Friday, January 17, 2014

Baptism of 21 Nepalese at Ascension

Hello all! For a little bit more than a year now, I have been leading and helping lead a bi-lingual Bible study for Nepali refugees in the Saint Louis area. Over the past year, the ministry has exploded. This has been largely due to the tremendous blessing of having a former evangelist, Gagan Gurung, come into the Saint Louis area. Gagan's presence has allowed for clearer translations and straighter teaching. Gagan is also familiar with cultural norms of which I am not familiar. Therefore, he has been able to reach people with the Gospel who we have not been able to connect with. Just this last Sunday, 21 of these Nepalese people were baptized at Ascension, my fieldwork congregation here in Saint Louis. A photographer from the LCMS was present at the baptisms and took pictures. Below is the link to photos he took from the service. Enjoy! Praise God that he continues to work across cultures!

Nepali Baptisms at Ascension Lutheran Church

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sermon: Part of the Family

The link below is to my most recent sermon. The sermon is titled "Part of the Family." I preached this sermon on December 28th and 29th at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, Colorado. This sermon came with a slide presentation. As you see from the logo above, most of the presentation is fairly basic...except for one part. I mention a specific image of a house in this sermon that I have posted below to help you understand what people saw during the sermon. To God be the glory!

Sermon - Part of the Family

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Real Meaning of Christmas?: Christmas from Luke's Point of View

