Pastor

My Church is The…Outdoors?

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I came across an article on a fishing blog that I follow that elevates the great outdoors as a co-equal with Christ’s church. 

The claim goes as follows: For some, the place to look for peace, to find a purpose, and to seek a connection to something that goes beyond our understanding, is right out the back door.

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Now I’ll be the first to admit that waking up in the mountains, standing knee-deep in a trout stream, or exploring a meadow full of wildflowers is invigorating and, perhaps, even good for my soul. However, there are some critical differences that exist between the sanctuary of nature and the church of Jesus Christ. 

These truths don’t apply only to nature, but to any kind of recreation that might keep us away from the church.

Allow me to explore two:

First, your recreational venue of choice will never deal with your greatest need—the need for your sin to be forgiven.

If we truly believe what Scripture has to say about our own sinful nature and rebellious heart, we will recognize our absolute need for a church that faithfully preaches both words of Law and Gospel. We need a consistent diet, a continuous rhythm of light shining on our sin, followed by our hope being pointed back to the work of Christ for us. This full and consistent preaching of the Word is that which keeps our faith living and nourished. 

Disconnected from the church, we inevitably become distanced from the hope of the Gospel. We naturally turn inward and deceive ourselves with self-sufficiency. 

Second, most of our recreational pursuits can easily border on idolatry and must be managed thoughtfully and prayerfully. As part of this, we must maintain a healthy distrust of our inner lawyer — that voice within us that seeks to help us justify everything we do. 

The reality is that even good things like recreation and family can become idols. 

Tim Keller defines an idol in his book Counterfeit Gods as follows:

An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”

The entirety of Scripture presents a firm understanding that your relationship with God will exist within the context of a church that prays, sings, reads, teaches, and preaches the Word of God. Nature may be relaxing, and we are free in Christ to enjoy it. But it isn’t the church and it will never do what the church does. And it will never give your soul what it truly needs.

Don’t underestimate how much you need to be part of Christ’s body, and don’t underestimate how much the church needs you!

A Sunday in the Congregation

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Today at Living Word I got to sit in the congregation with my family and listen as the Gospel was preached to my heart, soul, and mind. For a pastor preaching week in and week out, any break from the routine is welcome. But today was special because I got to watch and listen as a gifted and passionate young man delivered his first-ever sermon. 

As I reflect on the day, I can’t escape that final question that was asked from Psalm 23: Who is your shepherd? 

If I’m honest, there are many things that vie for the title every single day. My own intellect, political pundits on television, my desire for affirmation, the love of money, and the list could go on. To what or whom am I looking in order to find my identity and sense of value? Where do I turn for comfort and refuge?

I wish I could say that I ALWAYS look to Jesus as my shepherd—but you’d see right through it and know that I was lying. My heart is prone to wander. I certainly love Jesus, but I love a lot of other things that compete with him for the role of shepherd. 

The truth is, some days I have a lot of shepherds. The stock market was up 200 points—my soul feels restored. People seemed to love my sermon or Bible study—my cup overflows. 

But here’s the thing: all of the pseudo-shepherds will fail me. They promise rest but really only put me on a never-ending hamster wheel. They advertise satisfaction but leave me wanting just moments later. They lead me on but never fully deliver. With pseudo-shepherds there is always a bait and switch. It’s never quite as good as my heart thought it would be. 

And so I need the church. I need the church to point me back to the Good Shepherd. I need the church to remind me that even when I trust in a fake, Jesus’ love for me remains. As an under-shepherd, I need another faithful preacher to proclaim the truth of Christ Crucified into my wandering and parched soul. 

Today the Good Shepherd restores my soul.

Takeaways from Psalm 25

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Psalm 25 helpfully models and teaches how to pray in the midst of great trouble. We are encouraged to bring our concerns, fears, and raw emotion to God. We see in these words a beautiful integration of the reality of our sin and need for forgiveness in the midst of incredibly challenging circumstances. And that pretty much sums up the life of the Christian: a continual need to place our eternal hope and confidence in the promises of God, whether our circumstances are smooth or challenging.

As we reflected on this Psalm today, here are the five realizations that I mentioned:

  • Shame is redefined in God’s Kingdom.

  • My iniquity is great.

  • God’s mercy and love have been proven time and again.

  • God is a close friend to those who are repentant.

  • And, finally, God creates in us a desire for integrity and uprightness.

By God’s grace, may we come to realize each of these in a deep and meaningful way.

Going To Be Out of Town?

Photo by  Kevin Schmid  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kevin Schmid on Unsplash

Summer vacation is here--even though the thermometer seems to disagree! That means that many of you will be exploring beautiful North Dakota, camping, and visiting friends and family. Here are a few things to remember when you're not in Dickinson over the weekend:

  • Our weekly sermons are typically available on the website by Tuesday. They are also accessible through the Podcasts app on your Apple or Android device.

  • Our weekly bulletin is on the website on Thursday (before the service), allowing you to stay up-to-date on all announcements and upcoming events!

  • Our online calendar contains just about any event happening, as well as weekly volunteer schedules for our Sunday services.

  • Have you considered setting up recurring giving? Our online giving system allows for secure donation processing of both one-time and recurring gifts. Check it out and make giving back to God's work part of your monthly budget!

  • Finally, don't forget that our worship services will be at 9:30 a.m. each week until our fall ministry kick off! Come early for Coffee Connection at 9:00 a.m.

See you around!

Suffering Makes a Theologian

Photo by   Pixabay   from   Pexels

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

As we have been studying our way through 1 Peter, we’ve found that a large portion of the letter deals with the theme of suffering in the life of the Christian. In particular, Peter so boldly declares that suffering can actually be a blessing.

Martin Luther, in his second series of lectures on the Psalms, reflects on the making of a theologian:

I want to point out to you a correct way of studying theology, for I have had practice in that. If you keep to it you will become so learned that you yourself could (if it were necessary) write books just as good as those of the fathers and councils…. This is the way taught by holy King David (and doubtlessly used also by all the patriarchs and prophets) in Psalm 119. There you will find three rules, amply presented throughout the whole Psalm. They are oratio, meditatio, tentatio [prayer, meditation, temptation].

Luther goes on to discuss both prayer and meditation. However, I want to focus today on the third rule of becoming a theologian: tentatio.

Thirdly, there is tentatio, Anfechtung. This is the touchstone which teaches you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s word is, wisdom beyond all wisdom.

Thus you see how David, in the Psalm mentioned, complains so often about all kinds of enemies, arrogant princes or tyrants, false spirits and factions, who he must tolerate because he meditates, that is, because he is occupied with God’s word (as has been said) in all manner of ways. For as soon as God’s word takes root and grows in you, the devil will harry you, and will make a real doctor of you, and by his assaults will teach you to seek and love God’s word. I myself (if you will permit me, mere mouse-dirt, to be mingled with pepper) am deeply indebted to my papists through the devil’s raging they have beaten, oppressed, and distressed me so much. That is to say, they have made a fairly good theologian of me, which I would not have become otherwise. And I heartily grant them what they have won in return for making this of me — honour, victory, and triumph — for that’s the way they wanted it.

It is not understanding, reading or speculation, but living — no, dying and being damned — that makes a theologian.

Suffering can be seen as blessing because through it we come to know and understand God (aka theology) in a way that we wouldn’t have without it. Suffering can be seen as blessing because it brings us to the end of ourselves and, when we arrive there, we find the loving arms of a savior who knows well the full extent of suffering.

Christ is sufficient.