Giving something up for Lent? Or considering it? Some would call such giving something up as a type of fast. FYI: you don’t have to!! But if you do fast – do it God’s way.
What is fasting? Fasting is usually abstaining from food and drink for a set time period. If you are having blood work done, there is some fasting prescribed—and this is for a good reason. But giving something up for Lent?
A Bible word search shows that the word fasting does not appear in any of the Epistles. Paul never talks about it. God’s Word does not prescribe it as something you have to do. When Jesus did talk about it, He indicated that it was something that should only be between you and God—if you do it.
Matthew 6:16–18 (ESV): 16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Don’t let any one else know that you are fasting. If you fast to make a show of it and bring attention or praise to yourself—that does NOT please God. A fast that brings attention to yourself for bragging purposes is wrong.
There is a better description for fasting and God’s purposes found in Isaiah 58:6-7: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
The “fasting” that God commends here is simply summarized as showing mercy and love to others. What are ways that you can point someone away from wickedness to righteousness? How can you show someone the love and forgiveness that comes from God? How can you help take care of those who need food and clothing and shelter? This is the kind of “fasting” God desires. And this way of love is how we should be ALL-THE-TIME.
So, don’t worry about giving anything up for Lent. Take up something. Take up mercy and show it. Have mercy as Christ has been merciful to you. Mercy can also be call loving-kindness. Live a life of love and kindness as God has loved you and been kind to you. In Christ we have received forgiveness, compassion, kindness, mercy. Walk with Jesus in these and God is pleased.
In Christ, Pastor Toensing
Throughout the year there are many seasons, celebration days, feasts, festivals, occasions, and observances in the Church. Christmas and Easter are certainly the most well-known and observed. But there are other smaller observances as well. Some of these are called “commemorations”. These are days in which a Christian saint is remembered.
February 14th brings us the commemoration of Saint Valentine, who was a martyr of the Christian faith. Very little is actually known about Valentine. He was a physician and Christian priest in Rome during the third century A.D. At that time in Roman history, Christians and the Church were persecuted. Valentine was put to death by Emperor Claudius in either 269 or 270. The exact reasons for his death are unknown.
One legend indicates that before he was put to death for his Christian faith, Valentine wrote a note on an irregular piece of paper to the child of his jailer. The note was to encourage this child in her Christian faith. Tradition says that he signed it as “your Valentine”. And from these alleged roots came the tradition of sending notes of affection to loved ones on Valentine’s Day.
What a joy it is that we can show love for one another. But what greater joy is ours in the love that God has for us. And what a love letter He has sent us! Not just a message of love, but love incarnate—love in the flesh. For God the Son Himself came to show us the Father’s heart. Jesus came to live a life of love for God and for men. And in the greatest act of love, He gave Himself over to die for our sins on the cross.
God’s love for you is so much more than affectionate emotions. God’s love is put into action. It is driven by His will and loving desire to save us and care for us. He doesn’t just say, “I love you,” He showed it. He acted upon it. He did it. He did love. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is all about God’s love in action for you. This love saves us from death and gives us eternal life.
Since His love is poured out into our hearts, He enables us to
truly love one another—not just in saying so, but in doing so. Love
is more than a feeling. Love acts on behalf of the good of others.
And that is what God’s love is all about. He loves you by taking
care of you and giving you blessings every day. But most of all His
love is seen in Jesus on the cross. Jesus stepped in and took your
place in the punishment for your sin. God put His love into action
for you in Jesus. God’s love
actually gives life!
In this month of St. Valentine’s Day, rejoice in the great love that God has for you—a love that acts and does what is good for you through Jesus Christ.
In Christ’s love, Pastor Toensing
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ. A happy and blessed New Year (2019) to you.
It is sometimes nice to get something new. I say “sometimes” because there are some old things that are certainly better than its new replacement. And some things “new” are not allowed – you cannot trade in your family for a new one. But there are some new things that we can find great blessing in—especially with what we have in Christ.
The New Testament is clear that each day we are being made new in
Christ. This is a way of describing the forgiveness of sins we have
in Christ. God is merciful and forgiving when we repent of our sins
and seek to do what is right. Look at these from God’s Word;
Lamentations 3:22–23 (ESV): "The steadfast love of the Lord
never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new
every morning; great is your faithfulness..." and 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV): "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (See also what Paul writes in Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10.)
Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, brings this out in regard
to living in our Baptismal grace.
What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Where is this written? St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: "We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (Romans 6:4).
There is no doubt that we daily sin much. We don’t honor or trust
in God as faithfully as we think we do. We do not honor His name as
courageously or as boldly before some as we ought. Do we rightly
honor those in authority? Check you silent thoughts about what you
sometimes think but don’t say. And when it comes to gossip or
sharing things about others that we really should be keeping silent
about … well, we see our sinfulness. These are what are referred to
in 1 Corinthians 15:22 and
2 Corinthians 5:17.
The Lord calls us to repent of all of our sins. Those who do so, who humble themselves before Him, will be lifted up in mercy—God’s everlasting loving-kindness in Christ. Our sin is forgiven in Jesus. In Him we are made new. And each day is a day of God’s grace that we might go at it again, receiving His gifts and serving Him by our service to one another.
