Gumption to do More
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
Zenas the Lawyer
Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. Titus 3:13-14
There is a Bible verse you don’t see every day. Even a pretty good Bible trivia contestant would probably not have Zenas the lawyer on the tip of his tongue in answer to a question in the bonus round. All lawyer jokes aside, the fact is that people like Zenas have always played a critical role in the functioning of the Church and its mission. Not only do congregations need lay leaders, they need the laity’s various secular skills in order to function in this world. And those skilled lay leaders need to exemplify a life of faith and service.
Who knows what important legal work Zenas the lawyer might have done for the fledging Christian Church? For all we know, the world would be a completely different place today if not for Zenas’s skill in winning some argument before the secular authorities on behalf of the persecuted Christians. Or maybe he was just a good organizer of mission trips because he understood all the practical, legal matters involved with going from place to place. Whatever it was, St. Paul urged St. Titus to make sure Zenas had everything he needed.
Here at St. Paul’s in Munster we have been blessed for many years to have someone with formidable skills in the secular arena serving the congregation. Karen Hott used to manage Carson’s department store, overseeing well over two hundred employees. To be effective at that level of management, one must have a pretty large and wide combination of skills. There are HR-considerations, finances and accounting, corporate and government legalese to be deciphered, the planning and organizing, and the interpersonal skills necessary to keep everyone on task. Like Zenas the lawyer, Karen has been using those rare secular skills and experiences in service to the people of God.
When I came here seven years ago I could tell right away as an outsider looking in that Karen was the nerve center of the organization. That’s a great blessing and in some ways a danger. In fact, in one of our first one-on-one meetings I told her that because she was so very capable, she was almost too important to the day-to-day functioning of the institution. The congregation relied on her because we knew we could. But we would be hard pressed to deal with her absence should she retire or move away. Consequently, years ago Karen and I agreed that she would work on cataloging her various roles and duties such that when the time came for her to hand off the job to someone else we would have a fighting chance to experience a smooth transition.
Well, that time has come. Much to the chagrin of the staff, Karen has decided to retire in 2021. Everyone who has benefitted from the mission and ministry of St. Paul’s owes her a debt of gratitude. Her skills and tireless efforts on behalf of this place and her interest in and dedication to the welfare of every member of this congregation has made such blessings possible.
Thankfully, we have been planning for this transition, and Karen, who knows the ins and outs of human resource transitions more than most, has generously offered to provide us with plenty of overlap. The new Business Manager will have many months of shadowing her and learning the ropes before taking over. That is a tremendous blessing to St. Paul’s and to the next Business Manager. We have every reason to believe that God will continue to equip and provide His Church with skilled servant-leaders to keep the mission and ministry of the Gospel running strong. If you or someone you know would be interested in filling the position of Business Manager of St. Paul’s, please look for the call for resumes in this week’s bulletin.
Peace and Conflict
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. Matt. 8:8
Veterans’ Day, also called Armistice Day, illustrates two enduring truths. First, it shows that the human condition has not changed. It was at 11:00 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month that, in 1918, the cease-fire was declared that set in motion the end of The Great War, also known as the “War to End All Wars.” After such unprecedented global bloodshed people naturally thought humanity had learned its lesson. They wanted to the holiday to celebrate peace and good will among nations.
Ironically, however, the Act of Congress that established Nov. 11 as a federal holiday happened in 1938, on the eve of WWII. The “Great War” of 1914-1918 had to be renamed World War I, because the even greater war of 1941-1945 (which really started in 1939 outside the U.S.) put the whole “war to end all wars” slogan into perspective. Peace and good will among nations remains a temporary, isolated, and fragile thing on the globe and the timeline of human history.
The second enduring truth of this day, then, is the need to honor secular vocations that address the negative effects of the fall into sin, especially those which demand that people sacrifice their own lives for other people. There will always be a need for soldiers, and those soldiers will always be deserving of respect. There will always be need for firefighters and police officers, too. Every vocation is a way to serve the Lord, and special consideration it given to those vocations that demand risk of life and limb. But Veterans’ Day is set aside specifically to honor those who have served in the Armed Forces.
