Church Worship Trinity Sign Outside Family Center

Beyond Sunday Morning

From Scared to Sacred

Posted by on Tuesday, November 21, 2017 @ 10:22 AM

I love words. I occasionally read a dictionary. I like to consult a thesaurus. The origins of words (etymology) and the history of their usage intrigue me. Puns can entertain me for hours, sometimes days.

Thesaurus BreakfastSo, reading a book the other day—misreading it, actually—the transposition of two letters sparked a blaze of synapses. The apostles of Christ hiding behind locked doors on Easter evening (John 20:19-23), were described as scared but my mind read sacred.

Wow! What a difference is made by switching just two letters. That little exchange infused the situation with entirely new meaning. As I consciously corrected my error, from my subconscious the thought bubbled up that this change from scared to sacred is really what happened.

There is no doubt that the disciples of Jesus were afraid because of all that had transpired over the past week. The enthusiastic welcome they had received on Sunday, as part of Jesus’ entourage (Matthew 21:1-11), had soured as the week progressed so that by Thursday evening they all left Him and fled” (Mark 14:40).

This was, as Jesus Himself pointed out to His disciples, prophesied (Zechariah 13:7; Matthew 26:31). It was part of the Lord’s plan, not in the sense that God wanted the disciples to be deserters, but in that mysterious way that God intends good from evil for our salvation (Genesis 50:19-21).

It struck me in reading St. Mark’s account of what happened in Gethsemane that there is a parallel to another Garden hinted at:

And a young man followed [Jesus], with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked (Mark 14:51-52 ESV).The Naked Disciple

The first man and his wife had once done the same: ran naked away from their Creator (Genesis 3:7). So this “young man” was acting according to his nature, behaving au naturel (I warned you that I like puns). He was simply being a sinner because that was his nature, a nature thoroughly corrupted by sin—which is one thing we all have in common (Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:19).

As sinners by nature, we are scared of God, who is holy and just. We have good reason to be afraid: our sin deserves punishment, both now and eternally. Think of the parable of the wedding banquet, in which the man without a wedding garment” is ‘bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness [where] there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 22:13 ESV).

But the Lord is also merciful, just, and kind. Almost immediately after the Fall into sin, the Lord God Himself, “made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21 ESV). By grace, God still does this for repentant sinners. Only now He clothes us with the righteousness of Christ in Holy Baptism and sanctifies us, that is, declares us sacred for the sake of Christ.

Yes, the disciples of Jesus had reasons to be scared. Certainly, they thought they might meet the same fate as their Master at the hands of the Jewish leaders and Roman authorities. They probably also feared the response of the Father for having failed to remain faithful to His Son. But our heavenly Father is not like sinful, earthly fathers (see Luke 15:11-32).

Ours is a Father who runs to us (Luke 15:20), whenever we turn in repentance to Him, saying to His servants:

“Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found”(Luke 15:22-31).

and

“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours”(Luke 15:31 ESV).

Clothed in the righteousness of Christ

Robing us in the righteousness of Christ by means of Holy Baptism, marking us with His signet of the Holy Cross, welcoming us to the celebration feast of the Lord’s Supper, declaring us His sons and daughters for the sake of Christ, proclaiming, “This My child was dead in sin, and is now alive in Christ; was lost, and now is found!”

In love, the Father clothes us in Christ and we are changed from scared to sacred, rejoicing to know by faith that

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:18-12 ESV).

And like those once-scared, now-sacred disciples of Jesus through whom the Lord worked to bring the message of God’s gracious forgiveness and salvation in Christ Jesus “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), the Lord works through our witness to the world as we confess Christ—unafraid and unashamed of the Gospel, which is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

PV 

500 More

Posted by on Tuesday, October 31, 2017 @ 9:51 AM

So, here we are, marking the 500th anniversary of an event that sparked a movement that changed the world (in more ways than most people realize). On this date in 1517, so the story goes, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed a sheet of paper to the “community bulletin board” (the door of the Castle Church) in Wittenberg, Germany. That papered contained the “95 Theses,” that is, statements intended to provoke scholarly debate at the university there.

Those “95 Theses” altered the course of history, sparking what we now know as the Reformation.

Luther’s intention, as the term Reformation should indicate, was to reform the Church, not start a new one. Recognizing that false teaching (doctrine) had crept in—in some cases, burst through the front door!—Luther desired a return to the truth revealed in Holy Scripture. His overarching concern was always to give comfort and peace to troubled souls. (Luther was a very pastoral theologian).

Luther 95 Theses

The question of how a sinner could become right with a holy God had troubled Luther, as it troubled many people in the Middle Ages. At a time when death was a near constant intruder in everyone’s life (we don’t realize how blessed we are in this regard), people were concerned about dying and facing God. What would be the attitude of the Almighty toward a sinner?

