Church — the Non-Essential

Although over 75 percent of adults believe in some sort of spirituality, some sort of higher being, probably less than 40 percent are active in a local congregation. Where we came from in Colorado, the percentage of non-active people was well over 90 percent.

This is well and good when everything is going fine. Moses warned the children of Israel that, when things got too good in the Promised Land, they would forget God. We see this throughout the books of Joshua and Judges, as well as the other historical books of the Old Testament. So, until a few months ago, people stayed away from church in droves simply because everything was going good.

What do we hear immediately when things go bad? “Pastor, will you pray for us?” Well, sure I will, that is something I am honored to do. Why, however, do you think that God will bless you when you have turned your back on Him? When you are surprised, you cry out, “Oh my God!” but your god is the latest fashion, the big screen TV, or one of the teams in the NFL.

On one hand, the powers that be have asked churches to step up and pray for this nation. If these leaders bothered to show up on a Sunday morning they would hear we pray for this nation essentially every time we gather to receive the good gifts from God. We pray for the president, the governor and legislature of this state, for all who make, judge, and enforce our law. The churches I have been honored to serve also hear weekly prayers for those who serve in the Armed Forces, and the families who are concerned as this nation still has enemies, both foreign and domestic. Being on the fringes of military chaplaincy, I also pray for the chaplains who serve God by serving His people in secular places.

Now we have the lifting of the stay-at-home order in Minnesota. May our Lord bless this state with health and prosperity as we are able, in an intelligent fashion, to go and come as we please. The liquor stores are open, as are the hardware stores, florists, and even abortion clinics. Churches are lumped with bars and restaurants, deemed non-essential, kept from opening for another couple of weeks.

If the church is non-essential, why would those who otherwise cannot be bothered about God seek prayers and the comfort of Christ when their worlds collapse. The faithful Christians, the ones who come week in and week out, who sit through sermons and hymns and Bible Class, who practice for the days of famine and pestilence, are on to something.

Those who believe that Christ Jesus, our Lord, is their only hope for salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil, have a different perspective on life. “I’m But a Stranger Here, Heaven is My Home,” is not merely a fun hymn to sing (harmonizing the melody is very satisfying), but a firm statement of belief. We don’t belong here. The devil, the world, and even our own sinful flesh conspire to ruin all of God’s creation. Although we enjoy living, being called to Abraham’s bosom sounds mighty comforting.

I am going to disagree with the political idea that church is unessential. It is the most essential thing we have to give us hope. It is the most essential thing we have to put the pestilence into perspective. It is the most essential thing we have for suicide prevention, mental health, loneliness, isolation, and all the other consequences of this pandemic.

Church is essential, for in church, as we gather for the Divine Service, we are given life everlasting for the sake of Christ Jesus, our Lord. We see that God loves us enough to sacrifice His Son so that we might be forgiven. We come to know of His grace, that He loved us long before we ever loved Him, long before He resurrected us from eternal death.

Although many believe that church is non-essential, rather than turning our backs on this world, we strive to pray for and to help our neighbors. We still look for ways to bring the comfort of God’s love to this sin sickened world, even when the world rejects the message of His mercy. It is not my place, in frustration, to condemn those who do not see church as essential to everlasting punishment. Rather, it is my place to pray for them, to ask God to enlighten them so that they have a change of heart, that they repent and hold firmly to Him.

Meanwhile, even when we are allowed to open, we will do everything in our power to keep our people safe. The Elders have been talking of things we can do to minimize contact, utilizing the vast wasteland of the front pews to provide room for social distancing, keeping people at a proper distance so to minimize the chance of spreading this disease. After all, if we are to reflect God’s love to this sin-sick world, we need to practice some intelligence.

I contend that church is essential. I contend that we need to be together, maybe in smaller groups spread throughout the sanctuary, maybe different times and days of the week, but in the presence of Christ Jesus to receive from Him the blessings of forgiveness and life everlasting.

So, pray for the president, the governor and legislature of this state, for all who make, administer, and enforce our laws. May God grant them wisdom to do that which is right rather than that which is expedient. And may this essential church continue to serve God by serving our neighbors.

