Retirement

Dear friends,

After no small amount of prayer and discussion, today I am announcing my retirement at the end of June. I am convinced that it is time for me to begin a different season of life. After completing ten years of ministry at Immanuel, and a total of thirty-nine years as a full-time pastor, I am ready to let God show me what new opportunities he has planned for me during retirement.

Scripture tells us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens (Ecclesiastes 3:1)”. God has made it clear to me that this is the time for my retirement. As my time at Immanuel winds down there is so much we have to thank God for and to celebrate.

I will be leaving Immanuel with so many beautiful memories. It has been my privilege to Baptize and share Holy Communion with you. Together we’ve celebrated scores of marriages and we’ve worshiped literally thousands of times. I’ve shed tears with you as we have celebrated the lives of so many saints that have gone on to heaven before us. You’ve share countless personal, private moments with me as we prayed together and sought God’s will.

My wife recently announced her retirement as a school psychologist at the end of May. As you may know, we have three children, a son-in-law, a new daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren we wish to visit a lot more often than we have in the last few years. There are many projects we have not started and places we wish to visit but with our full work schedules, so much has been put on hold. Hopefully retirement will allow us the opportunity to fully enjoy life.

We never retire from serving God. While we will move into a new season in our lives, God still calls us to grow and invest our gifts and talents in the work that he is doing in the world. I am looking forward to this new season in my life.

Thank you, Immanuel!
Pastor Tom

Outrage at Another School Massacre, but will Change Come?

Once again, Lutheran Church Charities is responding to the crisis with the grace and love of Jesus Christ.  Boots and paws have already arrived “on the ground.”

Yes, I am outraged at the news of yet another school shooting. Realizing that 17 families are experiencing indescribable grief because their son, daughter, parent, or spouse was brutally murdered in school keeps me awake at night and fills my mind during the day.

I think of young people seeing the deaths of their friends and being escorted out of the school, leaving their classmate’s or teacher’s body behind. Death came so suddenly, unmercifully. I imagine being a first responder who desperately rushes into a nightmare, the very thing they rehearsed countless times but never expected to experience. They rush to save lives, knowing they are risking their own lives. If safe places really exist, then a school should certainly be one of them. But this school will never be called “safe” again.

The media is full of comments from local, state, and national officials, mostly politicians, many offering solutions we’ve all heard before, but each one saying how this cannot be allowed to happen again. I’ve even seen actors and sports personalities offering their on-camera comments as if they are an expert in the field. Some people, like me, in the wake of the shooting offered encouragement for prayer on Twitter, while others say prayer and good wishes will do nothing.

Perhaps I am a bit cynical. After all, I recall the pain we experienced following Columbine, Red Lake, Sandy Hook and so many others. I’ve spoken on each from the pulpit, personally offered on-scene pastoral counseling at two sites, and I’m left with memories that haunt me especially when another shooting takes place.

At the risk of sounding like countless others, I do have an opinion. After working with families for some 40 years, I’ve seen family dynamics change. Many more forces compete for a family’s time than I saw decades earlier. For example, there was a time when television offered us four or five program choices nightly. Nothing was pre-recorded or on DVD and certainly we could not download a movie. Now we have 150 channels and unlimited viewing options. And I’m continually surprised at the number of sports opportunities available. Just when I think there can’t be anymore, I hear of a practice for a sport I need to look-up because it is new to me. Young people are encouraged by their peers to be fully engaged, parents want their children to have every opportunity to succeed, and society rewards those who excel. The young person without an opportunity to take part with their peers, or who lacks the social gifts to fit in often struggles to develop healthy friends and lifestyle choices. Yet it is not television or sports that leads to a massacre in a school.

