Pastor's BLOG

Pastor Dan Czaplewski's BLOG

Thursday, 15 June 2017
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Dear Friends,

Recently, I was asked to write a BLOG post for the Center for U.S. Missions. You can visit their web site here: http://www.centerforusmissions.com

Here is the article I wrote for C4USM

            I have been Pastor of my current congregation for four years. From the day I accepted this call, I have prayed for the revitalization of this Church. I recently stopped praying for revitalization.

            I do think revitalization is a good thing and I don’t believe praying for revitalization is a bad prayer. I have, however, come to the conclusion that there are better prayers to be prayed on behalf of the Church.

            I now pray for disciples to be made, grow, and multiply at this church. I freely admit this prayer is much harder to see answered and the process of discipleship is much messier than revitalization. I’m praying for disciples to be made, grow, and multiply here because I think that’s what God wants for His people in this place.

            I have read the stories of turn around churches and I find them encouraging. I have read the books about church revitalization and I find them insightful. I have heard the conference speakers talk about the need for revitalization and I find them inspiring. I also find the process of making, growing, and multiplying disciples more aligned with God’s kingdom and I fear it is too easy to make revitalization about the earthly organization we call “the church” at the expense of lives transformed by the Gospel.

            A definition of a disciple might be helpful. Christ’s first disciples followed Him and disciples of all time are called by the Gospel and enlightened with the Spirit’s gifts to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is about direction and choices in life. It’s also about connecting others to Jesus. My short, albeit tentative and somewhat incomplete, definition for being a disciple is having a life worth imitating.

            The first disciples of Jesus lived with Him; they saw His life up close and personal. They also wanted to be like Jesus and were, at times sent out to do what He did (sending out the 12 in Matthew 10:5-20 and the 70/72 in Luke 10:1-12). Disciples of all time want to be like Jesus – to imitate Jesus.

            As a disciple, I point to Jesus and, to the degree my life imitates Jesus, I have a life worth imitating. Obviously, I have lots of areas in my life where I do not conform to the pattern of Christ and where the world has squeezed me into its mold. There is not the space to detail where I need God’s forgiving grace and the revitalization of the Holy Spirit to truly repent of my many sins. I am a work in process. But I am convinced that I am a work in process where God is at work for me to will and do what pleases Him.

             I think we can understand growing as a disciple as “personal revitalization.” It begins at baptism when we are made new creations and continues until we see Jesus face to face. My personal revitalization won’t be complete in my lifetime but, by God’s grace, it will be complete.

              Church revitalization is, as I have said, a worthy objective. But, as long as a church has sinners in it, this is going to be an ongoing process the end of which we will not see in our lifetimes.

              I fear that, when there is a focus on church revitalization, we are setting our sights on improving “church, Inc.” – the corporate, organizational, and flawed aspects of what we call “church.” If we can get the structure right or the music right or the programs right, the church will be right. As important as governance, worship life, and programs are, they can’t and shouldn’t take the place of individuals getting right with God.

              The marks of church, Inc. being revitalized: greater generosity, more engagement in activities of the church, and caring for the community all begin at a personal, not a corporate level. Generosity is about how individuals understand their lives as grateful stewards. Engagement begins with me being daily engaged in God’s word and prayer. Caring for our community begins with me loving my neighbor.

             I thank God for everyone who is praying for his or her church to be revitalized. You love your church and community and want to see it as a place where God’s word is proclaimed and His means of grace reach the hearts of people. I will be praying for disciples to be made, grown, and multiplied, starting with this disciple who was made in baptism and is growing by God’s grace.

Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Czaplewski,

 

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Posted on 06/15/2017 9:49 AM by Pastor Dan Czaplewski
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Wednesday, 03 May 2017
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During the Easter season our first reading is from the book of Acts. It provides us with a kind of a time warp to life after the Ascension. This coming Sunday our first reading is Acts 2:42-47. I invite you to drill down into these five verses and consider your life in Christ and our life together as God’s people.

These verses describe the first Church after Pentecost: the Church in Jerusalem in about 29 or 30 AD (give or take, depending on which commentary you read). It is helpful to see this as descriptive and not prescriptive. In other words, this isn’t a formula for success as much as it is a picture of what this Church looked like. I would like to fly over that text with you and I invite you to let these few verses roll around in your mind for a while.

Let’s deconstruct these verses:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching – This Church was a learning Church. They didn’t have the New Testament yet, but they focused on what the Apostles (who would later write the New Testament under the direction of the Holy Spirit) had to say.

and the fellowship, - This was a loving Church. Fellowship is church-speak; it is a word we use  no other place than the friendly confines of a Church or a Church group. Yet, the word speaks to the depth of how we, as God’s people, connect to each other and love each other.

to the breaking of bread – This was a communing Church. They celebrated the Lord’s Supper as a part of the rhythm of their lives together. Holy Communion was a “mark of the Church” from the beginning.

and the prayers. – This was a praying Church. It has been suggested that we can’t get to verse 47 without prayer; this means that God adds to our number as an answer to prayer. The takeaway is pretty clear: pray for your Church.

43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. – The Church of every time and place is a miracle worked by God. Only God can bring diverse people with different backgrounds and points of view together into one body.

44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. – This was a generous Church. As you read the book of Acts, you see this communal life disappear. The account of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 paints a totally different picture of life together as the Church. What doesn’t change is that generosity is woven into the fabric of God’s people.

