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Jon Gruen

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Meet our Senior Pastor

Rev. Jonathan Gruen graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, with a Master of Divinity (M. Div.) in May 2005. He was ordained and installed at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, Lee's Summit, Missouri, on July 10, 2005. He and his wife Nicole both graduated from Concordia University Wisconsin in May 2001, Jonathan with a B.A. and Nicole with a B.S.N. They were married in 2001 and have since been blessed with three sons.

Rev. Gruen (a.k.a. "Pastor Jon") is proud to be Lutheran, which means (most importantly) that he keeps Christ at the center of his ministry. Pastor Jon seeks to reach the lost and to feed, nurture, and educate the found through the Word and Sacrament ministry which Christ himself has instituted. In this way, he endeavors to communicate the deep love of a gracious God, who gave up his life on the cross and rose again for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.

 

Email Pastor Jon


Just As I Am

            If everything in your life is perfect, I guess you don’t really need God, or a community of believers, or to go to worship, or to take time to study the Bible and pray.

            But I suspect that everything is not perfect.  I suspect you often feel empty and lonely, guilty and burdened, worrying and fretting, longing and searching.  So, it is to you that Jesus calls with an invitation and promise: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).

            While meditating on this verse, Charlotte Elliott penned some words that have struck a chord in the hearts of many. The story goes that her brother, Charles Elliot, was a pastor who sought to help poor girls become educated at a low expense.  While he was arranging fundraisers and beating the streets, Charlotte, who had poor health, spent her hours at these events writing what is now a famous (to us) hymn, “Just As I Am.”

            Her brother recognized the hymn’s great value and remarked, “In the course of a long ministry I hope I have been permitted to see some fruit of my labor, but I feel that far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister’s.”  (Story from “The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal” p. 279).

            Why is it so powerful?  Because it simply and beautifully communicates the pure Good News of Jesus.  The Gospel news is this: though you are blind and dead and wretched in sin, though you are weak and frail, though you have many fears and fight many battles, though you have many enemies who seek to harm you, you can come just as you are to Jesus.

            And Jesus, who delighted in making the lame to walk and the blind to see and the dead to live, will not leave you the same as you are now.  He suffered crucifixion and hell for you.  He rose in great power.  And now with forgiveness, great mercy, and ever-present help he will pour out his grace upon you.  You are cleansed and renewed, now and forever.

            Are you tired?  Empty?  Sad?  Frustrated?  Guilty?  Searching?  Read or sing aloud this beautiful truth:

1

Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

2

Just as I am and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

3

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many_a conflict, many_a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

4

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

5

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

6

Just as I am; Thy love unknown
Has broken ev’ry barrier down;
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

 (LSB 570; Public domain)

Just as I am, and loved by God anyway,

Pastor Jon


Your Communities

            I wonder what your primary communities are.  If you had to list the most important groups of people that meet your relational and emotional needs, what would they be?  I don’t mean where you spend the most time or who demands most of your energy.  I mean the groups of people who fill you up.  What are they?

I have two main communities – my family and my church.  I have very few relational or emotional needs that aren’t met by these two groups.  That probably doesn’t surprise you, but I’m going to focus on the second group for a bit anyway.  Since I’m a pastor, the church community is a given.  But BSLC is my community not because it has to be, but because over the years these relationships have become meaningful to me.  Here I have people who are friends to me, people who coach me, people who give me expert advice on gardening or cars or whatever, people who help me replace valves under my sinks, people who listen to me, people who teach me, people who stretch and challenge me, people who love me, people I get to love.  In fact, you all are so kind to me I often feel like I have more friends than I know what to do with.  I feel like a terrible friend to a great many people.

And before any of you in your kindness try to stop me from calling myself a terrible friend, let me explain to you why I feel that way.  It is because I recognize my own sin and failings, and because I recognize that the relational needs of the people of church far exceed what I can meet.  I feel compelled to try to meet those needs, however, when I see that so many people do not have their relational and emotional needs met in a wholesome way like I do, and I see that they are searching for more.  Some are even members at this wonderful church!  I’m not saying this isn’t a wholesome community; I’m saying that they haven’t made meaningful connections yet.  And some never do.

Have you ever heard someone say the following things?  I don’t have any friends at church.  BSLC has gotten too big.  I don’t know the people who attend the other services.  I don’t recognize the people at my service anymore.  I slip in and I slip out and no one says ‘Hi’ to me.  I feel disconnected.  I haven’t found my place.  Have you heard people say these things?  I have. 

I could counter with hundreds of positive things I have heard about BSLC’s friendliness, or our meaningful worship, or our love in action, etc. etc. etc.  But I don’t want to ignore what is happening.  And what is happening is bigger than BSLC or Lee’s Summit or the LCMS.  What is happening is that the Devil is always working to prevent and corrupt godly relationships.  And in the USA the challenge is that millions feel isolated and lonely, and lack wholesome communities where they can belong and have purpose.  And even if they stumble upon such a community (like BSLC!), it can be hard for them to make those connections or hard for others to connect with them, or both.

But if we care about people, we want them all to learn first that their greatest “relational” need is met in Jesus who reconciles them back to God by the shedding of His own blood.  Second, we want them to trust God to meet all their other needs, even their relational and emotional needs.  And I would argue that a church community is exactly what everyone needs whether they realize it or not.  Why?  Because:

  • Jesus says his disciples are family (Mt 12:50)
  • St. Paul calls us the household of faith (Gal. 6:10)
  • God’s people are compassionate to each other (Col. 3:12)
  • We carry each other’s burdens (Col. 3:13)
  • We forgive each other (Col. 3:13)
  • We love one another (Col. 3:14)
  • The family of God is a community of peace and gratitude (Col. 3:15)
  • And much more!

So, how do we as a church respond to this deep need within the people of today?  Individually, it looks like each of us showing God’s love any way we can, especially in this household of faith, and also beyond this community as we seek to draw more into it.  Make a meal for someone who had surgery.  Drop in and visit someone in a care center.  Phone someone who hasn’t been in church for a while, and invite them back.  Step out of your circle of friends to meet someone new.  You may not become someone’s new best friend, but maybe your kindness will begin to meet their relational need until they find their place to belong.  Be kind.  Forgive others.  Let gossip that reaches your ear stop there before it reaches your mouth.  Recruit others to help with ministry tasks.  I know you are doing these things.  Keep it up!

Organizationally, it looks like a church that strives to strengthen the smaller circles of people whom God brings close together.  I tell you, the future community of BSLC will be increasingly defined by leadership teams, small groups, and ministry task forces.  It has to be, because, while we are not that big, we are too big for everyone to know everyone else.  So, smaller close-knit communities within our larger BSLC community will give us strength.  Not in a clique-ish way (where no one else is allowed in an inner circle) but in a close-knit way where love characterizes a group that also invites and welcomes others in.

I encourage everyone to be involved in this holy and good work, humbly acknowledging that we can do nothing except what God does through us.  “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1).  Join in the work humbly, but thankfully, rejoicing that in your kindness God is doing mighty things.  Even if your primary relationship needs are met outside of BSLC (at work, school, or in a sports team, for example), and even if you’re not super extroverted (I’m certainly not), do have a regard for this church community.  What can you do to be a friend?  What kindness can you show?  Who needs some encouragement?  Who needs to be challenged?  Who needs to know God’s forgiveness?  Who needs to feel the reconciliation that is won by Christ?  Who should be in church hearing God’s renewing Word and feeding on His Holy Supper?

Though I might be a terrible friend to a great many people (and you might be too), Christ Jesus is delighted to call us his friends.  “I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to You.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” (John 15:15-16).

God’s friend (by grace) and yours,

Pastor Jon


Growing in...Relationships?

        As you (hopefully!) know, we are in the midst of a three year project here at BSLC.  You might call it a "growth" project, but we're not building a building and we're not obsessed with the number of people on our rolls.  Not that those are bad things to work on, quite the contrary!  But at this stage in our development we wanted to talk specifically about Growing in Faith, Growing in Service, and Growing in Generosity.  We want a "growth that is from God" (see Col. 2:19) as we are nourished and fed by the grace of God which is ours through Jesus Christ.  And then we want to respond in faith, to show forth the fruits of that faith in our words and actions.

        In our three-fold emphasis, we do not have something labeled specifically to help us focus on establishing and maintaining meaningful connections and lasting relationships (that is, we don't have a part called "Growing in Relationships" or "Growing in Friendships" or something like that).  But that doesn't mean that those efforts are absent from what we are doing.  We talk quite a bit about relationships when, as part of our Growing in Faith initiative, we talk about the benefits of being in the Word together.  Specifically, our Small Group Ministry is going to pay huge rewards years down the road.  These small groups are creating places where it is safe to share, where the Word can be applied directly to your life, where the love of God can be expressed and felt through God's people over and over and over again.  God desires that our hearts would be encouraged as we are "knit together in love" (see Col. 2:2), and these small groups are probably the single most effective resource we have for fostering that kind of environment.  So, we invite you to Grow in Faith and also grow in your relationships by being a part of a small group!

        Additionally, when we talk about Growing in Service, we have been encouraging each other to Bless Other People (BOP) with acts of kindness and grace.  We have a "tree" up at church (across from Korey's office) where we have begun to add leaves.  If you haven't joined in the fun yet, we invite you to find a way to bless another person with an act of kindness, write down what you did on a leaf, and add it to our tree as a way to celebrate what God is doing and to encourage others to participate.  Just as the trees outside are leafing out beautifully this time of year, we want to see our "Growing" tree flourish!  But the neat thing about Blessing Other People is that those acts of kindness can also be great ways to improve relationships and communicate that you care.

        So, you can see that a focus on our relationships is still very much a part of what we are doing in this three year focus.  I encourage you to make it a priority.  Here are a few simple tips:

        Be friendly.  I hear frequently from visitors that this is a "friendly church."  By that they mean that they are greeted warmly and welcomed.  This is an easy thing to do. See someone you don't recognize?  Say “good morning,” and ask if they are new.  If they say something like "I've been a member here 10 years," don't be embarrassed; it only means that you just met someone you should get to know!  Is there a family with young kids?  Tell them their kids are welcome in church even if they make a little noise.  Let them know that Jesus loves the little children, and so do the people of BSLC.  Friendliness goes a long way.  But not quite far enough, actually!  It's time to take an additional step.

        Invite others to join you.  Are you going to an SCIA function?  Are you leading a small group?  Are you going to go help trim plants at Church?  Are you going to a worship service?  Invite someone to go along with you!  Maybe it'll be someone new to BSLC who's looking for friendships.  Maybe it'll be a family member that you'd love to get involved.  Maybe it's someone outside of our usual community that you know needs God's love.  Or maybe it's someone already at church who really could use extra support right now.  Invite them to go along with you.  It'll help strengthen your bond.

        Serve someone in need.  Has someone gone through a hard time?  Maybe you can bring a meal to their home after they've had a surgery.  Or bring a side dish to a funeral lunch as an act of support for a grieving family.  If someone is struggling, put them on your daily prayer list, and reach out with a phone call to check in from time to time.  Offer someone a ride.  Buy them some coffee.  You know what to do.  And you are already doing it.  But pay special attention to the people who need the support most.  After all, that's what Jesus did for us.  It wasn't for stable, healthy, perfect (and righteous) people that Christ came.  No, he died and rose for sinners.