To succeed as a parent, our children must succeed, or so many believe. Some parents are living vicariously through their children. They put too much pressure on children when they try to live out their own dreams through them. Choices need to be made and today parents are often supporting the choices their children make rather than making choices with or even for them. In earlier generations, families worshiped weekly together, parents took part in Bible Class, and children attended Sunday School or Confirmation Class. These were not choices. They were part of the family dynamic. If a member of that family suffered physically or mentally, the extended family or church members or even the larger community stepped up to help. Parents believed the proverb:

Train up a child in the way he should go;
Even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

Unfortunately, many families are simply not healthy themselves or ill-equipped to meet the needs of their children. Then that parental or family help is often replaced by overloaded social agencies or even the local police. As effective and well-trained they often are, they are not a replacement for the family or the church. Children in need are best served by their family and church. When these are lacking, life becomes that much more difficult to negotiate successfully.

Here is a scripture to consider:

My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline,
but don’t be crushed by it either.
It’s the child he loves that he disciplines;
the child he embraces, he also corrects. Hebrews 12:5-6

And of course, I have to add a request that you join me in prayer:

Dearest Jesus,

You are the Prince of Peace, as always our refuge in times of distress…please bring comfort to our schools and our nation. Be with the families, friends and teachers, and colleagues of those young students and dedicated teachers murdered in Parkland, as well as the injured, first responders, and this grieving nation. May a nation in crisis be granted your wisdom to bring justice to those who are evil and compassion to those in anguish. Grant our leaders wisdom, words and actions that will heal, end violence, and support those with indescribable needs. Please strengthen our churches and our families.  Please give each of us the courage to act wisely and compassionately as we go through our days that may, or may not, be ordinary and please grant us an ever-growing faith.

Hear us Lord, Amen.

I’ll see you in church
Pastor Tom

Prayer As Our Nation Remembers Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Prayer on the day our nation remembers Martin Luther KingEach year I offer a prayer as our nation remembers Martin Luther King Jr. and observes a national holiday in his honor.  I’d like to do that again this year…

Gracious Heavenly Father —

On this day when our nation remembers Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. may we reflect on his life and witness that so often was drawn from the teachings of your Son, our Savior. May each of us seek to eliminate any bigotry and hatred from our lives.  Following the example of Jesus, may we also seek out the lonely, the lost, the downtrodden and outcast, providing for their physical as well as spiritual needs.

Give us the strength and wisdom necessary when we find ourselves in those places of danger, division, discord, and sorrow where love is so desperately needed but so painfully absent. May we have the commitment to live by the teachings of Christ that his words are codes of conduct rather than mere words of inspiration.

As we remember the courage of Dr. King, as he sought to make your word known among all people, may we refuse the temptation to take an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth but instead replace evil with good. May we be known as examples of your love that when those who are blinded by hate confront us, we will strive to remain nonviolent and love those who chose to be our enemies. May we work for justice, freedom and human dignity for all your children who so often are victims of injustice and oppression. May we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, even as we see the whole world as our neighborhood.

O God, fashion and mold our memories into a guiding vision for active discipleship, so that we may not only long and yearn for thy coming kingdom but may also recognize its arrival and presence in the risen Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, in whose blessed name we pray. Amen.

See you in church,
Pastor Tom

The Gathering Place – Week 2

Please join us Sundays at noon for The Gathering Place, held at Christie’s Dairy Delights in Palatine. 45 N Bothwell St, Palatine, IL 60067

I just have one simple thought to share with you today: please join me at the Gathering Place tomorrow at noon and invite your friends.  It started last week and I think you’ll really like it.   Yesterday, I gave you some background about Immanuel’s new worship schedule but today I’ll simply share a video that Pastor Donald created.

See you in church, school, Bible Study and at Christie’s!
Pastor Tom

 

Risky Business: Changing the Sunday Morning Schedule

When you are passionate about reaching people, you’ll take risks.  This risk started with a letter — I remember it quite well. It arrived shortly after we held a special Reformation Worship Service. Instead of having four separate services that weekend about 15 months ago, we held just one service. The worship planning team simply wanted to bring everyone together with special music and a guest preacher. We wanted to celebrate our faith together and what better occasion than the anniversary of the Reformation?