And that is my prayer for you as we enter this New Year. It will
be nice to put some things behind
us—some hurts and sorrows, some regrets and failures, and all of our sins especially. And as we
rejoice in the opportunities and hopes that a New Year brings, I pray God helps us to see each day as a new gift from Him. With God and in Christ we are made new. Before us we have a New Year and
each day is a new day from Him. May God bless you and keep you in Christ and continually make you new each day in His name and in His service.
In Christ’s Love, Pastor Toensing
Dear Saints in Christ, I do it. I know that I do it. I’ve probably done it to you. But I’m really trying not to do it anymore. What is it that I do that I think I shouldn’t keep on doing? I have discovered that I often try to get the last word … in conversations, in ending phone calls, sometimes but not always in emails, but definitely in texting. I’ve noticed it on my own. No one pointed it out to me. In the last three months or so, though, I have noticed it in myself. A lot.
I want to be the last to say goodnight or goodbye or throw in a “God-bless” at the end of a phone call. I want to be the last to say I love you. I have unnecessarily texted back a response on a text when I really did not need to. Even when someone says “thank you” I find myself saying, “no, thank YOU” or just “thank you”. Why do I need to do that? Do I really thank you or am I really just trying to be the better person and making sure I get the last “thank you” in?
I don’t know why I do this—or didn’t. Internet psychology articles say that it has to do with a desire to win an argument. Or it has to do with ego. Perhaps it comes from wanting to be in control. As I have considered the take of such internet psychology I must admit that I cannot argue against those assessments. I DO want to be in control. I DO want to win. I think I can be egotistic. Okay, I am. All of these flow from the fact that I am a sinful human being.
But, like I said, I’ve noticed that I do this. Now, I’m trying to change that. I’m trying to leave things at the end where I don’t have to have the last word. I’m trying not to seek to be in control or to try to win. I’m trying to put my ego in check. I am repentant of such self-centeredness. And now on to victory.
My victory is in Christ. For in Jesus Christ I have forgiveness. And in Christ God has the last word. The work that Jesus did for my salvation has been made complete in Christ’s death for me. On the cross, just before He died His earthly death, He said, “It is finished.” He had suffered in His body the wages of my sin. He had been damned and suffered Hell on my account while He hung there upon the tree. And then, He said, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) EVERYTHING that was necessary for my salvation from my sin, including my self-centeredness, was covered in the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord.
God gets the last word. Not me. In Revelation 22:13 (ESV) we find:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” He has the first Word – He made us. He sustains us our whole life through. Jesus Christ is the Omega (last letter of the Greed alphabet), the last, and the end—that is, everything is complete in Him.
It also says in Romans 11:36 (ESV):
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
So, God really is the One Who gets the last word. And through Jesus Christ, I receive forgiveness and mercy. And so do you. Jesus is the last word for you too.
In God’s peace, Pastor Toensing
Dear St. John Saints in Christ, I pray that you have considered the great impact of living by creeds. A creed is a statement by which one leads his/ her life. A creed is a person’s guiding principle. And everyone lives their life by some type of creed that guides them—even if they don’t realize it. To say, “I don’t live by any creed,” well, that in itself, is a creed.
Watch out for creeds that are self-centered and self-serving. This can be easy to spot. A creed I often heard in my youth in public high school was this: “You’ve got to watch out for number one (yourself).” It can be phrased in multiple ways. “I’m watching out for myself.” “I make my own rules.” “I’m number one.” Etc. To really think this way is to live with yourself in the center.
And, perhaps not realizing it, those who live by this way of guiding their lives have made themselves their own god. And if we are honest with ourselves … we may have thought or said some of these same self-serving statements to ourselves. If so, we repent of such statements and ways of thinking. We turn once again to the creeds of Scripture and the creeds of the Church. We turn to Christ for forgiveness and seek Him as God and Lord.
"Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit." - 1 Corinthians 12:3 (ESV)
The foremost, short, and yet most powerful creedal statement we find is in Paul’s first letter to the congregation in Corinth. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:3 (ESV): Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
JESUS IS LORD. That is our creed. Christ is at the center of how we live our lives. God is Number One. The creeds of the Church expand upon this short creed. The Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed make statements about what the Scripture reveals about God. He is One God and Three Persons. He is Creator—He made everything out of nothing by His Word. God is Redeemer—the Son, Jesus, came and took on human flesh that He might live, suffer, die and rise again to save us from our sin. God is Sanctifier—the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to bring us to faith in Jesus as Lord. The Spirit works through the Word of God to move us to live holy and upright lives. These revelations inform our hearts and minds in all that we do and confess and believe and live.
