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Beyond Sunday Morning

Don't Doubt Alone

Posted by on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 @ 2:59 PM

There was a lot going on that “first day of the week” (John 20:1, 19).

At first light Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb intending to anoint Jesus’ body (Luke 24:1). Instead, they encountered an angel sent to say,

“‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.’” (Luke 24:5-6).

The women ran to tell the other disciples. Simon Peter and “the other disciple,” that is, John, then raced to the tomb to verify what the women had told them (John 20:3-6). John tells us that when he entered the empty tomb for himself he then saw and believed”(John 20:9).

Then John records two interesting details:empty grave

“…for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He [Jesus] must rise from the dead.10 Then the disciples went back to their homes”(John 20:9-10 ESV).

Do you notice the pattern here?

The Marys did not believe what Jesus Himself had told them. Neither did Peter and John. Furthermore, they did not believe “the Scripture,” that is, the Old Testament which prophesied of all “these things” in convincing detail (see Luke 24:18; John 20:30-31). And these so-called “followers” of Jesus separate themselves from one another.

The other apostles fare no better on this count. John reports that even that evening, after what was surely much conversation about the empty tomb and the angelic announcement, when they finally gathered together again, “the doors [were] locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews” (Jn 20:19 ESV). Not until after the risen Christ makes His appearance do they accept the testimony of the Scriptures and their fellow disciples (John 20:17-20).

“Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came,” John reports (Jn 20:24 ESV). Scripture records several different “titles” for this disciple of Jesus. He is named Didymus (literally: twin). He is one of the Twelve, those men upon whom Jesus bestowed the office of Apostle. But how is Thomas remembered?

The Incredulity of Saint ThomasThe moniker “Doubting” is based on the Easter evening event, which Thomas missed:

“So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe’”(John 20:25 ESV).

But was Thomas more doubtful and disbelieving than any of the other disciples mentioned in John 20?

I don’t think so.

Doubts can arise in the minds of any Christian—especially during tumultuous events and confusion, such as the disciples’ experience that first Easter. That’s our sinful human nature gasping for breath even after the Old Adam has been drowned in baptismal water (Roman 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12). The sinful nature all humans have in common will always doubt what reason cannot grasp and demand “a sign” as the basis of belief. But Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus”(1 Corinthians 1:1 ESV), says this:

“Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:21-24 ESV).

Martin Luther applies the same criticism as he writes about Confession and Absolution in the Smalcald Articles (one of the “Lutheran Confessions” contained in The Book of Concord):

“In these matters, which concern the spoken, external Word, it must be firmly maintained that God gives no one his Spirit or grace apart from the external Word which goes before. We say this to protect ourselves from the enthusiasts, that is, the ‘spirits’ who boast that they have the Spirit apart from and before contact with the Word. On this basis, they judge, interpret, and twist the Scripture or oral Word according to their pleasure. … This is all the old devil and old snake, who also turned Adam and Eve into enthusiasts and led them from the external Word of God to ‘spirituality’ and their own presumption.

In short: enthusiasm clings to Adam and his children from the beginning to the end of the world—fed and spread among them as poison by the old dragon. It is the source, power, and might of all the heresies…. Therefore we should and must insist that God does not want to deal with us human beings, except by means of his external Word and sacrament. Everything that boasts of being from the Spirit apart from such Word and sacrament is of the devil.”

(Smalcald Articles III:8:3-6, 9-10 in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, editors, pp. 322-323).

God works through His Word (Romans 10:17), including when that Word is included with a material elementbaptism in the sacraments (Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution). The Word and Sacraments have been given to the Church to administer at Christ’s command and according to the Lord’s instructions. This preaching and teaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments ordinarily happen when the church gathers for the Divine Service. This is where and how the Holy Spirit engenders, nourishes, and strengthens saving faith. Those who “neglect meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25) cut themselves off from the Source of faith and life.

That was a huge part of the problem for Jesus’ disciples on the first Easter: they separated themselves from one another, cut themselves off from the fellowship of believers. That was a major contributor to the increase of doubts and demands they made. Rather than simply believing the Word (of Scripture or Incarnate in Jesus), those who separated themselves from “the holy catholic church, the communion of saints” (Apostles’ Creed) fell prey to the hissing of the devil: “‘Did God really say?’” (Genesis 3:1).Holy Communion

How about you? Did you continue to “devote [yourself] to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers”(Acts 2:42 ESV) for the Second Sunday of Easter last week? Or, after the holiday activity of Easter Sunday, did you separate yourself from your fellow disciples of Jesus?