It was a bit of a risk. Attendance was declining and the last thing I wanted to see was a further attendance drop. So, the team put a lot of energy and prayer into preparing a worship service that intentionally used elements from each style of worship we practice at Immanuel.

And attendance was good. Comments were positive, not only on the day of the service, but also in the days following. And that is when the letter arrived. Addressed to several leaders of Immanuel, the author suggested that we change our worship schedule. Instead of combining worship services for the occasional special event, why not make the change permanent? Having fewer services with more people together in the service has many advantages.

That single letter spurred on a lot of discussion. Many people agreed and wanted to make a change. Others did not want to make any change. What followed was near endless discussion. Should we drop a service? If so which one? And if we combined two services, what would the worship style be in that new service? Of course, some of us looked deeper into “why.” What caused the drop-in worship attendance that brought on this discussion?

We discovered that the attendance drop was not unique to Immanuel. Many U.S. churches were experiencing a similar drop. While it is difficult to pinpoint a direct cause, I suggest three possible explanations:

  1. Worshipers attend less often. People are worshiping, but they do not attend weekly.
  2. We are getting older. Many churches have a disproportionate number of members age 65 and older. Older members may not be attending as often due to health issues.
  3. There is a growing lack of interest in religion. Surveys show that fewer people report going to church “several times a year” and more people report going “once a year” and many report, “never.” In fact, the attendance category that has grown the most since 1990 is “never.”

So, after a year of countless discussions in meetings from the conference room to the parking lot and beyond, and no small amount of prayer seeking the Lord’s wisdom, we eventually reached a decision last fall to combine the 9:15 and 10:45 into one service at 10:30, allowing for a Discipleship Hour between the two services.

An interesting part of the decision was the fact that Pastor Warren and I (among others) felt strongly that this change needed one additional thing – an alternative service off-campus. We truly believed we could maximize the benefits of the new schedule by including a new group of people who we were currently missing. We knew this could be an incredible opportunity to reach out and move forward in Palatine.

The Gathering Place – Noon on Sundays at Christie’s Dairy Delights in Palatine

Little did either Pastor realize that within days of the elders’ decision we would have a site for what would eventually be called, “The Gathering Place.” Christie’s Dairy Delights (45 N Bothwell St.), welcomed our plan to invite people to simply dialogue with us about God and other matters of importance in life. The Gathering Place is not designed to replace one of the worship services at Immanuel. Rather it is designed for people without a church home, who may not have a relationship with Jesus and would be uncomfortable worshiping in a formal setting.

It’s been quite a journey that began with a letter asking us to combine a couple of our worship services. Looking back, I am grateful for all the discussion about our worship at Immanuel. Now we are moving forward, the change is in place and we are adapting. Most of us have changed our Sunday morning routine to accommodate the new worship times. We realize that God expects us to come together in worship and that is more important than habit, routine, or even convenience.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! —Psalm 95:6

I’ll see you in worship, Saturday at 5:00 p.m. or Sunday at 8:00 or 10:30 a.m. And please join me at 9:15 in Fellowship Hall for a discussion on the book of Matthew! And of course, remember to invite your friends without a church home to “The Gathering Place” held at noon on Sunday at Christie’s.

Want to hear more?  Last November, Immanuel’s pastors used the recording studio to explain the then-upcoming changes:

See you in church, school, Bible Study and at Christie’s!
Pastor Tom

 

When there are more questions than answers…

A gunman stormed into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on Sunday. He killed at least 26 people and wounded another 20. We all have questions of course. Perhaps, like me, you first asked if it was another terrorist attack? Then I realized this mass murder occurred in a church. It didn’t matter whether it was a terrorist-inspired mass murder, many people were killed and so many lives were changed horribly forever. Realizing the shooter chose to kill in church truly hurt. Innocent lives were targeted in a small rural Texas town as they worshiped our God; this threatens everything I’ve cherished as a parish pastor.

