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Beyond Sunday Morning

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

Must Good Christians Attend Church

Posted by on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 @ 11:29 AM

More than 20 years ago I ran across a survey that asked nearly 3,000 Lutherans to agree or disagree with the following statement:

“I think a person can be

a good Christian even if

they don’t attend church.”

In that survey, 73% of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed. I doubt that has changed in the intervening decades. In fact, I suspect even more people (not just Lutherans) think that way.

This poll result shows why doctrine and practice are based on God’s Word, not public opinion. If our church were to teach what this survey indicates, our pews would eventually be completely empty! Why would anyone go to church if one can be a “good Christian” without doing so?empty church

Can a person be a “good Christian” without attending church?

Leaving aside the misdirected adjective for a moment, let’s clearly state what makes a person a Christian: faith in Jesus Christ. Apart from such faith, no person is a Christian.

Faith involves both knowledge of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for sinners, and the trust of the heart that what Christ has done He has done for you and me.

“I believe in Jesus Christ” means that I know who He is (God the Son in human flesh) and what He has done for my salvation (lived a life of perfect obedience to God’s Law, then suffered the penalty for violating the Law, that is, death and being forsaken by God the Father) for me.

How do we have such knowledge about Jesus, which we then trust for our salvation? Scripture is clear on this: faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”(Romans 10:17 ESV).

THebrews 10:19-25 ESVhis faith is God’s gift to sinners, graciously given (that is, without us deserving or earning it) by means of the Gospel in the Word of God as it is preached (Romans 10:8-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25) and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, in which God combines His promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation with the material element of water (Acts 2:37-41; Titus 3:3-7; 1 Peter 3:18-21).

This is basic Christian doctrine. God has not promised to do His saving work in us apart from His Word (including when that Word is combined with something material, namely, water, bread, and wine). As Martin Luther puts it is the Smalcald Articles (one of the so-called Lutheran Confessions contained in The Book of Concord):

“God will not deal with us except through His external Word and sacrament. Whatever is attributed to the Spirit apart from such Word and sacrament is of the evil”(SA III: VIII, 10).

Where is the Word of God preached and the sacraments administered?

These “means of grace” (as Lutherans call the Word and sacraments) are administered by the church through the office of the public ministry chiefly in the Divine Service.

The Word is preached and sacraments are administered in order to be heard and received. The Formula of Concord (another of the Lutheran Confessions) explains that:

“All who would be saved must hear this preaching [of repentance for the forgiveness of sins], for the preaching and hearing of God’s Word are the Holy Spirit’s instrument in, with, and through which He wills to act efficaciously” (FC Solid Declaration II:52, emphasis added).

And the Augsburg Confession, the foundational statement of what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess, says:

“The sacraments were instituted not merely to be marks of profession among men but especially to be signs and testimonies of the will of God toward us, intended to awaken and confirm faith in those who use them(AC XIII:1, emphasis added).

“In those who use them.” We use the Word of God by hearing, reading, marking, learning, and taking it to heart, as the ancient Prayer for the Word puts it.

We use Baptism not only by having water applied to us in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but living each day as one who is baptized: repenting of our sins and rejoicing in the forgiveness that is ours for the sake of Christ.Psalm 122:1 ESV

We use Absolution (which the Apology of the Augsburg Confession calls “the true voice of the Gospel” [Art. XII:39]) by verbally admitting our sinfulness and our many sins and hearing the promise of forgives for the sake of Christ spoken to us personally.

We use the Lord’s Supper by actually eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus, given for us Christians to eat and drink of the forgiveness of sins.

full churchSince the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are administered in the Divine Service, we clearly need to “go to church” to use these means of grace as God intends.

A person must actually use the means of grace for faith to be nourished, strengthened, and matured to bear the fruits of repentant faith. Can a person have faith without being in the Divine Service? For a while, but not without great effort directed against the sinful nature—an effort which will eventually fall short when a person cuts himself or herself off from God’s grace in Word and Sacrament.

One might read the Bible alone, but in most cases, this does not happen much on the part of people who quit attending church. Besides, one cannot receive the Lord’s Supper alone, nor be supported, comforted, and encouraged by the fellowship of believers.

