the congregation to make this a priority.
Of course you can still join the zoom meeting even if you haven’t read the book. Pr. Nunes is an excellent presenter. And you can still read the book even if you can’t join the zoom meetings. Do what you can to participate; I think you’ll be amply rewarded.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. Ps. 45:1
This weekend nothing seemed to go right. The bulletins were messed up because of a word processing glitch. The livestreaming was messed up due, apparently, to a wifi hiccup (though the recorded service is available on the website with just a bit missing from the beginning). School preparation was all messed up because at the last minute we had to switch to remote learning out of an abundance of caution. It was, as they say, “just one of those days,” and as easy day on which to think the world was rigged against you.
The world, however, is not rigged against us. We learn what we can from setbacks and move on. We find a pleasing theme worthy of being addressed to our Lord and King. The exciting news today is that no matter how disappointing, plain or laborious any aspect of our life together might be, we can trust that God is working through us in ways we can’t even see. If the glory of it remains hidden to us, God’s Word can open our eyes to what He is already doing through us and inspire our hearts to ever greater ways of serving Him.
That exciting news is not just a bunch of talk. It is an actual, concrete plan for St. Paul’s. Over the weekend Rev. John Nunes (president of Concordia-Bronxville, the one who was featured in the podcast about the church and racism back in May or June that so many of our members loved) agreed to lead a four week Bible study for St. Paul’s. He is a powerful speaker. He is also a writer. So he will lead our study toward a positive, uplifting sense of the future with a “tongue like the pen of a ready scribe.”
The study will cover many Bible verses, but will follow the format of his new book, Meant for More: In, With, and Under the Ordinary. Everyone in the congregation who chooses can join our staff and lay leadership though this book. The book is available from CPH or Amazon, or you can get a copy in the church office. There is a $16 suggested donation to cover the cost, but a generous donor has made sure nobody will be excluded for financial reasons.
The four week study will take place over zoom (Pr. Nunes had agreed to come lead a one day seminar in person back in the fall, but Covid had other plans) on Wednesday evenings from 7-8:00 p.m. starting January 20. The book is really a series of thematically related devotions and reflections, but they all address the very practical questions that individual Christians and congregations have in difficult times.
As your pastor I’ve tried to have the pen of a ready scribe throughout this pandemic, and it because I see such value in this opportunity that I truly hope the people of St. Paul’s will readily participate. Yes, you might not enjoy zoom, yes, reading might not be your favorite pastime, yes, the last thing we need is another appointment on the calendar, and yes, some of the content will challenge as well as inspire you. But also, yes, this study will be worth your time and energy, and yes, you’ll be better off for having participated. St. Paul’s as a congregation will be better off, too.
More details to follow, but again, please make the effort. Btw, this also means the Wednesday evening zoom Bible study on Revelation will not resume until after Easter. To those of you who can’t handle the suspense, just know it ends well.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
“…behold, wise men from the east came from Jerusalem,” Matt. 1:1b
Epiphany is an underappreciated holiday. Like Christmas, it falls on the same day every year regardless of the day of the week, but nobody plans their week around it. Even churches normally celebrate it on whatever Sunday comes closest. Since it is a Wednesday this year we’re focusing on Epiphany in chapel and will make the service available to the congregation to participate in remotely. Please make time to “attend” the service today or this evening.
The season of Epiphany focuses on the gradual revealing of who Jesus is. The season begins today and reaches its climax at the Transfiguration, when the disciples see Jesus in blinding glory on the mountain standing with Moses and Elijah. It then officially ends on Ash Wednesday, when the Messiah turns his face toward Jerusalem and His true mission of dying on the cross to take away the sin of the world.
The actual day of Epiphany itself focuses on the wise men. By tradition there are three of them, but the only reason people think that is because three gifts are mentioned. By tradition they are named Balthasar, Melchior, and Caspar. Traditions differ as to where exactly they came from, but it is generally three different regions. Balthasar usually has dark skin and is either from Ethiopia or India, while Melchior and Caspar are generally said to be from Arabia and Persia or Persia and Babylon.
The revelation to the whole world of who Jesus is begins with the three gifts. Gold would be the gift a foreign envoy brought in tribute to a king. Frankincense would be used in worship of a god. And myrrh was a precious ointment used to anoint the dead. The baby Jesus was God and Man, king of all nations, and born in order to die.
