What is a Divine Call?… Seeking the greatest impact in Kingdom of God.

This past week I received a Divine Call to serve as the Director of Youth and Media at St Paul Lutheran Church and School in Ann Arbor Michigan. As this has gotten shared in my congregation I have been asked lots of questions. I am hoping this will help some of you better able to understand the process and join me in prayer as I contemplate these two calls.

First, I now have two divine calls from two congregations. I have one from St. John Lutheran in Rochester and one to St. Paul in Ann Arbor. What that means for me and my family is I will be praying over the next several weeks about where God wants me to serve his kingdom. You see, a call is not just a job offer weighing the pros and cons of things like location, money, size of Church, etc. In the call process, my main goal is to try and discern where God wants me to serve his kingdom best. Is the Spirit leading me to stay or to go to a new place?

Let me go back for a minute to explain the process in the LCMS of how this call process works. When a congregation is searching for a someone to serve among them they ask the district office and congregation members for names of people to serve them. After that is done the District will look through the names and make sure they are eligible to receive a call. The District Office looks at those names and gives the local congregation a list of names with information the called workers have on file with the Synod. This file is updated yearly by the Church worker and does have a section where you can say if you are 1) not be open to a call, 2) open to a call, or 3) actively seeking a call. I am always choose ‘open to call’ after 3 years serving a congregation. I do this because I want to let the spirit move. Churches then do interviews and prayers typically through a call committee. Once the call committee has prayed about this it typically goes to the Voters’ Assembly of the congregation to issue a call. A call is issued by the entire congregation not just a call committee so bringing it before the Voter’ Assembly is meant to help the congregation be a part of the process as a whole. (This, by the way, is why you are reading this. The whole congregation I serve extended me a call and therefore the whole congregation should know I have another call and pray for me again as they did before so that the Spirit would lead me in the way I should go.) As the worker deliberates he normally goes to see the church and meet with people there to determine if he is a fit and if he feels the Holy Spirit is leading him to stay at the current congregation or leading him to go to the new congregation. The deliberation is determining which call will have the greatest impact on God’s kingdom.

Second, I have the privilege of serving at St. John and teaching on the book of Acts to our 6th graders. I love that book because to me it is a book about seeing where the Spirit leads; how his Holy Spirit leads his Church over and over to follow Jesus. When I see how Jesus leads His Church, I never see it done for what would be better for Paul or Peter or the other disciples, I always see Jesus leading them to have the greatest kingdom impact and to strengthen and grow His Church for the betterment of the kingdom.

Lastly, you might be thinking, “What should I do?” Here is my task to you as God’s people. Please pray for me and my family. Please pray that God’s Spirit would lead me and that God’s will would be done for St. John, for St. Paul, for me, and my family and His kingdom will be grown through this process.

If you still have questions, please don’t be afraid to reach out and chat with me. I am certainly willing to answer them as best I can.

We need more lights…An extra strand on the tree

Does it feel too dark today? No I don’t mean the sun setting early. I mean does it just seem dark? Like life is a little more dull this year?

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a friend of mine about all the people we know who have lost their lives this past year. He said he was talking to parents about it and they said just wait it only gets harder. As we age death stops being something that is just people you know of or heard of but people you have a deep long lasting relationship with. Death and Darkness can capture your friends, your spouse, and unthinkably even your kids. This is the first year for me in a long time that my heart is heavy for those who have lost loved ones. I don’t know what makes this year different, beyond longer and deeper relationships with people who were lost, but I know I feel the weight of it. That darkness seems to have crept in everywhere.

Last week I contracted Co-vid. Thankfully it was a fairly mild case. Yes I was in bed for about 3 days with fever and coughing and had to be away from my family with a mask on in my house, but I was OK. In the midst of the isolation of it all my family and others were helpful in making me comfortable and thankful came out of this with very little issues. I did miss out on something I love to do this time of year. I love doing all the decorating for Christmas. For those who don’t know I love to decorate for Christmas. My wife hates to decorate. She likes the decorations put up, but doesn’t like doing the work of putting it all up. Last weekend when I was in bed hurting she set up the whole house. We went from a place of darkness to light.

This year our tree was a little bit different because my wife was doing the tree. This year she added two more strands of lights. I will say this because it has been a bit of an issue in our lives for a decade. She wants more light and I think we have enough on the tree and should have more for outside. She was right! The tree inside this year needed way more lights. I was struck as I sat by the tree how much I needed that light. We needed an extra strand this year.

So how about you? Are you sitting in too much darkness? Are you sitting in a place where you don’t have enough light in your life? We are in the season of Advent a time to remember we have a God who has come into our darkest places and brought us to his dominion of light of His Son. In these days of despair find places you can see light. (no not on the tree) Find places in God’s word, find places in God’s house, find places with God’s people to be reminded of the light in places that seem too dark.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks[d] to the Father, who has qualified you[e] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by[f] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:9-20 ESV

Mask mandates, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.

Tonight life changed again. Many families were excited by the news, many were upset. Mask mandates changed in my county and you see both sides of the issue are either angry and calling it child abuse, others are relieved by the news saying finally someone cares about people. Knowing people on both sides of this argument I can tell you this post isn’t about the merits of wearing a mask or not wearing a mask. What I am struck by today is how the news today seems to have such strong response from everyone. My thought today is why do we always go to the extreme in our words about others.

Recently I have noticed more and more that we all seem to use language that attacks people in as strong a way as possible. If you don’t like masks you are murdering people and you don’t care about my loved one. If you are for masks you are a child abuser… We seem to want to go the extremes when it comes to attacking those on the other side of an argument. This isn’t just about masks. We attack people about race, politics, parenting styles, and faith. These days extreme language is everywhere. Maybe we need to rethink how we speak and comment to each other. Maybe sometimes we need to turn down the heat not escalate the situation.

