Mt. Pisgah

Lutheran Church

9379 Hwy 127 North

Hickory, NC  28601

(Bethlehem Community)

Phone:  828-495-8251

Fax:  828-495-8252

Worship:  8:00 and 10:30 AM

(Nursery provided)

Sunday School:  9:15 AM

(For all ages)

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Worship  8 & 10 :30 AM

Nursery provided

Light breakfast 9:00 AM

The Story Program 9:15 AM

for all ages





Prayer Group  7:00-7:30 AM

Bible Study  8:30-9:30 AM

 Dinner  5:30-6:20 PM

Bible Study  6:15-7:30 PM

Confirmation & KIC  6:20-7:30 PM

Adult Choir  7:00-8:00 PM


































“ Walking in the Valley of the Shadow of Death”

Ruminations about a Confirmation Class I won’t soon forget 

“We have never talked about that before!” That comment from a teenager at Wednesday night Confirmation summarized it well. In his classic book, “Denial of Death” Ernest Becker says that we as a culture go out of our way not to talk about it. That subject is Death. The Wednesday before this meeting I had been called out of Confirmation specifically to go meet and pray with firefighters at the Bethlehem Fire Station who had just lost an 18 year old volunteer firefighter in an accident. The young man was also known by many of our youth present that Wednesday. Though no one was talking the following Wednesday, it was on everyone’s mind. So we talked.

Being blessed with a particularly bright group of Confirmation teenagers with the 25 gathered, I knew they could handle it. They did. I was proud of their candor and sharing.

The only glimpse of humor that night was when I shared about the favorite confirmation memory verse from John 11:35. The popularity of this verse, “Jesus wept,” was due to its easily memorized brevity. Just two words, but what perfect words they are! We began to unpack what it means to have a Lord, a Savior and a Good Shepherd, who weeps with us. Not only does this show how much he cared for Lazarus, but also by doing so He gave us permission, in fact even an example of what we too can and should do. If grief was permissible and necessary to the Son of God on earth, then who are we to think that we might not need to do so.

We talked about the many facts of grief even implied within this short but powerful story. We are told that Jesus spirit was troubled, which translates into including some nuances of anger. To know that Jesus, Himself was incensed at this difficult but real part of life called death actually helps us in our anger. This anger we discussed emerged in part from the realization that despite the stark reality of death it comes to us as a foreign and even alien intruder. It is almost as if it was not part of the original plan. We discussed two Gardens—one where death indeed was not part of God's original plan and intention called Eden. While fully sharing the blame, we considered our first parents as they sacrificed eternal life and the beautiful bliss of staying put in creation for the desire to reach up and aspire to be like God. The second Garden called Gethsemane was when God came down to us to remedy what we screwed up so well in the first garden. By dying in our place He won back the life eternal we had forfeited so many years before. So God is angry about the foreign intrusion of death too. In fact, He is so angry that He sent His only Son to conquer death once and for all. 

There is even more to Jesus weeping than just the loss of his friend Lazarus. He weeps as well because He must bring Lazarus from his bright and beautiful new heavenly home back to this crazy dark world- Jesus even justified such a dramatic reversal “for our sake,” so we would know that He is the Lord of life, whose love is bigger than death itself. We not only have a Good Shepherd, who by laying down His life for us gives us new life, but who also comforts us in the midst of our grief. We have a Good Shepherd who as Psalm 23 tells us, “walks with us in the valley of the shadow of death.” In our world death is something we seem to avoid discussing and grief is something we feel we need to run through to “get over” as quickly as possible. Our Good Shepherd walks by us through this valley, knowing full well that we will be forever changed and will need the constant presence of the Shepherd like never before. His presence is exactly what we need—silently listening; not advising and not judging. There is a Jewish tradition after the death of a loved one called “Shiva”. For 7 days after the death of a loved one, close family members come to the home simply to be present. Called “Sitting Shiva,” they sit for hours just to show the compassion care of a listening presence. Our Shepherd does that as He walks with us through the valley of death together. 

We have a Good Shepherd. The word Jesus chooses for good in John 10 to describe Himself is quite telling . Of the two Greek words for good--- Kalos and Agathos-- He chose the former. The second, agathos means good in the sense of righteous or ethical. The first Kalos which he chose to use, has the added nuance of beauty, compassion and caring. If you have a pet you may act as one or the other of these as an owner. Our Good Shepherd does not just provide for us and expect our obedience, but He loves us and cares for us and wants a relationship with us. If your dog sleeps with you or you talk to your pets you know what kind of Shepherd He is. :) 

The Good Shepherd who warmly met Lazarus outside that cold tomb with open arms and a bright smiling face, is the same one who greets us on the other side as we leave this cold earth. As this truth was revealed to the Apostle Paul it is easy to imagine him quickly scribbling so as not to miss what God was whispering in his ear. The ink on the papyrus must have been dabbed with an occasional moistened blot from tears shed by the amazed Apostle, as he frenetically wrote the absolutely unfathomable answer to his own question--- “If God is for us, who can be against us?