These creeds help us to understand our purpose: we are to receive the grace and the gifts of God. We are for Him to love and to show that He is our God, our Maker and our Savior. We are to thank, praise, serve and obey Him in all that we do. And He is merciful. He forgives us when we go astray and He continually calls us back to Himself in grace.
Consider what guides you in life. If you have bought into self-centered statements and put yourself in the center, repent. Turn to Christ, receive His forgiveness and grace, and confess Jesus Christ as Lord. This creed will guide you in all that is good and right as it is His Word and it is God’s revealed truth for us and for all the world. God grant us hearts and minds that rightly confess Jesus is Lord.
In the Peace of Christ, Pastor Toensing
We are truly blessed by God when we live in the ways that are good and pleasing to our heavenly Father. The psalm says is very clearly. And God’s Word is also very clear that those who walk in the ways of righteousness are truly blessed. And we can say that yes, we do walk in many of His ways. But … we can always do better, can’t we? For when it comes to walking in God’s ways perfectly … we fall short. Thanks be to God that we are saved by the right and good living of our Savior who did all things perfectly and credits His goodness to our account.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Psalm 1:1–2 (ESV)
So it should be good for us to do as the psalmist states: meditate on the law of God day and night. I know that it is not possible for us to be in Bible Study all day. There is work to do and we are to be faithful in that so that we can feed and care for us and our families. But meditating on the Word of God (law) all the time means that we should apply the Word of God into all areas of our life. Our whole life is to be filled with right thinking and speaking and doing.
When we are at work we can consider how God would have us be at work. God wants us to be of certain character and that character is who we are all the time. God seeks to grow in us such characteristics of kindness, patience, concern, empathy, honesty, self-control, humility, etc. in ALL things. When we work in our daily jobs with these types of characteristics it pleases God. It may happen that in some jobs you are asked to do something that you know is not right according to God’s expectations. To fudge some numbers, to ignore an OSHA rule, to hush up part of a construction flaw, to ditch a report that indicates a flaw or shows a discrepancy—anything that goes against what is right and true by God’s standards is wrong. It is sin. Meditating on the Word of God day and night is to consider how God would have us conduct ourselves at all times and in every relationship.
At all times we are to be the person God calls us to be.
And when we find that we have done wrong—we repent. Immediately. We try not to do what is wrong. But God calls us to repentance. But that too is from God’s Word—repent and believe in Jesus for salvation and life. Pray for the Holy Spirit to help you remember God’s Word and to apply it in all situations. Do what is good and right. And God will bless you for doing so. We are not granted salvation by what we do—we are only saved by faith in Jesus who lived and died and rose again. But we are blessed when we live the way we should each day.
God help us to delight in our salvation in Christ Jesus, to apply God’s Word to all things, and to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us in faith and life. Lord, help us to live as He wants us to live in constantly thinking about a putting to use His holy Word.
Dear Fellow Redeemed. It is a great joy to be redeemed. But it’s not easy. It is not easy living or trying to live the way we should. The world with its easy ways and strong temptations lures us from the hard path of walking in God’s ways (Matthew 7:13; Colossians 2:8). Satan is real and is really after us, seeking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). And our own sinful selves—we are constantly subjected to the temptations of the flesh (James 1:14). Walking the right way is difficult. Nowhere in Scripture did God say it would be easy.
In getting ready for a sermon recently I came across this verse again from Ephesians 4:15 (ESV): “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” “Speaking the truth in love.” How do you do that when someone you love is doing something wrong? Sure, in parenting young children, we get it. But … when it’s a brother or sister in Christ? When it’s a grown family member that is not living by the ways that God calls us to? It is very hard to tell a grown person that they are not doing what is right according to God’s decrees.
But … that is what we are to do. In 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV): “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” I know I have failed in this. I have let my fears get the better of me. I don’t want the conflict. I don’t want to speak a harsh word. But … if we are true to the Word of God and truly seek to walk in the way of faith and life with Christ … we must, sometimes, do the hard work of speaking the truth. But we do so in love.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” - 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV)
The love part is that we speak what we need to say so that those walking in worldly ways might wake from their spiritual slumber. We speak so that the danger of dying apart from Christ might be changed—that those in the wrong might repent of their wrong and find reconciliation with God through Christ. Then Christ will empower us and them to live as we are called to live (Ephesians 4:1). How we relate to God must be on God’s terms according to His Word—not in how we want it to be according to our sinful ways.
We should speak out against abortion and for life. We should speak against euthanasia (“mercy killing/suicide”) which is murder of the self (5th Commandment). We should speak against pornography and the kind of language that demeans marriage and God’s gift of intimacy. We need to teach our children about the Lord’s creation of family and not to follow the ways of sexual immorality. We should encourage one another toward faithful worship and study of God’s Word. God and His ways are to be first and foremost in all of our life.