I don’t know about you but for me recently I feel like words are just dividing us. Our anger towards others isn’t helping us have any sort of unity in the spirit. Yes we have things to talk about. Yes we can have passion for our point of view. Yes their is a right and a wrong. Just because someone sees the world differently doesn’t mean they are evil. That is a truth we all need to grapple with.

Maybe today as you go to bed angry about others views or mandates or something else, you should stop and avoid the name calling, the over simplification of the others points and listen, reflect and pray for those who see the world differently. Maybe tonight you will pray for that neighbor, friend or coworker who has said mean things to you and offer forgiveness either to them or in prayer. Maybe we can find the right words to speak with each other tomorrow. Maybe tonight we can turn the temperature on our conversations down a bit and find peace with each other.

I don’t know about you but I am ready for a world with less conflict. A world where people can use words to ask questions, understand, and hope together. Maybe for our kids we can show some restraint in see the good God is doing in others. Be passionate about your point of view but speak the truth in love for your neighbor.

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 1:19-27 ESV

Lessons from the mission trip #2: Do you remember what real Christian community feels like?

Did you notice this year that you have been isolated from your faith community? How connected are you to faith in Jesus? Do you even remember what real community feels like?

Isolation was a real challenge this past year. For many of our young people, and even some of the adults, it has been months since they had been in a church or were part of a faith community. This past year has been hard on students and families. Between masks, quarantine, vaccines and questions about what it all means, many of us fell into isolation. Our faith walk was always meant to be done in community. For many of the students on this trip they had fallen away from faith and didn’t even notice

As I walked with students on this trip I was amazed at how many talked about how they had just gone through the motions of faith this past year. They watched worship, they maybe showed up once, but they were too focused on everything else going on. Life got in the way of their faith and its growth. It became so little a part of their life with others they didn’t realize they were missing that faith connection with others.

For many students on this trip realized they were missing real Christian community. For some it meant letting out emotions, pain and broken parts of their lives with others. For others is was sharing Christian community with others. This year really was a time for students to recognize what they were missing.

So how about you? How is your faith going? Are you just watching worship, or are you with other believers. Are you just sitting in the pew or are you actively trying to grow you faith. I believe that if we don’t maintain these relationships they die. I believe that in this time we can get so lost in the news, our world, and everything else, we know we are missing something but we aren’t even sure what we are missing until we happen to stumble upon it again. Today lets actively try to get back to it. Lets go to worship, get involved in a Bible study, find a Christian community to be involved in. This faith thing was not meant to be done in isolation but actively perusing our faith in Jesus together.

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV

Lessons from a Mission trip: Everyone needs a site coach

Group Mission trips, over the years have taught me many lessons about my faith and life. I learn from students, adults, and staff that I get the pleasure of serving with for the week. It is an intensive week of service that makes me slow down and listen to what God is doing in and around me. Over the next couple of weeks I am going to be writing about things I learned this year.

I want to tell you that this week challenged me in ways I haven’t experienced in a lot of years. I had the privilege of meeting and serving a wonderful resident named Ellen. She was a great faithful woman who had a hard time getting around. She needed a wheel chair ramp so she could get up and down to her home and bring in her groceries. So on Monday we went to work. Things were going well. We got the previous steps out of the way and ripped out bushes in less than 10 minutes. I had a student on my crew who was a hurricane of energy. I thought to myself, we will bust this thing out in a couple days. I was excited for an amazing week. Then Tuesday came. We started digging holes with the post hole digger because the auger hadn’t arrived yet. We dug for 5 hours to make our first 6 holes in hard clay. The Auger arrived (yeah) to finish the last 10. Wow I thought now we are moving. This is all going to be great. Two days of things going right.

Then Wednesday and Thursday happened. Many of the holes we had dug were not straight. I wasn’t paying enough attention to the details and well we had to pull out shovels and post hole diggers to get the holes lined up Wednesday. Thursday was probably the hardest day I have had on a worksite in my 17 years of Work Camps. We as a team made so many mistakes that the whole day was spent screwing in things and then removing them because we messed up. I removed and installed 12 lag bolts. Holes had to be moved again. one of the platforms moved and had to be put back. By the end of the day we had a broken post hole digger and I was beyond frustrated. I took my crew and another back and thought I will need to go back out so I can cement the last posts. Then it started raining, and I couldn’t go back out.

I was so broken that afternoon that I believed that this would be the first time is 17 years that I wouldn’t finish a project. Ellen this woman who I promised to build a ramp for would be let down. I was so frustrated I took it out on a few students who I yelled at over reacting to something they did and then went back to seek their forgiveness. It was a rough day.

The next morning I was getting breakfast and I saw my site coach. These are the red shirt people who are there to help you get your project done and figure out solutions. They are amazing people who go from site to site helping people problem solve. Jeff said to me “So did you get the posts cemented in?” I said “No we didn’t because of issues and rain, and I said their is no way we are going to get it done today.” That is when he did something that changed me this week. He looked me right in the eyes, and smiled, a smile I had seen all week. He said Steve I guarantee we will get it done today I promise you. It was what I needed in that moment. His confidence in what Jesus could do in this moment is what I needed to push with my crew and, another who would join us, and get it done.

For me in that moment Jeff was Jesus. He may never know it, but he had a profound impact on me this week. I don’t know about you, but maybe you are in a place where you feel you can’t keep going and everything you thought you know is falling apart. Maybe it is your marriage or your faith, or your job, or whatever, but you don’t think you can keep going. I pray God brings you a site coach to be Jesus in your life. A site coach like Jeff who walks along side you and picks you up in the hard days. We all need people in our lives who will be Jesus when we need them.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus.

Romans 15:1-5 ESV