46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, - This was a worshipping Church. People will often say: “I can be a good Christian and not go to Church.” Whatever you may think about that statement in 2017, it is pretty clear that the Church in Jerusalem would disagree. It wasn’t so much that they were in “Church” (they were) as the Church was in them.

they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God - This was a grateful Church. It is likely that, even with their pooled resources, these people didn’t have much. But, they received what they had with thanksgiving. Lord, make us a thankful Church!

and having favor with all the people. – This Church was different from what people had seen before and in a good way. How different is our Church?

And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – This Church was growing because God was growing it. I don’t want to get all grammar geek on you, but I invite you to look at the subject of that sentence. The Lord was adding to their number, not their programs or personalities. To use a gardening word picture: we cultivate and scatter seed while God gives the increase.

I have posted a question on our Facebook page for this sermon; if you use social media, could you take a moment to respond? Please also take the time to comment on this BLOG post.

In Christ,

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

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Posted on 05/03/2017 9:59 PM by Rev. Daniel P. Czaplewski
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Friday, 07 April 2017
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Starting on Palm Sunday (April 9, 2017), Mount Calvary will be going live on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/mtcalvaryMKE/) and on this web site (http://mtcalvary-mke.org/custpage.cfm/frm/152029/sec_id/152029). As part of this new presence on the Web, I will be posting some things here to think about and discuss before Sunday. Please comment below or respond to the questions on Facebook.

Title for the Palm Sunday Sermon: Attitude and Altitude

Text: Philippians 2:5-11

Some Background: These verses are part of a longer section that some commentators call “The Christ Hymn.” The passage has an almost poetic character as it talks about Christ’s humiliation and exaltation.

What I see Paul calling us to is to have the same attitude as Jesus has – an attitude that loves mercy, seeks justice, and walks humbly with our God. (See Micah 6:8)

Question #1: What does a good attitude look like?

Question #2: What does a bad attitude look like?

Question #3: What do you do when you want to improve your attitude; what steps do you take; what do you change to change your attitude?

I look forward to interacting with you.

If you post after hearing or watching this sermon, please tell me what was most helpful for you.

In Christ,

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

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Posted on 04/07/2017 9:49 AM by Pastor Dan Czaplewski
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Tuesday, 19 April 2016
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I recently completed an Every Member Visit with 34 families of our congregation. The purpose of these visits was to discern our future direction as well as our current capacity. I had a set of questions that guided our discussion and helped me to learn some specific things about this Church. It was a wonderful experience and I learned more than I can say.

One question that I asked was, "If God were to do a miracle, what one thing would you like to see changed at this Church in a year?" This question was trying to discover what people saw as the measures of success for the congregation. What I was really asking was "what's important for us as a Church?"

Common responses went something like "more members" or "more people in Church" or "a full Church." I think these are desirable and important, but I wonder if they are the most important indicators of success for a Church.

My friend, Scott Gress, recently wrote on the topic of "more wood" in Churches; by more wood, he means fewer people in the pews on Sunday morning. He rightly notes that Church attendance is declining in most congregations across the United States. Scott doesn't offer any easy answers, but gives a great framework for understanding what is happening and formulating a plan for action. [Click HERE to go to the first of his four-part series and you can go from there.]

I realize that anything you want to happen in a Church doesn't happen in an empty pew or chair. If you are hoping to see life transformation, empty chairs don't change much over time. If you want to see people spiritually invigorated by the Gospel and you want them to receive the blessings of the Lord's Supper, those things aren't happening to empty pews. If you want anything good to come from a Church service, those results aren't going to be realized by people who aren't there.

But, I still wonder. Is Church attendance the most significant indicator of success in a congregation? Is it our main goal as a Church? If it is, what are the consequences of that decision?

I read a story recently about a Church in Taiwan. This Church cost $23 million to build and was specifically designed to attract women to Church. The building has 320-tinted glass panels formed in the shape of a high-heeled shoe. I'm not making this up! [HERE is the BBC story on the project.]

I think this story is relevant because, if butts in seats is the highest goal for a Christian congregation, then you willing to do just about anything to get more bodies to warm more wood on Sunday morning. Will a shoe-shaped Church do it? How about a more entertaining experience or more comfortable pews or any one of a hundred ideas to attract more people to Church?

What helps me understand the importance and the limitations of judging the success (or faithfulness) of a congregation primarily by attendance is by applying the framework of inputs, process, and outputs. Getting people in the door is, as that phrase suggests, an input. What happens in worship and the total life of a Christian congregation is the process. The output is lives changed for the better by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and, ultimately, a more densely populated heaven.

When "a bigger Church" is the Holy Grail a congregation searches for, it seems to me we are confusing the inputs with the outputs. More people and less wood is not the goal, it is the starting point for reaching our goal. But before we can identify an appropriate key performance indicator, we need to know what our goal is. I am humbly suggesting that more people inside a Church is not the goal and we need to be diligent in making sure that doesn't become our goal.

Is Church attendance important? Absolutely. But, we can't let it be in the driver's seat for how the Church lives out our calling to be Christ's witnesses in our life together as His children. Our focus needs to always be on our "outputs" and Church attendance isn't one of them.

In Christ,

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

PS There will be more to come on this subject in the coming weeks.

