Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Snow blanketed the ground. It was cold. Yet, a few of us stomped the snow off our feet and came into the narthex of Holy Cross Lutheran Church—hungry for God’s divine service to us. It hit me as pastor chanted the proper preface last evening. Chanting, sure it’s an adiaphoran. But, it does lend credence to the fact that the Church in corporate worship speaks in a way the world cannot and does not understand. The Divine Service is God’s bringing heaven to earth in Word and Sacrament. So, when we enter the sanctuary and proceed into the service of the word, our pose sheds a certain casuistry in favor of reverence. And, why not aid that reverence with the beauty, the solemnity, the joy of chanting—both by the pastor serving as celebrant and the congregation responding. Yeah, there were only a handful of us gathered last night, but you couldn’t tell us that when we sang hymns, confessed our sins, and received absolution from God via the mouth and gesticulations of our pastor. Chanting heightens the tone of reverence especially during ht elead –up receiving our Lord’s body and blood. Sure, a baby may cry in the background. The organist may bump an unintentional note. Yet, pastor and congregation share our Lord’s blessing in responsive prayers and in the awes of Christ’s Words of Instition. Of course, I’m not saying that chanting is necessary or putting folks down who don’t do it. We have Christian freedom to adjust our liturgical tempo—if you will, th etype of congregation in which pastors serve and in which we worship. Some congregations just don’t have as many strong voices who can carry a canticle’s beauty. Some may not have chanted anything for years. So, the apastor adjusts. Yet, even there, in reverent conversation—confession and abolution, introit spoken, versicles exchanged—God gathers for Himself a people receiving His gifts. And, in gathering us around His altar last evening—and bringing His people together in congregations worldwide, our Lord Jesus Christ distributed His grace—His true body and true blood to us Christians to eat and drink. What a great way to end 2012 and launch into 2013!
Monday, December 31, 2012
Happy New Year’s Eve. Each year on this day, I can’t help but sing over and again the following stanzas written by Slovak hymnwriter, Jaroslav Vajda. Our Lord stands us in His grace and walks beside us during tragedy. He sees us through our struggles. He orders our days and our deeds in His peace. Check this out. “Now greet the swiftly changing year With joy and penitence sincere. Rejoice! Rjoice! With thanks embrace Another year of grace. Remember now the Son of God And how He shed His infant blood. Rejoice! Rjoice! With thanks embrace Another year of grace. This Jesus came to end sin’s war; This Name of names for us He bore. Rejoice! Rjoice! With thanks embrace Another year of grace. His love abundant far exceeds The volume of a whole year’s needs. Rejoice! Rjoice! With thanks embrace Another year of grace. With Him as Lord to lead our way In want and in prosperity, What need we fear in earth or space In this new year of grace! “All glory be to God on high, And peace on earth!” the angels cry. Rejoice! Rjoice! With thanks embrace Another year of grace. God, Father, Son, and Spirit, hear! To all our pleas incline YOur ear; Upon our lives rich blessing trace In this new year of grace.” (Lutheran Service Book 896, stanzas 1-7)
Sunday, December 30, 2012
I admit it. My interests lie in a whole lot of cseemingly contradictory areas. For instance, I’m a liturgical/sermon nut. I’ll read, listen to, and download a bunch of chants and sermons each week. But, my playlist doesn’t stop there. Yes, I dip into the music of such luminaries as Katie Perry or Billy Joel and (my favorites) Van Halen (DLR at the lead vocals) and .38 Special. I believe very strongly in the third commandment, which says “Honor The Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” Yet, my love for sports craves any college or pro game that fills the TV/radio airwaves on Sunday or any other day of worship. I don’t care if there’s too many bowl games. I’d watch them all if I had time. Yet, part of the reason I don’t is I bury my head in books—theological, political and a lot of techno-thriller fiction. It comes down to Christian freedom, I think. (Gal. 5:13) The Divine Service (and any other form of corporate worship), Holy Scripture, and great hymns are all gifts from God. So are people’s daily vocations—whether that be working or lurking the graveyard shift in