Missions & Ministry Conference
Sermon at the Seminary
LMSG attended the Missions & Ministry Conference February 2nd-4th 2016.
President, John Stedman (Trinity Lutheran Woodbridge, VA), Pastor Larry Gates (Trinity Lutheran Waukesha, WI), Pastor Daniel Schumann; Liaison Gale Quade (Friedens Lutheran Randolph, WI) and Seminary Student Tim Patoka all attended representing LMSG.
Pastor Westra delivered a powerful sermon (see below).
Ephesians 6:10-17 WLS:Mission and Ministry
The sage, sometimes salty marine corps colonel sat across the table from me. Off to the side was a bottle of Crown Royal, or what was left of it. Between us sat his .38 officer issue service revolver. It was loaded and ready for action. The emotions were raw and obvious. There were things in his past that were haunting him.
I looked at the butt of his service revolver and saw the notches, knowing that the represented the number of enemy who had fallen at his hands. I managed to say that I am sure that it must be hard and that taking that many human lives would haunt a person for the rest of one’s life. But he explained to me that he had found peace in that part of his military service. He was carrying out orders in service to his country. But there was something that he never got over. He had sent so many young men out into combat. They didn’t really know what they were in for. They were marines. They were well trained but they were so young and they just didn’t understand the reality of what they were about to face. He was sending them out to face the constant attacks of the enemy. Their training could not simulate the reality of combat.
I have wondered if Seminary professors and the church that sends you out into ministry might sometimes feel a similar emotion. We train you. We train you well. I am not sure that there is a better ministerial education system to be found than the one that you are in. But we cannot simulate the reality of combat. We cannot really prepare you for the battles that you will face when you are, God willing, called into public ministry. But we can offer you encouragement. Our own encouragement would be somewhat trite and meaningless but we have something better. We have God’s encouragement. We find that encouragement in these verses from Ephesians 4 in two simple words. STAND FIRM. Stand firm against your enemies. Stand firm clothed in Christ.
Stand firm against your enemies. Peter put it this way in his first epistle. Your enemy the devil prowls around looking for whom he may devour. That has always struck me in an intimidating sort of way. The devil hunts for prey like a lion on the prowl. He quietly moves in cover and out of sight. He carefully plots each move. He seeks to separate his prey from the rest of those who might provide warning or protection. When he moves, he moves with swiftness and destructive force. He goes for the jugular in the hopes that he might bring death quickly.
He will prowl about outside the doors of your offices. He will bide his time waiting and watching. He will wait for a momentary lapse or a time of weakness and when he finds it he will strike. This sermon is not a forum for my personal confessions to you but I have gone a round or two in public ministry. I have seen and felt the onslaught of the enemy in all of his wily deceits. As I shared recently with brothers in ministry in a devotion, I remember coming out into ministry ready for action. I was assigned to a new mission start and thought to myself that I could not let it fail. We had to plant a church. I wonder if there were not times in my prayer life that I was praying not “THY kingdom come but my kingdom come.” My name was attached to that mission start and I didn’t want it to be a failure, because I didn’t want to be a failure. Lord, have mercy on me, on us, for our sinful pride and arrogance.
The devil prowls continuously. It didn’t take long and he waged another attack on me. Whenever things didn’t go well, I found it very easy to blame myself. I was sure at times that I was messing things up (I was) and someone else could do this all much better than I could do it. I should just quit the ministry and find something that I am actually good at. Lord, I am done with this. It is hard. I don’t get paid all that much. I should not be in the ministry. I am going to do something else and if it is more lucrative, so be it.
I sometimes wonder if those attacks don’t start already at the Seminary. We look around and we assess each other’s gifts. We pick out those who might serve in mission starts and those who might serve as professors some day. We might even place some confidence (even a little bit) in the gifts that God has distributed to us. Or… we might look longingly at the gifts that God has given to another and slide into some silly sense of insecurity. In either case, the devil is circling and waiting for his chance.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that the devil will not limit his attack to you. I see his attacks all around me. I have lost count of how many times that I have heard it while canvassing. We go through our introduction and explain that we are trying to reach out to people in our community that do not have a church home. People will often stop us right there and declare, “I am good.” You can save your time and my time. I am good. The devil plants seeds and works complacency. He seeks and strives to convince people that they are good without Jesus when in reality they are anything but good without Jesus.
