“PASTOR GRINCH WILL NOT STEAL CHRISTMAS!”
“A Savior has been born to you, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11
I am conflicted. Here I’m supposed to be writing an upbeat Christmas column (since Christmas is less than four weeks away), yet my evil alter-ego, Pastor Grinch, is rearing his ugly head. What has Pastor Grinch fuming would be all the early Christmas music and decorations in the stores, “Black Friday” sales starting on Thanksgiving Day, the sappy, Christ-less programming that seeks to portray the “spirit of Christmas” while having no clue as to the true Source and Spirit of Christmas. Pastor Grinch wants to hurl and wishes it would all just go away.
But then good Pastor Lueke comes forward and says: “Listen to all the Christmas music – the hymns and carols. Look at all the decorations and the beauty of brightly lighted trees and homes. Hurray! All the classic Christmas programs are on TV again, bringing back fond memories of childhood. Oh boy! Advent is here, and we have the opportunity to prepare for the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Let’s sing: ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year!’”
And Pastor Grinch just wants to hurl!
So, you see, I am conflicted. But what isn’t conflicted, even with all the smarmy, Christ-less aspects of the season, is the Gospel itself. Whether people see it or not - whether they believe it or not – the fingerprints “of the Father’s love begotten e’er the worlds began to be” are still here. Nothing changes the truth that Christ came into the world, born of the virgin Mary, “to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy.”
In a most marvelous mystery, God became man in the birth of Jesus Christ to bring about “peace on earth and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled.” Though millions may ignore the true meaning of Christmas, millions of others rejoice because “He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”
So, Christmas is almost here. “Let us all together praise our God before His glorious throne; Today He opens heav’n again to give us His own Son, To give us His own Son”
Take that, Pastor Grinch!
“STANDING FOR WHAT MATTERS”
“Jesus said, ‘If you hold to My teaching, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” John 8:31-32
“Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” Those words of Martin Luther as he stood before the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire still resound through the ages. In this “Battle for the Gospel,” Luther was required to retract all his writings yet, unless he could be convinced by Scripture and reason that he was wrong, he refused to do so.
What we fail to understand is that this refusal wasn’t just show-boating or stubbornness. It was life or death. To refuse to retract and be obedient to his superiors, Luther faced the death penalty. Others before him had been tortured and put to death for similar things, so this was a real danger. It was only by God’s gracious providence and protection that Luther survived and the clear Gospel of “Salvation by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ” was allowed to shine forth brightly again.
So, when I think about the courage and tenacity shown by Luther and other countless Christians through the ages who were willing to risk all to remain faithful to God and His Word, I wonder about our own situation here at Our Savior. Are we so comfortable with both our outward connection to the church, and the freedoms we enjoy in our country, that we rarely feel the necessity of regularly hearing God’s Word and living up to the challenge of being His faithful Christians in the world?
What I mean is, we have over seven hundred people who are members of our congregation. While taking into consideration those away at college, in the military, or are home bound and institutionalized, there are still more than a hundred of our folks who haven’t stepped foot in church for years. And of those who would be considered “good members,” we still average under 200 in church on any given weekend, which is less than one-third of those who could be here.
I understand the busyness of life today. I understand the competing demands made upon our folks. I sympathize with the health and job issues many are experiencing. But I am puzzled, both by those who are here faithfully only when they have a duty to perform at church, and by those who could be here each week but aren’t. Why is that? I am curious and would really like to know.
Has church become just one more obligation, among many, placed on us? Are we so involved in the daily grind of this world that we have too little energy left over to regularly attend to that which prepares us for “the life of the world to come?” Have we forgotten (or worse) the vows we made to God and before the congregation that we would “hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully” and “continue steadfast in this confession and Church and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”
Perhaps we didn’t take those vows seriously back then, but God did. He took them just as seriously as the vow He made to us – to “suffer all, even death” to redeem us from sin and death and reconcile us to Himself through Christ. Church is not one more duty we perform for God but is a thankful receiving of the gifts and service He gives and does for us in Christ.
Through these Spirit given gifts in Christ regularly received, God gives us the strength to resist the devil, the world and our sinful flesh and, as His Christians, to boldly be able to say, with Luther: “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
God bless you,
“WOW! JUST, WOW!”
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thess. 1:2-3
Well, the plan worked; the secret was kept; the “victim” remained unaware of what was about to befall him, and the trap was sprung. Was I surprised? You bet! I had no idea that, for several weeks, plans were in the works to celebrate my 25thanniversary as pastor here at Our Savior. Granted, I can be pretty dense, but you all kept the secret. Well played!
It was a wonderful celebration as a son of the congregation, Joe Liss, who is now himself a pastor, preached the sermon that day. The food was great and plentiful at the “picnic.” All the cards and comments from you folks at Our Savior, from many of the folks in my previous congregation at Zion in Beecher, Illinois, and others as well were quite touching. And the gift from the congregation for Pam and me – for the Bavarian Inn in Frankenmuth, no less – was overwhelming. Words just cannot express our thankfulness to all who made that day happen, and for everybody who participated.
This is a wonderful reminder of one very important aspect of being part of a congregation: That we are not alone but are part of one another and share together in this blessed fellowship the gifts of Christ and His love for us that enables us to love one another. Those who have never been, or chosen not to be involved in the church, I believe, are much poorer for that. They are missing out on the blessings of fellowship with Christ and with each other.
It has truly been an honor and a pleasure to be your pastor these twenty-five years. We are thankful for how you accepted and embraced our family and allowed us the space to be ourselves, and for the supportive and generous spirit you have shown, not just to us, but for the work of the congregation as well. Lord willing, I’ve got a few more years left in me to continue serving you wonderful folks.
So, all I can say is: Thank You and, Wow! Just, Wow!
“GIVING OFFENSE OR TAKING OFFENSE?”
Some people are like bulls in a china shop. They rush heedlessly around, unmindful and uncaring about hurting the feelings of others. On the other hand, there are those whose feelings are hurt at the drop of a hat – and if you don’t have a hat to drop, they’ll lend you theirs.
The first type of person (The Insensitive Person) has the difficult task of recognizing when they’ve hurt someone, no matter how unintentionally, and making every effort to repair the damage. But, the second type of person (The Hyper-Sensitive Person) has an even more difficult task of recognizing that the offending person may, no matter how rudely they come across, have no intention of hurting them, and resisting the temptation to run away in a huff.
Insensitive People can’t figure out why people are mad at them. Hyper-Sensitive People can’t figure out that people aren’t mad at them. Mix these two types of people together in one place and you have an explosive combination.
Every congregation has these, and many other types of personalities together in one place, and all too often it becomes the devil’s playground. With The Insensitive Person, the devil has him thinking that his words don’t matter and that he can treat anybody any way he wants as long as “I don’t really mean anything by it.” He sees no need to ever apologize and figures that if there’s a problem, it must be with the other guy. In the case of The Hyper-Sensitive Person, the devil causes him to believe that every word, look, tone of voice, action or inaction by others is a deliberate insult obviouslymeant to offend him. His next reaction is to flee. He no longer volunteers; he quits coming to worship, or he runs and joins another church where “those people practice their faith” – at least, until someone there offends him, too.
It is pride that makes The Insensitive Person careless about the feelings of others and say: “Well, if they’re going to be so sensitive and run away, good riddance to them!” It is also pride that makes The Hyper-Sensitive Person quick to perceive every word or action by others that isn’t exactly to their liking as a direct attack against them. Then they say: “Well, they’re all hypocrites there, and I don’t associate with hypocrites, so I’ll go someplace else.” In both types, this kind of pride is sin. It disrupts and destroys the Body of Christ.
So, how do we get past this? First, it helps to recognize if we are the type of person who easily gives or takes offense. Recognizing our own personality traits can help us become aware of how we might possibly act, or react toward others. But, above that, we need to recognize that we are all sinners who are saved by the same blood of the same Savior shed on the same cross for our sins. If we stop looking at ourselves and begin looking at others through Christ’s eyes, many of our conflicts could be minimized. We need to stop thinking in terms of “Us vs. Them.” As Christians, and as members of the same congregation partaking of the same Means of Grace through the same Christ, it is simply “Us.”
While The Insensitive Person may never totally overcome the unintentional tromping on toes that marks his personality, through a repentant and humble trust in Christ he can begin to deal with those times he’s crossed the line and reach out to those he hurts. And The Hyper-Sensitive Person may never totally overcome the tendency that marks his personality to become quickly offended, but through a repentant and humble trust in Christ, he can resist the temptation to lash out or run away because of a perceived hurt. Instead, he will constructively try to understand the nature of what was said or done for what it is instead of what he assumesit to be.
In reality, we need to see ourselves, and each other, with all our foibles and quirks in the light of the One who has loved each of us, and given Himself for each of us that “we [together] may be His own and live [together] under Him in His kingdom and serve Him [together] in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.” In this way, we will lessen the tendency of our own personality to fall into the trap of needlessly giving offense or taking offense.
This is most certainly true.
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke
of bondage.” Galatians 5:1
This is just a brief reflection on the 4th of July. It is a day of summer barbeques, swimming, fishing, family get-togethers and just general summer fun. There may be parades, speeches, fireworks, picnics and other traditional activities. But sadly, there tends to be little reflection on the meaning of the 4th of July, also known as “Independence Day.”
That was the day in 1776 that our country declared our independence from the rule of King George of England. It sparked an experiment in a governmental system never before seen in the world; a system which recognized that certain “inalienable rights” are guaranteed, not by the government (which can be taken away at government’s whim), but by our Creator. It would be a government, later described by one of our finest presidents, “of the people, by the people and for the people.”
That declaration of our independence from British rule sparked a war that would decide if the American people would become free and self-governing or remain a colony under British rule. We all know the outcome, and for over two hundred years we have enjoyed the freedoms won for us by the blood shed at our country’s birth and which, since then, has had to be shed both at home and abroad to keep those freedoms intact. Freedoms we too often take for granted.
In spite of all our problems today, and the many misguided people who would gladly (and vainly) trade away those hard-won freedoms for the illusion of security and ease, there is still much for which we can be thankful. I especially would like to remember the sacrifice and service of those in our Armed Forces, past and present. I am thankful for our veterans and for our active duty service personnel. I am thankful for those willing to go in harm’s way so that I can enjoy peaceful times and lazy summer picnics. I am thankful for those standing on the front-lines so I don’t have to. I hope we do not squander what you have given us.
And I think of another war in which blood was shed for our liberty. It was a war that had to be fought for all of us in captivity. The one who fought it didn’t have to, but He chose to do so anyway. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, shed His blood and died on the cross to defeat those enemies who kept us captive: Sin, Death and the Devil. By His death and bodily resurrection, He is victorious over those dread enemies and has set us free, giving life to all who believe in Him. Some still squander His sacrifice and gift, but it doesn’t change the nature of what He did for us. I am thankful He gave His life for you and me, and for the liberty we have in Him.
So, this 4th of July take time to remember (and thank) those who served and sacrificed for our freedoms. And remember, too, your Savior’s sacrifice for you. Indeed, “Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free.”
God bless you,
“ARE YOU A LIBERAL?
“[You are] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.” Ephesians 2:20
“Liberal” and “Conservative” are terms used regularly in political discussions. If you’re for bigger government, more social programs, redistribution of wealth through taxation, relaxation of restrictions on sexual choices or behaviors and are supportive of abortion, then you are generally considered a liberal (or “Progressive,” or even, God forbid, a Democratic Socialist!). On the other hand, if you want less government intrusion, fewer social programs and taxation, more restrictions on abortions or abortion outlawed altogether, marriage recognized as being between one man and one woman only, prayer in public schools and religious displays on public property, then you are generally considered a “Conservative” (or “right-wing, racist, sexist, bigoted, homophobe,” as the media would portray you).
In reality, these labels are not so clear cut as they would seem. There are social liberals who are economically conservative, and social conservatives who are economically liberal. It’s enough to make your head spin. I would say that most of us tend to be on a sliding scale, depending upon the particular issue under discussion. And then when you mix religion into the discussion, the possibilities become dizzying. But it’s the religious part I now want to address.
Are you a “Bible-believing Liberal?” Can that even be possible? About five years ago, there was a news report of a church in Canada that held an Easter Service in a strip club, in order to be “edgy” and attract people who otherwise wouldn’t attend a “normal” church. This report reminded me of a couple of articles I read a while back; one by Todd Wilken in “Issues, Etc.” and one by Gene Veith in “World Magazine.” These articles exposed a stunning contradiction among so-called evangelicals, who are usually considered conservative in all ways. Sadly, this same trend is often seen among Lutherans, as well.
According to Wilken, a Bible-believing Liberal is a Christian who is quite conservative on cultural, political and economic matters, and has a high view of the Bible as being the inspired, inerrant Word of God (unlike the theological liberal who sees Scripture as a product of man, and thus subject to change or rejection by man). Yet, when it comes to church, or to the way they apply the teachings of the Bible, they end up being liberal/progressives. Here are a few examples of Bible-believing liberalism from Wilken’s article:
o “While they believe that the culture needs to return to its historic traditions, they think the church needs to abandon hers.”
o “While they believe that men and women have defined roles in marriage and family, they don’t see why a woman can’t replace a man in the pulpit.”
o “They want the Ten Commandments in the public square, but are unconcerned when those commandments are replaced with ‘Principles for Living’ from the pulpit.”
o “[They feel that] ceremonies of a presidential inauguration are meaningful and inspiring, but the Sunday morning liturgy is boring.”
o “[They believe] the differences between political parties are serious, but the differences between Christian denominations are petty.”
o “While they insist on a literal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, they play fast and loose with the Bible and its theology, even while maintaining its inerrancy and inspiration. They are Bible-believing liberals.”
