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.
Friday, September 7, 2012
Tolkien fans, LOTR devotees, and other lovers of speculative fiction—rejoice! THE HOBIT’s first installment of a trilogy will soon come our way, in December.
Check out this link to find out more.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
As the Republicans’ national convention stands around the corner, media from across the political spectrum forecast the various groups which strategists are trying to reach. We live, after all, in a hyphenated society where candidates appeal to various socieoeconomic niches to attract their voting bloc. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan seek to capitalize on Catholics’ sensitivities in view of the mandate put forth earlier this year by HHS. The requirement that all private and even nonprofit organizations offer insurance coverage for birth control technology rubs against their prohibition against using such measures. Add to that dissension Pres. Obama’s endorsement of legalizing same sex marriage. “The Republicans have a chance for a different outcome,” Patrick Hobin of NEWSMAX MAGAZINE reports the NEW YORK TIMES as saying. Romney’s selection of Cardinal Timthy Dolan to deliver the convention’s closing prayer show he is committed to reaching out to Catholic voters. In 2008, Gallup reported that Pres. Obama won the Catholic vote by nine percentage points over Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Having Joe Biden, himself a Catholic as his running mate gave him an air of familiarity with their religious concerns. With Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate, Mitt Romney plans to make even greater inroads. Hobin says, “Catholics make up about a quarter of the electorate and the Catholic vote is generally a bellwether that mirrors the general electorate.” ““We’re going to have outreach to Catholics in a coordinated, organized effort — state by state, diocese by diocese, parish by parish and pew by pew,”” the New York Times quotes Peter Flaherty, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, as saying. Flaherty, who is Catholic, served as Romney’s liaison to the religious community when he was governor of Massachusetts. A recent Gallup poll shows Romney with a slight edge among Catholics. * Note: Information on the Gallup statics and the quotations from the New York Times come from Patrick Hoblin’s article for NEWSMAX, “GOP Makes Strong Push to Win Catholic Vote”. (August 25, 2012)
The readings for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost are Is. 29:11-19, Eph. 5:22-33, and Mark 7:1-13. Being right for being right’s sake is a show of self-righteousness. We are all guilty of it. As the Jews had their traditions that turned their ceremonies into idols, so we raise the rule of our own pet peeves or created social norms. But, Jesus has fulfill the standards and statutes of the Law. He has taken our violation against it on Himself on the cross for our salvation.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
I can remember how Mom's side of the family came together within hours for mutual support. My grandpa had a stroke and fell to the floor. Over the next few hours, we learn the doctor’s prognosis. Grandpa had three days to live. Now, I don’t know how your families handle tragedy or ways they share mutual consolation. But, Mom’s sisters and brothers along with dozens of cousins flock to the comfort of hymns, of memorized Scripture passages and prayers—both together and in our private devotions. Back in 1996 when Grandpa died, we didn’t congregate around the computer waiting for the next Facebook update on his condition. We didn’t look for the next email blast while we waited out the four days between his fall and his death. WE did what we always did when one of us suffered. We came together. Sure, conversations about politics and current happenings in our lives dictated much of those days. But, as the hours grew late and long and as we sat by Grandpa’s bedside we rallied to memorized hymns and Bible verses for encouragement. AT one point, my uncle blanked out on a verse he thought he knew. He asked for my help. I wracked my brains and sang the verse after the one he wanted. Ouch! I was glad to help bring consolation but, I didn’t sing the desired verse. Since then, I have made it a priority to memorize hymns, sometimes in full, sometimes bit by bit. Not that it’s a requirement, but the memorization of hymns does have its benefits. First, in times like I described, we can use hymns to soothe someone’s troubled conscience. Whether a relative suffers momentary loss or chronic anxiety, familiar hymns speak in pithy terms the Gospel’s free assurance. They proclaim peace in words that we ourselves may struggle to articulate. I think of times when someone has a favorite hymn. Whether we see them on their deathbed, during a regular pastoral visit, or just swinging by their house, we can bring them solace and cheer in words and phrases they know well. I’ve known family and friends who, upon hearing a hymn or part of the liturgy, sspoke or sang it with me and others. Secondly, memorizing hymns helps apply the Scriptures on which they are based to our daily lives. In the section on daily prayers, the Small Catechism encourages us to begin each day with “a hymn like that of the Ten Commandments….” Memorized, that hymn may aid us in our desire to dig into less familiar parts of the Bible which are chocked full of straight up Law and Gospel. In other words, hymns teach us simple words with which to unfold passages that seem intimidating. For me, LSB 462, stanza 2 explains Jesus parable of unbinding the “strong man,” which I had not grasped so well until hearing that hymn. Memorizing such words helps keep the Bible’s richness and depth in our hearts and minds. What did Paul and Silas do in Philippi’s maximum security prison? They sang hymns, probably from memory and received our Lord’s consolation based on His Word through them. So, when we have that moment at the work place or when the children scoot off to school, hymns can help us put that week’s readings from Church in our heads. They are nice way of keeping the Bible memorable in our increasingly busy lives. Thirdly, and similar to last point, hymns help explain in simple words a article of our Christian faith we may find difficult to understand. When I began learning about our Lord Jesus’ two natures—God and man in one Christ, hymns such as “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” taught me pithy ways of thinking on certain points of our Church’s creeds. AS I grew up, I learned the connection between Christmas and Christ’s cross from Scripure first and then through the hymn, “What Child Is This?” Memorizing these hymns helped me begin to retain the teachings and Bible verses pertinent to any topic of doctrine. I have to laugh and yet say with all seriousness that one of the most important things I learned in college and seminary was how to navigate the hymns and hymnals of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Now, I understand that memorizing anything may prove to be challenge for many of us. Memory work causes some Confirmation students and their parents to shake in their shoes. So, there’s no time limit or rapid pace to memorizing hymns for personal use. Take them one verse or a half verse at a time—while your working out, cutting the grass, or taking a few minutes’ relief down the hall and to the left. AS I write and work from home, I find myself memorizing and singing hymns between the projects that I do or as I walk about in my apartment. So, give memorization a try. For the word of Christ does dwell with us richly until the Word Himself comes to take us to heaven forever.