“Certainly not God who did not even spare His own Son, but offered Him for us all! He who gave us His Son – will He not freely give us all things?

And then another question for the ages- “What then can separate us from the love of God?”

And another jaw dropping answer, “ For I am certain that nothing can separate us from the love of God neither death nor life, neither angels nor heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future , neither the world above or the world below – there is NOTHING in all of creation which will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

By the end of that class I learned so much! As Christian people, whether teenagers or older adults it is really a shame that we don't speak more often about this culturally taboo subject; for God certainly is a good listener and He certainly has something Good to say about it.

God Has Blessed us,

Pastor Mike  


Summer Ruminations


This month of August we have Gospel readings which are all centered on Jesus calling Himself the “Bread of Life.” Having just returned from two weeks of blessed, but “busy” : ) weeks with our youth at Confirmation and Work-camp, I have a renewed appreciation of Jesus as the Bread which lasts forever. The retreats and experiences of these young people will always be an eternal part of the fabric of their lives and memories. Why?  Because the essence and substance of what we experienced was this eternal Bread which lasts forever. He truly does provide  sustenance  for our souls and purpose and meaning in our lives like nothing or no one else can. As important as bread is for our nourishment in this body—how much more important is it for us to have the spiritual nourishment which He alone can give.  There are many who have an abundance of worldly  bread but whose lives are broken and torn for lack of the grace and unconditional love He alone can feed us with.

Why is it that I can get so settled on just taking the bread of this world and neglect taking the Bread of life given for me?  After two deaths in our congregation and the senseless shootings in Denver this past week, we have all paused to evaluate what really matters in this life.  We can so easily forget that we are spiritual beings in physical bodies.  Lord, forgive us for so often forgetting that the very best the world can offer us does not hold a candle to what You alone can offer us. As C.S. Lewis put it “Our Father refreshes us on our journey with some pleasant Inns, but will not encourage us to mistake these for our true Home.”


We thank you for giving us what we need –Yourself. Forgive us for those times we put our faith and trust in bread which will not satisfy. Renew us with your spirit as you fill us with the love and grace that will alone will satisfy us and that you alone can give us.

In Jesus name we pray



Spring Devotion

As we celebrate the new life of Easter that our Risen Lord gives to us, I wanted to share with you a special life that influenced me greatly.  His name is Jack Gilbert and he has now claimed Christ's victory over sin and death in his place in heaven.  The following is a tribute from my friend Kelly Kullberg, whom we were blessed to have with us as a guest speaker at LRU several years ago.  This partly explains my deep gratitude for such mentors as Jack and my deep passion for youth ministry.

Blessings, Pastor Mike

Jack Gilbert ~ In memory (Kelly Monroe Kullberg reflection, April 12, 2012)

It was the 1970s.  We seemed an average bunch of teenagers from a normal Midwestern town, Columbus, Ohio.  We liked dances and slumber parties and TP’ing houses.  Some of us liked James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg.  Others disco, lava lamps, shag carpet and waterbeds.  Alas. 

And there was this OLD GUY -- in his 20s -- who hung around our high school. His name was Jack.  It seemed as though students liked going to Burger King and Tommy’s Pizza in his VW bug with a license plate that read, Yoda.

I was then a sophomore when an senior and the captain of our volleyball team, Kim Stone, asked if I would come to the passion play she was in. 

I asked, What’s a passion play? 

She said it was about Jesus and Easter. 

Though honored that she was talking to me, I said, Thanks but I’m really busy.

Kim responded:  It runs for 10 straight nights.  How busy are you?

I said:  Well, I’m 15 and I don’t drive.  I’m busy -- and immobile. 

She said:  It’s in the Lutheran church 200 yards from your house.  (pause) Would you like a ride?

I responded vaguely, No thank you.

I later learned that the mysterious Jack encouraged older students to care about younger ones.  As well as to do secret acts of kindness for near strangers.

Without telling Kim, I hid in the balcony of this sanctuary 4 of 10 nights.  Not only was I gripped by the story and person of Jesus, I also saw the love of the students in the play for God, and for one another.  For the first time in a long time, I felt joy

So I began coming to Luther League and saw Jack among those who made things happen.  Skits. Singing. Laughter. Volleyball. And this thing called Bible study that we all began to love. I remember how he looked at us, and paid attention. I didn’t know then that he would go through high school yearbooks to pray for students, and remember our names. 