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Posted on 04/19/2016 8:23 AM by Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Czaplewski
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Thursday, 28 January 2016
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I like to read. Almost everything I read is non-fiction related to my interests in the Church, theology, education, leadership, and culture. I know I'm weird, and for many people that kind of reading wouldn't be recreation, it would be torture.

That being said, I want to tell you a little bit about a book I just finished. It is The Abundant Community; Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods by John McKnight and Peter Block. It was published in 2012 by Barrett-Koehler. McKnight and Block approach the idea of community from a completely secular point of view, but I found many of their ideas directly apply to the unique community of a local Christian congregation.

McKnight and Block talk a lot about a distinction between citizens and consumers. This quote sums up their point:

"A citizen is one who is a participant in a democracy, regardless of their legal status. It is one who chooses to create the life, the neighborhood, the world from their own gifts and the gifts of others. … A consumer is one who has surrendered to others the power to provide what is essential for a full satisfied life. … Consumerism is not about shopping, but about the transformation of citizens into consumers." (p. 7)

The question this raised in my mind is this: Do we have consumers or citizens (members) in the church? I think much of what McKnight and Block say about citizens in a community applies to members of a local church. Citizens participate in the life of the community in a positive way. Church members participate in the life of the congregation to spiritually invigorate themselves and others.

Consumers make church into a commodity, and the nature of a consumer, whether in a community or a church, always makes for a buyer's market. Receiving good customer service, not spiritual growth or meaningful service to Christ, is the driving force that draws a consumer to a church.

The good news is that Jesus died for both citizens and consumers. The good news is that God loves both citizens and consumers with an everlasting love. The good news is that both citizens and consumers are sinners who find forgiveness in the mercy of God shown to us in Jesus Christ.

God calls us all to repentance for our consumer attitudes because we are all consumers at heart, and we equally require God's grace to turn our hearts from preoccupation with our needs (wants). A member/citizen of a Church not only believes, he or she belongs. A Church is a Christian community and her member/citizens belong not merely to the organization, but to Christ and, through Christ, to each other.

I can hardly do McKnight and Block's book justice in these few words. I have not attempted to review their book, but to transpose a couple of their points to the lives of Christians in community. I invite your comments and thoughts; I also suggest you consider reading Abundant Community from your own perspective.

In Christ,

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

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Posted on 01/28/2016 7:59 AM by Pastor Dan Czaplewski
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Monday, 11 January 2016
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When I was in grade school, I had a subject called "Arithmetic." I found spelling the word, "Arithmetic," harder than working the problems. I learned to spell "Arithmetic" after someone taught me a silly sentence: "A rat in the house may eat the ice cream." To this day, I can only spell "arithmetic" correctly by saying that sentence to myself and using the first letter of each word as my guide.

Somewhere along the line, we stopped having Arithmetic as a school subject. It all became Math. Math is more complex than Arithmetic and takes more critical thinking skills. We still do Arithmetic in Math, but Math is a "bigger" subject.

I mention that NOT because I am advocating that we go "back to basics" in schools, but because I think Churches often do arithmetic when we should be doing something else. I don't think Math will provide the answers we need either.

We like to count things in Churches. We do a lot of Arithmetic in Churches. Numbers isn't just a book in the Bible, it's one of the forces that can drive our priorities. We count what counts and what we count will start to count.

We should be counting the offering every week and how many people are in a worship service. But those two metrics won't answer some of our most important questions.

Is attendance up or down? How is the giving? How do this week's (month's, year's) numbers compare to last week, month, or year? Those things matter, but how much?

Let me offer a little disclaimer. The Church where I serve saw worship attendance go up 11% from 2013 to 2014 and 10% from 2014 to 2015. That is good news for our congregation and I feel much better about those increases than I would if the trend had been reversed. I'm also convinced that we need to look at more than how many seats are filled in our sanctuary on Sunday morning.

I wouldn't propose a sophisticated new formula for Churches to use to assess their health. I think the real key is people telling their stories to someone who is listening.

Telling our stories (the real ones!) is much more difficult than counting and listening (really listening) is hard work. I think it's worth it and will give us important information about what's really important.

What's really important can't be counted, averaged, or plotted on a graph. What's really important is God at work in the lives of people and His love in Jesus Christ working through people to touch the world.

So, how is God at work in and through you? Where do you see His grace in your life? How is Jesus connecting to people through and around you? Feel free to use the comment section below to tell your story. I really want to hear it.

In Christ,

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

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Posted on 01/11/2016 2:42 PM by Pastor Daniel P. Czaplewski
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Tuesday, 05 January 2016
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If you have ever watched a play from back stage, you know that things look very different from a different perspective. A play, after all, is produced so that it will be viewed from the audience's point of view not from back stage.

Most of us recognize how important what happens behind the scenes of a play is to the entire production. Sets and props need to move on and off stage at the appropriate time; characters need to enter and exit on cue; and sound effects need to be produced at the right time.

I wouldn't want you to think that a worship service is a dramatic production, but every church service has a lot of people working behind the scenes to make it happen. In a small congregation, like the one where I am Pastor, the weekly worship service requires more volunteer and staff time than any other ministry we have.

A group that works diligently behind the scenes at our church is called the Altar Guild. In teams, they set up the communion ware and clean the chancel. I think they enjoy what they do, but they do take their work very seriously because they are precise and careful in performing their duties.