Note: I wrote the opening paragraph of this post on Facebook also this morning. The challenge in writing concise devotions is this: Even in 225 words, we tell two stories--ours according to the Law and Christ Jesus' salvation according to the Gospel. To neglect either is dangerous. Either the reader is left big-headed, thinking he can how-to it out of his own sin. Or, he is left in despair saying he's hopeless beyond rescue. Only in Christ Jesus' cross is that tension solved, proclaimed in clear words. Of course, writing devotions for a popular audience has several other components. One must be concise, not overwhelming the reader with more than one main point or central thought. Particularly with devotions centering on a reading from the Old Testament historical books or the Gospels, we do well to retell the main part of the narrative. Here again, we face two aspects of the craft that hold each other in tension. First, we desire to show the action, making description come alive. Second, we still, unmitigated, proclaim—tell—the narrative’s application to us and our salvation. WE are not called to moralize people into pleasing God by devotions or to scratch itching ears for the sake of pithy entertainment. If such is a byproduct of our labors, so be it. God grant it. But, the primary application of a text is clear—our sin, Christ’s rescue. For a further elaboration of resources for devotions and other Christian writing, listen to the segments on www.issuesetc.org related to teaching a Sunday school lesson. Usually, Pam Nielsen is Pastor Wilken’s guest for these half hour segments. Or, you can order the Growing IN Christ and Life Light curricula at Concordia Publishing House. www.cph.org (800) 325-3040
Yesterday, I attended a biweekly writers’ critique group in the Kansas City area. Now, critique groups help us find areas in our poetry, prose, devotions, etc. that need fine tuning. IN our particular groups, each person bring about six to eight copies of something he/she wishes to share. We have writers of all levels from the well-ublished professional to the aspiring hopeful taking up the craft. WE go around our table, each person reading whatever he/she has brought and receiving everyone’s constructive critism. Now, despite the fact that we are Christian oriented group, we mostly critique each others writing style—punctuation, grammar, syntx. Of course, our most experienced writers know what sells in the market, so they offer what’s hot and what’s as far trends go. After all, we who gather in the group come from a variety of denominational backgrounds. That’s why I like it. I’m a conservative Lutehran focused, by nature, on presenting and preserving Law and Gospel ritghtly divided in devotions, in feature aritcles, in stories. So, having folks raking me over the coals as far as illustrations, word choice, and listener-friendliness is my desire. And, our group thrives on hacking up the minutia. This fact came clearer to me the two times we met. I think of some of our newer were surprised at how edgy and biting we got with each other in our critiques. Okay, someone coming off the street my say, “Wow, those guys don’t like each other.” Yet, we do support each other through tough love, laughing, and good-hearted sarcasm in how we say things. No itching ears get scratched n our presence. WE pour mines of salt into each others’ wounds ands. So, it takes folks new to our group a bit of time to learn our of humor. Newer members learn very quickly not to take the sharpness of each others’ remarks too personally. Now, I’ve been going to this particular critique group for over four years. Every meeting begins with a bit of small talk, catching up on each others’ lives, and indulging in the food Panera Bread has to offer. Then, the pens, paper, fangs, and razors come out. (first two items being literal and the last two being figurative) Because of my personal aims in bringing work to the group, previously mentioned, I never bring selections or vignettes with which I am most satisfied. I present articles or devotions which have a lot of warts and need a lot of work. Other attendees look for more positive reinforcement. So, they bring their best writing in hopes that the group will like it enough to recommend their using it somewhere for someone’s immediate encouragement. So, what kind of things might you hear our or any writers’ critique group emphasize? In writing good fiction, read a lotand work on showing actions/thought/emotion rather than just telling about it. I can tell you, for instance, “The main character in a short story is a geek, a bean counter, and quite reclusive.” Okay? That description gives a wide range of images in people’s minds. Check out what happens if I write: “ Buck sat at his desk with his chin resting on his hand. He squinted and nodded at each calculator and chart pinned to his cubical wall. He dreaded the company’s financial report due date.” That shows you a scene, a picture, action. I have admitted to several of my fellow group members that, besides hymns and longer lyric verses, I just don’t get flash poetry. I understand that folks can write two or three lines of descriptive, bulleted thoughts…but the art of how they do it in a poetic style ricochets off the right side of my brain like a basketball bouncing off a backboard. AS I write, I face the day after critique group—a day of studying and writing, a day of sending other members a few additional comments via email. Folks’ remarks are fresh on my mind. I’ll take them with all seriousness and see what direction my upcoming articles take. For more information about writers’ critique groups in the Kansas City Area, visit www.hacwn.org under the “about us” link.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
August 19, 2012 The readings for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost are Josh. 24:1-2a, 14-18, Eph. 5:6-21, and John 6:51-69. Where else can we go?...Whom else can we serve…and still receive eternal life? No one. Only Jesus has given His very body and blood for us Christian to eat and to drink. Only Jesus tells us that these gifts are real, not just symbols or pictures. Only through Jesus does our heavenly Father turn us from the supposed gods which attract many followers to our Savior who has the words of eternal life.
Check out this perspective on Flridian reactions ot the Medicare question posed by both Presidential candidates. Is this typical of the U.S. population in general? If anything, this article show why the Romney-Ryan ticket does well to remain clear-speaking on its plans regarding medical insurance.
As complex and intimidating athe ObamaCare appears for many seniors, they need to understand in plain language the better alternative which the Romney-Ryan ticket provides.
Medicare Dominates Ryan Trip to Florida - Beth Reinhard - NationalJournal.com
As complex and intimidating athe ObamaCare appears for many seniors, they need to understand in plain language the better alternative which the Romney-Ryan ticket provides.
Medicare Dominates Ryan Trip to Florida - Beth Reinhard - NationalJournal.com
Why do we laud the benefits and virtues of our representative democracy here in the U.S.? Check out this video clip from Sen. Marco Rubio’s blog. (August 7, 2012) He shows first hand and first person. Conservatives, by our nature, do not wish to rest on our laurels. Rather, we consider freedom, democracy and God-given opportunity as a multi-faceted heritage to pass on to future generations. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhkZEYVW_Zs&feature=youtu.be
Friday, August 17, 2012
AS BEHOLD! YOUR KING COMES is in the production stage of publishing, I am currently working on its follow-up. FIX YOUR EYES ON JESUS is a devotional for Lent and Easter. In its daily readings from Scripture and devotions, I pray you will follow the way to the cross of Christ with encouraged and increased faith. Our Lord bids us to see Himself as our crucified and risen Savior. He is the Giver of the Gifts we have and with which we serve one another’s needs. FIX YOUR EYES ON JESUS, who saves us by His grace, through faith, from sin and death and devil.