Therefore, we first need to repent ourselves for not speaking as we ought. Let us fall in repentance before our Lord in admitting that we have kept silent in difficult situations. Then, receive God’s mercy for you. You and me—we are baptized and forgiven. We have God’s mercy and we rejoice that when sinners repent, God forgives (Psalm 51:17) because Jesus has suffered our punishment for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Now, let us be bold and courageous to “speak the truth in love.” Why? So that, as Scripture says, we all might “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).” God grant that He keeps us always in Christ and following the road that leads to eternal life: Jesus Christ.
In the love of Christ, Pastor Toensing
Some of you have heard me say, “The more I learn the more I learn how much I don’t know.” It has been said before and by others, yet I don’t know if it has ever been originally attributed any one person. Anyway, it is true.
Books, publications, emails, blogs, magazines, periodicals—there is so much to read. There is so much information available. So much to try to keep up on. And here you are reading yet another article. There are many valuable things to read; and from your reading to learn.
But in all the items there are to read, there really is nothing that truly feeds the soul like God’s Word. Those writings that flow from and proclaim the living Word of God such as the Small Catechism are rich for us too. There is no way we will ever learn everything good that there is to know.
Consider what John wrote: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25 ESV)
Consider that Jesus is God and that God made everything. EVERYTHING! Consider the wealth of information in everything that is made. I found this about the human genome on a NOVA online PBS web page: “With the flurry of media attention surrounding the race to sequence the genome, it often seems as if the myriad genome facts and news items floating around could fill up a couple of telephone books. If you feel bombarded, imagine how the decoders feel: If written out, a human genetic code would fill the pages of 200 1,000-page New York City telephone directories.” [emphasis mine] (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/genome/facts.html)
And that is the information on just the DNA in one human being! The differences between human beings is very small, so much of the information would be repeated, but there is that much DNA information for each person. Add to that every different animal and plant on the planet and their codes. Include all inanimate objects. Then, try to add anything and everything in universe—which God knows and we can barely see. And then, include the mathematics and physics involved in the movement of every single thing with every variable considered from the mystery of bees in flight to category 5 hurricanes. And what about all of God’s knowledge and awareness of every single person’s history since creation. And then, the history of every animal and plant and all of creation in general. And then … well, I hope you see, it goes on and on. If everything Christ, the Son of God, “through whom also He created the world” (Hebrews 1:2), has ever done were written down … the galaxy could not contain the books that would be written.
But we do have some of the things Christ has done written for us in the Word of God. And these are sufficient for us to know of our creation and our redemption in Christ. God’s Word tells us of His love and His desire to be in communion with the children of man. Our Savior came to live, die and rise again to save us and bring us into His reign.
St. John says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30–31 (ESV)
May God’s Word, as you hear it and read it and study it, bring you joy in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, whose death and resurrection saves you from your sin.
Peace in Christ, Pastor Toensing
Dear Saints in Christ, Many people get their news online today. You can also read blogs that individuals post about topics or thoughts. And in many instances, others can make comments about the stories, news, or blog postings. An article I read a few weeks ago was open to comments. It was a news article about school shootings. Following the article were a number of comments. And in the comments were offers of prayer for those who had gone through such horrific events.
And then there were negative comments about prayer. Some were very derisive of prayer. They questioned about what good prayer was—and some even mocked prayer. It was sad to read. It is sad that many really don’t know what prayer is; or they don’t really know our gracious and compassionate God; and they certainly did not know the comfort it can bring to those who have suffered tragedy to know that others are praying for them.
Now, not everyone who prays or suggests prayers for others knows the true God. Many people in our world do not believe in Christ as Savior. Many believe in other gods that are not the true God. And they pray to their gods which are not gods.
But among the many who do offer prayer, and who offer it in comments to news articles, and who do say that they will pray – there are many who do pray to the true God and in faith in Jesus and who pray in His name. We welcome and rejoice in the comfort that prayer brings to those fellow believers in Christ who receive these offers, for we and they know the blessing of prayer in Jesus’ name. God commands us to pray.
“… call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” - Psalm 50:15 (ESV)
God promises to hear us and we are confident that He does hear us. And He hears you just as much as He hears your pastor or any esteemed saint. No one’s prayers are any more special to God than any others. God hears you and your pastor’s prayers the same. Have such confidence that you know God does hear your prayer and that praying in faith and obedience is pleasing to Him and of great blessing to you. Prayer helps us to stand against the devil. It helps us to focus on God’s commands and will.
Prayer also should flow from God’s Word and God’s Word teaches us how to pray. Prayer – talking to God in words and thoughts – is a wonderful blessing, privilege and good command.
So, it is sad that many do not know or trust in God. Lacking faith, they do not have assurance or comfort from God. But we do. Through faith in Christ and in the command and promises of God in His Word, we can confidently pray and know that God does hear us. So, according to God’s Word, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV): “… pray without ceasing.”