The history of the whole Biblical account is fascinating. In late March of 2022 (almost 15 months from now) Heidi and I are going to be leading another trip to the Holy Land, and I would encourage anyone to look into. This time we’re going to begin in the country of Jordan, east of Israel, see it the way Moses saw it from afar, and enter the Holy Land the way Joshua led them in near Jericho. But in Jordan we’ll also be seeing echoes of some of the eastern culture and lands represented by the “wise men from the east.”
Whatever you can do this year—Bible studies, remote worship attendance, podcasts, travel, etc.-- to enrich your understanding of salvation history will be well worth your trouble. One blessing we have is the church year and the various seasons. But they only do their job, so to speak, when we follow the story week by week. With livestreaming available, there is no reason to miss a week of worship this year. Make it your ambition to attend every service this year.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deut. 8:3
Some things you do over and over because they have to be done over and over. They don’t stay done. Mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, etc. Other things you do over and over because you enjoy them, like playing dart ball or doing a daily crossword puzzle. You don’t have to do those things, but they become part of your personal routine.
Most things in our routine fall into a category of things we have to do and things we want to do. The former category includes tasks that would vanish if you had a magic wand, and the latter includes things there would be more of if you had a magic wand. The things you find draining you would do less of, and the things you find fulfilling you’d do more of.
God doesn’t intend for our lives to follow those categories. Ideally, the things you have to do and the things you enjoy doing would be the same things. He told Adam and Eve to tend the garden. But it would be enjoyable gardening. He told them to be fruitful and multiply, but He made doing so enjoyable. Sadly, the curse that followed the Fall made the work toilsome for Adam and procreation painful to Eve. But there are some things that echo God’s original design and intent—that what we have to do and what we want to do overlap.
Consider your meals. You have to eat. But you probably enjoy eating. Mealtimes should be a part of your routine that falls into both categories. Of course, in a perfect world junk food would be good for you, but even apart from that perfect world you probably enjoy a good meal and know that your body needs the sustenance. Only when you are ill or when your priorities are way out of order do your meals become a chore.
When God spoke to Moses in Deuteronomy He said that one of the lessons of manna was that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus quoted that verse when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness. Mankind is body and soul together. Yes, we need bread. But not bread alone, as though we were animals. Our souls need food, too—every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Worship and Bible study—daily being in the Word—feed your soul. We should treat them the same way we treat meals, as something that defies the categories of work and leisure. Too often Christians don’t treat Communion like manna for the soul, or Bible study and sermons as bread to feed our faith. Like ill bodies treating eating as something we have to do rather than something we get to do, our ill souls can start to lose the appetite for God’s Word.
Sometimes Bible study might seem like a chore. Do it anyway. It is good for you. Hopefully it is not like a food you have to eat but don’t feel like eating, but something spiritually delicious and satisfying. That’s the goal. But eat it either way. Like someone trying to get a cancer patient or sick person to eat, I’m not going to stop coaxing, badgering, and admonishing you that your soul needs sustenance.
This week I’ll be leading Bible studies on Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. on Hebrews 4, at 10:00 a.m. on Isaiah 28, and at 7:00 p.m. (zoom only) on Revelation 5. Thursday at 10:00 a.m. we’ll be looking at 1 John 2. Don’t tell me there is nothing on that menu for you. I won’t believe you.
Don’t try to live on bread alone. You won’t find that life fulfilling to the whole person, body and soul together. Rather, taste and see that the Lord is good by taking in His Word.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
[Jesus] answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. Matt. 16:2-3
The signs of the times are nothing new, really. The specifics are unpredictable, of course. I don’t know anybody who saw 2020 coming, for example, in terms of the shut-down, the protests, or anything else in this weirdest year of my life. But interpret doesn’t mean predict, necessarily. When we interpret things in terms of the fall into sin and redemption in Christ, the raging of the nations and the worldly reign of death, the signs changes year to year, but we can still interpret them with the same Word of God. What exactly to do about them is a different matter; we have to use whatever limited lights and resources we have to plan a way forward into the future, always with truth in the ultimate Lordship of Christ.
Worldly matters are far easier to predict. We don’t know the specifics of the weather, but the changes of season are fairly predictable. So some things we do here at St. Paul’s simply account for logistical issues we can all see coming because it is summer time. People travel. Vacations happen. Volunteers are harder to schedule. Calendars are harder to mesh.