          "We need to get back to the real meaning of Christmas!" I think this is a phrase we are hearing more and more throughout the church. Christians in general seem to be concerned that the real meaning of Christmas is getting lost in the decorations, shopping, parties, and other secular items surrounding the holiday. But what is the real meaning of Christmas? Why is this event so special? We could probably answer this question in many ways, but let's look at what Luke says about Christmas...  
          When Luke sets the scene, he shows Israel, the people of God, under the oversight of Herod, king of Judea. There is no Israelite king. The people of God were waiting for what the prophets before them had proclaimed. They knew the prophets had called for a Day of the Lord, a time when God would send his Anointed One to usher in a Messianic age where the Messiah would be king. Israel was thinking the Messianic age would mean liberation from their Roman oppressors. Luke makes this known through Zechariah’s proclaiming in 1:68-79 that the Messiah was coming “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” Even Simeon is shown as “waiting for the consolation of Israel” in 2:25. Israel was looking forward to a time when the Messiah would lead them, and they could practice the Torah freely. The Messiah did come, but not to do what they expected.
            Here, we must realize that Jesus does not come for us, Gentiles. The Messiah comes to his own people. He is for Israel. Luke writes concerning the Messiah in 1:32-33, “And the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever.” If we take the gospel of Luke for what it says, we must be careful not to jump immediately to the redemption of all people. If we stand with Luke, we start with Jesus coming to his own.
            It is not uncommon for us to view the death and resurrection of Christ as the final payment for all sin. Often we hear the approach that Jesus comes to die on the cross to appease God the Father. But Luke calls us from those thoughts to the Messiah who comes at Christmas. This Messiah, according to Luke, comes to bring the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom of God does not come on the cross, but it comes with the arrival of Jesus. We do not have to wait until the cross for things like forgiveness. Jesus brings them in his ministry. Luke has Jesus quoting from Isaiah in 4:16-30: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has appointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is exactly what Jesus does in Luke. He does preach the good news. He does perform healings and miraculous signs among the people. He does offer the forgiveness of sins. He tells the paralytic: “Man, your sins are forgiven you” (5:20-24).
            Luke shows us that the Messiah’s coming meant the coming of the Kingdom of God. This would call for a restructuring of the whole Israelite system, not an overthrowing of the Roman government. The Messiah came to be the center of life. Therefore the center would no longer be the Torah. It would not be the temple. Jesus himself came to be the center of faith and life. This is completely backwards to the people of Israel. It may also come across as backwards to us. Jesus does not come to be an instrument for humanity to get to God. Jesus is God coming down to humanity to be the center of all things. This leads to some unsettling feelings among the Jewish leaders. They are angered that Jesus speaks by his own authority. They cannot take the upsetting of their religious system. As Jesus brings the Kingdom of God he does things against Jewish code. He eats with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners. Jesus also claims to be the Son of God. This is exemplified in passages like Luke 10:21-22. The Jewish leaders finally respond to all of Jesus’s actions by having him arrested. They mock Jesus as if he were a king. They strike Jesus and put a crown of thorns on his head. Then, they crucify Jesus. Here we must realize that Luke does not mention a sacrifice for the sins of the world. He simply presents that Jesus died because the Jews hated Jesus for what he was doing.
            As Jesus is placed in the tomb, everything looks hopeless. The Messiah, according to Judaism, does not die. Instead, he reigns forever. Jesus was dead. But then Luke moves his account to two men on the road to Emmaus. Here, they meet a man who opens the Scriptures to them, telling them that God had planned for the rejection of the Messiah. God would counter this move by raising Jesus from the grave. At dinner, when the man breaks the bread, the disciples realize that it is Jesus. Jesus is alive! He was the Messiah that was to come!
            But where do we go from here? Does Luke actually help us confess Jesus as Lord? Moreover, does Luke ever present a way that Jesus is also for Gentiles? To both of these questions, the answer is yes. However, it might not be how we have previously understood them. In Luke, Jesus is Lord by his own authority. He proves this by forgiving sins by his own authority with the paralytic. He calms the wind and the waves with his own word. He calls demons out of people with his own commanded. Jesus teaches with his own authority, and after he raises from the dead, Jesus promises the disciples the Holy Spirit (also by his own authority) in the book of Acts. The Spirit comes at Pentecost where Peter stands up and proclaims to the people in Acts 2:36, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Therefore, it is by Jesus’s authority that we come to confess him as Lord.
But now we must deal with our second question. Where do we as Gentiles fit into this? Jesus tells the disciples in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Gentiles are included in the words, “all nations.” The Apostles receive authority from God and begin to preach and teach in the book of Acts after the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost. The Messianic age continues to spread and grow. It is at this time that the Holy Spirit falls even on the Gentiles in Acts 10:44-48. While he does not mention it, Luke simply confirms what was said in Habakkuk 2:14, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” God’s Spirit has come to us as well. We, like the disciples, partake in the coming of the Kingdom of God—the spreading of the Messianic age. We are the ongoing presence of Christ in the world.
Luke shows us that the story is not over. Jesus came bringing the Kingdom of God, but it has not fully come yet. Instead, it will fully come on the Last Day when Christ returns again. We see a foretaste of the resurrection when Jesus is raised from the dead. Jesus is raised in glory as the firstfruit of the resurrection. Luke points us toward the day when we all in Christ will be glorified in the resurrection at the end of this time.
So what makes Christmas so important or special? If we follow Luke, we see that Christmas begins the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus brings the Kingdom of God through his ministry and through his death and resurrection. God’s abundance of grace is outpoured upon Jews and Gentiles through the coming of the Kingdom of God. We continue to advance the Kingdom of God and spread the Messianic age here on earth as part of the Church. But Christmas is so special because it is the beginning of it all. At Christmas, Jesus came down to order things around himself. Today as the Church, we are participants of this reality.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sermon: Looking to the Mountains

Hello All,

I have finished my homiletics class, and therefore I have been certified to preach by the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Thus, I have gone around this summer to various congregations, and I have preached! The link below is to my 5th sermon. The sermon is titled "Looking to the Mountains." I preached this sermon on June 15th and 16th at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, Colorado. To God be the glory!

Looking to the Mountains - Seminarian Jon Kuehne.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dealing with the Unknown

