Keynotes – November, 2019

Last month I suggested that we change our questions from “Why God__?” to “What is God up to?” This month (with a little reminder from you guys) I would like to reflect on something from ‘long ago.’

It’s hard to believe that 9/11 was actually 18 years ago! Seniors in High School may not have even been born ‘way back then.’ I’m not sure when the following interview took place, but I have an old email dated from November of 2003. I think it would be good for us to hear it once again.

Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on The Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her, “How could God let something like this happen?” (That was in regard to the attacks on 9/11/2001.) Anne Graham gave the following, and I think profound response that certainly bares repeating.

“I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman that He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand that He leave us alone? In light of recent events…terrorist attack, school shootings, etc.

I think it started with Madeline Murray O’Hare (she was murdered, her body found ‘recently’) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem. (Dr. Spock’s son committed suicide.) We said an expert should know what he’s talking about. And we said OK.

Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with “We reap what we sow.” ” (Eliphaz said, “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” Job 4:8)

She could have been interviewed today and it would all be true. Our country is even less tolerant of God’s opinion and involvement than ever in the past. Beyond terrorist attacks there are other areas of attack that are more subtle. For example, the Bible talks about the sexually immoral as not being saved, but the social definition of sexually immoral has been ‘updated’ for 2019 so that it seems there is nothing immoral.

When there is another shooting people are outraged, at least for a short period of time until we, or the news media, get bored with that and move on to something new. We claimed to be a Christian country but the way immigrants are treated worse than dogs we are just fooling ourselves. Not sure about the ‘dog’ thing? Treat a dog the way some people are treated and you won’t get out of prison!

And into all of this was born a little baby who is the Son of God. Jesus grew up with all the hatred we see today. Racial profiling was old news even in His time. And Jesus loved everyone equally. He treated them as beloved Children of God. Sometimes that love required discipline, particularly when it came to the Chief Priest, Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees and teachers of the law. And through it all His goal was to get people into Heaven.

We have that as our inheritance! We have been given the right to love all people just as God loves all people. And to invite anyone and everyone to submit to God’s authority and become Citizens of Heaven.

The battle around us rages on as it has since Adam and Eve first rejected God, and yet, God, with the help of His people, is working to take us out of this world of sin and carry us home to be with Him forever where there are no more attacks, no more shootings, no one rejecting God or His Children. The peace of God which passes all understanding will be with us in person.

Blessings to you as this year draws to a rapid close.

Keynotes – September, 2019

Looking Back and Forward

Both of our congregations grew up with the truth “If you build it, they will come.” We simply needed to let people know where the local Lutheran church was and people would come. I know that is a bit of an over statement ignoring the hard work that was done, but there is a lot of truth in it as well.

Our congregations grew, and grew! For St. Peter’s, the peak was in the early 1960’s. Without looking at the records, I can say the same was true for Grace. How can I be so sure? Because EVERY church in this area has the same pattern! I grew up as a member of Grace, San Mateo. Same pattern! Trinity, Burlingame? Same pattern! Our Redeemer, Oakland? Same pattern!

When our congregations suddenly began to shrink, some level of panic set in. As the decline continued, so did the growth of our concern. We all seemed to suddenly remember the Great Commission of Jesus, 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, Baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [1] Matthew 28:18-20

Our congregations started looking for new members in all directions. There were all kinds of activities to grow the Kingdom. There were some successes; there were many disappointments. And in spite of all the work, the congregations continued to shrink. Most of those once thriving congregations are on the edge of closing.

There is a new reality. People don’t even know what a Lutheran is. There are many people around us who consider Lutherans to be a cult. With the name St. Peter’s people think of the congregation as being Roman Catholic. Grace is a women’s name and people may not know why that would be on what looks like a church. The only Martin Luther most people know today was killed in the 60’s. Times have changed. Opening the doors only lets the flies come in.

In order for us to grow the Kingdom of God, in this area, in this culture, we need to step back and examine our motives as well as taking a realistic look at our community.

Our Motives? Why do we want more people in church? Is it so that the church won’t close? That would be purely selfish. Do we love the people around us so much that we want them in Heaven with us forever? That would be what Jesus has called us to do.

As for our community, it has changed a great deal since the 1960’s. How many of your neighbors in the 60’s spoke a language other than English as their first language? Today, less than 1 out of 3 people in this area speak English as their first language. What are we doing to care enough about the people around us to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us and draw them into Heaven?

We need to make sure that our motives are directed to the love of others before we can grow the Kingdom. We need to care about other people more than we do about ourselves, or our churches, before we can grow the Kingdom. We need to feed on the Word of God so that we are prepared for the work. We have the opportunity to serve. Jesus tells us that if we want to be first, we need to be the servant of all. We need to care about all people more than we do ourselves.

It might interest you to know that most of what you just read was the article I wrote for August 2009. What has changed? Both congregations have gone through Transforming for Mission where our District gave us prescriptions to help us grow. Our three congregations, with Hope San Leandro, are now meeting together in fellowship and worship regularly. St. Peter’s has adapted to our current size and is worshipping in a more suitable location. Debbie and I have been active in PLI since October of 2016. There is a Community Group and now a Missional Community that is learning how to minister in this new age. We can all benefit from what we are learning.

Where we go from here is up to you. Waiting for a miracle to keep the doors open is a waste of time. Not that God doesn’t love us or that He doesn’t want to see the Church grow; but God can reach people more effectively through us. Where we assemble as His people can be a celebration at someone’s home like the early Church did it. Keep looking for God at work and allow Him to lead us into a great future!

