Immanuel Lutheran Church of Wausau

Immanuel Lutheran Church of Wausau

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

For the Good of God's Church

            During the last couple of decades there has been a decreasing amount of trust in clergy and the organized denominational church. This is due to lots of reasons. It begins with some substantial and well-publicized abuses by clergy of all kinds of religious groups. But it extends through polarized groups who support only progressive (or liberal) clergy or those who support only conservative clergy and religious groups. This kind of polarization has not been good for the Christian church as a whole, and has led to greater mistrust of clergy and the organized church.

            In reality we know the overwhelmingly vast majority of clergy, as well as the congregations they serve, are trustworthy. They take seriously Jesus’ call to be servants, following after Him.  We also know that polarization leads to taking advantage of the situation to push the agenda of a particular pastor or congregation, leading to “loss of face” of the whole religious establishment in the public eye. The result of this is that followers of Christ fall even farther away from realizing the goal of Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John’s gospel, “to be one as the Father and I are one.”

            What can be done about this growing phenomenon? First, I think that congregations and clergy must increasingly work together for the common good of all.  We must support one another and build each other up. Certainly the loser in the growing lack of trust in clergy and the organized church are people not hearing the Good News of Christ breaking down the walls between us.

            Second, pastors and congregations must work at deterring the polarization effort. Providing forums that reflect different points of view and allowing people to make choices based on information may do this. Education is always a way to defeat any conspiracy efforts aimed at lifting up the conspirators.

            Third, church leaders and training institutions must work harder at equipping clergy and other congregational leaders in faith and ethics. There needs to be spiritual growth to undergird the ethics of church leaders during the whole careers of pastors and lay professionals.

            Fourth, there needs to be stronger encouragement for pastors and other church leaders to be involved in collegial activities and events. The greatest way to defeat negativity leading to loss of trust and value is to keep all professionals involved in the social crossroads of leadership so that they do not isolate and become polarized.

            Fifth, greater effort must be taken to support pastors and lay professionals in their personal lives, as well as their own congregations. The family and other support systems keep clergy and lay professionals healthy and happy. It leads to a greater cementing of a relationship with any larger group.

            During my thirty-eight year career as parish pastor almost all clergy and lay professionals I have known have been trustworthy, dependable, loyal, and wanting what’s best for their congregations and synods and the larger church. It is too bad when some bad apples spoil it for everyone.  For the sake of the gospel and the larger church, we must take greater, preventive measures to polish up the apples. Those make up almost the entire bushel basket.  We must all stay connected to the Vine and to the branches so that we may produce more and better fruit.  The next generation of leaders, as well as the future of the church, is at stake. 

 

                                                                                                                                               Pastor Roger Black

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Our Faith in God overcomes any Anxiety

We live in a world that makes us increasingly anxious. It has led us to regard violent acts as commonplace, uncivil rhetoric as speaking one's mind, and entitlement as a way of life. It leads us to respond in one of two ways: either we become angry with the loss of rationality in the world or we accept it as just the way it is today. Both ways effect us in traumatic ways. We are gradually moved from our identity as people who are seeking to live faithfully in response to God's grace. We react, instead of proactively seeking to live according to being a follower of Christ, as a servant of God.

How can we best function in today's environment? We can begin by acknowledging that as mature individuals anxiety does not have to overtake us. Jesus' words in Matthew 6 "do not be anxious about tomorrow" are words for us today. Putting our faith in God is the antidote to anxiety. However, blind trust will not exhibit our maturity. Rather, we should acknowledge, as Luther did, that "we have God, the mighty fortress" to defend us even when our enemies threaten us. There are difficult matters and situations in our world that we need to work to change. At the same time our ultimate destiny is secure, which qualms our anxiety.

Second, we can turn off or "turn the volume down" on the forces that fuel our anxiety. Communication media do want to "fuel the fire" because it leads us to follow their line of thinking with daily or hourly notice of them. We are free to decide what voices come into our environment at any time. We also need to be wary of following one way of thinking without giving some time to alternative ways of thinking. Freedom is both an American and a Scriptural principle.

Third, we can seek to find balance in our everyday living. What frees me from the anxiety thrust upon me is a daily mindfulness, a practice of seeking God's presence in the most helpful ways to me. For other people of faith it may be silence, prayer, meditation, reading Scripture, reading thoughtful books, or something else. I find that even daily (or at least regular) exercise begins to free me from being overwhelmed by any anxiety that comes from the outside.

Each of us needs to be intentional in our own way about seeking to grow in our faith. We can worship God in a more regular way, being strengthened by the community of faith. We can tap into those resources of faith that may be there in our lives since our early Sunday School or confirmation days-- memorized psalms, memorized verses, hymns, and spiritual growth books. We can find new ways of growing, such as popular Christian music or communication with friends and family through social media. We can take on a new habit of journaling our feelings and connecting our musings with our resources of faith. The important thing is to not feel out of control, but to know that we are safe and secure in our relationship to God.

Resetting our priorities of faith is the best antidote to any situation of increased anxiety. It is important that we put first things first, our faith in God and love of neighbor, and then everything else we encounter can be managed day by day.

 

""Day by day, your mercies, Lord, attend me, bringing comfort to my anxious soul. Day by day, the blessings, Lord, you send me draw me nearer to my heav'nly goal....Day by day, no matter what betide me, you will hold me ever in your hand. Savior, with your presence here to guide me, I will reach at last the promised land."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             (Carolina Sandell Berg) 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Rev. Roger Black (8/10/2016)



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