The home stretch for the election season is almost here. The Democrats and Republicans are set for their national conventions. Speakers will promote the virtues of their party and their party’s nominee for President of these United States. Even in the last few days and hours, political news has jumped us into speculations. Mitt Romney chooses Paul Ryan as veep candidate. Top Obama aids approach Hillary Clinton with the offer of replacing Joe Biden on the Democrat ticket. Ryan accepted. Clinton declined. AS we engage in political discussions or serve in political activities ourselves, where does our Christian faith play a role? I saw several Facebook posts today on both sides of the spectrum. They claim that being a Christian by default means we will vote for one particular candidate over another. Our Lutheran Confessions and, indeed, Holy Scripture paints a completely different picture. The Augsburg Confession says this about governing authorities: “It is taught among us that all government in the world and all established rule and laws were instituted and ordained by God for the sake of good order, and that Christians may without sin occupy civil offices or serve as princes and judges, render decisions and pass judgments according to imperial and other existing laws, punish evildoers with the sword, engage in just wars, serve as soldiers, buy and sell, take required oaths, possess property, be married, etc…. “True perfection consists alone in proper fear of God and real faith in God, for the Gospel does not teach an outward and temporal but an inward and eternal mode of existence and righteousness of the heart. The Gospel does not overthrow civil authority, the state, and marriage but requires that all these be kept as true orders of God and that each according to his own calling, manifest Christian love and genuine good works in his station of life.” (THE BOOK OF CONCORD, Tapper ted., 37-38, AC XVI, 1-2, 4-5) Rom. 13 explains the basic role of government. In our representative democracy, we place people into the roles of President, Senators, Representatives, Governors, etc. by voting. So, when we go to the ballot box, campaign for a candidate, or accept a job with any level of government, we bring our God-given conscience with us replete with God’s Law in our hearts and minds (Rom. 2:15) and His forgiveness on our lips. (Matt. 6:14-15) We Christian have the freedom and joy (Gal. 5:1, 13, 22-25) to stand on those gifts of life, freedom, general welfare, and a competent defense that our Lord gives us. Yes, our Lord does work through citizens to fight on behalf of their country for just causes. At the same time, when we citizens, each or in groups, see elected officials infringing on the free expression and practice of our faith, we have reason to oppose such actions. (Acts 5:29) Government has no business telling private agencies, for example, that they must offer medical coverage for abortifacients or drugs which will speed along the end of someone’s life. Many conservative Christian church bodies, including the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Southern Baptist Convention opposed the HHS mandate that the Obama administration wished to impose—demanding all companies to offer coverage of contraceptives in their insurance plans. AS we approach November 6, we do well to know our Christian convictions grounded in Holy Scripture so that, according them, we cast our vote. After all, our Lord graciously gives us in His inerrant Word everything sufficient for our salvation through His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Therein, He guides us in our daily vocations to interpret the people around us, the events in which He places us, and the circumstances through which He guides us. IN voting, in court testimony, or as recipients of persecution, we tell of our Lord’s deeds before all rulers and authorities. (Matt. 10:20, Ps. 119:46) May our Lord direct our days and our deeds in His peace as we consider the direction our nation goes in the next few years.
Friday, August 10, 2012
We hear them during times of tragedy. We speculate over them when our minds get wandering. We use them to comfort each other at imes of death and loss. They are euphemisms about our life to come in heaven. We are well-meaning when saying that a love-one is “in a better place” or that “God has made another angel.” But, what lies behind these euphemisms? Even non-believers, even atheists speak in such ways to console themselves. I suppose that a motivation arises from reading the apostle Paul’s admission in Philippians 1:23. “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” The distinction, though, comes to concreteness. The apostle Paul knew where his eternal life lie after his death. He wrote his letter to the Philippians mostlikely from a jail cell. AS shackles bit into his wrists, or at least bound him to one place, he dictated the epistle to a secretary—as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit. When we say that someone who dies goes to “a better place,” we speak in generalities. We speak from a human perspective in that the deceased no long feels weakness, pain, or unneeded sadness. The apostle John writes in Revelation 21:1-4 that heaven holds such blessing for us who trust in Jesus, our One and Only Savior from sin. The apostle Peter says that in Christ we hope and, though we do not yet see Him we love Him. And, the reality of eternal life gives us unmeasurable joy. (1 Peter 1:3-10) We Christians do not rest of merely on the things someone has doen or their glittery personality as signs of their post humus entry into heaven. We rest on the confession of faith that our brother or sister in Christ expressed. (Rom. 4:5, 4:16-17, 10:8-10) Our works follow faith—saving trust in God leaps forth in fervent love for people God Himself puts in our daily lives and vocations. (Phil. 2:12-13) I submit to you that we cannot console the firend or relative of an nonbeliever that he/she who has died is “in a better place.” They aren’t. They won’t be if, indeed, their trust was in something or someone else than Jesus Christ as Savior from sin. See Matt. 25:41ff) So, what message do we bring to someone who unbelieving relative or friend has died? It’s plain and simple. There’s no better time than at a funeral or memorial service to trumpet the hope of the resurrection from the dead. For we read in the Small Catechism that Christ “will reaise me and and all the dead and will eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.” Death—through sickness, tragedy, or “natural causes” becomes the perfect time to confess concreteness amid our condolences, not speculation. It amazes me, though, that amid well-intended statements of consolation, some really bad theology can rip forth from our mouths. Now, here, I’m not going to spend a lot of time tearing open my least favorite phrase, namely, that someone “passes away.” Scripture does not speak in these terms. Death is death. When a Christian dies, his/her soul goes to heaven to await our Lord’s return when He will restore all creation—including our physical bodies—to their innocent state, apart from sin. Judged by their lack of trust in Christ alone, the souls of unbelievers go to hell. (See Luke 16) To say that someone “passes away” puts a vagueness to death. WE don’t speak this way when someone dies in battle or is murdered or loses their life in a car crash. Again, I’m not doubting our well-intended hope to comfort the bereaved. I’m simply saying we need to choose wisely those statement with which we comfort and encourage the bereaved. We Christians have our faith founded and grounded in the concreteness of Chrsit Jesus. He didn’t just poof us into His kingdom or even give us the choice to “welcome Him into our hearts.” No, He created faith in our hearts through His Word. That’s why baptize infants. Faith is already there. And, in the case of adult “converts,” Baptism is still the seal and sign of faith’s creation. WE don’t just pass away when we die. No, in life or death, we