        These are a few simple tips.  I'm sure you can think of more.  Maybe these will be actions you can write on a leaf and add to our BOP tree.  Maybe not.  Either way, you will be doing what God wants you to do, and you can rejoice that you are a part of the good work that God is doing here.  You are participating in what God is doing to provide growth to this organism (church).

        Remember, one tenant of our mission statement (which won't expire at the end of our three year project) is this: "Build relationships."  It's a bit generic, but it works.  Be knit together in love.  Offer that grace and friendship to each other.  Be a support and a help to each other.  And you will find that you will be blessed as you seek to bless others.  This also is a gift of God.

In Him,

Pastor Jon


Unexpected Death

 

            One of the most unsettling things that I deal with as a pastor is an unexpected death.  The phone startles me awake in the middle of the night or calls me away from a table full of cereal boxes and hungry boys.  Hello?  “Pastor, I’m in shock.  We need you to come…”  In a moment, a family is forever affected, and lives are forever changed.  In a moment, in the blink of an eye, someone the family loved is gone.  In that same instant, someone I knew and cared about too is no longer alive.  A family I care about is devastated.  It’s not an easy visit to make.  I put on my clerical collar, grab my books, and jump in the car.  And all the while I pray for the family and mentally prepare myself to listen, to ask questions, to show compassion, and above all, to speak the right words at the right time.  In fact, that is one of my favorite prayers.  “Lord, give me the words to say and the ability to bring comfort.”

            From my years of ministry experience, I can tell you, though, that by the grace of God so many people are ready for an unexpected death.  Oh, not on a human level.  You’re never ready emotionally for a tragic loss.  You will always think and feel, “I don’t know what to do, or think, or say.  I am devastated.  I can’t go on.”  Death is tragic!  Always!  Even if the person was 100 years old.  Death wasn’t supposed to be!  God made us to be creatures that live forever in perfection.  But sin has worked its evil upon the world and upon all creation.  And its darkness brings death and decay.  And in one sense we are never ready for that.  No one is okay with death.  No one “handles” it well.

            And yet, in my work for the Lord and His Church, I see that many folks are ready and prepared for even the unexpected death.  When I walk into the room where a grieving family sits crying and trying to let go, I can tell you that where there is peace with God, where there is assurance of salvation, where there is a hope that cannot be taken away, it is obvious.  Even tangible.  Though devastated, the family has a way to cope.  The family will heal.  The family will see the loved one again.

            I’ve been in rooms where that hope was not present, and the wide-eyed panic and trembling, hurried movements betray the fear that strikes the heart.  I suppose I am needed there more than with the family that has peace, but I can tell you selfishly that I’d rather be with the family that was ready—grieving but hoping.

            What makes you ready?  It is this and only this: trusting in the One who faced a most unexpected death for you.  Who would have guessed that God Himself would take on human flesh and subject himself to suffering?  Who could have predicted that the Holy One would be willing to be nailed to a cross and experience the hell we deserved?  Who could have expected that the Author of Life would be dead and buried in a borrowed tomb?  God’s plan is surprising.  Shocking.  Tragic—in the sense that an innocent man died for your sins.  Tragic, yet transformative.

            And Jesus willingly went through with it for you—to make you ready to face the judgment, ready to be made righteous through his blood, ready for you to inherit eternal life, even the resurrection of the dead so you may dwell in the New Heavens and New Earth with God and all the saints and angels forever.  For, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, our lives will be forever changed, and we will be raised!

            Are you ready?  Friends, I know of no better preparation in this life than this: Baptize your babies, bring your children to church, regularly hear God’s Word proclaimed in worship, confess your sins, receive God’s forgiveness, and nourish your faith on the Word and the Holy Supper.  God has given you these things so that you and your family may be ready.

            Soccer won’t save you.  Money won’t keep you alive.  Fame won’t fill you with meaning.  An unexpected death steals all those from you.  But death cannot take away the gift Christ gives you in his death and resurrection.  When you possess that gift, you possess eternal life.

            I challenge you and invite you.  The challenge is to ponder this: If you were to die right now, would you be ready?  If you were to lose a loved one right now, would you be ready (spiritually)?  The invitation is to join us: come observe the unexpected death and surprising resurrection that gives you life, so that your hope might be strengthened and your faith sustained.  We’ll see you, your children and grandchildren in worship!  Come especially on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday to hear the culmination of our Lord’s passion for you. Come, celebrate the One who makes our heavenly homecoming…expected!

In our risen Christ,

Pastor Jon


The Time We Started Giving Less to Church

            Confession time.  There was a time Nicole and I decided to give less to the church.  I felt terrible because it was recently, and I was the Senior Pastor, and I felt compelled to set a good example of giving even if no one knows what I give.  (Giving at BSLC is kept confidential.)

            But we had good reason to give less.  It was May 2015 when, by our own choice, we became a single-income household.  Nicole quit her job as an RN to “stay home” (which really means “to work around the clock at home”).  We decided to sacrifice her income to gain better family time and to better manage our life.  That’s a tough balance for every family to find, and we can certainly relate to the joys and struggles of both a two-income family and a one-income family.  Maybe that’s a great topic for another time.

            When we made the decision, we had to do some number crunching first to see if we could make it work.  We recouped much of her lost income by deleting childcare from our budget.  We found we could hack our restaurant spending, which is shockingly high for anyone brave enough to add it up.  We ditched cable, which was a tough loss at the beginning of a great Royals season.  Starbucks coffee became a rare treat.

            Because our income was going down and because the numbers still weren’t quite balanced, I wrestled with the amount of our giving to BSLC.  Nicole was not absent from the conversations and final decision, but she acknowledged that this should be my call.  But I vacillated back and forth.  If God calls us to proportionate, firstfruits giving, it makes sense that if our income goes down, our giving goes down proportionately, right?  But I’m supposed to set an example of faith.  And I wanted to give!  What to do?

            We had to make the budget work for the family, so maybe the amount had to drop.  Plus, I knew that the important thing wasn’t the amount given, but rather that an offering is 1) an act of trust, 2) a sacrifice of thanks, 3) a firstfruits gift, 4) proportional to income, and 5) for the sake of the work of the Gospel.  So, I asked God to provide, prayed for forgiveness if this was the wrong choice, and then reduced our giving to BSLC at first.  I vowed to myself I would raise it as soon as I could.

            It was sooner than I thought!  After only a couple months of reduced giving, I saw that we were making it work and we were doing ok.  In casual conversations with people about the change in our life, I would tell people joyfully, “We’re still paying all our bills!”  It wasn’t easy, and Nicole works very, very, very hard at finding deals, and saving money while still providing everything the family needs. (She’s a true Proverbs 31 woman!)  And so, we decided after only a couple months to put our giving back to where it was before.  We have increased it from there, especially when we made our pledge in 2016—a pledge of regular, firstfruits giving to BSLC, and a pledge of over-and-above gifts to the “Growing up in Every Way” project.

            Now, the van broke a few times, and we fixed it.  The furnace broke a few times and then died altogether.  But we got that fixed/replaced too.  The boys outgrew their clothes and we had to buy more.  And they keep eating and eating and eating!  But God is good, and he amply supplies all we need.  We haven’t missed out on anything, really.  Our life is as full as we could imagine.

            Two lessons we learned in the process: 1) We should have been giving more before.  We could have afforded it, easily.  We could have made a few more sacrifices, and we wouldn’t have missed out on much.  We could have had a greater joy in giving earlier.  2) When God says he’ll take care of you, he truly means it!  I’ll share this detail with you, not to gain attention but in order to challenge you to believe it is possible: we are giving more now (in percentage and amount) than when we had two incomes.  And we are glad to do so for the glory of God and for the furthering of the Kingdom.

            Friends, please take this in the way I mean it.  I am not boasting, except to boast in the Lord.  And notice that I did not share even a hint of a dollar amount, because that’s not the point, and that’s only between you and God.  If all you can pledge and give is one dollar, it is a beautiful gift to the Lord.  (Recall the story of the widow’s offering in Mark 12:41-44.)  With that one dollar, you can say “Lord, I trust you will provide.  You have richly blessed me.  I want others to receive help, and especially to hear the Good News of Jesus.  Please receive this humble offering of thanksgiving.”

            Do you dare to believe that all things are possible with God?

Still learning these joyful lessons,

Pastor Jon


Year 2: “Growing up in Every Way”

 “Growing Up in Every Way” continues to be our focus in this second year of a three year project. Our theme verse, Ephesians 4:15-16, reminds us as a church that we are to remain in the truth, speak it in love, and GROW together as the Body of Christ. As we mature together, we will encourage, challenge, and invite one another to be committed to spiritual growth. Just as BSLC has been growing for years, we want to continue to rejoice in a growth that comes from God, and actively work to be a part of what God is doing among us. Over these three years, we are seeking to grow in faith, and in service, and in generosity. We invite you to be a part of something BIG as together we will be “Growing Up in Every Way!”

Part 1 – Growing in Faith

For me, one of the great joys of this last year has been reading the Bible with my brothers and sisters in Christ.  We selected a plan that took us through the entire New Testament and also the Psalms and Proverbs.  We started in February, and we read the same Scripture readings at the same rate, and together we were grown by the Word of God.

            Following the same plan gave us the opportunity to encourage and challenge each other to continue reading.  I personally encouraged some who fell behind in their reading, and it was a joy to see them with a great smile on their face announce to me later, “I got caught up,” or even, “Now I’m ahead!”

It also gave us an opportunity to ask each other questions, or share together.  Our daily readings were often referenced in Bible class and enriched our participation.  I personally posted portions of the daily readings on Facebook, or used the Word I had just encountered that day when I visited someone in the hospital.  The Word has always been a part of my daily life, but what a joy it was to be united with many of you in the same Scriptures at the same time so that it became our daily life in the Word.

            This time in the Word—whether in personal devotion, or in the corporate worship service, or in a small group Bible study—this time in the Word is life-changing.  And should we expect anything less?  For even as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, lived for us, died and rose for us to give us NEW LIFE, so also the Word still gives life.  God still is at work.  His grace still grows us.  And so, if you want God to be at work in you, if you want to GROW, it is important to go where God is at work.  Go to the Word.

In January again, we will be talking about “Growing in Faith,” and we will be inviting, encouraging, challenging, and motivating each other to use the gifts of God (Word and Sacrament) that together we might Grow up in Every Way. Additionally, on January 28 & 29, at all our worship services, we will be asking you to make a commitment to participate in these activities together. We will provide a plan for studying Scripture as individuals, as families, and as a group (at church or in a home). We will provide resources to help you invite the unchurched or to encourage those who have been away from church in a while to come back. Your commitment (or pledge, if you will) is simply a way for you to say, “I want to grow in faith. I want to help others grow in faith. Let’s do this together!”