Yours in Christ, Pastor Oatman

Keynotes – August 2019

Marks of a Christian Part 5 – Struggling with Idolatry

Lately, in my personal devotions, I have been spending a lot of time in 1st and 2nd Kings. It is so sad to hear God time after time talk about the kings of Israel (Northern Kingdom) saying, “and he did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Even the kings who did what was right (Southern Kingdom) often failed to remove the high places; “the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.”

As I read these passages I keep asking myself if we don’t have similar issues. I’m pleased that I don’t know of anyone worshipping Molech and offering their children as sacrifices. That would be an obvious problem! So, if we do have an issue, it would be far more subtle. Do we put up idols in our sanctuaries like the Israelites did? Of course we don’t put up statues that we worship, but perhaps we need to look at the whole building as a potential impediment.

I titled this article “Struggling with Idolatry” thinking that a Christian is going to be active in working against Satan and struggling to keep idols out of our lives. And trusting that our idols would have to be subtle, or we would notice them, I need to ask, “Are you struggling?” I’m asking myself that question, first.

Are there idols in our lives that we aren’t aware of?

On July 14th our Gospel reading helped us understand what God desires as spoken by a teacher of the Law. ”‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Luke 10:27 NIV

The word “All” doesn’t leave any room for wiggling. And that’s where I think idols can slip into our lives. I doubt that any of us would stand up and boldly claim that we put God first 100% of the time.

Maybe we don’t struggle enough.

“They rejected His decrees and the covenant He made with their fathers and the warnings He had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord  had ordered them, “Do not do as they do,” and they did the things the Lord  had forbidden them to do. … 18 So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from His presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left, 19 and even Judah did not keep the commands of the Lord their God.” 2 Kings 17:15, 18-19 NIV

One thought that came to mind, we have become very lax in the way we dress when we come before God on Sundays. Yes, I remember a time when we wouldn’t go to the City without a suit and a tie, or fly on an airplane or go to the movies well dressed. But when it comes to meeting with God, do we appreciate what we have? Do we actively think about what we are doing or have we become complacent about the privilege we have been given? Do we do as the world does?

Do we have rose colored glasses on “Knowing” that “we aren’t prejudiced; it’s all the people around us?” Until we can admit our shortcomings we aren’t going to attempt to change. That includes the attitude of the LCMS as well.

How can you tell if you have an idol in your life? Would it be difficult to live if it was taken away from you? Is it something you just can’t live without? Then it could be an idol! Of course there are many things, such as air, that we require. But an idol consumes too much of our time, talents or treasures to be good for us.

Unlike the Children of Israel we don’t live in a theocracy. In other words, although our government was founded by strong Christians, it isn’t based on or bound by the Bible. We don’t require people to be and act like Christians.

Most of us grew up in the United States, which for a great many years did base our laws and practices on the Bible, but that is not our country today. Our country is not founded on faith in Jesus. Although I see God working to draw people to Himself, our country has drifted far away from Him. It would not be a shock to me if God didn’t do something major to get our attention. 9/11 didn’t do it for very long.

We have drifted as a country and I think the same can be said for our congregations. As we have become more prosperous we have interpreted that as being blessed by God; and we truly have been blessed by God! That only becomes a problem when we start to believe that we deserve it. It is an even bigger problem when we think we deserve more.

As I was reading 2 Kings Chapters 22 and 23 I was confronted by a man who truly understood God’s desire. And it brought me to tears. The Gospel reading from July 14th had the teacher of the Law tell us, and in 2 Kings 23:25 King Josiah showed us how to live as a Christian. “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king who like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with the Law of Moses.”

Josiah did the opposite of what was popular. After centuries of kings leading the Children of Israel away from God he did what would have been unthinkable to the people who had grown accustomed to their idolatry. He smashed the idols, burned them, scattered them; and he killed the priest who served the idols. He restored the Temple of God and called on the people to remove the idols from their homes and turn to God. He celebrated the Passover with the people for the first time in a very long time. He read the Word of God to the people.

In spite of all the Josiah did right, the people didn’t change and within a few years of Josiah’s death the Children of Israel were taken off to Babylon in captivity. Was that a punishment or was it God’s blessing? God’s desire was and continues to be to draw His people back to Him. He expects us to be faithful to Him and to Him alone. We can’t allow ANYTHING to get between us and our God.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48

Some time ago I did some research when we studied the phrase “blessed are the poor…” I wanted to know what the meant in our day. Who is poor? The result was shocking for me. 40% of the people in the world live on under $1,000 a year. The next 40% live on under $11,000 a year. The poverty level in Alameda County is at about $23,000 a year which means someone in our area is considered to be living in poverty when they have an income double that of 80% of the people of the world!

Do we really appreciate what God has given us? How much comfort is “Enough?” How much can we buy without being considered “wealthy?” Are we complacent? Are we grateful to God for all His blessings? Are we doing anything?

Do we worship God or do we worship consumerism? I keep recalling what Jesus said in The Parable of the Shrewd Manager. (Luke 16:9) “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is GONE, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Jesus isn’t telling us to hold on to what He gives us, but to give it away!

In case you were wondering, and perhaps you are looking for some wiggle room, while I was at the seminary I spoke like this with some of the professors. Some, if not all, thought I was being a bit extreme. As I continue to study God’s Word this common thread connects every part that I read. We can attempt to wish it away, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.

Let’s study His Word together. Let’s struggle together. Let’s review where we are today. And let’s come up with a plan that glorifies God continually!

Pastor Oatman