Pastor Cook's Blog
A Message From Pastor Cook
Monday, March 16, 2020
Dear Saints at Our Savior Lutheran Church,
When movie theaters and Broadway shows close there is something to be sad about. The entertainment and flights of imagination that happen in such places is wonderful to participate in, and often times even inspiring. The pageantry is remarkable and it may even transport us out of our present reality and into the fantasy world itself. But, in the end, it may just be entertainment – a good story – something that we don’t have to have in order to live, even while acknowledging that such “living” is just scraping by. Storytelling is an important part of a flourishing culture, but it can be suspended for a time.
Is this the case with worship? Can the Christian live apart from the active participation in the life of the Church, which is the living Body of Christ Himself? Are the various elements of the worship service just elaborate pageantry and good storytelling, or is there something more going on there? I suppose that every person ultimately has to answer that question for themselves. They have to listen to and decide for themselves whether or not the church’s teaching about the transformative work of God in his Word and Sacraments still takes place, or if that is just an outdated mode of thinking that can be chalked up to the superstitious ways of an age long past.
Clearly, as one who has dedicated his life to the proclamation of God’s Word, I do not think it is merely storytelling, nor am I an actor on a stage. That is not my vocation. I have been called (by God, and by you) to preach the Word; in season and out of season. I have been called to place a trust in the Word that Timothy says is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
So, how am I to keep my ordination vows? How am I to teach you God’s Word in its truth and purity and administer the Sacraments rightly while at the same time honoring those who are in authority over us in the civil realm? How can I teach you to love your neighbor as yourself, and at the same time encourage you to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind – even if that means forsaking your family? Are all of these things mutually exclusive? Must we decide in this instance whether to serve God or man?
I do not believe that such an absolute fissure has occurred where we must take sides. However, I know that that is precisely how Satan wants us to frame this decision. He would love for us to line up on one side or the other and think less of one another based on which side each individual conscience chooses. I also know that Satan will be at work to try to slay Christianity once and for all in the coming weeks, either through reckless dogmatism or through a mindless following of the crowd that becomes disinterested in spiritual things altogether.
Have no doubt dear Christians, Satan is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Each one of us will be challenged in the weeks ahead when it comes to our faith – what we believe, and what we live. While this may sound all ‘doom and gloom’, the reality of the situation as I see it is that this is a remarkable moment of opportunity that God is giving His people to have their faith refreshed and their zeal for God and His people rekindled. People have been praying that God will allow another revival of serious Christianity to spread over our land, and now is the time when people’s hearts have been opened to the desperation of their situation apart from God. Over the course of this pandemic, I would encourage you not to allow your faith to grow lukewarm, but rather to use the time that social distancing has afforded to seek ways in which you can grow in faith, and to help grow the faith of your family. God is faithful and He who began this good work in you with be faithful to complete it! Even if you don’t feel like you can lead a Bible study for your family, turn off Netflix for a little while, have a family meal together, and then, simply read Scripture out loud to one another. Even without being able to provide explanation and commentary, God will continue to bless His Word, because He has promised that faith comes by hearing.
As I indicated in my previous correspondence, the approach that the leadership of Our Savior would take in regard to the Coronavirus would be fluid and open to change as new insights were gained. Since the last announcement, the federal government has declared a national state of emergency, and our local health officials have urged an abundance of caution moving forward, with the special request that no group gatherings would occur with an attendance greater than fifty people for the next eight weeks.
The fact still remains that it is important to the health of our spiritual community to gather together to offer prayers for one another and to receive the gifts of God’s Word and Sacraments. One of my greatest concerns in canceling services would be the loss of God’s specially appointed means of grace – we cannot receive the Lord’s Supper virtually! It is in the midst of a crisis such as this that we Christians confess that the help which we need comes from the Lord. However, it also remains true that God has promised His presence wherever two or three are gathered in his name. God has not insisted that a certain number of people be present before he will grace them with his presence!
Accordingly, in an effort to compromise and continue to keep a physical presence in the corporate worship services, we will be implementing the following changes:
All remaining Lenten Services and Dinners will be canceled.
