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

A Prayer for High School Students

Area high school students begin school today. I’d like to share a prayer for them again this year…

High School is beginning. Millions of young people, along with faculty and staff, are gathering across the country. Freshmen are beginning a new chapter in their lives. Seniors begin to make decisions for their lives after high school. Filled with new discoveries and relationships, as well as memories that often last a lifetime for students and parents, it is a remarkable time for everyone.

Let’s ask God to bless our young people and all who teach. I especially remember Immanuel’s students who graduated and are now attending Palatine, Fremd, Schaumburg, Barrington, Hoffman Estates, St. Viator, and Lake Zurich high schools, among others.

Here is a prayer I wrote for you. Please make it yours!

Dearest Jesus,

At 12 years old, you set the standard of learning for us when you went to the temple, sat among the teachers and asked them questions. Many high school students are returning to school where they will also “sit among the teachers.” We thank and praise you for the opportunities you give us to learn and grow in all ways.

For those anxious about school, calm and reassure them.

For those who lack friends, bring healthy relationships in to their lives.

For those who are challenged to learn, surround them with people who care and provide guidance.

For those who excel, may they recognize the gifts you provide and use them to the well-being of others.

For all, students, teachers, staff and parents assure them that you are the Lord of All, the Prince of Peace, and our Savior, in whose name we pray.  Amen

Wise men and women are always learning,
always listening for fresh insights. Proverbs 18:15 (MSG)

See you in church,
Pastor Tom

Backpacks Tomorrow!

Who says we can’t have fun at church? There are so many reasons to celebrate all that God is doing at Immanuel!

This Sunday August 13, we’ll do both – have fun and celebrate at the annual Backpacks, Blessings, and Barbecue at the Bandshell event! It runs from 1:0:45 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. at the Fred P. Hall Amphitheater in Palatine’s Community Park.

You'll find free parking for The Fred P. Hall Amphitheater just West of the Walgreens at Northwest Highway and Palatine Road.
You’ll find free parking for The Fred P. Hall Amphitheater just west of the Walgreens at Northwest Highway and Palatine Road.

We’ll celebrate by welcoming the community, students, teachers, and everyone else the Lord brings. We will make memories, begin and renew friendships, and hopefully leave with a healthy attitude about our church, school, family and community.

Everyone is welcome! The park has concrete space for wheelchairs and there's a path from the parking lot directly to the Fred P. Hall Amphitheater.
Everyone is welcome! The park has concrete space for wheelchairs, and there’s a paved path from the parking lot directly to the Fred P. Hall Amphitheater.

Our praise band will take the stage and lead us with beautiful music. Pastor Warren, Pastor Donald and I will share a few words of inspiration. We will have the popular backpack blessing again.  And of course, there will be a barbecue with pork sandwiches, fresh corn on the cob, and ice cream.

You’ll find games to play, people to meet, and time to enjoy what we hope will be a fine summer day. Invite your neighbors, your family and friends.

“But Wait – There’s More!”

This year, the Bobcat Blitz will also be a part of the fun! The race, now a 1.4 mile point-to-point fun run will conclude at the Backpack event. The event is raising money for backpacks and school supplies for local kids in need. Register online now!

I’d like to share the scripture that inspires me each year. Please take a moment to read it, and then if you wish, let me know what you think.

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. ~ Philippians 2: 1-8 (The Message)

See you in the park!
Pastor Tom

P.S.  But wait – there’s still more!  Immanuel will be participating in Palatine’s Street Fest (August 26 – 27) as we do every year.  We’re looking for members to help deliver our Stronger Together message and fill one or more two-hour shifts at our Street Fest tent. Please contact Pastor Warren with questions or to sign up – PastorWarren@ilcp.org or 847-359-1549.

 

Teachers, Treasures

Here at Immanuel, we’re deep in preparation for the new school year. As I reflect on that, I can’t help but give thanks for our teachers and staff. They do what they do out of love, for God and for their students. Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to stand before the altar with Immanuel’s faculty. We welcomed the teachers back and “installed” Mr. Joel Moritz – he’s pictured above, in the center of the group. He is an experienced teacher and an excellent addition to our amazing staff. He will be teaching physical education.  He’s a newlywed, and so is preschool teacher Emily Laubenstein Ratliff.  Two teachers, two weddings, same day.

