Living Hope Community Church

Loving God by Loving Others

Author: cluckk

Latest on Coronavirus

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For the last several weeks, we have operated under orders from the state administration, shutting down gatherings for health concerns. Our church complied for reasons communicated at that time. On May 13, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the order. As a result, we are currently under no restrictions. It is not my place to weigh in on the suitability of the original order, or the decision of the court. Those are decisions for which I, thankfully, am not responsible.

However, the lifting of restrictions does not remove the responsibility of our elders to protect our people.  Therefore, the elders and I have decided to continue this week (May 17, 2020) as before. We will have (1) an electronic service and (2) a drive-up service. Please let me share some of our reasoning:

First, our church has a large number of people for whom this disease carries particular danger. Heedlessly endangering them would “make the cure worse than the disease.”

Second, the governor is expected to submit a new plan to the legislature. It seems wise to allow the system to work rather than throwing the doors open to have them slammed shut again.

Third, the court released its decision late enough in the week that precautions would be rushed. Rushed precautions are seldom appropriate precautions.

Fourth, this decision impacts the health of not only our people but others in our community. Love for our community requires keeping this in mind when deciding such things.

We, like all of you, long for the opportunity to gather once again. But we want to act wisely and in the best interests of our people—all of our people. The elders will be discussing the possibility of opening up May 24. We will keep you informed as this decision is made.

In Christ, Pastor Ken Cluck and the Elders of Living Hope Community Church

Coronavirus and our Church

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An Open Letter to Living Hope Community Church

Recently to combat the spread of the Coronavirus, Governor Evers ordered the closure of all bars, restaurants, theaters, and other gathering places. This order also covers churches. Now, many will wonder about this order and why we at Living Hope Community Church are choosing to obey. This post answers that. I have noticed many strains of discussion on Social Media about this. Some have claimed it to be a violation of our rights. Some are claiming it to be an attack against the churches. Such speculation is seldom well-founded and even less helpful. Allow me to address these claims:

The governor’s actions are within the Constitutional Powers given to the Executive of each level of government. The Mayor of San Antonio, TX, has instituted far more draconian restrictions. Of course, such comparisons do not defend the actions we are discussing—they only put them in their proper place. The civil authorities are responsible for protecting the general health of the population. Do not read a political agenda into this. I am speaking about preventing the spread of disease.

Such action does not violate our rights as people of faith. If the governor were singling out churches, we would resist. If he were forbidding assembling for specifically religious purposes, we would refuse to comply. He is not. This order should not be considered an evil end-times scenario or back-door to tyranny. It is an attempt by the governor’s office to force people to comply with medical recommendations—recommendations that have been effective in other places. Our civil authorities have chosen to do it earlier in our state’s cycle of the disease to prevent a massive infection rate. Is it necessary? That is not for me to say. I have stated my opinion on it. But keep in mind that it is an opinion like any other.

We also choose to obey for a profound emotional reason. Suppose we decide to violate the order and hold public services. Many in our congregation are elderly and among the most at-risk population. If we meet, perhaps nothing would happen. But what if one of our beloved elderly members got sick and died? The weight of that decision would be upon the shoulders of our leaders for the rest of their days. As one who has spent his life with heavy responsibilities, it has been my duty to make plenty of hard decisions with painful results. I have cried over far too many coffins. I want to stand over none of our peoples’ graves any earlier than necessary.

Finally, there is a practical reason—which sounds terrible, but it is one we must consider. Suppose we violate the ban and continue to meet. If someone dies, legal action could come against the church and our leaders. The leaders who chose to violate this order would be personally and legally liable—perhaps even criminally. The church, likewise, could be held responsible, and our insurance would refuse to protect us.

As you know, we are part of a larger body—the C&MA. If our church lost such a case and was unable to pay, the C&MA would do so. As a result, money intended for missions and ministry would go to make up for our choice—one which we did not have to make. Keep in mind that one must always consider who else will be impacted by decisions.

With all of this, the elders and I agree it is best if we obey the governor’s ban. We are not bending to tyranny. We are doing as Romans 13 says by submitting to an authority ordained by God. We are not abandoning our sheep, but caring for them as Acts 20:27-28 and 1 Peter 5:2 command us to do.

So, what now? The elders and I must get creative. We will ensure that our people have teaching and opportunity for fellowship—in whatever form that takes over the next few weeks.