We will continue to offer a Divine Service at 8:30am on Sunday which will be both live streamed and recorded on Facebook. In order to comply with the civil authorities and show deference to their leadership we will set up a schedule where people can register to attend a service so that they can be physically present in worship and receive the Sacrament. In this way our intention is to ‘cap’ the attendance to the recommended maximum of 50 people. My desire is that over the next four weeks every individual who would desire to have communion would continue to have the opportunity to receive it. If every member will take turns attending an in-person service, we should be able to make sure that everyone in the congregation is able to commune at least once a month.
In-person Bible studies will need to be suspended for the time being, but we are committed to developing something very quickly that will be offered online so that people can continue to be fed in that way, and even interact with one another through a platform such as Zoom.
I will be available to make emergency communion visits to those in need. Additionally, the elders and I will be extra intentional about reaching out to people in order to maintain regular contact and to pray with one another.
In many ways these changes grieve my heart, as I am sure they do yours. This is not something that any of us have ever experienced before, so part of our grief is just dealing with the unknown and mourning the loss of what is comfortable. At this juncture, we are looking at developing new ways in which we can interact with one another around God’s Word, but those plans are still in their infancy at the writing of this correspondence. We will be utilizing the various communication outlets of the church to keep you all posted as things develop, so we ask that you check email, Facebook, and the website regularly.
As Christians we are confident that we rest upon Christ our Solid Rock, and therefore we are not shaken, even though things around us are in great turmoil. We have the calming presence of Christ who has given us His peace which surpasses all understanding and has made his face to shine upon us even when the storm rages! I am honored to be your pastor at such a time as this because I am confident that the people of Our Savior will rise to this challenge and demonstrate that they are indeed more than conquerors through Christ Jesus our Lord! The world is full of neighbors, and those neighbors are in desperate need. For this reason, you have been called. The world will know that we are Christians by our love.
A Message from Pastor Cook
What is the ‘Loving’ Thing to Do?
As I consider all that has happened this week with regard to the Coronavirus and the subsequent directives that have been given, I am troubled. Like everyone, my life feels topsy-turvy because of all of the changes that have happened so quickly, but I don’t think that is the primary source of my disquiet. I believe that I am most concerned with the disconnect that I feel between the way that I am looking at the world and the way that the ‘leaders’ are looking at the world. Stepping back from the situation a little, this should come as no surprise to me because I know that as a Christian I have a worldview that is distinctly “other" than what is common in today’s Secular Materialist society.
A worldview is the way that we understand the world that we are living in. It consists of our preconceived notions of “how the world is” - the things that we believe without ever really thinking about them. The Christian worldview believes that "God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.” This is foundational to the way that a Christian looks at the world. On the other hand, a Secular Materialist worldview does not believe in a Triune and personal God but believes that only matter exists - certainly in differing configurations, but none-the-less, just matter. There is no personal God who orders the universe for the good of his creation; only various levels of evolved matter, at the top of which is man, who is the ruler of his own destiny.
What I have noticed about the way that the Coronavirus has been handled is that there are certain elements of the Christian and Secular Materialist worldviews that overlap. Both worldviews are perfectly comfortable with talking about what the virus is and how it spreads in identical terms. However, simply because we understand some parts of the world the same way, doesn’t mean that our basic presuppositions are the same. And it is precisely here that Christians need to take note. We can agree that it is good for us to do what we can to stop the spread of the virus. But we cannot agree that the success of man’s prevailing against the virus rest solely upon our own ingenuity. If Christians insist on going along with thinking through the Coronavirus problem in the same way as the Secular Materialists, then the thought path on which we travel is a path which, from the beginning, excludes the existence of God and humanity’s dependence upon him. God is removed from the equation, and we need to figure out how to save ourselves. Rather than traveling along the same path as the Secular Materialists, it is important for Christians to identify what elements of the Secular Materialist worldview are incompatible with the Christian worldview so that we do not unthinkingly arrive at the same conclusions.
