Surveys

During two of the last three weekends we have conducted surveys at our worship services. The same surveys are available online for those who weren’t in attendance but would like to put in their two cents.

            One survey was on communication at Redeemer. We have altered a few of the usual lines of communication and added a couple, as well. Communication is always in need of attention and we want to be as good and as clear at it as possible. We appreciate the input we’ve received. The results are still being tabulated and we will communicate them when finished.

            The second survey, over this past weekend, was on safety. That’s admittedly a broad category. Under that heading we want to develop plans regarding how we can best respond to fire alarms, tornado sirens, medical needs, active shooters, and other emergencies. Again, thank you for your participation. Once this survey has been tabulated, we will solicit people who would be interested in being part of our safety teams and we will begin training. And after that, we would have some congregational training for responding to the incidents mentioned, above. 

            Thank you for your interest and involvement. And let us hasten to add that if you have something else you feel ought to be addressed, please simply let us know.

Dear Hudson...

Dear Hudson,

            I’ve never written a letter like this before. You, as the first grandson on either side of your family, will break many trails in the years to come. And you will bring all of us along with you; sort of a cross between a cheering squad and a support team. You have been in our prayers all along your mother’s pregnancy and you will continue to be. 

            We are looking forward to being with you for your baptism next weekend – aunts and uncles, grandparents, and even great-grandparents, coming from as far as Texas, Illinois, and Colorado. I’m honored to get to be a part of it, to be sure. But we’re more excited for what it will mean for you. 

God’s name will be splashed on your forehead, you who already have plenty of names to learn (Frank Emil Schardt Winter V, aka Hudson)! God’s promises will be extended to you in the water and His word. His grace will enfold you as the Holy Spirit enters, causing faith to be planted in your heart. That faith we will do our best to help nurture. 

You are dearly loved by your mom and dad, but that pales in comparison to the love of our heavenly Father. He gave His Son, Christ Jesus, into death for your forgiveness. And He raised Jesus from the dead, so that you could know eternal life. 

As I bring this to a close, know that your grandfather (Mike) and grandmother (Deb), your Nana (Jami) and I are eagerly looking forward to what the years will bring. We will rejoice in your growth and we will continue to pray for what God brings your way. 

With much love,

Pops

Because I Belong...

         

 

 

Because I Belong… is the growing vision for Redeemer. We will be exploring it in a sermon series beginning this Sunday. We will be giving it form and focus through the Church Council and the Boards in the months to come. And we will be expanding it in the following three ways: Because I belong to God… Because I belong to you, and you to me… Because I belong and God calls me to bring others to belong… 

            The “belonging” is something that God brings about through the work of the Holy Spirit. But that “belonging” will encourage, entail, or necessitate things in my life. It will call forth obedience, discipleship, fellowship, and witness, among other things.

            It’s the same with other relationships in my life. In yours, too.

            Because I belong in Peoria, IL…I will pay taxes; I will take part in local activities (like Brat Fest, and Farmers’ Markets); I will root for Bradley; etc.

            Because I belong to Jami Winter…I will honor her; I will strive to be a good steward of my health; I will strive to be a good steward of our relationship; etc. 

            Because I belong in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod…I will take part in the Peoria/Tazewell circuit activities; I will take part in the Central Illinois District activities; I will benefit from the synod’s products; etc.

            Because I belong to the University of Nebraska Alumni Association…I will fly my Husker flags on game-day weekends; etc.

 

            Belonging is first and foremost a blessing. And we are thankful for the brothers and sisters who belong with us in God’s family at Redeemer and in Christ in general. And we will keep in our prayers those who have yet to come to know Christ Jesus as Lord. 

Fare well, and Godspeed...

            My co-worker and a colleague, whose camaraderie I have appreciated and enjoyed, has announced that he has accepted a call to serve in another part of the vineyard (Matthew 20). Pastor Philip Doublestein, my brother, we are excited for the opportunities that lie before you. But, we are also saddened in our loss of your service, your energy, your learning, and your upbeat nature. 

            God bless you, Kate, and Wyatt, as you make your way to San Antonio, there to be a part of mission starts and all the services in which Lutheran Intercity Network Coalition (LINC) participates. You will be missed. And you will certainly be welcomed whenever you find yourself back in our neighborhood! 

            Fare well. And Godspeed on your journey.

