2016 Pastoral Report

“Let’s Stir Things Up!”

1. By holding fast to our confession of God’s Word
2. By having the good habit of gathering together
3. By encouraging each other in love and good works

Hebrews 10:23-25
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (NKJVTM)
In the name of Jesus Christ, who has bound us together by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.
In high school I used to have a lot of fun in the chemistry lab. I ended up with the nickname “Pyromaniac.” I was curious how mixing different elements would lead to them burning, especially with the Bunsen burner. Such a fascination with combustion led me to design a unique burning machine in college. The key was to create a chemically favorable process which would lead to combustion. It was neat, and still is, to see energy at work.
The intent of an annual pastoral report is to give an idea where the state of the congregation is at. Some might say that it is declining: maybe fewer people on our membership list, maybe fewer involved as there used to be around here, perhaps it’s harder to find volunteers or to find people to serve on the church council, maybe it’s more of a struggle to keep up with our offerings. Perhaps some might think that we need to have some significant changes around here. Perhaps we need to stir things up a little. After all, we see this on the political scene, don’t we? Some big changes are coming with our new president. It happens even in companies when a new CEO comes in to stir things up! He fuels combustion within the company to where he hopes to get some profits or provide more energy and excitement to inspire people to work harder. Maybe we need to make a lot of changes around here at Grace. Maybe we need to see more of an impact around here with some more flamboyant preaching or enticing entertainment to make things a lot more interesting.
Is that the answer that God gives us? No. Instead we see His answer in verse 24:
24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, …
God does want us to stir things up. But in our text he tells us to do it in three different ways that we will consider today: 1) by holding fast to our confession to God’s Word; 2) by having the good habit of gathering together; and 3) by encouraging one another in love and good works.
As with combustion, you need individual chemicals or elements to create that energetically favorable process. If you have the wrong chemicals – the wrong elements – nothing might happen or something very different might happen than what you expected. You see, it all starts with the basic individual ingredients. And what are the basic individual ingredients of an explosive congregation? The individual parts: You and me. Verse 23 tells us:
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. The “confession” which we are to “hold fast,” is the confession of our faith. The original language for the word “confession” is “homologia.” It’s a compound of two words, “homo” and “logos.” “Homo” means simply “to be of the same kind.” “Logos” means “word” or “saying.” So literally, homologia means to say the same thing or word. In our confession of faith with the Apostles Creed, we all speak the same words. It is a confession. Technically, homologia has the definition: “a statement of allegiance expressing binding assent and public commitment.”
Now that’s a little technical, so I’d like to give an illustration to help you understand what homologia actually means. Let’s say that I am a writer and I focus on all the reasons of why the sky is blue. I write many books about why the sky is blue. In those books I would express my thoughts, my convictions, and my beliefs in the words that I write. If you read my books and you agree with the words that I’ve written, then, in essence, you are in agreement with me because those words express my thoughts. And if you take my viewpoint about why the sky is blue and you begin to hold it as your own conviction, it won’t be long before you and I are aligned in our thoughts and in our beliefs. If these words get deeply in your heart to where you embrace these thoughts, you will no longer just parrot the things I might say or even quote the words of my book. You’ll speak openly to others about those convictions because they are inside your heart. You might word them a little differently, but they’re still the same thoughts. At that point you and I will be genuinely aligned in our viewpoints and convictions, talking the same language.
That is what is meant by homologia, or confession:
23 Let us hold fast the confession (the homologia) of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. In the case of our passage, it is not talking about books which discuss why the sky is blue. It is talking about the Book that God wrote: the Bible. It speaks about the individual who has gotten God’s Word into his heart to where he now comes into alignment with what God says. This person sees the matter the way God sees it. This person hears the matter the way God hears it. This person feels the same way God feels about it. His heart is so united with God that his heart is nearly beating in syncopation with God. This leads the believer to openly confess God’s Word so that his confession is no longer just empty chatter with words, but rather it becomes a conviction, a conviction within you because you believe what the words of the Bible say. This is why it is so important that a pastor studies God’s Word so that he has that conviction to preach it and teach it to the congregation. Then they can have that same conviction as well.
This is where stirring things up starts … not only with the pastor, but with each and every one of us … the entire congregation. We can so easily lose sight of this in our society today. We at Grace Lutheran Church need an unwavering confession:
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.
But in order for it to be that way, we need to be in constant contact with the Word itself to where we hear the unwavering promises of our faithful Lord because “He who promised is faithful.” As your pastor, I strongly encourage you to get into God’s Word … to study it. Study it at home and memorize sections of it so that you can take it with you wherever you go. Study it in Bible class as you hear your pastor have a weekly exposition upon it. Take it deeply into your heart and into your mind to where you meditate on it and God’s thoughts become your thoughts …. to where you are aligned with Him. The less and less you use the Word of God, the less you will be aligned with God. The more and more you use the Word of God, the more you will be aligned with God. Once that Word becomes so real inside of you then it becomes your word too, and to where you are ready to open your mouth and speak before others as to what you believe, because God’s convictions are your convictions.