Take heart! The church doors will be open again this coming Sunday as the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord continues, as the Word is preached and the disciples of Jesus continue to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26), receiving Christ’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation in the means of grace!

And you are invited!

PV

Do You Still Have Chocolate

Posted by on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 @ 6:51 PM

There are few things I don’t like about chocolate. For one, as its deliciousness melts away in your mouth, it Easter basket full of chocolatedoesn’t last forever.

O.K. So there’s only one thing I don’t like about chocolate.

But chocolate is just one of many things I like about Easter! Top of the list, of course, is that this is the season of the Resurrection of Our Lord. Notice I said season. While the world celebrates Easter as a single day—a once-a-year trip to church (for some), a family feast (for many), and one of very few occasions for children to gorge on candy with permission, for the Church the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord (commonly known as Easter) is only the start of a seven-week season.

The Easter season (or Eastertide) celebrates the greatest event in the history of the world and the highpoint of the Christian faith: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This is what it’s all about, folks. Take away the rising to life again of Jesus after His crucifixion and you take the life out of the Christian faith.

Yes, I wrote what I meant: Jesus death and resurrection, which always go together, are the source of forgiveness, life, and salvation for all who believe. Consider a few Scriptures:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God,9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel(2 Timothy 1:8-10 ESV).

crosses seen from tombBut 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(Romans 3:21-25a ESV).

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life(Titus 3:3-7 ESV).

The message in passages such as these (call it God’s Easter greeting to sinners) is what makes all the difference in the lives of those who believe. What Christ Jesus accomplished by His suffering and death on the cross—securing forgiveness of sins for every person (Hebrews 7:27); wrestling from the devil’s cold, limp hands the fearsome power of death (Hebrews 2:14-15); and restoring for all those who believe the true life that God intended from the beginning (John 10:10)—this is what Easter means. This is much more than we can fit into a single Sunday!

This season of the Resurrection lasts for seven weeks. The Church observes this length for the Easter season because of what St. Luke reports in Acts 1:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-3 ESV, emphasis added).

So Easter, the season, lasts for 40 days, but the blessed effects of Easter last forever!Luke 24: 45-47

All of this means that we Christians—being the “people of the Resurrection” that God has made us by our Baptism into Christ (Romans 6:1-14)—should actively resist following the world’s path (however “well intentioned” it may seem) and continue celebrating Easter throughout its special season, but also each week as we gather for the Divine Service (each Sunday is a “little Easter”) “proclaiming the Lord’s death [and Resurrection!] until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26) and enjoying “a foretaste of the feast to come” (post-Communion canticle “Let the Vineyards Be Fruitful”)!

Think about this with every piece of Easter chocolate you enjoy and share it with others!

(It would be a polite act of Christian charity to share your chocolate as well).

PV

A Week Called Holy

Posted by on Tuesday, April 11, 2017 @ 10:06 AM

This is the week which, by the Christian church, is called “Holy Week” (or sometimes “Passion Week”). Though many people think first of Christmas when they think of Christianity, the events remembered during this week, particularly the events of this coming Friday through Sunday, are what give the Christian faith its unique and enduring quality.

Jesus handJesus, the Christ after whom we are named, in whom we believe, is the Son of God who came in the flesh to live and die for us sinners.                                                                       

By His life of perfect obedience to the Law of God in thought, desire, word, and deed Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements that the Lord God set out for those who would be His people.

By His suffering and death, Jesus bore the punishment that we deserve because of our sins, most notably: being forsaken by God the Father, which is t5he very essence of hell.

This is what the Church calls to remembrance during this week called “Holy.” This is the heart of the Christian Gospel: the death of Jesus Christ for sinners.

St. Paul wrote to the believers in the city of Corinth:

“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”(1 Corinthians 2:1-2 ESV).

It is the death of Jesus on the cross that secured the forgiveness of sins, redeemed sinners, and satisfied God’s righteous judgment. The events marked from Good Friday through Easter Sunday are the true highpoint of the Christian story, of the Christian faith.

In fact, the early Church marked these events, at the time called the Pascha (the Greek form of the Hebrew word for Passover [pesach]), before any other events on what would become the “church year” calendar. This is a significant historical detail for a couple of reasons, I think.