Finally, I must remind you of something I find uncomfortable. During this time, the church still has expenses, so she will be there when this is over. We have a mortgage to pay monthly and utilities. We also have salaries. What should you do? That is between you and your Master. Obey him:

  • If you choose to give online or through the mail, bless you.
  • If you choose to wait and give one gift when this is over, bless you.
  • Whatever you choose, may God bless you for it.

Pastor Ken Cluck and the Elders of Living Hope Community Church PS. It is now on us to make sure we come out of this situation as better disciples than we are going into it. It won’t be easy. It means ministry “outside of the box.” God bless

Safe in the Father’s Embrace

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Lately, I’ve been feeling very dry and dead inside. I decided to do some personal refreshing—something we all need from time to time. I started reading Soul Keeping, by John Ortberg. In the introduction, he speaks about his relationship with Dallas Willard. He tells a story about a young child that would come into his father’s room and crawl into bed. Since it was dark, the child could not tell if his father was looking at him. Dallas says the child would ask, “Is your face turned toward me, Father?” Only when the father had assured him that his face was turned toward the boy could the child sleep. This struck me deeply because of my granddaughter, Gloria.

              Gloria and her mother live with me and my wife. She has been with us all her life and is the joy of Nana and Pawpaw (my wife and me). Most evenings her mother works until after bedtime. For this reason, Gloria starts the night with us. She climbs into bed between the two of us. But Gloria will not sleep if Pawpaw is turned away from her. I will hear her little voice say, “Pawpaw! Sleep with me!” This is her way of asking me to roll over and face her—a request that is always honored. Once I roll over to face her, she will quickly fall asleep no matter how dark. She feels safe and loved because her Pawpaw is facing her.

              I want you to take this to heart. Gloria just knows that, with Pawpaw present and facing her, she is safe. She can rest in my arms, knowing that I will not abandon her and will protect her. It’s funny because her mother comes in later and carries Gloria to her bed. Gloria will often get up during the night and find her way back to Pawpaw’s arms and face.

              Think about this for a moment. God, our eternal Father, is always looking upon you. You are safe; you can rest; you can trust. There is no danger that can overcome you. Yes, we may have trouble in this life. Yes, we may struggle. This is not a prosperity gospel. But no matter what comes in this life, your Father is looking upon your face and keeping an ever-watchful eye upon you. And, whether you recognize it or not, you are wrapped safely in his embrace. Nothing can remove you.

              You can trust God, just as Gloria trusts her Pawpaw.

Made Sufficient

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Colossians 1:12-14 says, “…giving thanks to the father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (English Standard Version).

In the previous passage, Paul expressed his hope that the readers would be strengthened, empowered and enabled to endure with patience a and joy. He then gave them a reason to be joyful: the actions of the Father on their behalf.

The passage tells us that God the Father has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints. ἱκανώσαντι translated as “qualified” is interesting. According to Perschbacher[i] another meaning is “to make sufficient.” This is a powerful thing. God makes us sufficient to inherit with the saints. To be sufficient is to be enough, to be fully qualified with nothing lacking. He does not simply start the process of qualifying us and leave the rest to our own actions. No. He made us completely sufficient to inherit. There is nothing left for us to do but recognize the change wrought, and respond with loving praise, thanksgiving and obedience. We do not inherit our portion among the saints through any quality within ourselves or personal works (Eph 2:9), but through divine action making us qualified/sufficient.  God changes us; we experience the change; God transforms; we are transformed. God is the actor; we are the recipients of the action.

Paul goes into more detail in the next portion when he speaks of our deliverance from the power/authority of darkness and our transfer into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Note that he does not use kingdom to refer to both realms. He speaks of the kingdom of the Son, but of the power of darkness. The power of darkness is not a legitimate ruler or kingdom. It is a usurpation of the rightful rule of God. In our sinful state, we were under the command and power of darkness—sin, depravity, etc. We were ruled by darkness itself, and by the darkness within us. But God removed us, he delivered us, from that dominion. Because of his actions, we have been transferred to the kingdom of the Son. Rather than being dominated by sin and wickedness, locked in darkness, we are not ruled by the Holy One of God, his beloved Son, the bringer of light and righteousness.

The last part of this passage helps us understand this qualifying action: in Christ, God forgave our sins, redeeming us (buying us back from the one to whom our sins had enslaved us). God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together to redeem you—purchasing you—with forgiveness of your sins, and a transfer from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of light. It is their action which accomplishes this.