Here are some of my long list of questions. Like you I begin with “why” and go from there. Why did he do this? What evil motivates a killer to open fire with a semi-automatic rifle in a church? The investigators are saying that this is a “domestic” matter, a family dispute. But how can anyone have so much hate to kill men, women, and even an 18-month old child, who have no connection to his family? Some say he was an atheist, but why would an unbeliever strike out in a murderous rage at believers? Did the church or its pastor have any contact with the shooter? Did they miss something? What can we do to prevent similar attacks?

One of the residents spoke powerful words on Sunday. While in worship at another nearby church, word reached him and others that a crisis was happening down the road. A deputy and the witness’ wife, a nurse at the local hospital, “went into action,” he said. “We just did what we do. We prayed.”

“The Bible tells us that we overcome evil with good, and evil doesn’t overcome evil,” he encouraged.

Those words of Saint Paul from Romans 12:21 are powerful. That is the lesson we can take away today from this horrendous episode of American history. I can never allow evil, in any of its infinite forms, to ruin my day, my week or even my life. Evil will not keep me or you from gathering in our church to worship God and thank him for the countless blessings he provides every day. Join with me in a recommitment to doing so much good, evil will not get a foothold and take away our faith.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21

See you in church as always,
Pastor Tom

Unimaginable Heartbreak in Las Vegas

After three hurricanes and an earthquake in recent weeks, who would ever expect to wake up to the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history? As I write,reports are that at least 58 people are dead and more than 400 people are being treated in the hospitals. Just thinking about the thousands of people that are dealing with such trauma and grief churns my stomach and pounds on my head. Like you, I have so many questions and few answers.

However, I do know that God remains in control, even when it doesn’t seem as if he is. God does not lack power to direct the affairs of our world. Even when tragedies occur and innocent lives are taken, God remains in ultimate control. I cannot understand how this can be when we face such terrible tragedies, but my lack of understanding does not diminish this truth. Before we were born, God knew exactly how long we will live and how we will die.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.  Psalm 139:16

C. S. Lewis wrote, “Pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world.”[1] The greatest Christian thinker of our time reminds us that tragedy may serve as a wake-up call for people who are spiritually sleeping. Now is not the time to blame God; this is the time to turn toward God for comfort during such pain. Please pray with me:

Heavenly Father, once again we come to you for comfort during a horrendous tragedy. Be with those who are tending to all the injured from this shooting in Las Vegas. Grant wisdom to those who are investigating, peace to those who are searching for loved ones and hold close to you those who lost family and friends through death. Bless our nation on this day of tragedy that through this pain, people will seek you out for that peace that goes beyond all understanding. Amen.

See you in church,
Pastor Tom

[1]The Problem of Pain (Harper One 1940)

 

Three Hurricanes & an Earthquake

Two Three Hurricanes And An Earthquake

Waking up early this morning, checking Twitter as is my normal habit, I saw that an earthquake in Mexico was trending. As I thought about that, I realized that there are two, no make that three, hurricanes. (Jose is following Irma and Katia is hitting Mexico, plus the strongest earthquake in a century rocked Mexico.) What is happening?

Apparently, it is not unusual to have three active hurricanes in the Atlantic basin at the same time. Last May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an “Above Normal Atlantic Hurricane Season”[i].  Three hurricanes seem extreme to me, but a little research tells me that happens about once every 10 years, the last time was in 2010[ii]. So, predictions of the imminent end of the world are not accurate.

All that aside, it is difficult to imagine the stress people throughout Florida are experiencing. We all watch the recovery efforts in Texas every day. Everyone has a good picture of the devastation caused by Harvey. Irma is predicted to have stronger winds, along with a tremendous surge of water that will flood Florida, and perhaps further north.

So, at Immanuel we will continue to offer daily prayers and accept donations for hurricane victims. We will get every donation to people in need. As Jesus teaches, those who experience the hurricanes, the victims and those who respond, all are our neighbors (Luke 10:29ff). Not only are they neighbors, we all have friends and family affected by these disasters.