This past Sunday, one member of the Altar Guild took her last turn at preparing for the worship service. The limitations of age have made it too difficult for her to continue. What is interesting about her retirement is that the first Sunday she ever prepared the church for a service was January 3, 1966 fifty years to the day before her last Sunday on Altar Guild.

I am at a loss for how to best recognize Pat's fifty years of service to our congregation. It almost seems like a contradiction to be too noisy about such quiet acts of service. I know there are others: ushers, choir members, and communion assistants, who are serving and have long tenures of service. They also serve in similar fashion: quietly, conscientiously, and behind the scenes.

However we mark these years of service, what I know for certain is that God sees these efforts. More importantly, God sees our hearts. As much as it is mine to know, I believe that Pat and many others have served for decades in response to God's goodness shown to them in Jesus Christ. Their service is the product of God's grace at work in them.

For all the human work it takes to have a worship service, God is at work when His people are generous with our time and effort. And, when God is at work, we are all blessed.

In Christ,

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

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Posted on 01/05/2016 1:10 PM by Pastor Daniel P. Czaplewski
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Wednesday, 02 September 2015
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A couple of weeks ago I had a reminder of why I love being a Pastor at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church. It was a really, really good day; it was a one-of-a-kind day. If anyone who reads this has ever had a day like this, please respond because I think more people need to hear about why being a Pastor is the best job in the world.

We had a "normal" Sunday morning: a worship service with Holy Communion and I taught Bible Class. That was pretty good, but my day got better. After church I visited a couple that had their first child. They were kind enough to let me hold their precious little girl who was just one day old. That is pretty special and I am constantly amazed at how people will welcome me as a part of their family at these milestone moments.

After I left the hospital, I went to a skilled care facility where one of our members was celebrating her 100th birthday. This dear saint of God, the widow of a previous Pastor at this congregation, was able to play the piano for her birthday party. We sang Happy Birthday, Back Home in Indiana, and Abide with Me with a 100 year-old accompanist. The juxtaposition of these two events on the same day made me feel specially blessed.

I don't read all the BLOGS and articles that circulate through my email box, but I see an awful lot of them that discuss Pastor burnout and discouragement in ministry. I have been through burnout and I have been discouraged, but I still feel very blessed to have the privilege to do what I do.

It would also be dishonest to say that Pastoral ministry is easy. Many things are not very complex, but that doesn't make them easy. I can't touch the pain of another without feeling some level of my own pain.

I don't share this great day with any sense of triumph or superiority. In fact, these events humble me because they remind me of the great privilege I have to be called as the Pastor in this place. I am also reminded that this isn't about me, but about God in Christ Jesus who is at work in this congregation and community. I pray that what I do will point to Christ and glorify God's name.

In Christ,

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

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Posted on 09/02/2015 11:22 AM by Pastor Dan Czaplewski
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Thursday, 09 July 2015
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A few of you are old enough to remember "The Four Spiritual Laws" from Campus Crusade for Christ. Reading this tract from a Lutheran point of view presents a few problems. There are also some worthwhile points in these pages.

Below this article, you should see an illustration I first saw in "The Four Spiritual Laws." It is a way of picturing your life (the circle). In your life you have many things to balance: work, family, community, Church, hobbies, entertainment, and so forth. In the center of your life is a throne. The point of the drawing is to ask: who (or what) is on the "throne" of your life? Said another way, what (or who) is at the center of your life?

This particular drawing has Jesus (represented by a "J") on the throne with Self (represented by an "S") next to the throne. It makes a good point about what the Christian life should look like.

As Christians, we aspire to have Christ at the center. The truth is, there are so many pressures in life that push Jesus out of the center (or off of the throne). It would be nice if it were just a simple choice of having Jesus on the throne or Self on the throne. My life is more complex. Fear, the demands of someone else, or just exhaustion can push Jesus out of the center and make me feel like I am spiraling out of control.

By God's grace, He keeps reminding me, not only of the catastrophic results of putting anything but Jesus at the center of my life, but also of all the blessings that are mine in Christ. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him." (Ephesians 1:3-4)

God takes the pressure off of my life. He gave me this blessing by choosing me to be His child in the far-distant-past and by the promise of being with Him forever in the not-so-distant future. All this He did through Christ's perfect life, innocent death, and glorious resurrection. All this, He did for you and me.

Take a moment now to read Ephesians 1:3-14 and to reflect on how God has taken the pressure off of your life. With the pressure off, God in His mercy allows you to put Christ in His rightful place at the center of your life.

In Christ,

 

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

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Posted on 07/09/2015 10:08 AM by Rev. Dr. Daniel P. Czaplewski
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Friday, 26 June 2015
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Yesterday my heart was full. You my ask, "full of what?" Good question a little background information is in order.

I have two sons. The oldest is 27 and living on his own in Florida; the youngest is 14 and about to begin High School here in Milwaukee. My oldest son is an artist; he received his MFA from Washington University in St. Louis a year ago and has been looking for work in the art field (not the easiest vocation to break into).

Yesterday, I received a book in the mail that has a chapter devoted to my oldest son's work. This doesn't mean that he has "made it" in the art world; it does mean that he has received some well-deserved recognition for his work. It means he is happy about what he loves to do. It also shows the world what I have known for a long time: he is a uniquely talented individual with a great deal of creativity who can not only conceive amazing work, but execute it as well.