Precious life

            As I had mentioned in last week’s blog, Jami and I were headed out to Omaha, Nebraska, after worship on Sunday, July 28, to welcome a new life into the world. Hudson, (Frank Winter V) would arrive late that night, our first grandchild. Thanks be to God that mother, child, and father are doing just fine! We look forward to Hudson’s baptism on that first weekend in September.

            The precious nature of this newborn life came into sharper contrast with this past week’s mass shootings in El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH. I cannot imagine what would possess someone to think that the taking of one life (let alone, many) would be justified. It’s mind-boggling and infuriating. The finger-pointing that has taken place in the meanwhile only adds to the frustration. 

            The coarsening of our society can only find its healing in the message of Jesus Christ. The Word of our Lord calls upon us to care for one another, to bear one another’s burdens, and to restore the erring with gentleness. As St. Paul addresses the Corinthians – and what a miserable lot they could be! – he entreats them by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (2 Cor. 10:1).

            God guard us and keep us. And God guide us to be steadfast against wrongdoing (as our Lord most certainly was), always with the goal of reconciliation. For the lives all around us are precious in the sight of God; so precious that Christ Jesus would be willing to suffer and die for their redemption, and ours.

Again, for your prayers...

            I was going to write this morning about what a blessing, albeit mixed, social media has become. There were two high schools in my home town, each of them in the third highest strata of enrollment – which, in Nebraska in the late seventies, wasn’t all that large. We knew kids from each school and got along well in our small town of 3500 souls. 

            But it’s been in the last couple of years that, through Facebook, I’ve grown in appreciation for the faith of a number of the people in the other school. We have interacted with one another more through posts or messages than we ever had face to face. And, while I sheepishly admit that, I am truly thankful for that gift.

            Here ends the post, however. I’ll continue with that thought, or perhaps another one, after we return from Omaha. Our son just called to let me know that he and his expectant wife have gone to the hospital for delivery. Please enfold Krista, Chase, and baby Winter in your prayers – and the grandparents on each side as they travel to rejoice in this wonder.

For your prayers...

            Part of the news shared at worship this weekend was that Pastor Philip Doublestein has received a call to be a missionary in San Antonio, Texas. As Pastor and Kate prayerfully deliberate where they and their son, Wyatt, could best serve God we ask all to keep them in prayer, as well. God grant them wisdom and discretion as they seek to do His well, and peace in the outcome. 

Things you know - but it's worth being reminded.

            It’s surprising to me that at this age I would need to be reminded of certain things. I’m well aware that my mind doesn’t retain things as easily as it did when I was in my teens and twenties. Back then I could listen to a song on the radio (which was how we listened to popular music in those days) a couple of times and have the lyrics memorized. And they are easily recalled to this day!

            But that’s not really what I’m talking about. What I have in mind is that I need to be reminded of truths that have been a part of my existence for decades. Lately, I’ve gotten into a bad habit of neglecting exercise. I know that good stewardship of my health requires portion control when I eat. But exercise – e.g. cardio and load-bearing workouts – is also good for the body’s systems. Whereas I used to spin (cycle) 3 to 5 days a week, I’d gotten to the point that I rarely even walked. 

            It’s been good to be out on the roads and trails these past few weeks. My mind is fresher, I wake up earlier and more easily, and those measures of better health (blood pressure and heart rate, for example) are better readings, too. 

            Saying “I love you” to those people who are dearest to us is an important practice, too. We can fall out of that habit when we take life’s good things for granted. We know that our spouse/child loves us, and they should know we love them. As for the former, we promised that at the altar and we haven’t changed our minds! But it’s always good to hear it aloud. 

            That is also true regarding the love of God. We need to hear that love for us, a love which moved Christ Jesus to sacrifice Himself on Calvary’s cross for our forgiveness. It’s easy to ignore that powerful Gospel, or to lose sight of it, living in a world where there is no such thing as a free lunch. The Gospel is unique in that it works in a completely different direction: it’s all gift. That’s why it is so important to be in God’s house (worship) and be in God’s word (scripture reading and devotions). 

You’d think you wouldn’t need to be reminded of that truth that has been a part of your existence perhaps since your infant baptism. But that’s something of which it’s always worth being reminded!

Have you met _______, yet?

            Sometimes, when you introduce one acquaintance to another you’ll do so with the question “Have you met _____?” I have a couple of friends whose names would fit nicely into the title sentence, above. That is, with the addition of the word “yet” before the question mark.