A couple of changes we’re making this week have nothing to do with interpreting the signs of the times (which is what the services are about—applying God’s Word to today) and everything to do with interpreting the worldly seasons and rhythms of life. We’re going to start live-streaming the 9:30 service this week instead of the 8:00 service. I know this will inconvenience some people, but it will really help coordinate the schedules of the people needed to make the services happen. Also, the Wednesday evening Bible study is going to take a hiatus until August. So the next time we will meet is August 5. The Thursday morning Bible study will continue through the summer as scheduled.
We don’t yet know how exactly we’re going to start everything back up again once we start the transition back to in-person meetings and Bible studies. It will probably involve a combination of in-person and live-streamed or Zoom interaction. Details will be unveiled as our plans for fall begin to solidify over the summer. As always, stay tuned.
We know how to interpret the signs of times—it is a fallen world and a time of testing, but also Anno Domini, the year of our Lord—and as for the logistics, well, we’ll do our best with all the gifts and tools God gives us.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. II Tim. 3:16-17
School has continued to meet remotely during this time, so much of the effort has focused on the means of teaching, doing assignments, giving feedback, etc. It is not for the faint at heart. The whole St. Paul’s community can be grateful for the work our teachers are doing. Far from being less, it has been above and beyond what anyone bargained for. Learning new electronic tools, recording presentations, emailing back and forth with constant questions—the whole experience has been different.
Regardless of the means, however, the point of continuing school has been that the content remains the same as much as possible. Math isn’t going anywhere. History is history whether you know it or not and whether you learned it in person or remotely or not. We have to adjust everything we do in order to keep focusing on the purpose, which is teaching people what they need to know and nurturing in them a way of life and a worldview that benefits them body, mind, and spirit.
The centerpiece of all Christian education, of course, is Christ as revealed in Scripture. It teaches, corrects, reproves, and trains the Christian. But only when we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it. Just owning a Bible or having one around doesn’t accomplish much. That’s why we must not let this change in how we do things prevent us from having Bible studies. The Word and Sacraments are the food of the soul. Just as you had to keep eating even though the restaurants all closed and the grocery stores set up a bunch of strange new rules and procedures, so you can’t just put off spiritual things until everything settles down again.
This Sunday we will continue our look at Colossians, but at a new time. Since we’re going back to having regular worship services this week on the summer schedule (5:30 p.m. Saturday, 8:00 and 9:30 a.m. on Sunday) with all social distancing in place, we’re going to do the Bible study at 10:45 a.m. The Zoom info is included in this update, but please make a note of the new time.
Please also ask for help if you don’t know how to use Zoom or don’t have access to a device that accommodates it. We want everyone connected as much as possible. Every member of St. Paul’s deserves to be--is called to be—complete, equipped for every good work.
[Jesus said to His disciples], “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Ever since the first Pentecost fulfilled this promise to the disciples, the Gospel has spread. C.S. Lewis called it something like a good virus. It spread via contact from person to person as people told the good news and exemplified Christian living for each other. Jesus’ words picture Jerusalem as the epicenter and beginning of this good virus, which quickly spreads to the surrounding region of Judea (Judah), then Samaria (the old northern kingdom when Israel was dividing into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel) and gradually beyond that to the Gentiles all over the globe. And His words have been largely fulfilled in our day, though missionaries constantly seek out people who have had no exposure to the Good News.
Modern technology has accelerated the process by bypassing some of the person-to-person that made evangelism depend upon location and geography and spread like a good virus. Beginning especially with radio and then television but now going pedal to the metal with live-streaming, people proclaiming the Gospel can be talking to people in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth all at the same time without even knowing it. I know some people have participated in our services here at St. Paul’s from many states and even foreign countries. What a strange and wonderful tool for the Word! Not since the invention of the printing press has there been such an explosion of new opportunities for people to receive the Gospel.
One effect of St. Paul’s begin able to share our services with the entire globe is that any particular member of St. Paul’s has literally tens of thousands of services and sermons available to them at the push of a button every Sunday. Without leaving their homes, people can listen to the preaching of pastors, ministers, and priests of every denomination. Handy, convenient, amazing, and wonderful as that situation is for the propagation of the faith, it is also perplexing and in some cases dangerous. There can be too many voices contradicting each other, and some can be wolves in sheep’s clothing with spiritually poisonous teachings. After all, anyone can say anything in cyberspace. If we can make good use of live-streaming, we can bet Satan is also fully in tune with the possibilities of the internet.