These observations are devastating precisely because they are so true. It is shocking to many devout Christians who consider themselves foot soldiers defending conservatism in the culture war to have pointed out to them that, in religious matters, they are really old-line liberals in their thinking. As Wilken continues to observe:
"They fail to see that, just like the old-line liberals, they have allowed the culture to call the shots in their church’s teaching and practice. [W]hile they have fought the culture’s influence in society, they have surrendered to it in their churches.”
Clearly, there is a message there for all of us. Are the roots for much of our desire for the new and the novel in worship and liturgy really found in a rootless liberalism that changes with the whims and fads of the culture we live in? Do we see the importance of conserving the traditions and values that strengthen society while ignoring the very traditions and values that strengthen the church? Are we working to preserve our society from the corrosive effects of the current culture while plunging our churches headlong into that very culture, supposedly to reach those who wouldn’t be caught dead attending a “regular” church? Even though we consider ourselves conservatives, have we actually become liberals, at least in a religious sense?
There is no better time than the present to reassess our attitudes toward God’s Word, the church, and its teachings and practices. Have we, like Esau, been selling our birthright for a “mess of pottage (Heb. 12:16)?” Are we exchanging the tried and true for the shallow and meaningless? Then repent. Look again to Christ, and His love for fallen sinners that brought Him to the cross to atone for our sins. Understand that the church stands on God’s Word alone, whether or not the culture, or our fallen natures like what it says. And the liturgies and hymns of worship in the church likewise must be rooted in that Word, and centered on the atonement of Jesus Christ.
As Gene Veith writes in World Magazine: “Christians who want to conserve traditional values might start by conserving their churches.”
God help us to do so, for Jesus’ sake.
Wilken, Todd “Bible-Believing Liberals” Issues, Etc. Journal Vol. 4, No. 2
Veith, Gene Edward “Liberal Conservatives” World Magazine July 16, 2005
“BODY OF EVIDENCE”
“For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality . . . then shall come pass the saying that is written: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’” 1 Corinthians 15:53-54
Here we are now, Post-Easter, having celebrated our Lord’s bodily resurrection from the grave and His victory over death. This truth had me pondering our own understanding of our physical bodies and how we regard them. Are they important and, if so, for how long? Do we understand that these are creations of God and His possessions as well, or do we think that, in the long term, our bodies are ours only to do with them as we see fit?
In his article, “The Gates of Hell and the Table of the Lord,” Pastor Christopher Esget makes this interesting observation:
“We live in an age that is both obsessed with body image and denies the body has any lasting significance beyond death. One day the body is honed and toned through exercise and plastic surgery, and the next it is cremated and scattered to the winds.” He continues: “The Christian view of the body recognizes its value now and calls us to holiness in our bodily actions . . . At the same time, we recognize the great value of the body after death, knowing that God will raise us up again from the dead.”
This is not a criticism of cremation, per se, but about our attitudes concerning the body after death, whether they have been cremated or buried intact. He rightly observes that all too many have a faulty view of our physical bodies, regarding them as ultimately unimportant in the eternal scheme of things, and something that we use now for our own desires until we shed them at death, after which they are forgotten. Both views are wrong. God created and gave us our bodies to be “a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God[.] You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body (I Cor. 6:19-20).” We also know that, after death, our souls just don’t go to heaven forever, but to await the resurrection of the body at the Last Day: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself (Phil. 3:20-21).”
Our bodies are so central in God’s design that 1) He created them in the first place, 2) Provides the means to keep and preserve them, 3) Sent His Son into human flesh and nature to redeem us, body and soul from sin, death and hell, 4) Was Himself bodily raised from the dead, 5) Gives us His true body and blood in Holy Communion for the forgiveness of our sins, 6) Still exists for all eternity with His glorified body, and 7) Has promised to raise and glorify our bodies at the Last Day so that we may be part of the “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).”
As such, our bodies are not mere playthings for our carnal desires, divorced from our spiritual life in Christ, nor are they simply something that we will be released from and discard one day. They are incredible creations of God meant to be eternal. Sure, sin has corrupted this creation and, as the result of God’s judgment upon sin, we deal with pain, weakness, dissatisfaction with appearance, and the eventual death of our bodies. But that doesn’t change what God has created them to be. It just makes us thankful and hopeful that because of Christ’s Incarnation, Life, Death and Resurrection – for us – our bodies will not be dispensed with, but the present effects of sin in our bodies will be one day “be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet . . . and the dead will be raised imperishable (1 Cor. 15:51-52)” to live with Him forever, body and soul, the way we were meant to be.
In the meantime, we can and should glorify God in the manner in which we conduct ourselves with our bodies while alive, and in the ways that we choose to treat our bodies in death, that will reflect our confidence “in the resurrection of the dead and in the life + of the world to come,”through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
“He’s Risen! He’s Risen! Christ Jesus, the Lord!”
“IN HEART, OR IN FACT?”
“If Christ has not been raised from the dead, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins – But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” 1 Corinthians 15:17, 20
At the risk of being an old fuddy duddy, I want to address briefly a problem that some Christians have concerning the resurrection of Christ that, while well meaning and can be properly understood, tends to make the skeptic and unbeliever more convinced that Christians believe in fairy tales. That problem is sentimental emotionalism or a reliance on one’s feelings to determine truth.
Recently in the Adult Bible Class, we talked about a popular Christian song of a number of years back that has this line: “How do I know that Jesus lives? He lives within my heart!” While one can properly understand what the composer means to say, this mushy sentimentalism is no more persuasive about the truth of the Resurrection than the Mormon at your doorstep saying he knows Mormonism is true because he has “a burning in the bosom.”
So, if your assurance of what is true is based on how you feel, what happens if your bosom isn’t burning anymore, or your heart feels empty, sad and discouraged with life? Does that mean Christ is back in the tomb? Is the Resurrection no longer true because we feel bad? Do our feelings about something determine if it is true or not? Does Truth change as our feelings change?
Why do we always put the cart before the horse? The fact is, our feelings don’t determine Truth; Truth informs our feelings. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead isn’t because of the testimony of our hearts. We know He rose from the dead because of the testimony of the Holy Scriptures.
Here are some other facts we should come to terms with: The Fact that we are sinners worthy of hell should make us not just feel bad but scare the living daylights out of us. The Fact that the Son of God had to die on the cross for our sins should make us grief-stricken and sad. The Fact that Christ was willing to undergo this great suffering and sacrifice to redeem us from sin, death and the power of the devil should fill us with a profound sense of thankfulness and relief. And the Fact that Christ rose bodily from the dead, never to die again, should fill us with joy and courage, knowing that we will be raised by Him at The Last Day to live with Him forever.
See, feelings do have their place.
One more fact needs to be mentioned that should give us profound feelings of thankfulness: The Fact of the Resurrection is attested to by over 500 witnesses, changed lives, a world changing message, and the promise of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Skeptics may laugh and cynics may doubt, but the fact remains that the testimony of the Word of God has survived two thousand years of ridicule, doubt and attempts to undermine its message. It continues to live and remain, while all those doubters and skeptics of times past are dead. And those of today will be just as unsuccessful in “putting Jesus back in the tomb.”
Jesus Lives, the Victory’s Won! And because of that fact, we are filled with joy and hope.
A Blessed and Happy Resurrection Day in Christ!
“FORTY DAYS OF REAL PURPOSE”
“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
A few years ago, popular author and pastor of Saddleback Church, Rick Warren, wrote the runaway bestseller “The Purpose Driven Life,” and its follow up program, “40 Days of Purpose.” Its “purpose” was to show Christians how they can find meaning in their lives through a forty day program of spiritual renewal. Sadly, though many Christians (even some Lutherans) were wild about the book series, its theology was deficient and Law-driven. You have to do certain things for God so that He would “smile upon you” and then do things for you. The forty day process was meant to help you achieve this.
Though Warren’s theology leaves a lot to be desired, the idea of setting aside forty days for a type of spiritual renewal and “rebooting” has a lot going for it – so much so that the Church has already been doing just that for centuries. It’s called Lent.
The difference between the forty days of Lent and Rick Warren’s forty days of purpose is the focus. Lent’s focus is on Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners, whose path to the cross brought about forgiveness and life for all who believe in Him. Warren’s focus is on us improving ourselves, and finding out what our purpose in life is, so that God will be responsive to us.
Do you see the difference? It is truly a difference between Law and Gospel; between condemnation and salvation. Lent is about God first acting on our behalf, “while we were yet sinners,” to reconcile us to Himself through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. It is this very Gospel that gives us a life of purpose as His redeemed children living out our vocations in Him. Warren’s book, on the other hand, is pure Law, telling us that we must first find our purpose in life by living out certain principles, which will then enable us to measure up to God’s expectations. This will please God so that He will then give His blessings to us.
The sad part is, Warren’s book may initially make us feel good about ourselves, and even convince us that we are on the right path to pleasing God and deserving His blessings. But it won’t take long for our sinful natures, and the sins we commit, to bring this spiritual house of cards crashing down around us. We may try harder and harder to live out the 40 Days principles, but we will find less and less comfort and peace in doing so. Rather than teaching us to love God, this treadmill of the Law in Warren’s book will teach us to hate God instead.
This is why the 40 Days of Lent is so important. Now we look not at what we are doing for God, but at what He has done for us. Rather than seeing a harsh taskmaster, we see a loving Father willing to sacrifice everything to redeem us and make us His own. We see that, even though we have done nothing to deserve His blessings, He gives them richly to us through the atoning death of Jesus Christ, the benefits of which we receive through Word and Sacrament. Now we can truly begin to love God, because in Christ He first loved us (I John 4:9-10).
So, if you want to embark on 40 days of realpurpose, where all that Jesus has done for you and your salvation are central, then join us in our Lenten observances this year. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, March 6th. Services are at 1:30 and 6:00 pm each Wednesday in Lent.
God bless you!
“HOW TO PREPARE FOR DEATH”
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a
heart of wisdom” Psalm 90:12
Though the title of this column may sound depressing, and it contains some excerpts from an article written by Martin Luther that may seem, at first glance, shocking or outrageous, we all would do well to consider these things. We see in the news, and from our own experience, that death comes to young and old alike – sometimes suddenly – and that being properly prepared mentally and spiritually for that day is not a morbid thing but a very good thing.
I will admit initial discomfort at Luther’s comments, which were written during an outbreak of the Bubonic Plague ravaging Germany at the time, with mortality rates in varying regions of 30 – 90%, but under those circumstances one can understand the seriousness and wisdom of what he has to say. It’s a strong dose of the Law that’s needed also in our day when so many Christians live lives of apathy toward God’s Word until their last moments come and they suddenly (maybe) become concerned about their eternities. Here writes Luther about how to prepare for death:
First, one must admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s Word how to live and how to die. It must be noted that those who are so uncouth and wicked as to despise God’s Word while they are in good health should be left unattended when they are sick unless they demonstrate their remorse and repentance with great earnestness, tears, and lamentation . . .
Second, everyone should prepare in time and get ready for death by going to confession and taking the sacrament once every week or fortnight. He should become reconciled with his neighbor and make his will so that if the Lord knocks and he departs before a pastor or chaplain can arrive, he has provided for his soul, has left nothing undone, and has committed himself to God. When there are many fatalities and only two or three pastors on duty, it is impossible to visit everyone, to give instruction, and to teach each one what a Christian ought to know in the anguish of death. Those who have been careless and negligent in these matters must account for themselves. That is their own fault. After all, we cannot set up a private pulpit and altar daily at their bedside simply because they have despised the public pulpit and altar to which God has summoned and called them.
Third, if someone wants the chaplain or pastor to come, let the sick person send word in time to call him and let him do so early enough while he is still in his right mind before the illness overwhelms the patient.
Obviously, pastors will want to minister to the dying, if possible. And certainly, the Holy Spirit can bring a person to a living faith even in the “eleventh hour.” But Luther’s point is that the one who during his life has been careless and neglectful of God’s Gifts through the Church may, at the most critical time when death approaches, not have a pastor available to minister to them, or be in a condition to receive those Gifts if a pastor is present. Then their carelessness and neglect of God’s Word in this life, and their lack of preparedness for the hour of death is on their own heads.
The task of ministering to the dying is much easier when that person has demonstrated an active faith beforehand. And, should that person die before a pastor can come to them, he will still enter into Eternal Life through his faith in Christ, the promises of God given to him in Baptism, and having been nurtured and sustained by Word and Supper in this life.
“Teach me to live that I may dread The grave
as little as my bed.
Teach me to die that so I may
Rise glorious at the awe-full day. LSB #883 vs. 3
God’s blessings in Christ our Redeemer.
“HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
What is it about starting a new year that so catches people’s imaginations? Other than turning the pages of a calendar, nothing really changes from December 31st to January 1st. We’re still the same people we always were, so, what’s the big deal?
Perhaps it boils down to everyone’s need to “clean the slate,” make a new start and have a renewed sense of hope for the future. By saying goodbye to the past year, we are mentally putting to rest our past failings or disappointments and looking to the future with the prayer that things will be better - that wewill be better. Each new year serves as a mile-marker on life’s road, with new experiences, new sights, new opportunities. It also serves to remind us that we’re one year closer to our eternal “destination.”
How are you approaching your destination? Which road are you taking; the wide road that leads to destruction, or the narrow road that leads to eternal life? It’s not your failings or triumphs, joys or sorrows, hopes or disappointments that determine your destination. Rather, it’s in Whom you put your trust that does.
If you’ve been living for and trusting in yourself, then no matter how much success you’ve had, you will end up forever lost. But by trusting in the One who was born for you in Bethlehem, laid down His life for you on the cross, and rose again victoriously from the grave -- Jesus Christ -- then no matter how many disappointments and failures you’ve had, you will still reach your heavenly home rejoicing in God’s love and mercy forever. Through the precious Gospel of Christ, God will work in, and through the joys and sorrows of your life, giving you the strength to deal with them and bringing about the changes that He desires for you.
