A Donkey, an Elephant and a Lamb

2016 electionsThe donkey and the elephant don’t like each other. When they are not on the same ground, they spend a lot of time and money criticizing each other. When they are together, both keep their distance — avoiding contact as they trade verbal remarks typically reserved for closed door discussions.  The tension between the two is experienced by everyone.

The presidential debates are unbelievable. You may prefer the donkey, the elephant, or neither, but you cannot avoid drawing conclusions. Watching these two speak is like watching 4th of July fireworks, you can’t turn away without missing an explosion. The road traveled to this place in politics is littered with wounded donkeys, elephants, porcupines (Libertarian Party) and wilted sunflowers (Green party).

This will not end, even after ballots are cast and counted. Hateful words linger on in unblemished memory. As a single cough in a crowded room spread germs, these words spread their seeds of discontent among family and friends. Relationships will be tested and some will suffer.

In the midst of all the unruly animals in your life comes one without blemish. The lamb is sent to wash the stain of fractured relationships with the pure antibiotic of forgiveness. The Heavenly Father sends his Son — the “lamb of God” — for times such as these. Remember the lamb stands stronger than any donkey or elephant. In fact, the donkey and elephant truly need the lamb and what he offers. The lamb brings the message all long to hear but will they listen.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29

See you in church,
Pastor Tom

In the Path of Matthew

hurricane_matthewThose of us who are northern climate people do not face the threat of hurricanes. (Tornadoes are another subject.) So when we hear constant warnings on the news about a category 4 hurricane making land in the southeast, we may find it difficult to relate. My wife and I went through a two or three typhoons (a hurricane that develops in the Northwestern Pacific Basin) when we served in the Philippines as missionaries. We spent days trying to keep water out of our home with constant mopping, emptying buckets, and trying to stay dry. There was no electricity and no refrigeration. The roads were impassable, and the threat of our roof blowing off or uprooted trees falling on the house or car was very real. It was exhausting. Without any communication to the outside world, we simply waited out the storm, clinging to each other and our two babies, trusting God to protect us.

Now many of us with family and friends in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, are worried about their loved ones’ safety. We want to reach out and help. And we will help with gifts of money and assistance as the storm passes and conditions stabilize, but now we pray and worry. We try to pray more than we worry.

Join with me in this prayer,

Dear Lord,

You tell us to call upon you whenever we are troubled. Today we call out to you for our friends and family, for all the people that lie in the path of Hurricane Matthew. We pray that the predictions of a fierce and perilous storm prove false and that the winds and rain begin to diminish. We pray that destruction be minimal, that no more lives be lost and that people may return to their homes soon.

However, should this not be the case, when people are threatened may they turn to you. May all be reminded of the words spoken by your prophet Nahum,

The Lord is good,
    a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him (Nahum 1:7).

We take refuge in you Lord, for you have power over the wind and waves. Draw us ever closer to you in this time of calamity. In your name we pray, Amen.

See you in church,
Pastor Tom

Celebrating Our PTL Volunteers

The PTL Executive Board
The PTL Executive Board.  A successful Lutheran school requires many people who are willing to serve unselfishly and often without credit. It is difficult to imagine Immanuel without the PTL and all the volunteers.

They work tirelessly, volunteering to help their child’s school. Often holding full-time jobs, as well as being full-time mothers and wives/ fathers and husbands, they help teachers in the classroom, assist the staff, and organize events that generate thousands of dollars. They have designated proceeds to go towards everything from technology to playground equipment and from new carpet to classroom supplies. They are indispensable.

The Immanuel Parent Teacher League (PTL) is an exciting organization of parents who “promote Christian education, support the school and . . . help maintain a close relationship among our school, our teachers, and our school families.”