First, it very strongly connects the Christian faith and worship to that of God’s people under the Old Covenant. Remember, the highpoint of the Lord’s dealings with sinful humans in the Old Testament is God’s choosing and rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 3—12). These great divine acts of redemption under the human leadership of Moses are what the Lord commanded His people to remember (Ex 3:12; 6:7; 12:17; 13:3; 13:14; 20:2, etc., etc.).

Second, observing the Pascha (Good Friday through Easter Sunday) points up the fact that what the Lord did for the people of His choosing under Moses all prefigures what the Lord would do for all people in and through Jesus Christ. Compare the details of the Passover meal with the events of Holy Week and marvel at the fulfillment of prophecy.

Third, the worship (in both doctrine and practice) that the Lord commanded in connection with the Passover, particularly the seder (the Passover meal), is the basis of the worship (in both doctrine and practice) of the Church under the New Testament inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, particularly the Lord’s Supper. Again, compare the Lord’s instructions for the Passover meal (Exodus 12) with Jesus’ institution of the Holy Communion—which He established immediately following the final celebration of Passover (for example, Matthew 26:17, 26-30).

On the cross, by means of His suffering and death, the Lord fulfilled what He had promised already to Adam crushed serpentand Eve—and “promised” as a threat to the devil (Genesis 3:14-15)! The power of the devil is undone! Satan lies writhing in throes of defeated under the heel of the once-dead-but-now-living-forevermore Christ (Hebrews 10:12-25)!

Even now, in the midst of Hoy Week, with all its anguish and penitential mood, the eyes of faith look to Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God”(Hebrews 12:2 ESV), with Satan, sin, and death beneath His footstool (Psalm 110:1; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 ; Revelation 12:7-12).

A blessed Holy Week to you and yours! And an even more blessed celebration of Easter, not only this Sunday, but every Sunday!

PV

Think Oranges, Not Apples

Posted by on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 @ 11:35 AM

You’re probably familiar with St. Paul listing of the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5. But I have a question for you: How many fruits of the Spirit are there?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law”(Galatians 5:22-23 ESV).

Did you notice the verb in verse 22?

That verb “is” is singular. So is the noun “fruit.” The fruit of the Spirit is….”

So when you think of the “fruit of the Spirit,” think orange, not apple. Just as an orange or other citrus fruit is aoranges whole interconnected collection of segments, yet we refer to an orange, not oranges. So it is with the “fruit of the Spirit.” “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, [and] self-control” are all interconnected facets of the new life and character of a Christian.

All of these qualities are “of the Spirit,” that is, the Holy Spirit is the origin of these qualities which He gives to the believer in Jesus Christ. These qualities then show themselves in the character and daily life of the believer. From what St. Paul writes in Galatians, it indicates that all of these qualities are given as a whole. The believer possesses all of these qualities by virtue of being a believer, that is to say, all of these qualities are given to us as we receive the gift of faith by the working of the Holy Spirit.

Ah, you’re thinking, “I’m not very patient and so-and-so in the pew next to me hasn’t been kind to me.” Still, believers have all these qualities because the Holy Spirit has given them. We just don’t always exhibit each of these qualities. That’s the terrible result of being a sinner.

Our sinful nature—which we will all have with us until death finally purges us and Christ resurrects and glorifies our bodies—will always fail to use and even abuse the good gifts of God. This is why daily contrition and repentance is necessary, is the pattern of life for the believer.

When we fail to be kind—or sinfully point a finger at so-and-so and judge them as being unkind! —when we grow impatient, would rather fight than “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14; 1 Peter 3:11), are unloving of our neighbors or ourselves (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43; 19:19; 22:39), when we lack self-control, even when we despair instead of living in joy, we need to repent.

The forgiveness we then receive from the Holy Spirit by means of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament actually increases “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, [and] self-control” in us. The Spirit keeps on giving, nourishing our God-given faith so that we bear fruit.

grapesThat’s really what the Lord Jesus intends for us as His disciples, you know. He actually said so the evening before He was “hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13):

“‘Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing’”(John 15:4-5 ESV).

“‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you’”(John 15:16 ESV).

So, on second thought, when you think of the “fruit of the Spirit,” think grapes instead of apples!

PV

Every Time We Say Goodbye

Posted by on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 @ 8:13 PM

Cole Porter certainly had something different in mind when he penned the lyric which has become a jazz standard, since it includes this line:

“Why the gods above me, who must be in the know,

Think so little of me they allow you to go.”