Stopping the Coronavirus is a fine objective to have. However, as with all objectives, the means to accomplish that objective need to be considered and weighed so that the best approach can be taken. God has made humans complex in many ways. Even if we were to look only at what it means for a human to be “healthy,” we would soon discover that a definition of “virus free” would be far too simple and narrow to truly describe what it means to flourish in a healthy, human, way. One of the problems that the Secular Materialist worldview has is that it does not recognize “spiritual health” as a component of what it is to be a healthy human being. Therefore, when the Secular Materialist sets about to calculate the best means to accomplish the objective of eradicating the Coronavirus, the equation is incomplete, and the method that he will advocate will be inconsistent with the Christian worldview.
As your pastor, I have an obligation to you all to lead the congregation in the most responsible way possible. I recognize that I am not an expert in all things virus related, so I rely upon the information that I receive from the experts in that field. I also recognize that they in-turn are not experts in consideration of “spiritual” things. It would be negligent of me to look at only the “science" or only the “spiritual” side of things. Likewise, it would not be good pastoring at this juncture to not raise a red flag and indicate that there is danger ahead. Not only the danger of the Coronavirus, but something that is ultimately even more dangerous, an uncritical acceptance of the conclusions of the worldly wisdom of the Secular Materialist worldview.
When Christians take the “science" and “spiritual” into consideration when contemplating the correct response to the Coronavirus, one of the largest questions becomes: “What does loving my neighbor look like?”. This truly is a difficult question to answer, and unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. Because we love our neighbor, we do not want to inadvertently carry the virus to anyone and potentially infect them. Yet, we also know that loving our neighbor simply cannot be done from a distance alone; that love for our neighbor is not only the goodwill that we feel toward them, but also the love-in-action support that we give to one another as we interact with one another in the created, physical, world. God made us in such a way that, even before the fall into sin, God said that it was not good for the physically perfect Adam to be alone. It was with the introduction of sin that man and woman became ashamed and subsequently separated themselves from one another and hid themselves from the presence of God because of their fear.
When people are afraid, they begin to think about themselves. Today we might call this the “fight or flight” instinct. As Christians, we confess that self-preservation can be a God-pleasing attitude because it demonstrates a healthy respect for the value of the life that God has given. Yet, we also recognize that if left unbridled, this attitude can be an expression of the sinful nature’s fallen tendency to care only about oneself. One of the medicines that God has given his people in order to continue to fight against this sinful selfishness is that of living together in community. By God’s grace, when a person is made aware of the needs of his fellow man, the Spirit moves him to compassion and empowers him to do something that may not be for his own highest good, but is simply for the good of another. God made Adam and Eve and all of humanity to serve as helpmates to one another. The Christian Church is the community par excellence. Through baptism into Christ, believers have been united not only to Christ, but to one another as well. As the Body of Christ, Christians in the local church need one another in the same way that a human body needs its various parts. Separation of any of the parts (individual members of the local church) from the others results in harm to the body (the whole congregation). Simply put, it is unhealthy, and results in spiritual sickness.
Now, having considered these things, we are able to see that there is more to the equation for the Christian than for the Secular Materialist. Loving our neighbors isn’t as simple as “social isolation” for a while. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t practice some social isolation, but it also doesn’t mean that we should stay separate from one another no matter what. It is true that we cannot know if we are carriers of the virus until it may be too late, and we end up “giving” the virus to someone else. For this reason, it is important that we are mindful of the way we interact with people whom we know will be particularly impacted by the virus. Yet, we will also be mindful not to carry the logic of this practice to the extreme. Christians recognize that they live in a fallen world and that bad things like viruses make people sick as a result of living in this sin-sick world. They also recognize that God realized this fact to, and yes, still encouraged people to gather together in community regularly, especially for the purpose of living out their faith and love as members of the Church. There is risk involved in this strategy from the perspective of our understanding of germs and diseases, yet the Holy Spirit also gives Christians the ability to hear God’s voice calling them back into community, which ultimately is an act of faith and trust in Him. The Christian worldview accepts this understanding of “physical” and “spiritual” health and is therefore unwilling to make “health" in one category or the other mutually exclusive. God has made humanity in His image and given us a body and soul; that means that our physical and spiritual health go together.