            I think that describes these friends with greater accuracy because it suggests that these extroverts have probably already introduced themselves! They eagerly walk up to people they’ve never met because they would like to meet them. They’re not running for office, simply enlarging their circles of acquaintances and potential friends.

            We had such a man in our midst at Redeemer this weekend. His name is Gary Thies and he serves as a Mission Development Counselor for the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. He works through a marvelous organization known as Mission Central, where he is the director. Throughout our services and the Bible class this affable brother in Christ Jesus came back, time and again, to a variation of the title of this blog. His question, which he would encourage everyone to adopt, was not “Have you met Jesus, yet?” but “Do you know Jesus?”

            The more I think about it, that’s a wonderful way to describe part of our task as Christians, called by the Lord Jesus to be His witnesses in the world (Acts 1:8). It is more than a question about where one might attend worship or to which denomination a person might belong. It cuts right to the heart of the matter. “Do you know Jesus?”

            It helps to consider where the conversation could go from there. The follow up to that question’s answer can be (a) a wonderfully encouraging talk between brothers and sisters in Christ, (b) an invitation to come to worship, or (c) an opportunity to clarify a misconception someone might be harboring regarding the message of the Bible or the work of the church. 

Our message needs to be one that centers on the Person, the words, and the work of Christ Jesus. He is the One whose suffering, death, and resurrection brings forgiveness, meaning, and everlasting life to all who put their trust in Him. 

Passing the truth along

With Fathers’ Day just passed I’m sharing some words from Dr. Dale Meyer, president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

         “One generation shall commend your works to another” (Psalm 145:4). The third century church father Origen wrote, “However much obedience we offer (to our parents), we have not yet repaid the recompense of thanks for being born, for being carried, for drawing light, for being nurtured and perhaps educated and trained in honest skills. And perhaps by the same originators (parents), we came to know God and came to the Church of God and heard the word of the divine law.” (“The Fathers of the Church,” 216).

I’m ever so thankful for the way in which my father – and my mother! – passed along to me what they knew of God and brought me to the services of His house. Yesterday we celebrated the mystery of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in the midst of families passing that truth through the generations (one great-great-grandfather in the mix), as did our children in Omaha who will soon be passing it on to yet another generation. Today, on this campus, we’ll be taking part in that in yet another way - Vacation Bible School!

God bless you and your family as you share, one with another, that one thing needful! (Luke 10:42)

D Day Remembered

Did your eyes get a little moist, your throat a little tight as you watched some of the commemorations surrounding last week’s 75th anniversary of D Day? Yeah, mine too. 

            The remarks of Presidents Trump and Macron were memorable. The preceding day’s observations from Portsmouth, England, were stirring. The Higgins boats’ fatality figures during the storming of the beaches at Normandy were almost incomprehensible.

            What fortitude. What bravery. What sacrifice. 

            Never underestimate what God could work through you, were you to live in a different time frame. He has His purposes to work through you in this day and age (Ephesians 2:10), so such musings are really beside the point. 

            Still, I’m thankful for what the countries of the Free World were willing and able to do to stop the Axis powers in those fateful years of the Second World War. Thank you, Lord, for the freedom we enjoy at such a costly price. Grant us the strength and the opportunities to utilize it to share the freedom we know in the Gospel, which came at an even higher cost. 

Sharing art and the Good News

            For the past month or so the Early Learning Center here at Redeemer has been sharing their artwork on my study door. I’ve had sheep covered with cotton balls reminding us of the need to follow the Good Shepherd. I’ve had both crosses and empty tombs to share the marvelous news of Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins. This week, there are fish coupled with the reminder from Isaiah 43, “When you go thru deep waters, I will be with you.”

            I’m at that in-between status where you don’t get to put children’s art work on the door (or refrigerator). Our children are grown and there are no grandchildren, yet. (But, Krista and Chase will present us with one at the end of July, God willing!)

            Still, I’m in that wonderful place where I do get to share these messages from the Bible with little ones on a regular basis. What a gift we have, here at Redeemer, to be able to watch over, feed, and teach the youngest among us the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, as well as help to prepare them for school and the life that lies ahead. 