So, as we begin a new year, among the different resolutions you make and the hopes and dreams you may have, resolve this year (and stick to it) to grow closer to your Savior through regular participation in Word and Sacrament. Then, living daily in thankfulness for His love and forgiveness, look for ways to make a positive difference in the lives of those around you.
Though your life may not turn out exactly the way you had hoped, with Christ you will always end up at the right place.
God’s blessings for a happy and prosperous New Year!
“O God, our Help in ages past, our hope for years to come; our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.” LSB #733 vs. 1
“BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS”
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable Gift.”
II Corinthians 9:15
Wow! I know I must be getting old, because I can’t think of what the latest toy craze is this year that’s driving parents to dementia in order to obtain them for their kids. But if this year is anything like past years (and if the recent “Black Friday” riots are any indication), parents are already getting jittery and flooding the stores hoping to get for their kids whatever the popular, “must-have” toys are before the supply dries up. Likely, we’ll be reading about fist-fights and all sorts of mayhem. Yep (Everybody Sing!), It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
I know that sounds terribly cynical, but every year we are treated to the absolutely idiotic behavior of many parents who will do anything (literally!) to get these things for their little darlings. Beanie Babies, Tickle Me, Elmo, Transformers, Pokemon. Each year a new craze; each year new levels of absurdity. The list goes on and on. And, of course, we will be treated to smirking news anchors reporting on the crazed or violent behavior of people who must have these things at any cost.
It’s ironic that my generation (the Baby Boomers), who marched in the streets and took over college campuses decrying the materialism of their parents have become such gross materialists themselves, doing things for gain that their “materialistic” parents would never have dreamt of. And the Millennials are following suit. What has happened to Christmas?
I guess it’s all a matter of focus. In many areas of life, we are so selfishly intent on our own pursuits and gain that we have little time for people or for God. Reflection, prayer, nurture and human contact have been replaced by video games, Facebook, Twitter, home theater systems, surfing the internet and all the other things that isolate us from each other. Many prefer chatting for hours with strangers on the Internet while completely ignoring those who are closest to them. So, if it will make my little Johnny happy (and get him off my back so I can do what I want to do), I’ll get him the latest fad thing that he must have to keep his life from being unfulfilled.
If you’ve read this far, you may be thinking Pastor Scrooge is really practicing on his “Bah, Humbug!” No, I’m not being a Scrooge, here, but let’s think about Scrooge. He had everything but was a bitter, empty man whose life would end as empty and bitter as it was lived. Only by seeing how little his money mattered did he finally see how important people were and his life gained meaning.
Christmas is about God sending His beloved Son into the world as a baby born to Mary. He did not come as an earthly King with all the glitter and glory that entailed, but as the child born in a manger who would grow up to not even have a home of His own. He suffered poverty and disdain and eventual crucifixion for us. He didn’t do this to give us a holiday of frenzied, shopping madness, but to save us from sin, death and hell. It is through His life death and resurrection that our sins have been forgiven and our lives can be changed. He is the absolute proof of God’s love and mercy for those who are lost and condemned creatures. He is the reason why we have Christmas in the first place.
Beanie Babies, Pokemon, Cabbage Patch Kids, Elmo and all the rest will quickly fade away. They won’t matter at all in the long run. Your life, or your child’s life won’t be one bit less affected (other than a temporary disappointment – you’ll get over it) if you don’t get these things. What matters is not the latest marketing gimmick on sale in stores everywhere, but in giving to your children, and possessing for yourself the greatest gift of all, the gift that never grows old or outdated – Jesus. If we have Him, we really do have everything we need for Christmas and for Life.
God’s blessings and . . . Merry Christmas!
“CHANGING SEASONS – UNCHANGING MERCY”
“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:3
Late fall can be a melancholy time, bittersweet in many ways. Though the colors of both land and sky
are the most glorious of the year, and the smell of wood smoke and the chill in the air can be
bracing, fall is still a harbinger of winter. The shortening of days, the lengthening of shadows and the
dreary, overcast days and patter of chill rain are reminders of things passing away. For many of us,
the question, “Where did the year go?” turns into “Where did my life go?” The spring of childhood,
and the summer of youth have given way to the fall and winter of middle and old age. “Where did
my life go?”
But, as the passing of seasons also marks the passing of life, each has its own particular joys
and pursuits. While spring, summer, and fall are times of busyness and activity, winter can be a time
of growth and reflection. A time of settling down and considering “the one thing needful that will never
be taken away (Luke 10:42).” Where have our lives gone? They are “hidden with Christ in God.”
For the one in Christ, each passing day brings opportunities to live and grow in the love and mercy of
Christ. Each passing day brings us chances to serve God by praying for, and helping others. Each
passing day also brings us closer to our eternal home. While we may grieve our loss of youth, we can
still rejoice that at that Last Day “our bodies will be made like His glorious body, by the power that
enables Him to subdue all things to Himself (Philippians 3:21).”
A great way to keep all of this in perspective is to connect the passing of the seasons with the passing
of the Church Year. Advent and Christmas, which occur in early winter, focuses our attention on God
sending His Son into our flesh as our Redeemer from sin, death and the power of the devil. Midwinter
sees the Epiphany season, where this Savior, born of the Jews, is the Savior of the gentiles as well. In
the darkest time of the year, Epiphany celebrates that “Jesus Christ is the Light of the world; a Light no
darkness can extinguish.” Late winter begins the Lenten season, where Christ, out of love for us all,
travels to Jerusalem and the cross to accomplish His work of atonement for the sins of all mankind that,
in Him, we might have life. Early spring is also the time of Easter. As winter must give way to spring,
so death gives way to Christ’s bodily resurrection, which makes possible our resurrection, as well.
Then, in late spring, the Pentecost season begins, which first commemorates the sending of the Holy Spirit
to Christ’s followers, empowering them (and us, too!) in faith and life to live for Him. Summer and fall is
the general season of the Church Year, where we follow Christ’s life, works and words, all for us and for our
salvation. And as fall deepens toward winter, we move to the last Sunday of the Church Year, the Sunday
of the Fulfillment. As the seasons pass; as this world passes away, our attention is drawn to the return of
Christ, the end of all things in this fallen and sinful universe, and the promise of all things being made new.
So, you see: just as each season of the year has its own glories and challenges; and as each season of our
lives do as well, marking the time through the Church Year keeps everything in perspective. Thus, our
focus will not be on what we are losing, but on what has been gained for us through our Savior Jesus Christ.
While the changing of the seasons may give us melancholy moments as we see our own lives tick by,
we can confidently and joyfully know that as winter must inevitably turn into spring once more, so the
winter of our lives, which are already “hidden with Christ in God” will inevitably pass away into the
eternal spring of “the resurrection of the dead and the life + of the world to come.” Amen!
God’s blessings in Christ, whatever season we are in!
“A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or wrong in connection with any offense that has been committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” Deuteronomy 19:15
The current circus in Washington D.C. surrounding the confirmation hearings of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court raises interesting, but troubling questions. Can a person’s entire career and reputation be destroyed by a single allegation from an event that allegedly took place decades before? Is it the job of the one being accused to prove his innocence, or is it the job of the accuser to provide evidence for the guilt of the accused? Should one’s sex automatically presume the truthfulness or guilt of an individual?
In former times where logic and sanity prevailed, these answers would be self-evident: One accuser with scant evidence would not be acceptable; One’s innocence is presumed until proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” is presented; and One’s sex, male or female, was not an automatic indicator of one’s truthfulness, guilt or innocence. But in this era of “#MeToo,” which originally rightly gave sexually abused women (and some men) a platform to confront their abusers and receive justice, we have now come to the point that all women’s accusations against men are to be believed, even without proof just because they say it is so, and that all men are automatically presumed guilty of whatever accusations are leveled against them by women. Rather than looking at actual evidence of wrongdoing, we are just supposed to accept and believe “the pain” that a woman claims to be suffering from alleged abuse.
Even what constitutes abuse has changed. Now, instead of actual rape, or other sexually aggressive conduct, abuse can consist of what would have been considered in the past by both men and women the normal interplay and flirtations between the sexes. Even that old song you hear on the radio during the Christmas Season, “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” has been declared by some as fostering “Rape Culture.”
We have come through fifty years of the so-called “Sexual Liberation” movement, where it was no one else’s business whom you have sex with, and graphic sexuality is portrayed in media and entertainment as being one’s “Right” to engage in. But without clear boundaries and definitions of right and wrong, the political Left has entered into a “New Puritanism” regarding sex, clearly tipped in favor of women. A woman today can have “consensual sex” with a man one evening and, if she has regrets the next day, or finds she wasn’t satisfied with the encounter can accuse the man of sexually assaulting or raping her, and the prevailing opinion in culture is she must be believed and the man must be guilty. (NOTE: Is it any wonder why God created marriage as the place where sex is to occur in a healthy and holy bond between oneman and onewoman, and gave us the 6thCommandment to protect Marriage and Sexuality?)
So, what does all of this have to do with Judge Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court hearing? We have what appears to be an imminently qualified man who is vehemently opposed by those in the opposite political party because he’s conservative in his approach to the Constitution now being accused in the 11th hour by a woman who claims he sexually attacked her at a drinking party when he was seventeen. Details of Who, What, When, and Where are extremely fuzzy, and she has no witnesses to back her up. She may or may not testify under oath, and her handlers are trying every trick possible to delay her testimony. The Judge’s reputation is being destroyed, his career possibly being ended and his family in utter
turmoil because of one woman’s uncertain recollection – or, maybe, one political party’s desire for power and revenge. (NOTE: Is it any wonder God gave us the 8thCommandment to protect people from this kind of unjust destruction of their reputations?)
While, as of yet, we have no idea of whether or not the Judge did this thing so long ago, or if his accuser is suffering from faulty recollection, mental or emotional issues or is just a shill being used to torpedo a man’s career, God knows. He knows the guilt of all of us who are lawbreakers, even if the world never finds out what we have done. He knows the political maneuverings and motivations of all politicians. He knows the secret sins of our hearts that leave us condemned before the One who “will come to judge the living and the dead.” And His accusations against us are true, to the point, accurate, and damning.
But where accusations are being leveled against Judge Kavanaugh to destroy him, God confronts us with our sins to keep us from being destroyed. He even provides an “Escape Clause” for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Not that we are not guilty, but Christ bore that guilt upon Himself in our place. It is because of Christ that God forgives us and does not hold us eternally accountable to our eventual destruction. It is a truly remarkable mercy and love that would do this for us, and calls us in thankfulness to do the same for others.
While the woman making these accusations against Judge Kavanaugh should be heard, she should not be automatically believed just because she is a woman. Let her testify before the Senate Committee and present witnesses and evidence to her charges. If they are true, Kavanaugh should not be on the Supreme Court. If she does not testify, or if she cannot produce evidence and witnesses to back up her accusations, then the Senate needs to vote to confirm Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court Justice.
Remember, if we forsake The Rule of Law as first laid down in Deuteronomy, and codified in the laws of this Country; if we unquestioningly allow baseless charges to be brought, and punishments leveled against people without witnesses and evidence based solely on the sex of the individuals involved, then we will sink into chaos and Totalitarianism and will lose the freedoms and rights that we have so taken for granted for more than two hundred years.
And make no mistake: If they can do this to Judge Kavanaugh, they can do it to you.
God bless you,
“WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?”
“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:31
Two phrases: “What does this mean?” and “This is most certainly true” are well known to Lutherans. They are found in Luther’s Small Catechism and, with the answers that come before or follow each phrase, help us understand the teachings of God’s Word, especially as it relates to Christ and His grace.
September is the time that our Christian Education programs gear up again after relaxing a bit for the summer. Fifth through eighth graders are involved in Pre-catechism and Catechism classes, Sunday School for children and adults is again in full swing, and other Bible classes throughout the week are once more being offered.
So, what does this mean? Well, it is God’s Word that the Holy Spirit uses to bring us to faith and salvation in Christ, and sustain and strengthen that faith as we live out our lives. God commands (yes, commands) His Christians to study that Word for themselves and teach it to their children. Those who “despise preaching and His Word” sin against the 3rdCommandment and place themselves in very real spiritual danger. The importance of each one of us being in the Word cannot be overstated.
Also, in an age that is increasingly hostile to Christianity, while at the same time Christians are less knowledgeable about what the Scriptures teach, the last thing the Church needs to do is “dumb-down” its educational curriculum and shrink back from offering as many opportunities as possible for people to have access to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” that Word of Life. Who knows how long we have before the freedom to hear, read and learn God’s Word will be no more.
And remember: Even apart from all the dire things I spoke of above, by being a lifelong student of the Bible, you get to know Jesus better. I want to challenge you to become more firmly anchored in the grace and forgiveness and hope He gives through regular church attendance and Bible study. The Holy Spirit, through that very Word, and the Sacraments received in church, continues to develop you in Christ’s image as His life is lived out through you.
This is most certainly true.
God bless you,
“. . . and a little child shall lead them”
“Thank God, today a seven-year old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd” [Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles, XII].
Another Vacation Bible School has successfully concluded. The kids gathered for opening and closing chapel each day and learned the hymn, “God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It; I Am Baptized Into Christ.” Through Bible lessons and crafts, they learned that God comes to us “From Above” in Jesus, and through Baptism has washed away our sins and made us His own dear children. The kids learned, sang, played and, generally, were gathered as The Church around their Shepherd, Jesus. And they eagerly gathered together each day for this.
And now they are back home. Mom and Dad; Grandma and Grandpa: What are you going to do to encourage these kids to continue gathering to “hear the voice of their Shepherd?” You have a wonderful opportunity, not just for your kids, but for yourselves to bring them to church each week (Don’t just send them) so you all together can be fed on the holy food your Savior and Shepherd, Jesus, provides. You can model for your children or grandchildren the importance of being The Church as you participate in church, and help build a wholesome and, hopefully, lifelong habit in your kids of attending, and serving in the church. This is a good thing!