My parents had divorced three years before this, caught in traps of relativism and the sexual revolution.  The questions of truth, and the soul, were important to all of us.  Jack and other League staff welcomed those questions with thoughtful answers, and, again, with joy.

Jack organized a bunch of us to go to Young Life camp, Saranac. 1975.  Many of us came back as new believers, and he introduced us to Scripture as well as books by John Stott, J.I. Packer, and C.S. Lewis. Fortunately we weren’t smart enough to say, we’re not smart enough! We’re just teenagers!

Leaders took us to Cedar Campus and to the Urbana Mission conference.  They imparted to us a sense of wonder and mission.  It helped that all this was punctuated by mud fights, hundred mile bike rides, retreats and bizarre games like Trapper and Hurtle-the-Turtle  –  a cynic would say “bonding rituals” that often involved the shedding of blood.  I still have a few road and carpet scars that make me smile. 

Jack moved to L.A. where he would mentor younger writers -- for three decades.  In about 1977 we sent Jack off with a large pool party at my house that that had begun to feel alive again, like a large extended family of our church.  We made a slide show to the song, A Place in the World for A Gambler.

Jack was not saying Goodbye.  Out of sight was not out of mind and heart, for him.  He encouraged many Ohioans for the next 37 years.  Not just with his famous Christmas letters that ended with Tiny Tim’s, God bless us, everyone, and contained his favorite films and wild adventure of the year (running with bulls in Pamplona, or his 50th birthday Casablanca party in Vegas with Batchlers, Nagys and many).  But also by his calls and Thanksgiving visits and prayers.  

Many of us left Ohio. In the late 80s, I went to Boston for grad school where it seemed scary but not unprecedented to hang signs up all around campus for Christian fellowships in the Yard and grad schools, and to later begin the Veritas Forum at Harvard to talk about the Truth (Veritas) of Jesus in relation to the hardest questions of the world. Within two decades Veritas Forums are in 120 universities involving hundreds of presenters, and about ½ million students throughout American and Europe. Why?  Because Jack Gilbert and a few of his crazy friends noticed a hurting teenager.   And made the wonders of God, and life, and purposeful friendship, seem normal.    

In the 90s, Jack joined some of our Harvard fellowship ski trips in New Mexico where he also loved to fish and see his family. He would listen to our woes and talk about the art of story until we realized he was helping us see our own lives as the story worth living into. That the Author could be trusted. That there really are orcs, and risks. That we have heroic notions because there is are actual battles for the Shire and the race of men.

I was just one of hundreds of kids from Ohio. Others did greater things:  married young and raised children to keep the good Story going into more generations of VBS and youth ministry, church and Tetelestai.  Longs. Nagys. Bruns.  Fullens.– 37 years now.

Looking out at you, people so loved by Jack, you became healers and missionaries.  The Manns, Whites, Camerons, Steph Woods, many.

Some became artists and musicians, Jim Zangmeister with Billy Graham, Nagys, Fullens, Delcamps, many. Business people, engineers, teachers and lawyers. Civic leaders like Joe. Every inch is God’s world.  Ministers like Mike Stone, Andy Jones, Delashmutts, Chilcoats, so many sharing good news that I shouldn’t begin to name you. 

Jack never married or bore a child, yet in Ohio and in Hollywood he showed us what romance is.  Chivalry.  Honor. He was a brother, and a father.  We sensed his covering love.  We are still growing into whatever he saw in us.  Average kids -- but, thankfully, not in Jack’s eyes. 

Jack chose story and humor and beauty to change the world. He chose kindness. Imagine the hundreds of writers he’s encouraged in L.A.  Hollywood industry papers wrote glowingly of this kind wise Christian man. 

One mutual friend, Bobette, teaches film at USC.  Today she said, at the first of several L.A. memorials for Jack, a former Warner Bros executive, explained that he was Jewish, and that as a little boy he'd seen the actor, William Warfield play "God" in the old movie, Green Pastures. Thereafter, his image of God was always William Warfield, with his great bass voice. But when this man worked with Jack - over years - he said that Jack became, for him, the very example of a true Christian.  And then this man wept. 

This same friend, Bobette, wrote to me on the day of Jack’s passing:

I awoke today deeply aware of God's grace moving in Jack.  It has taken this very quiet man -- so full of dignity and constancy -- to draw the Christian Hollywood community together in a way I've never witnessed in all my years here. 

How like Jack.  Drawing us together, and drawing us to the best Story, to the Gospel, in his dying -- as in his living.  A good Author would script it thus, even if – for the time being – the absurdity of death gets a part in the plot.  And so we grieve, but not as those without hope.  