Immanuel early childhood teacher Jackie Hetzner’s ministry spans 35 years…and counting.

Earlier this summer, I also had the privilege of inviting our teachers up to the altar at the close of the school year. I wish I had time to talk about each teacher celebrating an anniversary on that Sunday last June. Looking back, I wish I had done it anyway, never mind the time constraints. The fact is that we celebrated some significant anniversaries in June, including those of two early Childhood teachers: Jackie Hetzner’s 35 years in ministry and Linda Kinsella’s 25 years at Immanuel. Wow.

Jackie and Linda are both devoted to their young students, and vice versa. Both ladies are also involved with other endeavors around our church and school. Jackie serves in our music ministry. Linda can always be found greeting people, making them feel welcome. And that’s just a tiny glimpse into all they do.  They are unsung heroes, and I’m grateful that they are at Immanuel.

Immanuel teacher Linda Kinsella with her class “whale watching in Hawaii.”

Do you have a story about how an Immanuel teacher made a difference in your life? I’d love to hear it!

Are you interested in learning more about Immanuel Lutheran School? We always have room for more students, covet your prayers, and welcome your financial support. Please give me a call or send an email –Pastortom@ilcp.org. Or contact Principal Delaine Schiestel at dschiestel@ilcp.org or 847-359-1549.

See you in church – and school!
Pastor Tom

Pure Religion at the Home of an Elderly Widow

There is a Scripture verse that I have loved for quite some time. It boils everything down and gives us a clear statement of what God expects from us because of our faith.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.   James 1:27 

Isn’t that an incredible passage!? Pure religion is looking after those in distress and keeping focused on the things of God.

That’s why I’m so thrilled that Deaconess Suzanne and Pastor Warren are heading up a project that they call “Extreme Makeover to Elderly Widow’s Home.” It’s a descriptive and accurate title for the project – there’s a widow that needs “extreme” help to stay in her home of more than 50 years. It’s going on this week and I’m told it will run through the rest of the month. I pray that we at Immanuel continue to seek out ways we can help people in our community, i.e. pure religion.

Pure religion is a life of practical, sensible compassion. And that’s a life that cares for the orphan and widow.  A life that is concerned for others in need. In fact this life imitates God because God is described as the “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows …” Psalm 68:5

When you are a genuine friend of the widow and orphan — that is, when you help others in need — then other things will happen in your life that strengthens your religious qualities. Your heart will always be ready to do good. Others will know they can rely on you and your word. Your life is an example for others. You are a person of integrity. You are practicing real religion.

Can you help with the “Extreme” project, visit a person in need, prepare a meal, volunteer at our school, and/or give some time and money to one of our many community efforts?  Please feel free to contact me at 224-801-8336 or PastorTom@ilcp.org if you have any questions about doing so, or just want to get started!   I’d love to hear from you and so would:

Just something that is always on my mind…

See you in Church…and maybe at a work site!
Pastor Tom

Teens: They’re That Important

Pastor Donald, Troy Horbach, Kristen Horbach, and Warren Glawe devoted a week to go on a mission trip with our teens. Teenagers are that important. I’m grateful that our congregation recognizes this, and I’m grateful that these adults set aside time to do this. Thank you Pastor Donald, Troy, Kristen, and Warren!

A year and a half ago, Immanuel called Pastor Donald to minister to youth and he’s been working (and praying) hard ever since. Teenagers are that important.  Again, I’m grateful for both our congregation and for Pastor Donald.

One of Pastor Donald’s latest initiatives targets parents.  On Thursday, September 7th Immanuel is hosting a showing of “Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age,” a documentary about one of the biggest parenting issues of our time.  (More information can be found on the Immanuel website.) I urge all area parents to attend. Teenagers – they’re that important.

See you in church – and at the movies!
Pastor Tom