Peace to you in Christ our Lord. Pastor Toensing
Dear St. John Saints, The month of May is now upon us. There are a number of things that are observed and celebrated in May—just like there are every month. I’m sure the children are happy about this year’s school ending for the summer. The weather is getting warmer and we are looking to do outdoor activities. Farmers are getting ready to plant wishing they had been able to start—maybe they finally have. And for each of you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I’m sure this month holds something special in store for each of you.
Whatever it is you are looking to enjoy in May, I pray that first it will be the Lord’s mercy. Then, an appreciation of His creation. And third, still setting time for worship and prayer. This gives a good witness to the world as we called to do by our gracious Lord and King.
"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." - Lamentations 3:22–23 (ESV)
God’s love and forgiveness are “new” every day. As one draws closer to God, a person will see that he/she is unholy and sinful before God. Yet, we also see the mercy of God who forgives our sins in Jesus Christ. This is something that we should remember and give thanks for every day. Don’t let the rush of all your activities distract you from the most important and eternal things—your relationship with Jesus Christ your Savior. Remember that His whole live was lived for you and His sacrifice saved you from an eternity in hell. Devote time each day for prayer—confession and repentance, remembrance and thanksgiving for God’s mercy, and asking His guidance in life according to His commandments.
"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork." - Psalm 19:1 (ESV)
The One Who loves you and wants to be in relationship with you is the One Who made all that you get to enjoy. Ball fields—God made that grass. Camping trips—God made the woods and the rivers and the sky and the stars and the creatures, etc. Beach—God made the sand and the waters. Mountains, parks, pools, plains—all are His and made by God for you. Thank God for them. Be good stewards of these gifts of creation—don’t litter and recycle. Appreciate the wonders God has made and let them remind you of God’s favor and blessing to you.
"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together (gather for worship), as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." - Hebrews 10:24–25 (ESV)
As summer rolls around—and it will get here—it is easy to shrug off worship time. I encourage you to make that commitment to time for worship. God has given you all your time. Acknowledge His gift of time by setting first that time for worship. Jesus Himself was in that gathered time for worship every week. As God has given you the gifts of precious time and beautiful spaces, thank and praise Him for them. This month and every month. Today and everyday. Praise God for all His gifts in Christ Jesus.
Peace, Pastor Toensing
©Jews for Jesus; from the September 2017 Jews for Jesus quarterly. Reproduced with permission.
The Yom Kippur service includes a prayer known as the Al Chet (pronounced “all KHET”). It’s a lengthy recitation of sins, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet. This theoretically helps worshipers to confess their sins from A to Z. A person may not have committed all of the sins mentioned in the prayer, but at least they are not in danger of leaving anything out!
For many Jewish people, this will be the only time of year when the idea of sin is given much thought. Dr. Heshy Friedman, a Jewish faculty member at Brooklyn College, gives a typical assessment of how Jewish people are taught to regard sin in his article, "I’m Sorry". He writes, “Judaism emphasizes ‘healthy guilt’—where you maintain the sense that you’re a good person, while acknowledging that in this case you used bad judgment and made a mistake.”
How different this is from the words so painfully and poetically articulated by King David, as he recognizes his sin as evil (Psalm 51:4) and something that has been a part of his nature from birth (v. 5).
Unbiblical as a typical Jewish view of sin may be, it is no different from how the secular culture all around us treats the problem of sin. The difference is that religious Judaism recognizes, as King David did, that any “mistake” made against another person is also made against God. Say the word “sin” to the average person and they might expect a lecture on all kinds of do’s and don’ts. Such lectures have no traction on a mind made morally mushy as it swims through a sea of relativism.
This weak understanding of sin makes it difficult for people, Jewish or otherwise, to see a need for salvation. If you have found that to be the case when you try to share the gospel, you might find that people are more likely to see their sin if you speak frankly about your own. And by that, I don’t mean a recitation from A to Z of all the evil things you have thought, said or done!
When I talk to people about my sin, it’s usually something like: “If I’m honest, by nature, I don’t like the idea of God being God. It means Someone Else knows better than me what I should or should not do. It means that Someone Else has a right to want things for me and from me that may be different from what I would choose. And finally, it means any relationship I could possibly have with God has to be on His terms, not mine.”
Normally at this point, heads are nodding, wry smiles appear. They can relate to my “natural” dislike of all these things. At that point you can go to Genesis 3 to show how these feelings began when the first man and woman were not content to believe God or depend on Him for the knowledge of good and evil. I usually add, “Believing that lie that God was somehow trying to cheat us while ascribing to ourselves rights that are uniquely His, that is what the Bible calls sin, and it’s behind all other sins. Sin twists our view of ourselves and makes us see God as less than God. How could you have a relationship with me if I treat you as less than human? No more can God have a relationship with anyone who treats Him as less than God. And everything bad and unjust between people begins with our broken relationship with God.”