Luther’s great personal discovery was that God’s attitude toward sinners was love and mercy for the sake of Christ Jesus. Out of His great love for His creation, God sent His only-begotten and dearly loved Son into this sinful world to pay the price for all people’s sins. Suffering on the cross, being forsaken by God the Father, and dying, Jesus took our place in subjecting Himself to the full, ultimate punishment for all our sins. Because God punished Jesus in our place, He isn’t angry with us anymore. For the sake of Christ, God forgives us and invites us to trust in Jesus for our eternal salvation. The Epistle reading for Reformation Day summarizes what the Reformation was really most about:

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

(Romans 3:19-28 ESV).

Since eternity is taken care of for us, we can live each day of this life joyfully knowing that God is favorably disposed toward us. We don’t have to work to please God; He is pleased with us as believers already for the sake of Christ Jesus. But we have the privilege of working, each according to our vocations (callings in life) for the benefit of others, exhibiting God’s forgiving love to everyone around us (our neighbors, as the Bible calls them [Exodus 20:16-17; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:25-37).

Martin Luther didn’t start out to create a movement or found a new church, but what God accomplished through Luther—and all his fellow reformers!—ended up being a movement that spilled over from the church and the universities of Luther’s day to become “rivers of living water” (John 7:38) that flooded the earth with God’s grace. Not only in terms of religion—but also in politics, linguistics, economics, the arts, education, home life—what started on October 31, 1517, the Reformation rippled changes in virtually all areas of life.

Those Reformers, those fellow Christians who joined with and supported Martin Luther, were at first known as Evangelicals—that is, people “of the Gospel.” It was actually the opponents of the Reformation doctrine who applied the label “Lutheran.” Martin didn’t much care for that, writing at one point:

“Please do not use my name; do not call yourselves Lutherans, but Christians… The doctrine is not mine; I have not been crucified for anyone… Why should I, a miserable bag of worms, give my meaningless name to Christ’s children?”

Again, the thrust of the Reformation was to point people to Christ Jesus, the Savior of sinners. Whatever else was accomplished, this was the key: Sinners are forgiven and offered abundant life with God through faith in the Lord Jesus. This is a timeless truth. So, 500 years is really nothing in comparison.Luther Points to Christ

While today marks the end of a year-long celebration for many who now proudly claim the name Lutheran as the title that identifies us as people of the Gospel, as disciples of Jesus, the Christ; this day also marks the beginning of the next 500 years of God’s grace in Christ proclaimed and praised through the world.

Just as Martin Luther did not live to see the final outcome of what his “95 Theses” started—not in earthly terms, anyway!—so you and I will likely not live to see the return of Christ at the end of time… though we might! No matter. Like Luther, we ought to give ourselves to doing the work God has given us to do, while we live (John 9:4) and leave the outcome in the Lord’s hands. It’s safe there, and it will, as the Lord says through Isaiah, work together in the cosmic tapestry of God’s plans to “‘accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it’”(Isaiah 55:11 ESV).

Enjoy a blessed Reformation Day today! More importantly, enjoy God’s gracious forgiveness and blessings for the sake of Christ Jesus, today, tomorrow, and forever!!

PV

Breathing

Posted by on Tuesday, October 24, 2017 @ 7:36 PM

Breathing: it’s such an ordinary thing.

Unless you have asthma. Or emphysema. Or COPD, congestive heart failure, or lung cancer.

Few experiences in life are quite as frightening as the feeling of not being able to breathe. I have witnessed this more than once with people suffering from the above-named conditions and even near-drowning.

There was, when I was in my teens, the toddler who reached too far for a floating toy and fell headlong into in a kiddy pool when no one else seemed to be looking. My heart was racing and my breath rapid and shallow when I pulled him, sputtering and gasping, from the water. Terror turned to tears when he gulped a breath, and his mother breathed a sigh of thankful relief.

There was Tillie, who, though in her late-80s was very childlike one night in her fear of falling asleep never to awake. So, she asked the nursing home staff to call her pastor that he might come and breathe the Word of comfort and hope, reading a psalm and praying and sitting at her bedside while she drifted off to sleep. She would awake for many more mornings after that before her lungs eventually, inevitably gave out.

There was John, whom I had only known as an old man, but who in younger, more virile days, played on the baseball team of his small Midwestern town, jolting around the bases when DiMaggio was still but a child. His chest heaved the weight of all those years with every labored beat of his fluid-flooded heart, until it didn’t. His final, slow exhalation was audible in the quiet of the room.

And there have been my own acute asthma attacks. Events I would not wish anyone to experience, though I’m glad I have. They have made me more thankful to the Lord for breathing.

Such an ordinary blessing, breathing. Such an extraordinary thing, this gift of God we far too often take for granted.

Have you ever meditated on the place and significance of breathing in Holy Scripture?   Consider this:

“…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature”(Genesis 2:7 ESV).man from dust

Breath—given directly from the Lord God—is the means by which the Creator brought man into the life of which God is the source. This is true not only for Adam, but for all people since, as Elihu rightly testifies to Job:

“‘The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life’”(Job 33:4 ESV).