As you do so the Law will convict you of your sin and the Gospel will comfort you with God’s love. You’ll be drawn to your Savior and you will see Him as the most priceless gift you have in your life, where your life becomes one of continuous repentance and faith. This is the blessing we receive as we hear the Word, for we are even promised in Luke 11:28: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
This is why listening to the Word of God is to actually become your habit.
Yes, a habit. Verse 25 says:
25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
The ESV actually has a very good translation:
[do] not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Meeting together or assembling together … that’s what God wants us to do. And when we meet together and assemble together, the Bible is speaking about our worship experience at church. For us, it is here at Grace. And the Day that is spoken about here, Judgment Day, is a lot closer now than when this passage was written nearly 2,000 years ago. When that Day comes there will be no more time left to hear the Word. So until then, this passage is directing us not to have the bad habit of not assembling together, but rather to have the good habit of gathering together regularly. We are to meet together for worship regularly until Judgment Day arrives.
There are good habits and there are bad habits. I think it is pretty obvious when a person has a bad habit. There are good habits like brushing teeth, taking a shower in the morning, and taking the most efficient route to work. Good habits keep us in sync with life. They give us stability during our daily lives. Now these kinds of good habits may not be that exciting, but we see them as necessary to have in our lives. It’s either a habit to be around the Word of God or it is not. This really is dependent upon you. Yes, no one else but you. Do you make it a habit? Do your children see how important it is by observing your habits? What kind of habits do you train your children in?
25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner (or habit) of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
“Exhorting one another.” That’s what happens when we have the good habit of coming together. That word for “exhort” is the same word that is used for “Paraclete,” the word Jesus used in the Bible for the Holy Spirit. Literally “Paraclete” has the idea of calling someone to one’s side. That means we are to “paraclete” one another. So by exhorting one another, we have some pretty sobering work to do. What we are to do is compared to what the Holy Spirit does to us. The Holy Spirit gives us and keeps us in faith. The Holy Spirit is there for us during good times but also challenging times. So that’s the way we are to be like for each other as fellow Christians. Paraclete has the idea of encouraging, comforting, imploring, counseling and exhorting. We live in a sensitive society where we want to hear what we think is going to be good for us. But sometimes we also need to hear what we really need … counseling that is wise whether it is good or challenging for us.
Sometimes there are things going on in our lives that perhaps we think are no one else’s business. But when you are a Christian, you are bound to Christ by faith. So are your fellow Christians as well. Jesus says in John 15:4-5:
John 15:4-5 4 “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”
We need that faith-connection to Jesus as our Savior. We need to hear about our forgiveness of sins and the life that He gives us. But He also describes us as branches. We are connected to Him as the vine. But there are other branches around you making all of us part of a beautiful plant. This plant is to grow and to be fruitful. That means we are here to encourage each other because we are all part of one living, productive organism. We are to encourage each other in love and good works as our text says.
But in order to do this we as Christians are to hold each other accountable. We know how much we need each other. We know how easy it is for the devil to mislead each of us as he leverages us to venture away from Christ and His Word. So God calls us to gather together in order to encourage each other to stay connected to Christ, to live that life of love and good works. If someone is venturing away, we need to be that source of help and to say what needs to be said. If I were venturing away from Christ, I would sure hope that someone would reach out to help me. What greater help can you give to a fellow Christian than to speak directly about the need for correction and guidance from the Word? In so doing we need to be mindful of what the Lord says in Ephesians 4:15:
Ephesians 4:15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—
Yes, it all starts with the individual elements. But then those elements are combined together. Combustion can’t happen from the elements themselves. They need to be brought together to create that chemically favorable process. And when Christians are brought together around the Word of God, the combustion flares up … love abounds and there is the energy that God wants us to have.
That true combustion comes from the power of the Word:
1 Peter 1:5 [we] are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1 Cor. 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, …
That word for power in each of these passages is the Greek word “dunamis,” like our English word dynamite. Whenever the Word of God is used, it’s like dynamite. This dynamite has explosive power, power that leads to combustion, power that brings the energy that our congregation needs. That kind of connection to the Word is necessary for each of us as we gather here for church, Sunday school, Bible class, Catechism, and even our school. Dear Christian, Judgment Day is coming closer and closer each moment we live. Our congregation needs that constant reevaluation of what is vital for each of us. Yes, we need to stir things up. Not with a special program, not with entertainment. But it starts with each of us stirring things up by holding fast to our confession of God’s Word, by having the good habit of gathering together, and by encouraging one another in love and good works. Amen

Submitted by Pastor John Hein
Pastor, Grace Lutheran Church
Soli Deo Gloria!
January 15, 2017