Christian remain the Lord’s. (Rom. 14:7-9) Does that mean that we don’t become angels? That’s right. When we die, our souls wait in eager expectation for our Lord to restore our physical bodies when He comes again in His glory. We won’t be angels. We’ll be fully human, as He created us to be. Let’s take a look at a few verses from the Bible to this effect. First, Luke 24:36-43: “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened andthought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling,he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.” Now, you may say, “Yeah, but that’s Jesus.” You’re right. It’s Jeuss. He is true God and true man, God the Son incarnate. He retained His human nature even when He ascended into heaven. We don’t see Him, but He promises to be with us always. (Matt. 28:20) He gives us His body and blood in His Supper. (1 Cor. 11:23-25) And, every eyes will see Him at His return. (Matt. 25:31ff, Zech. 12:10, Rev. 1:7-8) Secondly, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:20-23. “But in factChrist has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death,by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Our Lord Jesus has gone ahead of us in being rasied from the dead. AS Rom. 6:9-10 says, He now no more can die because He once died once for all. The seed sown in the ground grows to be a fertile plant. But, it’s not something different in its substance than it was before. It’s just changed. So, also, our Lord will change our mortal bodies into immortal ones, our perishable, broken bodies into imperishable whole ones. In fact, Rom. 8:18-23 tells that the whole creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. So, when our Lord recreates all things into His new heaven and a new earth, He will make everything living to have its own body, even as we all have our own now. Thirdly, we look at Colossians 2:18-20. “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, andnot holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” Instead of regarding those who die as becoming angels or entering some “higher” existence, Holy Scripture urges us to avoid such fascinations. Angels are, themselves, created beingsj. Rev. 12 tells us that Satan took some of them from heaven when he was cast out. To ascribe angelic or divine qualities to someone who has died is nothing short of idolatry, no matter well-intended the condolence. Earlier, Col. 2 bids us not to pay attention to hollow, deceptive philosophies…mysths. For Christ who is our One and Only Savior from sins, death and hell truly assumed our human nature except without sin. Everything He experienced in His ministry here, He experienced bearing our feelings, emotions, hunger, thirst, etc. When He ascended, He didn’t just vaporize and go away. The cloud, says Acts 1, hid him from the appostles’ sight. The angels who appeared soon thereafter promised that Christ would return as He went away. WE take comfort in a real, risen Jesus who is both God and man in one Christ. He comfots us with the assurance that He goes to prepare a place for us. (John 14:1-6) That way, He can take us to be where He is. We will be fully human, as God first intended us to be when He first created the world and everything in it. Fourthly, we turn to Deuteronomy 18:13-15. “You shall be blameless before theLord your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this. “TheLord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—….I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”” The practice of pagan nations which the Lord gave into Israel’s hands to conquer was to listen to “spirits” from the dead. We today call this informally or formally listening to séances. Now, to be sure, most of us know well that such a thing is pure idolatry. We can avoid the obvious divinations and spells and other tricks of our old evil foe, the devil. Yet, where do we have trouble during times of loss and tragedy? Someone may have told us that they “hear voices” from “the other side,” family members or people otherwise welcoming them to the life beyond this world. I am not doubting such occurrences. I’m only saying that we need to be careful. Only one voice is enough for us to hear—be it from the lips of our pastor, afriend, or fmailiy member. That is the voice proclaiming comfort and care from God’s word. We are confident that relatives and friends who die in the faith are with Christ and at peace. Yet, no where in Holy Scripture dos our Lord give us to listen to people who have preceded us into paradise. Now, you may wonder how Jesus was able ot hear the voice of His and our heavenly Father while HJe ministered visbly here. First, God the Father isn’t dead. Second of all, the fullness of the Deity dwelt in Christ bodily. (Col. 2:9) Thirdly, the Father spoke in ways that were, at times audible, at Jesus’ Baptism, on the Mount of Transfiguration, etc. Speaking of th eMOunt Of Transfiguration, that is where our Lord spoke with Moses and Elijah. (Mark 9:2-9) Elijah, as we remember from 2 Kings 2, did not die. God took Him in his body to heaven. Moses did die, but in this case, God permitted him to appear on the mountain’s peak. We are forbidden to go seeking out voices and visions in the twighlight—or any other tiem of our lives. WE do well to take comfort as Christians in the same thing Jesus told His disciples when they talked about the demons they cast out. “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10) Okay, then, with all this said, how then do we console, comfort, and encourage others during a time of grief and loss? We have looked at several assurances Holy Scripture delivers to us. Besides, these, Jesus gives us the manner of His emotional reaction at the tomb of Lazarus before reaising him back to life. (John 11:35) “Jesus wept.” Likewise, we too weep and grieve even as we hold onto the hope our Lord gives us. (1 Thes. 4:13-14) For Jesus is the resurrection and the life. And, He promises to raise up on the Last Day. (John 11:25, 6;40) AS we grieve with others, we sit often in the quiet, listening to them. WE may share a story or two of how our dead friend or relative touched our lives. I’ve been in funeral homes where a couple of my uncles broke a momentary silence with a quip about my grandpa’s occasional humor. Yet, the comfort our Lord Jesus gives us remains our consolation and help when we stand with others in times of tragedy, loss, and death. (2 Cor. 1:3-5, Heb. 13:20)
Thursday, August 9, 2012
WE still have several weeks to go before the Advent and Christmas seasons. Yet, it’s never to early to start thinking on what gifts we’ll get and what devotions we will read as we consider the birth of our One and Only Savior, Jesus Christ. BEHOLD, YOUR KING COMES is a new devotional I have written and am self-publishing for the Advent and Christmas seasons of the Church year. The title stems from our Lord’s rule of grace in saving us from our sins. And, as He creates our trust in Him, He engenders our fervent love for people he brings into our daily lives. AS God’s Word draws us each year to the manger, we worship God the Son incarnating His rule through His conception, birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and soon return.Behold, our King comes from on high to you and me in His Word and Sacraments for our eternal life. Zech. 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold,your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
AS I have begun blogging more frequently and on more diverse topics, I still maintain my desire that we who blog support the people/organizations that assist our theological understandings. Issues ETc. widgetbox_widget_iframe_0 is truly a repository of current, Christ-centered content to which I refer often when doing research. Listen to to Issues when you want (archived) www.issuesetc.org or online 3:00-5:00 CDT or, in the ST. Louis area) on KFUO, 850 AM live at the same time. You will undoubtedly enjoy checking out www.lutheranpublicradio.org for the Church's finest hymns throughout history as well.