Or, you could just go back to “business as usual.” That would not be a good thing. We are inundated by the noise of this world all around us. While promising to enrich our lives, the world will leave us eventually feeling empty, disillusioned and without purpose. The mad dash from one thing to the next to find happiness and fulfillment will leave too many laying broken on the rocks and shoals of disappointment.
Church, and the gifts of God given there each week is a powerful antidote. Gathering to be fed by our Shepherd, there is healing for wounded and broken people; a sense of purpose for those who are feeling rudderless; forgiveness and life to the guilt ridden and sorrowful; and fellowship for the lonely as they join with other “holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.”
If you have been rather lax in your attendance at church, then let the enthusiasm of your kids who attended VBS give you a jump start. Ask them what they learned, and listen to see if they sing the songs from VBS. While parents are the ones who are to lead their children to Christ, perhaps your child can help lead you back to a richer, fuller life of faith as you all, together in the church, live out your lives that come “From Above,” from your Good Shepherd, Jesus.
God bless you. “[You are] Baptized into Christ. [You are] a child of paradise!”
“GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME . . . SOCIALISM?”
“If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.”
This month is the 242ndanniversary of our Declaration of Independence, and the beginning of the fight for freedom from Great Britain, and the right of the Colonies to govern themselves as an independent and united nation. Just over a year before, in 1775, Patrick Henry gave a speech to the 2nd Virginia Convention meeting at St. John’s Church in Richmond which concluded with the words: “Give me liberty or give me death!”
The power of those words eventually resulted in a war that would gain our nation’s independence from rulership of a King and a government that did not answer to the people but sought instead to subjugate them to the will of an unaccountable elite. Over the last two hundred plus years, the freedom and liberty that defined America and its ideals have been beacons of light and prosperity, not just for Americans, but for millions throughout the world.
Yet, there is a growing movement in our country away from liberty and toward a “sovereign government” that is all powerful and decides what’s best for us. It is reflected in many (some studies indicate almost 50%) of the so-called Millennial Generation, but is not exclusive to them, in their desire for us to become a Socialist nation instead. Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders was wildly popular and almost became the Democratic nominee for the Presidential election of 2016. Now a twenty-seven year old Democratic Socialist just defeated a ten term congressman in New York’s 14thCongressional District. Socialism, and its promise of “cradle to grave” care for us, is on the rise in America.
But what is Socialism? Webster’s Dictionary defines it as: “Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” Basically, individuals have no right to the fruits of their labors, but must give it to government to distribute to others as it sees fit. A further damning statement is found in Webster’s concerning Socialism, that it is “a transitional stage between Capitalism and Communism.” We all know how that system turns out in relation to individual liberty and freedom!
Our Founding Fathers understood that human nature is corrupt and that, given enough power, people in government will abuse that power and enslave those they govern. That’s why they devised the checks and balances of three equal branches of government and also The Bill of Rights. Those are protections from the natural desire of those in power to abuse that power and rob individual citizens of their liberties. But when citizens begin to desire that government would be a god, then that god has claim upon them and all they have and will exercise, to our ultimate sorrow, that claim. Socialism, and its evil twin, Communism, however good they sound on paper, will never usher in Utopia. These systems do not elevate the lowly to an equal place with the lofty, but simply creates equal misery for all.
But that’s true of all false “gods,” be it politics, wealth, pleasure, power, or the actual idols worshipped by the various religions of this world. While promising a way to paradise, either in this life or the next, these gods can only enslave, control, cause divisions, create fear, and eventually bring death. No earthly ruler (or “god”) can solve all our ills and save us from ourselves. Only the True God can do that.
How? Through the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is in Christ that we have true freedom, whatever political or economic system we live under, because we have been set free from guilt, sin, condemnation, and death itself. He not only sets us free from these things, but He also sets us free for things: To “walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4);” to continue receiving His gifts to us in Word and Sacrament; to do good works in service to our neighbor; to be charitable toward those in need; to be good citizens; to “contend for the faith (Jude 3)” as we stand in the Public Square against the idols of our culture; to be “wise as serpents yet meek as doves (Matt. 10:16),” that is, to be aware of the false promises of this world and its systems, yet still open to people to deal with them in love; and to “be ready to give answer to the hope we have within us … with gentleness and respect (I Peter 3:15).” In other words: We are set free in Christ to be His Body, the Church, bringing salt and light to those “walking in darkness … and living in land of the shadow of death (Is. 9:2).”
For 242 years we have lived with civil freedoms that are unheard of throughout history, and in most nations today. It has not been without challenge, struggle and sacrifice. We are in danger of having those freedoms taken away, not by a conquering nation at war with us, but from our own citizens at war with themselves. As God’s Christians, who live in true freedom because of the sacrifice of the One for us all, do your best to help our country hold on to the freedoms and ideals that have historically defined us as a nation, not losing hope however things should turn out, because our true “citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:20).”
God bless you. Be free in Christ!
“DON’T TRY. DO!”
“You are saved by grace, through faith [in Christ]…it is the gift of God, not by works…We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…”
If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll know what I’ll be referring to. If you’re not familiar with the Star Wars movies (and how is that even possible??!!), well, hang in there with me for a bit. Hopefully, it will eventually make sense.
Yoda, the Jedi-Master, is training young Luke Skywalker to also become a Jedi. Luke is struggling with using “The Force” to lift his ship out of the swamp. Yoda shows him it can be done and then tells Luke it’s his turn. In weariness, Luke says “I’ll try,” and Yoda sharply responds: “Don’t try. Do!”
There is a lesson there for all of us. To say “I’ll try” is to admit defeat already. It is a phrase that leaves us all kinds of wiggle room for not doing something at all, or at least, making only a half-hearted attempt at it. Then, when it doesn’t happen, we can self-righteously exclaim, “Well, I tried!”
Many times, when inactive members are visited to encourage them to return to worship, they will say, “I’ll try.” Most often, they don’t. It’s just a good way to get someone off their back and gain a little more time to continue avoiding church. Many who are asked to attend certain meetings, or serve in some way, will say, “I’ll try” (or its ugly stepsister: “I’ll think about it”), but it often doesn’t happen.
Perhaps, Yoda’s statement is appropriate in all these situations: “Don’t try. Do!” Don’t try to come to worship more often; do come to worship. Don’t try to attend certain meetings or activities; do attend them. Don’t just think about serving; serve. If it’s really important to you, you will find a way to make it happen. If it’s not all that important to you, then you won’t. It’s just that simple.
Now, we know that our salvation is not dependant on the works we do for God, neither is it dependant on our good intentions. Our salvation is completely due to the mercy and grace of God through the death and resurrection of Christ. Even faith in Christ is not our doing, but is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus didn’t just think about saving us, or try to save us. He did it. As such, all of our sins were forgiven because He suffered and died for us. Death has been conquered by His resurrection so we have the confidence of our own resurrection to eternal life. Heaven is no longer barred to us, but we are now able to enter heaven because of Christ, who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” through whom we can come to the Father.
Seeing these things, we begin to realize how everything is a gift from God, “out of His fatherly divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in me.” God’s love takes on tangible form and concrete action through Christ. So, how do we respond to this? Not by thinking about, or trying, but doing. It is the determination to live out in our deeds the blessings of forgiveness and life that are ours because of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. It is jumping in with both feet instead of angling for a way to get out of things. It is simply doing that which we say we believe.
The above “Lutheran Bible verse” from Ephesians keeps it all in perspective: We are saved completely by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That faith and salvation is God’s gift, not a payment for our works. Yet, as those who have been saved, God desires that faith bears fruit through the good things we do for others, and in staying connected to the Means of Grace God gives in the Divine Service.
So, when it comes to attendance at worship or meetings at church, or in service to God through the church, don’t say, “I’ll try.” Rather say, “I’ll do it” for the sake of Christ “who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).”
God’s blessing as we live out our Life Together in Christ.
“Then I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb ... They cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”
There is a commercial on TV for a Psoriasis medication where the sufferers of this skin condition experiencing negative reactions from people say, “See Me;” not my Psoriasis. Maybe that’s good advice for the culture.
It seems we are no longer allowed to see people as people, but rather only in groups: White or black, male or female, Republican or Democrat, Straight or Gay, etc. And imposed on each of these groups is a certain expectation of ideology, and an outrage if someone in that group doesn’t follow the playbook. Pity the Black person who is conservative, or the woman who isn’t for abortion or feminism; or the Gay person who votes Republican, or the White guy who does, well, who does anything! Anger and condemnation, usually from those on the Far Left of the political spectrum, is devastatingly swift.
This “Tribalism” pits groups against one another and doesn’t allow us to see people as individuals. Thus, if they aren’t part of our Tribe, we can completely dismiss or denigrate them, even though we don’t know them personally. All the strides made toward equality and acceptance of all people is being undermined by those with a vested interest in pitting us against each other.
While this mentality is ungodly and evil, it becomes especially so when Christians get caught up in that same mentality and stop seeing people as individuals for whom Christ died to redeem and see them only according to their sex, color, political affiliation, etc. As we do that, we lose love and compassion for those who are not “like us,” and become less motivated to share the Gospel with them. And apart from the forgiveness of sins won for us in Christ, and the life and attitude changing power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word and Sacraments of Christ, we all would descend into the chaos of Tribalism, hate and destruction.
Obviously, we must make some distinctions in life, and most people are more comfortable with those of the same background and outlook than they are with those who are not, yet we must not let oourselves be lulled into thinking that those of certain groups are unworthy of the love of Christ, and our love as well. It is time to speak the Truth in love and with courage to those who benefit themselves by division and hatred: The Race-Baiters, Social Justice Warriors, Neo-Facists, Intersectionalists, Tribalists and others who want to stifle Free Speech, blurr sexual and gender lines, institute a new slavery for those of a different skin color, promote anarchy and lawlessness and persecute people of faith. We must stand firm upon the Gospel of Christ as the only hope for this lost and dying world, and see people, not as groups, but as individuals who Christ wants to make as His own.
In the words of LSB Hymn #586, vs. 1:
Preach you the Word and plant it home
To men who like or like it not.
The Word that shall endure and stand
When flow’rs and men shall be forgot.
God bless you through Him who was crucified and raised for us; the world’s only Savior, Jesus Christ.
“GRAPE JUICE INTO WINE?”
“This cup is the New Testament in My blood, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
The first miracle, or sign, that our Lord performed at the beginning of His ministry was the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. Wine figures prominently throughout the Scriptures, both symbolically and literally. It was the common drink at meals and, especially, at the Passover Meal celebrated each year by Israel. It was used by our Lord as He observed that “Last Passover” meal with His disciples just before His crucifixion. It was in connection with the wine that Jesus assured His disciples then, and now, that they also were receiving with it His true blood shed for them for the forgiveness of sins. Bread and wine have always properly been the earthly elements used, according to Christ’s institution, in The Lord’s Supper.
About one hundred and fifty years ago, Thomas Welch developed a process of pasteurizing the juice from grapes. Rather than allowing the normal fermentation process to begin almost immediately upon the pressing of the grapes, the juice was pasteurized so that it would remain just grape juice. This, of course, was good news to those Christian groups that were morally opposed to alcoholic beverages of any kind and sought a way (which Welch advocated) to observe Holy Communion without wine. It also provided a possible solution for those who, while not morally opposed to wine, had to refrain from taking it because of medical or alcoholic issues. With the introduction of Individual Cups for Communion, it became easier to offer grape juice as a substitute for wine for those who could not consume alcohol for whatever reason.
Yet, in spite of many congregations (including ours) making grape juice available along with wine, there have been lingering questions: “Is the use of grape juice faithful to the Scriptures?” “Can we be assured that Christ will indeed give us His blood with something other than wine?” “If grape juice is a perfectly acceptable substitute for wine, why not dispense with offering wine altogether?” “Are we employing a theological novelty that makes the Sacrament uncertain for some people?” These are just a few of the questions and concerns with offering substitutes for that which our Lord Himself used, and promised that in, with and under the earthly elements of bread and wine, He is giving us “His true body and blood for us Christians to eat and drink.”
Oftentimes, compassion for the frailties and weaknesses of people can have us “adjusting” parts of God’s Word so as not to exclude anyone from receiving His gifts. Yet, the last thing we should do is introduce uncertainty in the minds of many for the sake of a few, especially if there is a solution that is faithful to Scripture and makes allowances for individual needs.
For almost a year now, the Board of Elders and myself have been discussing the issue of grape juice verses wine and what, if anything, we should do about it. There are some who think, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” while others have been concerned that the Sacrament is being compromised by offering grape juice along with wine. There is a concern with causing uncertainty about the Sacrament. With wine, we have a “Thus saith the Lord,” and no reason to doubt that His blood is present with the wine. We do not have that same Word or assurance with any other substance. Granted, long usage may remove uncertainty in the minds of those who are used to the practice, but it could also introduce doubt in the minds of others who are not. So, what’s the possible solution?
After reading various articles on the topic, pro and con, and after conferring with fellow pastors, a reasonable solution would be that a few drops of wine could be added to the bottle of grape juice, which is then used to fill the cups for people who can’t take the wine alone. The wine does not change the nature of the grape juice, nor is it present in an amount that could affect someone sensitive to wine. But wine would still be present, however minimally, for the Lord’s use, and would, hopefully, remove potential uncertainty in the validity of the Sacrament. Like wine diluted in water still serves to convey the Lord’s blood, the grape juice would serve the same purpose.
Before any change like this is instituted, we want the folks directly affected by this possible change to consider what we are proposing and, if they have questions or concerns, talk to me or one of the Elders within the next few weeks. Then, if it is determined that we can proceed without any undue problem, we will likely begin offering the grape juice/wine mixture in the purple cups starting in June. Obviously, this concession is not for those who just don’t like the taste of wine, or (and maybe especially) those who think that alcoholic beverages are inherently sinful. This is meant to aid those who cannot or should not take the wine alone.