The Making of Books

Solomon wrote, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” [Ecclesiastes 12:12b]

The book of Ecclesiastes is the work of the wisest man that lived, with the exception of Jesus Christ, Himself. As someone wise, Solomon sought to teach wisdom, sought to impart those helpful bits of information which make our lives easier. When we study Ecclesiastes, we see that Solomon pulls no punches, he speaks both of the good and evil of live.

His conclusion? “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

If the wise truly fear God, does that mean we walk around terrified of God? Luther wrote, “Being afraid of God is different from fearing God. The fear of God is a fruit of love, but being afraid of Him is the seed of hatered. Therefore we should not be afraid of God but should fear Him so that we do not hate Him whom we should love. … Therefore the fear of God is more aptly called reverence. For example, we revere those whom we love, honor, esteem, and fear to offend.”

If the goal of wisdom is to fear (hold in reverent awe), love, and trust in God above all things, then we desire to know more about Him. This is where the making of books and the weariness of study comes in. There are books which edify, which help us better understand the Gospel. There are books which simply point us to ourselves.

Doctor James Bollhagen, a professor at the seminary in Fort Wayne, wrote, “To be sure, some non-canonical writings are firmly based on Scripture and worthy of full acceptance, such as the three ecumenical Creeds and biblical confessions of the one true Christian faith. … When it comes to secondary and tertiary literature, some writers will genuinely try to be helpful. Others, however, in the lust for newness, will write just about anything to get published and gain tenure (and academic notoriety).”

Bollhagen continued, “It can be expected that the majority of researchers and writers will have no concept of the Gospel nor the fear and trust in God that goes along with the Gospel.” He suggest that most book turn us inward, are based on the law, and cause spiritual weariness. Especially as we study theology, such books should be avoided.

As I get to discover new (to me) books, such as the volume on Ecclesiastes from the Concordia Commentary series which I just quoted, I find many insights which will help me to better proclaim the wisdom which is born of faith. This wisdom points us to Christ Jesus as our Redeemer. It proclaims that we are forgiven for the sake of Christ, His death and resurrection. This gift of eternal life is truly a gift, given out of God’s love with no worthiness in us.

Yet we enjoy the many books, and learn more how God’s grace is revealed. May our Lord grant you many opportunities to enjoy the good authors who expound on the Scriptures for your joy and blessing.

National Day of Prayer

The National Day of Prayer is always the first Thursday in May. There is a long history of presidents proclaiming such a day of prayer, going back to the beginning of this country. In 1775 the Continental Congress set aside time for prayer, setting the precedent of such proclamations.

Harry Truman signed the bill in 1952 which officially designated the Day of Prayer, and Ronald Reagan determined the date in May. Since 1972 there has been a standing committee to coordinate events on this day.

Saint Paul, in the thirteenth chapter of Romans, calls on Christians to pray for those who are in positions of authority. This truly fulfills the commandment that we honor those placed above us. How can we speak ill of someone for whom we have prayed? How can we help but show respect for those for whom we have asked our heavenly Father to bless with wisdom and health.

In honor of this day of prayer, we pray the prayer our first president published in 1783.


Washington’s Prayer for the Nation

Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection, that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States at large.

And Finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.

Grant our supplication, be beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


The text reproduced here is from the 1942 Hymnal for Soldiers and Sailors published by the Government Printing Office.


Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
(Philippians 4:1-8)

We have the awesome power to make or break someone simply by the words we use. Consider, if you will, how a simple complement will improve someone’s day, while the criticism will cause great distress. The simple acknowledgement, the word of praise, and give someone hope and joy.

The big problem, we are surrounded by negativity. Bad news sells and gets ratings, good news goes by the wayside. Because of our sinful nature, we seek to control, to be on top, to have the last word rather than letting our speech uplift another. It is easy to build ourselves up by speaking against the accomplishments of someone else, by minimizing their work, their efforts.

Accomplishments are not a zero sum proposition, however. Unless we are competing in some sort of contest where there can only be one winner, your accomplishments do not diminish mine. Your success does not take away my ability to succeed.

How we speak to others, how we look at their accomplishments, reflects how we look at the gifts of salvation which we have received. How we speak, how we act towards each other, is a result of how we look at the world. If our focus is on the negative, on the death, disease, and destruction wrought by sin, then our words will destroy.

