Category Archives: Personal

Eleven Years in Momence

Eleven years ago tonight I first laid eyes on Momence, Illinois. I was a pastor downstate in Iuka, where I had spent over four and a half years serving God’s flock there. A call from Our Savior Lutheran Church in Momence had come my way. Becky, Cate (then not quite 2.5 years old) and I drove up from Iuka to look over the community and the church building.

I recall staying in Crete at my seminary classmate Larry Loree’s house. He served at the other end of the circuit in Steger at the time. I remember Reid, the chairman of the voters assembly inviting the three of us to eat with his wife and young son. His son kept bugging Dad for pizza. I told Reid, “Let the young man have his pizza!” So we ate up the street at Monical’s Pizza, now long gone.

I met some wonderful people for the first time that night. The congregation had gone through a rough patch. Families had left. Disagreements took place. Nevertheless, my predecessors had laid a good foundation in the preaching of the Gospel. I’ll never forget watching the LWML ladies walk up the front stairs after their meeting in what became our parsonage.

After another day checking out the area and a nice reception at Pr. Loree’s house among some of the circuit pastors, we drove home to Iuka with lots of thinking and praying to do. Ultimately I accepted the call and was installed here on March 25, 2007. The dear saints in Iuka, IL remain in my thoughts. They were my first charge out of seminary. Some have fallen asleep in Jesus since my departure. All of them, living and asleep, are loved and missed. I learned a lot there. It was a joy to serve them.

The Lord has seen fit to bless Becky and me with four more children since then. The parsonage here was turned back into a parsonage and an addition was built as our family grew. The disagreements died down over time after my installation. A great peace has descended over the congregation. I’ve had my rough moments with depression and weight gain. I also changed my lifestyle a few years ago, lost some weight, and still am working on all facets of my life. If the Lord sees fit to let me finish my service as a pastor in Momence, I am happy. We are well taken care of here. I count it all joy to serve the Lord in eastern Kankakee County, Illinois.

It seems like yesterday, and then, it seems like so long ago….


What Am I Doing?

I don’t say much about my personal life here. This blog is mostly for sermons and quotes. Now and then I’ll write something personal. Now and then is right now.

Since November, 2014 I’ve lost 42 pounds. I’ve lost at least two, going on three, pant sizes. I’m down a couple inches in neck size. Shirts I haven’t worn in ten years now fit. I had to give away about three diaper boxes full of golf shirts that look like a tent when I wear them.

The big question is, “What are you doing?” So I’ll tell you what I am doing.

  1. I work out three times a week at Elite PT One-On-One Personal Training in Bourbonnais, IL. My PT once worked for Impact Fitness in Bradley, IL. That business closed in late March. Ron (my PT) went out on his own and opened a new facility in about a week’s time. It’s an amazing story and I couldn’t be more proud of him for doing it. Monday is chest and shoulders day. Wednesday is leg day. Thursday is back and biceps day, aka, “Deadlift Day”. I set a new personal best yesterday, deadlifting 405 pounds. I know, it’s heavy, but it’s doable if you know what you’re doing. I try to do some cardio time every workout day, but some days are better than other days.
  2. I see a health coach every fortnight at Green and Healthy in Bradley, IL. Tammy (my health coach) practices Integrative Nutrition, weaving body, mind, and spirit together in a cohesive whole. She has helped me form a better relationship with food. She continues to help me break down walls in my life that have been erected over time. I am in a much better place mentally than I have been in many years. There’s still work to do here, but I’m happy where I’m at now.
  3. I make better choices about what to put inside my body. We drink raw milk. We like to know where all our food comes from. I rarely drink pop. I drink more water. I eat less. I enjoy every bite of what I eat. Yes, there are those times when fast food is the only choice, but I make as good of a choice as I can when those times come. For the first time in my life, I am eating to live rather than living to eat. I can’t thank my wife and our children for being my best cheerleaders in the food department!

I am a person who needs accountability. Some people are able to make lifestyle changes on their own. God bless them. I can’t do it. I need accountability. I have a great accountability crew that help keep me focused. I’d like to lose about another 25 pounds. That will put me where I would like to be for now. I’m happy with my body. There’s always more work to be done. I’m up for the task.