Very often in the pages of the Bible breath is literally equated with life itself, for example:

“Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people”(Genesis 25:8 ESV).

“Put not your trust in princes,

in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.

4 When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;

on that very day, his plans perish”(Psalm 146:3-4 ESV).

And Scripture figuratively equates breath with life as well:

“Behold, you have made my days

  a few handbreadths,hand of dust

      and my lifetime is

      as nothing before you.

Surely all mankind stands as

a mere breath!”

(Psalm 39:5 ESV).

“Man is like a breath;

  his days are like

  a passing shadow”

(Psalm 144:4 ESV).

St. Paul, speaking at the Areopagus in Athens, explains why God continues to give breath to sinful human beings:

“‘The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not livequote box in temples made by man, 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him. Yet He is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for

‘ “In Him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

‘ “For we are indeed His offspring.’

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead’”(Acts 17:24-31 ESV).

Since this Lord who gives us life-breath and everything else will one day judge us all, we ought to be more aware of this with each breath. We also ought to be more concerned about our standing before Him. Rather than being like stones ourselves, we ought to turn (repent) and seek (believe in) the “Lord of heaven and earth” who, for us and for our salvation, become a living, breathing Man; and who, to rescue and save us from sin and death, suffered the just punishment for our sin on the cross, and

“…calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!’ And having said this He breathed His last”(Luke 23:46 ESV).

Having inhaled the putrid breath of human sin, from the cross Jesus exhales the grace that gives to all those who believe in Him the forgiveness which alone makes us become eternally living beings.

In Holy Baptism the Spirit of the Living God (2 Corinthians 3:3) restores breath to us that we might live, drowning the sinful nature in which we all were conceived and born (Psalm 51:5) and bringing to life a new person in Christ Jesus. (See Romans 6:1-14 and Martin Luther’s explanation of Baptism in the Small Catechism).

This pattern of “drowning” by contrition and “resuscitation” by God’s grace through faith continues daily in the life of a Christian as we “die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV), the Lord breathing His Absolution into our quivering nostrils each time we confess our sins.

Each time we receive into our mouths the very body and blood of Christ Jesus, His life fills us like life-sustaining air filling our lungs. Without Him, our spirits cannot breathe, but when the Spirit of Christ fills us, we live. Then, forgiven and renewed in Christ, heaving a sigh of thankful relief for sins forgiven, we join the psalmist in full-throated, thankful praise:

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!church choir

Praise the Lord!”(Psalm 150:6 ESV).

PV

Harvest and Offerings

Posted by on Tuesday, October 3, 2017 @ 10:33 AM

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offwheat with rainbowered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease”(Genesis 8:20-22 ESV)

The changing of seasons, especially when summer ripens into autumn, provides a good time for us as Christians to reflect on the goodness of God, His gracious promises, His continuing provision.

Often when I hear or read the news of the day I am reminded of the Bible’s description of humanity at the time of the Flood (Genesis 6:5-7). It wasn’t good then, it isn’t any better now. It was and is far from the “very good” the Lord God beheld when He finished His work of creation and sanctified its completion (Genesis 1:31—2:3). The account of God’s dealings with mankind at the time of Noah is a paradigm for how God continues dealing with us.

What’s striking is how God’s grace and mercy are present even as His righteous judgment is enacted. This was true from the beginning, of course, as “the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” even while “He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:21, 24 ESV). Justice and mercy, both from the Lord; one because of mankind’s sin, the other purely because of God’s goodness and love. The pattern is there from the Fall, but in Noah’s day, we see this on the worldwide scale.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord(Genesis 6:6-8 ESV).

Noah’s response to the Lord also provides a paradigm for us: Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar”(Genesis 8:20 ESV). Worship is the response to God’s grace, offering to Him a token of humble thanks and grateful reverence. This is the believer’s daily response to God, but there are times when our awareness and responsiveness is heightened.

Harvest is one such time. In spite of all the evil and wickedness that persists in the world—and in our own hearts and lives—God is good and graciously blesses His creatures. As Martin Luther’s explanation of the First Article of the Creed puts it:

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.

He also gives me clothing and shoes, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.

He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this, it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

This is most certainly true.

It’s instructive to see how many of the Biblical festivals are connected to a harvest. Rosh Hashanah (“Feast offield corn Trumpets,” Jewish New Year) is associated with preparations for harvest. Sukkoth (“Feast of Tabernacles/Booths”) gives thanks for the harvest, as well as commemorating the Lord’s providence on the journey from Egypt to Canaan. Bikkurim (“Feast of First Fruits”), recognizes the Lord’s goodness in providing the harvest and acknowledges that everything belongs to God. Shavuot (“Feast of Weeks”) or Pentecost celebrates the wheat harvest and thanks the Lord for His gifts.