Here are the readings we who follow the three year lectionary will have in Church this week, August 12, 2012. The readings for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost are 1 Kings 19:1-8, Eph. 4:17–5:2, and John 6:35-51. Jesus calls us to take Himself at His Word. He who fed the multitudes gives us Himself to trust and, in trusting, to have everlasting life. Jesus is the bread of life that came from heaven for the life of the world. For He gives us now in Holy Communion the same body that was broken and blood that was shed on Calvary for us.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
On Monday, we witnessed a great feat, the confluence of engineering and science. The probe, Curiosity, landed on Mars. Now, “the red planet,” as many call Mars, has fascinated us for years. It’s the fourth most distant planet from the sun and has a similar atmosphere to which you and I breathe every day. Scientist and other speculators alike have entertained the possibility of life on Mars since before we started sending probes and satellites. Admittedly, we Christians have taken a popular defensive posture toward such possibilities. I suppose this is because the most outspoken advocates for space exploration fall into one of two categories. Some take a Dawinian vantage point. They think that were we to find some stage or sign of life, then we can predict the path of evolutionary development it might take. Other, often speculative paranormalists, like nighttime talkshow host George Noory, think that science will confirm what “they already know”—namely that intelligent in space already exists and that our government is simply concealing its interactions with it from us. The first atheistic strain tweeks many people’s fears. It says that, were life to be found, Darwin’s speculations might be right. We might be just random chance organisms. And, we might as well live it up, eat, sleep, and and kick the bucket. The second strain of speculation tries to fill in mysterious gaps where none really exist. In a way, they are trying rationalize the vast world and dismiss the uniqueness of the Creator whom we love and worship. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Noory, Art bell, and a host of other UFOlogists can martial in their corner. WE Christian do not need to fear our Curiosity. WE need not shrink back from scientific findings or exploration on “the red planet,” in our own world, or anywhere else. The same god who made us and all creatures, who fashions the moon and stars and world in which we live has creatged everything else in our vast universe. Like King David, when writing the Psalms, we see God’s handiwork everywhere. (Psalm 8: 1-3, Ps. 19:1-14, Ps. 104-1-30, and 148. When standing next to a gian telescope or at the foot of a mountain in Colorado, we may ask in wonderment, “What is man that you (Lord) are mindful of him?” Yet, we know that He who made us also redeemed us from our sins through the Son of Man made a little lower than the angels to die in our place. We whom God has created and redeemed study Holy Scripture, even those verses wherein our Lord gives us dominion over the world He has made, to take care of and subdue it. (Gen. 1:28-29) This includes not only things on the “third rock from the sun,” but other discoveries elsewhere. What if we did find some microbial bug or beast on planet Mars? Well, our Lord in providence created it to be found by us. It may hold the key to some helpful cure or a new element in the periodic table. So, more than our curiosity drives us to reach for the stars, or at least set a rover down on Mars. A With all this said, our Lord gives us our reason and sense and stil take care of them for our good and His glory. We still worship the Giver, not the gift. Through the writing of Moses, carried along by the Holy Spirit, we read of the grave consequences post-flood humanity suffered for feeding their own collective ego. They thought they had the solution to escaping a nother natural catastrophe like a flod. Never mind, God already promised Noah that He would not send another flood to blot out all life like the one of which we read in Genesis 6-8. AS our Lord preserves and protects us from all evil, so He upholds the science projects He permits us to perform in His universe. He doesn’t even grade us on them. We find ways of evaluating and criticizing our progress as we uncover samples of the vast creation. How, then, do we pray concerning the scientific advances and people who oversee them? Trustin g in our Savior from sin, we pray for those so called to explore the universe God has already fashioned with His own hand. We pray for scientists’ discernment as they discuss the reason and scope of their missions. After all, the whole earth and everything else is the Lord’s and every thing in it. He reveals it to us as He sees fit in caring for our bodies and life.
Monday, August 6, 2012
From the start I admit I borrowed the title for this post from Pastor Tim Stevens of Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana. And, throughout this post, I quote from his article appearing in OUTREACH NEWSLETTER’s email from August 6…today. So, why go to church after all. Many of us who surf blogs and get our appetite whetted by information on apps live and die on the computer. We listen to talkshows, archived sermons, etc. on the computer. Yet, going to Church is much more than a sanctified info-dump or spiritual soak-up of helpful information. If we wanted that, we could find some book of practical. Thank God, His word is not just practical advice. It’s salvation from Christ alone to us. Now, Pastor Stevens voices his first reason of why to go to Church this way: Why Go to a Church Service When You Can Watch Online? ByTim Stevens “1. The church needs you. I’m not talking about the building or the organization. Rather, the people of God need what you can offer. Your physical presence, words of encouragement and acts of service—combined with what others bring—is what makes the people of God. When you “go to church” with missional eyes opened wide, you arrive early and stay late, you engage in conversations with other followers of Jesus, you look for people who need to be encouraged and you lean into “coincidental” conversations with people that God will bring along your path.” Notice that in his first explanation, he implies that we have something the Church needs. Without saying as much, Pastor Stevens seems to assume you have a kind-of-sort-of basic assumption of 1 Cor. 12 or Rom. 12 where the apostle Paul describes the of Christ in the terms of a hyman body. However, does the Church really need something each of us has? No. From Acts 17 we read Paul’s answer in saying God doesn’t need each of us as if He can work apart from our hands. Sure, the idea that the Church needs us may sound tantalizing, inviting warm, and fuzzy. It may make us feel good. It might give us a martyr complex if we get rejected by some clique or other. But, what is the Church in the first place? Instead of needing us, the Church is the body of Christ, marked by the gathering around our Lord’s preached Word and administered Sacramentsl—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. (1 Cor. 11:23-26, 1 Cor. 12:13, etc. God gives His Church His Word to preach and teach so that we all confess His Name. (Rom. 10:8-d10 We need Christ’s own calling and sending a pastor to us to rightly preach His Word and administer His gifts. Rom. 10:14-17 The Church has the proclamation of unity. (Eph. 4:1-6) That way, we aren’t each believing what we want to or devising our own interpretation of Holy Scripture. So, in short, the Church does not need each of us to carry out its work. Rather, through the Church, our Lord draws us to Himself to give us the means of grace which we need. “2. It’s not just about spiritual food. If going to “church” once a week was just about gaining what you need spiritually to make it through another week, then tuning in online would be just fine. You could get what you need on Christian radio, reading books, studying the Bible or watching your favorite TV preacher. But the purpose of church is so much broader than that. It is about corporate worship, praying and studying the Bible together, serving one another and reaching out in mission together. This can’t be done in isolation.” We can be right on somethings for all the wrong reasons. Pastor Stevens is right in that we need to be to gether. WE need more