If you need to make a lifestyle change, don’t wait. Do it now. You can do it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and/or for accountability if and when you need it. Finally, don’t be bashful to do something for yourself. You deserve it.

I’m OK With It

Many people who do not know much about the congregation I serve ask, “How big is your congregation?” It’s a good question. You want to know how many people I serve. My usual answer is to tell the person the average attendance of a Divine Service. Sometimes I say “It’s a small congregation” and leave it there. Small is a relative number. When I tell someone the actual number, most say, “OK” and leave it there. Very few say, “WOW! That’s a small congregation!”

Then there may be those who wonder how they can help me make the congregation bigger. You know, we used to be a much larger congregation here. A lot of families moved away through the years. Some more have transferred to other congregations of our fellowship for one reason or another. Then there are those who quit attending church and don’t miss it…the “nones”, so called because they have no religious affiliation. There are many “nones”.

Thank you for your offer of help. Thank you for the “magic bullet” you are sure that will “work” to “get ’em back”. You are kind to offer it. But, you know what, I’m OK with it.

I’m OK with my small congregation. Why? The people who are here, the “survivors”, so to speak, want to be here. They were here long before me. Chances are either I will bury them as their pastor or they will be here when the congregation closes or when I might leave for another field of ministry. Small doesn’t necessarily mean “dying” or “dead” or “cold”. There is nothing wrong with a small congregation. Just because I serve a small congregation doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit has vacated the premises. In fact, there are advantages to serving a small congregation.

I know my flock well. I know their names. I know what they do for a living. I get to share a part of their life. Sometimes they even feed my family and me with a decent meal. People bewail the lack of “personal touch” in customer service these days. A small congregation offers the opportunity for “personal touch” because I can give time to people and circumstances that other pastors of larger congregations cannot give.

My congregation doesn’t need “fixing” to make it big. The people want to be here. Those who don’t want to be here, yes, we pray for them. We pray they return. If they don’t return, or if they end up elsewhere on Sunday morning, well, that’s their business. Jesus is still here, dishing out His Gifts, and using me as His errand boy to dish out the Gifts. Small is good. It’s the Lord’s business to provide numerical growth. If He does, in His time, praise Him! If He doesn’t provide numerical growth, praise Him! God knows why in both cases.

I’m OK with it. Really. Thanks for asking. You’re welcome to join us for Divine Service. That would be at least one more person this weekend. Why not join us? I’d love to see you here. More importantly, the Lord would love to see you here hearing His Good News for you.

Thanks to Rev. Hans Fiene of River of Life Church in Channahon, IL for indirectly inspiring this blog post with his sermon on the Feast of St. Joseph.

The Day Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn Let Me Have It

Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn fell asleep in Jesus this past Friday. As a graduate of the Missouri Synod’s “other” seminary (Ft. Wayne, IN), I did not have Dr. Feuerhahn as an instructor. I was privileged to sit in on one of his classes during a student government visit to Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, in January of 2000.

There is one moment where our paths crossed when Dr. Feuerhahn showed me genuine pastoral care in both law and gospel.

I attended the 2007 Concordia Catechetical Academy conference. Dr. Feuerhahn was one of the speakers. My father-in-law joined me for the conference since he lived down I-94 from where the conference was held. During the panel discussion I wanted to show my father-in-law, as well as everyone in the room, just how “confessional” I was. I made some rather angry statements about the state of being a confessional Lutheran in the Missouri Synod. It was not one of my finest hours.

Dr. Feuerhahn took the microphone and proceeded, in a pastoral way, to preach the law to me. It was one of the most uncomfortable moments of my life…and it was very public. I should not have lost my temper and showed off in front of lay people. He reminded me of that in no uncertain terms. I apologized for my behavior and he forgave me.

After the panel discussion, Dr. Feuerhahn asked over the microphone to speak to me privately. I went to the dais and spoke with him. He told me why he said what he said. It was important for a pastor not to lose his temper in front of lay people. He also asked me about my congregation in Momence (I had been installed here about three months prior). His dear friend (and mine) Scott Bruzek was pastor here in the mid-1990s. Dr. Feuerhahn served as liturgist that day in August of 1993 when Pastor Bruzek was ordained and installed here. He then spoke kindly to me and gave me encouragement. The mists of time have shrouded exactly what was said.