You can be sure that we’ll start another reading plan in February, just as we did this past year.  Watch for announcements later in the month about which plan, when to start, and how to take part in it.  We encourage you also to be in Bible study together with other believers and join us in worship.

            We cannot grow apart from the Word of God.  We cannot grow apart from the Spirit of God.  Therefore, in our “Growing up in Every Way” hymn we pray:

    Grow the faith that You breathed in us,

        Through Your Word of pow’r and grace.

    Sacraments and Scriptures holy

        Cleanse our guilt, our sins erase.

    Bless Your children when in worship,

        Or in study, song, or prayer,

    When alone or with each other,

        Feed Your people everywhere.   (st. 2)

 

“Growing in Faith” with you,

Pastor Jon


This Advent: Family Life

 

Family life. It can be the best of times and—let’s be honest—it can be the worst of times. Google “common family problems” and you’ll come across numerous lists that will include:

  • Communication breakdown
  • Discipline problems
  • Parenting concerns
  • Divorce adjustment
  • Blended family dynamics
  • Family secrets
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Infertility
  • Bullying
  • Abuse
  • Anger and arguing
  • Financial hardships
  • Menu planning
  • Getting out the door on time

 

The lists can go on and on.  Some of these common problems are more serious than others.  All of them put stress on a family.  And therefore, all of us need God’s abundant grace to forgive us, draw us back to Him, and to bring families back together.

Because everyone needs godly wisdom when it comes to family relationships, it is essential to take time to learn from God’s Word, even (especially) in the busy Advent and Christmas season.  As Advent begins a new church year, we plan to learn from the families connected with our Lord’s birth. This includes Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, along with Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John. These families faced infertility, frustration, loss, misunderstandings, death, and so much more. You are encouraged to be a part of these worship services. Your family is worth time and investment in God’s word!

Our series:

(11/30) Advent 1 – Two Families (Luke 1:5–25)

(12/7)  Advent 2 – Our Way (Luke 1:57–66)

(12/14) Advent 3 – Open the Door (Matthew 1:18–20)

 

See you in Advent worship,

 

Pastor Jon


If God Worked through a Donkey…

            There’s an account in the book of Numbers that I love.  Balaam is summoned by Balak, king of Moab, to speak a curse upon Israel in the hopes that Moab would be able to attack and defeat Israel.  As Balaam is traveling to meet the king, his donkey turns off the road.  Balaam beats him to get him back on the path.  The donkey turns aside again, this time pinning Balaam’s foot against a wall that separated the road from a vineyard.  Balaam beat his donkey again.  A third time the donkey acted strangely by lying down on the road, refusing to go any farther.  When Balaam beats his donkey again, we read a most remarkable thing: “Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?’”  Balaam engages in this most unusual conversation, and after some discussion between him and his donkey, we read this, “Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand.”  And then the angel of the Lord warns Balaam not to speak a curse, but only the words that he is given.  In the following chapters, Balaam is moved by the Lord to speak blessing upon blessing over Israel. (See Numbers 22:22-41 and context.)

            There are many remarkable things about the account, but here’s what I want to point out today: God worked through a donkey.  The donkey saw what Balaam couldn’t see.  The donkey acted in a caring way for his human who was in danger.  The donkey protected Balaam.  And God even opened the mouth of the donkey to speak up and say what needed to be said, which ultimately led to Balaam’s preservation and the blessing of all God’s people.

            If God worked through a donkey, he can work even through me.  It gives you courage—doesn’t it?—that God gave even a dumb beast the right words at the right time!  It reminds us of the promise Jesus gave his disciples, “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Mt. 10:19).  If God gives the donkey words, if he gives his disciples words when they are on trial, he will certainly give us present-day disciples the right words at the right time.  God will work through us to bring the heart-winning, life-giving Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection to people who desperately need to hear and believe it.

            Here at BSLC, we have been talking about Growing in Faith, Growing in Service, and Growing in Generosity, which are the main components of our three-year project called “Growing up in Every Way.”  As part of our Growing in Service emphasis, we have been talking about witnessing, caring for one another, serving the community, even bettering our world.  I want to briefly tell you about a ministry that will be new here that will help us to accomplish these desires.  It was unexpected and unknown to us until recently, but God had his plans in place long before we even had a clue.  This ministry is called the Comfort Dog Ministry, which is organized by Lutheran Church Charities (a Registered Service Organization of the LCMS).

            A Comfort Dog is a trained service dog who can access all the same public places that trained service dogs can access.  The dog is a “working dog” in the same sense, except that this dog is not just trained to help one person, but is trained to be there for the community.  The dog visits shut-ins, care centers, schools, malls, churches, all sorts of public places and public events.  The dog brings a friendly face and a soft furry presence to young and old, believers and unbelievers, the sorrowful and the joyful.

            Comfort Dogs are unique to our church body and are providing countless opportunities for witnessing, for care in the community, for comfort in times of disasters, for loving our neighbors.  I don’t know the science or the theology behind it, but it seems like God works through these dogs.  The dogs seem to be able to see hurt we can’t see.  They seem to act in compassion for humans.  They seem to want to bring the peace to people.  And here’s the kicker: the dogs are invited to places that other Christian ministries are not permitted to go.

            Now, will God also open their mouths so they speak words of witness?  Probably not (although, he could).  That’s why there is a human who goes with the dog.  The human provides a loving presence and peace just by being there.  The dog handler also has easy witnessing opportunities as people come up to the dog, want to see the dog and pet the dog.  People ask questions about what a Comfort Dog is and why the dog is at the school or the mall.  And the handler gets the easy and fun job of telling people that they are there to bring the mercy of a loving God.  They get to hand out cards with Bible verses on them.  And as there is opportunity, they get to tell others of God who loved us so much he sent his only begotten Son to die on the cross and rise again, so that all who believe in him will not perish, but….well, you know the rest!

            If God worked through a donkey, he can work through a Comfort Dog and a handler.  He can work even through you.  Interested?

            One last note.  In a church we often find ourselves saying, “We need someone to lead ministry x, y, or z…now, who are we going to get to do it?”  In this case, God has already sent us the right leader.  Her name is Tricia Major.  She has started a Comfort Dog ministry in a congregation before.  She is thoroughly trained and is highly qualified.  She knows how to run this ministry and make it work, and she would love to hear from you.  Pray for her, that God would open up all the right doors to get this ministry running in the next 12-24 months.  Email her if you have any questions or concerns. Contact her if you’d like to learn more about being a handler or what donations it will take to make this happen.

            All it will take is a few people to commit to this ministry, and some funds for the training and the dog (funds will be managed by the church but will be outside of the church budget).  Of course, the church staff is available for questions as well, but Tricia is the most qualified, and I invite you to talk to her.

            We are excited for this previously unexpected but planned-by-God ministry.  I am convinced that if you aren’t behind it yet, you will be when you see it in action.

 

Remember the donkey.  God bless.

Pastor Jon

Watch a Comfort Dog video here: https://vimeo.com/4890067


BASICS

          Imagine a sports team.  Almost any kind of team will do.  Imagine they are beginners and are learning for the first time.  What does the coach focus on?  Basics.  Passing, shooting, communication, strength, endurance, speed, defense, offense, the rules, and the love of the game.

            Now, imagine an experienced sports team that’s in a bit of a slump.  I’m going to imagine the Chicago Blackhawks.  As a side note, I don’t invest too much time or energy into following sports teams, but I grew up playing hockey (on a lake, not on a league), cheering for the Blackhawks, listening to them on the radio, and selecting them as my team when I played NHL ’94 with my brother on the Sega Genesis.  Let’s just say I get a little emotionally invested when I have the (rare) opportunity to watch them play.

            The Blackhawks right now are the defending champs.  They have top notch players.  They have the MVP of the league, the Rookie of the Year, a Captain whose work ethic matches his outstanding talent. They have recently acquired a player who was the Captain of his former team.  They are great!  But heading into the rush to the playoffs, right now as I write, they are in a bit of a slump.  They aren’t scoring.  They’re not stopping goals.  They’re losing division games.  They will get a playoff spot, but we want to build momentum into the playoffs, not coast into them, right?

            So, what is the coach going to focus on?  Well, I’m not on the ice, but I’m guessing I know.  Basics.  Passing, shooting, communication, strength, endurance, speed, defense, offense, the rules, and the love of the game.

            Ironic.  Those are the same things that beginners learn!  Obviously at a higher proficiency (we hope!), but experienced players and beginners alike need to learn and drill the basics.  The best athletes never stop working on the fundamentals of the game.

            When we talked about “Growing in Faith” in January, we recognized that salvation is a gift of God, and anything good in us (our faith and all that faith produces) is His work in us.  At the same time, as regenerate people, we now have the opportunity to take an active role in what God is doing in this world.  We talked about how we should be in the Divine Service (worship), in Bible study with other believers, and spending time on our own in Word and prayer.  I hope you are active in those holy things.

            On a related note, today I want to encourage you to learn or re-learn the basics.  Drill the fundamentals.  What are the fundamentals?  Thankfully, a brilliant Pastor laid it out simply, beautifully, and systematically for us.  And half a millennium of usage confirms it is as genius as I make it sound.  It is Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.  It sets down for us the Christian basics: 1) The Ten Commandments, 2) The Apostles’ Creed, 3) The Lord’s Prayer, 4) Baptism, 5) Confession and Absolution, 6) Holy Communion.  If you know these 6 chief parts, then you understand the basics, and you also have a key with which to unlock the rest of the Scriptures.  You have the fundamentals upon which you can build your learning and your life.

            Even Martin Luther said that he sought to learn from the Catechism every day, not because he had written so brilliantly, but because the teaching is from God, and God teaches and re-teaches every day the essential lessons that we need to learn and re-learn every day.

            So, I invite you all, whether a beginner or experienced Christian alike, to learn the basics.  Study the Small Catechism regularly, even daily.  Drill it into your memory.  Learn from its wisdom.  Live it out in your life.

            Where is YOUR catechism?  Do you know right where it is?  Is it dusty?  Maybe it’s time to brush it off and drill again the basics!

            And whether you want to learn for the first time, or you want to polish some of those old rusty skills, I invite you to a new class called BASICS (advertised below!) where we will do just that.

            “Growing in Faith.”  Re-learning the basics.  Sounds good to me.

Your classmate,

Pastor Jon


Growing up in Every Way – Our 3 Year Focus

           

“Growing Up in Every Way” is our focus in 2016, 2017, and 2018.  Our theme verse for this three year emphasis, Ephesians 4:15-16, reminds us as a church that we are to remain in the truth, speak it in love, and GROW together as the Body of Christ.  As we mature together, we will encourage, challenge, and invite one another to be committed to spiritual growth.  Just as BSLC has been growing for years, we want to continue to rejoice in a growth that comes from God, and actively work to be a part of what God is doing among us.  Over these three years, we will seek to grow in faith, and in service, and in generosity.  We invite you to be a part of something BIG as together we will be “Growing Up in Every Way!”