Now back to the misdirected adjective. Speaking of “good Christians” is a mistake for several reasons. First, since we’re talking about Christians, it is biblical to speak of “weak” and “strong” (Romans 14:1 & 15:1) or of “mature” and “immature” (Philippians 3:15; Hebrews 5:11-14), but not of “good” and “bad.” The only sense in which Christians are good is that we are justified (declared righteous in God’s sight) for the sake of Christ; all our goodness is in Jesus for us, never in ourselves.

Second, referring to Christians as “good” focuses on us and what we do instead of on Christ and all that He has done for us (Hebrews 12:2). Christian will do good works, which are the fruits of faith, but the focus of our faith is and remains on Jesus Christ, crucified for us (1 Corinthians 2:2).

It's still about JesusThird, referring to “good Christians” implies that there are “bad Christians.” How could that be possible, sine what makes a person a Christian is the righteousness of Christ (perfect sinlessness) given to us by God’s grace through faith in Jesus? Besides, judging our fellow forgiven sinners as “good” or “bad” is something we are not to do (Galatians 6:1-5).

By the way, the results of the survey mentioned at the beginning also demonstrate that church attendance influenced how people responded to the question. The more regularly a person participates in the Divine Service, the less likely that person is to hold untrue beliefs in this matter.

PV

Inter-Dependence Day

Posted by on Tuesday, July 4, 2017 @ 9:19 AM

Though today is most often referred to simply by its date, this holiday is officially “Independence Day” to markLutherans in U.S. History the historic event of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Independence, the fact of the state of not being dependent, is practically a sacred concept in U.S. American history. We are a nation of individuals, even as we pledge to be “indivisible.”U.S. Flag

 

But reality does not match this “American ideal.” Very few of our citizens have ever been able to live in the “perfect freedom of individual liberty.” In fact, some of the notable ones who have tried are counted as crazy, like Ted Kaczynski, the notorious “Unabomber.” We are all, as a nation, as a society, as the human race, dependent on one another in so many ways.

Deny this if you will, but you’ll be arguing against God’s Word:

“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’”(Genesis 2:18 ESV).

God has created us for community, for relationship. We are made to be dependent, born dependent, in fact. Which is why, after God Himself, the Lord has “given this walk of life, fatherhood and motherhood, a special position of honor, higher than that of any other walk of life under it,” as Martin Luther comments in the Large Catechism (from The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Kolb-Wengert edition, p. 400).

But it is not only within the family that we are dependent on others. Personally, I’m really glad there’s a fire Flag and Constitutiondepartment that will come if I need them. I doubt my garden hose will help if my house is burning. Martin Luther helps us understand the inter-dependency of human society in his discussion of the Fourth Commandment in his catechisms, small and large.

“Honor your father and your mother. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”(Small Catechism, Fourth Commandment)

When Luther has us contemplate “other authorities,” he’s drawing lines of dependence. Those “in authority” over us are those who “have responsibility” for us; our submission to authority, our dependence on others to meet our needs, is part of God’s ordering of human society. And note well that the lines of dependence are drawn right back to God:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”(Romans 13:1 ESV)

You see, in all things, our gracious God seeks to draw us to Himself. He desires, above all other good for you and me, that we live as dependent on Him through faith in Jesus Christ. And that dependence on God shows up in our lives as we live in inter-dependence on one another, according to our vocations and stations in life. Through these vocations—embodied as husband or wife, father or mother, teacher or tax collector, farmer, grocer, doctor, paststatue of libertyor, or garbage truck driver—God works through them to provide for and protect us, nourish and nurture us—to love us.

As you celebrate our nation’s “Independence Day,” take a moment to thank God for the inter-dependence that—when it’s working as God intends—makes our life together a blessing. And pray for those who serve us in government at all levels, as St. Paul instructs:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.(1 Timothy 2:1-6 ESV)

Happy 4th of July!

PV

Our Confession

Posted by on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 @ 8:25 PM

On January 21, 1530, Emperor Charles V summoned a meeting for the following April in the city of Augsburg, Germany. His intended purpose was to bring the various political entities within the empire into unity in the defense of the empire against “the Turks,” that is, the Moslems who were engaged in an offensive campaign against the empire.Augsburg confession

Part of this effort included bringing together the religious factions which had developed since Martin Luther’s posting of his “Ninety-five Theses” in 1517. What began with Luther’s propositions for academic discussion was coming to a head as his colleagues, including notably the laymen who had joined in confessing the faith according to Luther’s “rediscovery” of the Gospel, came to Augsburg to state publicly what the “Evangelical churches” (as they were called) “believe, teach, and confess.”

