Lutheran Church News for St Luke’s and St John’s

December 23, “Endings and Beginnings” based on Luke 1:39-55 is the topic of Pastor Ralph Mineo’s sermon…..

St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, North Baltimore
“Endings and Beginnings” based on Luke 1:39-55 is the topic of Pastor Ralph Mineo’s sermon on Sunday, December 23,  at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in North Baltimore at 10:15 a.m.  The fourth candle of the Advent Wreath will be lit at the opening of worship to celebrate the Fourth Sunday in Advent.  Please join us.  Sunday School for all ages begins at 9:00 a.m. Plan now to join us on Christmas Eve at 9:15 p.m. for our Candlelight/Communion Worship Service.  

St. John’s Lutheran Church, McComb
On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 23, “Endings and Beginnings” based on Luke 1:39-55 is the topic of Pastor Ralph Mineo’s sermon.  The fourth candle of the Advent Wreath will be lit at the opening of worship to celebrate this Fourth Sunday in Advent. A joint adult Sunday School with the McComb United Methodist Church begins at 9:15 a.m.  Christmas Eve Worship at St. John’s is at 7:00 p.m.

“And the WORD Became Flesh”

When our souls whimper and whine, when we’re needy to the depths of our being, when we’re afraid of the darkness, God has given us someone to turn to…..

A devotion by Pastor Ralph J Mineo

There’s an old short story I think about every Christmas.

One night, a young child was afraid of the dark. “Mommy, Mommy,” the child called out. The mother quickly went to the child’s room. She tried to comfort her child, and eventually said, “Remember this: God is with you.” The child whimpered and whined: “But… but… but I want someone with skin on.”

The child wanted, even needed, a real person!

God knows our fears and struggles. God knows all the needs of the human heart. God knows our need to be cared for and loved by someone with skin on!

So, God sent his Son, Jesus! This is the foundation of the Christmas message, the annual celebration we’re so close to.

Jesus is God with skin on! Jesus is one of us. Jesus left his heavenly throne of glory and power to become human, eventually to sacrifice his life for our salvation.

At the beginning of John’s Gospel account, we hear: “The Word became flesh.” The foundation of our faith is that Jesus is truly divine and truly human. Jesus is God with flesh. Jesus is God with skin on.

So, when our souls whimper and whine, when we’re needy to the depths of our being, when we’re afraid of the darkness, God has given us someone to turn to: God with skin on, Jesus.

Christians are called to be the “Body of Christ” in the world around us. Christians are called to embody the presence of God. Together, as disciples of Jesus, we are God with skin on.

We do that by the way we live, by serving others, by bringing God’s love to others. Our calling as believers is to comfort others in their times of darkness. This comfort isn’t always having answers or advice. Very often it means being present with others in their darkness. Sometimes it’s called the “ministry of presence.” We could also call it “the work of God, with skin on.”

This kind of ministry, being there for others, often takes planning. It always takes energy. Why not plan today to be God with skin on for someone in darkness!

What a holy thing to remember this Christmas and always: God planned for us. God’s eternal energy and love became flesh for us and for our salvation. Rejoice! Spread this joy – to the world!

Lutheran Church News

Sunday, July 15, Pastor Ralph Mineo will share a message “Every Spiritual Blessing”..

St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, North Baltimore
Sunday, July 15, Pastor Ralph Mineo will share a message “Every Spiritual Blessing” based on Ephesians 1:3-14 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in North Baltimore at 10:15 a.m.  Please join us.  Sunday School for all ages begins at 9:00 a.m.
Register NOW for our “Splash Canyon” Vacation Bible School, July 22-26, 5-8 pm.  Online at or call the church office 419-257-3253 and leave a message.
St. John’s Lutheran Church, McComb
Sunday, July 15, Pastor Ralph Mineo will share a message “Every Spirtual Blessing” based on Ephesians 1:3-14 at St. John’s Lutheran Church in McComb at 8:00 a.m.  A joint adult Sunday School class with the McComb United Methodist Church begins at 9:15 a.m.

“Your Name: Christian” a Devotion from Pastor Ralph J. Mineo

“Soldier, either change your behavior, or change your name.”…………………….

There’s a story about Alexander the Great, who lived in the 4th century B.C. On one of his campaigns, he learned that one of his soldiers was acting seriously out of line. The soldier’s name was also Alexander.