Part 1 – Growing in Faith

           In January we will focus on the most important aspect of this three year spiritual emphasis: “Growing in Faith.”  Faith is a word that can refer on the one hand to the objective teaching, like when in church we say, “Let us confess the Christian faith together, ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty…’”  This faith does not change, and therefore it does not grow or diminish.  It is revealed to us by God in the Bible, and it is, in fact, the Truth.

            But what can grow is our understanding of the faith, and our trust in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In this way we are not only commanded by God to grow, but are invited by Him to receive His gifts that grow us, and then to actively participate in living out the faith, producing the fruits of faith, the good works of love that naturally flow from faith.

            The Bible is rich with imagery that communicates this.  Picture Jesus the vine, and you the branches, nourished by Jesus to produce fruit.  Or, envision the root system of a growing tree.  How wide and how deep do the roots go?  How thirsty they are for nutrients and water!  Or imagine the foundation of the house, which is the teaching of God through the apostles, upon which we build our lives as individuals, and collectively as a church.  Picture also a human body that grows and matures until it reaches its full stature and strength (which is the metaphor of our theme verse in Ephesians 4:15-16).  These images and others we find in Scripture show God’s will for our growth.

            What do all the images have in common?  We see a few things.  1) God is the one who builds us or grows us (for we are sinners, forgiven by Him!)  2) His grace is given through His means to make it happen.  3) We are invited to receive those gifts and to willingly be part of God’s work for us and through us in the church.

            Why wouldn’t we want to be a part of that?!  Through this amazing invention of God called “The Church,” God is doing something incredible!

  • Here God’s Spirit comes to us with grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
  • Here God is faithful to His promises.
  • Here God’s people, led by their pastors, worship, baptize, preach, teach, confess, and forgive, gather at the Lord’s Table, and reach others with the saving message of Christ.
  • Here God’s people have the privilege of associating with others who are faithful to the Word and linked to us through common beliefs.
  • Here God’s people build relationships with one another based on a strong foundation and linked to Christ.   (Bullet points taken from Lutheranism 101, p. 78-79)

All throughout January we will be learning more about “Growing in Faith,” and we will be inviting, encouraging, challenging, and motivating each other to use the gifts of God (Word and Sacrament) that together we might Grow up in Every Way.

Additionally, on January 30 & 31, at all our worship services, we will be asking you to make a commitment to participate in these activities together.  We will provide a plan for studying Scripture as individuals, as families, and as a group (at church or in a home).  We will provide resources to help you invite the unchurched, or to encourage those who have been away from church in a while to come back.  Your commitment (or pledge, if you will) is simply a way for you to say, “I want to grow in faith.  I want to help others grow in faith.  Let’s do this together!”

God has Good News for you, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.  Amen!

 

Growing in faith myself,

Pastor Jon Gruen


Do We Have a Volunteer Problem?

 

            I hear talk about a “volunteer problem” here at church.  I might have used the expression myself a time or two.  The thought process goes like this: We need more Sunday School coordinators.  We only got 30 commitments for Trunk or Treat.  Why is there NO ONE on the Board of Evangelism?  I heard about this one thing that this one church was doing, and I thought it sounded great, so SOMEONE should do that here!  It’s a shame that this church no longer does that one caring thing that we used to do that I thought was really nice.  We have a volunteer problem!

            So, do we?  I’ve wrestled with this quite a bit lately, and I don’t think the question has a simple yes or no answer.  So I’ll say this: Our volunteer problem is no more and no less than your average congregation.  I say this because there is a problem, and it lies rooted in the heart of each individual.  But the answer is, and always has been: Christ is alive and at work in each believer.  That is the same for BSLC and every Christian Church on the planet.

          The Problem.  Yes, we have a problem.  The Church, as a gathering of flawed, sinful people, will not be perfect.  If we were a perfect church, then I wouldn’t be able to be a member here, much less a pastor.  You wouldn’t be here either.  Each of us should be able to look inside our hearts, examine our lives, see what we desire, what we live for, where we spend our time, and see that it is sinful.  Our selfish desire to see the time we have and call it MY time is sin.

          The Answer.  Plain and simple, the answer is Jesus.  He served, he loved, he laid down his life, he rose—all to resurrect you to new life now, and eternal life in paradise.  The life of the Christian, therefore, should be one where every day we repent of sin, rejoice in the forgiveness of the cross, and are raised to live for the glory of God.  And when you live for the glory of God, that means you put yourself aside and, trusting God, love your neighbor.  That doesn’t always mean you must teach Sunday School.  Sometimes it means you’re a mom and you live for your kids.  Or, it means you have a job and you work not just to make money but to make the world better.  It means finding a way to impact your neighborhood and help your community.  It means finding a way to join with your fellow Christians in serving God in the local congregation (BSLC).  Sometimes, it means all of the above.

            You are you.  God made you unique.  He gave you gifts and put you where you are right now.  You have an allotted amount of time to use your abilities for his glory.  So, go.  Do.  Serve your family.  Help your community.  And yes, please, help out at church.  What the ministry most needs is probably the hardest for you to give: your time.  I get it.  I’m a dad, a husband, an assistant-coach to a soccer team, and am employed full-time, with a multitude of interests and hobbies.  I know.  Your time is valuable.

            That’s why BSLC called staff and committed lay-leaders are reevaluating and rethinking what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how.  We know you want to serve.  But you want it to be meaningful, and you want to be able to manage your time well.  I promise you that if you are committed to serving the Lord at home, in the community, and here at church, then we who are called by you, the Church, to be stewards of this ministry will do all we can to foster an environment where you are encouraged and allowed to serve in a way that uses the first fruits of your gifts in the time that you dedicate to God’s glory here.  We don’t want to ask for volunteers.  We want to raise up disciples—disciples who go and do.

            Part of that ongoing process here will be to create a new culture where each of us gives of ourselves and teaches others to do the same. We want to reach each individual, one by one, enlighten them with the great grace of God, and ask them to serve.  Instead of saying, “Hey, we need someone to do x, y, or z,”  we want to reach each person and say, “You have unique gifts, and we’d love for you to use them here.”  See the difference?  I hope so.

            So, do we have a volunteer problem?  If we do, it’s the same problem Jesus himself faced when he said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  Jesus’ response, though, wasn’t to criticize, complain, or write a berating blog.  It was prayer.  He said, “Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

            And then the very next word Jesus said to his disciples was “Go.”  I think you know what that means.  (See Luke 10:1-3).

A fellow disciple of Jesus,


Pastor Jon

Oh, and by the way—God is doing some AWESOME stuff here at BSLC, and it’s an honor to be a part of it!!


Reward or Responsibility?

           This year the Lee’s Summit School District handed out 17,000+ Chromebooks to the students in the hopes that they will be helpful learning tools.  Each Chromebook has a sticker on it that says, “Property of Lee’s Summit R-7 School District” and the name of the student to whom it is loaned.  There are two Chromebooks sitting at the Gruen house.  We do not own them, but we do have the use of them for a while.

            The school Ethan and Aidan attend gave them a list of expectations and made them sign an agreement that outlines how they are to be careful with these electronic devices.  The school also talks quite a bit about what they call “online citizenship” because even though there are filters, well, you know what kind of garbage is out there on the Internet.  In addition to the school’s rules, Nicole and I have much stricter ones for our sons.  They do required homework on them, but we limit their time just playing with them so that they are still reading books and running around outside.  We don’t let them take the devices to their rooms, but they use them out in the open and we can see what’s going on.  We have them ask before using them.  And any search for a video or a game is supervised.

            The school’s rules and the rules we parents have are teaching them that having a Chromebook is not a reward, but a responsibility.

            This all reminds me of a parable that Jesus told in Luke 19:11-27.  A nobleman was going to go away for a while, but would return.  He summoned ten servants and gave each one of them one mina (which was about three months’ wages for the common laborer).  He gave them the mina with the purpose that they should conduct business with it.  He made it clear that he expected them to put his money to good use, and when he returned he would be looking to see how they had used what he gave them.  The mina wasn’t a reward.  It was a responsibility.

            When he returned, what did he find?  He found one servant worked hard and earned ten more minas!  Another servant did good work and earned five more minas!  One servant, we discover, did nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  He didn’t squander it, but neither did he use it in a productive way.  Therefore, he was punished.

            The parable teaches a few things.  One thing it teaches is that whatever we have from God is not a reward, but a responsibility.  In fact, everything “we have” is actually on loan from God.  It’s all His, for He is the Creator of all things.  Your time comes from God.  Your possessions and money come from God.  Your family, your home, your cars all come from God.  Your senses, your reason, your mind, your heart, your abilities all are from God.  All these are gifts that we are to use responsibly.  In fact, your own life is not yours, for you were “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20).  So, are you using God’s gifts for God’s glory?  And what does that look like, anyway?

It looks like receiving all blessings with thankful hearts.  It means trusting the Giver when we are in need.  We get to benefit from God’s gifts in a constructive (not selfish) way.  We are privileged to use our resources for the good of our neighbor.  Using God’s gifts for God’s glory also looks like hard work and generosity.  It means furthering the spread of the Gospel and caring for those in need with acts of mercy.

            Yes, we can enjoy life, for God has given us many blessings.  But more than that, it is our privilege to serve and be responsible disciples (stewards, if you will) of all God has given.

            Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a perfect manager of my time, my money, my abilities, my family, my vocation, my life, and all the many, many blessings God has given me.  So I’ll also be the first to proclaim that it is GOOD NEWS that we have a Savior, Jesus Christ.  He has purchased and won us with his own precious blood, ransoming us from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil.  Because of the great power of God’s forgiveness, we can see the parable of the 10 minas in another light.  We do not need to fear the judgment that Jesus speaks concerning the unfaithful servant.  For we know what it is that Jesus has done.  He lived perfectly in our place, died our death, laid in our grave.  Then, after rising triumphant from the dead, he went “to receive for himself a kingdom and then return” (Lk 19:12).  And because of Jesus’ precious blood, his transforming forgiveness, and the indwelling of his Holy Spirit to strengthen us, we will hear (by God’s grace alone) “Well done, good servant!” when Christ returns (Lk. 19:17).

            God’s grace is the best gift of all, far better than a mina or a Chromebook.  It brings a new appreciation to our lives, doesn’t it?  It also brings a renewed determination to use wisely all that God has given us.  We recognize all that we have is a responsibility, not a reward, and we are honored to be able to use earthly gifts toward heavenly ends.  God is good.

A student of Christ, learning responsibility,

Pastor Jon


10-YEAR ORDINATION ANNIVERSARY

Ten years ago, God blessed Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church with Seminarian Jonathan Gruen and his family.  Pastor Jon was ordained and installed at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church on July 10, 2005, with his father, Rev. Darald Gruen, officiating.  Since that time, Pastor Jon has progressed from Assistant Pastor to our current Senior Pastor.  BSLC has been blessed to see him grow as a pastor, husband, and father.  Pastor Jon has requested that no official reception be held to mark this anniversary.  While respecting his wishes, it is appropriate to publicly thank God for all the blessings He has bestowed on BSLC, especially remembering Pastor Jon and his family.  


Transition

            In August of last year, in the very first newsletter that came out after Pastor Schwartz went to serve to God’s glory elsewhere, at the very start of the vacancy, I wrote about change.

            Now, in this the last newsletter that will be published during our vacancy, I am writing about transition.

            It seems to me that a transition is a type of change, an intentional change with direction and purpose.  Transitional passages for a composer are more than just a few measures in between motifs; they are the glue that holds the song together.  A business restructures so it can be more efficient, more productive, more profitable.  A team rebuilds with an eye on the future, collecting (perhaps) a few less wins now in return for many more wins later.  A family relocates, or a parent seizes a job opportunity, or a child goes to a different school in hopes of achieving personal and family goals.  Transitions seem to be just as important in our life experience as are the definable seasons themselves.  In those in-between spaces of life, our omnipresent and omnitemporal God is at work.

            I have written that we at BSLC are in a time of change.  But I think now that we should rather call it a transition.  The most obvious transition that is on our minds is within the staff of BSLC.  We rejoice that God is sending us an Associate Pastor, and we look forward to welcoming him and his family in just a few short weeks.  With prayer and consideration we sent the solemn call for a Seminary graduate, and God in his ever-infinite wisdom is sending us (soon-to-be) Pastor Chris Schneider, who we believe is the right man of God at the right time for the direction and purpose that God has in mind for us.

            But that is not the only transition we are experiencing as a congregation.  Over the years we have grown from a small church into a large one.  But along with growth there must also be maturing and reproduction.  We have work ahead of us to figure out how best to organize, how to operate, and how to reach the many individual members of this church, helping each other to be formed, shaped, strengthened, and matured by the Word of God.  And, of course, we certainly don’t wait for some measurable maturation level before we seek to make more disciples (reproduce).  We are already doing that.  But maturing in the faith will make us more potent, more virile.

            St. Paul says in Ephesians 4 that we are to “grow up in every way into Him who is the Head, into Christ.”  So if you think of this congregation as a body of believers, the Body of Christ, then we can think about growing in truth and love, maturing in every way.  The growth will be from God by the power of the Holy Spirit, who works through God’s means to deliver us every grace upon grace.

            What will this transition, this intentional change with direction and purpose, look like in the years to come?  It may include revising our organizational structure.  It may mean adding staff.  But more importantly it will mean intentional efforts to increase connectivity of members to Christ Jesus and to one another.  Along the way, we will also strive to connect each other with opportunities to serve, give, care, and witness. 

We hope and pray that God will bless our time of transition and the season of joyful work that follows, so we can accomplish some of the very concrete and practical goals we have to build community, improve our campus, retire our debt, expand our mission efforts, increase our witness in the world, meet human need with merciful action, and boldly proclaim the Good News of Jesus to all.

It sounds exciting to me!  Does it to you?  Together we can do more than we can alone.  Together we can be informed, motivated, empowered.  Together we are His.  Together we will “grow up in every way” in this time of transition and beyond.

Ready?  Here we go.

Pastor Jon


Google Fiber Evangelism

           “Join our community” and “We are here to help” were the words that immediately jumped out at me when I picked up the door hanger that had fallen onto my front porch.  It was Palm Sunday and I was just coming home from church, and the smell of maple syrup wafting out the door meant that Nicole had the usual Sunday brunch ready – pancakes, scrambled eggs, hash browns, and bacon.  Yum!

            As I walked in, I looked at the door hanger assuming it was from a church.  You see, it was almost Easter, and words like community and here to help are the kinds of things a church would put on their advertising in order to convey, “Hey, we care about you, and we’re a wholesome environment for families, and we exist for you.  Plus we’re hip.”  But it wasn’t from a church.

            It was Google.  Google Fiber to be specific.  An excellent product at a reasonable price that blows all competitors out of the water with connections so fast they are nearly instant.  And it shouldn’t be a surprise.  I mean, this is Google we’re talking about.  And as I type, my fiberhood (that’s a neighborhood as Google defines it) needs 46 more sign-ups before Google will install.  That’s 3 less than yesterday, but we’ve only got 1 week to go!  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

            But the door hanger was not the first I heard of the potential to have Google Fiber.  You want to know how I first heard?  A neighbor printed off a Fiber webpage that simply said, “Hello Lee’s Summit.”  Yes, the professional ads and mailings came.  But I first heard by a cheap black and white printout on regular, slightly wrinkled paper…from a neighbor.

            I discovered why when I signed up.  When you are on board, Google says, “Spread the word.”  That’s their strategy.  They count on you spreading the word about fiber.  They are banking on your influence, your relationships, your persuasion, your communication, your contagious joy over the good news of the coming of fiber.  Who are you?  You are no Google expert.  You have no clue in the least how Google or its internet connection works.  You don’t know what fiber optics look like, and you wonder if working with it would make you itchy like insulation does.  You can’t answer neighbors’ questions.  You can’t process anyone’s sign-ups.  You just know it’s AWESOME.  And Google wants you to spread the word.  And people can ask Google if they have questions.

            I would say that there is so much to learn here, except that I think we already know it.  Or at least the church once did know it.  I think Google learned from us.

            Who are you, that you should be the messenger of the Good News of the RESURRECTION?!?  You can’t fully understand God or how he works!  You cannot fully fathom the glories of heaven.  You don’t know if Adam and Eve had belly buttons or why God allowed a certain suffering in your life, or even what the immediate future holds.  But you do know that Jesus Christ has made quite a name for himself, a name bigger than Google.  You know that Jesus loves you.  You know that he died to forgive your many sins (and mine!), and rose from the dead to give us eternal life.  You know that is AWESOME.

            And Jesus says to his disciples that he will be with them, that his Holy Spirit will give them words and will strengthen them.  And he says that we will be his witnesses, and that we are to make disciples of all nations.  We know we are to love our neighbors, to be a good neighbor, and to care about our community and fiberhoods…er…I mean neighborhoods.  We know that God strengthens us to be “here to help” other poor miserable sinners who are in need of as much grace as we are.  And God provides that instant grace through the instant and intimate connection of his Word to our life—the connection of the written Word in Scripture’s pages, the promise of renewal in the waters of baptism, the life-giving Body and Blood of Christ present with the bread and wine because of the promise of Christ to us.  Grace downloads instantly.  Prayers upload at blazing speeds.  Life is given, sustained, guaranteed for eternity.

            Spread the Word.  God is banking on your relationships, your communication, your invitation, your encouragement, your contagious joy—not because you are anything special, but because He is special, and his Word has power, and he has promised to be at work through His Gospel until Christ returns.  And the Church is here to help answer questions, dispense God’s grace, and get people “signed-up.”

            Oh…there is one big difference between Google Fiber and the Gospel.  Neighbors spread the word about fiber because they want to get it.  Neighbors spread the Word about Jesus because they’ve already “got it,” and they know and believe and teach and confess that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.  That is AWESOME.

Spreading the Word,

Pastor Jon


Why I’m Excited for April

As the title of the article suggests, I am excited for some things just around the corner.  By sharing my enthusiasm with you I hope to make it contagious.  In this summary you will not find all the details concerning these events, but just a few words as to why we should all be excited and glad to be a part of what God is doing here.

1. Easter Worship.  I am joyful at Easter like at Christmas, like we will all be joyful on the Last Day.  The plan God had in place from before the foundation of the earth is carried out in Christ, and Easter is that most happy day when we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over death.  We know what it means for us.  As one Easter hymn puts it, “Jesus is risen and we shall arise: Give God the glory! Alleluia!” (LSB 474).  Musicians have practiced, lilies have been ordered, bulletins prepared, sermons shaped, and voices tuned in order to praise Him who lives that we might conquer death.

2. Journey to the Tomb.  On Easter morning we will have a *NEW* and exciting activity for you.  It will be a way for your family to experience with your hands and feet, your eyes and ears the Passion of Jesus Christ and what it means for everyone big or small.  Decorations, costumes, actors, hands-on involvement, and take home items will not only be fun and enjoyable, but will help teach the faith to our members and many visitors alike.  I look forward to seeing it as it unfolds.  I encourage you to get behind this project with the support of prayers and donations.

3. Concert Choir and Troubadours.  On April 9 we will host a group of students from Martin Luther High School in Greendale, Wisconsin who will be on a music tour in this area.  The Troubadours are a subset of the concert choir who have won awards at district and state levels.  It is our honor and joy that they have selected to sing to God’s glory right here at BSLC!  What a great way to praise God with his beautiful gift of music, to rejoice that we are diverse yet united Body of Christ (even if we’ve never met before), and to continue our Easter joy.  We will be looking for host families to house these students for one night.  I encourage you to attend the concert and consider being a host for these musical (and talented!) servants.

4. Confirmation.  Our 8th grade students will be confirmed the Sunday after Easter, April 12, at our 10:30 service.  I have enjoyed teaching them for two years, and look forward to hearing them deliver their wonderful speeches the night before, and then speak their vows on Confirmation Sunday.  Be sure to welcome them kindly as communicant members, encourage them in their ongoing development, and draw them into the mature activities of Christian life in the Church.

5. Call Day.  As you know, we decided as a congregation to call for a graduating Seminary student to be assigned to us, that he might serve as our Associate Pastor.  I give thanks that the process was peaceful, that the Call Committee, Board of Elders, and the Congregation was considerate, patient, and unified in the outcome (meaning that our various points of view were communicated and considered, that we prayed and worked hard, and that the vote to call was made unanimous, signaling our desire to speak with one voice and recognize that the Seminarian assigned to us will be God’s servant for our good).  I look forward to Call Day not just because it is the beginning of the end of our vacancy, but because we can rejoice that it is a Divine Call, and that God is providing for His Church, and His Will is being done, even through a process that is simultaneously human in nature.  We elected to ask for Chris Schneider or Kyle Jones to be assigned to us.  May God’s will be done, for He knows best.  Pray, and plan to join us at church on April 29 to watch the live stream of the Call Day service.  Details will be forthcoming.

I am excited.  I hope you are getting there too.  God’s richest blessings to you in a joyful April, through Christ, our crucified and risen Lord!

 

Pastor Jon


Lent: Is It Worth the Hassle?

            Yes.  Next question.  Oh, wait, you expected me to say more?  To convince you?  Ok then.  Here goes.

            It seems sinful to ask the question if all the “extra” stuff of Lent is worth it.  But I know you think it at times.  I know you do because I’m human too.   Lent is kind of like Christmas--busy all over again, just without the presents.

The kids get home from school with homework.  Then you get off of work.  You throw everyone into the car to go up to church.  You feel bad because there’s a meal and you are just bringing something easy, or nothing at all, and you know they could always use some nice well-made side dishes.  But you didn’t have time.  And you’re dreading next week because you’re on that board or group that’s serving the meal, and how in the world are you going to have time for that?  And now you’re at church and you forgot that Ash Wednesday service is a little longer than the other Wednesdays, and so you have a hard time paying attention.  And you’re getting awfully hungry because you smell the tacos down the hall.  “And when are we going to get another pastor here because I feel like I hear the same guy every Sunday and now also on Wednesdays!  And I suppose I should give up sweets or soda and make it like a New Year’s resolution re-do or something like that.  And how somber is this hymn?  Are they all going to be like that?  Maybe I’ll just come to Ash Wednesday and the next Wednesday, and I’ll see if I like the series.  I may just drop off after that and come back for Good Friday and Easter.  Wait, when is the Royals’ home opener?  That was on Good Friday one year.  I better check that.  Oh good, the preacher said ‘Amen.’  Things are moving now.”

Ok, maybe that stream of consciousness thought process doesn’t describe you exactly.  But maybe some of it hits your thoughts right on the head.  Lent is extra work.  It is for me, and I’m not going to lie, I’m a little nervous about it right now.  But I know it is extra work for you too.  So, is it worth all the prep, all the running around?  Is it worth the extra hassle?

Yes.  I’ll give you three reasons.  1. Jesus is there, as he has promised, in Worship, in the Word, in our songs, our silence, and in the Sacrament.  2.  Your brothers and sisters in Christ are there.  As you are corporately shaped by the Word and interact in Christian Fellowship, you are blessed.  And 3. Jesus is there, as he has promised.  (That point was so good we had to use it twice).

It takes a little extra time and a little special effort, but that work that goes into our midweek Lent gatherings creates some space and some opportunities to do something that we don’t do enough: face the realities of our sin, repent in ashes, meditate on Christ’s suffering, mourn our role in his death, and give thanks with an abounding joy that Jesus rises from the grave.

Lent puts everything in perspective.  Lent helps us refocus.  Lent gives us a time of reflection and renewal.  So come, join us.  Don’t be shy.  Admit that you don’t like the extra effort, but come and join us anyway.

Oh wait, one last thing…I usually tell you about the Lenten series, don’t I?  Well, I’ve got something in mind, but I’m not 100% sure about it yet.  So I will decide and publish that independently of the newsletter.  But I do know this: it will proclaim Christ.  So it is something you need to hear.

And people don’t come for the series anyway, right?  They come for the food!  Oh, and most of all, they come to receive Jesus, who died and rose for them.

See you in Church,

Pastor Jon


Thank You

Dear friends, as I write, it is Christmas Eve.  I would have liked to have written you a thought provoking, inspirational, and educational article about Epiphany, or about the coming year (2015 is here!), or about our focus as a church in the next few months.  But in all honesty, my day is filled with work and worship, the time is short, and my heart is overflowing with thankfulness.  So let me simply say “thank you.”  I voice this thanksgiving first to God.  He has saved us in his grace, through his Son, Jesus Christ, who was born in Bethlehem and crucified outside of Jerusalem, who was raised to life and will return in glory.  We have been given a most precious gift, and I am eternally grateful.  In addition to that, he has blessed us with so many other gifts: food, drink, house, home, animals, family, friends, and the fellowship of believers.  It is my sincere thankfulness to God for that last item on the list that drives me to be thankful also to you.

You have shown so much kindness to me and my family in the last six months.  When our bold and passionate leader, Pastor Schwartz, took the call to serve faithfully in a new location, we entered into a time of change, of transition, of hard work, and much to figure out.  Through the entire process you have supported me and my family.  Thank you for your prayers, your kindness, your advice, your wisdom, your generosity, your cards, your gifts, and every expression of your love.  It means more to us than we can effectively put into words.  And if I tried, knowing me, I would probably get choked up.  (So thank you for letting me express my thankfulness in writing.)

I pray for you daily.  I pray that God would watch over you, lead you in paths of righteousness, strengthen you for every challenge, and fill you with every good thing through Jesus Christ.  I look forward to 2015 serving as the Senior Pastor here.  It is a large responsibility, and I have big shoes to fill.  I pray for God’s wisdom and strength, that I might be faithful in this calling.

We have much work ahead of us: calling a pastor, other staffing needs, financial planning, tackling our strategic planning goals, reaching in, reaching out.  But I am confident that as we stand firm in the Word of God together and as we live in love toward one another, God will provide, bless, and help us every step of the way.

Thank you again.  God be with you.

Pastor Jon


Isaiah’s Christmas Carols

            It’s safe to conclude that the prophet Isaiah didn’t write any Christmas carols.  He was a mighty seer who uttered his oracles more than 700 years before the first Christmas, that night when Jesus was born, that night we sing about.  He served the Lord at a time in Israel’s history when there wasn’t much to be jolly about.  They didn’t wake up excited each morning and check a day off the calendar, anticipating a coming celebration.  They didn’t bring each other figgy pudding.  They didn’t wish each other a “merry” anything.  There were no carols to play over the PA system in Jerusalem’s mall.

            It was a time of wickedness and darkness.  Fear reigned.  The people could feel that destruction was coming, yet at the same time they tried to deny reality, ignore Isaiah’s warnings, and bury their fear.  It would prove to be useless.  There was no hope.

            Except, there was hope.  For it was into this exact context that God had appointed that mighty seer in days of old to proclaim not only God’s warnings, but also news of great joy, news of great mirth.  Can you imagine what it would have been like in that situation to hear his message of comfort, of light, of life?  It must have fallen on deaf ears because it came before any evidence of its completion, before any hint of its fulfillment.  It was just out there, alone, like one tiny bell in the muffled dead of night.

            But it was heard and believed by some.  And it is a joy to count ourselves among that faithful few.  In our darkness, in our sin, in our harsh realities, pains, and fears, the news is given for us to believe and rejoice.

            No, Isaiah wasn’t there when Mary and Joseph wrapped Jesus and placed him in a manger.  He wasn’t standing there when the shepherds knelt at the manger.  But Isaiah spoke of this holy night.  Many times.

            One Christmas carol invites us to imagine ourselves at the manger, for we are most welcome there, and there is enough room for even us.  The song gives us words for the wonder we feel as we see the child, who has “A still, small voice to cry one day for me.”  And then we are called to see this child as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies, who might as well have been at the manger—so clearly did he speak of him!  “How should I not have known Isaiah would be there, his prophecies fulfilled? With pounding heart I stare: A child, a son, the Prince of Peace for me” (LSB 369).

            No, Isaiah didn’t sit down at the organ bench or take up a guitar.  He didn’t use English and wasn’t familiar with our meter and rhyme.  But his words wrote many of our carols.  The Spirit of God inspired him to declare and write concerning the child in the manger, who would complete God’s plan, bring peace to our hearts, and even make a New Heavens and New Earth at the last.

            How infinitely meaningful it is, then, to hear Isaiah speak concerning the One who would save us from our sins and reconcile us to the Father!  What a joy it is to review Isaiah’s prophesies during Advent, the time of preparation for Jesus’ appearing.  Join us on Wednesdays this Advent as we sing:

Isaiah’s Christmas Carols

Dec. 3 – Is. 40, News of Double Comfort

Dec. 10 – Is. 9, SonShine for the Nations

Dec. 17 – Is. 11, Reign of Life and Peace

Come, and you will see:  “Isaiah ‘twas foretold it”! (LSB 359).

Merry Christmas, and pass the figgy pudding!

Pastor Jon


Strong in Truth, Bound in Love

          We are one in Christ Jesus.  Stop.  Slow down.  Read that again.  We are one in Christ Jesus.  If each of us is in Jesus—who is True God and True man, crucified and raised for us—if we are in Jesus, then we are united in Him.  We are united to Him, and we are united in Him to one another.  We are not the same.  We are not perfect (yet).  But we are one in Christ.

          This is reality.  This is truth.  This is always relevant.  And none of this was our doing.  Jesus has redeemed us with His precious blood.  Jesus has joined us to Him in our baptism.  Jesus invites us to commune with His very Body and Blood in his holy supper.  Therefore, Jesus is the One who has joined everyone who is in Him to one another.  We are Body parts, unique in form and function yet controlled and directed by the one Head, Jesus Christ.

          In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul expounds on this truth.  He encourages us to maintain the spirit of unity and the bond of peace.  He teaches us that because there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, we are therefore one Body.  And he encourages us (we could summarize) to be strong in truth and bound in love.  You see, after warning us not to be tossed by the waves of false teaching and carried by the wind of deception, he uses the “body” metaphor to drive home the point.  He says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

          The reality is that we are a Body because of Christ’s actions, not our own.  But the reality is also that we who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit have an active role to fulfill in God’s work among us and in the world.  Paul here calls us to recognize that because we are the Body of Christ, we are to remain strong in the truth of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Word of God alone, and be bound together in love, just as ligaments and joints tie and bind together the structure of the body as it grows and moves.

          Strong in truth.  Because the father of lies is tempting and deceiving.  Because our multi-media world bombards us from every side every hour.  Because it is difficult to stand against the tide of immorality.  Because our sinful nature continues to bait and lure us.  Because this truth of Jesus has brought us to the Father and is the only thing that will keep us there.

          Bound in love.  Because sin separates us from one another.  Because the devil likes to isolate, sever, and overcome one by one.  Because we need real human connection more than ever in this virtual world.  Because it is in love that we grow together.  Because by this all the world will know we are His disciples, if we love one another.

          There are many things here at BSLC that we are still trying to figure out (and we always will be).  On the “business” side of the organization, we are always talking about finances, staffing needs, our outdated structure, and what should “be next.”  Besides all that, we are also always talking about helping people grow in faith and in service, connecting the right disciple to the right task, building relationships with those inside and outside of our church, and all that stuff (too much to mention here) that we have summarized with our mission targets: Build relationships, Share Christ’s love, Live in God’s grace, Care for all people in need.

          But as we figure all that out, one thing we know.  We belong to Christ.  Indeed, we are in Christ.  We are joined to Him, and therefore also to one another.  We are the Body of Christ.  We are united in Truth, and tied together with God’s own love.  He is Lord of the Church, and is the Head of the Body. Therefore, all things will work together for good, even as we are trying to figure it all out.  So long as we remain in Him.

Strong in Truth.

Bound in Love. 

This is Church.

Pastor Jon


PARTNERS IN THE GOSPEL

            I am excited as I write today when I think about the support we have received and will be experiencing from other pastors in the LCMS.  As we continue to work through our vacancy, even though at times we have to endure uncomfortable change, or tough challenges, or increased workloads, at the same time we experience great blessing.  It is a good thing to have a time of adjustment (so be patient!), and to be reminded that we need to rely on God and his guidance, and that we must work together as a community of believers for the sake of Christ.  Additionally, one of God’s blessings which I am appreciating more than ever is the support of my fellow pastors who serve the Lord in other churches.

            We are part of a Synod.  Many people don’t know what that word means, so to help you out, here is an explanation from the LCMS website: “The word ‘Synod’ in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod comes from Greek words that mean "walking together." The term has rich meaning in our church body because congregations voluntarily choose to belong to the Synod. Though diverse in their service, our congregations hold to a shared confession of Jesus Christ as taught in Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.”

            It is because we are in a Synod that we have Concordia Universities, seminaries, a publishing house, a particular call process (which is good and orderly, even if it does take a while), and so forth.  We do not exist on our own, an island of believers against the world.  But we are members of the Body of Christ, and also (perhaps easier to see with our eyes) a member congregation of a Synod that walks together in doctrine, support, encouragement, and in one mission.  This is a blessing.  For quite a while now, we here at BSLC have supported mission work.  We have assisted with local, national, and even international endeavors to proclaim Christ, and sometimes the necessities of life, to people suffering without hope.  Sometimes these people living in darkness are far away.  Sometimes they are right outside your doors.  They are your neighbors.

            I am grateful that, thanks to our increased need to rely on outside help, we have heard from some of our partners in the Gospel.  And I am excited that we will hear from some more very soon.  Thank these “guest pastors” for helping us out.  Listen to the Word of God that they share, for they are servants of the Word.  And rejoice in what God is doing through them.

            I am delighted to tell you that preaching at all our services on Oct. 18 and 19 will be Pastor Robert Malone from Peace Lutheran Church in Kansas City.  He is our neighbor.  He is reaching our neighbors.  He is a partner in the Gospel.  And we have been helping support his urban mission work for a number of years.  We are glad that Pastor Malone will share the Word of God with us on that weekend and tell us about what God is doing through him and our sister church.  You support this missionary.  So rejoice and struggle with him as he shares the blessings and challenges of ministry in the city.

            I am also pleased to tell you that on November 15 and 16 we will hear from Rev. Larry Rockemann with Lutheran Heritage Foundation, which sends the Gospel all over the world with its worldwide Lutheran translation projects.  It will be a wonderful mission weekend and a great blessing to rejoice in the global work of the Good News of Jesus.

            In addition to these missionaries, we have heard and will continue to hear the Word from fellow partners in the Gospel.  Whether they come to us from Amazing Grace, Bethlehem, St. Matthew, Beautiful Savior Home, Messiah, Our Redeemer, or wherever, we rejoice in our unity of faith, our partnership in the Gospel, and that God continues to provide for the needs of His Church. 

                                                            --Pastor Jon


Reputation

            In March of this year, my family and I loaded up our minivan and drove to St. Louis to get away for a few days over spring break.  We visited the Butterfly House in Chesterfield, and were swarmed by an impressive gathering of gorgeous blue morpho butterflies, an annual event they call “March Morpho Mania.”  The next day, we were swallowed up by the labyrinth that is the City Museum, St. Louis.  Nicole and I had lived in St. Louis for 3 years, but didn’t really know anything about it.  We had no idea what a strange, enjoyable, incredibly bizarre, and fun place it was!  We all wore ourselves out climbing, crawling, and running around.

            When it was lunch time, we got in line to buy some pizza.  After we sat down at the table with our food, the family that was behind us in line sat near us.  The dad then initiated a conversation with me.  “Are you a pastor over in Lee’s Summit?” he asked.  “Uh…yeah…” I stammered out of shock.  “I’m sorry,” I continued, “have we met before?”  He answered with a smile, “We were in Upward Basketball.  I was a coach.”  He went on to explain that he coached in our 3rd and 4th grade division.  His team played against the team my son was on.  I apologized for not recognizing him, giving my usual explanation that “I meet A LOT of people.”  He assured me it was nothing to worry about, and went on to explain how they enjoyed the program.

            I left that conversation with two thoughts, “I’m glad he didn’t catch me at a time when I was screaming at my kids and setting a bad example,” — you’ve all been there, right?—and also, “Wow! Even in St. Louis I run into people who know BSLC because of Upward!

            The next day, my family and I went to the Science Center.  We played with magnets and electricity, dug for dinosaur bones, and made tornadoes out of fog.  We walked the bridge over the interstate and experimented with model bridges.  Then, while we were building the Gateway

Arch with plush blocks, a family walking by initiated a conversation with us.  “We know you from Upward Basketball,” they explained.  I think I had to pick my jaw up from the floor.  Two days in a row, in a city 3½ hours away, people recognized me as being connected to the Upward program!

            I left that conversation with two thoughts, “A lot of people from Lee’s Summit go to St. Louis for spring break,” and “Wow! Even in St. Louis I run into people who know BSLC because of Upward!

            The next day, we were back in Lee’s Summit, at Legacy Park for some soccer games.  There another family approached me, introduced themselves, and told me that they were part of our Upward program.  This encounter was not as shocking because it happens to me all the time around here!

            What is the value of a good name?  What is a positive reputation worth?  I’m not talking about my reputation, but Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church’s name.  I would argue that it is invaluable!

Upward Basketball is giving us a good name.  But it is not only Upward that is helping our reputation.  I hear regularly how people are touched by the love and care of our Abounding Love Preschool and PDO teachers, and appreciate that ministry of this church.  It gives BSLC a good name.  I hear how people have a positive experience in our Ignite Student Ministries, and were impacted through God’s love by an event or a trip.  I also often interact with people in the community, and even if they have not been in a worship service here, they think highly of our church because they know Bob or Joe or Deb or Jane or someone at BSLC who lives with integrity and love, serving God and neighbor.  Yes, YOU give BSLC a good reputation with your good life and witness.  A non-member who has come to worship here because of a personal friendship with a member recently commented on Facebook, “Beautiful Savior is a great bunch of people.

            This is what we want.  Not, of course, so we can pat ourselves on the back or enjoy some status and recognition.  We want a good name as a church so that others can make the connection between the good that we do and the faith we confess.  We want people to see Christ at work in us so that they can know that Christ has come for them.  We want the Christ to shine brightly through us so that the people living in darkness can see this great Light.

            Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16).  BSLC is shining God’s light.  I commend you, and encourage you to keep it up.  We don’t want gimmicks, hype, and hypocrisy, but for the love of God to be genuinely at work in us and through us.  So, shine God’s light in your interpersonal relationships, in your life of integrity, in your God-pleasing vocations, in your involvement in BSLC’s ministries, and in your loving service for your neighbor.  And remember that when we fall short, God is ready to forgive us, renew us, and lead us.

Boldly Sharing the Love of Christ,


Pastor Jon Gruen


Change

            The office next to me is empty.  Again.  Sometimes the silence next door screams at me.  Sometimes I don’t notice anything past the mound of files on my desk and the long to-do checklist on my phone.  Some things around here are very much the same.  But some aspects of my surrounding environment are drastically different.  Like it or not, change is upon us.

            Change is a strange beast.  It isn’t anything that exists all on its own, yet it thrives in the passing of time, and in our measuring of the realities that do exist, comparing the before to the after.  It isn’t its own entity, yet it is so strong a force it is often personified, often blamed or given credit, ever dwelling outside of us and even within us.  There are times when humans try to wield it as a weapon or a tool, making change their rallying cry.  There are times when humans will dig in their heels and try not to yield an inch to the faceless foe.  But like it or not, change is upon us.  And the empty office next door, like the empty office the vacancy before, reminds me that change resides within the Church too, if not in the message she proclaims, then in the people who proclaim it, in the world to whom it is spoken, and therefore also in the methods we use to communicate.

            It is good for us to get that reminder from time to time, for in this way God calls us to remember that He is Lord of the Church and we are to trust His wisdom.  St. Paul makes it very clear that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, and we are His Body (Col. 1:18).  Just as the human body is controlled and coordinated by the head, so also the Church submits to Christ.  And since the Church submits to Christ, we must also accept the change that he brings upon us.

            It is difficult, though, when the change feels like a loss.  And it does feel like that for many of us, doesn’t it?  I worked with Pastor Schwartz for a decade.  He is a partner in the Gospel, a friend, a mentor, and I know that I needed him to help round me out.  These are some of the lessons I heard him teach, either with his words or with his actions: It’s

okay to laugh big, even in church, for God is doing great things; work hard, because the harvest is plentiful; be bold, for God is at work through you; lead by example, for many are ready to follow; be passionate, because the work each of us does for God’s Church is the most important work there is; live for Christ, because he certainly lives in us.

            The last lesson he taught here is that even when all is well, we should be ready to pick up and go where Christ leads.  And that is exactly what God called Pastor, Gretchen, and her parents to do: to relocate and serve the Lord in a new place and in a new way.  That is what he has called us to do as well, though we aren’t relocating to find our new roles.  But when He called Pastor Schwartz to go, He called us in the same act to rely on Him, endure the change, and continue on proclaiming the Gospel and ministering to people in this place.

            It is always good for us during a time of change, whether we label the change as good or not, to know that God is the perfect manager (steward) of resources.  He is able to move His people, or leave them in place, raise His people up, or call them out in such a way that His perfect purposes are carried out.

            I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s all going to be okay.  Though our world is changing, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).  His Good News is the eternal Gospel (Rev. 14:6).  God is in the midst of us, His people.  He forgives us through the blood of Christ, strengthens us by His Spirit, and is doing mighty works through us.  And so, there is much for which to give thanks.

            I thank you for all your support, your care and concern for me.  So many people ask what they can do to help.  Three answers come readily to mind: 1) Care for one another, 2) Pray for the church staff and all the lay leaders, and 3) Be patient with the call process, for it can be lengthy, though in the end God will show that He is good. 

Just look, for example, how God brought us through a DCE vacancy that started four years ago.  It was a loss at the time, but because of that, Pam was brought on to do interim work and was retained in her current role as Ministry Assistant and Upward Director.  Praise God!  After that vacancy also we brought on Korey to be our DCE, who is leading well our youth and the many adult volunteers in this growing (in numbers and complexity) youth ministry.  Praise God again!  And as we acquired Korey, we were also blessed to receive his wife Tiffany, who, although we didn’t know it at the time, was to become the gifted Director for our great and growing preschool.  Praise God three times over!

So, time keeps rolling on.  A new chapter begins, and it will be filled with good things.  “O Thou who changest not, abide with me” (LSB 878:4).

 

Boldly Sharing the Love of Christ,

 

Pastor Jon


Awake the Voice!

           It is still just a tad bit too early for Christmas carols, but this morning I found myself pondering one called “What Sweeter Music,” thinking about not just what it said about the birth of Christ, but what it says about singing to Him.

            The lyrics come from the prolific 17th century English poet, Robert Herrick.  The song begins, “What sweeter music can we bring / Than a carol, for to sing / The birth of this our Heavenly King? / Awake the voice! Awake the string!”

            Notice that the carol praises Christ, who was born for us, then calls us to awaken our voices and musical talents, and calls our praise of Him the sweetest music there is.  Notice that the song does not praise the professionally trained instrumentalist or the perfectly polished singer (although it is a gift if someone does have those abilities).

            This really is a bold and profound statement.  We do not sing because we sound good.  We do not sing because we like the song.  We do not sing because we love music.  We do not sing because otherwise church would be boring. We do not sing to impress others.  We do not sing because otherwise our mom will elbow us in the ribs.  We sing because we have a Savior.

            When we sing hymns and Christian songs, we are teaching ourselves the Christian faith and the appropriate response of faith.  We are forming and shaping our children.  We are rejoicing in our salvation through Jesus, who was crucified and who rose from the dead for us.  We are praising God for his mighty works on earth.  We are praying that God would hear, have mercy, help and strengthen us.  We sing because we were made to sing, and because our God and His salvation is the greatest subject there is for our poetry and our musicality.

            We sing because we have a Savior.  Or do we?  Oh, of course we have a Savior, but do we sing?  In the front of Methodist hymnals in the 18th century, John Wesley (the father of Methodism) used to publish instructions for singing hymns.  Two of his seven instructions are useful to share here.  Consider them.  First: “Sing all.  See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can.  Let not a single degree of weakness or weariness hinder you.  If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.”  And second: “Sing lustily and with good courage.  Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.  Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sang the songs of Satan.”

            Isn’t our God worthy of all the exuberance that you give your radio?  Isn’t his salvation a subject matter worth praising far more than what our culture glorifies?

            Join in the congregational song, for there is no sweeter music that we can make.  The believer who sings of Christ and to Christ—whether it be the simple children’s song, or the out-of-tune father setting an example for his children, or the elderly woman who has praised God in the same pew for 90 years—is more beautiful and more pleasing to God than any and all faithless symphonies of the great composers in history.

            “Christ, the song of Love incarnate, / Touching earth with heaven’s grace, / For Your living, suff’ring, dying, / For Your rising, hear our praise! / Alleluia!  Alleluia! / Christ, Redeemer, Lord of life!” (LSB 795:3)

            What sweeter music can we bring?  Awake the voice!  Awake the string!

 

            Singing with you in worship,

           Pastor Jon Gruen


Comfort in Trouble

 

            Too often, it seems, we Christians find ourselves hearing news stories that make us shake our heads and cluck our tongues.  “It’s scary out there,” we say.  “Times are terrible,” we rightly proclaim.  As I write, there is a hostage situation and standoff in Kenya at a mall, and over 60 are presumed dead.  Recently, there was a bombing at a Christian church in Pakistan, killing over 70 Christians.  Not long ago there was a shooting in Chicago that was somewhat overshadowed by the Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C.  The Colorado floods are still raging.  And we don’t know at this point if the debt ceiling will be raised or not, if the healthcare law will stay in effect or not, if the government will have to shut down or not.

            Add all the usual filth of our culture, and it seems an understatement to say, “It’s scary out there.”

            Well, friends, I read something from a devotional book called Martin Luther: Through Faith Alone that I would like to share with you.  In this devotion, Martin Luther is commenting on Jesus’ words as recorded in John 14:1, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.”  Luther writes:

            “Whenever we feel distressed and anxious, let us believe Christ and strengthen ourselves with his words.  We should receive the comfort Christ offers in this passage.  It’s as if Christ were saying to us, ‘What are you doing?  Why are you cringing?  Are you scared to death?  Be encouraged and take heart.  All is not lost, even if the devil, the world, or your conscience plagues and terrifies you.  You’re not ruined if you don’t feel my presence.  Don’t you remember that I told you about this long ago and left these comforting words to strengthen and preserve you?’

            “From these and other words of Christ, we should begin to know the Lord Christ in the right way.  We should develop a more loving confidence in him.  And we should pay more attention to his Word than to anything that may come before our eyes, ears, and senses.  For if we are Christians and stay close to him, we know that he speaks to us.  We learn in this passage and elsewhere that he wants to comfort us with his words.  Everything that he says or does is nothing but friendly and comforting words and actions.

            “We can be sure of this: A sorrowful, timid, and frightened heart doesn’t come from Christ.  Christ doesn’t frighten hearts or make them depressed.  He came to this earth, did everything, and ascended into heaven to take away sorrow and fearfulness from our hearts and replace them with a cheerful heart, conscience, and mind.  That’s why he promises to send the Holy Spirit to his followers.  Through the Spirit, he wants to strengthen and preserve his followers after he has left.  Whoever can trust in what Christ says in this passage will be in good shape and will have won more than half the battle.”

            What great comfort there is in these words!  I hope and pray that they bring you peace even as they encouraged me.

            I also hope and pray that you didn’t miss it when Luther said that we should pay more attention to the Word of God than anything else our senses tell us.  I tell you, there is great wisdom in that instruction.  We experience our world through our senses, but even more sure than that is the Word of God that made the world, and that has reclaimed us to be God’s own.  That is why it is important for us to continue in the Word, making it a regular part of our daily life, and a part of our weekly life as we come together, gathered by God in the Divine Service, that we might receive his word of Law to correct us and Gospel to encourage us.

            You know, we are entering a busy time of year.  It is hectic but is one of my favorite times.  In just 5 weeks’ time (from October 27 to December 1) we will observe Reformation, All Saints’ Day, Thanksgiving, and the beginning of Advent.  What blessed opportunities those are for us to be encouraged by the Word again, to celebrate our salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, to rejoice that we are called saints through His forgiveness, and to prepare for Jesus’ return, even as we reflect on His first coming.  Don’t miss it.  It is for you.  For us.  God wants to comfort and console us, to give us life and salvation, to give us strength, even when things are “scary out there.”

See you in worship.

Pastor Jon Gruen

 


The Weight of Glory

           Someone recently asked me my take on an essay C. S. Lewis wrote called “The Weight of Glory.”  I had to confess that I had not read it, nor did I have it in my possession.  But a quick internet search yielded for me the entire text.  And now I confess that I much appreciated reading it!  Lewis certainly possessed a talent for proclaiming Christ in a fascinating and thought-provoking way.

            Two parts of the essay in particular are too good for me not to share with you.  The first part I’ll share (which is actually almost the end of the essay) has to do with the serious work we do for God here on this earth:

            “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.  This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.  We must play.  But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.  And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.”

            I love when he says “our charity must be a real costly love.”  Love is costly.  We see it on the cross as our Savior dies in love to free us from sin.  Love requires sacrifice.  And for us to follow our Savior’s footsteps is to love others unconditionally, to lay down our very lives for them.  As Jesus says in John 15:13-14, 17 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you…These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

           This is a difficult task.  Nay, an impossible task!  Impossible, that is, if Christ were not at work in us.  His gift of love to us is not simply an example that we follow, but it is transformative, motivational, and inspirational.  And because of the breath of life in us from the Spirit of God, we move and breathe and have our being in him.  And his heart beats in our chests; his love flows through us to others.  This is the only way we will have the strength and ability to carry out the task of reaching our neighbor for Christ, making an eternal difference.  This task is heavy.  Lewis said of it, “The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.”

            So this is serious work—overwhelming work!  What can be more serious, more solemn, and more important for us to do?  Nothing!

            Yet, even though we take the task our Savior gives us very seriously, we still can find enjoyment and peace and have a calm spirit while we work.  For we know our sins are forgiven.  We know God is the one who is at work.  He is the one who gets results.  We rejoice just to be a part of it.

            And the desire to hear God praise us for our work for him is not something to be ashamed about as if it were selfish.  Lewis once thought so, but in his essay he shares: “Nothing can eliminate from the parable the divine accolade, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’ With that, a good deal of what I had been thinking all my life fell down like a house of cards.  I suddenly remembered that no one can enter heaven except as a child; and nothing is so obvious in a child—not in a conceited child, but in a good child—as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised.  Not only in a child, either, but even in a dog or a horse.  Apparently what I had mistaken for humility had, all these years, prevented me from understanding what is in fact the humblest, the most childlike, the most creaturely of pleasures—nay, the specific pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure of a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator.”

            Certainly we have a glorious future ahead of us!  We should especially remember that if we should become weary or discouraged as we work for God in this life.  Yes, we will become weary or discouraged at times (for love is costly!), but God’s grace is equal to the need.  We can take comfort, and rejoice, even as St. Paul rejoiced in Romans 8:18: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

           God be with you as you love your neighbor.

 

            Pastor Jon Gruen


Subtracting?  Or Adding?

 

“What are you giving up for Lent?”  This question is often asked and answered at the beginning of the season of Lent.  Many people will give up something they love (a sacrifice) or give up something they know they should do without anyway (a form of “repentance” of unhealthy things) as an exercise of preparation.  If this practice is useful to you in helping you focus on Christ and his sacrifice for you, then by all means continue!

But whether you “give something up” or not, why don't you consider this year taking on something additional.  Instead of merely subtracting, why don't you try adding?  Add a new practice that helps you even more to focus on Christ and his love for you.  What will you add?  You don't have to rack your brains to come up with something novel or earth-shattering.  Just add something that God has already given you to do.  Spend additional time in prayer.  Begin a new Bible reading plan and follow through.  Find another way to serve others with the love of Christ.  Be diligent in worship.  Serve the church with your precious time and beneficial talents.  I have a feeling that this practice will aid you even more than, say, giving up chocolate.  And I'm not just saying that because I think I could never successfully give up chocolate!  I'm saying it because God has attached so many promises to his Word, to the prayers of his children, to our time with him in worship, and his work in us and through us.  Why wouldn't we want to add more of those things?!  Try it.  And rejoice in the love of your Savior who willingly died for you, to give you new and eternal life!

 

Friends, below you will find information about our Lent theme on Wednesdays and the special worship schedule.  I'll see you in worship!

 

 

 

Pastor Jon


Message from Pastor Gruen:

O Come, Emmanuel: Come, We Pray

 

            For years we have sung “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” as part of our Advent journey toward Christmas.  Most of us sang this traditional Advent carol without realizing the context and meaning of the references in the hymn.  In the mid-19th century, John Mason Neale and Henry Sloan Coffin translated Latin prayers from the 12th century that we call the “O” Antiphons.  (You can read these prayers in our Lutheran Service Book hymnal at the end of hymn number 357).  These “O” Antiphons in days of old were sung before the Magnificat canticle in the Vespers service, and each stanza was built upon a prophetic, Old Testament name or title for the Christ who was to come.

            Neale and Coffin translated the Latin chants into English in the 19th century but used a 15th century French chant tune for the music.  Ever since then, it has been a widely used and deeply loved carol for Advent and Christmas.

            But can something so old still be relevant?  I mean, surely the world has changed!  People don’t think like they used to or live like they used to.  If we went back to the 19th or 15th or 12th centuries and saw their inventions, we would yawn.  If we heard them lecture on science, we might laugh.  If we had to take their medicine or be treated by their doctors, we would probably be scared.  If we had to spend a day living how they lived, we would probably marvel at the colossal amount of work it took to do some things that our machines can do very quickly.  And if we heard a preacher, or a Christmas carol, or a prayer…

            …Well, that’s where the difference lies.  The message of Christ is relevant in every century.  Skeptics and doubters might laugh and deny that, but I assert that it is true.  As evidence to support my claim, I cite the fact that Christianity is still here.  We are still proclaiming the same Jesus Christ.  We are still addressing all the needs, challenges, and troubles of the day.  We are still delivering hope

and peace, comfort and joy.  And that’s what makes the Gospel so innovative and relevant—not that the message changes, but that the eternal Gospel has the ability to address every challenge of every age, every need of every people.

            So, I invite you to come to our Advent Midweek series based on titles found in the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  You will discover, just as people did in days of old, what it means to pray for Christ to come, who is our Wisdom from on High, our Lord of Might, and our Branch of Jesse.  Come and join us as we pray for Christ to return and as we also prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate the birth of the Savior so long ago.

            That birth was so long ago, but I assure you that nothing is more relevant in my life.  I pray it is the same for you.

 

See you in worship this Advent and Christmas,

 

Pastor Jon Gruen