By humbly describing our own natural inability to give God the trust and worship He deserves, we can help others recognize the problem of sin that separates all people, themselves included, from Him. That helps build a platform for telling the wonderful story of God’s merciful love and gracious solution in Jesus.
Author’s Note: I’m not advocating that we shy away from recognizing specific behaviors as sin. But in witnessing to people who don’t have a basic understanding of sin, it’s helpful to start with the root of the problem.
Pastor Toensing’s note: Jews for Jesus is not associated with the LCMS. Apple of His Eye (AOHE) Mission Society, however, is a Recognized Service Organization (RSO) of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) that seeks to proclaim Jesus Christ as Savior to the Jewish people.
Dear St. John Saints, I have enjoyed working through the book of Job for our Lenten services. I, myself, have learned about patience and dealing with affliction. I have been encouraged more to trust God in things I cannot fully grasp. I have been strengthened in my faith that all things are in God’s hands. And yet, I do continue to struggle that though many terrible things happen in this world we still don’t get clear and full understanding from God about why these things are allowed to be. But I do know the comfort I find in God and in His promises. He is with us—always—even when we feel like He isn’t. I know because His Word says so. So, I will believe God’s Word regardless of how I feel.
I think we can be blessed by our fellow believers as well. It is a blessing when we are surrounded by our brothers and sisters in the faith and we see how they handle their afflictions in faith. David S. Smith, St. Louis, MO, writes in Concordia Pulpit Resources:
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial.” - James 1:12
We all have trials. I can certainly remember mine. There was first a seven-hour brain surgery. The surgery went fine. Then every complication the doctor mentioned happened. I was in the hospital four times for a total of sixteen days. In the midst of that time of trial, I remember that I wasn’t angry with God because of what was happening to me. I don’t even remember asking why this was happening to me. What I was asking was this: “God, where are you?” In times of trial, which we know will come, we wonder where God is and what he’s doing to help us through that particular trial. Then it dawns on us. At the cross! That’s where he is. At the cross! Jesus suffered the trials of the whole world when he hung on the cross, and his death has reconciled us to God so that he’s always with us. At the cross is where we’ll find our God during our time of trial. There we will find his comfort, his understanding, his power, and his victory.
Of course, this isn’t always easy to grasp. But God is with us and we know His love in the sacrifice of Jesus that purchased eternal life for us. God is with us now and always and we will be with God forever. This what our hope holds on to. Jesus knows our suffering for He Himself suffered. Jesus was forsaken by God so that we never have to be apart from God presence. The thing to remember is this: take God at His Word. He promises that He is with us. So He is. He says so and He keeps His Word. When you don’t feel God’s presence—and often we don’t feel it—we nevertheless know that He is present because He promises to be. And that is faith—trusting in God and taking Him at His Word. Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b ESV). Pastor Toensing
Dear St. John Saints, I love you. I do. Yes, I’m saying that because Valentine’s Day is coming. And Valentine’s Day is a time for expressions of love. Usually, Valentine’s Day is thought to be an expression of romantic and affectionate love.
But there is a love that is greater and deeper than that. Consider God’s love for us. The Bible is clear that God loves and that God is love. But God’s love is not just an affectionate love for us. God’s love goes much deeper. God shows love—He doesn’t just say it. God shows His love in keeping His promises. He promises to grant you what you need today: food, shelter, water, clothes, family, and friends. If you have these—God has fulfilled His promises to you.
But God’s love is also shown to us in mercy and forgiveness. God gave up His most precious and beloved Son to death for you to save you from your sins. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for you is the greatest love every.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” - John 3:16 (ESV)
God’s love is so much more deeper and foundational than a simple expression of affectionate love. God’s love is according to His decision and will to love us.
Consider when couples are married. The groom and the bride make vows (promises) to each other. To uphold those promises to be faithful and to love in all situations is a love that goes way beyond affection; it goes to will and choice and decision. Husbands and wives are faithful when they keep their promises made on their wedding day. And if we are honest, we know that spouses might not always feel loving or affectionate. But when we are true to our vows, by choice, by our will, because we once said so, that is love. And from love that is the intent of the will affectionate love is kindled and renewed daily.
This reminds us of and reflects our relationship with God. God loves us by His will and by keeping His vows to us faithfully. And He doesn’t just say; He shows love. He puts His love into action by taking care of us and this world every day. God put His love into action when Jesus did the love of the Law for us. Jesus showed us God’s love by suffering and dying in our place for sins. God fulfills His promises and will fulfill them when this world ends and He takes us into eternal life with Himself.
We show love for God not by saying so, but by keeping His commands. The summary of the 10 Commandments is love— love for God and love for each other. Love doesn’t just say it. Love does it. It shows it by actions. So, I pray that we show each other love by loving each other—really showing love for each other in our actions. And if you want to see what true love is this month as you prepare for Valentine’s Day, look to the cross. The cross, where Jesus died for you to save you from your sins—that is true love. True love is sacrificial. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died to save you. True love shows it. And God shows love for us in Jesus and He continues to show it by His wonderful gifts to us each and every day. First, in the forgiveness of our sins, and then in His blessings to us each and every day.