The commander decided to speak to the soldier in person. After reviewing the bad behavior, Alexander the Great asked, “Soldier, what is your name?” The soldier replied, “Alexander, sir.”

The general then said: “Soldier, either change your behavior, or change your name.” Alexander the Great couldn’t bear to have someone with his name behaving badly.

There’s an important lesson for us here: we call ourselves “CHRISTIAN.” We identify with Christ. We take his name and apply it to our identity. Therefore, our behavior and our actions need to be compatible with the name of Christ.

I made a quick list of 10 basic ways Christians are supposed to behave. Some of them are obviously easier than others.

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind — and your neighbor as yourself.

2. Treat others with kindness.

3. Be forgiving, even when “they know not what they do” (as Jesus did on the cross).

4. Turn the other cheek.

5. Do good.

6. Be generous.

7. Don’t judge.

8. Read Scripture.

9. Worship and pray

10. Remember: Jesus died for your eternal redemption!

Around 200 A.D. the Christian author Tertullian described how outsiders see Christians: “See how they love one another and how they are ready to die for each other.”

Do you call yourself a “Christian?” Remember that there are many who are looking at the way you live, as individuals, and in churches, forming an understanding of what it means to be a Christian. More importantly than that, we are the Body of Christ. We are Christ Jesus to others by the way we speak and live.

Instead of changing our names, let’s live giving glory to God and witnessing to Jesus Christ.

“Traveling In Circles”

An NBXpress Devotion from Pastor Ralph J. Mineo………

John Henry Fabre, a French naturalist, conducted an unusual experiment. He carefully arranged some “Pine Processionary Caterpillars” in a continuous circle around the rim of a flower pot. Fabre put pine needles (their food) in the center of the flower pot. The caterpillars traveled around the pot, hour after hour, day after day, night after night, for seven full days and nights! With enough food less than six inches away, they starved to death. WHY? Because they would not break out of their routine.

Our lives can get like that, if we’re not in tune with God. We can travel around in circles, ignoring the “food” we need for our souls.

Jesus taught us that our food is not “bread alone.” He said that our food is “to do the will of God.” Doing what God wants us to do, living the way God wants us to live, is our food, our nourishment. This always involves love, because “God is love.”

Our best food is experiencing the presence of God, experiencing divine love. Our best food is knowing Jesus Christ, the one crucified and raised, so that we, too, might live unto eternal life.

I personally follow several kinds of routines, from “to-do lists” to watching a favorite television show. But it’s important, from time to time, to break out of some routines. Breaking out of routines can be uplifting, both spiritually and emotionally. They can give a fresh start. But breaking out of routines can also cause problems, such as not getting needed tasks done, or failing to return to healthy routines. When I break away from good eating habits, for example, it’s not easy to return.

I believe that attending worship on a weekly basis is a routine lifted up in the scriptures for our well-being. Worship in community is food for our souls. It takes spiritual maturity to know when to follow in procession, and when to break out.

There are countless ways to break out of busyness of the world to receive the food that God provides for us. Important ones are reading the Bible, engaging in devotional reading, daily prayer and meditation. The most important food is doing God’s will, living the way God wants us to live, doing the right thing.

Not a day goes by that we don’t need spiritual food. The gifts of God, real food, are available to us and provided for us daily. When we eat this food, we won’t starve. We won’t die.

Let us do what God wants. Let us live. Let us love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

“A Red Sea Place” A Devotion from Pastor Ralph J. Mineo

We have all found ourselves at a “Red Sea place.”

As we approach another Holy Week, preparing for Easter, I share a favorite poem, written by Annie Johnson Flint. Her poem is really a short sermon on one of the most well-known stories of Scripture, when the people of God were being attacked by the Egyptians from behind, and the Red Sea was in front of them. With no place to go, God sent the winds to rescue the people.

I invite you to slowly read and contemplate this Red Sea story and apply to your life. We have all found ourselves at a “Red Sea place.” We may be in such a place now. We may know others with a struggle. So we pray. We trust. We go on, in Christ our Lord.

mineo red sea

A Red Sea Place

Have you come to the Red Sea place in your life,
Where in spite of all you can do,
There is no way out, there is no way back,
There is no other way but through?
Then wait on the Lord with a trust serene
Till the night of your fear is gone;
He will send the wind, He will heap the floods,
When He says to your soul “Go on.”