But those of us who are truly “in the know” because we believe God’s self-revelation that the

“The Lord our God, the Lord is one”(Deuteronomy 6:4 ESV, see also Mark 12:28-30);

and

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”(Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV);

should bless each other with a hearty cheerful (not “tearful”!) “Goodbye!” Why?

older couple waving goodbyeBecause the word as we know it now is a contraction of the phrase “God be with ye!”

Believers have greeted one another with such blessings for a very long time. Consider Ruth 2:4:

“And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, ‘The Lord be with you!’ And they answered, ‘The Lord bless you.’”

Or the salutations at the beginning of St. Paul’s letters to various churches and people:

“To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”(Romans 1:7 ESV).

 

“Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2 and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”(Philemon 1-3 ESV).

 

“The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you” (2 Timothy 4:22 ESV).

Yes, it is “good, right, and salutary” that we Christians should send each other off with the blessing that “God remain with” one another, by faith claiming the promise of Jesus:

“‘Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:20 ESV).

Such a “common” farewell might actually be thought of as echoing the historic Liturgy, as for example the young woman waving goodbyeSalutation which precedes both the Collect of the Day and the Preface to Holy Communion, and is heard again following the Communion, just before the Benedicaums and Benediction. In fact, that last piece of the Liturgy is the only blessing which is actually commanded by the Lord:

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 23 ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

27 ‘So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them’”(Numbers 6:22-27 ESV).

Just one more way of carrying what the Lord gives to us in the Divine Service into our daily vocations and possibly an opportunity to confess Christ to someone who does not yet know Him as their Savior. I wonder what would happen if, next time you part from someone, you use the whole phrase instead of the contraction:

“We’ll see you later!”

“OK. God be with ye!”

That might cause a person to ask why you said that. If so, follow the Apostle Peter’s instructions:

“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyoneChristus benediction who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”(1 Peter 3:15 ESV).

The Greek word Peter uses, which is translated here as “defense,” is apologia [apologia]. While this word often is used in the context of defending oneself against accusations, such as in court, it is also used in the sense of “giving an explanation.” This is the way in which its English equivalent is used, for example, in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession in The Book of Concord.

In this sense, especially taking to heart the manner in which Peter says we are to “give an answer” (as some English versions translate), this is a great passage about how Christians are to evangelize, that is, speak to Gospel to unbelievers.

Give it a try! Evangelize others every time you say “Goodbye!”

PV

Father in heaven, fathers on earth

Posted by on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 @ 11:10 AM

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’ 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’”(Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23 ESV).

This past Sunday the Church observed the commemoration of St. Joseph, Guardian of Jesus (March 19). Why?

Because the Church has historically looked to Biblical figures as examples to us of God’s grace in action in human lives, and as encouragements to faithful living. Joseph is certainly that—especially for fathers.

In our day when many are bemoaning the “death of the nuclear family,” Joseph’s situation serves as a reminder that sin has wrecked the family as God instituted and intended it from the beginning (Genesis 2:18—3:24). Since the fall into sin, there has never been a “perfect family” on the dust of this earth. What we often refer to as “the Holy Family” is no exception.

Think about it: Mary, herself a sinful woman who needed God’s grace just like the rest of us, was an “unwed mother” (Luke 1:30). Though she was “betrothed to Joseph” (Luke 1:27), which was binding under the marriage laws of that place and time and so would require a legal divorce if Joseph declined to “‘to take Mary as [his] wife’”(Matthew 1:19-20), her marriage to Joseph had not been consummated when she was found to be with child”(Matthew 1:18 ESV). So all the social stigma we might think of today loomed over Mary.

But Joseph did take Mary as his wife—received her God’s gift of a spouse, we might say. It seems to me that the parallels between St. Luke’s report of the annunciation to Mary and St. Matthew’s account of the annunciation to Joseph both conveyed the grace (favor) of God—both centering as they do on the Savior.

“‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end’”(Luke 1:30-33 ESV).

“‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 2She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’” (Matthew 1:20-21 ESV).

While we often hear of Mary’s response of faith (“‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word’”[Luke 1:38 ESV] and bursting into the Magnificat [Luke 1:46-55]), Joseph’s actions sing as profoundly as Mary’s words:

“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus”(Matthew 1:24-25 ESV).