tyhan just a “spiritual” message. Now, that’s where His conclusion ends in it being right. Even if we were to get our weekly fill of that something spiritual, we couldn’t get it on the internet or by a radio/TV preacher. Why? The Church doesn’t just give esteem- or how-to- based pointers. Trhoguh the Church, our Lord gives us all of Himself—His asbsolution after our public confession of sins, His Word conjoined with water for faith’s beginning in Holy Baptism. (Rom. 6:3-4, Gal. 3:26-27) Throguh the called servant of the Word’s hands, our Lord in public places on our lips His body and blood for our forgiveness. (1 Cor. 11:23-26) You can’t get any of that with your head on a pillow and the latest insight for your life dribbling into your ear. You can’t get that as you watch Mr. Smily Teeth lead a stadium full of folks in calling out: “I’ll never be the same.” In public, together, God draws us; we confess our unworthiness; He dispenses His grace to each of us; we thank and praise Him. AS far as our mutual love for each other as Christians goes, we speak in care, friendship, and concern the compassion that grows out of the faith our Lord grants us. Yet, Pastor Stevens presses his point:”3. You need the church. You need the “church” (those people who are followers of Jesus and gather together with your congregation) more than you think you do. There is so much in Scripture about the relational aspects of the church—love one another, be devoted to one another, encourage one another, instruct one another, greet one another—and these can’t be done as well in a virtual environment.” That’s true to a large extent. Yet, how do we get to such mutual love and concern? Stevens, here, wants to make the cause into the effect and the effect into the cause. Nobody comes to Christ unless Christ Himself draws him/her. We encourage each other not to give up meeting to together as some have. (Heb. 10:25) Yet, even there, our Lord draws us with a purified heart to hear and trust His Word. While Pastor Stevens approach our need for the community of the Church from a psychological point of view, Holy Scripture has primarily salvation to eternal life in mind. See also Eph. 4:14-16. Than answer the question: Who does the drawing or gathering of His people? It’s not us. It’s Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Now, whose point of view is Pastor Stevens taking in the following statement? “4. The church is a living organism. You remove your pancreas or esophagus or left arm, and it will cease to live outside your body. The New Testament knows nothing about a Christian who is not connected to a church. Your gifts, skills, ideas, service, leadership, resources, love—everything you have to offer—is a crucial part to a congregation thriving.” Nice try! But, again, this misses the point. Sure, we can offer our time, talent, and treasure in a local congregation, circuit, district, or synod. Yet, we can’t do that unless Christ engenders in us love for our neighbor as He directs our trust in Him and 2. Gives us someone’s need for which and for whom He already died. No matter what aspect of our life together arises, Jesus has already gone graciously when no one else has dared to go before….through the cross. Here’s another reason Pastor Stevens gives. He says: “5. Your presence matters more than you think. Many times we think we won’t be missed. I don’t vote on election day because it doesn’t really matter. I don’t show up for my kids basketball game because he won’t even notice. I commit to the work day, then stay home, because surely they have enough people. I stay home and watch the service online, because in a church with 5,000 people, who will even notice that I’m not there? But that is so short-sighted and inaccurate. You underestimate the significance of your presence when you think it doesn’t matter. You undervalue the power of the Spirit of God residing within you when you believe staying home is just as good as showing up. You possibly miss what God wants to do through you and for you when you stay home.” Okay, in response to this, we go back to the marks of the Church—people gathered around the Word preached rightly and the Sacraments administered according to Christ’s command. The Church isn’t going to miss my voice belting out th eTe Deum or “This Is The Feast” if I’m gone. One person’s questions during Bible can be picked up by another who offers just as relevant insights into the text of God’s Word. Even if we’re the one ot switch the air conditioning from upstairs to downstairs, someone else can step in if we’re not there. The point, made with exaggeration, is this: We don’t go to Church because, without us, it lacks something. The Church, as Paul explains in 1 Cor. 3 is no cult of personality. And, the time for celebrating the Lord’s Supper is no time for a center aisle shoving match (1 Cor. 11:17-22, 29-34) It’s not time ot swing wide the gate either for folks who don’t confess as we do. Rather, in drawing us: Our Lord gives us Himself free for the the trusting in Him. In love, we serve each others needs and proceed to our daily vocations between the Sundays. Now Pastor Stevens asks: “So, why provide online church services?” “• Because there are lonely, isolated people in the world, and it provides a bridge to them so they can eventually take a step into a community of faith.” It’s true. There are many lonely, isolated people in need of hearing God’s Word. Some may be fearful of a large (or small) corporate gathering of God’s people. Now, some “mission-minded” agents say what Pastor stevens say s is right. There’s a problem, though. The internet or radio broadcast is not just a “mission outpost.” It’s media by which the same preached Word reaches those who may feel in distress. The Church, in the hands of loving friends , a real, caring pastor, etc. brings someone who feels lonely honest friendship and consolation. Again, the Church is not just a change agent of spiritual info-dumping or a harbinger of the how-to. Rahter, as the members of Christ body receive all of our Lord in Word and Sacrament, so they in love desire that someone in distress receive all of Christ, in all His promises, too. “ • Because the Internet reaches billions of people all over the world, some who are not close enough to participate in a vibrant church.” Well, maybe, sometims. Yet, you and I do well to use broadcasts and podcasts for this reason after we have done our homework 1. With our home pastor who may know of a congregation near our temporary remote location and 2. By searching the internet to see if a faithful congregation is near where we will be. To this end, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and and Issues ETc. website have resources whereby you can find a congregation where you’l get the Word preached rightly and the Sacraments administered according ot Christ’s institution. “• Because there are times when you are out of town, on vacation or away at college and it gives you a link to stay connected to your church.” And, here I would actually agree with Pastor Stevens to a point. Yet, for the same reasons I mentioned above, we do well to find a local congregation where we go to school, travel for busness, or vacation. Then, we do well to speak with our pastor so they can affirm our congregation of choice. They may be able to call the pastor of the congregation where we intend to go so that he may know we are in good standing, especially with regard to receiving the Lord’s Supper. “• Because it serves as an easy invite tool for your friends who aren’t ready to step into a physical gathering, but they are hurting and need Jesus, and an online service can help you reach them.” That’s true, again to a point. Yet, see my comments under the first reason for having online services and sermons accessible to the public. In addition, though, I add two reasons First, having recorded and archived services helps peole go back later on in the week to hear again the message preached to them in person. Secondly, online/recorded services/sermons bring the comfort of God’s Word to people who are shut-ins or temporarily ill. They get to hear the same preaching as everyone else and, then, when their pastor comes for a visit, he brings the them Christ’s very body and blood in, with, and under bread and wine in Holy Communio. Worship as a corporate drawing together of Christ’s body does not begin with us. It starts with our Lord and ends with Him for our eternal life.