I love you. But more than that—so much more—God loves you—and He shows you in Jesus.
In Christ Who loves us, Pastor Toensing
"For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be." - Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV)
Life. There is nothing like living life. Sure, it can be hustle bustle at times. It has its challenges. Over time some things change. We experience all kinds of emotions and situations. But … life is good. Life is to be lived in the joy of God’s creation and in His grace.
God made life. God invented it. He gives it. It is His to take away. Jesus came to save our lives from hell. He came that we might have good lives now—that is, lives of peace knowing that we have a Savior who cares for us and wants us to have a good life. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV).
The Gospel of John has a number of passages that proclaim to us that God loves life and gives life. It is sad, then, when there are those who want to destroy life. Some destroy it in the beginning with abortions. But what is in the womb is a human life. That life—that person—in the womb comes there by the wonderful process that God created in the beginning. We see that because we believe that God has made all things. Such life is to be protected and nurtured and served.
God cares for all life. The suffering and dying person with a terminal disease is a person with life that God cares for—one for whom Jesus died to save from hell. It is not for us to end life, but to serve that person with care and dignity until the Lord calls one out of this life. But there are many who reject God and do not see that begins at conception. There are many who seek to end life on human terms, rejecting the Creator and failing to live according to the love God has for a person even in horrible and painful and difficult situations. It is the genuine love of God that overcomes all that is destructive in life.
So we commit ourselves to protecting life and serving others in their deepest needs. We speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8 NIV). We love with sacrifice. We love abundantly just as Jesus came to give us life and love in great abundance. God loves life.
So do we. God grant us good life and help us to care for life and show His love to those struggling in life. Praise God who has given us life to the full and life everlasting through Jesus Christ our Savior. Rejoice that Jesus Christ gave His life sacrificially in suffering and death so that we might be forgiven and saved. To God alone the glory who gives us life in abundance.
In Christ’s Love, Pastor Toensing
We wish you a very blessed Advent and a truly merry Christmas! God grant that your homes are filled with joy and peace.
Jesus is our King. Our King came to be born among us and with us so that He might deliver us from sin and death.
We rejoice in our new church family and the blessing you are to us. Shelley and I pray that the celebration of our Savior's birth shines God's Light and love into your home this season and all the year 'round.
May God keep all our family of St. John Kramer in His eternal, loving care and grant us a safe, healthy, blessed Christmas. With all our love in Christ Jesus, Merry Christmas - Pastor & Shelley
I am truly blessed and grateful for the work God is doing in our congregation through His redeemed children. As I work among you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I see your faith in Christ overflowing in love. Love is faith in action. I appreciate the work of our boards and committees and groups. I appreciate the participation of many in Bible studies and worship. I enjoy seeing so many people committed to the ministry of this congregation. You are giving. You work among one another serving. I see and hear the positive attitudes. And there is love and concern for one another. I am thankful to God for you and your service.
Such acts and service of love reflect the service and love of our Savior, Jesus Christ. There is no greater service and act of love than the sacrifice that God made for us on the cross. St. John tells us that God is love. And God shows us that true love is action. Love does not just say, “I love you.” True love has hands and feet—that is, love is not a feeling, but acts that serve another. The Son of God taking on human flesh and living according to God’s law for us was an act of love. Jesus, giving Himself up to suffering and death on the cross was the greatest act of love. And Jesus being raised on the third day was an act of love which shows His acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice for us and the desire to give us life eternally.
God continually shows love by giving us what we need as His creatures. He put all things in place in creation and sustains them in their ways. The planets run their courses and we have sunshine each day. The seasons continue by the hand of God. God provides rain and sun and all that makes the plants that grow for food for us. God gives life and wisdom to man that he might use his skill to build and to provide services that help fill the needs of others. And for all these things we are thankful.
November brings the wonderful celebration of a national day of thanksgiving. I’m certain that you have heard this before, but hear it again: thanksgiving should be every day, not just once a year. When I think of thanksgiving and of Thanksgiving, I think about rolling out the scroll. I picture a scroll hundreds of feet long with a never ending list of everything to thank God for. I could spend a whole day doing nothing but listing off things that I am thankful for. True thanksgiving, thanking God for all His blessings, is something that will never end. God is so gracious and kind and full of love—and He is willing to act on my behalf. Jesus—on the cross. The Lamb of God sacrificed for my sin is the act of love that deserves our eternal thanks.