At the same time I was looking through this book, my youngest son was volunteering at a Head Start, reading to three and four-year-olds. I don't know that he would ever be a teacher, but I do know that he is doing something worthwhile for someone else. It's important for young people really important that they be engaged in service beyond self.

So, you might rightly think my heart is full of pride because of my two sons. You would only be a very small bit right. What my heart is full of is gratitude: gratitude to God for blessing me by letting me know and love these two young men; gratitude to God for blessing them with their attitudes and abilities; gratitude to them for their hard work and pursuit of more than self-interest. I'm overwhelmed with gratitude.

Grateful is about as good as it gets. It has filled my heart and that's a good thing. An even better part of a heart filled with gratitude is knowing Who to thank.

In Him,

Dan Czaplewski

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Posted on 06/26/2015 6:37 PM by Pastor Dan Czaplewski
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Monday, 19 January 2015
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Today kids and teachers have off from school, banks and government offices are closed, and there is no mail. We are remembering the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today.

There is so much to remember about Dr. King and he is an ongoing source of inspiration for people around the world. I don't know what I can add to the many tributes and celebrations.

I would invite you to remember one thing today that is often overlooked in our secular media. There were people who called Dr. King "Pastor" because he was the pastor of their church. He "preached" (though it is often called a speech and not a sermon) to an enormous crowd in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. He also preached to gatherings of believers in his church and in churches throughout the United States.

As you consider the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., spend just three minutes listening to this excerpt from a sermon he preached at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama on November 17, 1957. It is helpful for us to remember that Dr. King was a man of faith who confessed Jesus Christ.

Link HERE for the video and audio of that sermon. Make sure your speakers are on.

In Christ,

 

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

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Posted on 01/19/2015 9:54 AM by Pastor Dan Czaplewski
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Saturday, 10 January 2015
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I have been a part of a lot of teams in my life. When I was younger, I participated in sports and I saw how a good team could make individuals better. As an adult, I coached sports teams and found that team "chemistry" had more to do with success than the individual skill levels of the players. Today, the teams of which I am a part are mostly about getting things done, not competition, but many of the same principles apply.

What I know about team is that a team can make us better than we would be on our own. We will work harder and enjoy it more when we are part of a good team. Bad teams can be pretty awful enough said about bad teams.

Being a disciple is one way to describe your Christian life. Being a disciple is also a "team sport" rather than an individual assignment. God blessed us by putting "the solitary into families" (Psalm 68:6) for our emotional well-being and personal happiness. He also desires His disciples to be part of a family of faith so they can grow closer to Him.

This "team" is the Church. We are all parts of Christ's body, the Church, and we make our own unique contributions to the growth of the body. We also grow individually by being a part of the Church. Just like a sports team with good chemistry can make individual athletes perform at a higher level, so the Church makes it possible to grow in ways we could never experience alone.

God in His mercy has surrounded you with other Christians to stir up your faith and encourage you as a disciple. Encouragement is a matter of give and take. We need to take a chance on people and give them encouragement: a card, phone call, or kind word that can bless people in ways we don't always know.

We also need to take encouragement from other Christians. Taking encouragement is probably harder than giving encouragement. It means being gracious in receiving compliments. It also means being humble and vulnerable as we learn from others where we can grow in grace.

If you want a short, sweet, and to the point description of how team discipleship works, read Hebrews 10:19-25. The one phrase in those verses that strikes me as central to having the generosity to give encouragement and the humility to receive it is in verse 22: "let us draw near with a true heart…"

May the Holy Spirit bless you with a true heart as you encourage and are encouraged by your other "team mates" in the Church. God is using them to make you better than you could be on your own.

In Christ,

 

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

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Posted on 01/10/2015 10:30 AM by Pastor Dan Czaplewski
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Wednesday, 31 December 2014
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The History Channel recently produced an info graphic: "New Year's by the Numbers." Among the interesting facts I noticed was that 45% of Americans make New Year's resolutions. The most popular resolutions are losing weight, getting organized, spending less and saving more, staying fit and healthy, and quitting smoking. Of those who make resolutions, 75% are able to keep them for at least a week, but by 26 weeks only 46% have enough resolve to keep their resolutions.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, "Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man {or woman}." It is in that spirit that a little less than half of us make New Year's resolutions; we want to be better people.

In our life of faith this means being a disciple of Jesus Christ. In English, the word disciple is from the same root as discipline. In the Greek of the New Testament disciple is a noun form of the verb "to learn." A disciple is a learner; I would suggest a life-long learner.

The danger is that we make being a disciple solely a matter of learning new stuff about God. That would, I'm afraid, miss the point.

In Jesus' day it was said that a disciple needed to be covered in the dust of his or her Rabbi (teacher). That is a word picture that means the disciple is to follow his or her teacher so closely that the dust the Rabbi was kicking up as he walked would cover the disciple. The disciple was striving to be like his or her Rabbi down to the tiniest detail.

That too, could miss the point. To be a disciple of Jesus is more than mastering content or modifying behavior. Learning and doing are part of being Christ's disciples, but they are not the heart of what we are called to be. The heart of being Christ's disciple is falling in love with Jesus. It is the greatest commandment and it demands our all: all our intellect and all our actions (Deuteronomy 11:13 and Matthew 22:37-38).

Certainly what we know and what we do are how that all encompassing love for God is expressed. Love for God is visible most clearly in our love for each other. Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13: 35)

Disciples love. I pray that 2015 is a year that you fall more in love with your Savior. May that love for Jesus be clearly seen in your love for others.