Sometimes other blogs say things in a way I would rather have stick. Such was case in my previous post. I simply left link for Cranach, the Blog of Veith because his post captured the story of Douglas's win in gym,nastics and the witness of faith to follow.
Monday, July 30, 2012
Here is a summary of the readings many of us wil hear in church this coming Sunday. Even if your congregation doesn't use the general three year cycle of readings, I pray our Lord Jesus will use them to encourage and strengthen your faith in Him alone. The readings for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost are Ex. 16:2-15, Eph. 4:1-16, and John 6:22-35. Today’s readings speak of the sustenance our Lord Jesus gives us for our journey of faith in life. The Israelites asked, “What is it?” Those gathered with Jesus asked “How do we get it?” And we wonder “how it is” for us. Jesus answers everyone the same: “I am the bread of life.” He feeds us His Word that we may gladly hear and learn Him all the more.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Okay, folks, I have an admission to make. It’s an admission that afew folks in my family have known for the past few years. Not many people who look at me can see it at first glance. I have struggled to maintain my body weight. O”Okay?” you ask. “So, what? Many Americans today struggle with that issues. Some live and let live. Others find a program with they can identify and stick so as to achieve weight reduction goals. Others find some means of exercise to become thinner, fitter, sleeker. Okay, maybe, I’m not admitting so much about me. I’m admitting my issue with the social pressures that jerk us as a culture in two seemingly opposite directions with regard to our weight. You and I notice the type of commercials playing on TV, especially now that the Olympic Games are on. One commercial emphasizes a “sexy,” slim-trim physique so we can look just as good if not better than anyone else. Then, you have commercials that say, “Enjoy the drinking…to your hearts content….But, think before you drink….” My admission, then, is I believe our struggle with weight management goes back to a culture that doesn’t want each person to become contented..with the weight, appearance, or abilities that God gives us. Not everyone who wishes to look good and enjoy a well-built physique has to be a carbon copy of Michael Phelps, Ryan Lockte, LeBron James, or Kobe Bryant. These guys are athlete. Their sport—their vocation in life—demands that they keep their body mass index below 2.5 or 5.0. To swim or play basketball at the professional or Olympic level requires the energy that only a person with such a build enjoys. On the other hand, no one- wants the challenge of struggling with excessive weight gain. Yet, in itself, is such a struggle a sin against God’s Law? No, not unless we intensionally overindulge ourselves to the point of gluttony. And, this point is often relative for each person. It’s not anyone’s fault if they’ve inherited the tendency to overeat and gain weight by leaps and bounds. For health’s sake, I know such folks—many of them—try hard to curb such effects, whether through medical attention, extra trips to the gym, diets, or a combination of the three. Each way of managin our weight is a preference each of us makes. Often, that preference matches with some level of comfort and enjoyment. When I was in elementary school, junior high, and high school, I weighed half again as much as many of the guys who were in my classes. I also stood a head taller than many of them, too. Yet, because I weighed so much more, I developed a stigma. Instead of motivating me toward weight loss, it froze me—that is, until, to conform with unofficial expectations—I joined the wrestling team. Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved wrestling. I thought about competitive swimming for my school. But, I was never very good at either sport when growing up. Oh, I also enjoyed working out with my fellow swim team members in high school when I was the team scorekeeper/manager. Yet, still it was partially due to social conformity. Everyone did it, so I kept up with everyone else. When I entered college, I resumed a struggle with weight that drove me nuts for several years. Suddenly, one day in my second year of grad school, I was feeling a bit happy after receiving an excellent grade on a paper I wrote. I went to my dorm room, turned on the TV, and out of nowhere, started doing a few sets of push-ups. Okay, no play words on here. A weight lifted from my shoulders. I exercised then because I enjoyed it, not because anyone made me. Don’t get me wrong. I knew beneath my workouts, my struggle to maintain a healthy amount of weight remained. If I let up at all, and I have over the years from time to time, the weight crept back on. I’ve tried a couple weight loss programs over the years since grad school. God bless them. Their purpose is fantastic. But, I will tell you. Mentally, I went back to the old fear of compulsion that I faced back in junior high and high school. I never knew what weight to make for the invisible standard that said, “I achieved my goal.” Thanks be to God that such weight management programs exist. They benefit millions. The big one here in Kansas City is KC SLIM. I’m not sure if its affiliated with a larger company nationwide or a particular brand of supplements. But, I know for a fact, and statistics in KC Fitness Magazine and elsewhere bear out-it is a huge success in marketing and helping people with their weight. For me, the solution goes back to my enjoyment. I once heard an interview ESPN did with Charles Barkley some years after he retired from the NBA. The host asked him how he went from keeping his weight down during his playing days compared to regaining a great physique after some leisure time. His answer, and I paraphrase, “Work out more, and eat less.” That advice set no standards for me. It only gave me a simple, motivational phrase. It’s relative for each person and allows for a lot of leeway depending on each of our likes, ability, and limits to which we are able to push ourselves. Okay, I confess I don’t always stick with that simple advice. There are times when my dedication to “eating less” and “working out more” fades. Times bring me back around to where my drive increases. So, when people sometimes ask me, on the way to the gym or grocery store, to know the secret to myphysical comfort level? I admit to them I have no secret. It’s up to each of us to find that combination of health, drive, and enjoyment—whether or not we struggle with our weight. Our lord gifts us each with differing personalities, needs and desires. He gives us our reason and senses, and daily cares for them. He defends us from all evil and, most of all—whether we are heavy, light, thin or otherwise—He enfolds us each who trust in Him in His saving grace.