While we praise and thank God that we can preach and teach online during this pandemic, we also have to be aware of the downside to every home having instant access to a veritable Babel of preaching and teaching. So next week we’re going to start a new Wednesday evening Bible study looking at the various teachings of different denominations and how they are similar or different from what we preach and teach here. Everyone is welcome to participate, and the Zoom info will come out on Monday.
We hope to continue the Wednesday evening Bible study even after things return to some semblance of normal, as we had been doing last fall and earlier in the winter. But for now we’ll do it online. Look for info in Monday’s update. Also, bear in mind that everyone is welcome to “attend” via zoom the Thursday morning Bible study, which is beginning the book of Hebrews this week, and the Sunday morning Bible study, which is doing Colossians. Please join us as you’re able, and offer to help those you may know who aren’t able to join us on their own.
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Lk. 10:41-42
Trying to halt the spread of contagion while still living our lives has forced governments to distinguish between essential and non-essential activities, jobs, and events. It has led to some almost comical misclassifications, at least in most people’s opinions. For example, we read reports that in Michigan you can buy lottery tickets but not garden seeds. In some places, apparently, you can be outside getting fresh air and exercising, but not if you’re doing it by landscaping your yard at the same time. In North Carolina, the government has declared that protesting the government’s classifications of what constitutes essential and non-essential activities is itself a non-essential activity, so you’re not allowed to be outside doing that. Which sort of begs the question, doesn’t it?
It is easy to find seemingly ludicrous examples, but that is because reducing everything to simple categories of essential and non-essential depends on a set of criteria that has never been agreed upon. I’ll bet if any of us tried to classify everything and enforce it, in no time there would be social media memes everywhere mocking the ridiculous consequences of the choices we made. It isn’t as easy as it sounds.
There is a famous scene in Schindler’s List in which Nazi officers have to classify all the Jewish workers in Warsaw as essential or non-essential. But at least they have a single criterion: is the job essential to the war effort or not. That makes things a tad easier. In one instance, an elderly man is declared nonessential and condemned because he is a teacher of history and literature. He is saved at the last minute when his friend convinces the officers that he is actually a metal polisher, required for the manufacture of armaments. What is essential? What isn’t? Who makes that call? Of what is a civilization made?
Nobody likes to be declared non-essential. Today, people who might have looked down on others who worked certain jobs are receiving their comeuppance. People who stock shelves, make deliveries, mop floors—these people are being lauded as the backbone of society. Nobody is saying, “We need a ballerina and three modern dance majors over here! Stat!” It turns out the people who might have once turned up their noses at basic trades and menial jobs are now finding themselves the ones declared non-essential, at least by some definitions.
In The Breakfast Club, a brainy A-student talks about taking shop class and failing to make a lamp properly, and how stupid the assignment was. Another student in shop class mocks him for being such a useless egghead in all the useless smart kid classes. The smart kid responds, “Well, did you know that without trigonometry there would be no engineering?” To which the critic replies, “Without lamps there would be no light.”
What is essential? What is non-essential? Students, and sometimes even their parents, fall prey to this overly-simplistic way of thinking sometimes. In the height of frustration trying to do school and work at home, the question, “Why do I have know this stuff?” never seems more apt. The foolish approach is to say that if isn’t going to help you get a better job, you should only do it if it is fun. The purpose of education goes beyond maximizing employment potential or mental entertainment. Language, history, art—these are all non-essential in terms of sustaining life, but essential in terms of making civilization worth sustaining. What is essential?
I hope one casualty of this shut-down is the tendency to look down on the jobs that require less formal education, but that prove essential in times of crisis. I also hope we don’t fall into the trap of looking down on jobs that do require a lot of education but don’t serve much immediate purpose in a crisis. Maybe one thing God is giving us is a renewed appreciation for all the various ways we depend on each other. For example, if you’ve been watching Netflix while stuck at home, thousands of people with “nonessential” areas of expertise, like creative writing, acting, history, modern dance, etc. have made that possible. So have countless people with “essential” expertise in the technology that makes streaming possible. So has the guy who delivered your tv to the store or your house, and the electrician that wired up the outlet. Everyone fits into the picture somehow. Be grateful for the many Marthas who did a million things for you that you couldn’t have done for yourself. We are interconnected.