Joseph, by the grace of God, became the foster father of Jesus. His God-given role was toJesus with Joseph provide for and protect, to nourish and to nurture, to teach and train this son entrusted to him by the Lord. Joseph was called to the vocation of father, just as every man who is blessed by God to beget a child. But, as noted above, Joseph faced special circumstances that no other earthly father has ever had to face. By the grace of God, he manned-up and met every challenge. In this, Joseph provides an example of grace and true manliness for us all.

But he’s not alone in this. I have known many men who have awed me with their strong, yet gentle, always loving fathering. I only wish I had been like this for every day that the Lord blessed me with the opportunity to represent our heavenly Father to the children He has given me to father on earth. For all my mistakes—unintentional and deliberate sins, I pray daily for forgiveness. And, believe me, I thank the Lord every day that He has now blessed me with a second chance of sorts with the grandchildren He has brought into my life.

Martin Luther, who did not have an “ideal’ relationship with his own father, Hans, clearly valued to the vocation of father (and mother) as God has defined these. Consider this gem from his treatment of the Fourth Commandment in the Large Catechism:

“God has given this walk of life [vocation], fatherhood and motherhood, a special position of honor, higher than that of any other walk of life under it. Not only has he commanded us to love our parents but to honor them. …. [H]e distinguishes father and mother above all other persons on earth, and places them next to himself” (The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Kolb-Wengert edition, pp. 400-401).

Yet Luther also had a realistic view of us poor, miserable men whom God calls to the vocation of fatherhood. Try as we might, to live up to the high and holy calling of representing our heavenly Father to the children He entrusts to our care on earth, we fail. Daily.Joseph and Jesus

Yet, if we are men of faith who look to Christ Jesus for forgiveness and guidance for life, we will teach our children to do the same. As we do this, we have the promise of God that the Holy Spirit will be effectively working through our humble efforts to teach and train up our children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6), that is, to follow Jesus. God will honor this, not because our efforts are worthy, but because of His gracious promises for the sake of His dearly beloved, well-pleasing Son who loved us and gave Himself up to death on the cross for us (Galatians 2:20).

Fathers, teach the faith to your children. Pray for them and with them. Lead them in worship, bringing your family to church, participating in the service and singing the hymns—or at the very least opening the hymnal to follow along with the text even if you don’t sing along. Show your children by word and deed that religion is not merely for women and children, but is as manly a thing as there can be.

Rise Up O Men of GodRemember: our faith is in a Man who was a carpenter/mason (the New Testament Greek term includes both vocations), who was strong enough in body and spirit to fast for forty days and still do battle with the devil himself, who cared for his mother (after Joseph apparently died), who withstood flogging and crucifixion, and still had strength enough to pray for you and me, provide for his mother, and willing lay down His life that we might be forgiven and spared the pains of eternal misery and death. Jesus was no wimp.

During these penitential days of Lent, recall the final words of the Old Testament:

“‘Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.

5 “‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.’” (Malachi 4:4-6 ESV).

Ask yourselves, fathers, what is the most important legacy you can provide for your children?

PV

Nicodemus Old and New

Posted by on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 @ 10:14 AM

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him’”(John 3:1-2 ESV).

Old Nicodemus was obviously a learned religious man. Jesus recognizes this when He calls him “the teacher of Israel” (John 3:9), meaning that Old Nicodemus was a rabbi. As a Pharisee, Old Nicodemus was scrupulous in obeying the Law. His righteous behavior was apparently impressive to his fellow Jews, for Nicodemus was a member of the Ruling Council, the Sanhedrin (John 3:1 and also John 7:50). He appeared to have a lot going for him in religious matters.Jesus teaches Nicodemus

But Old Nicodemus came to Jesus under the veil of darkness—not merely “by night,” but also in spiritual darkness. Consider St. Paul’s words about the Israelites (Jews):

“Their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed”(2 Corinthians 3:14 ESV).

Old Nicodemus, though a member of God’s “chosen people” under the old covenant was not yet a member of God’s chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession”(1 Peter 2:9 ESV) under the New Testament which Jesus was ushering in even as He spoke to Old Nicodemus. In the Lord’s own words, Old Nicodemus had not at that point “‘enter[ed] the kingdom of God’” (John 3:5 ESV). Why not?

Basically, because Old Nicodemus was still relying on his reason and boasting of his accomplishments to make himself right with God. But it is not by our own efforts, or our accumulation of religious knowledge, or our “personal decision” that any of us sinners enter the kingdom. Instead, we are brought into the kingdom by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does this work by means of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament (the Word of God preached and spoken in Absolution, the Word combined with the water of Holy Baptism, and the consecrated bread and wine in Holy Communion).infant baptism

Recall Martin Luther’s explanation of the Holy Spirit’s work from the Small Catechism’s treatment of the Third Article of the Creed:

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

Because Old Nicodemus was still trying to puzzle out how to be right with God based on his efforts, he comes to Jesus questioning what he had seen and heard.

“‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him’”(John 3:1-2 ESV).

Old Nicodemus was skeptical. He admits to knowing certain facts and evidence about Jesus, but does not acknowledge the conclusion to which these point. The “signs” to which Old Nicodemus refers are the miracles Jesus had been performing. St. John in his Gospel uses the Greek word for sign instead of the word for miracle, which emphasizes an important function of the healings, etc.: the point to the fact that Jesus is God.

When Old Nicodemus says “‘unless God is with him,’” he is falling as short of confessing Jesus as “‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:16 ESV) as the earth is below the heavens. The truth is that Jesus is “‘Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)’”(Matthew 1:23 ESV).

Such questioning and doubting is typical for unbelievers. But don’t be too hard on them! It does indicate that the Holy Spirit is working to lead them to faith in Christ. Nicodemus, who had heard Jesus preach and seen Him perform signs, did come to Jesus with his questions. Oh, that our unbelieving family, friends, and neighbors would do the same! How wonderful if our words and behavior would daily reflect Jesus to them so that the Spirit would move them to ask for a reason for the hope that is in us”(1 Peter 3:15 ESV)!

As Jesus says to Nicodemus, we can’t see the Holy Spirit working and more than we can see the wind (John 3:8). But we can see the effects of both! (Just remember the weather last week!) See the questions of family, friends, and neighbors as an indication of the Spirit’s work. Know that when you speak the Word of God to them in answer to these questions, that also is the Spirit at work (Romans 10:8-17). This is true even if the “questions” come as accusations during persecution (Matthew 10:19-20).

And if you’re looking for some indication that the Spirit has done His work of bringing a person to faith, I suggest you notice when the questions become confessions of the faith! When Nicodemus first came to Jesus he asked,“‘How can these things be?’”(John 3:9 ESV). Later, St. John reports that Nicodemus asked a question of the Sanhedrin which had a different nature: “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” (John 7:51 ESV). It seems the wind was changing direction! And by the end of Jesus public ministry, look at Nicodemus:

Jesus taken down from the cross“After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away His body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.”(John 19:38-40 ESV)

Yes, Nicodemus came questioning and doubting what he had seen and heard. But by the grace of God and the effective working of the Holy Spirit in his heart, New Nicodemus was moved toward confessing the faith, in word and deed.meaning of anothen

Though Scripture does not record it, I hope that New Nicodemus was “‘born from above” (John 3:3), as Jesus tells him; “‘born of water and the Spirit’”(John 3:5), by Holy Baptism and was thus transformed, like Saul of Tarsus following his Baptism, when Ananias delivered this commission from the Lord:

“‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from His mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for Him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.’”(Acts 22:14-15 ESV)

I hope that New Nicodemus eventually became like Peter and John, confessing disciples of Jesus Christ who responded to the warning “‘to speak no more to anyone in this name [of Jesus]’” (Acts 4:17) by boldly confessing:

“‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:20

I hope you will be like the New Nicodemus too!

PV

Lost Hours

Posted by on Tuesday, March 7, 2017 @ 12:12 PM

Prepare yourself: this is the week we “spring ahead” as Daylight Savings Time begins.

spring aheadPeople often remark that during the night when the clocks officially change that we “lose an hour.”

But we don’t, really. It isn’t like the segment of time as we measure it gets bumped behind the dresser like your car keys. You can’t search the house until you find those sixty minutes. And just think how odd the excuse would sound: “Sorry I was late for service, pastor, but I lost an hour last night and it took this long to find it!”

The very idea of an “hour” as a sixty-minute measure of time is a human construct we use to keep track of that creation of God that we call “time.” Yes, time is a creation. The eternal Lord God brought it into being when He spoke into existence the “evening and morning” of the First Day:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:3-5).