In Christ,

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

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Posted on 12/31/2014 9:05 AM by Pastor Daniel P. Czaplewski
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Thursday, 11 September 2014
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That date requires no explanation. I'm sure that almost every reader remembers where he or she was on the morning of September 11, 2001. The events of that date in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania live in our national consciousness. The world changed on 9/11 and most of us sensed the dramatic shift at the time though we are still trying to understand its implications.

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. Do you remember Sunday, September 16, 2001? I recall that Sunday and it has left me questions that I still haven't answered.

I was serving as pastor of a church in South Florida in 2001. I remember quite vividly that our attendance on the Sunday following the terrorist attacks was nearly double of an average Sunday. That people flocked to church following the events of September 11th was not a surprise. Similar tragedies throughout the 20th Century produced similar responses.

What leaves me with the most nagging question is Sunday, September 23, 2001. After a surge in attendance that rivaled Christmas or Easter the week before, attendance went back to "normal" on September 23rd.  Where did everyone go? Why didn't they come back?

People came to church for the first time in a long time (or ever) on September 16 and stayed home on September 23 why? I don't know if any of the social scientists that study religious behavior have explored that question (if you have some research that rises above opinion, send it to me). The easy answer is to blame those who came to church once and didn't come back: they were looking for the wrong thing when they came to church or they were "carnal" in their thinking.

A spiritual answer might be to blame the Devil. Satan snatched the seed of the word from the path before it could take root (see Luke 8:4-8). I believe the Devil is a real being and active in our world, but that may be an incomplete answer to my questions about September 23rd.

I invite my Christian brothers and sisters to explore these questions: what did we do that made the "seekers" of September 16 not want to come back on September 23? What didn't we do to bring them back?

I ask those questions about the events of 13 years ago not as a lament over the past, but to inform the present and find direction for the future. The reality of our present and the direction for our future is that Jesus made us His witnesses (Acts 1:8). "Witness" is both our identity and our core activity as believers in Jesus.

My prayer for myself and for everyone who reads this is that we will become more effective in our witness to a broken world. From time to time the full extent of our brokenness will become clear. Those moments of clarity may be personal tragedies or national calamities. In those moments believers have a message of hope and healing in Jesus Christ.

The text for my message on Sunday, September 16, 2001, was Lamentation3:22-23 "The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (ESV) God bless you in your witness to the truth of God's steadfast and limitless love.

NOTE: I will be following up this post with some thoughts on "witness" in the coming weeks.

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Posted on 09/11/2014 10:13 PM by Dr. Daniel P. Czaplewski
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Wednesday, 03 September 2014
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During the 1993-94 season I coached basketball at Faith Lutheran School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Our team won the state Lutheran tournament in Florida and received a bid to play in the Lutheran National Tournament in Valparaiso, Indiana. That season was a glorious ride and I will never forget those 13 young men or what they accomplished. They also gave me one of my most cherished memories.

 

One of my starters was named "Gables" Clark. His real name was Samuel Clark; I never found out where "Gables" came from exactly. Samuel was a namesake for his uncle Samuel Hammond. Samuel Hammond was shot in the back by South Carolina Highway Patrol in 1968. Samuel was a strapping 18 year-old football player who was killed along with two other young men in what is known as the Orangeburg Massacre. There were also 27 wounded on February 6, 1968; they were all unarmed; they were all black; and all the bullets came from the guns of Highway Patrolmen. At the time United States Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, called the actions of the South Carolina Highway Patrol, "murder." No one has ever been prosecuted in connection with these shootings.

I have lost touch with Gables. He is in the team picture that hangs on my office wall, but I don't know what became of him. That is my loss because he was a fine young man in 8th grade and I would like to know the man he has become.

In 1995, his mother gave me a book that tells the story of the Orangeburg Massacre. I read the book and what happened to Samuel Hammond has been with me for the past 20 years. The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri brought him to mind once again.

Trevin Wax, a Christian Blogger, wrote: "Ferguson is ripping the bandages off the racial wounds we thought were healing but instead are full of infection." Derwin Gray, Pastor of Transformation Church a multi-cultural church in Tennessee, sees the events in Ferguson as a call for Christians to strive for "genuine pictures of Gospel-inspired reconciliation."

From my own experience as a white man who is in ministry in an urban setting, I am convinced that Christians need to take up the difficult task of talking about race and connecting it to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That won't be easy because it is a very personal subject that brings back very personal (and painful) memories for many people.

With all due respect to the memory of Michael Brown and with sympathy for those who mourn his loss, the events of the past month are bigger than one individual or one town in Missouri. It is either naïve of intellectually dishonest to consider the recent events in Ferguson as happening in a vacuum. There is a broader context found in centuries of racism, oppression, and segregation in the United States. More than that, Black Americans have their own, very personal stories of how they have felt the pain of injustice. Christians of all people need to talk about race and how the message of forgiveness and reconciliation brings healing to all wounds and a way forward that is not haunted by the tragedies of the past.

For me, the most distressing aspect of the events of the past month came from a piece of research conducted by Christianity Today. The results of this survey make it clear that Black and White Christians think very differently about race. In 2006, 51% of White evangelical Christians believed that "one of the most effective ways to improve race relations is to stop talking about race." That same year 24% of Black evangelical Christians held the same view. In 2012, 69% (two out of three) of White evangelical Christians surveyed believed race relations will get better if we stop talking about race.