And His hand will lead you through, clear through,
Ere the watery walls roll down,
No foe can reach you, no wave can touch,
No mightiest sea can drown;
The tossing billows may rear their crests,
Their foam at your feet may break,
But over their bed you shall walk dryshod
In the path that your Lord will make.

In the morning watch, ’neath the lifted cloud,
You shall see but the Lord alone,
When He leads you on from the place of the sea,
To a land that you have not known;
And your fears shall pass as your foes have passed,
You shall no more be afraid;
You shall sing His praise in a better place,
A place that His hand has made.

“One Big Family “

A devotion by Pastor Ralph J. Mineo

Believers are part of a FAMILY. One of my favorite terms to describe congregations is: “church family.” But I don’t think that phrase should be limited to a single congregation. Every believer is part of the family of God. Families, including church families, exist to be circles of love.

One of the worst things, I think, that Christians do is to criticize other churches because they have different styles or worship or music or prayer. I cringe (and I hurt) when other Christians outwardly criticize other styles of worship and music and prayer.

Through my whole career as a pastor, I’ve met regularly with pastors of different denominations. Recently, I’ve been involved in more and more healthy discussion which celebrates our differences. Pastors are seeing the good in each other. I’m hearing a lot of affirmation that God is present in a variety of ways. I’m hearing simple truths like, “we have a lot in common.”

For example, someone experiences God in a loud song. Another experiences God in a quiet song. One day I need a silent prayer. Another day I need a spoken prayer. As Christians, we need to RESPECT and CELEBRATE our differences. This isn’t just my idea. It’s in the Bible: “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are varieties of service, but the same God. There are varieties of activities, but it is the same God at work.” This doesn’t sound like a teaching to criticize someone because they don’t worship the way we do!

When we freely criticize such differences we see in others, we become more and more spiritually unhealthy. Followers of Jesus need to find more and more opportunities to affirm other believers. Also, rather than criticize non-believers, we would do better to find the good in them. God is there, in all good things. I’ve never heard of someone coming to Jesus, or to his cross, or the empty tomb, through criticism and judgmentalism!

There’s a well-known 60 year-old song which begins with the words, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” As individuals, when we have God’s peace within us, we become agents of peace, bringing peace to others.

Author Alex Haley’s motto was, “Find the good, and praise it.” It’s not in the Bible, but I believe this is a truly Holy-Spirit inspired saying. It’s a challenge for us as a FAMILY of believers: find the good, and praise it!

To God be the glory! Amen!

“Book of Mirrors”

A devotion by Pastor Ralph Mineo….

Have you ever been to a “Hall of Mirrors” in an amusement park? I find it rather fun to look at all the different shapes your body appears to take on. My favorite mirror in such a place is the one that makes you look much thinner than you really are! Even though I know I’m looking at a distorted view of myself, even though I’m aware of not getting a true picture of myself, it gives me a view of the way I’d like to be.

In a way, the Christian Bible is like a mirror. When we look directly into the Word of God, we can see ourselves as we really are, and, more importantly, as God sees us. When God looks at us, there is no distortion. God sees clearly who we really are. The Bible is also like that mirror in the funhouse, in the sense that we can find ourselves as we’d like to be.

The Bible, when read well and often, shows us two basic things about ourselves: (1) we are sinners, capable of wickedness, even evil, and (2) we are capable, in Christ, of receiving full forgiveness and God’s grace. We can become the person God wants us to be!

Jesus came to this earth, with a ministry of healing. He came to heal us of the distortions and the dirt (aka filth) on our mirrors. Jesus came to cleanse and heal us.

The Bible says that Jesus came to heal “various diseases,” which I believe means that he came to heal us of all kinds of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual illnesses. We should never forget that Jesus is always willing and wanting to heal us of the sickness of our sin. Jesus is always willing and wanting to turn us into the best version of ourselves!

We have this most wonderful resource, the Bible, as a mirror for our souls. In the same way, we have the actual living presence of Jesus, who comes into our lives RIGHT NOW to cleanse and heal us.