[i] Perschbacher, The New Analytical Greek Lexicon.

Where are the sinners?

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In 1 Timothy 1:15 (ESV), Paul says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” I often wonder how many Christians believe this. Don’t get me wrong. I understand that to be a Christian is to understand one’s need for a savior, Jesus’s status as the only source of salvation, and our personal status as saved by him. However, while understanding this and even stating it, we often act as if the gates to the kingdom were barred after we passed through; or as if passage through the gate, for those who come after us, has changed. You are probably wondering what I mean by this.

Trap
Trap–Open Domain

Let’s start with our own salvation. There was a time when you were trapped in sin (as was I). If it were not true, then you needed no savior. Despite your sins, and knowing them full well, Jesus called you to himself, credited your sins to his account (took them upon himself) and credited his righteousness to your account (declared you justified and righteous in the sight of God). Jesus did not say, “Take care of your sin first, then I will save you.” He did not say, “Get your life right and I will come into it.” He said, “You are trapped and enslaved by sin. You have destroyed your life. You are a person whose natural state is rebellion and self-degradation. But I love you, regardless. I love you; I want you for my own; I died for you; I am going to transform you.”

John 3:16 is a very popular and well-known verse. But too often we forget to read on. Verse seventeen says Jesus did not come to condemn the world. Verse eighteen tells us something we must understand about ourselves. It says those who “do not believe are condemned already” (ESV). We did not need to be condemned. We did not need anyone to come and condemn us. We, in our natural state, were condemned because of our sins. Jesus came as the solution to condemnation; as our liberator from sin and sin’s results. He came while we were trapped in sin (Romans 5:8).

We—as his followers who walk in his steps, work as his hands, and beat as his heart—should love those around us, regardless of their sinful status. Take careful note of that. We should love those around us, not “in spite of” their sinful status, not “because of” their sinful status, but “regardless of” (without regard for) their sinful status. Too often, after coming to Christ ourselves, we pretend that others must first stop sinning before we, the people of Christ, accept them. When we do this, we charge them a toll for our love: “Become like me and I will accept and love you.” To whom does the average sinner go to when suffering or in need? Church people? Pastors? For the most part, no. So many people refuse to speak to Christians about their sins and the results of those sins because they expect to be condemned and judged. They expect this because it is what they often experience from Christians—Christians who have forgotten their own personal sinfulness and who have no idea how to model the love of Christ.

The Prodigal Son Returns
The Prodigal Returns–Public Domain

How should we respond to the sinners around us? That is an easy answer to give, but, like most easy answers, it is often misunderstood. We should respond to the sinners around us with love and acceptance. Though trapped in sin, we must accept them and love them. Why? Because that is exactly what Jesus did. That is exactly what he did for us. When encountering such prodigals, we act more like the older brother, forgetting the heart of the father who wanted his son to return, regardless of what the wayward son had done (Luke 11:15-32). While many of us are saying, “Get your life right. Stop sinning. Be a better person.” God is saying, pleading, crying out: “Just come to me! Come as you are! Come, laying aside all else. I’ll cleanse you. I’ll save you. I’ll make you whole and pure.” But all they hear is the din of our condemnation, as we lay burdens upon them—burdens which we ourselves never had to lift, never would lift, never could lift, for salvation (Matthew 23:4). When we came to Jesus, we said “Take me as I am and make me as you are.” So, why tell others, today, “Become like me and he will accept you”? Of course, we may never say it outright, but we too often act it out.

Look at Jesus and his example. Where were the sinners in his day? Where was Jesus? Where are the sinners in our day? Where are we? Now, where would Jesus have us be? When sinners came to Jesus, how did he respond to them? How do we respond to them? Now, how would he have us respond to him?

Of course, many people will point out, rightly, that Jesus always told the sinners who came to him, “Go, and sin no more.” This is true. Yes, there is a place for us to tell sinners that their actions should (or even, must) stop. But did Jesus do this before accepting and loving them, or after? Of course, he loved them first. He accepted them first. He welcomed them into his life and into his presence first.