I pray you have a month and a time of thanksgiving that recognizes the true Giver of all gifts. The sacrifice of Jesus that saves us from sin and death is the greatest act of love for which we should be eternally thankful. Roll out the scroll and thank God for all His blessings to you. In Christ’s Love, Pastor Toensing
Names. There are some portions of Scripture where there are a lot of names. Each name is for a person that God cares about. God cares about you. God knows your name—you are important and precious to Him. His own name is to be honored and rightly used (see the Second Commandment).
You are important to me. I have been trying to learn your names. I have found that I still need to think on many; some are starting to become second nature. But, if I try to get your name and get it wrong—tell me and correct me. It helps me to get it right sooner. And I do want to get your name right. Some names stick right away. Some—I don’t know why—just take a while. And sometimes I will momentarily forget your name even though I know it. Of course, the more I see you and can call you by name, the better I will get your name.
So, I would be glad to see you in worship often where we receive the precious gifts God delivers to us. God knows you and your name. You are a precious lamb of His flock because of Jesus who brings us into harmony with the Father. As your pastor I look forward to getting to know you, to know you better, to call you by name, and to serve you faithfully as we share the love of Christ together. In Jesus’ name, Pastor Toensing
The summer is coming to an end and boy has it been quite full of events! I have now been among you for three months and it has been exciting to learn about you and to get to know you. Shelley and Steven and I have been warmly received by you all. We have been tremendously blessed by your care and support and sharing of gifts. We are truly grateful for your kindness and generosity.
I am very encouraged by this congregation’s desire to receive the gifts of God in worship and sacrament and study of God’s Word. What a blessing it has been to begin my work here with caring Elders, support and involvement and participation in missions, excited educators in VBS, SS, and Midweek, various groups committed to study and service and mission. There are plans to look to the future and improve the mission and ministry of St. John. And I am blessed to be partnering with you in all of this to God’s glory and the salvation of souls in Jesus Christ. And there is more to do—there will always be more to do. Jesus said, “For you always have the poor with you.” (Mark 14:7) There are the poor in spirit and there are the earthly poor. The mission of Christ is to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10) and the poor in spirit (Matthew 11:5) and to care for those in need. God help us to continue doing what we can to serve one another and to see to the needs of others in the love of Christ.
God bless you for caring for your pastor and his family. I pray that I may serve you faithfully in the Gospel of Christ. And God grant that we expand and grow Christ’s mission to love and teach, to worship and receive God’s gifts, and to share what we have with others. In the love of Christ, Pastor Toensing
At a recent men’s Bible study, we read a passage that was filled with names—most were unfamiliar and hard to pronounce. It was Jeremiah 36. In Matthew chapter one and at the end of Luke chapter 3 you will find genealogies of Jesus with lots of names. If you go to the book of Numbers, such as chapter 26, you find a census was ordered. And there you will find many names and an accounting of the numbers of their clans. Such long lists of names are hard to work through. And you say, “So what?”
Well, they are in the Bible—God’s Word—so that must mean something. It does. God is interested in individuals. God knows all of His children by name and loves every one of them. As you come across such lists of names, consider that God knows your name. He knows you as an individual. He knows you intimately and He loves you—even though He knows everything about you, yet He loves you and wishes to be in communion with you. You are loved by Him and He knows you and He knows your name—you are not a number to God. You are His redeemed child in Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus is the Son of God who came to live, suffer, die and rise again for every single person—for every sinner.
Jesus came to be your individual Savior—yes you—and to bring you into communion with God. God calls you out of sin and calls you to faith in Jesus. As you believe in Jesus, your sins are forgiven, and you are adopted into God’s family to be His own, dearly loved, child. God then knows you intimately. He is able to know every one of His children intimately and individually. That is what all the names in the Bible should tell us. God knows the names of all His children and God knows your name and He loves you in Jesus Christ. God grant that you remain in faith in Jesus Christ as live as the child of God that you are. –Pastor
We cannot begin to express how blessed and warmly welcomed we have felt since accepting the call. Your generosity began before we even moved with contacts and messages welcoming us and offering prayers on our behalf. There was a tremendous amount of work done on the parsonage that helped make it home for us. Since arriving we have been welcomed with an installation service and reception, a tea for Shelley, and filling-the-food-pantry shower. We are grateful not only for your generosity, but for the time and effort put into all of these.
Many of you have reached out personally with a welcome gift or with food; some of you stopped by just checking on things; and a number of you have been helpful in answering our many questions. We are thankful for the help of the trustees with a number of needs at the parsonage since we arrived. To say that we are thankful is an understatement. We are truly humbled and blessed!
Above all we thank God who brought us here and we look forward to working and living among you to worship and serve our Lord Jesus Christ. In humble gratitude, Pastor, Shelley and Steven
Thank you to everyone last Sunday, and over the last two weeks, for welcoming me and my family. Thank you for the gifts of food and the reception following the installation. Most of all, thank you for the warmth and fellowship we share in Christ our Lord. We look forward to getting to know you all, our dear brothers and sisters in Christ. - Pastor, Shelley and family