Our desire again is to be faithful to what Christ instituted; try to alleviate any doubt or concerns with our practice, and make available God’s Gifts, the way He wants to give them to us in spite of whatever may be our infirmities.
God bless you. Christ is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia!
“GOD IS DEAD”
“Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.’” Luke 23:46
Back in the 1960’s, the popular trend on college campuses was the “God is Dead” movement, which was based on the atheistic philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. God was considered “irrelevant,” therefore, he was dead to modern man. A few years later, when I was in seminary, someone had written in the bathroom stall: “’God is dead.’ Signed, Nietzsche.” Then, written next to it: “’Nietzsche is dead.’ Signed, God.” I know: Seminarians are nerds. But that does bring up some interesting questions: Can God die? Did God die? What is death?
Let’s take the last question first: Death is not an end to our existence. It is the separation of the soul from the body. The body “returns to the dust,” yet the soul continues on, with God or apart from God, awaiting the resurrection of the body at the Last Day. The person does not cease to exist simply because the body ceases to live. God created us body and soul to live forever. Sin brings the judgment of death, yet Grace brings the judgment of resurrection and life out of death.
Now for the first question: Can God die? Before the Incarnation, the answer would be “No.” Remember, death is not the end of existence, but the separation of the soul from the body. Since “God is a spirit,” He had no body to be separated from, thus God could not die – before the Incarnation.
Finally, the second question: Did God die? Let me answer that question with a question. Who is Jesus Christ? In the words of Martin Luther, He is “true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true Man, born of the virgin Mary.” Here you have the 2nd Person of the Trinity, God the Son, becoming also a human being with a human body and soul. Since God and Man are united in the person of Jesus, it wasn’t only Jesus the Man hanging on the cross, it was Jesus, the God-Man. You cannot separate the Two Natures of Christ, so when Jesus died, God the Son died – not a cessation of existence, but the experience of the separation of soul and body in death. So, with the Incarnation of Christ, God could, and did die. He died, not because of His sins, but because of ours.
Only a man can be under the Law of God and die; only God can make atonement for sins and conquer death. Jesus was both and did both. While we may wonder at this great mystery, let us also rejoice that through such great love for us, we have eternal life in Him, and death itself has been swallowed up in victory.
O sorrow dread! Our God is dead, Upon the cross extended.
There His love enlivened us As His life was ended.
“O Darkest Woe” LSB #448, vs. 2
God bless you in our crucified and resurrected God, Jesus Christ!
“PLEASE, JUST SHUT UP!”
“… So that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” Romans 3:19
If there’s a breaking point where one moves from being a nice guy to a curmudgeon, I think I’m reaching it quickly. No, I’m not sitting on the porch of my house yelling at kids to “Get off my lawn!” It’s worse than that. I’m finding myself thinking and, sometimes shouting out loud at the TV: “Please, just SHUT UP!”
Politicians, athletes, entertainers, media pundits, Social Justice Warriors and Millennial College Snowflakes are among the many individuals and groups that frustrate me because they have to use every opportunity to mouth off, protest, or just barf up every addled thought rattling through their empty heads. Harsh? Yes, and I ask God for forgiveness for these evil thoughts.
Believe me, I am not against the 1st Amendment right to speak freely. I just think that we have lost the ability to use our freedom of speech responsibly. We would do well to heed King Solomon’s words: “To everything there is a season … a time to speak and a time to refrain from speaking (Ecclesiates 3:1, 7).” Instead, people are so self-absorbed that they think they must spout their views whenever they feel like it, irregardless of whether or not it’s the appropriate time.
And so you get athletes who protest “police brutality” by taking a knee during the National Anthem; Actors pleading for more Gun Control while making millions of dollars starring in violent Hollywood movies; Politicians who will always oppose and denigrate those of the opposite Party; Educators who can’t just teach their subjects, but must impose their political viewpoints on their captive students; Protestors who wave signs and chant who, when asked what it is they are protesting, can’t really give you an intelligent answer; and the Rich and Famous who declare that Global Warming – excuse me … Climate Change is going to destroy us so they demand that we “little people” reduce our Carbon Footprint, eat less meat, drive electric cars and rely on so-called Green Energy while they fly all over the world in their private jets, drive monster-sized cars and have several mansions all belching out more Carbon than thousands of the rest of us would in a year. Y’know what? Your hypocrisy is showing. Please, just shut up!
And then I look at myself (Darn it all!). Even as I moan and gripe about the sins of others, the Law of God echoes back: “You who brag about the Law, do you dishonor God by breaking the Law? (Rom. 2:23),” or “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye but do not see the log that is in your own eye? (Matt. 7:3).” That’s God’s Law saying to me, “Please, just shut up!” That’s what the Law does, as St. Paul notes above. It holds all of us accountable and it silences us. The Law indeed shows the sins of others but, if we are willing to see it, also shows us our sins as well. When we try to justify ourselves by pointing to the sins of others, the Law says “Shut up!” When we are so busy complaining about what others do that we do not see what part we have also played in the problem, the Law thunders: “Please, just shut up!”
And that’s humbling. Actually, it’s humiliating. And finally, when we do shut up, we can start listening again. Then we can hear, in our own humiliation and shame, the words of Christ: “I forgive you. I died for all your sins. I live again, and I live in you. You are mine.” What grace! What love! What strength to make us gracious and loving toward others, even as their sins (real or imagined) may frustrate us at times.
The season of Lent is a time in the Church Year where we specifically concentrate on our sins, repentance over those sins, and the sacrifice Christ made of Himself to bring about our forgiveness. Yet, repentance is not relegated to the six weeks of Lent. As Martin Luther wrote in the first of his Ninety-five Theses: “When Christ our Lord and Master said ‘Repent ye,’ He willed that the whole life of believers should be one of repentance.” This is not to be some morbid exercise in self-debasement, but one of regularly and honestly looking at ourselves and our need for forgiveness, and trusting in Christ for that forgiveness. It gives us perspective. And with that kind of perspective, gives us humility in our dealings with the frailties of others.
Yes, there is way too much talking going on in our culture today that is better left unsaid. But while we may not be able to get others to “shut up,” we can, at least for ourselves, not join willy-nilly into the fray, but spend more time listening – to others, certainly, but most especially to God’s Word – that when we do speak, it will be “helpful for building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Eph. 4:29).”
God bless your Lenten observances in Christ.
“BLOOM WHERE YOU’RE PLANTED”
“I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us to into the house of the Lord.’” Psalm 122:1
Well, it’s another New Year. It seems like 2017 started not that long ago, and here it is, 2018 already. Wowza! So, among all the many resolutions people are making for the New Year, may I suggest this one: Go to church. Regularly. Weekly, if possible.
I know some may object to this suggestion, but are those objections truly valid, or just excuses? While there are valid reasons why some can’t attend church regularly, if at all, such as age and health issues; work requirements; military deployments; lack of transportation, etc. how many objections really boil down to: “I don’t feel like it,” or “I’m just not that interested?” And if that honestly is the reason, then we have other, more serious spiritual issues at stake than just lack of church attendance.
Maybe you don’t go because you don’t like the pastor, or someone at church offended you. Maybe you don’t go because the liturgy and hymns aren’t “peppy” enough for your tastes. Maybe you don’t go because the Service times conflict with other obligations you have. Then (Don’t take this wrong), find another congregation. Lord knows, there are plenty of them around. The key is that you are regularly gathering with fellow believers to receive the gifts of God in Christ.
Or, perhaps, you’ve moved away and find it hard to connect with a new congregation because you’ve got such a strong attachment to your home congregation and pastor. Going somewhere else seems, somehow, wrong or unsatisfying. While the sentiment is certainly understandable, you must be careful not to turn your home congregation or pastor into an idol. Pastors come and go. That pastor you’re so fond of won’t always be at your home congregation. You go to church, not to worship the pastor, but to receive the gifts of Christ given through your pastor. Those same gifts are given by other pastors in other congregations as well. And you need those gifts. Regularly. Weekly, if possible.
Perhaps this will help: Jeremiah the prophet writes to the Israelites who were in captivity in Babylon. They were away from their homes, country and Temple. Likely, they would prefer to have been back in Israel, worshipping in their “home church,” but they could not. Jeremiah writes: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters…Also seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you…Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper (Jer. 29:5-7).”
In other words: They were to bloom where they were planted. Life, including their worship life, was to continue where they were. So with you. Just because you might prefer your home church and pastor, yet you have moved elsewhere, with a new home and a new job in a new city. So why would you not also attend a new church? The gifts of God remain the same. Your need for forgiveness remains the same. His Word and Sacraments remain the same. The Savior who died for you remains the same. And the Lord’s will for you to gather with your fellow Christians to “hold God’s Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it” also remains the same.
So, if you have not been attending Divine Services for a while, either here in Bad Axe or wherever you are, resolve, with the Lord’s help, to make 2018 a year of renewed involvement in the church. Remember, God invites you to come and receive the wonderful things He has for you in Christ.
God bless you and Happy New Year!
“THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING”
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable Gift.”
II Corinthians 9:15
By the time you read this, there will be about “21 Shopping Days ‘Till Christmas.” There’s always much joy and excitement in giving a gift to someone you love, watch them open it and then take pleasure in what they have received. The best gifts are not necessarily the most expensive ones, but the ones given in love, and which remind us of that love and thoughtfulness every time we see, or use that gift. Then it really becomes “the gift that keeps on giving,” sometimes even over generations.
Obviously, the giving of gifts at Christmas is a reminder of the gifts of the Magi when they came to the infant Jesus to present Him with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Those gifts to Jesus “keep on giving” down through the ages as the Christmas Story is read again each year in churches during the Christmas Season.
Those gifts of the Magi were given as a response to a Gift that they, and the whole world received from God: the Gift of His Son to be the Savior of the world. As the angel said to the shepherds: “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).”
Throughout the ages, that Gift of God keeps on giving to all who receive it: Forgiveness, life, love, hope, comfort, peace, joy, strength, purpose, fellowship, courage, calling, and even heaven itself. Because God sent His only-begotten Son into the world to take our sins away, we have been given the greatest, most costliest gift imaginable. We have been given God Himself. Truly, this Gift is one that continues to give so much as we behold and embrace it for ourselves. How can we help but respond in thankfulness and praise, as did the Magi, to this wonderful Gift God has given?
Well, besides the normal, and proper response of the giving of yourself to Him through faithful worship and living your life daily as His redeemed and forgiven child, may I be so bold as to suggest another way you can, like the Magi, respond? I would ask you to prayerfully, and sacrificially support on a weekly, or at least monthly, basis the ongoing ministry here at Our Savior. Through your regular gifts and offerings, you provide the means for this congregation to carry out God’s work in Bad Axe, and beyond. Your support makes it possible for young and old alike to be able to hear God’s Word and receive His gifts in Worship. You help provide a place where heaven and earth meet, and people can see Jesus. And your faithful and generous support will enable more people to have access to the gifts that God wants to give them (and you). When you give to God through Our Savior, yours are indeed gifts “that keep on giving” through generations to come, and lasting to eternity.
Have a very Blessed and Merry Christmas, and come share with us The Gift of Jesus.
“RIGHT, BUT NOT PROPER”
1 Corinthians 6:12
“’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful.”
With this whole NFL kerfluffle over whether or not to stand or take a knee during the National Anthem, I think something important is being overlooked. Yes, the players who take a knee during the Anthem are expressing their 1st Amendment rights of Free Speech to protest what they perceive as the Country’s ongoing injustices. I don’t believe that many would say they do not have the right to their opinions. The key is whether or not the National Anthem at a football game (or any other sporting event) is the appropriate place to make that statement.
People do not go to, or watch sporting events for the political discourse. When an activity that is meant to be shared by everyone, no matter what their ethnic, religious or political viewpoints happen to be, is then turned into a political football (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun), we no longer enjoy the game or activity but are, instead, pitted against one another as to who is more patriotic: the kneeler or the stander.
Sports, like other entertainment venues such as concerts and plays are sought out by people to decompress from the stress and struggles of the day. These are meant as an escape from the serious business of life, work and politics. When actors, singers or athletes inject their particular political views or grievances wherever and whenever they feel like it, they may have the “right” to do it, but it’s not “helpful” to their cause, or to those blindsided by suddenly being thrust into a political squabble when least expected.
Perhaps this lack of discernment (especially among liberals and Leftists, in my view) concerning when it is appropriate to speak, or to refrain from speaking one’s political views, is why organizations like ESPN, the NFL and Hollywood itself are seeing their ratings tanking and large swaths of their audiences on the Right either just “checking out,” or beginning to push back by ratcheting up the rhetoric. This is not a healthy way for society to exist.
But these are all symptoms of something deeper: a spiritual malaise of the American people that substitutes sports, entertainment, politics, or one’s own selfish need for validation in place of God and His Word. When you turn your back on the One who truly unifies us in the forgiveness of sins and the life we can have together in Christ, then all you have left are the gods of this world pitting us one against the other.
It is said that “Iron Sharpens Iron.” Healthy disagreement and debate enables us to recognize the wheat from the chaff of ideas and ideologies so we can pursue that which is best and wholesome for all. The 1st Amendment was designed to protect those whose words and ideas may not be popular at the moment, and to allow for debate and discussion. But it does not give carte blanche to force one’s views on others at inappropriate and unhelpful times. Simple human courtesy recognizes that there is, as King Solomon writes: “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7).”
As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day later this month, along with giving thanks to God for supplying all that we need to support this body and life, AND for the gift of forgiveness and life through Christ, perhaps we can all take a breath, relax, and cut each other some slack. Be thankful that we live in a country that does allow squabbles and quibbles without fear (so far) of government coercion and punishment, and enjoy those common pursuits that we can share together, whatever our political persuasion.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:31-32).”
God grant it (though we don’t deserve it) for the sake of Christ.
[Jesus said] “When you see these things happening, look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws near.”
When our Lord spoke those words to His disciples, He was speaking of the cataclysmic events that would shake even the heavens before His return at the Last Day. It was meant to encourage them that, as terrifying as those things would be for the wicked and unbelieving, they would be signs of joy for those who are Christ’s awaiting His return.
But I would like to take a different tack with our Lord’s encouragement to “Look Up.” Other than with the recent solar eclipse, when is the last time you actually spent time looking up at the sky? That thought occurred to me as I walked over to church this morning. Typically, I look down at my feet to keep from tripping over them, but I happened to glance up and had to stop. Huge billows of white clouds were bright with the sunlight and, together with patches of blue sky, radiant with various colors of Fall. And underneath those high, still clouds, lower clouds in shadow raced by, giving a constant change to the textures and hues I saw. It was almost breathtaking, and would have been completely missed had I been walking with my nose pointed to my phone, preoccupied with texting, or whatever.
It is said that with all the “connectivity” people have now because of technology, and the many ways to communicate on social media, people feel more isolated and unhappy than ever before. I suppose that’s not surprising. We’re instantly alerted of anything bad that happens anywhere in the world, and that alert is constantly churned through the various websites and news channels we visit so that we are exposed to it over and over again. And when you wrap in all the vitriol and hateful comments people constantly make on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, it’s as if our emotions are constantly at High Alert.
It’s no wonder that technology, rather than making us happy for more than a few minutes, is actually draining our mental and emotional reserves. Who has the time for actual person-to-person interaction, or sitting on the porch in an evening talking to those who pass by, when our smart devices are constantly beeping and booping and pinging alerts that we’ve got a text, a call, a news item demanding our attention Immediately!
In an age where so many people are constantly looking down at their smart phones, maybe it’s time we begin to Look Up again; to “Be still, and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10).” Turn off your devices and go outside, lie in the grass and look at the clouds of day or the stars at night. Take in the colors and textures of the Fall sky, or see how many constellations and planets you can pick out at night. Let your imagination run wild with the shapes you see. Initially, to many, that may seem boring. In reality, it’s anything but.
For once you take time to look at the creation again, you can’t help but consider the Creator of it. Even as your body relaxes, your mind and spirit can be activated in wholesome ways that do not manipulate your emotions, but allow those emotions to flow naturally in awe and thankfulness to our “God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” who in love sent His Son, Jesus, to be our Redeemer from sin, and also from the empty things of this life that clutter our brains and hearts. And by the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, comforts our hearts through faith in Christ that, even while the world around us is in chaos, we can be at peace.
And as you take time to Look Up and commune with God in His creation, also take time to put your phone away and commune with God in His new creation, the Church. There you will connect with actual people, not over wi-fi, but in person. There you will find in Jesus rest for your soul as you hear His Word and receive His Supper. There you will find, not a catering to your own wants and will, but an equipping of you to be of help and service to those around you. There you receive the forgiveness of your sins, strength to live as God’s Christian, and a purpose larger and more meaningful than the latest Snapchat image of kittens that will disappear a few seconds after it beeps on your phone.
So, when you’re feeling overwhelmed by all that’s coming at you through various technology and media, turn off your TV, computer or phone, go out side and look up. And remember that your Savior and Redeemer, Jesus, is coming again – for you, to be with Him forever.
“A HOUSE DIVIDED AGAIN?”
[Jesus said] “Every kingdom divided against itself will be
brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself cannot stand.” Matthew 12:25
Recently, we have seen numerous protests, vandalism and destruction of Confederate Civil War statues. These protestors argue that we shouldn’t glorify slave owners or those who fought for slavery by having these public statues. I must admit that, being a Civil War buff myself, I didn’t see what the big deal was. I mean, these statues have been around for well over a century, right? Aren’t we, by removing these public statues, wiping away history? Imagine my surprise in finding that many of those Confederate statues were erected during the Civil Rights era of the 1950’s and 60’s – and in many places around the country that were never involved in the Civil War!
So, to what purpose were some of these later statues erected? Were they to commemorate or intimidate? Were they meant to bring perspective to a complex war that dealt with issues of slavery verses freedom, and – maybe even primarily – of states’ rights verses Federal control of the states? Or were they put up to make black people shut up?
Again, I am conflicted. The Civil War is part of American history. Over six hundred thousand died to bring an end to slavery in America. It is necessary to remember what took place so that we can see how far we’ve come. But, the Confederacy ultimately was not on the side of angels. It sought to perpetuate an abhorrent institution, and was willing to break up the Union in the process. Should we, then, commemorate the leaders of the Confederacy in the public square? Before you answer that, would it have been fitting for groups of Germans after World War II to erect public statues commemorating Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler and Goering?
Apples to oranges? Maybe. I can see both sides. Sadly though, it seems that these radical agitators aren’t going to be content with the removal of Confederate statues only, but are already calling for the removal of other statues and monuments, such as those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Christopher Columbus and all “dead, white males” instrumental in bringing this country into being, or who helped make it great. This exposes a more virulent agenda than just being offended over slavery in America’s past. These agitators are hell-bent on erasing anyone and anything that is foundational to the principles of liberty that our country stands for, and that doesn’t measure up to their leftist, politically correct ideologies. And, if necessary, they’re willing to use violence and anarchy to achieve their goals. This is not right.
The fact is, these statues all represent complex people who did both good things and bad. Unlike the Nazis I mentioned above, most of these Confederate statues commemorate honorable and, in many cases, God-fearing men, who happened to be on the wrong side of the issue. Writ large in history, and in bronze, these individuals remind us that we are all sinners. All our heroes are “angels with dirty faces” and, but for the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross, would be eternally condemned. There is no perfect leader, governmental system or country. There is only the perfect Savior of Sinners – Jesus. Erasing these statues from public view deprives us the ability to discuss, and learn from the things they represent.
So, in my opinion, the issue of keeping or removing the statues of famous Confederates should be left to the individual communities that have them, and not to outside agitators, protestors or the media. To deface or destroy these public monuments is criminal and the vandals should be prosecuted. Instead of allowing anarchists to force their will upon communities, let the people, working through their local governments, make those decisions. Riots, violence and disruption of the civil order have no legitimate place here, and good people on both sides should not tolerate, but strongly oppose together, those who do such things.
Just before the Civil War, President Lincoln (quoting the words of Christ) said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” It was a warning that we should all heed today.
“THE SURVEY SAYS . . .”
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me
and know my anxious thoughts.”
Webster’s Dictionary defines the word Survey as: a. “To look over or examine,” and b. “To query in order to collect data for the analysis of some aspect of a group or area.” Well, that was boring. Few people like taking surveys, and yet, they can be helpful in evaluating people’s opinions and perspectives on various issues. Which brings me to the point of this article:
Over the years, our congregation has struggled with finding people to volunteer to serve in various ways, or to take leadership positions in the church. We question how we should approach issues of staffing, finances, programming, outreach, church attendance, reconnecting with inactive members and assimilating new members, and a whole host of other things. We are not unique in this; many congregations wrestle with these same issues.
As such, it is easy for a congregation to get into a rut. When that happens, members often become either frustrated or unmotivated, and begin to invest their time and talents elsewhere, even though they still value their connection to the congregation. They don’t see much going on, so they don’t think that their involvement is that crucial: “Nobody will care if I’m not in church or Bible Class, or serving in some way.” Over time, if nothing changes, this can mean a slow death for a congregation.
Concerned about these things, last fall the Board of Directors contacted the Michigan District for help in trying to get a handle on our particular situation: where we’ve been; where we are; and where we hope to be going in the future. As such, we have started a Congregational Self-Evaluation study that, it is hoped, will help us understand our strengths and weaknesses; what our members perceive the congregation to be; and what they think we should be focusing on.
Part of that Self-Study entails our folks taking some surveys, which will than be evaluated by the District, together with other kinds of information about the congregation and the community we serve, and then compiled into a report to the congregation with guidance about things we can do to reinvigorate the ministry here and make it more effective.
There will be three types of surveys used: A general one to all members; A much more specific one to 30 members of various ages and lengths of time as members; and then a very easy one (four questions only) handed out at the beginning of the Service for four consecutive weeks, just to get an idea of the types of folks attending our Services. We ask that, when you get one of these surveys, that you would fill them out honestly (These are anonymous, and will be read by the District as part of its evaluation to help our congregation), and in a timely manner. We’d like to complete our end of the process by October 1st at the latest.
In advance, thank you for your involvement, and for your participation in this Self-Study. May it be used to help us as we look to many years of fruitful and faithful Service to the Gospel.
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1
This is just a brief reflection on the 4th of July. It is a day of summer barbeques, swimming, fishing, family get-togethers and just general summer fun. There may be parades, speeches, fireworks, picnics and other traditional activities. But sadly, there tends to be little reflection on the meaning of the 4th of July, also known as “Independence Day.”
That was the day in 1776 that our country declared our independence from the rule of King George of England. It sparked an experiment in a governmental system never before seen in the world. A system recognizing certain “inalienable rights” guaranteed, not by the government (which can be taken away at government’s whim), but by our Creator. It would be a government, later described by one of our finest presidents, “of the people, by the people and for the people.”
That declaration of our independence from British rule sparked a war that would decide if the American people would become free and self-governing, or remain a colony under British rule. We all know the outcome, and for over two hundred years we have enjoyed the freedoms won for us by the blood shed at our country’s birth, and has had to be continually shed over two centuries, both at home and abroad, to keep those freedoms intact. Freedoms we too often take for granted.
In spite of all our problems today, and the many who would gladly (and vainly) trade away those hard won freedoms for the illusion of security and ease, there is still much for which we can be thankful. I especially would like to remember the sacrifice and service of those in our Armed Forces, past and present. I am thankful for our veterans and for our active duty service personnel. I am thankful for those willing to go in harm’s way so that I can enjoy peaceful times and lazy summer picnics. I am thankful for those standing on the front lines so I don’t have to. I hope we do not squander what you have given us.
And I think of another war in which blood was shed for our liberty. It was a war that had to be fought for those in captivity, but the one who fought it didn’t have to, but chose to do so anyway. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, shed His blood to defeat those enemies who kept us captive: Sin, Death and the Devil. His victory over those dread enemies has set us free, and given life to all who believe in Him. Some still squander His sacrifice and gift, but it doesn’t change the nature of what He did for us. I am thankful He gave His life for you and me, and for the liberty we have in Him.
So this 4th of July, take time to remember (and thank) those who served and sacrificed for our freedoms. And remember, too, your Savior’s sacrifice for you. Do not use the summer as an excuse to avoid church and the gifts of Christ gives to you here, but come and receive those gifts regularly so that you, indeed, can “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free.”
God bless you,
“In the last days . . . people will be lovers of self . . . rather than
lovers of God.” 2 Timothy 3:1-4
Okay, boys and girls, it’s Story Time (“Yaaaay!”). There was a man named Narcissus. He was very proud and self-centered. He rejected all who would love him, and thought only of himself. One day while out hunting, he saw his reflection in a pool of water and fell in love with it. He gazed at the image of himself longingly and couldn’t bear to leave it, so he stayed there by the pool, gazing at himself until he wasted away and died (some say he committed suicide because he could not have his ideal “love”). The End.
It is from this old Greek mythological tale that we get the term “Narcissist,” a personality disorder that causes one to have exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a complete lack of understanding for the feelings of others. While there are examples of people with this disorder in every age, I am seeing evidence that this condition is culture-wide now – not just in the obsessive need to post every detail of our lives on social media, but from college students who cannot bear to hear any contrary thought or idea to the complete dismantlement of any traditional structure or institution embraced by the majority so as to not “offend” even the most minutest of minorities. We are so in love with ourselves that everything else must bend or break before us so that our feelings aren’t hurt and we can have our way.
We certainly see this being played out in the areas of sexuality and marriage. What once had been an institution (created by God) for a life long commitment of one man and one woman and the raising of a family, has now become a circus of divorce, infidelity and even indifference as couples choose to co-habit instead. On top of that, various couplings of people are succeeding in altering the cultural understanding of marriage so that two (or more) men or women can get married or even, in certain other Western European countries, one can marry his pet dog or cat (I am not making this up!).
All of these manifestations are examples of self-love, wanting to take the place of God, His Word and His design in order to have ourselves affirmed, and our wills bent to. It is narcissism, where we are most important, and everyone better go along with it, OR ELSE! We have been on such a downward spiral regarding marriage that we have now reached the growing trend of – wait for it . . .
Sologamy! Monogamy is the marriage of one person to another. Polygamy is the marriage of one person to two or more others. Sologamy is a person who marries oneself. Yes, that’s right. With a wedding ceremony, vows, a ring and maybe a reception afterward, the person marries herself (I deliberately use the feminine pronoun because this practice seems to be exclusive among feminist women right now). This is narcissism on steroids, and is an ultimate rejection of God in favor of the idolatry of self. As a culture, we are committing suicide in so many ways.
There is good news, though. When cultures enter the death spiral of materialism or self -absorption, the contrast between the life and peace of Christ in His people verses the emptiness and death of the culture becomes more apparent. There will be those trapped in a narcissistic culture that will begin to hunger for something greater outside of themselves. They will see the emptiness within, and look to be filled from without. And this is where the Church, God’s people, can be of real service to make a difference. And I don’t mean the narcissistic, entertainment-driven muck that passes for American Christianity, but the true Law and Gospel, Sin and Grace, Repentance and Forgiveness-in- Christ Church that will make a difference.
But in order to do that, we’ve got to hang in there, counter-cultural though we may be in doing so. Individually, we need to examine our own lives and assumptions to see if we’ve been taken captive by culture instead of living free in Christ. And if we find that has happened to us, we repent and return to God’s Word and His grace and forgiveness in Christ. And we live that out in our families, our schools and our jobs, as well as in our culture. We love our neighbor as ourselves, but we do not bend over backwards to accommodate our neighbor’s destructive and narcissistic demands.
When we finally stop loving ourselves so much, we can begin to truly love others and do good to them for the sake of Christ who died for all.
God’s blessings in Christ.
“SO, NOW WHAT?”
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship,to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2:42
Easter Sunday has come and gone. We had a wonderful attendance at all Services that weekend. We even managed to avoid the “After-Easter Slump” the following weekend because of Confirmation Sunday.
So, now what?
Having again seen the awe-full love of God for sinners as Christ hung on the cross for us bearing our sins; and having come face to face with His joyous victory over death and the grave by His resurrection, will we continue with Jesus in regularly hearing His Word, receiving His Supper and gathering with His disciples, or will we drift back into a spiritual sleepiness that can’t even watch with Jesus for one hour a week?
Do you view church attendance as either a voluntary activity to be engaged in when in the mood, or a mandatory thing you have to do until you’ve reached the bare-minimum requirement of Sundays? Either approach misses the point. God commands us to regularly (weekly) hear His Word, but His command comes, not in the form of a harsh demand but a gracious invitation. We need what God offers to us in His Word and Sacraments. We need the strength, forgiveness, comfort and encouragement that He provides. As prone to sin and waywardness as we are anyway, without God’s gifts, we will be lost. We need these things, not just once in a Blue Moon, but constantly.
So, now what?
If Easter was the first time in a long time that you came to church, don’t make it the last time until next Easter. God’s gifts are for us throughout the year, and for every day of our lives. It’s how we live out the life of Christ in our lives as His Christians.
And the more involved your are in receiving His gifts, the more you are eager to say with the Psalmist: “I was glad when they said unto me; let us go into the house of the Lord (Ps. 122:1).”
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
“LIFE FROM DEATH”
“I know that my Redeemer lives.” Job 19:25
When one faces the death of a loved one, or even one’s own death, it can be a fearful thing. We feel powerless in the face of it. Even with all the medical advances; no matter how many times we find healing; no matter how old we get to be, we will still have to face what Scripture calls “The Last Enemy.”
If all we have to face such a thing comes from our own wisdom, knowledge and strength, then we would have to grieve in hopelessness, for human experience cannot let us see beyond the limits of the grave. Thankfully, though, we have more than human reason and strength. We have God’s own Word that we do not face our last enemy alone, and death does not have the last word.
Christ has conquered sin and death for us by taking our sin upon Himself, giving us His forgiveness and life by dying on the cross and rising again from the tomb. He has given all who believe in Him an absolute assurance that Life (Christ’s life, and our life in Him), not death has the last word. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, even though he die, yet shall he live (John 11:25).” St. Paul writes, “We believe that Jesus died, and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him (I Thess. 4:14).” Elsewhere St. Paul writes: “For the trumpet will sound, an the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed…Death has been swallowed up in victory…Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:52-57).”
These are not only comforting truths, but strengthening truths as well. They are not just for the time we face death, but they are also our reason for living life here and now to its fullest. Having been baptized into Christ, He has made us His own and given us newness of life in Him now. Each day we can live in confidence as His Christians, come what may. For if God would go to such great lengths to bring about our salvation and future eternal life, then He is certainly more than capable of caring for us in our day to day needs and struggles.
Easter Sunday is the 16th of this month. In response to all that Christ has done for you, and in anticipation of the future blessings that are yours by grace, take time out to come to worship during the remaining days of Lent, and most definitely come to sing His praises on the Sunday we celebrate His victory (which is also ours) over death.
Christ is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed!
“But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9
Tell me if you think this is an apology: “I’m sorry that you’re upset.” Or, “I’m sorry that you were offended by what I said.” I’ll bet that, if you were the one hurt, you wouldn’t consider either of these statements an apology. Why? Well, because the one making such an apology is actually putting the blame for the problem on you. Let’s look at it again: “I’m sorry that you’re upset.” “I’m sorry that you were offended, etc.” In other words, “I’m sorry you’re ticked off, you unreasonable slob!” People who apologize this way are not sorry for what they did; they’re just sorry for how you reacted. Politicians and bureaucrats are famous for issuing these types of “apologies.”
Now, imagine trying this with God: “I’m sorry, God, that You’re mad because I had an affair,” or, “I’m sorry, God, that You don’t like me misusing Your name.” Do you think these are true confessions that show remorse over sin? No way. Rather, it shows an unrepentant spirit that believes God’s anger or hurt over sin is unreasonable and unjustified but, in order to avoid any repercussions that may come resorts in mouthing these non-apology apologies.
So, how should a proper apology sound? Try this: “I’m sorry. What I did was wrong. Please forgive me.” This is so simple that it’s a no-brainer. And yet it is so difficult to do.
The reason for that is pride. None of us likes to admit we were wrong. No one enjoys putting himself in a position where he appears weak. When we are forced to face up to a problem we’ve caused, we resort to a “stealth-apology” in an attempt to mollify the situation without actually having to be sorry. The same applies to the “But” apologies: “I’m sorry, but . . .,” which is another way of trying to shift the blame for what we did to someone or something else. The moment we deflect our guilt elsewhere, even partially, then we are not truly repentant, and it is no genuine apology.
It requires humility to acknowledge and confess our own wrongdoing to others. It also requires courage to face possible anger and rejection in order to make things right. A true apology is a sign, not of weakness, but of strength. And, it is the necessary first step in fixing what we broke.
True humility first begins with Christ, who “humbled Himself to death, even death upon the cross (Phil 2)” so that all our sins might be forgiven. The necessity for the sinless Son of God to die in our place if we were ever to hope to get to heaven must humble us, unless we have hearts made of stone. And it instructs us of the importance of coming to terms with sin and forgiveness – not just with regard to God, but with regard to our neighbor, as well.
While it may be natural to want to deflect our guilt to another, or at least minimize it, doing this does not really help us in the long run. The relationship we’ve damaged may not fully heal and, deep down, our consciences will still accuse us. And God does take seriously our lack of repentance toward Him and toward others.
So, what do we do about this? First, be honest with yourself and with God about who and what you are, but also trust what God has already done for you in Christ. The general confession of sins in
“Divine Service Setting Three” of the hymnal (pg. 184) is a good primer for this: “O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.” In that spirit, with no dodging or weaving about our sin, we are ready to receive the absolution of Christ, who willingly took our place under judgment, and paid the full price for all our sins. We are forgiven in Christ, and God is our gracious heavenly Father.
Secondly, having come to terms with the above, we can now be honest with those we have sinned against. Living out the forgiveness we have in Christ enables us to truly apologize to others without adding any qualifiers. Sure, it will still be uncomfortable and scary, and there’s always the risk that they might not accept your apology. Still, it is the right thing to do. We don’t lose anything by this, and we have everything to gain.
It is indeed by the Gospel we have the power to not only “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other (James 5:16),” but also to “forgive one another just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).” That’s what it’s all about.
God’s blessings in Christ,
“BUT THAT’S DIFFERENT!”
“You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?” Romans 2:21-22
Well, since the election and subsequent inauguration of our new President, we have been treated to numerous examples of hypocrisy from politicians, celebrities and the media. They roundly condemn past indelicate statements made privately by the president while publicly using the exact same, and in many cases, even worse language. Practices and procedures under the previous administration that were ignored or accepted by folks are now being criticized, in regard to the current one, by those same people! When you point out the inconsistency of condemning the guy they don’t like doing the same things that the guy they like also did, they respond: “But that’s different!”
Ah, I’ve really come to hate that phrase. Someone demands tolerance from everyone else while being completely intolerant of anyone holding a different viewpoint from him. “But, that’s different!” Whites are accused of racism towards minorities yet, when minorities show the same attitudes toward whites (or others), well, “That’s different!” Wealthy conservatives are criticized for “not paying their fair share in taxes” but, when wealthy liberals are called out that they, too, use every legal loophole to avoid additional taxes, they respond (C’mon everybody! Let’s say it all together:), “But that’s different!”
“But, that’s different” is the dodge of Old Adam (the sinful nature) seeking to justify its judgmentalism and wickedness toward others while complaining about the wickedness and judgmentalism of others toward them. It’s the excuse that wriggles out of having to follow the same rules and standards that we expect others to hold. It’s that arrogant, self-righteous deflection that allows one to ignore Scripture’s call to repent. My anger; my unforgiving spirit; my sloth in good works; my lust; my greed; my envy; my indifference to the things of God, well, “That’s different! I have a right to bear a grudge against that lousy S.O.B. I have a right to be happy, even if I have to cheat on my spouse. I have a right to keep all my possessions for myself while someone else is in need. I have a right to hate others who don’t agree with me.”
You know what’s not different? We all do this. At one time or another, we all attempt to dismiss our guilty attitudes and actions with the excuse, “But that’s different!” It’s not. If it’s wrong for others, then it’s wrong for us. Even if we can convince ourselves that our situation really is different, God sees through all of it and His Law condemns us and calls us to Repent.
Thankfully, though, when the Law of God has finally crushed us and we are brought to seek forgiveness, Jesus doesn’t say: “You did that?!! Well, that’s different! I didn’t die for that!” He died for it all – and for you all. Our situation is not different from others for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23)” and “Christ died for all (2 Cor. 5:14).”
Rather than trying to make excuses for our sin by saying “But that’s different,” we humbly confess instead: “We have not loved You with our whole heart; We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.” And without any work we do for God, and with all the stain of our sin, “Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins.”
Now that really is different!
God bless you!
“THE LIGHT HAS COME. DO YOU SEE IT?”
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
Well, here we are at the beginning of a New Year. Are we coming out of eight years of darkness and into a new light of prosperity as a nation under a new administration, or four (or eight) years more of darkness, gloom and despair? Only God knows.
But remember what we just celebrated: Christmas. The Son of God was born into the world as our Savior. He is the One described in Isaiah as “the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Isaiah goes on to say: “Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end (Is. 9:6-7).” As God’s Christians, we have one who is our Redeemer-King. We are citizens of His kingdom that will never end, no matter what happens to the nations or kingdoms we belong to here on earth (Phil. 3:20-21).
And, having finished with the Christmas Season, we now enter Epiphany. The light of the newborn king heralded by angels to the shepherds is now shining out into the world, attracting people of every nation, tribe, people and language into this eternal kingdom. To those in the darkness of sin and unbelief, the light of Christ is shining new faith, new hope, new courage and new life.
Oh, the darkness of the devil, the world, and fallen, sinful man try to snuff out that Light, but they cannot. They attack God’s people and make them fearful, but only for a time. Yet, as God’s Word continues to be proclaimed and believed, the darkness is being pushed back, and the devil is sent fleeing.
All because of a little baby. All because of what that baby would grow up to do: Take on sin, death and hell in Himself as He dies on the cross and rises again. The Light is shining; do you see it? Christ has come to redeem you; do you believe it? If so, what difference is it making in your life? Or, now that the Christmas decorations are being taken down, are you just simply going back to “business as usual” in the world, and will again neglect throughout the year the great Gift you have been given?
The truth is, Jesus continues to give us the gift of Himself all the time in very concrete ways. Every time we read or hear His Word, He is there speaking to us and, especially in the Gospel, forgiving our sins. Every time we receive Holy Communion, Jesus is there giving us His very body and blood, together with bread and wine, for the forgiveness of our sins. Forgiveness from our Savior is not something we need once in our lives, or just once a year. It is an ongoing need because we sin daily and need that assurance of forgiveness of our sins daily.
As this New Year has begun, with all of its “unknowns” lying ahead, embrace that which is known. Live in the Light that you have received. Cling to your Savior, Jesus Christ, and recommit to regularly hearing His Word and gathering with His people throughout the year to receive Him, who is “The Light of the World,” in the gifts He gives in His Word and Sacraments.
Join regularly in worship with your fellow Christians as we share together, with angels, and archangels and all the company of heaven, the glorious Light of the Savior who has been born for us: Christ the Lord.
God bless you, Happy New Year, and a blessed Epiphany!
“IF JESUS WAS IN CHURCH”
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship,to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).”
If you knew that Jesus was going to be in church this Sunday, would you come? I’m pretty confident that most of you would say, “Yes.” You might even rearrange your schedules so you could be here. After all, who wouldn’t want to be in church to hear Jesus speak to us, receive His gifts and be in His presence?
The thing is, Jesus will be in church with us this Sunday. He will be present to speak to us in His Word and to give us His gifts, just as He is and does every single time God’s people gather in worship.
Too many think that Jesus is up in heaven, isolated from us, or that we carry Him around “in our hearts” all the time, so going to church to be with Him is no big deal. But He is not locked up in heaven, and our hearts don’t always know or recognize Jesus, depending on what is going on at any given moment. We can be confident, though, of when and where He is truly present with us, because of His promise.
Jesus has promised to be with us always, but especially when His Word is being preached, read and taught, and when His Sacraments are being rightly administered. In other words, Jesus speaks to us in His Word, gives us His gifts of forgiveness and grace, and is physically present with us in His body and blood through the bread and wine of Holy Communion, each time, every time.
The point is: if you would rearrange your schedules and make every effort to come to church if you knew Jesus was going to be there, then Rejoice!, because every week at church, Jesus is here, and He wants you to be here with Him.
NOTE: December is the month for the Advent and Christmas Seasons. The church prepares for the coming of the Savior during Advent, and celebrates His birth at Christmas. We really look forward to seeing you at these additional Services, and sharing with you the Good News of our Savior’s birth. I pray that you will continue to come weekly throughout the year because you know that Jesus will be here.
God’s blessings in Christ,
“SO, WHAT NOW?”
“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man in whom there is no salvation.
[But] the Lord will reign forever (Psalm 146:3, 10).”