We see the devil’s schemes in other “Christian” churches. I received a letter recently in response to an outreach post card that we sent to our community. I made the statement that God has good news for sinners. Christ has paid the price for sin. There is nothing that we have to do. It has been done. I was labeled a false prophet and told that I was misleading people. We must live according to God’s laws. Jesus didn’t do it all. The devil is on the prowl.
We see the devil’s schemes inside of our own churches. I see people who struggle to be in worship consistently. I have seen marriages shattered by unfaithfulness. I have seen young people go off to college and wander away from the means of grace and leave the church behind. I have watched people struggle with materialism. I watch people take vacations that cost thousands of dollars that struggle to bring a few hundred back to their Savior in offerings. At every turn the devil is on the prowl. He is seeking whom he may devour.
That doesn’t paint an encouraging picture for ministry. It is a battle out there. There are casualties. There are traps and schemes. Who can stand? We are weak and sinful and fail. God provides an answer. We can stand. We can stand firm. We stand in the trenches and do battle with the armor of God himself. We are clothed with Christ. In his armor we can stand firm. In his armor we stand firm knowing that the victory has been won.
Put on the belt of truth. God’s revelation of himself in Christ has been preserved through the generations and it has been handed to us. We have the truth.
The breastplate of righteousness is firmly in place. Even as you come face to face with your own sinful shortcomings, you stand secure and sure in the righteousness that has become yours. As you well know, that righteousness comes from outside of you. It is the righteousness of Christ that has become yours through a sacrifice made on your behalf. It is a righteousness that has become yours through the Spirit’s work in bringing you to faith. In and of yourself, you could never step into public ministry. You would surely bring it all to ruin but you are never in and of yourself. You are clothed in Christ. His righteousness has become yours. Stand firm in that righteousness.
You will have the privilege to proclaim that righteousness. That is an ever decreasing message in the part of the country in which I serve. There is a great focus on our role. That is an emphasis on becoming better and making this life more complete. But you will point people to eternity. You will proclaim a message of peace with God through Christ and his righteousness. You will direct peoples’ eyes away from themselves and to their Savior.
Put on the helmet of salvation. There are times in ministry when, to my human eyes, all looks lost. I look around me and the Church seems to be losing ground. Mainline denominations are all in decline. Statistics tell us that a greater and greater percentage of our populations are claiming to be spiritual “nones.” The percentage of the population that is actually in a church in our Christian nation is both staggering and frightening.
Our own struggle with the flesh never seems to end, no matter how hard we study and how much time we spend in the word. We see sin again and again in the lives of the people that we serve. But we are reminded that while the battles rage on and while the devil will continue prowling until the last day, the victory has been won. You and I wear the helmet of salvation. That is a sure thing. The payment has been made. We have the deposit in our hearts and our reservation is in the books. We have the privilege to proclaim that truth to the people of God every single week. Salvation is ours. We are clothed in Christ.
His armor is our armor. And into our hearts and into our hands has been placed the sword of the Spirit. That sword of the Spirit sends the devil back into full retreat as he plots and prowls among us. I pray that I never stop marveling at the opportunities that God gives us with that powerful sword in our possession. The apostle Paul declared that he was not ashamed of the gospel for it was the very power of God for salvation for all who believe. Again and again, God has given me the opportunity to see his word in action. Simple law/ gospel presentations working in the hearts of people who seemed to be running the other way. People growing more and more certain over the weeks of a Bible information class in the truth of our salvation in Christ.
I have seen my heart and the hearts of those that I serve turned in repentance and cling to the cross of Christ assured of forgiveness. I have seen people respond to the powerful gospel with firstfruit offerings, lives of service in their respective vocations and active witness in the places into which God has placed them. With the powerful gospel the church of God marches on towards its ultimate victory.
As Bible students, we are students of history. We see the power of the gospel at work. We see God’s kingdom marching on into eternity. He has done it through the most unlikely of servants. Moses did not have much self confidence and had a bit of an anger issue. David had a wandering eye and an arrogant pragmatism. Peter was long on confidence and had an impetuous streak that knew no boundaries. James and John had a meddling mother. Paul was a ruthless and cold hearted hater of men. And yet, God’s gospel marched forward and his Kingdom advanced.
You and I now take our place in the procession of those who serve. The task is daunting. The stakes are high… way too high that it should be entrusted to the likes of us. But God has entrusted it to us. And he calls us to stand firm and then he empowers us to do just that. We are clothed in his Son. We are armed with his Gospel. Amen.