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How are we saved?

How are we saved?

"The Pastor's Windshield" for Sunday, June 19, 2022

[Note: As the title for my pastoral articles, I’ve chosen “The Pastor’s Windshield.” As you know, windshields are much larger and more important than rear-view mirrors. Together, we’re going to look forward “through the windshield” to everything that the Lord has in store for us. I’ll use these articles to teach about the Bible and to share more about our ministry and direction for the future as a congregation. Thank you for reading!]

How are we saved? Hopefully a group of Lutherans can offer a solid, biblical answer to that question. However, before we explore the answer, let’s take a step back. A member asked me this week about a line in the Athanasian Creed which we confessed on Trinity Sunday. Near the end of the creed we confess, “At [Jesus’] coming all people will rise again with their bodies and give an account concerning their own deeds. And those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.”

There are some serious statements in this section of the creed. We don’t like to think about having to give an account of our deeds. And what about the part about those who have done good and those who have done evil? Are we saved by doing good and avoiding evil?

That’s exactly what many people believe. They hope that their supposed goodness is sufficient to earn them a place in God’s kingdom. Comparing themselves to others, they claim that they haven’t lived such bad lives and that they’re mostly good people. But again, is that how we’re saved? By trying hard to be good, at least most of the time?

The Bible does contain some statements that sound as if this is the case, but it’s also important that we read these within the wider context of Scripture. For example, Jesus says in John 5:28-29, “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

Jesus’ words are the basis for the statement in question from the Athanasian Creed. What, then, does Jesus mean by doing good? Some followers asked Jesus a similar question: “‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’” (John 6:28-29) Then Jesus offers more Good News: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day” (John 6:40).

God’s Word makes it clear that we cannot be saved by our own efforts. We are saved by believing in Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life! Ephesians 2:8-10 puts it this way: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Passages like this one say repeatedly that we cannot save ourselves. We are saved by God’s free grace through faith in Christ. We are saved by His great gifts toward us of forgiveness and faith, but ultimately, we are saved by God’s gift of His only Son, our Savior Jesus.

Jesus Himself is the greatest good. The greatest good that we can do is not actually our work but the Holy Spirit’s. It’s believing in the One whom God has sent for us (John 6:29). The book of Hebrews tells us, “Without faith, it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:6). Faith in God’s beloved Son is what God most desires to see in your heart and life. And because God poured out His Holy Spirit upon you in Holy Baptism, He does see that faith in you. Of course, faith in Jesus is not stagnant but living and active, for God has created us as His workmanship to produce good works – not to earn salvation but because of our salvation! 

God grant that your heart and life be filled with saving faith in Christ alone and with the fruits of that faith shown forth through what you think and say and do. 

Peace in Christ,

                  Pastor Kory Janneke

The Pastor's Windshield

What’s with the Title?

"The Pastor's Windshield" for Sunday, June 12, 2022

How is your windshield looking this summer? Is it caked with dead bugs? Dusted with pollen? Or are you looking through your windshield much at all these days? With the price of gas, perhaps you’re staying home more often or riding your bike in place of hoping in the car.

Several times I heard a friend of mine compare windshields with rear-view mirrors. Think about what you do with a rear-view mirror. As you’re driving down the road you take an occasional glance at it to see what the traffic is like behind you. Perhaps you see a car following too closely. Oftentimes, though, you look back and see nothing important, so your eyes return quickly to the road.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, you should be looking forward at the road ahead of you. Your eyes should be scanning everything you can see through your windshield, both the things that are close to your vehicle and the sights that are still far up the road, perhaps even on the horizon.

Your windshield is many times larger than your rear-view mirror or your side mirrors on your vehicle, and for good reason. For your safety and for the safety of your neighbor drivers and pedestrians, your eyes should be fixed ahead as you look through your windshield.

That can be a metaphor for life as well. Sometimes we need to glance back and reflect on things that we have undergone or accomplished in the past. It’s good to remember. That being said, we’re not living in the past anymore. We take that glance in the mirror looking back, but then we need to return to looking forward at the road ahead of us.

As we look forward in life, we ask questions such as, “What do I need to accomplish today? What’s going to be important in this season of my life? What are my priorities going to be? Who am I becoming? How can I continue growing and challenging myself? How can I make a difference? What can I do to serve my family and church family? How can I be a blessing to my neighbors and community?”