The Christian church continued to codify (at least in practice, if not in actual written legislation) this connection between harvesting the fruits of creation and thanking the Creator. Most churches have a long-standing practice of a “stewardship emphasis” during the fall harvest season. Stewardship our management of the resources God entrusts to us for our use according to His will. Spending some time, both personally and as a congregation, intentionally thinking about stewardship is a good and beneficial thing.

Recognizing the Lord as our Lord entails recognizing the Lord as the “owner” of everything we call “our own.” This exercise ought to direct us back to repentance and faith. You and I do not use all things for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor. We far too often use things for our own selfish purposes. If we’re brutally honest, we admit that we sometimes use people too. So we need to repent of our sins when it comes to our personal stewardship of all that the Lord lends to us, recognizing that we will give an account. Far better to have the accounting go like this:

“‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master’”

(Matthew 25:21, 23 ESV).

instead of like this:

“He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant!’” (Matthew 25:24-26 ESV).

Yes, harvest time provides a good opportunity for us as Christians to reflect on the goodness of God, His box of vegetablesgracious promises, His continuing provision—and to respond in faith, praise and thanksgiving.

But, then, isn’t that what the entire life of a faithful Christian is and does?

PV

Concerning Kneeling

Posted by on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 @ 2:05 PM

There’s been a huge amount of verbiage spoken and written these past few days about kneeling. Let me say from the start, I’m in favor of it.

Kneeling is certainly a statement. People will take notice of it when you kneel. Depending on the context, your kneeling will communicate a message.

man proposingConsider a young man getting down on a knee before a young woman and extending a hand with a ring in it. Or a teacher kneeling next to a child who has fallen on the playground and hurt herself. Or—in countries other than the United States of America—people dropping to their knees when the sovereign enters the room.

 

 

Yes, messages—thoughts and emotions—are communicated when people kneel. Most of these messages, or at least attitudes, are universal.

But I’m not sure Americans quite get what kneeling means. It’s a gesture that isn’t fully understood or appreciated in our modern Western culture. Most church-goers in the U.S. don’t even kneel anymore.

But I think we should.

Consider how (according to the divinely inspired prayer book of the Bible) God’s people are called to approach the Creator:

“Oh come, let us worship and bow down;

let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!”(Psalm 95:6 ESV).

Such a physical posture expresses humility concerning oneself and great respect toward the person (or thing) before whom one kneels. That’s certainly the proper attitude of a repentant follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Why don’t we Christians kneel more?

It is certainly proper to show obeisance to Jesus. Not familiar with that word? It means “a movement of thekneeling in church body made in token of respect or submission” or the attitude and words that “acknowledge another’s superiority or importance.” Obeisance is due to the Savior, don’t you think?

Well, if you’re not sure about this now, I can say with certainty that you will be one day. But don’t take my word for it; accept the authoritative word of the Apostle Paul, who writes in his letter to the Philippians:

“Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father(Philippians 2:6-11 ESV).

Throughout the history of the Christian church, the faithful have expressed humble reverence for the Lord Jesus through a number of physical gestures or postures of the body. Some bow their heads at the mention of the name of Jesus or of the Trinity.

Many make the sign of the cross, recalling the very symbol of the Gospel and the great and gracious blessings the suffering and death of Christ bring to us. That’s why this sign accompanies the Trinitarian Invocation, the receiving of Absolution, the confession of the resurrection to eternal life in the Creeds, the reception into our mouths of the very body and blood of Christ, and as the Benediction of the Lord is put upon us as we leave the Divine Service at return to our daily vocations.

Many Christians kneel for prayer, whether alone or with others. Some kneel when they confess their sins and await the word of forgiveness. Some combine kneeling and the sign of the cross when they enter a church or at certain points of the Divine Service (a practice known as genuflecting).

Some Christians, on days of humiliation and prayer and especially on Good Friday, prostrate themselves before the altar as a sign of repentance.

It seems to me that these bodily gestures and postures are more than physical. How can you lie on the floor, forehead to the pavement, in front of the symbol of sacrifice—the altar of Christ crucified—without humble, reverent thoughts and emotions flowing through your mind and heart?

As the debate about kneeling or not rages in our society, allow me to suggest that as disciples of the Lord Jesus you and I should opt for kneeling.

Kneel in humble repentance for the sins of our nation and our own sins.

Kneel in adoration of the Savior for whose sake the holy Lord God forgives all our sins.

Kneel in intercession for those harmed by the ills and wrongs so evident in our society.

Kneel in supplication for those around us, that they may be brought to saving faith and know the peace and reconciliation that is freely available by God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

PV

Before the Great and Awesome Day

Posted by on Tuesday, August 29, 2017 @ 7:41 PM

I saw a meme the other day about the week that Texas has had: drought, eclipse, hurricane, tornadoes, flooding. Sounds down right apocalyptic! Our prayers certainly go out to the people in the Lone Star state.

I’m sure that people will be trying to make political, social, and even religion points about the disastrous timeHurricane Harvey Texas is experiencing. “Global warming” will be blamed by some. “Immoral living” will be the culprit others identify. And there will no doubt be Biblicist types who find in the events a direct connection to some prophecies of Scripture. For example,

“‘And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’”(Joel 2:30-32a ESV).

We have, over the past several years, seen a number of so-called “blood moons,” which have caused a flurry of excitement among some. Still, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night”(Genesis 8:22) have continued; and the End has not yet come.

blood moonThat leads some to spiritual complacency, as if one can always prepare tomorrow for the end of the world, or of life (Luke 12:19-20).

The presence of these “signs” is supposed to mean particular things that certain people have deduced from God’s Word. When the supposed doesn’t transpire they conclude that maybe, just maybe, what the Bible says is not accurate. Eventually, some conclude that God Himself cannot be trusted.

And the devil wins again.

Beloved in Christ, dear fellow redeemed, don’t let the flurry of human philosophical speculation and the empty deceits of the devil and the world trouble you (Colossians 2:8). Don’t be so confused by the purported meanings of such events that you lose sight of the primary message of God’s Word. The prophet Joel also clearly spoke this:

“‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord,

‘return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.’

Return to the Lord your God,

for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;

and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:12-13 ESV).

The most important Word of God to us is always the call to repentant faith. Turn from sin, trust in Christ Jesus as Savior. As far as all the events in the natural world —(a world which, yes, God created; and yes, God controls [Colossians 1:16-17])—leave those matters in God’s hands. Leave your life —(which God created (Psalm 139) and then, for believers, re-created in your Baptism [John 3:3-5; Titus 3:4-7])— in God’s hands too. That is, before-and-after all, what the Lord desires (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

The Apostle Peter preached this well at Pentecost (Acts 2). Starting with the above-quoted prophecy of Joel, Peter then ended with the clear call to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus:

“‘Let all the house of Israel, therefore, know for certain that God has made him both Lord and full eclipseChrist, this Jesus whom you crucified.’

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself’”(Acts 2:36-39 ESV).

If you are troubled by the recent astronomical events and current social strife, my advice to you is the same as St. Peter’s: Repent and be baptized. Or, if you have already been baptized, return to your Baptism by confessing your sins, believing the Lord’s promise of forgiveness in Christ, and living each day in and by God’s grace!

Trust that the God who controls all creation and desires that sinners be saved (Ezekiel 33:11) will keep His promises to you and all baptized believers, forgiving your sins, enlivening you by the Holy Spirit, and drawing You to Himself.

And then, once you’ve been assured that the Lord is taking care of you, now and for eternity, be sure to pray for the victims of Hurricane Harvey and do what you can to help these neighbors in need.

PV

Fear and Hatred

Posted by on Tuesday, August 15, 2017 @ 3:39 PM

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” is a phrase used several times in the “wisdom literature” of the Old Testament, in the Psalms and the book of Proverbs. The use of the word fear in this context confuses many people. Usually, I explain that it means essentially “faithful reverence,” the awe and deference that is the response of a sinner who has been given the manifold treasure of faith, forgiveness, and eternal life in Christ Jesus.

“The fear of the Lord” is equivalent to repentant faith in Christ. Think about how this shows in the thinking, attitudes, speaking, and behaving of a Christian. What does such faithful reverence mean in practical, daily-living terms? Our faith is to shape our responses to daily life in this world, after all. The psalmist points this out when he writes:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”(Psalm 11:10 ESV).

Practicing the wisdom of faith begins with reflecting on whether our response to any given situation is driven by our sinful flesh with its selfish desires and warped perceptions, or led by the Spirit in truth and the love of Christ.

So when your children are sluggish on the morning that you have some place to be… or your co-worker seems more interested in recapping her weekend adventures than meeting the deadline you have on that team project… or your husband “stopped off” with friends instead of coming straight home… or people different from you engage in “violence-as-free-speech” …how do you respond?

“The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted fighting the works of the fleshspeech I hate”(Proverbs 8:13 ESV).

As a pastor, I like to think that the Gospel actually changes the way the people I am called to serve think and speak and act. When it comes to the wonderful working of the Holy Spirit in sinners like me, I’m an eternal optimist. But day to day, I’m also quite realistic: Sinners are sinners, every day. So I continually hear and see prejudice, bigotry, and hatred exhibited among us. Exhibited, mind you, as in put on public display! But this is not Christian. Not even close.

Prejudice, bigotry, and hatred are eruptions of the sinful nature. These attitudes—and the words and behaviors which flow from such attitudes, like the sludge from a corroded, broken sewage pipe, are unbecoming a follower of Christ Jesus. Worse: such behavior and words and even facial expressions leave a stench in the air which repels rather than attracts people to the Savior.