The last time I saw Dr. Feuerhahn was at my friend Jacob Ehrhard’s installation at Trinity Church in New Haven, Missouri in the summer of 2013. Though Parkinson’s Disease had ravaged his body, his mind remained sharp. He vested for the installation and even stood up to say a word of blessing that day.

I’ve written elsewhere about the time some friends of mine and I imposed ourselves on his seminary home for sherry, snacks, and conversation. I’ll let that story go for now. Needless to say I cherish his signature in the copy of his festschrift that sits on my study shelf.

May he rest in peace…and he does.


Baptismal Identity and Sin

Go here first and read this article. Then come back to here.

I see why a person could misunderstand this article. You might think the article gives the ring of “Once baptized, always saved.” No matter what you do or how you live, don’t worry. You’re saved.

Now go back and read the article again. Consider this paragraph:

For those who are gay or struggle with some gender issue. You are baptized! God has not abandoned you. You are not less in His sight because of your struggles against sin. He has beaten sin for you. All of the guilt, doubt and despair you may feel has been answered for on Calvary. The struggle you face to live a “sexually pure and decent life” is the Spirit’s work in you. Your failings to do so are covered by Jesus’ blood and left buried in His tomb. Your victory over these very real and very bitter struggles is the baptism which the sign of the cross remembers, the absolution your pastor speaks, and the Body and Blood of Jesus He gives you.

The key word in the paragraph is struggle. There is not one Christian who does not struggle with any sin. Not one. I have my struggles. You have yours. When you struggle with sin, the Law is at work in you. The Holy Spirit is using God’s Word to show you your sin. The Holy Spirit is using the Law to show how you don’t measure up to the exacting demand God expects of His people. Sometimes the Spirit uses the Mirror. Sometimes He uses the Guide. He’s in control of what use of the Law He uses.

Yet you are baptized. This is your identity, no matter what sin is your struggle. You are forgiven. That’s a state of being. The Law preaches repentance. That’s the struggle the author mentions. Then:

Homosexuality, promiscuity, divorce, adultery, fornication—anything that is against marriage or denies marriage—denies the truth of Jesus and His church. But it is precisely in the truth of what Christ has done for His church that all sins are forgiven. 
All of them. Without exception. None greater or less than another. All of them are covered by Christ’s blood. And every struggle, and every failing, and every transgression, is covered by the promise of your baptism. This is why the whole Christian life, whatever you struggle with, is nothing other than a life in the Divine Service, hearing over and over the promise that Christ does not abandon us in our sins but forgives and gives us life.

The church does not accept the world’s view that “anything goes.” But neither does it seek to judge certain sins more than others. Rather, the church lives by Christ’s gifts. By His forgiveness. By His Word, water, body and blood. There is nothing else by which the Spirit works in us to rescue us from the world’s way of thinking and the darkness of sin.

Sinful human beings want to see progress and results. How do I know you are really repentant? How do I know whether or not the Law and Gospel you preach, Pastor, is truly working in your flock’s life? I need to see it to believe it. You won’t see it. You will, instead, let the Holy Spirit work in the Word. Let Him do what He is given to do, when and where He wills.

If there’s any sin that demands repentance on our part, it’s the sin of controlling the Holy Spirit. I confess I try to control Him all the time. Every day. Nevertheless, I am baptized. I am forgiven. I struggle with this sin and pray the Spirit to call to mind my Baptism. In that lavish washing of sin I am forgiven and free. Do I have a license to do as I please? No. The Law will do its work again, showing me my sin. I will repent. I am forgiven. It’s who I am in Christ.

What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer.

It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?–Answer.

St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

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An Answer to A Question

A question that I as a pastor hear many times is, “Why are all churches struggling right now?” or, “Why is my church dying out?”

Here is an answer. Not necessarily THE answer, but an answer.

As [Jesus] sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:3-14 ESV).

The Supper…Or A Broken Hip?