Transition

            In these last few weeks an interesting juxtaposition has occurred, as it always does in this season. Confirmation rites have taken place in congregations across the country; young men and women confessing what they’ve learned about the God Who called them in baptism to know His mercy, forgiveness, and grace through all eternity. Similarly, relatives and friends have gotten to celebrate graduation exercises, high school and college. At the very least, classes in primary and secondary schools are concluding. There are plenty of examples of things that have “run their course”.

            At the same time, we have evidence of spring all around us. The trees and lawns are greening. The blossoms have been colorful and abundant. And in our neighborhood, the fifteen goslings are maturing so quickly in the flock of Canadian geese that have taken up residence at the pond.

            The juxtaposition to which I referred is between the “ends” of the first paragraph and the “starts” of the second. We are tempted to see them as finite entities – conclusions and beginnings which differ greatly from one another.

            But the encouragement offered here is to see all of this under the heading of “transition.” One phase of life, one chapter of the story is passing, but that means it’s time to move on to the next. Those graduating will be moving on either to further education and training, or to establishing their own household. Those being confirmed have learned the bedrock doctrines of the faith in Christ Jesus, but there is so much more! In Christ and in all the life He has given there is a calling to continual growth, learning, and becoming.

            Please enjoy what you or someone in your family has recently accomplished for it is certainly worthy of it! Rest for a moment as you can. But then go into the new challenges and opportunities before you assured of God’s presence and love!

Some encouraging news...

We’ve all heard the discouraging news about the decline of the church in the western world. As I am attending a pastors’ conference these couple of days there are some encouraging words being shared.

One of those has to do with, of all things, evangelism. When you think of the most recognizable group taking part in door to door efforts to bring people into a belief system it’s probably the mormons who come to mind. And truth be told, when older adults are asked how many of them were part of some other church or belief when they were young, mormons raise their hands 26% of the time. They had grown up in a household that believed something else, but they were proselytized somewhere along the way. When Lutheran Church Missouri Synod members are asked the same question, 32% raise their hands! Our efforts at evangelism, sharing the good news about Jesus, have been effective all along!

It’s the retention rate, however, that’s the problem. The children we are raising in the church are leaving somewhere along the way: after confirmation, after high school graduation, etc.

In the coming weeks I’ll have some thoughts on the retention rates as well as some words to share about the intensity of Christian faith in America. Until then, remember: it’s a great time to be a part of Christ’s people!

After a little time away, some thoughts on confirmation.

            In yesterday’s worship, we had the service to confirm the twenty-two young men and women in this year’s class. Each came forward to have their confirmation verse read, at which time a blessing was given and a prayer for them was offered. During this their families, mentors, and friends stood in the congregation. 

It is a culmination in a sense, but only “one step among many” in another. It is the culmination of their rudimentary education concerning the new life given them at their baptism. It’s that descriptor, rudimentary, which makes this confirmation but one step on their life’s journey to know better their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. There is ever so much more to learn (and love!) about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I was reminded of an incident when I was working over the summer during high school. I was working for Meyer Building Company (whose unofficial motto was something like “Rome wasn’t built in a day. But Meyer Building Company wasn’t around then!”). Our lunch time habit was to knock off work at noon and listen to Paul Harvey for fifteen minutes while we ate. For the next fifteen minutes we would talk, though you were welcome to use that time for brief nap.

One day the four older men, each a member of the congregation where my father was pastor and my mother was the musician, talked about their confirmation verses. They quoted them and talked about what they meant. When it came to me, the pastor’s kid, I didn’t know what mine had been. That made me do some research that very night!

I have since committed my verse to memory and found it a very encouraging bit of scripture. If you cannot remember yours, spend some time looking it up. If it was given to you by the congregation, I’m sure it was given with some serious intent to be a blessing for you for the rest of your life. In some of the congregations I’ve served as pastor we have used the confirmation verse in the funeral service, as well.

“My sheep hear my voice. And I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one can snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27. That’s certainly one worth knowing and cherishing.

On the receiving end of wonderful care

As a pastor I have more opportunities to visit hospitals than the average member of the community. In the time here in Peoria I’ve been impressed with the three main hospitals. I must say that the architecture in them is befuddling until you figure out their systems. But the care in them is remarkable.

            And when I say care I mean (1) the care of the facilities (clean and well kept), (2) the care of security and confidentiality, and (3) the customer care they extend. Jami and I were on the receiving end of the latter earlier this week and we both feel that she was in good hands the entire time.