There are many other forward-looking questions we could ask ourselves. What about as a congregation? How can we “look through the windshield” as a church? 

A tendency in many congregations is to spend more time and energy looking back to years past than to what the future holds. Declining churches may hearken back to their “glory days,” remembering such things as full Sunday school classes, large choirs, or many more members than today.

It's good to look back, but some people (and some churches) can get stuck looking backward. Instead, let’s follow the example of the Apostle Paul who described his attitude to the Philippian Christians in this way: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). 

By the time Paul wrote this letter to the Philippian church, he was already in the final season of this life. These were among his last written words. Although Paul had decades of his life and ministry to look back upon, he was much more focused on what was still ahead: ongoing ministry in this life until the Lord delivered him to the life eternal.

Paul’s words set an example for us. If we were to focus on doing just one thing, what would it be? For Paul, it was finishing his course faithfully and fruitfully. 

As we “press on” in the Lord’s mission and ministry that He has given His Church, we look forward to all that He has in store for us. With that in mind, I invite you to join me during the Bible study hour, especially on Sundays, June 12 & 19, as we join in looking through our “windshield” and consider how we can imitate St. Paul in faithfully pressing on toward the goal!

            Peace in Christ,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

Basic Training

On July 4, 2022, we’ll be celebrating our nation’s 246th birthday. As with other national holidays such as Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, Independence Day is another time to remember and give thanks for all the men and women who have served our nation and defended our freedoms throughout America’s history.

Whether military members enlist for several years or for a long career, it all begins with an intensive but relatively short time of basic training. I’ve often thought about my grandpa’s Naval service during World War II. As with about a million other sailors in WWII, his journey began with several weeks of basic training at Great Lakes Naval Station. This training helped men like my then teenage grandpa to get fighting fit and sufficiently versed in naval protocols. I’m sure that each military member learns a lot during their weeks of basic training. Young sailors would have practiced everything from marching to following their officers’ commands to knot-tying. However, this was only the tip of the iceberg compared to the on-the-job experience that followed.

My grandpa was assigned to a ship in the Pacific (the USS Vestal), and then his learning began in earnest. His basic training had given him a foundation for what he would learn and do in his ongoing service. Out at sea, the concepts that had been instilled back at Great Lakes had to be put into practice. 

We also have times of “basic training” in our Christian lives. As young believers, participating in Sunday school helps to familiarize us with the basic events and characters of the Bible. In catechism classes, we emphasize core messages of the Bible, such as God’s Law and Gospel, along with God’s gifts of Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and more. Adults take refresher courses or basic Christian instruction classes as well.

These are all good places to start. They lay a foundation for our ongoing Christian life. But rather than completing our growth as Jesus’ disciples, these times of basic training are meant to mark the beginning of more maturing and “on-the-job” development as we live out our faith in our daily lives and callings. 

I’m grateful for the Christian instruction I received in my youth, but in looking back, I can see how it was only “basic training.” In the years since, God has provided many more opportunities to grow in this Christian faith and life, and I know He will continue to do so.

No matter what stage of our Christian life we find ourselves in, whether at 9-years-old or 99-years-old, walking with the Lord is a daily journey of growth and maturation. Oftentimes that happens in simple ways, like reading little daily “Portals of Prayer” devotions. Sometimes God grants us growth by helping us navigate changing and challenging times. God also grants us growth by having others walk alongside of us in our journey of faith – our fellow servicemen and women in the Lord’s crew! 

Along the way, God keeps returning us to those same truths we learned back in our basic training as believers: we are God’s baptized, beloved children. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ. We are forgiven and restored for Jesus’ sake. We are fed by our Lord at His Altar.

This is the Gospel, God’s Good News for us in Jesus Christ. We learn the basics of it as we sing “Jesus Loves Me” as children. But then for the rest of our earthly lifetimes and beyond, we get to continue to plumb the depths of this life-changing and eternity-granting Good News.

A prayer: Lord, thank you for times of “basic training” in my Christian faith. Lead me each day to continue trusting You, to grow in the truth of Your Word, and to put my faith into practice through what I think and say and do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Peace in Christ,

                        Pastor Kory Janneke

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