Well, it’s over – or soon will be, depending on when you are reading this. This has been the most contentious and tumultuous presidential race that I can ever recall, with two candidates that most are not at all happy with. Likely, one of them is, or will be our 45th president. Who knows whether the winner will wind up being a Gift or a Goat. Either way, this country in the future will not be “your grandfather’s America.”
Yet, we must never forget that God is still involved in the affairs of nations. While we pray that He will give us the leaders that we need, He may instead, as a chastisement, give us the leaders that we deserve. In any event, whether or not our guy or gal wins, they will still be imperfect sinners who will disappoint us on occasion. And, I think it’s safe to say, that whoever wins the White House will be criticized and opposed by those who wanted the other one to win.
So, what now? How do we deal with this as Christians? We pray for the president, and for all who govern us (1 Tim. 2:1-3). We continue to obey the laws of the land (Titus 3:1). We exercise our citizenship in holding the feet of our elected leaders to the fire when they are attempting to make bad laws or policies, or are engaging in corruption. We make our voices heard through letters and phone calls. We use the right of peaceful protests to air our grievances. We work to elect others in the future whom we think will govern more honestly and effectively than those currently in office.
And, most importantly, we stop putting all our trust in human leaders and political parties to be the solution to all our problems (Ps. 118:8-9). Maybe this is why God is allowing the current distressing state of affairs. He is calling us to repent of our political and civil idolatries, and to return, in faith, to Him who is truly “The King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16).”
I do not know how our new president will govern, or whether or not our country will become weaker or stronger under their leadership. But I do know that all of this is temporary; it, too, shall pass. But the grace and mercy of God toward us in Jesus that forgives our sins, comforts our sorrows, gives hope in the midst of helplessness, and brings life out of death does not change with changing administrations or national circumstances. The God who created, redeemed and sanctified us will not abandon those who trust in Him, no matter who is president or which political party is in power. He will bring us into our true Country one day (Heb. 11:16).
In the meantime, pray fervently:
Preserve Your Word, O Savior, To us this latter day,
And let Your kingdom flourish; Enlarge Your Church, we pray.
O keep our faith from failing; Keep hope’s bright star aglow.
Let nothing from truth turn us While living here below. LSB #658 vs. 1
God’s blessings in Christ,
“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress
This month ushers in the 499th anniversary of the Reformation. That means that next year, 2017, is the 500th anniversary. That’s a big deal! For those who don’t know, the Reformation was sparked by Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and university professor, who posted his 95 Theses (statements for discussion) on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. What he meant for an
academic debate touched a nerve long felt by people laboring under the Roman Church’s abuses and false teachings, and a movement to reform the church swept through Germany, and the world, like wildfire.
Luther didn’t want to destroy the Church, but to return her to the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins through faith alone in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died for sinners. That was the core teaching of the Church that became hidden through centuries of tradition and unscriptural doctrines added to the Church’s system of belief. By reforming the Church, those errors would be rejected and the Church would return to what she had taught from the beginning.
While those events seem so long ago, we in the Lutheran Church are inheritors of those faithful heroes and martyrs who fought and died so that the freedom and life we have in Christ could be passed down through generations to us today.
Those were dark times then, religiously and politically. We have entered a similar darkness, not of the Holy Roman Empire, but of a world where much of so-called Christianity again ignores the Gospel for a works righteousness that enslaves consciences, and in a political maelstrom threatening to destroy all who cling to Christ alone.
Many of the hymns that came out of the Reformation like, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” or “O Little Flock, Fear Not the Foe,” or even “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word” served to bring comfort and courage to those who stood against great odds. Those hymns can still do that for us today. For in all of them, God’s Word and Jesus Christ crucified for sinners are their themes. You would be well served to get out your hymnals, find those hymns and memorize them. You may need their message sooner than you think.
As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation next year, many events worldwide, and here in Michigan will be taking place in commemoration. The Thumb East and West Circuits are planning a joint Reformation Service for sometime next year. And the Michigan District will be hosting a mass Reformation Rally and Service at the Breslin Center at Michigan State University in Lansing on October 15th, 2017. Thousands are expected to attend. We will make more information available to you as the time grows nearer.
Our congregation will be participating in the Michigan District’s “Here I Stand” campaign drive, where individuals and congregations of the District will be raising ten million dollars to go toward student scholarships for future church workers, missions in the District and worldwide missions as well. Information on the “Here I Stand” campaign is appearing in our bulletins and newsletters. Consider how you can participate in this important endeavor to help further the resources for mission and ministry.
So, as we prepare to celebrate the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation, may our prayer always be: “Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word.”
God’s blessings in Christ,
“I HAVE QUESTIONS”
“Although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:21).”
Why are people who demand tolerance from others so unwilling to show tolerance in return?
Why should someone be forced to apologize for expressing the view that all lives matter?
How is it that the Party that instituted slavery, spawned the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws and Bull Connor, and resisted Civil Rights and desegregation, be considered (falsely) to be the liberators and protectors of those very people they fought to keep enslaved?
Why must 99.7% of the population be forced change all social norms and endure anxiety and discomfort regarding public restrooms, locker and shower facilities, manner of speech (being told not to refer to boys as boys and girls as girls) etc. in order to placate the 0.3% of folks that are confused about, or dissatisfied with their genders?
Why do Hollywood actors, many who make a living from movies glorifying gun violence, feel the need to constantly spout off on why government should take away the guns of law-abiding citizens?
Why are we are supposed to welcome every alien that comes into our country illegally, yet make it so difficult for immigrants wanting to enter our country legally and become citizens? For that matter, why are we seeking to admit tens of thousands of Muslim refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East while ignoring equal numbers of Christian refugees undergoing horrific persecutions for their faith?
Why should students wearing shirts with the American flag get in trouble in school for “inciting violence,” but students wearing a Mexican flag while chanting anti-American slogans get a pass?
Why is this present administration and the media so anxious to explain away every act of violence done in the name of Islam as not being representative of Islam, yet eagerly declares any act of violence done by someone associated with Christianity as being the fault of Christianity itself?
How can politicians possibly think that, by spending way more than we have and getting ourselves deeper in debt, we can solve our country’s debt crisis?
These questions, and more, make me think that truly, “The inmates are running the asylum.” Clearly, there is a progressively poisonous spirit and philosophy that has permeated our nation, dividing us as a people, and is sapping our national strength. It is a potent reminder that when people turn away from God and His Word, chaos and darkness will reign.
As God’s Christians, we understand that while earthly laws and rulers are necessary, they cannot change the human heart. The Holy Spirit does that through the Church as it remains faithful to, and proclaims publicly that word of judgment for sin and forgiveness in Christ. While we vote our consciences for those we think will best lead us, the reality remains: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord (Ps. 33:12).”
God’s blessings in Christ,
“POLITICS AND THE PULPIT”
“I am determined to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified (I Cor. 2:2).”
Well, the Republican and Democratic National Conventions have concluded, and they have officially nominated their presidential candidates for the ballot this November. In this regard, many wonder why Lutheran pastors (myself included) don’t talk more publicly, or preach from the pulpit about those candidates we should be voting for, especially in a critical election year. Frankly, promoting certain candidates or parties from the pulpit isn’t what pastors are called to do. Pastors are called instead to preach “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” They are to call sinners to repentance and proclaim forgiveness of sins in Christ. They are to teach their people what God says in His Word, not what Candidate X says in his platform.
True, pastors are to speak from God’s Word about the moral issues of our time, which may or may not align with the positions of certain candidates or parties. But you let the chips fall where they may. A particular party’s platform may be closer to, or farther from Scripture on some issues, while the opposing party’s platform may be so on other issues. All political parties, platforms and politicians are made up of sinners who could change with the way political winds blow. Even some candidates we are sure strongly support those issues we care about may end up compromising on those very issues for the sake of “bi-partisanship.” A pastor endorsing from the pulpit particular candidates or parties because their positions on certain issues currently align with Scripture may end up with egg on his face.
Also, Christians may find themselves on opposing sides of an issue that Scripture doesn’t clearly address, or they support different candidates. Should a pastor publicly take political sides, he may needlessly alienate members of the congregation who are on the other side. It’s hard enough to be a pastor to all members of the congregation without driving some of them away because of politics.
Certainly, pastors are citizens, and should exercise their civic responsibilities by being knowledgeable of the candidates and issues, and voting their consciences. They can even share their opinions and endorsements privately. But once a pastor steps into the pulpit or before his Bible class, he is not a representative of an earthly candidate, but of the Triune God. To use the sermon or Bible class time to talk of particular candidates instead of Jesus Christ is to squander a marvelous opportunity to draw people of all political persuasions closer to Him who loves them and died for their sins.
Regrettably, many pastors in various denominations spend so much time preaching about social issues, political parties, favored candidates, and the like, that they become more like a campaign party headquarters instead of a church. Some even tie one’s salvation, or “Christianity,” to allegiance to a particular candidate or party rather than to Christ crucified. This is not right!
So, a pastor’s job is not to tell people who to vote for, or to be a cheerleader in the political process. He is to be a prophet and evangelist, proclaiming God’s Word of Law and Gospel, especially the Gospel of Christ to sinners. As he rightly expounds that Word on the issues of the day, people will then be educated enough to decide for themselves who the best candidate on those issues may be.
These are some of the reasons why you will not ordinarily hear most Lutheran pastors talking about politics and politicians from the pulpit. They would rather talk about Jesus.
God’s blessings in Christ,
“If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs,and there is no quiet.” Proverbs 29:9
So what is the best way to deal with trolls on Facebook or Twitter? For those of you who don’t know, a “Troll” is not a reference to those who live “under the bridge” in the lower peninsula of Michigan, but rather is someone who hangs out on various social media sites getting his jollies by saying outrageous and inflammatory things just to stir things up. A favorite target for many trolls are those who take a traditional Christian or moral position on various issues being discussed on social media sites.
In responding to these trolls, Christians often make several mistakes. One such mistake is resorting to name-calling or telling the troll that he is “going to hell.” All that does is feed the troll and make him stronger because, by your angry response, you are simply reinforcing his already perverse view of who and what Christians are. Another mistake is feeling compelled to try and “prove that your god is not just imaginary,” by trying to answer the impossible and illogical demands established by the troll for such proof. That is an exercise in futility.
But I think the greatest mistake we make on social media regarding trolls is by believing they really want answers; that they really care what we think. Facebook, Twitter and other social media are by nature lousy places to have any kind of important discussion that requires lengthy or nuanced thought, especially if you are dealing with someone you really don’t know and with whom you have no relationship. To think that you can try and argue a troll to your side of the issue is, to put it gently, naïve and a waste of time. He doesn’t want answers. He just wants to stir up trouble. His mind and his heart are closed.
Now I am not saying that we should never state our beliefs and stick up for our values on social media. Indeed, we should. But we should also recognize that the only fruitful exchanges that take place will be with those honestly wanting to discuss the issues. Trolls only want to ridicule and disrupt. They want to bring out the worst in you and, frankly, social media tends to “give us permission” to be at our worst. When we give in to the temptation to stick it to the troll, we actually end up undermining both our witness and our case to others observing our interaction with said troll.
If you feel you must respond to the trolls (or anyone else), then follow St. Peter’s wisdom and “do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:16).” Remember, just because you are online in some social media forum, you do not have to stop behaving as the Christian you are. “Be wise as serpents, but gentle as doves,” Jesus tells us. Trolls will only waste your time and stir up the Old Adam in you. If you are going to have a meaningful discussion, your time is better spent with those who really want to engage in discussion with open minds.
Ultimately, the only way to slay a Troll is not to debate him, but to ignore him.
God’s blessings in Christ!
“THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP”
“[Jesus said] If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Luke 9:23
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor in Germany during World War II, was imprisoned by the Nazis because he was part of the Confessing Church movement in Germany that would not bow down to Hitler and the Nazi Party, and he worked to see Hitler overthrown. While in prison, Bonhoeffer wrote the book, “The Cost of Discipleship.” In it, he states, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
What would motivate a person to risk his life to remain faithful to Christ when all that would be necessary to remain alive and free was to be silent; to “go with the flow?” The answer as to why Bonhoeffer, together with countless other Christians of the past and present were willing to lay down their lives for Christ is because He first laid down His life for them. They understood, perhaps better than most of us, what God’s grace to us cost Jesus, and what it means to be a disciple of Christ in response to that grace.
Today, we have media “evangelists” who proclaim that the marks of God’s followers are health and wealth. You have pastors, congregations, and even whole church bodies caving in to demands to make church fun and entertaining, and to condone that which God’s Word calls sin. We are engaged in a selfish religious pursuit that isn’t geared toward Christ, but toward Us. We want Grace, but we want it cheaply – no strings attached.
About that, Bonhoeffer states: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves… the preaching of forgiveness without repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship.” These things seem a far cry from Jesus’ admonition, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
The sacrifice Jesus made on the cross to pay for the sins of the whole world was not easy or cheap in any way. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves by being “wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed (Is. 53:5).” Through His sacrifice, our sins are atoned for, and by faith alone in Him we receive those blessings won for us through “His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.”
But while forgiveness and salvation are free, the cost of discipleship is high, for Jesus calls all who truly believe in Him to “come and die;” die to self, die to sin, die to all those things that stand in the way of taking up our own cross daily and following Jesus.
For years I have warned that the culture is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity, and to those who profess it. There are greater pressures for us to cave in to the “spirit of the age” and dump the timeless doctrines and practices of the Church. Sadly, many Christians, through their ignorance and indifference to God’s Word, will abandon their faith, and may even become persecutors of those who continue to profess Christ. It’s happened before; it will happen again. Don’t let it happen to you.
Instead, against the raging of the devil, the world and our sinful flesh, may we remain steadfast upon the Word of God and say with Luther, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
Come and die in Christ and really begin to live!
God’s blessings in Christ,