Here’s what Martin Luther once said about how a Christian ought to respond to such sinful attitudes:

“Now, if sin is to be made captive, I, who believe in Christ, must so live that I am not overcome by hatred and envy of my fellow men or by other sins, but must fight against sin and say, ‘Listen, sin! You want to incite me to become angry, to envy, to commit adultery, to steal, to be unfaithful, etc. I will not do it’”(Martin Luther, quoted by C.F.W. Walther in The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, Concordia Publishing House [1928], p. 410-411).

Yes, “hatred and envy of my fellow human beings,” in other words, prejudice and bigotry, are sinful attitudes against which we Christians are to fight. That’s what “daily contrition and repentance” is all about: overcoming our sinful flesh by the gracious, renewing power of the Holy Spirit (see the Small Catechism, Baptism, Part Four).

spike through handWith what’s going on in the United States currently, each of us should take a few moments to examine ourselves as Christians—that is, as sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ, called to faith by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit.

As the Church, as the Body of Christ in the world, we are a people set apart as God’s holy people—all of us together! In this light, we ought to examine our attitudes, words, and behavior in response to what the news reports of what is happening in our nation. Are we responding in “the fear of the Lord,” that is, in “faithful reverence” to Christ? Or are we reacting out of the fear of men or even hatred and envy of our fellow human beings?

Always remember, dear fellow redeemed, brothers and sisters in Christ, that Scripture testifies to the wonderful, world-wide results of the Gospel; for example when the heavenly host praises Christ Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29):

“And they sang a new song, saying,

‘Worthy are you to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood, you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation,

10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

and they shall reign on the earth’”(Revelation 5:9-10 ESV).

 diverse group of people

The Kingdom of Heaven is comprised of people who are very different from one another in so many ways; and yet who share these common traits: We are all sinners redeemed by the blood of Jesus, united by means of Holy Baptism to Christ, our Head; and therefore united to one another forever.

PV

Mutual Consolation

Posted by on Tuesday, August 8, 2017 @ 8:00 PM

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God”(2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV).

If you’ve ever prayed with a Christian friend or had a member of your church call “to talk” (really, “listen”) when she or he heard of some illness of distress you were going through, then you’ve experienced what St. Paul is writing about at the beginning of 2 Corinthians.

women praying togetherMartin Luther thought very highly of this idea of Christians caring for another. In one of the documents included in The Book of Concord, the “Smalcald Articles,” he writes this:

[The Gospel] gives guidance and help against sin in more than one way, because God is extravagantly rich in his grace: first, through the spoken word, in which the forgiveness of sins is preached to the whole world (which is the proper function of the gospel); second, through baptism; third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar; fourth, through the power of the keys and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brothers and sisters [in Christ]. Matthew 18[:20], ‘Where two or three are gathered…’” (SA III:4, Kolb-Wengert edition of The Book of Concord).

“The mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren” is a phrase which captures the living out in daily life of the Christian faith in vocation. When we, as husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and neighbors, comfort and guide and encourage one another in the faith by speaking God’s Word to one another, God Himself is at work among us. That’s ministry—the word used in the New Testament means “service,” as in “Christ serves us in the Divine Service so that we can serve others in our vocations.”

Sometimes Lutherans (pastors in particular) are accused of merely “doing church” on Sunday morning within a certain building instead of “being the church” out in the world. I hate to admit this, but it’s too true. That’s a sad thing, especially in this year when we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Here’s why….

One of the key things that God accomplished through Martin Luther and his fellow reformers was to involve the laity in the life of the church. Instead of a “special class” of Christians (priests) “doing religion” for the “average Christian,” Luther put the Gospel into the hands of the people, so to speak. How?

He translated the Bible into German so that those who could read could read God’s Word and those who could not read could at least hear it in a language they understood.

Luther’s liturgical reforms included not only putting the Divine Service into “the language of the people,” but also writing scores of hymns in German which made the doctrine of Scripture more accessible for non-theologians.

He restored the sermon to its rightful place as one of the two central features of the Divine Service, the other being the Lord’s Supper (which was celebrated every Sunday and on major festivals of the church year).

Luther’s doctrine of vocation, especially the emphasis on those “callings and stations in life” which God established as the ordinary ways and means of Christians expressing their response love for God by serving their neighbors, made the faith an integral part of daily life.

So what’s happened in the intervening centuries?

 Martin Luther Book Cover

 

 

 

 

 

[Look for this book at your library or buy a copy

to help your children or grandchildren learn about

Luther and the Reformation.]

More and more churches have large “professional staffs.” Many churches list “minister of this” and “minister of that” for nearly every aspect of the congregation’s life. Instead of the congregation being the primary voice of the church’s song, there is a band of professional or semi-professional musicians who lead the singing (or simply perform the songs). And instead of a priest conducting the Mass behind a rood screen, many churches watch the preacher on an electronic screen as his image is beamed in from some other location. This all sounds like a dismantling of the restoration of church life accomplished in the Reformation!

What has been the effect on “the people in the pews”?

My observation over the past 25 years as a pastor is that more and more people simply come to church on a Sunday morning for worship, but are not actively engaged in the ministry of the church. I know that many Christians are still involved in “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren” in their daily lives, but I sense that even here there is a growing tendency to look to “professionals” to handle matters of the faithful Christian life. Again, I think that’s sad.

Imagine how different our churches would be if everyone—pastors and people together—were all actively engaged in ministry to and with one another! Our congregations would be healthier and thus better able to extend Christ’s ministry beyond the walls of the church into our communities. That sounds like a very Reformation thing, a very Lutheran thing, a thing called Christian faith and life.

The bottom line in the Christian faith and in the movement known as the Reformation is how God’s grace in water dropChrist changes and gives shape to our daily lives in addition to securing our eternal destiny. The forgiveness of sins earned by Jesus through His suffering and death on the cross is to be the beating heart of our life in this world. Baptized into Christ Jesus, the Savior’s life lives in and through us.

How and what we think and say and do as followers of the Christ is to so permeate our daily life that others notice, and ask questions, and learn about God’s redeeming love for us and them too! This brings glory to our Father in heaven and brings God’s grace to fellow sinners.

As Christians, our lives should be like this: Loved, we love. Forgiven, we forgive. Served, we serve.

PV

august One

Posted by on Tuesday, August 1, 2017 @ 7:57 PM

No, that’s not a typo in the title. The English word used there has two meanings.

As a noun, August (capitalized) is the eighth month of the year, in the northern hemisphere usually considered the last month of summer.

As an adjective, august (not capitalized) means “respected and impressive.” Synonyms include: distinguished, respected, eminent, venerable, hallowed, illustrious, prestigious, renowned, celebrated, honored, acclaimed, esteemed, exalted.

Octavian AugustusThe month was named after Augustus Caesar, the first Roman emperor. He was the founder of the Roman Principate, controlling the Roman Empire from 27 BC until his death in AD 14.

The reign of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana (“Roman Peace”). Under Augustus, the Roman world was basically free from large-scale conflict for more than two centuries, despite continuous wars of imperial expansion on the Empire’s frontiers and a year-long civil war.

Augustus reformed the Roman system of taxation, developed networks of roads with an official courier system, established a standing army, established the Praetorian Guard, created official police and fire-fighting services for Rome, and rebuilt much of the city during his reign.

The importance of all this for Christianity can hardly be overstated. Just imagine for a moment how differently the familiar account of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2 would read without all the things mentioned in the two previous paragraphs!

Until the time of Augustus Caesar, the current eighth month of the year was called Sextilis (so named because it had been the sixth month of the original Roman calendar, the Latin word for “six” is sex).

There is a commonly repeated—but historically incorrect—story that August has 31 days because Augustus wanted his month to match the length of the month named for Julius Caesar (July), but this is an invention of a 13th-century scholar. Sextilis, in fact, had 31 days before it was renamed. The eighth month of the revised calendar was renamed to honor Augustus because several of the most significant events in his rise to power, culminating in the fall of Alexandria, happened in that month.

Regardless, it’s clear that Augustus Caesar was a man of large ego who no doubt thought himself august! And while he did have many accomplishments to his credit, humanly speaking, what God accomplished during the reign of Augustus Caesar is by far more impressive:

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. Adoration of the Shepherds2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn”(Luke 2:1-7 ESV).

This was no august event at the time, but simply the humble birth of a baby. Though the announcement of this birth by an angel, accompanied with a hymn by no less than a multitude of the heavenly host”(Luke 2:13) starts to explain its significance for the world:

“‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’”(Luke 2:10-11 ESV).

All the earthly accomplishments of Augustus Caesar—or any other notable human being, for that matter—truly pale in comparison to what this Child would achieve through His life and ministry, His suffering and death on the cross, His rising to life and ascending to “the right hand of God”—the supreme position of authority in the whole universe (see Ephesians 1, for example)!

Human beings—being sinful—tend to “be full of themselves,” as was Augustus Caesar. As am I. And, if you’re honest, as you are. Consider this statement from the Lord Jesus:

“‘What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander’”(Matthew 15:18-19ESV).

Being full of our sinful selves is not good—even if our accomplishments are distinguished, respected, celebrated, honored, and acclaimed by the world. By the way, read a little of the life of Augustus and the other Roman emperors and you’ll encounter everything Jesus mentions in the verses quoted above. Such is the résumé of great men. And we ordinary folk fare no better.

“For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith”(Romans 3:22b-25 ESV).

That’s why we need a Savior. That’s why Jesus came, by humble birth and human life to fulfill the will of God the Father in the place of sinful people; and then, by substitutionary suffering and self-sacrificing death, to pay the penalty for the sins of all human beings (Hebrews 10:5-10).

Many of the accomplishments of Augustus Caesar endured—some, arguably, to this very day. But the greatest of them amounts to nothing before God. The words and work of Christ Jesus, on the other hand, endures to eternity and bestows eternal benefits and blessings to all who believe in Jesus as their Savior.

Of all the men and women who have ever lived, Jesus of Nazareth is truly the august One!

PV

God Has A Community For You

Posted by on Tuesday, July 18, 2017 @ 1:22 PM

On the radio last week, I heard journalist and social commentator Bill Bishop, co-author of the book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart, says,

“We used to be born into a community and had to find our individuality. Now we are born as individuals and have to find community.”alone in the crowd

It seems as though many people today are living life “alone in a crowd.” Children are often home alone after school and all through summer days while both parents are work. Teens sit side by side without talking, separated by hand-held screens and disguised by a web of their own choosing. Young people are marrying later. Married couples are uncoupling. Older adults—women especially—are outliving their spouses, sometimes spending decades without their life partners.

Loneliness is pandemic in modern society.

Well, friends, God has a community for you! In the Bible it’s called by various names, each describing a different, significant aspect of this community:

a kingdom (Exodus 19:6; Matthew 5:3; Matthew 13:38; );

God’s household of faith (Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 5:8);

the bride of Christ (Isaiah 61:10; Matthew 9:15, Ephesians 5:25-27);

the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:4; Colossians 1:18);

the communion of saints (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2 ; Ephesians 1:1);

a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession(1 Peter 2:9).

Most of the Biblical descriptions of the Church are decidedly communal. We are not called to faith as individuals, but are incorporated, that is, made part of “the one, holy catholic (or Christian) and apostolic Church,” as we say in the Nicene Creed. This happens the moment the Holy Spirit brings a person to saving faith in Jesus Christ. The Spirit does this gracious work either by means of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism in the case of babies and young children or by means of the Word of the Gospel as it is spoken through preaching and personal witness to youth and adults, which then is confirmed by means of Baptism.

While we all may be, as Bill Bishop observed, “born as individuals,” God intends for us to be in community. Consider what God said when He first created a human being: “‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’” (Genesis 2:18 ESV). That’s still true. That’s why people continually seek to be part of some community.

man alone on benchFor those who feel keenly the aloneness of being an individual in our contemporary, “separatistic” society, the Good News is that God has made a way for each of us to become part of the greatest community on earth!

God did this by becoming a man, by joining our group:

“Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”(Philippians 2:5-8 ESV).

God became one with all humanity, yet remained a sinless man, as the writer of Hebrews makes clear:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”(Hebrews 4:15-16 ESV).

Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh and blood (what we called the Incarnation) in order to price the penalty for our sins, redeem us from slavery to the devil, and vanquish death by His victorious resurrection from the dead. As the Apostle Paul says of Jesus:

“He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. … For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”(2 Corinthians 5:15, 21 ESV).

What reconciles what you might think is a contradiction in the two Bible passages above is that Jesus, while sinless in and of Himself, took your sins and mine upon Himself when He died on the cross to secure forgiveness for us. Jesus is our Substitute, the One who suffered the punishment we deserve in order to reconcile us—and indeed, all sinners—to God (2 Corinthians 5:15, 18-19; John 3:16-18; 1 John 2:1-2).

Through faith in Jesus Christ, we sinners are forgiven, accounted right with God, and brought back into eternal fellowship with our Creator—made part of the greatest community, “the communion of saints”!

What made this possible is that Jesus was truly “the Man alone in a crowd.” Though holy, He surrounded Himself with sinners—welcomed them, in fact (Luke 19:1-10). On the cross Jesus suffered the epitome of loneliness:

“‘And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” christ cross for youthat is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”(Matthew 27:46 ESV, also Mark 15:34).

For those who wrongly think that hell will be one big debauched party of pagans, reveling in their sinful lusts for all eternity, consider this: Jesus suffered the essence of hell when He was forsaken by the Father, that is, left utterly and completely alone on the cross. It seems to me that utter loneliness will be one of the worst aspects of eternal damnation.

Thanks be to God that you and I do not have to suffer such utter aloneness! Not now, not ever! Believing that Jesus suffered this for you, the Holy Spirit—who creates in you the faith to have this conviction about Jesus—at the same time makes you a member of “the holy Christian church, the communion of saints” (Apostles’ Creed). By God’s grace, through faith in Christ Jesus, God Himself brings you into His community, where you can enjoy His blessings forever!

church fellowship timeFor now, if you are not already part of a Christian church, seek out a Bible-believing, Christ-confessing, neighbor-loving community of believers that you can be a regular part of through participation in the worship life of the congregation. That’s what God wants for you: Fellowship with Him and with His people, gathered together to receive His grace, forgiveness, and nourishment for faith through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.

May I humbly suggest that you visit us at Trinity Lutheran Church and School in St. Francis, Minnesota. We gather for the Divine Service at 8:00 and 10:30 each Sunday morning, with fellowship and Bible study/Sunday school in between services at 9:15 a.m.

PV

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