The friend who invited me to the passion play, Kim, wrote this week from New York, "Now life will be a little less sweet, death a little less bitter." As we wait to see Jack again. 

For now we borrow from Jack the wisdom to live forwardly into the Story, giving glory to the Author in all things -- and sharing in Jack’s courage to play our parts, fully, now, in the time that is given us.  

God bless us, everyone. 




April Devotions

The message of Easter is the exclamation mark of love which God made for us on the cross.  Both Scriptures and Christian tradition are clear in reiterating that Jesus "shared with us" His victory over sin and death.  I believe the reason for such an emphasis, is in large part due to the fact that quite frankly He did not have to.

Our natural inclination towards revenge, retribution and justice must have died on the cross with Him.  We who put Him on the cross, should not take this act of generous forgiving love for us for granted, anymore than we should take His setting His face towards Jerusalem lightly.  

Both were premeditated acts of love against all human compulsion to do otherwise.  Can you imagine having all the power in the world at your fingertips and not using it before or during the ordeal of the cross!  Or can you imagine after death on a cross, then descending to the dead and then rising again to pleasantly share the peace with those who left you to in the dust to save their own skin.  Easter, like Good Friday, exemplifies a love this world has never known.  After being betrayed; denied; left in the Garden and left at the cross utterly abandoned by those closest to Him is it any wonder that the Risen Lord's triune question of Peter stung to the heart when Jesus justifiably asked, "Peter, do you love me?"  

At the end of this season of Lent that, I suppose, is our Lord's question to each of us.  If we truly have been touched by His amazing love we too responsively break out in sharing Bernard of Claineux's old but fresh word, "what language shall I borrow to thank Thee dearest friend; Lord let me never, never outlive my love to Thee"



God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them.  He creates the universe, already foreseeing....the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath's sake, hitched up.  If I may dare the biological image, God is a "host" who deliberately creates His own parasites, causes us to be that we may exploit and "take advantage of" Him.  Herein is love.  This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

                                                                                                 ---from the Four Loves

For reflection----Matthew 27:27-50


Lenten Devotion-March

Oftentimes when we take our youth to a large youth gathering there will be an opportunity for an “altar call” experience.  It is usually followed by a rousing speaker, and a  prayer accompanied by background music and a fervent invitation to make a decision for Christ. Even though this is not typical Lutheran fare I do not get in a dither about it all, as it provides an excellent opportunity for discussion—which almost always ensues.

It is mainly a question of emphasis. The reality is, God made a decision for you and for me on a cross 2,000 years ago.  I have learned that as fickle as I am, that my faith, Thankfully is not in me and a decision I make as much as it is in Him and the decision He has made for me in Christ Jesus. That is after all, what makes it grace. I cannot begin to fathom the depth of His love and amazing Grace just in His sacrificial decision for me, let alone for deciding to give Himself for this entire messed up world of ours.

Once when my youngest, Joshua attended a camp, there were altar calls every evening.  He recalled with a chuckle that one young man went up every night, but by the bad behavior of the young man during the day it made sense that he should do so!  You see,  another concern with an altar call is not that it does too much but rather too little regarding the daily nature of faith.  This journey of faith is an ongoing process of emptying ourselves- of ourselves- so that He truly can be Lord ; in control of our lives.  I think Luther understood this daily need for relinquishing the reins so He might reign in us, when He recommended daily remembering our Baptisms as we have been claimed as His cross marked children.

The Apostle Paul in Romans 12:1 I believe touched on this in the same way as he tells us to “Present ourselves as living sacrifices to God.” The picture of a living breathing sacrifice getting on the altar of sacrifice is quite interesting.  The option to freely climb off this altar of sacrifice is quite real. The idea of daily submitting ourselves in response to the One who submitted all for us is a resounding theme during Lent and throughout scriptures.

Luther also used this example: “When Satan would knock on the door of my heart, I used to answer and every time I did He would defeat me. But now, when Satan knocks on the door of my heart , the Lord Jesus answers and says, “Martin Luther used to live here, but he moved out, I live here now and the devil flees”  
Emptiness is necessary in order to be filled, death is necessary for life—and abundant life can only come through the one who made and gave it.
C.S. Lewis put it this way....
A Living Sacrifice

Give up yourself, and you will find your real self.
Lose your life and you will save it.  Submit to death,
death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every
day and death of your whole body in the end: submit
with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal
life.  Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given
way will be really yours.  Nothing in you that has not died
will ever be raised from the dead.  Look for yourself, and
you will find the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair,
rage, ruin, and decay.  But look for Christ and you will find Him,
and with Him everything else thrown in.
                       Lenten Blessings,
                                                 Pastor Mike