The familiar story of Mary and Martha takes the world’s views of what is essential and non-essential and turns it upside down. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things—online classes, internet connections, delivery status updates, cleaning up breakfast—but one thing is necessary. There is it is. THE distinction. Christ is the one thing needful.
Jesus makes the distinction for us. Whatever else is essential to survive a crisis, to build up a civilization, to make a living, there is only one thing that that is essential in any eternal sense. If nothing else, God might be using this crisis to make us examine what is important and what isn’t. It is easy to lose track of it. Every other distinction between essential and non-essential fails. Not this one. You have Christ. He will not be taken away from you. You have the one thing needful. That is essential forever.
Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very helpful to me in my ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpas at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. II Tim. 4:11-13
These words of St. Paul don’t seem like the sort of thing a daily devotion normally focuses on. But they’re important because they establish that the ministry of the Word has always had a very practical, business side to it as well as a very personal side, even in the writing of Scripture itself. It isn’t all just divine, spiritual truths being received by the Holy Spirit and written down for all the ages to come. It is that, of course, but it is more. There were mundane, practical problems attending to the ministry of the Word even for St. Paul himself. St. Paul’s, Munster should expect no less.
St. Paul writes these words from prison. He is dealing with isolation, trying to keep in contact with churches from a distance, and safeguarding the future of the church for after he dies, which he suspects will be soon. Poignantly, he wants Mark; earlier in his ministry (Acts 15:37-39) St. Paul didn’t want anything to do with Mark. But things change. People change. For logistical reasons, St. Paul doesn’t do all the teaching himself, but organizes the teaching at Ephesus by sending Tychicus. He is a great apostle, but has regular personal, material needs, like a cloak. He is a mouthpiece of God, but has to attend to eternal spiritual truths via perishable parchments that need looking after. The sense of scrambling to deal with his circumstances can comfort us here as we scramble to adjust everything we do. We keep the ministry of the Word foremost, but understand that such ministry has always required practical solutions to worldly problems.
Today, too, everyone at St. Paul’s is dealing with major practical disruption, but the ministry of the Word goes on. We’re addressing practical issues as best we can. Here are the very practical things you can do today that will help the ministry of the Word go forth:
May God continue to bless His Church through every worldly circumstance, opening paths for the ministry of the Word to go forth despite every obstacle.
Let the Word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Col. 3:16
Colossians is only 4 chapters long, so the whole book is very readable in one sitting. And really, the meat of it is chapters 2-3. I encourage you all to read at least those two chapters today. In them, St. Paul writes the words quoted above, about letting the Word of Christ dwell in our hearts in teaching and in song. But he urges them to do that having acknowledged in the previous chapter that he cannot be with them in the body, at least for the time being.
More importantly, this section of the Bible includes these words: Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Col. 2:16-17 We have the Christian freedom to figure how best to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly in different ways suitable for different contexts.
Since we cannot be with each other in the body, and since we cannot celebrate the festivals by which we normally commemorate Holy Week (at least not in the usual way), we rejoice that we have the God-given opportunity nevertheless to ponder Christ and His Passion with the God-given freedom to do so in unusual ways given the circumstances. The main thing is that our hearts be fixed on Christ. Reading Colossians today will help that be the case for you.
Speaking of reading, have you read any good books lately? Sometimes good books (and yes, there is a difference between reading a good book and reading a book designed merely to distract and amuse) can help us ponder Christ and His Passion by explaining and illustrating the way a sermon would. Here are a few recommendations.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis is a fantasy story and Christian allegory that portrays the Christ figure as a fearsome Lion. You will note the obvious parallels in it to the Passion story of the Gospels. It is good for all ages, and a genuinely good book that also entertains.
Death on a Friday Afternoon, by Fr. R.J. Neuhaus (full disclosure, my uncle) is essentially a Tre Ore service in book form, with each chapter providing an extended theological reflection on one of the seven last words from the cross.
Grace Upon Grace, by John Kleinig is an excellent general introduction to practicing a deeper Christian spiritual life in a world obsessed with cheap, imitation spirituality.
But no book can replace Scripture. Read Colossians 2-3 today, and keep following the services online. Let other books like these help you think through and process the Word. St. Paul’s (the saint and the congregation) goal for you is that the Word of Christ continue to dwell in your richly in this time of being away from each other in the body and out of our normal rhythm of festivals. God is still with you!
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana