The Ministry of Encouragement

As I reflect back on the posts about liturgy, worship and brokenness, I have also tried to see ministry in that context. There is a book by Paul Moots, Becoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement (The Alban Institute, 2004) that seems to fit within this whole discussion.


My guess is that many of us have not thought much about the ministry of encouragement. In most of my travels and visits with congregations, this seldom is mentioned. Most often, people want “the method that will work for us.” The ministry of encouragement is not a method or quick fix for congregational problems, but is something far deeper and lasting. Moots introduces us to the Biblical concept of encouragement then offers ways that the ministry of encouragement is part and parcel of our work together. He demonstrates each aspect from the life and ministry of Barnabas, and early traveling companion of Paul. Moots offers some thought-provoking questions, and he provides some guidelines on how the ministry of encouragement can work in a partnership between pastor and congregation.

It is no secret that Western culture has made a cult of success, and that success American-style is couched in terms of size or growth or wealth or winning. The danger is that the church has accepted the larger culture’s definition by regarding success as growth in membership size and budget, rather than as faithfulness in discipleship. (p. xii)

At their best, the strengths of small, strong congregations lie in their intimacy and shared history, their sense of compassion and mission, their self-reliance and generosity. (p. xiii)

“…we are not called to make our congregations into cookie-cutter versions of Willow Creek or Ginghamsburg. What we are called to remember is that every church can and must hear Jesus’ mandate to make disciples of all nations and, by extension, to make disciples in all communities and congregations. All Christians can and must be challenged to make full use of our gifts in Christ’s service. Regardless of size or liturgy or music style, every local church that faithfully follows Christ will see signs of spiritual growth and often numerical growth as well. (p. xv)

With proper preparation and focus, every partnership between pastor and congregation should result in a challenging and fruitful ministry. (p. xv)

His chapter titles reveal his direction for congregational ministry of encouragement:

1 The Ministry of Encouragement

2 Standing with and Standing Aside: The Ministry of Partnership

3 Standing with Outsiders and Outcasts: The Ministry of Hospitality

4 Standing against Fear: The Ministry of Courage

5 Standing against Failure: The Ministry of Reconciliation

6 Authenticity in Ministry: Character and Call

7 A Ministry in Process

This book deserves a close reading and hearing in our congregations by pastors and lay leadership.


The Sermon on the Mount – Law or Gospel?

The literature covering this text (Matthew 5–7) is extensive, to put it mildly. My concern here is simply how do we understand the essence of this text? Traditionally, Lutherans have looked at it as the fullest statement of Law, showing how the Pharisees had distorted God’s Law by reducing to achievable levels. Thus, Jesus raises the bar of the Law to its full intent. “You have heard it was said [current 1st century teaching]… but I tell you.” Jesus gets to the heart behind the action, addressing anger, lust of the heart, etc.

The Sermon of Jesus on the mount. Fresco by de:Franz Xaver Kirchebner in the Parish church of de:St. Ulrich in Gröden-it:Ortisei built in the late 18th century.

This approach makes sense especially when we include Matthew 5:20 [Jesus said:] “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (NAS). And then the ultimate expression of the demands of the Law in 5:48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (NAS). I have used both statements in teaching classes in Catechism and courses on Law and Gospel.

David Scaer in his commentary on Matthew, Discourses in Matthew: Jesus Teaches the Church (CPH, 2004) offers a far different approach. Because he takes the Gospel According to Matthew as a catechetical document, he claims that the catechumen is already prepared for the fulfillment of Christ in all of this. Thus, the Sermon on the Mount is Gospel, because Christ has indeed fulfilled it. He cites 5:17 as evidence of this approach. Scaer writes:

Christology was the key that allowed catechumens to understand the message. To them the Sermon was not a listing of rules but a catalog and fulfillment of promises that Jesus had already accomplished in himself for them. What were later judged to be impossible demands and simple moralisms were in fact descriptions of Jesus. Extract Christology from the Sermon and its message is turned from Gospel into law. (p. 214)

I like the insight and agree with what he has written. But this seems more to be audience-reader driven, and not directly connected with Jesus’ original audience. I would say that until someone comes to faith in Christ, that is, the current state of the Pharisees and others when Jesus originally spoke those words, the Sermon would be Law. Thus, context makes the difference between whether a statement is functioning as Law or Gospel. Even the crucifixion itself can be a demand of the Law (what we do/say/think) or the greatest statement of Gospel (what God does for our salvation).

So, what way do you take the Sermon on the Mount: Law or Gospel?

Regardless, if you have not done so and are interested in a challenging and worthwhile study, consider reading Scaer’s book. You will be blessed by doing so.

The Hard Part of Father’s Day — but the Best Part

Father’s Day has always been hard for me. I wasn’t close to my father. We conversed when we were together but we never connected. He died 20 years ago last week (June 9, 1991, on my mother’s birthday). Our strained relationship goes back at least 50 years, when something happened that changed our relationship. I still don’t know what caused it. Some might claim that it was because I was nearing puberty. Unfortunately, that doesn’t fully explain it. I never did measure up to his expectations, whether it was I was a college student, Naval officer, post-graduate student (nine years worth), or even pastoral work, it seemed as if he could never get to the point of approving or accepting who I was or what I had done.

My father as a young man (1940’s)

He was an angry man during my growing up years. He was angry in an outward way— yelling, cursing, etc. Yet why was I angry? My anger was inward directed, and few knew my anger, but it took its toll on me. This struggle also affected me when I became a father. As one of our sons especially had difficult times, I received all kinds of advice “if you would do just this…,” as if one small word or action would solve all our problems. My father joined that chorus.

I remember when I was a young teen, he would comment about families in which a child (especially teenager) would rebel, then my father would say, “If you see a child rebelling, just look at the parents and blame them.” Those words haunted me for years… even long after my father died. And I did exactly that, wondering why I ever thought I could be a father myself. The longer those problems existed, the worse it became because of the increasing isolation from friends and family who couldn’t handle it, and the blame for me toward me.

Eventually my father experienced an incident with our son and he began to understand that we didn’t face normal “teen rebellion.” With tears in his eyes, he later admitted to me that he finally realized what we endured and he didn’t know what to say to us.

And yet, I still struggled with my own role as father, that I have failed, and failed miserably. As my own world crashed in 1998-2000, I reevaluated much in my life, especially my feelings toward my father. In the process, I began to discover much about him through some genealogy research. And I began to understand him better, what he experienced as a young person. Now I would like to ask him questions, sit with him for hours and dig beyond what we shared (or didn’t share) years ago. Who knows, we could have even begun a true relationship as father and son. But it was not to be.

All of this has significant influence on my relationship with God. How can I call him “Father” when I struggled with my own father and my own role as father? I don’t have the prerogative to invent my own term; “Daddy” carries some aspect of it (like “Abba”), but not in a formalized environment like the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father in heaven….” So what do I do?

This is a big hurdle that many people face. In reality, the use of “Father” for God is the basis for healing a relationship that was (or is) bad. God the Father had a Son who perfectly obeyed and pleased His Father. The beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus also obeyed perfectly for me. Thus, while I never measured up, Jesus perfectly did — for me. And He invites me to live with Him in that changed relationship, with His Father, with my own father, and my own sons. Forgiveness and restoration are not just concepts, but real.

Do I regret all those years I lived in anger toward someone else, or lived with the blame in my own life? Absolutely! I would love to go back and see, speak, and act with understanding and compassion. But I cannot. However, over the years I have also realized that God brings healing through that forgiveness and restoration that Jesus earned and gives. For me, Father’s Day is not about my father, nor about me, but rather my heavenly Father. And that is worth celebrating.

Bluegrass — My Heritage

I began playing guitar 49 years ago this month. I learned from three pickers who began playing in the 1940’s. It was bluegrass, but also some music that is called old timey. My grandfather was born in 1872 and learned classical violin, but then he played the raw fiddle tunes popular after the civil war. I remember him playing one time when I was very small. That is him playing the fiddle in this photo. The other three young men were the ones who taught me ~10 years later.

Jamming 1940’s style
Jamming 1940’s style

As a result, bluegrass and old timey have been part of my life in one form or another. Recently on YouTube I have found some homemade videos made in living rooms, etc. That brings back so many fond memories. When others in high school were dating, etc. I was playing guitar in somebody’s living room or garage.

So, I find this particular video that strikes a reminder of what I experienced. They are good; only wish that Randi had faced the camera! But the music, harmony, and instrumentals are precious to me.


So who won?

If you look at web sites and TV shows regarding last night, you’d think that the coverage implied, no, demanded, that Miami won. Why? Well, look at the headline photos. So far, I have not found one that has Dallas [team members] highlighted. So what does that say? About sports, it is an interesting spectacle, whether you are a fan of Miami or Dallas. Confusing, perhaps to some.

But I suggest that this insight into the world of sports and media sheds light on the Church as well. Some Christian leaders gain all the headlines, on TV, on the web, whether for good or bad. Sometimes it would be hard to tell who is “winning” based on the media coverage.

In the Church, as outlined in the New Testament (and certainly foreshadowed in the Old Testament), the one who won is the one who lost, and the one who lost is the one who won. On Good Friday, it appeared from all the headlines that Satan had won, and Jesus lost. “We had such great expectations for him! He was only 33 years old, at the peak of his mission.” Yes, for all appearances, Satan came out ahead. But the quietness of Easter morning hid the greater reality: the one who lost (Jesus) had now won; the one who had won really had lost. Satan was defeated, even on Friday.

It took a while for that reality to settle in. In fact, the resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost (last Sunday) signal a change in history, in the entire universe. The old has passed away, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). Yet, appearances suggest that the old has a strong hold on our present life. Sin still ravages lives, evil is the “new normal.” The one who does good is often penalized.

Despite what the headlines suggest about what is going on, Jesus Christ has still been reigning, sometimes hidden from our view, but reigning, nevertheless. The one who is in Christ (believes in him) lives in the momentary suffering, pain, and anguish of this life (Romans 8:23-24). But our lives are hidden with Christ (Colossians 3:3). The world may see our sorrows and think that they have won. Other Christians may see our agony and declare that “we don’t have enough faith.”

Well, like the Dallas Mavericks in basketball, we don’t read the headlines, we believe the reality. The Mavericks are champions in basketball. We don’t believe the pre-mature obituaries of the Christian faith. In Christ we have already received the promised victory at the end. There is not suspense. There is only waiting for the right time.

So congrats to the Mavericks. But even greater congrats to the pastor who leads his congregation day after day, sermon after sermon, baptism after baptism, and funeral after funeral. The victory is won, and he know it. Congrats to the Christian who has endured what seems to be “unfair suffering.” Despite the headline of suffering, their victory is secure in Christ.

Pentecost (the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2) ushers in the “last time” (Acts 2:17). For that final end we long, we wait eagerly, but we also live in the present, knowing that Jesus won the victory, he won it for us. And we won’t run to the center court to celebrate — we will be taken to heaven and exult in the heavenly court.

NIV 2011 — Acts 3:21

There are some pasages in the Bible that function as a sort of litmus test about how well a translation handles it. Acts 3:21 is such a passage. Depending on how the translators view the text, it can reinforce a Reformed view of “Christ’s presence” (“Since Jesus must remain in heaven he cannot be corporally present [in the sacrament]”).

Notice the change in NIV from 1984 to 2011. I think that NIV 2011 is the better translation in this place.

Acts 3:20b-21

GNT: ὃν δεῖ οὐρανὸν μὲν δέξασθαι

NIV 1984: He must remain in heaven

NIV 2011: Heaven must receive him [Jesus/Christ]

NAS 95: whom heaven must receive

NKJV: whom heaven must receive


Perhaps a minor change, but it seems to be closer to the Greek text.

Vacation … sort of

Map of USA with Minnesota highlighted
Image via Wikipedia

Yes, it is good to get away, providing you can get away. Family, friends, and more work than I anticipated.

We spent time with our mothers in Minnesota, which was nice; ~200 miles north of Minneapolis. Both mothers are aging (in their mid 80’s, I guess that happens!), but still alert and willing to try new things. I also visited twice with my brother.

I also got to see about 25+ of my high school classmates, none I had seen since June 2, 1967 (except for 6-7 last Thanksgiving for our first unofficial reunion); yep 44 years changes us! Because of jobs/travel, etc. I have never made it to any official reunion. This was great fun!

I never realized how old these people have gotten, not the pry, active, athletic, energetic people I remember so well from a few years ago! Well, except I look in the mirror and I was sure that there was hair on top of my head last week?!? And how did my chest muscles become excess baggage around my middle??? Anyway, this turned out to be a splendid time. The originally estimate was maybe 10 people would show. Even with three hours of visiting, I didn’t get to speak with some of them except to introduce myself as that balding, pudgy guy so they could remember what I “really look like!”

And there was work, too. Most of it enjoyable, but still work. I finished the last two nights of teaching Hermeneutics from hotel rooms. Sadly, the Comfort Inn lost all internet connection half way through the last night of class. The hotel never did get internet access back while we were there. We still finished because we are using teleconferencing not through the internet; the others could see each other though. Great class, and good participation.

Then I had the privilege of meeting with an LCMS pastor for 3 ½ hours. Good discussion and proved helpful for both of us. Look forward to further contact.

Yes, it was a vacation after all, especially considering it was 95° when we arrived home yesterday.