Centurions in the Roman military system were, as the name implies, officers in charge of about 100 soldiers (cent, century, centennial, centurion, etc.). That means they answered to superior officers and gave orders to underlings with equal discipline. Jesus has several encounters with centurions in the Gospels, but He never tells them to quit their jobs. He tells them to do their jobs justly and honestly, and most importantly, as in the case of the centurion who speaks the verse quoted above, Jesus commends them based on their faith.
Any of us might learn to speak with the faith of the centurion. We are not worthy to have Jesus come into our lives, but we know that His Word of grace is everything. In the case of the centurion, his faith was such that he recognized Jesus as the rightful Lord of creation. He tells Jesus that just as centurions have to obey generals, and soldiers have to obey centurions, so reality itself, including sickness and death, must obey the voice of Lord. Jesus is amazed that the centurion has such faith and grants his request.
Centurions also, of course, play a key role in the crucifixion. But it is a centurion who finally, when all is said on done on Good Friday, says, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” We, too, are sinners. The only saving grace for us is having a Savior by God’s grace.
This Veterans’ Day we can give thanks that our nation is enjoying a period of relative peace, perhaps not internally as arguments rage about the election, but at least in terms of warfare with other nations. And we can remember that all people including ourselves are fallen people subject to the human condition. We honor those who offer to defend us today, and should remember to honor those who serve in all vocations that help alleviate the effects of the Fall.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col. 3:17
The day after Labor Day used to be a smaller version of New Year’s Day, at least in terms of the cultural calendar. It marked a distinct change from one season to another. Traditionally it is/was the first day of the school year. It marked the end of “the season” in touristy and resort areas. It was the day after which fashionable people no longer wore white and changed over to their earth-toned, autumn wardrobe.
Of course, some of those traditions no longer apply. We start school in August. We tend to vacation earlier in the summer, and wear whatever colors we want. There is no right or wrong to these traditions and our observance of them or lack thereof. But we ought to know why we do what we do. And this shows how there can be spiritual, Christian significance to a perfectly secular holiday like Labor Day.
Labor Day got started in the late 19th Century as a celebration promoted by the labor movement, which was behind the unionizing of the labor force in the aftermath of last stages of the Industrial Revolution. Therefore, when we think of it in deeper terms than a three day weekend and chance to barbecue, we usually think of it in terms of blue collar labor particularly. And in secular terms the holiday does focus on large scale manual labor in factories. But what we Christians can celebrate, should we choose, is better understood as our vocations. Our labor is whatever God has given us to do—as individuals, family members, church members, employers and employees. Maybe we should call it Vocation Day.
Most of your vocations get covered in the Table of Duties in your catechism. That is, what does the Bible say about how you should be clergy or laity, a husband or wife, parent of child, government official and/or citizen, employers or employee, neighbor, and so forth? It references various verses that talk about how to fulfill those roles in God-pleasing ways. But I really like the catch-all phrase from Colossians—“whatever you do.”
God doesn’t send you a daily to-do list, at least not with any specificity to it. We all have different jobs, interests, and obligations. But whatever we do, we are to do in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. You can’t cheat people, insult them, belittle them, take advantage of them, ignore their needs, or anything like that in the name in the Jesus. Whatever your job is, and whomever you interact with, you are to speak and act as though you are sent to bring Christ to the situation. You’re doing it for Him, in His Name.
As you head into a new season and year (sort of, in a way) celebrate the work God has given you to do. Give thanks for the opportunity to serve. Look at even the most boring or mundane parts of your routine as a means of serving the Lord. We have a holiday called Labor Day, the real labor of being Christians takes no holidays; it is the thing the holidays celebrate.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
The Next Generation
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Rom. 10:14-15
These famous words from St. Paul describe the chain by which grace from God gets to the individual Christian. That chain includes faith, the Word, preaching, and the congregation and wider Christian community. How will someone in the future be a faithful Christian? Because God will reach them through congregations that gather around preaching and teaching of the Word and send people around the world and across the generations to perpetuate it.