My wife carol and I, Jenny Laabs, Pastor Warren and his wife Gywn, enjoying the PTL Family Celebration last Friday
Me, my wife Carol,  Jenny Laabs, Pastor Warren and Gwyn Schilf, enjoying the PTL Family Celebration last Friday

The most recent example of this support was the annual Walk-a-thon/ Family Celebration Fundraiser that concluded last week. It truly was a family event that had something for everyone. With a fun walk, raffle, auction, dance and more, PTL’s volunteers showed once again their undying spirit and dedication to promote Immanuel’s school.

A successful Lutheran school requires many people who are willing to serve unselfishly and often without credit. Together with the faculty and staff, our volunteers contribute their time, expertise and gifts. When the budget is stressed and there is more work than there are workers, the PTL volunteers are crucial in keeping our school running effectively. It is difficult to imagine the school without the PTL and all the volunteers.

Perhaps these words from St. Paul will show my appreciation for all they do:

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:12-14

See you in church, or the next PTL event!
Pastor Tom

Don’t Read This, You Will Not Feel Better…

I have the habit of reviewing the news online each morning. It is an addictive habit for me, one I’m considering giving up. Here are a few examples of what I read. You may wish to not read any further.

  • Four women and one man died after being shot last Friday night at a Macy’s store at the Cascade Mall in Burlington,Washington (north of Seattle.) The accused gunman was arraigned in court yesterday. Police are trying to identify a motive.
  • Yesterday morning nine people were injured at a Houston shopping center before the gunman was shot dead by police. News reports indicate the gunman was a “disgruntled lawyer,” upset over the failure of his law firm due to a lack of clients. One person was in critical condition while the other victims were treated and expected to be released from the hospital.
  • A quick on-line search tells me that a person is shot in the city of Chicago every 121 minutes (just over two hours). Every 11 hours, 38 minutes, a person is murdered. At this rate the total murders in Chicago will exceed last year’s total, but more than likely not exceed the highest level of 970 in 1974.
  • On the other side of the world, the ceasefire in Syria tragically ended last week. Reports indicate that Syria and its Russian allies have launched an assault on Aleppo. According to the United Nations, this is the most intense bombing in the years of warfare resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians.
  • Meanwhile coalition backed Iraqi forces are preparing to retake Mosul. The fighting is expected to take months and will be the most critical offensive in the two-year long war against ISIS. The northern Iraqi city is the most populous and most important city the Islamic State holds in its caliphate. Over the weekend ISIS used a red-hot welding iron and rods to put to death six boys accused of being a part of a rival militant faction in Mosul.

And yet one news item dominates all other news, the first presidential debate. Perhaps the next president will make a difference. Perhaps not.

It is difficult for me to rationalize today’s news. Wars continue in the Middle East and on the streets of Chicago. A routine trip to the mall or a shopping center becomes life ending for innocent people. Where is the outrage? Who will rise up and say enough is enough? Perhaps we have become all too familiar with such tragedies.

In times like these, when we feel our weakest, He lifts us up.  Please join me in prayer…Join me in prayer. How long, O Lord? Have you forgotten me? Every day the news can be terrifying. There are days when I feel that you have left me alone. How long, O Lord? How can there be so much evil in the world? Is evil winning? O Lord my God, hear me. Let me remain strong in the face of evil. Remind me that your love remains. Your promise of salvation is certain. I trust in that love. My heart sings your praise. Your grace fills me. O Lord my God, hear me. Amen (Based on Psalm 13

See you in church,
Pastor Tom

“The [reverent] fear of the Lord [that is, worshiping Him and regarding Him as truly awesome] is the beginning and the preeminent part of knowledge [its starting point and its essence];
But arrogant fools despise [skillful and godly] wisdom and instruction and self-discipline. Proverbs 1:7 Amplified Bible

Summit II: Building on Summit I

What do Michael Hyatt, Patrick Lencioni, Chick-fil-A and Immanuel’s Dan Heuertz all have in common? Join us next Saturday morning to find out. Summit II will bring these three men and one corporation together as we build upon the success of our first Summit last June  — although only one of them will actually be there in person…I’m sure you can guess which one.