So, please join with me in prayer, my friends. Here is a prayer I’ve written today. You may use this or even better, just pray from your heart.

Heavenly Father, Creator of the Universe,

We are witnessing tremendous destruction and human pain and loss. We are humbled before you as these hurricanes strike land. Some wonder if Paul’s words, “in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1) are happening before our eyes. As people are stressed and struggle with life these days, may they turn to you and not away. May we share our burdens with each other even as we share them with you. And may those who provide service to people in harm’s way be protected themselves so they may serve without fear.

We ask this in the name of Jesus, who by his very word calmed the seas,

Amen

See you in church, or collecting relief supplies,
Pastor Tom

“Be humbled by God’s power so that when the right time comes he will honor you (I Peter 5:6)”.

[i] http://www.noaa.gov/media-release/above-normal-atlantic-hurricane-season-is-most-likely-year

[ii] Jeff Masters, a meteorologist with Weather Underground, in an email to Gizmodo.

 

A Disaster Named Harvey

I have a choice of topics to discuss this morning, but nothing is more significant than the disaster that hurricane Harvey brought to Texas.

It was my privilege to represent the Lutheran church in New Orleans immediately following Katrina 12 years ago. Witnessing the misery that so many people experienced stays fresh in my memory. As I see the videos from Houston and listen to the victims, I can empathize with their misery.

The winds of Katrina destroyed entire communities while the storm surge lifted cars into trees, moved railroad tracks and flooded the homes and churches I visited. However, after a day or two, much of the flood water drained back into the Gulf leaving mold, sludge, snakes, and a mess beyond description. I recall paddling a canoe inside a church along the coast and pushing the church organ and copier out the door as they floated along.

As bad as Katrina was, it did not have the unbelievable rains of Harvey. When your home, business, or even your church floods, the damage is often so devastating, your only recourse is to rebuild and start over. Water wreaks havoc on building structure, your personal belongings, and the health of the inside environment. Just an inch of water can destroy a carpet, appliances, and furniture, so imagine the damage caused when your home floods to the attic. Your furnace, air conditioner, roof, foundation, and utilities will all be damaged and more than likely destroyed.

Please take a moment and think of the millions of people experiencing such extreme stress in their lives. Pray for those who have lost their home, car, and all of their possessions…and simply do not know what to do next. Pray for those who are unselfishly rescuing people trapped, giving shelter and food for the homeless, and for the countless volunteers who simply see people in need and help. Please pray for all the agencies (both government and private) who are dedicated to helping people now and in the years to come as Houston and the surrounding area rebuilds. So, please pray for the people of Texas.

And if you can donate money for relief efforts, I recommend these agencies who will use your gift to help the people who need it the most:

God is our protection and source of strength.
He is always ready to help us in times of trouble.
So we are not afraid when the earth quakes
and the mountains fall into the sea.
We are not afraid when the seas become rough and dark
and the mountains tremble. Psalm 46:1-3 (Easy-to-Read Version)

See you in church,
Pastor Tom

Prayer for All Affected By Hurricane Harvey


It may be a sunny Saturday morning here in Palatine, but Hurricane Harvey has severely damaged Texas and rains still pose a threat. Please join me in prayer…

Dear God of Heaven and Earth,

Hear the voices of your people who are filled with anxiety and fear from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. Remind all troubled souls through faith that your will for us is life and everlasting good. Help the first responders as they provide food, clothing, and shelter to those in need. Empower the government authorities to bring order to the chaos caused by this horrible storm so that life may return to healthy routine very soon. Finally, then we ask that through this hurricane, people of all ages may turn to you for assurance, comfort, and strength to meet the days ahead. For you, dear Father, are the creator of all who sent his Son to save us and pours out your Spirit to bless us. AMEN

Jesus Calms a Storm

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” Matthew 8:23-27

See you in church,
Pastor Tom