So, why do we too often tell sinners, “You stay over there until you stop sinning, then I will love and accept

mean
Even the Church has Mean People

you.” Why do we hole up in our churches where the sinners are not to be found, while patting ourselves on the back for reaching the world around us? Why do we do this, when our Lord would have us out looking for sinners to whom we can demonstrate his love? Yes, I know the sinners came to Jesus, but how many sinners come to you for help? Perhaps, if you would come out of your comfort zone, accept and love them, they would start to do just that. I can assure you that if you become known as a person who loves the sinner two wonderful things will happen. First, you will develop a reputation among sinners that is Christlike instead of Pharisaical. Second, they will start seeking you out—love attracts those who need love. Of course, another thing will happen as well. The modern religious Pharisees (Today this is spelled ‘good church people’) will lump you in with the sinners. But when this happens, you are in the best of company—Jesus.

 

Excuses, excuses!

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A central focus of my life and ministry has, for some time, been prayer. I strive to spend regular times in prayer. Part of this includes a daily prayer time, a weekly period of a couple hours where I get away to pray and let God speak through authors and Scripture, as well as making a habit of lifting before the Lord anyone who comes to mind through the day.

Before you look at this and gush that Pastor Ken is so holy, understand that this is what I strive for. I fail at it often. For the last few weeks, my daily prayer time in the mornings has been sadly, and sinfully, lacking. I, like anyone else, can let other concerns get in the way. This morning, I started thinking about the things which keep us from going before God in prayer. I considered four causes (they are not in order):

First, we get busy. “Sorry Lord, but you know how busy I am this morning.” This has happened to me with my educational efforts. I have a great deal of homework, and only a limited amount of time to do it. It is easy to get tempted to lay aside the prayer time to concentrate on other work. Pastors are notorious for this, because the work we most often do is in service to the Lord. But this is the problem. It assumed we can serve the Lord without going before him on our faces, seeking his presence and his power in our lives. In effect, we say, “I’ve got this God. You sit this one out.” We don’t have it. We need God’s active presence in everything we do. This is true for me, as a pastor. It is true for you in whatever vocation or trade God has placed you in.

Second, has to do with getting busy. In the first, we get so busy doing good that we try to do it without God. The second is different, but subtle. We have a limited time of day to do everything. If I don’t finish this assignment or project it effects my grade, gets me in trouble with my boss, cuts into my profit margin, etc. However, if I don’t spend time with God, he will forgive me. This is true. But this consideration shows something about our heart condition. Can you think of any greater reason to spend time with God than his mercy and love? He forgives me because he loves me, and it is in his nature to do so. Now, I respond by taking advantage of that love. Rather than cherishing the relationship, I take it for granted. This is just not right. God, the loving and merciful, deserves far more attention than the squeaky wheels in our lives.

Third and fourth have to do with maturity and relationship. The third reason I considered for not praying is that we find it boring. Many do find it boring to pray. I used to be one of them. For me this is confounded by the fact that my mind was always running after things I needed to do. However, this is the problem. Consider your relationships. I was once a young man—a long, long time ago. My wife and I were once dating—my kids can’t even imagine such a thing. When we were dating, she was fascinating. I loved to just sit and look at her, consider her face, hear her voice and just spend time together. We didn’t even need to talk. Just being in her presence made my head spin. Now, after thirty years of marriage, we it’s harder—much harder. It takes restraint sometimes when we sit down to eat to not pull out the phone and check email, etc. Is it possible that you are bored when you pray, because you are living on an old relationship? Everything new grows cold. Fan into flames your love for Christ. Build desire, like you once did in the relationship. How? That will depend on yourself. Find your passion in Christ. What about him still brings you excitement? What gives you a desire to learn, to listen, to implore?

Fourth, is related to the third. Some of us don’t put off prayer because of boredom, or being busy, but because we just don’t know what to say. This is the easiest fixed, but also one of the most commonly cited causes. Imagine someone who longs to have a deep relationship with you, but you avoid them just because you don’t know what to say. If they want such a relationship, perhaps they will do the talking. There’s an option! If you don’t know what to say, open your Bible and ask him to speak to you. Then, sit silently for a while. From time to time, read and pray the words before you on the page.

Prayer is the work of a disciple. It is the one thing we can do which requires no special gift—we all receive that gift when the Holy Spirit comes upon us in salvation. Prayer is also the most powerful thing God has given us. Imagine, the God who spoke the universe into existence, wants to hear how your day is going. Imagine, he loves you enough to take not only an interest, but also an active role in your day.

Lay aside the excuses. Go to God; spend time with him.