On June 25, 1530 (487 years ago this week!) the “Augsburg Confession” was read publicly before the emperor, representatives of the pope, and other assembled (including people gathered in the street outside). In accordance with the emperor’s summons, Luther’s colleagues and followers came

“for deliberation on what might be done about the dissension concerning our holy faith and the Christian religion, and to this end… to employ all diligence amicably and charitably to hear, understand, wand weigh the judgments, opinions, and beliefs of the several parties among us, to unite the same in agreement on one Christian truth, to put aside whatever may not have been rightly interpreted or treated by either side, to have all of us embrace and adhere to a single, true religion and live together in unity and in one fellowship and church, even as we are all enlisted under one Christ”(Preface to the Augsburg Confession in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert [Fortress Press: Philadelphia 1959], p. 25).

Sadly, what was intended as an honest effort to unify Christians in a true, pure confession of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude v. 3) did not resolve the difference, reconcile the parties, or return the erring to the truth of God’s Word.

It's Still About JesusSo here we are, some 500 years later, still divided by differing understandings and confessions of the doctrine (teaching) God has given in the Bible. While many in our day would like to downplay the differences and ignore the inconsistencies, the need remains to return to the one faith based upon the clear teaching of the Word of God, centered in the saving work of Jesus Christ for sinners.

What has become known as the “motto of the Reformation”:

T  Sola gratia—By grace alone,

T  Sola fide—through faith alone,

T  Solus Christus—in Christ alone,

T  Sola Scriptura—on the basis of Scripture alone

is what Lutherans (as we are now known) continue to confess publicly. Our confession still separates us from other Christians in denominations which hold to different public confession than our own. And yet, because of the faith in Christ Jesus as Lord which unites all believers (“the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” as the Nicene Creed puts it), we continue to assert with the confessors at Augsburg:

“…we on our part shall not omit doing anything, in so far as God and conscience allow, that may serve the cause of Christian unity”(Preface to the Augsburg Confession, Tappert edition, p. 26).Book of Concord

If you would like to learn more about what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess, a great place to start is by reading the Augsburg Confession, which is available online at www.bookofconcord.org. I would also be happy to talk with you and answer whatever questions you may have. So why not join us for the Divine Service any Sunday at 8:00 or 10:30 a.m.! You’re also invited to share a cup of coffee and a sweet roll at 9:15 a.m. and then stay for our Bible study… which just happens right now to be going through the Augsburg Confession!

PV

Ah, Summer

Posted by on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 @ 11:39 AM

Ah, summertime in Minnesota! That season when, “‘throughout all the cities and villages’”(Matthew 9:35 ESV) of the land, ten thousand lakes are beckoning: “Come to us, all who labor and are ready for vacation, and I will give you relaxation!” (see Matthew 11:28).

Meanwhile, in the churches of the land, the Word of God is no longer proclaiming the great “signs and boundary waters kayakwonders” (see John 4:48 & Matthew 24:24) of the Festival Season (Advent through Ascension). Jesus having now ascended to the right hand of God, the real presence of the Savior on earth is receding from the daily awareness of many until next Christmas.

Why, we didn’t even get to hear a good story from Jesus in this past Sunday’s Gospel reading (Matthew 9:35--10:8)—just a one-sentence parable with a directive to pray, followed by a list of names.

No wonder people vacate the pews during the summer months! We’ve already heard about the life and ministry, the suffering and death, the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, so what more is there to learn?

Plenty, actually. As we move into the non-festival half of the church year (a.k.a., “Ordinary Time” or the “Sundays after Pentecost” of “after Trinity”), the focus of the appointed readings in the lectionary can be summarized as “How the teaching (doctrine) of Jesus forms and furthers our lives as Christians.” Since disciples (from the Latin verb meaning “to teach”) are “learners,” the summer months are a great time for those of us who want to learn from Jesus (and His apostles) to do just that.

Itasca State ParkYou need to be “in class,” though! Since Jesus continues His teaching in our day through the public ministry of the Word as it is preached and taught, primarily in the Divine Service, but also in Bible studies, those who wish to learn from Jesus (that is, be disciples) need to participate in the worship life of the congregation.

Many churches reduce the number of church services and suspend Bible studies during the summer months, I know. That’s a shame. There is a true wealth of Christ’s teaching for the life of faith which is proclaimed during these months. In many places, the Epistle readings are continuous, that is, starting at the beginning of one these letters and reading through to the end of it over however many Sundays that takes.

This gives opportunities to think through how the doctrine articulated by St. Paul, for example, gives shape and substance to the common life of believers in a particular congregation. Though we don’t live in the city of Corinth in the first century, the issues Paul addresses and how the Word of God applies to life are still current. People are people—that is to say, sinners, so we still need the forgiving, nourishing, correcting, encouraging, comforting Word of God!

How about making a point to join us on these beautiful summer Sundays to receive God’s grace in Christ? Service times are the same as the rest of the year: 8:00 A.M. and 10:30 A.M. and we continue Bible study and Sunday school for children and youth right on through the summer!

If you are “on vacation” and unable to join us at Trinity, just ask and I’ll be happy to help you find a congregation near where you will be so you can worship there!

PV

Times and Seasons

Posted by on Tuesday, June 13, 2017 @ 2:10 PM

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” writes the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 3:1. He then catalogs fourteen pairs of opposites which, taken all together, portray life for us human beings, we “fearfully and wonderfully made,” (Psalm 139:14) but sinful from conception (Psalm 51:5) people that we are.Times and Seasons

The list begins with the most basic: a time to be born, and a time to die”(Ecclesiastes 3:2). We seem to be transitioning from one of these seasons to the other here at Trinity Lutheran Church and School. There are still babies being born and baptized, but today we conducted the seventh funeral since Feb. 27, the Monday before Ash Wednesday.

It’s been a busy season for the pastors, with funerals in addition to midweek services. It was a somber time during Lent as we focused on our need for continuing repentance and faith. Yes, the Easter season was joyous as always, though this year the shadow of the cross was still clearly in view even as we looked to the empty tomb.

“Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” But we sinners still die.

“Yea, [weempty tomb still] walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4), but—thanks be to God, we now by faith are assured of the certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life for all the saints who die in the Lord (Hebrews 11:1; Revelation 14:13)! By the grace of God, through repentant faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen to life for us, this vale we walk through is darkened only by the shadow—not the substance of the punishment for sin. In Christ, we are forgiven! In Christ we are “alive forevermore” (Revelation 1:18)!

But all this is a matter of faith (Hebrews 11:1). That means we must depend always and only on the Word of God which declares these new realities to us. By faith, we are part of the “new creation” already begun in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:7 & 17). As Jesus Himself tells us, “‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he dies, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’(John 11:25-26 ESV).

“Yes, Lord, we believe. Help Thou our unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

There is a tension in living the Christian life, the life of faith, which Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 so poetically expresses. There will always be times of weeping and times of laughing; seasons of mourning and seasons of dancing (v. 4). As long as the Lord allows this world to turn—these times, and days, and seasons to continue we cling by faith to the Lord’s enduring promise (Genesis 1:14; Genesis 8:21-22) that we are forgiven, that we have even now the gift of eternal life, that we can yearn eagerly for the resurrection and glorification of our bodies and the great reunion with all those we love who have died in the faith. All this has been guaranteed to us by means of Holy Baptism.rainbow

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him(1 Peter 3:18-22 ESV).

Because of God’s gracious promise to us and the working of the Holy Spirit within us, we will make it through every difficult time, every passing season, trusting in our Savior, Jesus Christ. Pastor Stephen Starke confesses this marvelously in his 2002 hymn “There Is a Time for Everything”:

“Eternal Lord, Your wisdom sees

            And fathoms all life’s tragedies;

You know our grief, You hear our sighs—

            In mercy, dry our tear-stained eyes.

From evil times, You bring great good;

            Beneath the cross, we’ve safely stood.

Though dimly now life’s path we trace,

            One day we shall see face to face.

 

Before all time had yet begun,

            You, Father, planned to give Your Son;

Lord Jesus Christ, with timeless grace,

            You have redeemed our time-bound race;

O Holy Spirit, Paraclete,

            Your timely work in us complete;

Blest Trinity, Your praise we sing—

            There is a time for everything!

(Lutheran Service Book #762, stanzas 3-4)

PV

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