Biblically, time is measured according to days:

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil(Luke 4:1-2a ESV);

weeks:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, youcalendar pages, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy(Exodus 20:8-11);

lunar months:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. 4 And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat, you shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight(Exodus 12:1-6 ESV);

years:

The years of our life are seventy,

    or even by reason of strength eighty;

yet their span is but toil and trouble;

    they are soon gone, and we fly away.(Psalm 90:10 ESV);

and seasons:

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so(Genesis 1:14 ESV).

In the New Testament when the word for hour is used the significance of it is not as a measure of sixty minutes. The Greek word means “time of day” in a more general way, or “a short period of time,” or “the time when something took place, is taking place, or will take place.” It seems the ancients were more interested in the events than fixing a precise minute (or even second, not to mention nanosecond!). There’s a lesson here for us moderns who fixate over quantity in ever-decreasing detail, often to the neglect of quality.

It would be well for us to return to the Biblical treatment of time. Approaching each day allotted by God as the time in which we have to accomplish the tasks set before us without worrying about “yesterday” or “tomorrow” we would no doubt be healthier and more content. But don’t take my word for this. The Lord Jesus says:

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble”(Matthew 6:34 ESV).

Six days ought to be sufficient for our “work week.” Consider what the Lord God accomplished in that amount of time and notice His emphasis on quality in the accomplishments:

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation (Genesis 1:31—2:1-3 ESV).

Yes, it would benefit us to return to the Biblical treatment of time—especially as it centers on the life of Jesus. The Rev. Dr. Arthur A. Just makes these observations about time:

Time in the Christian sense is a servant of theology, and in this time the church has taken the incarnation and the crucifixion [of Jesus], the two scandals of Christianity, and raised them up to be the two great festivals of the church year, Christmas and Easter. These are the pivotal points of the liturgical year. Within sacred time, the church has harmonized the seasons of nature with the seasons of the church year. Thus, as nature experiences its yearly death in the fall and winter of the year, the church focuses on judgment, the ultimate death of the world as we know it. … Then Christian time goes on to coordinate the rebirth of nature in the spring and summer with images of new life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is not a coincidence that Easter occurs in the spring. … The church has transformed the world by its liturgy and served the Gospel’s goal. The church has raised secular time to the level of the sacred. This sacred time becomes sacramental because Christ now appears in it for the benefit of his people (Lutheran Worship: History and Practice, CPH: 1993, Fred L. Precht, ed., p.32).clock shop

While you’re pondering these ideas over the coming days, don’t forget to set your clocks ahead one hour when you go to bed on Saturday so that you’ll be right on time for church Sunday morning!

PV

Fat or Shrove

Posted by on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 @ 8:45 AM

Today is called Mardi Gras in French.Mardi Gras

In English, either “Fat Tuesday” or “Shrove Tuesday.”

The way one thinks about this day—one’s attitude—indicates much about one’s spiritual condition.

In the popular culture, I think it’s fair to say that Mardi Gras is thought of as the last big bash before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. It’s a chance to party before becoming penitent. That’s a problem.

Mardi Gras masque

Mardi Gras celebrations around the world are extravagant examples of debauchery. Drunkenness and gluttony, nudity, sexual promiscuity, and excess are on display.

Even nominal Christians get swept into the crowd of revelers as the parade passes by. “Tomorrow we’ll wear ashes,” they seem to say, “but for now we’ll eat, drink, and be merry!”

I wonder, do such merrymakers know the Lord’s response to the one who originated that phrase?

“‘But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you…’”(Luke 12:20a ESV).

The all-too-common attitude of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” betrays a total misunderstanding of the Biblical doctrine of repentance. On this eve of the penitential season of Lent, it is well to review this most basic teaching of Jesus, who began His public ministry preaching:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”(Matthew 4:17 ESV).

In historic, orthodox Christian doctrine repentance is not a one-time event. Nor is it a piecemeal thing, repenting for this sin and that. Martin Luther expressed the Scriptural teaching of repentance well in the first of his famous “Ninety-five Theses” when he wrote:

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17),

He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

So repentance is an ongoing thing in the Christian life—“begun once and continuing ever after,” to borrow Luther’s words from the Large Catechism’s discussion of Baptism. These three really belong together: Baptism, repentance, the Christian life. The golden thread that binds them inseparably is faith, given by means of Holy Baptism, characterized by repentance, and lived daily.