Be prepared to hear what lessons Immanuel can take from successful business practices. You may be surprised to hear just how vital “Organizational Health” is, not only for a business but also for a church.
Three key concepts will be explored:

  • Collaboration
  • Connections
  • Community

How do we work together at Immanuel to create something special in the kingdom of God? What connections do we have in this community and beyond as we come together and volunteer our time to make a difference in someone’s life? Immanuel is a community of Christian people held together by the common belief that we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ. We are also part of many other communities including our various towns, schools, work settings, and even our families. How can we help our communities reach out to others in need?

Join your friends and meet some new people next Saturday, September 24 at 9:00 a.m. in the gym. This is for members and friends of Immanuel. We will continue the conversation begun last June and move into some new areas. If you missed Summit I, don’t worry, we will help you catch up.

Hear what Immanuel is doing to reach out into the community.
If being a member of Immanuel has become only an obligation to attend worship when your schedule allows, then perhaps you need to consider joining us next Saturday morning. Be a part of the movement we call Stronger Together! This is the right time for you to make the time to make a difference. Regardless of age or circumstance in life, you are welcome.

Please contact Diana Broj at dbroj@ilcp.org or 847-359-1549 to R.S.V.P., if you have questions, or to make arrangements for childcare.

See you at the Summit,
Pastor Tom

Leaders Visit Immanuel’s Studio

Open up President Dan’s video and listen to his message for Immanuel. Hear how we work together, cooperating with his office and the other congregations, pooling our resources and reaching people who do not know Jesus.

Two weeks ago, Immanuel welcomed three guests from our Lutheran Church district office – the Northern Illinois District: Pastor Dan Gilbert, the district president, Pastor Keith Haney of the president’s staff and Pastor Kris Whitby, a member of the board of directors and pastor of Saint Paul Lutheran Church in Mount Prospect.  They visited our studio and recorded videos to encourage the 215 district congregations in community outreach. Our district’s efforts to reach others with the good news of Jesus Christ is called “New Starts, New Believers.”

Immanuel is one of those 215 congregations from Northern Illinois. Having the district president visit is always an honor considering his demanding schedule. He recorded two videos, one specifically for Immanuel and another for all 215 congregations. His words for Immanuel are linked to this blog.

As you open the video you will see the district president sitting behind a lavish desk in front of a world map and the logo for “New Starts, New Believers” prominently displayed. You may wonder, “where is he?” No, I did not have my office remodeled. He is actually in our studio (a room underneath my office) made possible through our Stronger Together initiative. Working with a tight budget, watching for sales, and negotiating with manufactures, we now have this amazing technology to produce videos for our ministry needs, especially outreach and as a hands-on laboratory for our school students. (Our middle school now offers an elective, AV Studio…students in that class even record school announcements a few times per week.)

NID President Dan Gilbert’s Message to Immanuel

Open up President Dan’s video and listen to his message for Immanuel. Hear how we work together, cooperating with his office and the other congregations, pooling our resources and reaching people who do not know Jesus. His plea to “just do one thing” for outreach gives me pause to consider. What one thing am I doing today with the help of the Holy Spirit to share Christ? How about you?

See you in church,
Pastor Tom

A Prayer for Labor Day

labor dayIt’s Labor Day here in the U.S. and I’d like to share my annual Labor Day prayer once again.   Labor Day offers a reason to reflect on scripture and prayer on the subject of work.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  Philippians 2:3-4

Please join me in prayer…

Heavenly Father and maker of us all, you provide us with a mind that casts a vision a heart that resolves to accomplish tasks and the skillful hands to finish our work. We thank you for creating us with the ability to create products, complete tasks and contribute to the well-being of our community. We gratefully acknowledge and pray for those who labor in our factories, in our industries, in our restaurants, in agriculture, in construction, in mining, in transportation, in communications, in our nursing homes and hospitals, in law enforcement and emergency services, in childcare, and in our retail industry. We thank you for working through them to provide for the countless vital services to keep our country functioning.

We remember especially all who are unemployed or under-employed and pray that they will soon receive fulfilling opportunities that make use of their skills and abilities. In the meantime, help us to provide for their needs even as they seek patience, understanding and wisdom from you.

Keep all who labor healthy, strong and safe. May their hands provide the means for them to care for themselves as well as their families. May all workers be respected and valued even as they enjoy a sense of accomplishment. Open our eyes that we may treat others as we would want to be treated.

Finally then we pray that “. . . everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”  (Ecclesiastes 3:13 ESV)

In the name of Jesus Christ, the carpenter from Nazareth, Amen.

See you in church,
Pastor Tom

Prayer for All Affected By Tropical Storm Hermine

hermineIt may be a sunny Friday morning in Northern Illinois, but Hurricane Hermine is wreaking havoc as it hits Florida.  Please join me in prayer for those affected by this storm…

Dear Jesus,

Today we pray for our brothers and sisters, friends, and all people suffering under the relentless power of a merciless storm called Hermine. We remember another storm that threatened your disciples as waves swamped their boat. You reminded them to have strong faith in the face of trouble. You stood and rebuked the winds and sea and there was complete calm.

Remind us now to be strong in our faith. Calm these winds and waves that bring floods of destruction and threaten lives. Watch over the first responders that they may bring rescue, shelter, and order to scenes of chaos. On this Labor Day Weekend may the Nation be united in prayer for all displaced by any storm in life as we humbly turn to you. For you are God, and with you, all things are possible. 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


Stronger Together
If we work at living out our personal values, it has an incredible impact on those around us.

On Saturday, Immanuel held a special Stronger Together meeting to discuss values.  The meeting was ably facilitated by Dan Heuertz and attended by a rich assortment of Immanuel people, representing many ministries and boards.  The purpose of this meeting was for the group “to develop a list of the specific values that will continue to guide us all – leaders, team members, and the whole congregation – along the path to “Build the Community in Christ.”  The discussion was fascinating – and it’s not over.  We will be convening to finish the work we started –a date and time will be shared soon and I hope you can attend.

I had the privilege of opening Saturday’s meeting with a devotion.  I’d like to share the gist of it with you now, with a note of caution.  The “core values” discussion is a large one and our “core values” have not been finalized.  In a values discussion, sometimes the “values,” or faith practices like prayer, we hold dear will not be listed out as a “core value” but instead treated as a basic necessity for a church.  See Paul Alexander’s excellent blog post: 6 Things Your Church Should Know About Core Values for more on that.  Believe me, there was discussion on the “permission to play” concept as well.

The point of the devotion at the meeting — and what I share with you now — is to focus our eyes, and hearts, on God’s mission.

Let’s start with this concept: “Every believer has been sent by Jesus with the gospel in community to the culture for the sake of the King and His kingdom.”

The challenge, therefore, is for every follower of Jesus around the world to embody the mission and message of Jesus everywhere they go!

Simply understood, this means planting the gospel in the culture and through Christ displaying and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is Lord! But HOW does this happen?

Rather than looking for new ways to “be missional,” it may be helpful to identify patterns of missional behaviors that can be “practiced” each week. Let’s identify behaviors that demonstrate our Core Values. These behaviors then become Core Practices (habits) that everyone in the church family begins to exhibit.

For example, if our core value is “authenticity” – then the question to ask is: “how do we as a community demonstrate authenticity”? The answer is expressed in behavioral terms.

  • We confess our sins to each other.
  • We do not pretend to be “spiritual.”
  • We speak the truth in love.

Another Core Value might be “Compassion” which could be demonstrated by:

  • We bless someone three times each week.
  • We serve others three times each week (or every day).
  • We write an encouraging note to someone three times each week.
  • We pray with anyone right away whenever a concern is expressed.

Another Core Value might be “Community” which could be demonstrated by:

  • We share a meal with other believers once each week.
  • We meet to remember Jesus once each week.
  • We give “grace” to one another daily.

Another Core Value might be “Intimacy with God” which could be demonstrated by:

  • We daily read and reflect on Scripture.
  • We set time aside each week to listen to God (1 hour or more).

After identifying these behaviors, we begin to “practice” them each week. Imagine a group of Christians that are reading and reflecting on Scripture, listening to God, confessing sins, not pretending to be spiritual, and speaking the truth in love, who are serving others, blessing people, writing encouraging notes, praying together, sharing meals, remembering Jesus and being gracious. If we work at living out our personal values, it has an incredible impact on those around us.

Another way to identify behaviors might be simply to ask: “What would it look like to be Jesus to those around me?”

Identifying missional behaviors cannot be a program, it must be a lifestyle. Changing the way you behave isn’t easy. As the Holy Spirit helps you to identify ways to “be Jesus” to those around you, adopt the thinking and behavior that demonstrates the gospel.

Missional behaviors are redemptive, reconciling, merciful, gracious, and other-oriented. If we “just” worked hard at “being Jesus to everyone everywhere” – we’d probably be headed in the right direction.

Keep asking – “How do we display the gospel to those far from Christ?” Certainly this will lead us to spend time with those far from Christ. A few more ways to get started might be:

  • We share a meal in our home with non-believers every week.
  • We pray at 10:02 for laborers for the harvest (Luke 10:2) He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
  • We frequent the same “third place” each week at the same time to develop relationships with non-Christians.
  • We join our “Neighborhood Watch” group (or start one) on our street.
  •  We adopt the closest school to our home and start volunteering each week.

Don’t give up.

See you in church, and in the community,
Pastor Tom

A Prayer for College Students

Last week, I got the privilege of greeting Immanuel students as they arrived for the first day of school. I wish I could do the same with our college students!
Last week, I had the privilege of greeting Immanuel students as they arrived for the first day of school. I wish I could do the same with our college students!

Many of Immanuel’s college students left to go to their colleges and universities last week so they could start classes today.  I’d like to share a prayer with all of our college students.  But it’s a prayer that we can all pray as well…just switch out the pronouns – “college students” for “I” and “them” for “me.”  Please join me in prayer…

Dear Heavenly Father ~

Your Son, Jesus Christ, promised to be with us always. He constantly looked out for the confused, the anxious and worried. Without hesitation, he provided for everyone’s needs, always with love and understanding.

As I begin this year of study, please remain with me, not only when my heart is near yours, but even when I put much distance between us. Give me the faith that remains true to you even at the sound of voices that encourage me otherwise. When I am strong, please keep me humble and when I’m weak, please hold me up tall and sturdy.

As I discover new lessons in life, may I be discerning between healthy choices and those that will displease you. When I befriend others may I hold respect, truth, and honest concern as cherished virtues to be shared. In all that I experience may I always remember that you are the creator of all life, that I hold all of creation in the highest regard without discrimination or prejudice.

As relationships change during this time of transition in my life, may I remain the person my parents can be proud of and speak well of to others. May I always appreciate their years of nurture, support and love, even as I thank you for providing me with the blessings of family and childhood companions.

Finally, I ask that your Spirit never be far from me. May my faith always grow when challenged and my example be pleasing to you. May this entire experience prepare me for a life of service to others, a willingness to reach out to the hurting and a sincere desire to be comforting to the troubled.

For you are God. You have known me before I was conceived and remained with me always. You sent your Son to provide for my salvation and your Spirit to keep me in faith. To you all glory, honor praise and thanksgiving, AMEN

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

See you in church,
Pastor Tom

Immanuel's "Keep in Touch" ministry sends care packages to college students and military members. The next mailing is September 18. For more information, see http://www.immanuelpalatine.org/kit-september-2016/

Immanuel’s “Keep in Touch” ministry sends care packages to college students and military members. The next mailing is September 18. More information…