When we first look into the mirror of our lives, we might hate what we see. All that sin. All that stress. All that pain. But when we keep looking, with the help of the Bible and the church, we will see Jesus. All that forgiveness! All that healing! All that love!

“Fresh Waters of Grace”

A devotion from Pastor Ralph J. Mineo…..

Some years ago, in South America, a crew of Peruvian sailors were headed up the Amazon River. They came upon a strange sight: a Spanish ship anchored just off the coast, with all the sailors lying on the deck of the ship. As the Peruvians drew closer, they saw that the Spaniards were in terrible physical condition, literally dying of thirst. “Can we help you?” shouted the Peruvians. The Spaniards cried out, “Water! Water! We need fresh water!”

The Peruvian sailors told them to simply lower their buckets into the water. The Spaniards cried back, “No, we need FRESH water!” The Peruvians said there is fresh water below you. But how could there be FRESH water in the OCEAN? To their amazement, when they brought the buckets on deck they discovered that the buckets were full of fresh, cool water. It seemed a miracle of turning salt water into fresh water!

mineo waterfall

Scientific and oceanographic evidence shows that the flow of the Amazon is so forceful, especially at low tide, that an abundance of fresh water flows far out into the surrounding ocean before mixing in with the salt water. The parched sailors were operating on a rigid belief system: all ocean water is salty. That belief system nearly cost them their lives.

So it is with us as we sail the waters of life. We sometimes fail to recognize God’s love in Jesus Christ. Our modern belief system is that we can rely on ourselves. Our “bootstraps,” so to speak are enough.

We get very thirsty for true and lasting joy, for real love. We search everywhere, even in the wrong places, even the dark places of sin. Yet God’s grace is so powerful that it can push all that is wrong, the sin, out of our lives. God does this by divine love and forgiveness. God’s grace is the fresh, living water of true and everlasting love!

All we really need to do is lower our buckets of need into the fresh waters of God’s grace. When you see others in need, when our buckets overflow, there is enough to share God’s grace with others. We almost always need help and direction on how to do this. That’s why, in his divine wisdom, Jesus gave us the church, which Paul even calls “The Body of Christ.” Jesus sees out thirst. He gave us the church, the best place to lower our buckets of need.

“Back to School”

A devotion from Pastor Ralph J. Mineo

At the dawn of a new school year, I’d like to share a story I included last year. A young child came home from the first day of school. A parent’s first questions was, “Did you learn anything today?” The child answered: “Not enough! I have to go back again tomorrow!” Of course the child would have to go back to school again and again, to learn more, to grow more!

I think the best word we have for this is “progress.” One translation of the Bible puts it that way about Jesus in Luke, chapter 2: “Jesus, for his part, progressed steadily in wisdom and age and grace before God and the people.” The apostle Peter closed his practical letters with a call for disciples to grow: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18).

Growing in “wisdom and knowledge and grace” is an important part of being a human being, created by God. It’s also an important element of being follower of Jesus Christ. Being committed to a life of faith, is a commitment to life-long learning and growth. “Discipleship School” is for life! It doesn’t end at a certain age. God never wants us to call it quits! Our “graduation” doesn’t until the last day, when God accepts us into our eternal home, giving us life forever!

Certainly, one way we grow spiritually is to return to the Bible, over and over again. Learning and growing becomes a habit. (When we backslide, we can always return!) We could read every word of the Bible, cover to cover, and still, like a child starting school, we would return again. The Bible is the “Living Word.” This Word of God applies to us in new ways at different times. A motto in my church these days is: “Expect to be surprised!” This is the way of God’s Holy Spirit: always surprising us!

The beginning of a new school year is a time to think about our need to grow, improve, progress. This is a time to ask: “How can I grow more in the coming weeks, months, years?” This is a great spiritual question as well.

The Holy Spirit is actively calling us to grow spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. To those in school, teachers and students alike, remember this: you are in a “vocation.” Being in school is your calling for this time and place. God is the one calling you to do well, to do your best, to give glory to God!

Reading the Bible, daily devotions, regular prayer, and weekly worship are “tried and true” ways to satisfy the inner longing we have to connect with God, and experience the “abundant life” Jesus promised. Doing well in school, your jobs, your retirement, are God’s calling, too.

For those who truly learn, they certainly understand that learning and growing is life-long. I pray that we will all go with God, and GROW with God!