John Chrysostom, an early Church father who died in 407, was noted for his eloquent speaking. Chrysostom may be translated to mean “golden-mouthed,” showing his skill at preaching. He wrote, “‘Whatever is lovable’ refers to what is lovable to the faithful, lovable to God. ‘Whatever is true’ refers to that which is virtuous. For what is really true is virtue.Vice is falsehood — its pleasure is false, its glory is false, and everything in it is false. Whatever is pure is the contrary of ‘thinking earthly thoughts.’ ‘Whatever is honorable’ is the contrary of those ‘whose god is their belly'”

Thus Paul encourages us to first set our eyes on that which is true and noble, that being Christ Jesus, the Word made flesh. As we look at the world, as we look at each other understanding that each person is special, important enough for Christ’s death, then we seek to build up. We truly can be of gentle speech, helping rather than hurting.

As we respect each other as ones redeemed by Christ Jesus, we come to understand that we are truly saved by grace alone. We proclaim that grace, and the results of that grace, to each other.

May our Lord continue to bless you with the assurance of His love as we are allowed to help our neighbors in thought, word, and deed


If the timeline for social distancing remains in place, we have just over two and a half weeks of being essentially home bound. Not that on May 4 everything will open, and crowds will gather, and all will be as it was before. Rather, those in the know suggest that we will still be distanced, people will still be wearing masks and gloves, and we will be highly aware of our surroundings.

The newspapers and broadcasts have talked of the isolation, especially of those who are perishing from the coronavirus. Because of the need to isolate patients, families cannot gather at the bedside of dying loved ones. There is no chance to give that final goodbye, that final “I love you,” that final touch. Streaming video doesn’t replace being in the same room.

In the midst of all this bad news, of the isolation, we still can speak with each other. Several members of our congregation have sent cards and emails to thank us for producing the online devotions and church services. These videos take a couple of people, someone to monitor the recording, an organist, an editor, and the pastor actually leading the service. Those simple words, “thank you,” mean a lot. Many go on to say how they have used the videos, or note specific things they enjoyed.

The encouragement we offer each other is priceless. It makes the isolated days much more enjoyable. We feel connected, even though we are separated.

This Easter season is a time of encouragement. We are reminded again that Jesus’ tomb is empty. That empty tomb says that we are not separated from our loved ones forever, that our isolation will end, that we will be in the presence of all those who have gone before us in the faith. Unlike the day when we are able to again socialize, taking care to sanitize everything we touch, still wearing our masks, the day of the resurrection will give us complete freedom from sin and death. Body and soul reunited, families reunited, there in the presence of God we have life everlasting.

That day is coming. When, we don’t know. Is it soon? We hope so, we believe it may be. But even if the day of the resurrection is far off, we still are aware of our own short time on earth. Therefore we encourage one another, saying today that which we may not be able to say tomorrow. Above all, we hold to the hope of heaven, the gift of the forgiveness of sins given to us for the sake of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


Jesus promised, as recorded in the last chapter of Matthew, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”

As we look out of the parsonage windows to the traffic on Broadway, we are struck at the look of Slayton as being close to a ghost town. Where, a month ago, there were few parking spots in front of the stores, and there was a lot of traffic going in and out of Pizza Ranch, today there is little activity.

This is a perfect opportunity, while we are at home trying to avoid any sort of social contact, to catch up on our reading and studies. Electronic books and the Kindle (trademark of Amazon) reader or application put almost an infinity of reading materials at your finger tips.

There are several new authors making themselves known in the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. May I call your attention to Pastor Jonathan Fisk, the senior pastor at Saint Paul Lutheran Church, Rockford, Illinois. Also, Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller, the pastor at Saint Paul and Jesus Deaf Lutheran Churches in Austin, Texas. Both are exceedingly good authors who approach confessional and historical Lutheranism in a clear and understandable style. We can’t forget to mention our Synodical President, Rev. Matt Harrison, who has translated and authored a large number of excellent books.