I serve a gray congregation. The majority of my flock are over the age of 70, dare I say 75. We’ve had the most snowfall this winter since 1979, and we’re not even close to the snow total from 35 years ago!

That being said, I don’t blame those who choose not to venture out into the cold and snow to come to church. I don’t want them to suffer a broken hip or broken anything. We’re blessed to have Worship for Shut-Ins on cable and satellite TV here. A local radio station carries a Lutheran Divine Service tape delayed a week from a congregation in Central Illinois District. My sheep are covered as far as hearing the Word.

Lord willing, the thaw will come sooner than later. I know they will be back. I’d rather they be safe than risk injury to receive the Lord’s Supper.

UPDATE: I will be telephoning these dear saints this week to ask if they desire the Sacrament. If they can’t get here, I can get there.

Quotes On My Wall

I am, excuse the phrase, a quote whore. I see a great quote, I hold on to it and find a way to put it somewhere I can see it. On my study wall I have three quotes that help keep my sanity. One is quite familiar:

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. – St. Francis of Assisi

One is less familiar, but the author is familiar:

If you are a pastor engaged in preaching and teaching your people, and the response hasn’t been all that great, don’t be dismayed and diverted. Say to yourself: God has ordered me to proclaim His Word, and that’s what I’ll continue to do. If it doesn’t always prosper, God knows why; if my work does thrive, it pleases both Him and me. – Martin Luther

One is arcane:

I beg you, do not look upon [this place] as a steppingstone, but rather say: Here I shall stay as long as it pleases God; if it be his will, until I die.  Look upon every child, your confirmands, every member of the congregation as if you will have to give account for every soul on the day of the Lord Jesus.  Every day commit all these human souls from the worst and weakest of hands, namely, your won, into the best and strongest of hands.  Then you will be able to carry on your ministry not only without care but also with joy overflowing and joyful hope. – Friedrich von Bodelschwingh

As we start another calendar year, these quotes stay with me, even before my eyes. I pray a blessed New Year to you, dear reader.

My First Christmas…Alone

Thirteen years ago this night, December 24, 2000, was my first Christmas spent apart from my family. I was serving my vicar (internship) year in Tullahoma, Tennessee at Faith Lutheran Church. It would be the first of a string of many Christmases (save for 2001) that I would spend apart from my family. Such is the life of a pastor.

My vicarage congregation’s custom was (and is) to hold two “candlelight” Christmas services on Christmas Eve and no Christmas Day service. That was thought to be a “family” day or “travel” day. Attendance would be sparse, so there was no need to have a service that day. I know it’s hard to fathom, but you must remember that this is a different culture than most Lutherans are accustomed.

So that night I preached at one service and my supervising pastor preached at the other. I went home and, as I recall, went straight to bed. I was single at the time and wanted to get back to my home to get a good night’s sleep. My supervising pastor gave me some time off to go home and visit my family…and that’s what I did.

I woke up far too early the next morning and drove the 4 3/4 hours to my hometown, where I celebrated the birth of Jesus according to the flesh with my family at my home congregation. I had to savor those days because the time was coming where I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore.

That time has come, and here I am some five hours away from my parents and siblings. Not only am I not able to join them on Christmas Eve (our big family Christmas) but also on Christmas Day. A phone call will be made and well-wishes given over the phone. Now I have my own family. We celebrate the day in church and at home with another pastor’s family who have family far away whom they do not see.

So you see, I am not alone. I was never alone in the first place. Wherever my family members kneel or stand to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, I am there with them. On another shore and in another light (I LOVE those words from the bidding prayer of The Nine Lessons and Carols) my family members who have died in the faith are remembered. One day soon we will be together again for all eternity.

I visited a homebound member yesterday. This person has never married and has one sibling living. This person does have other relatives, but they will celebrate Christmas with their families. The two siblings might get together for the day. Otherwise, this person will be alone…but won’t actually be alone. No one should be alone for Christmas. For our Lord Jesus Christ is with my homebound member, with me, with all my family wherever they may be. Jesus Christ, the Infant-King, brings people together, even if distance separates them, to rejoice. Emmanuel has come to Israel. God is with us.

You are not alone. Merry Christmas.