“Praying and Caring in Color”

A Devotion by Pastor Ralph J. Mineo…….

I was given a wonderful opportunity recently: I was Bible Study leader at a Vacation Bible School (VBS) for adults at St. John’s Lutheran Church in McComb. It was a very enjoyable time for me. We read and discussed 25 main Bible verses and sections through the week. There were a number of activities in the Bible Study, even a craft with scissors, crayons, and tape!

The theme of the adult VBS was “My Favorite Color is Love” which was the title of a theme song I wrote for the children’s VBS at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in North Baltimore in 1989. The main verse of the Bible Study was Psalm 103:8. “The Lord is merciful and loving, slow to become angry and full of constant love.”

Each day’s theme was based on a color and a Bible reference. Yellow (sun) was God sent his Son. Blue (sea/water) was God as Shepherd leading us to still, peaceful waters. Green (tree) was Jesus as vine, we the branches. Red (heart) was how the love of God lives within us. Gold (a heavenly color), saying that the gates of heaven are gold. My personal favorite line speaks of heaven as “a place where there is never hate.”

One day I gave a Powerpoint presentation based on the book: “Praying in Color.” The focus was how to pray using paper, crayons, markers. We prayed in thanksgiving, confession, and intercession. We prayed for many people during the week. One day we drew a vine, representing Jesus, with attached branches and leaves with the names of people we were praying for.

At one point, I once asked participants a few of questions: “How many of you have received a sheet of paper drawn and colored by a child?” I asked why children do this. After some discussion, I asked, “When is the last time that you, an adult, drew a picture, colored a page, and gave it to a child, a friend, a co-worker?”

Along with giving the page as a gift, this can be a great way to teach about faith, prayer, and our connection to Jesus. When you give a child some of your artwork, you can make it a teaching moment. For example, you can draw and color the word “faith.” In the giving you can share what that word means to you. You can draw and color the word “joy” and share what the “joy in the Lord” means to you. You can write and color a favorite Bible verse. You can read that verse with a child or grandchild, and give them your drawing.

When you give an adult some of your artwork, you can assure them that you’ve prayed for them, that you truly care about them. Ask God to bless each stroke of the pencil or crayon, praying for the child or adult you’re drawing for. The possibilities are endless. The great thing is that you don’t have to be a great artist, nor a “professional” pray-er.

So, get our some paper and pencil, markers and crayons. Pray in color. Put the Word of God on paper in your own design.

May God bless your praying, sharing, and giving. Amen.

“God’s Garden of Grace” a Devotion by Pastor Ralph J. Mineo

Life’s rhythm is like a garden: life, death, rebirth…..

There’s a novel titled “Being There” (made into a movie 36 years ago) about Chance Gardener, a simple-minded man, who basically only knew how to garden. Through a series of “chance” events, his “gardener” talk becomes interpreted as high economic principles. He appears on talk shows, and even meets with the President of the United States, who applies his advice to the economy (to ride out a recession).

Chance Gardener simply says: “In the garden, growth has it’s seasons. First comes Spring and Summer, but then we have Fall and Winter. And then we get Spring and Summer again.”

After being questioned, he affirms: “After Fall and Winter, there will be growth in the Spring.” What appeals to me is that this simplicity is true, and it seems very scriptural. Life’s rhythm is like a garden: life, death, rebirth.

The prophet Isaiah (chapter 61) puts it this way: “As the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”

Isaiah is clearly teaching us about the rhythm of God’s gift of life. After grief, a believer’s life sprouts into joy and gladness. After the dirge, a song of praise rises. Those who live in the Garden of the Lord become strong trees that God has planted.

Life is a beautiful garden when God plants the seeds. God gives the growth, even when seeds are sowed in discouraging times. Therefore we celebrate with great intensity that God comes down to us in a Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord! No greater seed has been planted upon this earth!

This is what I believe: God’s love and grace ALWAYS comes down to us. God’s love and grace always cycles back to us. After a Winter (a time of pain), there will be a Spring (new growth). After the Cross, there is Resurrection!

Chance Gardener also said: “As long as the roots are not severed, all will be well in the garden.” May our roots be the gospel of Jesus Christ! God is planting blessings in the garden of our lives! Have you visited God’s Garden of Grace lately?