an office, teaching in a classroom, rocking out on a stage, or shooting hoops for a living. Part of sports is the business angle just as part of politics is the partisan filibuster. The point of living free in the gifts God gives is receiving them in our lives without compulsion. Legalism of any kind puts the emphasis on the wrong syllable. (emphasis mine) Yet, license is equally just as bad if we take stuff too far. Okay, I can be guilty of this, too. Most of my sin of license is flaunting my Christian freedom with a big old grin on my face. And, what is license? Abusing the gifts our Lord gives us. If we don’t come to corporate worship, we are taking license in our absence from it. If we constantly flee from eating and drinking the Sacrament often (1 Cor. 11:26), we miss an opportunity for Christ to give us all of Himself and His forgiveness. If we habitually flee from God’s house for the Big House or any other sports shrine, we play fast and loose with the freedom God gives us. Yet, does that mean we are being irreverent by buying season tickets to the Indianapolis Colts or Denver Broncos games? No. Many churches offer multiple times for worship. And, we aren’t tied down to just one. Oh, drat, that means someone may sit in the pew I think has my name on it. Eeeeeek! Lol So, as I write this blog, I’ve got Sunday night football going and yet I’ve indulged myself, simultaneously in studying liturgics. Yet, what do we do in those times our conscience tweeks us with a supposed reality check. Hmmm. Check the Scriptures. Get convicted by God’s Law and freed again by His Gospel. Okay, let me take liberty here to admit something I’ve mulled around in my head for sometime. I believe the decline in church attendance doesn’t just result from external enticement. More than that, I think it results from a confusion people have over the issue of Christian freedom. Contrary to a pop-American assumption, Christian isn’t a matter of keeping rules and avoiding certain pet practices. It’s a matter of God’s grace that, first of all, saves us free for the trusting in Him and, secondly, teaches us to say “no” to things that hinder our faith. (Titus 2:11-14) Newsflash: We all have the need to repent of saying “yes” to whole lot of things that dissuade our faith. No, it’s not younger generation irritating the older folks or the older folks not understanding the younger generations. We’re all guilty of straying like lost sheep. (Is. 53:7) Yet, our loving, heavenly Father has put all the burden of our sin and guilt—our licentious abuse of Christian freedom—on His eternal Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Our hope aligns with that of the apostle John’s first epistle, written that we may not sin. Yet, what do we know for sure when we do sin? WE have an advocate in Jesus Christ, doing the will of our heavenly Father—forgiving our sins day in and day out. That’s the confidence in which we Christians long to live. It’s the confidence into which our Lord drowns our sinful nature first at Baptism. It’s the confidence He speaks to us in private and public absolution. It’s the confidence He distributes to us in His body and blood—“in, with and under the bread and wine, given for us Christians to eat and drink.” (Small Catechism, VI, 1-2) I have a lot of interests and hobbies, some of which may seem contradictory by nature. So do you. What a privilege our Lord gifves us in this living, active Christian freedom now and until He comes again.
Luke 2:29-32 “Lord, now you are letting your servant departin peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen yoursalvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” What aprayer Simeon prayed after He beheld the infant, Jesus! He longed to see Israel’s restoration. He believed he would see it. Israel’s restoration did not come in the form many others expected—an armed force kicking out the Romans, a mighty King traipsing into the palace knocking Herod off his throen. NO, restoration, salvation came in human flesh, the Word became flesh—and stayed that way. The babe who lay in a manger and, that day, in Mary’s arms is also God the Son from eternity past and future. He is the second person of the Trinity, having two natures—divine and human. So we,too, make Simeon’s prayer our prayer every time we return from the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus, in and with and under bread and wine, gives us His body and blood. In this testament, we see His salvation. No, the elements don’t change their substance while maintaining their earthy appearance. You