This is why, even in the midst of a pandemic, I believe it is right and God-pleasing to continue to keep the church open. Working with the leadership of the congregation, there are some elements of our life together that we have modified for the time being (like closing the school) in an effort to show deference to our governing authorities to the extent that we are able without violating our consciences. I do not believe that the members of the church will be well served by the pastoral office dictating which activities of the church should carry on and which should be discontinued. If a Bible study or small group desires to meet, they should do so with faith in God who is in control of all things, and, if a group decides not to meet, they should do so thanking God for granting Christians the grace and liberty to make conscientious choices with his help. I do not believe that there is an absolute right and wrong in these questions, unless the decisions are made in a way that has not wrestled with “health” and “Christian love” from a decidedly Christian worldview’s perspective.
Because Christians are a New Creation in Christ Jesus, we are certain of our ongoing and eternal life in him. His perfect love has driven out the fear that once held us in bondage. Jesus has made us a priesthood of believers so that with His strong Word we might be a light to the world. In a world that is going mad with fear as it confronts the reality that all people die, and that no one can add a single moment to his life, Christ calls us to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us as His children. This is the hope that we share with one another as well as we gather in His presence and receive the riches of His grace! Our Great Physician has given us His eternal health when he drew near to us. So, let us also join together as we draw near to His Throne of Grace, the altar of His cross!
A Message from Pastor Cook
A year and a half ago Emily and I were unloading two Ryder trucks with the help from our friends from Indiana. We didn’t yet know anyone in Louisville. On that occasion we were moving away from the comfort and security of friends and salaried jobs, to a small (for us) rental home and the uncertainty of unemployment. I hate moving. I hated moving even when there was the excitement of a new position, but as we moved to Louisville there was more stress than excitement. Yet, we were here in Louisville because we had wrestled and prayed about the opportunity that God had placed before us. Emily and I had been nervous about it, but we were confident that this was a door that God had opened for us, and with trepidation we were waiting to see what God would do.
That first Sunday we attended Our Savior. It was the first time that I had had the
opportunity to sit with my family in a Sunday morning Divine Service in years. It
was wonderful! I remember leaving the church that Sunday excited about how
God was changing the circumstances of our lives, and curious to see what he
would do next. That excitement quickly melted into anxiety and fear though as I
began to look for a job and employer after employer turned me away. I questioned:
“God, how am I supposed to support my family and go to school if I don’t have
any income?!” Six weeks went by with seemingly no answer, but each Sunday I
was brought into the Lord’s House with my whole family and reminded that God
was in control, and that his steadfast love is new each and every morning.
Eventually I was hired on as a full-time small engine and tool repairman at the
Home Depot. I had gone to college for eight years and was working on a PhD
and doing absolutely nothing for which I had trained! I missed working with God’s
people regularly, and I really missed preaching! I could feel Satan tempting me
to despair and to consider my surroundings as a barren desert. To make matters
worse, my work schedule now only allowed for me to attend church very irregularly.
For the first time in over twenty years I was regularly forced to forego worshiping
with God’s people, but in the midst of that, God reminded me of the very real
circumstances that people face that may keep them away from God’s house against their will. The Sundays that I was able to attend church were like an oasis and I began to understand in a new way what it was to hunger after God’s Word and God’s people.
Over the course of the subsequent months God brought twists and turns in the road of our lives. He demonstrated his faithfulness to us in ways that we could never have imagined. He opened up opportunities for me to share God’s love and the Gospel message in a setting very much different from a church. In the process, God was changing me and growing me. There were many days when I wondered if God knew what he was doing. Then, last Sunday I was officially installed as the pastor of Our Savior. A year and a half ago I could not have imagined a path that would have in any way brought me to that day. If God had told me where he was taking me, I’m not sure I would have followed. But I thank God from the bottom of my heart that it is soon going to be moving day again!
As we heard from the Gospel reading on Sunday, June 30 (Luke 9:51-62), when Jesus calls us to follow him it is often dangerous to our plans. Yet, as God has taught me time and time again, his plans are far more excellent than I can even imagine! Jesus’ “Follow me” is disruptive and full of grace. His intention is that we would be his own and be with him for eternity in his Kingdom which has no end! The life of the child of God is a life of moving – following where He leads. He gives us his grace day-by-day so that we can follow him. Sometimes he makes it clear where we are going, but at other times it’s a mystery. What will never be a mystery however is his absolute willingness to draw us to himself and save us. This is most certainly true!
Rev. Joshua Cook