For a couple of years here at St. Paul’s we have been focused on the next generation. Will today’s little children grow up to learn the faith and pass it along? Forty years from now, will today’s six year olds be bringing their own children to church, teaching them the faith at home, and also educating them in the Word in a Christian school? Who can say?
But we can apply the same kind of chain reasoning to that question. Today’s six year olds will not mature in the Word if they cannot read. And they won’t learn to read without teachers and books. And there won’t be any Christian teachers or classrooms if the Christian community doesn’t raise them up and equip them. We can’t guarantee that anyone will believe the Word they are taught, but we can guarantee that they won’t believe it if they aren’t taught it.
Today we’re getting ready for another school year that starts on August 18. Covid, of course, has forced our faculty and staff to make major changes to our schedule and procedures, but through the faithful work of many people, most notably our principal Barb Mertens, who has followed all the guidelines and mandates closely and found ways to allow for safe, in-person school. We’re also dealing with some other changes. Our resource teacher, Mary Beth Hutcheson, and our 1stgrade teacher, Cathi Hansen, have retired. We’ll be recognizing and giving thanks for their many years of faithful service in church on August 16 when we rededicate the teachers for another school year.
Due to all the craziness this summer, at school and in people’s personal lives, we had less time than we normally have to plan the transition to new teachers. Thankfully, we have trained, experienced people in the St. Paul’s community who were ready, willing, and able to step in. Lisa Smith will be our resource teacher, and Zina Bachert will be our 1st grade teacher, and everyone is pulling together to make it a great year.
One of the last pieces of the puzzle is equipping the 1st grade classroom. We need the books and décor to make it a great learning environment. Yes, we have desks and chairs and text books. But we need the whole panoply of young reader books that learners need in order to excel. How can they read if they have not learned? How can they learn if they have no books? God has given us the teachers, the classroom, and the students. Let’s do all we can to make that gift likely to blossom forty years from now into yet another generation of faithful Christians.
If you are in a position to donate first grade level books in good condition or donate toward the purchase of books, posters, and classroom materials, please do so. Just mark the checks as for that purpose or give Amazon gift cards (even electronically), or bring the physical books to office. We can sort through and take it from there. I know I can count on the St. Paul’s community to be a strong link in the chain from God’s grace to individuals in the next generation of the Christian Church.
July 2: Minding your business
But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs… I Thes. 4:10-11
Sometimes it seems like the world conspires to make it impossible to mind your own business. That’s why St. Paul called living quietly an aspirational thing. In some translations of the verse it says, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life…” We can often be tempted to think that it is our job to save to the world and get swept up in causes that end up merely distracting us from the actual tasks of our vocation. We devote ourselves to grand things God hasn’t called us to do in order to avoid doing the ho-hum things He has called us to do.
On the other hand, we are all called to do our part. It’s just that we should know the extent of our part. We can’t just ignore the larger world or pretend that problems don’t exist. What we can do is understand that we don’t make the world better when we abandon our daily vocations to fix the world. We make the world better by seeking to make sure whatever tiny part of it God has given us stewardship of operates according to His will.
When we’re stuck at home and the normal goings-on of life are on hold, we can be tempted to live according to the news. This crazy thing took place there, these people did that, can you believe what happened over there… That isn’t real life; that is like watching a soap opera as a distraction from real life. Real life comes from the Table of Duties in the catechism. Your membership in the church, your job description at work, your relationships at home, your neighborhood and citizenship—those are what God has entrusted to you.
Yesterday I did my first in-home communion visit in months. Pastor Stock has been doing the few that have come up, but I don’t think I’d done an in-home visit since early in March. Normally that would be part of the regular job description of being a pastor. It felt good to do it. It felt normal. And it reminded me how important those normal things are. Maybe a year ago had I been going through the normal routine of a typical day, week, or month of my pastoral responsibilities I would not have been struck so much by how crucial and amazing the things on my regular to-do list really were. But it is the same for everyone following a Godly vocation. Feeding the baby, paying the bills, praying for loved ones, working as for the Lord—every day is filled with such opportunities.
Today as you go about doing whatever it is God has given you to do, be it what you were aspiring toward or making it your ambition to do or something less exciting, do it all to the glory of the Lord. His faithfulness endures through all generations.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana