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“What’s Your Story?”

Donald Miller writes, “If your life were summarized on a movie poster, what would it say?”


It’s an intriguing question. Part of any good story is what one is seeking to accomplish. This is usually what drives the story. Frodo wants/needs to destroy the ring. Luke Skywalker is seeking to defeat Darth Vader by destroying the Death Star before it can become operational. In The Princess Bride, Wesley is overcoming ‘inconceivable’ odds to reclaim his lost love, Buttercup. The bigger, more compelling the goal, the greater the story. And yet it seems to me that we have our stories hijacked on a regular basis by things both trivial and mundane, inconsequential and nonessential. Which toothpaste should I buy? Should I get a newer, larger, better TV (or phone, lawnmower, kitchen appliance, etc.)? Americans encounter over 3,000 commercial messages every day, telling us what we should want and/or accomplish. It’s no wonder we get distracted!


And yet, if we want our lives to tell a great story, if we want that movie poster to be compelling enough to draw someone into the theater of our lives, we are going to have to want noble and compelling things. Things like good defeating evil (“Overcome evil with good,” Romans 12:21), peace where there now is strife (“Pursue peace,” Romans 14:19, 1 Peter 3:11), justice and kindness blooming in deserts of despair (Micah 6:8). In short, to seek the Kingdom of God, coming on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:33), in ways both little (think standing up for the marginalized) and large (think Mother Teresa, or even Frodo), can be as compelling a story as there ever was.


So what’s your story? Can you say no to the (literally!) thousands of little stories that wash over you every day, in order to say YES to a greater story, one wrapped up in God’s Kingdom coming in your life and the lives of those around you? To quote or at least paraphrase Phineas (of Phineas and Ferb fame), “Why, yes. Yes, you can.” By God’s Grace, through the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in you and in our world.


In His Grip,


Pastor Paul

On Honesty in Parenting

The following thoughts are from Donald Miller, author of many books including his most recent, Scary Close


Now that I’m married I’ve started to worry about my children. I don’t even have children yet, but I’ve already started worrying about whether or not I’ll be a good dad. One of my greatest fears is that my children won’t do well in life, and by that, I mean won’t be happy and healthy and able to connect with others.


But I’ve got some hope brewing.


I’ve noticed something about the parents of teens and twenty-somethings who are high functioning and healthy. I’m talking about young adults who you sit and talk to and wonder how they got so wise, self-controlled and winsome. I’ve noticed they all have parents who have a distinct, unique, and rare quality about them.


It’s not a quality you’d expect, but I promise it’s the common denominator. And here it is: Healthy and high-functioning people often have parents who do not hide their flaws, especially from their own children.  


What I mean is this:


Healthy people tend to come from families in which parents willing confessed and were okay with their own weaknesses, even if those weaknesses were quite dark. And those kinds of parents are rare, which is perhaps why super healthy people are so rare.


Imagine growing up in a family in which your parents didn’t pretend to be more righteous, strong, or capable than they actually were, but in fact made mistakes and were perfectly willing to confess and apologize for those mistakes.


Imagine having a father who might occasionally say something like, “You know, son, I’ve noticed you’ve developed a temper. I think you might have gotten that from me. I’m so sorry. It’s hard to control I know. It has cost me a lot in life and I fear it might cost you, too. Will you forgive me for passing that along to you?”


A family like that creates a deep bond of intimacy.


And why?


I have a theory that parents who tell the truth about themselves are honored by God. I think God loves the truth, no matter how dark the truth may be. My other theory is that parents who sacrifice impressing their children in order to bond with them on a human-to-human level create a deeper connection. And my third theory is that children who grow up in environments where it’s okay to be human feel less pressure in life and less of a reason to hide from their families and the world around them.


Sadly, I’ve noticed the opposite trend, too. Because I grew up in a hyper-religious environment, I knew more than a few dads who felt the pressure to make people think they were more righteous than they were. I don’t blame them.


They were trying to fit in.


In each of those families, people—especially the children—struggled. They likely learned from the father (and sometimes the mother) that they were supposed to hide their darker nature from the world. Or worse, they learned they had to be perfect to be accepted and loved.


Here’s a truth: When we hide, we don’t connect with others, and when we don’t connect with others, our souls atrophy.


Two of the men I’m talking about had adult children who committed suicide. The knee-jerk reaction of both fathers in those situations was to make sure everybody knew their child’s suicide wasn’t their fault. It was sad and painful to watch.


What gives me hope is that I am very close with a few families doing it right. They are confessing their sins to their own children.


They are living in the open.


There’s nothing easy about living this way, for sure, and yet I firmly believe we have to live in the open to be healthy. We can’t hide and we can’t pretend. We have to teach our children not only how to live well, that is to live within moral boundaries, but also how to fail well.


In the end, the children who learn from their parents that it’s perfectly okay to be perfectly human live more healthy, happy lives. Why? Because people who tell the truth connect and are people who don’t live in public isolation.


Don’s new book, Scary Close, features a fascinating chapter about parents who confess their sins to their children. It is available at the Allen County Library, and most everywhere people buy books.

“Yours, Mine, Ours”

(October 2014 Newsletter Article)

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:1-5)


“Where we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus’ question to his disciples (both then and now) seems to operate under the assumption that the crowd’s lack of planning is somehow their (i.e., his and his disciples’) responsibility. Really, Jesus? Don’t you know the phrase, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”? I’m pretty sure Darth Vader (or many a not nearly so scary leader) wouldn’t feel the same way. And yet this is precisely the posture Jesus takes with his followers. The people are hungry. They’ve (mostly) forgotten to bring something to eat. It’s our responsibility to feed them.


It would appear that the disciples of Jesus at St. John Lutheran Church take Jesus’ expectation here seriously. For starters, our soon-to-be approved vision (“We envision a world fed and led by God”) and mission (“Fed and led by God, we live as a neighbor—to the West Central community, the city of Fort Wayne, and all the world”) statements suggests a greater responsibility for the feeding of the world, both physically and spiritually, through partnering with God to be a good neighbor to those around us. Of course, one way we live this out is by offering a free meal every Wednesday evening, where we feed the ‘large crowd’ that comes toward us from our immediate community (vs. 5). We further help some members of this crowd each week through our Good Samaritan Fund, which provides up to five food vouchers and/or all day bus passes to those who ask. (By the way, this fund is getting dangerously low, so contributions would be most welcome.) On a more spiritual level, we provide three worship opportunities every week and numerous other Bible / book studies where people can relate with God and grow in faith and life together as Jesus’ disciples. So in many important respects, the sign I recall seeing at JP’s BBQ in urban Columbus (across from the church I served during two years of seminary) is true: “We feed the people.”


But probe a little deeper with me, if you will. Where does the money come from to provide these meals, help people, and maintain the space for these worship, study and community development opportunities? First off, since neither Sharing the Joy nor the Good Samaritan Fund are supported in any way by our annual budget at this time, any money given toward these two important ministries should be considered ‘offerings,’ or giving to God and God’s work beyond one’s regular commitment to one’s local Church. This latter regular, annual commitment, in ‘church’ language, is called your tithe, or firstfruits, giving—often understood as being a certain percentage (10%) of your income. The firstfruits idea comes from ancient Israel, where the culture was agriculturally centered. You literally gave the first fruits of your harvest back to God in gratitude for all God had given you (including the harvest!), trusting God to provide in the rest of your harvest all you would need for the coming year, until the next harvest. This ongoing commitment, which at St. John we note on an “Estimate of Giving” card each fall, is what ‘keeps the doors open,’ so to speak, for the ministries described above that ‘feed the people’—physically and spiritually, both within our congregation and among the surrounding community.


So my question is, how’s your giving? How has it been to date, and how might you respond to Jesus’ expectations of feeding seen here in John 6? How might God’s Spirit be nudging you (“led by God”) to take on a greater responsibility in God’s ‘feeding ministry’ (“fed by God”)? These are the sorts of questions the Pony Express Stewardship team would like you to consider as thPonyExpressRidesAgaine Pony Express gets ready to ride again, right here at St. John, October 19-29th. MayGod go with us all in this exciting journey of faith!


In His Grip,


Pastor Paul

Where are we going and how will we get there?

These are two basic questions all people asking directions need to consider, in order to get to wherever it is they hope to go.  They are also two key questions any organization, INCLUDING a church, needs to ask if it wants to stay on target and on purpose.

Recently, St. John has been asking these questions, starting with the Congregation Council at an April retreat and moving forward in the months following with the wider congregation.  Here’s what we’ve come up with so far:

OUR VISION (i.e., Where are we going?  What is the preferred future to which God is calling us?) . . .

We envision a world fed and led by God

OUR MISSION (i.e., How will we get there?  What one or two key actions will move us along the path of realizing God’s vision for us?) . . .

Fed and led by God, we live as a neighbor—

  • in the West Central community,
  • the city of Fort Wayne, and
  • all the world.

So . . . what do you think?


We are looking for a drummer to spice up our 11:00 a.m. service over the coming months. Interested in learning more? Got any leads? Contact Pastor Paul (426-5751, x101), Jay Heare, or Heather Offhaus for more details, or to share any leads. Thanks!

How would you like your home blessed?

A Home Blessing is a wonderful way to welcome and invite God into your home, whether a new or long time resident, whether a house, an apartment or mobile home.  The blessing usually involves  prayer, lighting a candle, Bible readings and moving from room to room to bless various areas of your home.

Pastor Paul enjoys providing this service to folk, whether a member of St. John or a neighbor in our wider community.  Just call the church office at 426-5751, x100 to set up a time and/or learn more.

St. John is supporting the wider Church

The Indiana-Kentucky (IK) Synod to which St. John belongs acknowledges and gives thanks to St John Lutheran Church for our Mission Support dollars sent to the IK Synod – of which 52% are forwarded to ELCA Churchwide.  Our 2013 seed dollars, totaling $12,170, are scattered and will sprout and grow as lives are changed by the transforming love of God. We scatter seeds each time we share food, clothing, health kits, prayer shawls, quilts, and the like.  “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master!” (Matthew 25:23)

“Wake up”

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death . . . Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.  +Revelation 3:2-3


“Wake up.”  These words can come gently, as when I find myself waking up one of our children from sleep to start her day.  Or sometimes they come urgently, as when Heather notices me getting sleepy at the wheel:  “Wake up!”  During this season of Advent, the Lord Jesus speaks to us in both tones as well.


“Wake up.  Wake up to a world of wonder, a world filled with grace and peace, mercy and hope.  It’s all around you, if you would or could only have the eyes of your heart opened to their presence, like a child is gently awakened to the wonder and beauty of a new day unfolding before her very eyes.


“Wake up!”  You are heading directly into danger!  You must snap out of it now or there will be dire consequences to your health and the health of those around you!  Whether it’s the danger of crazy Christmas consumerism, complacency to the Christ-child who comes, cutting competition (three words:  Christmas light displays), or some other December minefield, you’d better be alert or else you’re headed for a crash.


In each of these calls to wake up, there is a moment, as pregnant as Mary on December 24th with possibilities.  The Bible calls it a kairos moment, sometimes translated as an “opportune” or “right” time.  “At the right time, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6).  “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”  (2 Corinthians 6:2).  These wake up calls are an invitation to step off the maddening treadmill of life long enough to reflect on the patterns and moments of our lives and ask a very important question or two, such as why?  Why am I behaving this way?  Why does this always seem to happen?  Or what?  What might God want to teach me about myself and God’s world in this moment?  Or how?  How might my life as a Beloved Disciple Making Disciples be different moving forward?  Our reflections than can move toward action, new and renewed actions motivated and directed by God’s Holy Spirit at work within us, bringing about deepened faith in Jesus and a more certain hope in God’s coming salvation or deliverance, both for us and the world God so loved that he gave us his only begotten Son.


As we move through this season, let’s keep our eyes and ears and hearts open for such moments, such signs.  Some places that may be especially full (dare I say pregnant?) with hope include the Wednesday evening Advent vesper services, the Advent Small Groups where 35+ people are gathering in community to read and reflect and prepare for Christ’s coming, the “Joy of Christmas” gathering December 8th, our caroling outing to St. John homebound members December 22nd, and of course Christmas Eve worship at 4:00 p.m. (a repeat engagement of the “Meet Me at the Manger,” no-rehearsal children’s Christmas pageant we started last year) and 7:00 p.m.  Through these and many other ways, may we “keep awake” to the possibilities of God’s salvation and healing reaching out still today to us.  And may the end result, once again, be Christmas JOY.  A Blessed Advent, all – and Merry Christmas, too!


In His Grip, Pastor Paul


Join Pastor Paul for a BRIEF Advent small group planning meeting in room 101 THIS Sunday morning, November 10th at approximately 10:30 a.m.  We will discuss group dates/times, format and what sort of resource to use in the groups.  If you have ideas, input or comments, this is the time to bring them.  Meeting will finish no later than 10:55 for anyone (including Pastor Paul) who is planning on attending 11:00 a.m. worship!


My vows to you I must perform, O God.  
I will render thank offerings to you.

(Psalm 56:12)

I am thankful for our seven new members who joined St. John last month.  You can get to know these fellow Beloved Disciples Making Disciples—including seeing their picture so you know who they are—in our November newsletter, posted under ‘news’ elsewhere on our website.  Be sure to give them a warm St. John welcome when you see them around church.

I am thankful for Lois Sharp’s faithful years of service as St. John’s custodian; please join me in praying for God’s blessings upon her as she hangs up the mop and moves on to other adventures.  I am thankful for an awesome and loving staff, a committed Council, and a character building school that meets in our building, led by people of character themselves.

I am thankful for warm quilts, school kits and health kits collected from all parts of Northeastern Indiana (and beyond!) to be sent to those in desperate need of them.  I am thankful for warm meals being served weekly free of charge to any who wander in from the increasingly colder outside.  I am thankful for money gladly given to the Good Samaritan Fund, used to help both members and neighbors in need.  I am thankful for the growing number of people caring for our homebound brothers and sisters in Christ, including our fledging Caring Visits ministry.

I am thankful for faithful bulletin and slideshow makers, deacons, ushers, altar guild, offering counters, soundboard team members, noisy offering collectors, organists and pianists, choir and handbell members, pew card replacers, acolytes and assisting ministers, without whom we would not be conducting regular and meaningful weekly worship.

I am thankful for the gifts of faith, family, fall, friendship, fun, food, flowers, flavors, and the Fort—just to name a few ;-).

And in all these ‘thankfuls,’ let me clear—lest there be any doubt—that they are directed to God, the giver of all good gifts, and no one else.  My vows to you I must perform, O God; I will render thank offerings to you.  Let us all be full of thanks—thankful—at all times (not just November!) and in all places (not just in church!).  Amen!

Thankfully Yours,

Pastor Paul

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