The Augsburg Confession—which is the foundation document stating what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess—defines repentance in these words:

“Properly speaking, repentance consists of two parts: one is contrition or the terrors that strike the conscience when sin is recognized; the other is faith, which is brought to life by the gospel or absolution. This faith believes that sins are forgiven on account of Christ, consoles the conscience, and liberates it from terrors(AC Article XII, ¶3-5, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Kolb-Wengert edition, p. 45).

Put another way: when a sinner realizes he is a sinner, deserving of damnation; and also believes God’s gracious promise of forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, that person is repentant. Terror and trust are equally present in true repentance. Leave either one out, and the repentance is incomplete on the one hand, insincere on the other. True repentance then will show itself as genuine by changed behavior: “Thereupon good works, which are the fruit of repentance, should follow” (AC Article XII, ¶6, Kolb-Wengert edition, p. 45).

It is not only such blatant, public sinners as Mardi Gras revelers who are guilty of an unbelieving, impenitent attitude toward sin. Many church-going folk also deny, excuse, self-justify, and downplay their personal sins. “I’m not as bad as my neighbor!” “It’s really not that serious.” “God will surely overlook my peccadilloes.” God’s response to such claims is clear:

“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”(Genesis 6:5-6 ESV).

“Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die”(Ezekiel 18:4 ESV).

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom 3:23 ESV).

“…all [people] are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one”(Romans 3:10-12 ESV).

But no of us need die in our sins. The Lord’s gracious promise—put into effect and completely fulfilled in the life and ministry, the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—give forgiveness to everyone living daily in repentant faith. This is how the Lord says it through the prophet Ezekiel:

“‘But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all myJesus and disciples statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done, he shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? 24 But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die’”(Ezekiel 18:21-24 ESV).

What all these words of the Lord ought to make clear is the need for repentance right now. Waiting ‘til Ash Wednesday will not do. If Christ returns on a Tuesday, many, many people will regret their attitude and behavior for eternity. But those who heed the call of the Lord Jesus to repent of sin and trust in Him for eternal salvation will live to rejoice!

PV

Color and Light

Posted by on Tuesday, February 21, 2017 @ 7:48 PM

We’re nearing the end of the Epiphany season. The Feast of the Transfiguration is this coming Sunday, which means Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent are on the horizon.

I’ve been thinking how interesting it is that as Epiphany, the “season of light,” is waning as the days in our part of the world are lengthening. For those who relish every ray of sunshine during the winter months, Epiphany offers God’s encouragement as Jesus, “the Light of the world” (John 8:12), shines brighter and brighter until at last, we “behold His glory” atop the mountain with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-9). And what a welcome sight that is just before we pass into the shadows of Lent. Such is the ebb and flow of God’s creations (that is, the world and the Church).

sunshine and rainbowIt seems to me that there’s a transition of colors that happens as well. Perhaps a little earlier this year, due to the February heat wave we’ve been enjoying. The grays and white of winter start to shift to the greens of spring, beginning with the first blades of Crocus and Daffodils. I don’t think I’d ever noticed how varied those greens are until a dear friend, living in the high desert of Southern California pointed it out. “I miss the variety of green you have in Minnesota,” she said. And so we do.

There is, of course, an integral connection between color and light. Picture the pinks of a sunrise, the orange and purple of sunset. Or let the arc of a rainbow sweep across your mind’s eye. The colors are not possible without the light. Life would be dreary indeed with colors and light. Or would it even be possible?

Scientists have discovered species of sea creatures which live so deep that the sunlight never penetrates todeiopea comb jellyfish the places they call home. But the Creator has given these creatures the amazing ability to generate their own bioluminescent light. So maybe there’s more of a connection between light and life than we usually think.

Or perhaps we just need to listen more closely to Jesus:

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”(John 8:12 ESV).

This is the same point the Evangelist St. John makes in the Prologue to his Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and jellyfish textwithout him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth(John1:1-14 ESV).

Which brings us back to the Transfiguration, the event St. John is recalling in these words, the glorious moments when he and his brother James and Simon Peter saw in Jesus the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth”(John1:1-14 ESV). Jesus’ glory, as revealed to the Apostles, who have passed down this revelation to us, is that by God’s grace, through the truth of God’s Word, those who receive from God the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) also receive new life in Christ—a glorious new life, lived in the light of God’s grace!

PV

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