Silence on any subject that separates us may keep us from feeling uncomfortable, but it rarely heals the underlying brokenness. To use a metaphor: silence won't create any heat, but it won't bring any light either. To extend the same metaphor: if Christians are going to shed any light on the subject of race, we're going to take some heat.

I am deeply grateful to Mrs. Clark for telling me about her brother and his story has made me a better person by broadening my understanding of how personal injustice is. I think it is in telling our stories and listening to the stories of others that we gain a deeper understanding of Christ's death to redeem all people from all their sins. Telling our stories and listening to the stories of others may generate some heat, but I think the light those stories will provide is worth is worth the heat.

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Posted on 09/03/2014 8:10 AM by Pastor Daniel P. Czaplewski
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Tuesday, 29 July 2014
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Mount Calvary recently concluded our Vacation Bible School and I was the leader for our opening and closing worship times. Don't worry, I didn't have to sing we had DVD's for that! The greatest joy I had during the week of VBS was to see the preschool students time singing and doing the motions to the songs. They really got into it!

These three and four-year-olds were so excited about the songs and the motions that they had to come out of the pews and do their self-styled versions of the song motions in the aisles where there was more room. It looked sort of like the kids were twirling around with the music as more of a backdrop and less of a rhythmic force.

God's grace was the theme of most of the songs and it seemed to me that these little ones were twirling in God's grace. It would be nice if we all felt that same joy and freedom in God's grace. I'm not advocated for dancing as a part of our worship, but I wish that we grown-ups could find the same joy in God's goodness that is ours in Jesus Christ.

I realize that your life is probably considerably more complex than that of a four-year-old. You face a variety of pressures and problems of which children know nothing. In your life you have probably faced challenges and endured hardships that little children can't even imagine. If you're like me, you've also made more mistakes and been part of more failures than you care to admit, even to yourself. Life and my own poor choices may have sapped my excitement over God's grace in Christ.

I think that's the exact opposite of the way it is supposed to work. Jesus once said, "He who is forgiven little, loves little." (Luke 8:47) If follows that if one has been forgiven much (and I have) he or she would love a whole bunch maybe enough to want to twirl around in God's grace.

Take a few minutes and think about the forgiveness that is yours, the way that God accepts you, and the promises He has for your future. Then, maybe if no one is looking, take a little twirl around the room.

In Christ,

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

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Posted on 07/29/2014 12:46 PM by Pastor Dan Czaplewski
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Thursday, 26 June 2014
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Have you ever experienced the effects of a poison? It may have been an accidental contact with an unknown substance or food poisoning or a brush against a plant (like poison ivy). We have probably all been poisoned to greater or lesser degree at least once in our lives.

Poisons are all around us. I suspect that I have enough toxins in my garage to wipe out my entire block. We may keep them in child-safe containers, but the devastating potential effects are sitting on shelves in our homes, our basements, and garages. We really can't get away from the danger, so we manage it to the best of our abilities.

It is possible for your soul to be poisoned. Just as there are toxins in our environment that can disrupt our nervous systems, irritate our skin, and take our lives. So also there are poisons that can hurt, maim, or destroy our spiritual well being.

Every week we come face to face with the venomous substances that would poison our souls. We admit that these toxins aren't in our environment, but are already in us when we say to God and each other that "we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone."

To stop with just admitting our sin, however, is much like calling a poison control center and failing to do anything with the information we receive. The good news is this: God has done something about our toxic thoughts, words, and actions in Jesus Christ. We can't do anything to deserve God's forgiveness because Jesus did it all for us by dying on a cross.

To put this in very theological terms: God's Law brings us face to face with our sin its monstrous effects and its relentless hold on our lives. The Gospel of Jesus Christ then brings us face to face with all the good gifts God gives, chiefly the forgiveness of our sins.

The practical side of this is that we are confronted with the Law, but we need to live in the Gospel. The grace of God in Christ is the only thing that can change us for the better and it is the only antidote to the poison in our hearts. So, may that grace predominate in our thinking, our speaking, and in what we do.

May God's grace dominate how we treat each other. I know that it can be difficult to live with other people. I pray that you can bring some grace into the world by reflecting God's goodness to people (like you) who don't deserve it.

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Posted on 06/26/2014 3:25 PM by Daniel P. Czaplewski
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Tuesday, 10 June 2014
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Forty years ago today (June 9, 1974) I graduated from Martin Luther High School here in greater Milwaukee. I guess that makes me officially old, but it gave me cause to reflect on the past four decades.

I remember parts of that day like they were yesterday. I recall that Dr. Walter W. Stuenkel, the then President of Concordia College in Milwaukee, was our commencement speaker. I have no idea what he said, but I know he spoke.

I remember saying "good bye" to my best friend in High School, Chuck Wolf. We were going to different colleges and I guess we knew that this would be a transition in our friendship. Charlie died very suddenly less than five years later of an undiagnosed heart ailment. I guess that "good bye" took on added meaning through the years.

I remember receiving as a graduation gift the full set of the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. In the years that followed, I think I read every major work by Lewis, but Narnia was my gateway to his thoughtful approach to the Christian faith.

Looking back, it seems that so much has changed. One could hardly do justice to the changes in our world's political changes, the changes in cultural values, or the changes in technology. Most of all, I've changed.