Now is the time to go to Concordia Publishing House ( or Amazon to find various books by these authors. In addition, Pastor Wolfmueller has republished a number of older Lutheran books which are available from LuLu (

Personally, I have been reviewing the We Confess anthology by Hermann Sasse, a twentieth-century Lutheran theologian. I’d read the three books in this anthology a while ago, and was glad I was able to replace the books after our fire in 2018. The Board of Elders and I are still reading The Blessings of Weekly Communion by Rev. Kenneth Wieting. Again, these books are readily available from either CPH or Amazon as electronic books.

Rather than bemoaning the lack of traffic on Broadway, I’m enjoying the chance to read and study. It is good to get back to the basics, which these authors have done so well. Let me encourage you to take advantage of these quiet days to explore the works of these authors.

Ninety Seconds

Last week I had the pleasure of talking with the manager of the local radio station. Trinity, Slayton, has been broadcasting devotional messages for several years. The manager and I talked about the guidelines for these short broadcasts.

The most stringent guideline is to keep the broadcasts around ninety seconds. That works out to be a bit less than 300 words. OK, a posting on Twitter is limited to about the same, so it looks like we can at least begin to develop a theme within that constraint.

Dr. Donald Deffner, of blessed memory, suggested that every sermon, indeed everything we write, should have a theme of 15 words or less. Unless you can state your theme in such a short sentence, you are not ready to write.

In this respect, the 15 word theme is a lot like Paul’s statement, “We preach Christ crucified.” There is not enough time from now until our Lord comes again with the angels and the sound of trumpets to fully explore everything about this statement. Just the word “We” demands that we come to an understanding about the church, the office of the ministry, the purpose of our faith in Christ Jesus, and a host of other topics all related to the group of people who proclaim Christ crucified.

Add to that the question of who Christ is (the incarnate Son of God), why He was crucified (to redeem us from sin, death, and the power of the devil), and how that is offered to each person (through God’s rich grace as a gift, something we don’t earn), and how it is applied to each one who believes in Jesus (God’s Word and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution).

Yet ninety seconds is enough to to proclaim that our heavenly Father sent His Son into the world to pay the price of our sin. It is enough time to say that we are saved by God’s grace, His undeserved love, for the sake of Christ Jesus.

Let’s face it, ninety seconds is three times the length of the “elevator speech” that we learned to have ready as we studied marketing. Maybe, however, the ninety seconds will help people realize there is much more to the story.

What a Change

Six months ago, if anyone would have suggested that we would be living in southwest Minnesota, I would have been inclined to chuckle. We were firmly ensconced in Leadville, Colorado, where I was serving as the pastor of a small congregation, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

Leadville has the pleasure of being the highest incorporated city in North America. Outside our back door you could see the highest peak in the state. The view was beautiful, especially because there was little air to block the scenery.

God, in His infinite wisdom, has allowed us to move to a place which has many things we did not have in Leadville, the foremost being oxygen and moisture. These make a difference.

Though the scenery has changed, you can actually see for miles without rocks getting in the way, the message of the church is still the same. We preach Christ and Him crucified. It is the heart and core of everything we do.

The primary reason that any congregation exists is to bring the peace of God to this sin-sickened world. Be it disease, personal tragedy, or destructive weather, all creation is twisted by our sin. When our first parents defied God by eating that which was forbidden, creation itself was harmed. What was once a paradise turned deadly.

The peace of God is this, our heavenly Father sent His Son to pay the price of our sin. By grace alone we are given the gift of forgiveness which brings us eternal life. This forgiveness we do not earn, nor can we ever repay. As John the Evangelist wrote, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

Now, this isn’t to say the Christians get a free pass from all the problems in the world. Far from it. But we do have a different view on the death and destruction caused by sin. We know it is not God’s plan, but that we should be eternally blessed by living with Him. While we still are in this sinful flesh, we will suffer the effects of our transgression. We believe, teach, and confess, however, that we have a new life in Christ Jesus. The old hymn reminds us, “I am but a stranger here, heaven is my home.”

Meanwhile, we are privileged to serve God by serving our neighbors. One of the post-communion collects we use includes the petition that the reception of Jesus’ body and blood in and under the bread and wine will “strengthen our faith towards You and our fervent love for one another.”

That is the message and comfort I was privileged to bring the good folk at Good Shepherd, Leadville. That is the message I am privileged to bring to Trinity.

We pray that we are able to serve this congregation and Slayton in accordance with God’s will, and to His glory.