            It had been some time since I had waited for someone in surgery. The last time we received timely reports from the volunteers staffing the waiting room. What a marvel now to be updated through a status board, replete with color codes to let you know if your loved (by their 7-digit number) was in pre-op, in the midst of the procedure, or in recovery. Since I had given them my cell number, I received text updates, too.

            All of these advancements are simply the extension of the care our loving Father in heaven provides for us. He did not merely set the cosmos in motion and step away. No, He is intimately involved in our care, day-in and day-out, through His Holy Spirit and His only-begotten Son, Jesus, about whom St. Paul wrote to the Colossians in the first chapter: 16 For by 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.

            God bless your Holy Week with an ever-deepening appreciation of God’s care in time and His providential care for the hereafter in eternity. 

A Chance Encounter.

            I had started to write this blog before lunch, but I hadn’t left myself enough time to finish it. Since I didn’t want to keep my lunch date waiting, I stopped midway through the third paragraph and headed out.

            While I was out, I decided I might as well make the hospital visits, too. It’s a beautiful, sunny spring day in Peoria and the drive downtown was a pleasure. 

            After my last visit at the Order of Saint Francis medical complex I was walking down that very long hallway to the parking garage. About to overtake a group of three in conversation in front of me and to the right, a young man was overtaking me on my left. He appeared to be the age of our son, Chase. As he came up beside me, he said, quite simply, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30).

            I wasn’t wearing my clerical collar, but I did have my Pastors Companionbook in my left hand, which has a very small cross outlined in gold on the cover. The perceptive young man noticed that, deduced I was a fellow believer in Christ Jesus, and took a moment and a chance to encourage me in my day. 

            My response? I said, “Amen!” We talked a little bit as we made our way out of the hospital, he to the top floor of the garage and me to first ramp. And we blessed one another as we parted.

I doubt that I’ll run across that young man anytime soon. But it’s refreshing to remember that he and his like are out there. That little comment/connection made my day. 

"The Kingdom of God is like..."

            “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…” When I read those words my mind often pictures the large shrub of a mustard plant that has grown from such a humble beginning as a mustard seed. Perhaps yours does, too.

            Among the many excellent points that Anthony Esolen makes in a Touchstone magazine essay from years ago is that we are apt to think that the parable has to do with the lowly beginnings of the Kingdom, beginnings that are then swallowed up in greatness and are never seen again. 

            If that were His point, Jesus could have said, “The Kingdom of God may be compared to the cedar of Lebanon, the mightiest and most beautiful of all the trees, even though it came from a small seed.” But, He didn’t.

            The emphasis here certainly doesn’t exclude the great and wonderful things God has brought about in the world. Not at all. 

            But the emphasis is that the greatness of God can be found in the seemingly smallest of things. In the Christian faith the small is not transcended and dismissed. 

            And one example would be the thief on the cross next to Jesus; the thief who comes to faith. The greatness of God is found in a movement of the heart. 

            Whatever brought them there, these two beside Jesus were not good men. They were wicked men deserving of this worst of punishments. But something turned in the one man’s heart. It was an impulse, the smallest and most secret of responses to the call of God. The thief who has been so bad says to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This is the mustard seed, the speck of yeast in the dough. “Truly I say to you,” says Jesus, “this day you will be with me in Paradise.”

            All the wonder, power, and grace of God is in this almost imperceptible turn. Thanks be to Him for this gift and for its continued growth in us. 

As we speak to one another...

            Why I thought there would be a return to civility I do not know. The Mueller report, ostensibly a search to determine if there had been collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia, had been so highly anticipated that whatever the results were going to be someone was going to be disappointed and someone was going to be crowing. 

            So, one side is basking in what it sees as vindication while the other side defiantly says more investigation is warranted. Sigh. 

            A trip to the Presidential museum in Springfield, IL, will remind one that snide comments and accusations, character assassination, crude cartoons, and incivility have been a part of our political life for years. A trip through history will reveal that this is the way of humankind; the pendulum of incivility in correspondence will swing from greater to lesser and back again. 

            St. Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians (4:1-15) is well worth keeping in mind. It speaks to the goal of being assertive, or perhaps even confrontational: when we are correcting someone or something, the aim is always both (1) to set things right, and (2) to be reconciled. 

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” 

            God bless your conversations. May they, spoken in love, ever be seasoned with salt and a benefit to relationships and to the world.