I am embarrassed to remember how foolish and naïve I was in 1974. My thinking was far too simplistic everything was black or white and my life experience was narrow and parochial. I'm not sure I would recognize the person I was. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like that person very much.

I am older and, I hope, wiser today. I would like to believe that I am also better. But I came across a cautionary tale in my personal devotions this morning. It is the story of king Josiah of Judah.

Josiah began ruling Judah when he was 8 years old and he was king for 31 years. He was one of the kings that "did what the LORD considered right." (2 Chronicles 34:2). In fact, few kings did as much "right" as Josiah. But his rule and his life ended because he sinned.

Josiah's sin was not one of the usual suspects neither a woman nor money were involved. Josiah's sin was that he failed to discern God's direction and went to war with Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. (See 2 Chronicles 35: 20-27.) Josiah rode into the valley of Megiddo in the battle of Carchemish in disguise. In that battle a random arrow struck and killed Josiah. From Josiah's death forward things went from bad to worse for Judah until the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. All of this was because Josiah failed to recognize God's leading.

In Josiah's defense, God was speaking to him through the Pharaoh Neco, which was hardly the way I would expect God to give me direction. Pharaoh worshipped other gods and his own interests were best served by keeping Judah out of the fight.

I bring this up because it reminds me that, no matter how much experience I have or how much I accomplish, I can still miss what God is doing in this world and my life. I am just as dependent on God's grace in Jesus Christ today as I was when I received my High School diploma 40 years ago.

I am also reminded that God is good even when I am foolish, naïve, or fail to discern His direction for my life. In Christ, I find forgiveness for all my embarrassing actions and attitudes. The Holy Spirit, working through God's word (the Bible) and the Lord's Supper is at work in my life to open my eyes to what God is doing.

These words encourage me as I look back and when I look forward. I hope they encourage you.

            "Trust in the LORD with all your heart,

                        and do not rely on your own understanding.

            In all your ways acknowledge him,

                        And he will make your paths smooth." (Proverbs 3: 5-6 GWT)

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Posted on 06/10/2014 4:56 PM by Pastor Dan Czaplewski
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Friday, 23 May 2014
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We all recognize the indispensable value of natural resources. As Christians, we count the natural resources of this earth among the blessings God showers on us. They are part of His answer to our prayer "give us this day our daily bread."

God also gives us unnatural resources. That is, He provides resources that aren't a part of our natural world and that we could not discover using our natural knowledge or intellect. We can draw on these unnatural resources and, unlike natural resources, these gifts of God can never be exhausted.

The greatest of the unnatural resources God gives is Himself in the person and work of the Holy Spirit. In John 14 Jesus called the Spirit our Helper, Advocate, and Counselor (actually, He used only one word, but it can be translated into English in a variety of ways). Jesus went on to promise that the Spirit lives with us and in us.

The Holy Spirit is "unnatural" because the Spirit comes from outside our nature. The Spirit is the ultimate resource for our lives in Christ: the Spirit comforts us when we are in pain; the Spirit strengthens us when we are weak; and the Spirit encourages us in sharing Christ with the world.

As we experience the hardships and trials of this life, we draw on the resource of the Holy Spirit at work in us. The Holy Spirit was place in your heart at your Baptism and that same Spirit refreshes you every time you open God's Word or receive the Lord's Supper. Jesus also promised that the Holy Spirit is with you in an ongoing and consistent way.

May that same Spirit assure you of God's great love in Jesus Christ today, this minute, this second. God is faithful and He provides you with amazing resources, both natural and unnatural, to accomplish His work in you.

In Christ,

Pastor Dan Czaplewski

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Posted on 05/23/2014 8:05 AM by Rev. Daniel P. Czaplewski
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Thursday, 03 April 2014
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Do you have any good habits? Are you in the habit of eating right, exercising, having a daily quiet time or personal devotion? Good habits serve good purposes.

 

I read somewhere that most habits can serve good purposes. Habits work like this: A habit is something we do with very little thought. Our habits free our minds to think about and make other, more important, decisions.

 

Facebook founder and 20-something billionaire, Mark Zuckerberg, wears a gray t-shirt and jeans almost everywhere. In an interview with Matt Lauer, the entrepreneur said that he has about 20 identical, gray t-shirts. According to a Washington Post article, Zuckerberg dresses the same every day to save time and mental energy. Wearing the same thing every day means he never has to think about picking out his clothes. Zuckerberg’s quirky habit lets him think about more important things.

 

The Church is in “the habit” of having confession and absolution at the beginning of our worship services. It’s a good thing to be regular in admitting our sins and receiving God’s forgiveness. I pray that forgiveness will never become routine. I pray that it will always be new and renewing.

 

God always wants you to move from the depths of your sin to glory of His forgiveness. God isn’t done moving you once He’s forgiven you; beyond forgiveness, God would move you to hope. Not the wimpy, “I hope so” hope, but the confident hope that looks to His steadfast love in Jesus Christ and the abundant redemption He won for us on the cross.

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Posted on 04/03/2014 1:26 PM by Daniel P. Czaplewski
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Sunday
Worship 9:00 AM
Sunday Bible Class 10:15 AM
Sunday School 10:15 AM
2nd Thursday
Elders' Meeting 6:45 PM
4th Tuesday
Mission & Ministry Council Meets 6:30 PM