Advent is an interesting time in the church year. As a child I enjoyed it because it meant the church would be filled with blue and silver and Christmas trees. There would be bright lights and that cool Advent wreath. We talked about Jesus' coming a lot--which as a child I connected with Jesus coming as a child in Bethlehem. But, as I grew up, I found that Advent was a bit more somber as we focused on the second coming of Christ. It sure is something to ponder. The Bible displays God in the second coming as someone who will judge. As Americans, this is not the most comfortable idea. We do not like being judged for anything--even if it's right or wrong! But I would like to look past the judgement seat to what lies beyond it: heaven; and, what makes heaven so noteworthy during Advent?
I felt like I should post some sort of response to the shooting in Connecticut. After mulling around the idea for a while, I found that plenty of people had already responded. Therefore, as I was rolling around in bed this morning, my mind saw the shooting in the context of Advent. 
The question is quite simple and complicated all at the same time. How do we react when stuff like this happens? It can either be something huge, or something more close to home. It can be war, or it can be a feud between neighbors that goes too far. It can be plane crashing into buildings, or it can be a "prank" call from a radio station to the wrong person. What do we say? What would you say to the person who had a child die in the school shooting? What would you say to the person who just lost their job? To the family members of someone who committed suicide? To someone whose parent was diagnosed with a slow and deadly disease? To someone living in Syria or in war-torn Africa? To someone living in China, Japan, or North Korea as the tensions rise? What on earth do we say? 
Well, despite our efforts to put God into our little defined boxes, it's not possible to define him. There are pages and pages we could fill of all the questions we have for him. We can try to put human explanations on the bad things and claim that God only works in the good times, but that removes him from his seat as God, does it not? The fact of the matter is that we don't know.  We don't know the grand picture. We don't know why we have a God that chooses to work through pain sometimes (if you don't think he does, look at the cross). We really don't have all the answers. But, we have some. We have what God revealed to us through Jesus. Which, leads us back to Advent. The world was never promised to be easy. The road was never promised to be short and sweet. There's nowhere in the Bible that says, "Make heaven happen on earth! It's possible if you work at it!" No, but it does say, "Come to me all you who are wear and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). We can only find peace in the promise of God for our eternal salvation. And, eternity is where heaven is. That's the place that's perfect. That is our true home. Revelation so clearly lays it out: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (21:4). So if you've ever wondered why the prayer in Advent is, "Come, Lord Jesus..." this is why. The pain is terrible, and we don't know why. But we look forward to our promised salvation with Jesus forever. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Personal Assessments and Sinful Nature

I have not made a post in quite a while, and I actually feel quite bad about it. However, the last few weeks have been very fast-paced and filled with work and school. I do hope to have a few posts this week to give you something to read!

Since coming to the seminary, I've noticed quite a push towards personal assessment tests. These would be tests like the Meyers-Briggs, etc. So far, I've taken two of these assessments since coming to campus. It's quite interesting having to take a test to evaluate who you are as a human being. You answer questions about what you would do in certain situations, your likes, your dislikes, etc. Somehow, the people that score these tests always come up with a description that sounds at least a little bit like you.

A friend and I were reflecting over these tests on Monday while we were driving to fieldwork. We were reflecting that the personality assessments can make note of two lifestyles: one without Christ, and one in Christ. Now, the tests are secular and don't come right out and say that, but nonetheless, the characters they portray most of the time will fall into one of these two categories.

When I've taken these exams, I've noticed that one quality that keeps coming out is my ability to persuade. Now, persuasion can be both a very positive and a very negative tool. It can be used to help people realize your point of view (Paul does this in the book of Acts quite a bit), but it can also be used for selfish purposes. We may try to pull away from the sinfulness of our nature, but we can never quite do it.

It reminds me of the first "Homeward Bound" movie. There's a part in the movie where one of the dogs falls into a pit. The dog tries a few times to climb up the side of the pit, but it's muddy and he slides back down. Now of course every movie ends up having a happy ending, so somehow, the dog gets out of the pit and back to its original owner. But this is how we are in sin. We're like a weak dog stuck in the bottom of a muddy pit. On our own, we can never get out. Thankfully, Jesus came as the Perfect Sacrifice so that we could be saved. That doesn't mean that we don't fall into the hole again (quite regularly actually), but we are continually rescued--redeemed--by Christ.

We all have special personalities. Certainly not everyone at the seminary is persuasive. Some are reserved, some our very social, etc. But we all have a natural addiction to sin. We're born with it. Thankfully, Christ saves and allows us to use our talents for his good, and not our own selfish ambitions.

October General Newsletter

Below is a copy of the general newsletter that I send to supporting churches. It contains general information about my daily life at the seminary. While I will try to cover daily life issues in some of my blog posts, I will also use some of the blog space to do some deeper theological thinking. For those of you that want the updates, this is for you!