can’t cut the bread and see what particles are Christ’s body and what parts are wheat. But, people can and do doubt our Lord’s promise, that He gave when He institute the feast we share each Lord’s Day. People can and do say it’s only symbol or ememberance. Bah! Jesus didn’t and doesn’t lie about Himself or His gifts. And, we don’t just take a part of his salvation with us each time we receive His Sacrament or hear His Word. Nope, it’s always the whole thing. So, when we behold Him, in full confidence of His grace, we are ready to die. Not that we feel ready or that we want to be ready. The Lord, through His Word and Sacrament prepares us to die. Through His absolution, He forgives our sins. Through His Supper, He forgives our sins just as, at our Baptism, He forgave our sins. When forgiveness happens, part of us does die—our old Adam. It’s a little death but a necessary death because nothing immoral or impure can enter the kingdom of heaven or survive its foretaste. Because Christ has conquered death, then, He promises to bring all who trust in Him through it free of sin and its fall-out. But, as prepared/ready as Christ makes us to die, He most of the time has further service for us to do for others. So, He does bid us go in peace. His Word is fulfilled objectively forever and individually for each one of us. WE may not comprehend that peace, like its some feeling or twinge within our gutt. WE still worry about kids, bills, and health. But, it’s a peace that bids our fears and doubts to cease. It’s our Savior’s peace that welcomes us into our heavenly Father’s care through His son’s intercession. Peace with God means that we can pray to Him with boldness and confidence in the name of Jesus, our Savior. So, trusting in His promise, we bid our Lord to dismiss us from His table in peace and blessing. He sends us into our world for more service to one another or to death and His welcoming embrace in heavenly bliss. Either way, His Word has been fulfilled for us.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
December 30, 2012 The readings for the first Sunday after Christmas are Ex. 13:1-3a, 11-15; Col. 3:12-17, and Luke 2:22-40. The Word of Christ dwells with us richly. He draws us to worship, fils our songs with juoy, and enriches our daily vocations. He, our infant Lord, came to His temple in Mary and Joseph's arms to be dedicated. He fulfilled His own Law there. Years later, He hung crucified for Mary, Joseph, and us on the cross. Now risen, He forgives our sins each day. He bids us go in peace. His Word has been fulfiled.
What a vacation!, a long one from posting on this blog. I’ve visited my brother’s family in Annapolis, MD and my parents in Springfield, MO. I’ve published one book, BEHOLD! YOUR KING COMES, and hope to be publishing more books this coming year. A Bible verse that often comes to mind when traveling is Ps. 121:8. Our Lord does guard our comings In and goings out every day. Whether we work or volunteer, see friends or take a walk our dog, our Lord cares for us even in our times of refreshment. When teaching His disciples for three and a half years leading up to His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus called them to times alone. Mark 6 speaks of Him bidding them come to a quiet place. The crowds clamored for our Lord’s attention, so He took their weariness on Himself and fed them with His love. Do times of refreshment last very long? Not for many of us. Work goes on. Children need our attention. Bills need paid. WE get gripy. We procrastinate. Or, we dive in with our head and hands and feet first before burning out. That’s when Jesus gives us the rest we need, not always what we think we want. He calls us to His house for worship. He restores our souls with forgiveness of our sins--true peace. He teaches us through His written Word read aloud and His preached Word spoken to us. He feeds us His body and blood in, with, and under bread and wine in His Supper. Each day, He calls us to His written Word in devotions and study that we gladly learn and hear it. We may not think of four or five minutes as a quiet time amid kids’ going off to school, our grabbing that last cup of coffee, or yawning ourselves awake. But, it’s the time our Lord speaks death to our sinful nature and life to our new heart created in His image every morning. If we have the blessing of longer times of daily devotion, great. Our Lord’s written Word is replete with command and promise for our whole lives. May His grace uphold us as this year draws to a close and the new one begins.
Saturday, November 10, 2012
Okay, so let’s find some new ways to show the Bible depicts life as we know it, not just the way we imagine what ought to be. To do this, I take us to a comparison between many of the people mentioned in the historical books like Genesis, 1-2 Samuel, and the Gospels with counterparts in our society today. From a literary standpoint, suspense fiction provides a great touchpoint. Think of the intrigue King David’s family gives us. Okay, King David himself plots to send Uriah to his death on the front lines of battle. ABsolom, made popular by his good looks, thinks he can assume Jerusalem’s throne right out from his father’s nose. Sexual frustrations, sibling rivalry, and lust for power made the news even during the reign of a king after God’s own heart. Shift to fiction set in our current times. What do you think author Vince Flynn is trying to tell us about our own political landscape in book, SEPARATION OF POWERS? Once you peel off the layers of plot like peeling the layers on an onion, you find a senator who tries to snuff out the life of the protagonist, Mitch Rapp. Now, unlike a classic Tom Clancy novel, Rapp as a field op for the CIA has a lot of skeletons in his closet as well. The lines between good and evil, right and wrong blur into a grey—just as in our personal lives and in the political newspapers put in front our face each day. For his part, Rapp, who is a wonderful character to love, has lingering feelings for a former lover, an Israeli spy become mercenary. He ditches his wife-to-be on a trip to Italy in favor of seeking to complete some hair-raising, gun shooting business. His girlfriend gets so concerned that she leaves for a time, throws a major conniption and assumes Mitch no longer wants to be with her. Holy Scripture has its share of real suspense and intrigue, too. Think about the Magi getting word from God, in adream, to scoot back home by another road instead of following Herod’s dubious orders to show him to Jesus’ nacent home. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus high-tail it out of Bethlehem just in time to escape death. Why? Herod’s hateful hit squad tramps into town, snuffing out the life of every baby boy under the age of two years. Of course, this follows upon the interrogation session the Magi endured at the hands of the Jewish scribes. Now, I’m sure those scribes did not try waterboarding or using some truth serum to yank the news from the Magi. No, what happened is that they tried using prophecies from God’s Word. And, we know where that led—their fulfillment. Not only was Jesus born of Bethlehem as predicted by Micah 5:2, he was Israel reduced to one, called out of Egypt. (Hos. 11:2) Okay, returning to suspense grippers set in the present, you find some similar intrigue. Take for example Josiah Wolf in Larry Sweazy’s THE COUGAR’S PREY. The powers-that be in Austin, plot to send Josiah down to Corpus Christi as a spy on Juan Cortina’s Mexican armed raiders. And, this follows after Wolf killed his own Texas Ranger commander in self-defense. Every good Western that has suspense in it also has the undercurrent of love. Somehow the protagonist is prevented from settling down with the woman of his dreams—usually a beautiful knock-out that no man can refuse. In Josiah’s case, that knock-out is Pearl Fikes—the daughter of a formerly prominent and wealthy Texas Ranger who was killed by outlaws while on the trail. Antagonists from as high-up as Texas’s government to a few outlaws want Pearl’s hand in marriage. So, does Josiah. What does Scripture show us when King David sends Uriah packing to the front lines? The king is making good on some deal to woo Bath-Sheba into his own waiting arms. Yes, even he whom God considered a man after His own heart broke all the commandments in his cunning affair to entice for him the love of his life. Okay, should I say the next love of his life. He already had Mikal, Abigail, and one or two others in his harem for keeps. Yet, here’s where truth gets even stranger than fiction. And, it’s for our benefit. When the prophet Nathan comes with a parable in his mouth, King David confesses his sin. His sin does not claim his life but is propitiated upon and by the death of Bath-Sheba’s first-born son. Now, in an even wilder and ironic twist of events, foretold over several centuries, God sends His only-begotten Son in our flesh, to endure our emotions, assume our limitations, and die our death—though sinless. Yes, His only-begotten, Jesus Christ—is both God and Man. And, not recognizing Him as the Lord of glory, Pharisees got jealous. Scribes scoffed at him. Sadducees considered him a mad-man, as did his own family from time to time. But, as the chief priests’ enforcement agents captured the Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, they conspired with Herod, Caipaphas and a few other shady lcharacters to bring Jesus to a trial by night. The whole thing was rigged and Pilate was the perfect pawn to deliver judgment. The big coward didn’t do any better. He passed the buck, led from behind, and let the Jews have their way, ordering Roman guards to crucify Jesus on Calvary. That’s where our Lord and Savior turned the tables-not for Himself, not to save His own hide, but for us. He died. He rose. He showed Himself fish-eating, wall-passing alive. He didn’t narrowly escape death like many heroes in Westerns or suspense novels. Nope, Jesus gave Himself to death to conquer sin, death, and hell for us. Thanks be to Him forever. He already seats us through faith in His heavenly kingdom, though we because of our sinful nature deserve maximum security lock-down of hell. We don’t conquer anything. Christ already did away with our sin. So, He makes us more than conquerors. He makes us who trust in Him recipients of His favor.