This is the initial newsletter in what should be a monthly cycle (at least while classes are in session). Numerous people have told me that they would enjoy reading about the life of a seminary student, so I felt eager to come up with some sort of letter. I hope my writings give you at least a glance into the life of a seminarian.
Compared to other advanced degrees, the Master of Divinity degree is quite different. While there is a great amount of intensive study, there is also a chance for ministerial formation. This formation process is quite helpful four years from now when many of us (first-year students) will be placed into our first congregations. One does not simply become a pastor by studying the Bible and significant theological writings. They also need to learn how to build relationships, preach, lead, teach, etc. Some of these things simply cannot be learned in the classroom. Therefore, students must be out in their communities, working with parishioners, and spending time in new cultural situations (these are just a few examples). While this first newsletter will be fairly general, following letters will have deeper explanations of the formation process.
Cassie and I have never lived anywhere near the state of Missouri. The city of St. Louis is quite vibrant. However, it is facing some serious problems with crime and poverty. The seminary is located in a suburb of St. Louis, but just a few minutes from downtown. We live on campus in condo units created for married students. The condos are off to the side of the actual classroom buildings, so I am able to feel like I am “going home” after a day in classes.
I have a fairly busy first semester ahead of me. Currently I am taking Hebrew and Greek readings, Pastoral Ministry, Introduction to Historical Theology, and a class on Lutheran doctrine. My professors are very kind and encouraging. However, they do feel free to challenge the students to dig deep into their work to get the very most out of the class. While I do like my classes, I will admit that I will be thankful when I am done with both Hebrew and Greek!
Field Work
Every seminary student is involved in field work. This is time set aside to work in a congregation in the St. Louis area. While I have not taken the classes that allow me to preach or lead worship, there are still many things I can do. I have been placed at Ascension Lutheran, an LCMS congregation five miles from the seminary campus. Since I have only been at the congregation a few weeks, I am still building relationships with the members. Currently, I am working with a few other seminary students in a Nepalese Bible study. Over the last three years, people from Nepal have moved into the neighborhood of Ascension. The Nepalese primarily practice Hinduism. However, there is a group of about twenty people that have converted to Christianity. They have been baptized, and some are already taking communion. Only some of the Nepalese know English. For this reason, the Bible studies are in a bi-lingual format. Usually, the teenagers are translating for the adults. While I am still new to the church, it is such a joy to be sharing in the ministry of Ascension Lutheran.
As part of my first-year field work, I am taking part in a new course called MissionShift. On Monday nights, we meet in a large group a church near downtown St. Louis. The course is not strictly reserved for seminary students. There are many lay leaders and pastors from other congregations in the St. Louis area attending the class. The focus of MissionShift is on the changing cultures in our American cities. With the change, there are now many cultures and ethnicities living near each other. The church is called to reach these people. One of the most effective ways to reach people with the Gospel is by building relationships. MissionShift is designed to teach us how to build these relationships across cultures. So far, we have focused on racism and poverty in St. Louis and different cultural norms that can effect communication.
Cassie’s Life
Cassie is quite busy as well. She is finishing up her bachelor’s degree in Family Life Education with an online cohort. Recently, she has been highly recommended for the master’s program. Therefore, the application and interview process for the program will begin soon. Cassie also works full time at a Lutheran school in northern St. Louis. She aids in the teaching of K-3rd grade students. The school is ethnically diverse, and Cassie has enjoyed working with a different culture. There are many new things to learn about family systems, and the way their children are raised. The school reaches out to many students stuck in less fortunate living situations. The school is also struggling financially. The teachers and administrative staff are working very hard to make sure the school stays open so that the ministry can continue.

I do want to note how important it is to have people praying for us while we are in St. Louis. Many times, we think that churches and seminaries are “safe places” away from the evil of Satan and the world. However, it actually can be quite the opposite. Satan is continuously trying to thwart the growth and spread of the Gospel. Because of this, spiritual warefare can be seen on campus in the every day lives of students. So I eagerly ask you to pray for spiritual protection for the students and staff on campus—that they remain safe, healthy, and focused on Christ. Please also pray that students can keep up with their studies and family lives. Many students have children as well. This can be another struggle to balance family time and work time. If you wish, here are some other things that it would be wonderful to have you praying about:
·       For the city of St. Louis—the crime rate is high, poverty is high, and unemployment is high
·       For Cassie as she balances work and school
·       For Ascension Lutheran Church in St. Louis—that they may continue to touch the lives of the Nepalese. Pray that God would raise up Christian leaders among the people of Nepal.
·       Almost all seminary students struggle with finances at the seminary. Pray that God would continue to raise up people willing to financially support the seminarians.

“For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
                                                                                                   -Psalm 100:5