Friday, July 27, 2012
Tonight, the Olympic games features is opening ceremony. This year, London, England hosts the event—or, should I call it the extravaganza? Coverage of the Olympic Games on TV, radio and a vast array of other media has something for everyone. Do you long to see the best in track and field, swimming or gymnastics? The sites and sounds of English gyms, pools, and tracks will engage your attention. Do you get caught up in discovering all the amazing odds the athletes have beaten? TV, in particular, will tell of Chinese gymnists who departed their five-year old friends and their family to live nothing else than their skills on the uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercises. Think about the physique these powerful athlete possess. Swimmers such as Michael Phelps, basketball players like LeBron James, and any number of our American boxers dwarf the average citizen with their brawn and stature. The bumper music of the Olympics echoes in our heads for a few days on either side of the games and at almost every commercial break. Then again, some broadcasts features other popular music when breaking away for interviews with the athletes. In 1984, Diana Ross’s song, “Reach Out And Touch Somebody’s Hand” spoke directly to the hoped-for unity in sport the would could show in this competition. In 1988, Whitney Houston’s hit song, “One Moment In Time” spoke to the emotions and dreams of those who set so much of their lives aside to play the sports they love. We Americans have added our cheering words to the end of our national anthem. After the tones crescendo with “….Land of the free and the home of the brave…,” you and I shout in unison: “U. S. A. U. S. A.!!!” For us who are sports enthusiasts, these next couple weeks will give us a fix like nothing else for the next few years, until the 2014 Winter Games fills our TV screens. Four years ago, I admitted on a different blog, I am an olympoholic. I cannot get enough of the basketball, judo, trac and field, diving, etc. I must apologize ahead of time to my usual background routine of talkshows and country music. Sorry, KFKF 94.1 in Kansas City, you’ll have to take a backseat to my sports enthusiasm. AT least I can listen to “Hannity” and “Issues ETc.” on demand. Then, again, I do that already. So, folks, let’s “get ready, get set, and go.” With a few soccer games already played, the 2012 Olympic Games is underway.
A familiar voice cheers you when depression clutches you. The knock on your front door relaxes your tension. After an hour’s wait, your ride to the store arrived. Later, you feel your blood boil when the cashier rings your bill up, higher than you expected. Within two hours’ time, you felt half a dozen emotions. You reacted and moved on to the next activities of your day. Whether you face depression, elation or the good old blahs, you show emotions. You learn to be more or less sensitive to others’ needs. You may even let your emotions guide your decision-making from time to time. Who can forget the disembodied voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi telling young Luke Skywalker that very thing in STARWARS? “Trust your feelings!” What a contrast the tin man in the WIZZARD OF OZ displayed! He desired a heart with which to sense the world around him. Whether stable or tossed about, your emotions are gifts from your lord. God provides your senses with your reason so you can empathize with friends who suffer. He blesses you with compassion by which you identify with someone else’s struggle for independence. Our Lord Jesus Christ was no stranger to emotions. He angrily turned over the moneychangers’ tables in the tempole courts. He wept at Lazarus’s grave and cried over Jerusalem who rejected His Word. He grew tired when crossing the Sea of Galilee with His disciples. He sympathizes with you in your weakness and temptation. Rom. 8:15 (ESV) declares: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear but you received the Spirit of sonship, and by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Certainly, your Lord has redeemed you to everlasting life. You have known that from infancy or, if you came to faith later on, for these past few years. Your Lord comforts and sustains you each day in His grace. Still, you feel overwhelmed by many pressures and concerns. Confirmation is that time when seventh and eighth grade children speak for themselves the words which sponsors spoke for them at Baptims. After a concentrated, two years of study that goes beyond Sunday school, public worship[p, and daily devotions—they show receive our Lord Jesus’ body and blood in Holy Communion for the first time. What an emotionally charged age for them to enter young adulthood as congregational members. For this reason, many pastors become more explicit when inviting these teenagers to confide their struggles and sins to them and receive forgiveness as if Christ Himself declared it in their presence. Still, pressures to rebel against the very Word that brought thejm to faith in Christ arise with every condom the high school nurse hands out. Friends who stop attending church lure them into late nights where they feel like begging for Sunday morning as a time to sleep in. “Oh, they’ll pray by themselves at home!” Not when their old Adam has anything to say about it! So how are you feeling these days? Confused by a myriad of broken relationships around you?...Afraid of future changes our nation holds in store for us?...Happy every time you receive a paycheck or promotion? How is your trust in God holding up these days? You feel the words to the verse: “Just as I am, though tossed about With many a conflict, many a doubt, Fightings and fears within, without…” And yet, by the grace of God, you come to Him in prayer. Emotions change, fluxuate and fade. But, not so the Word of the Gospel! The same Spirit by whom you pray, praise, and give thanks, He reminds you that you are God’s adopted son or daughter. Long before your emotional frustrations, before you cried in anger or sang with joy, Jesus died for you. Long before you let your emotions get the best of you and, in a moment’s notice, proved unfaithful, Jesus faithfully bore your sorrows and griefs ont the cross. Though you have lashed out in your rage, wished death upon yourself in depression, demanded your rights with bitter tears, Jesus has taken your sinful thoughts, words, and actions on Himself in your place. You come to Him in distress because He still comes to you with compassion. In the public words of your pastor and the consolation of friends and family, He never stops forgiving you of your trespasses. Since your baptism, you are an heir of the life Jesus promises you. That life, His risen life sustains your trust in Him. “Come to me, you who are weary,” said Jesus. “Take my yoke upon you. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Come, just as you are, tossed to and fro by your emotions. In Holy Communion, receive for yourself Jesus’ very body and blood. These gifts our Savior gives you forgive your sins and strengthens your fraying trust. Come to worship and hear for yourself the peace of sins forgiven in God’s Word. Your risen Savior assures you in every reading from Scripture, in every sermon that your pastor preaches that He is with you always. His Spirit fills you and forms your prayer to your heavenly Father. In the week from Sunday to Sunday, you catch others’ misspoken words and hurtful actions. You feel angry. Our Lord gives you the release and joy to forgive them just as He has forgiven you. Approach His throne of grace in prayer. He will not turn anyone away who so cries out in His name. The familiar voice jeers you just when you felt everything was going right. You feel exhausted as you turn the key and unlock the door to your apartment. Yet, thanks be to God. His peace fills you with certainty. He is your Lord who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies you together with the whole Christian Church both now and in eternity.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
When God created the world from nothing, He intended man and everything else to live in perfect trust. He sculpted the man an built the woman. He called them to live, day in and day out, filling the earth with life. After six days, He looked at everything and called it “very good”. God set time in motion. He did not make men and women to be robots. He gave them the will that took Him at His Word. Then, the serpent—Satan, the devil in disguise—came in sleek deception. He turned Adam and Eve against their Lord and Creator. Since then, man has rebelled. Creation has faced natural catastrophes. Disease and disabilities became present realities for us. Man has warred against himself. In terms of a portrait, sin, death, and Satan made ugly what God created beautiful. As sin with its fall-out has corrupted creation, it has tarnished how we see time’s passing. Our bodies wear out. Months and years show us the same cycle of emotions and events—from being born to dying, from weeping to laughter, from building big dreams and watching them crumble. Time marches on. One day follows another in pain-staking, agonizing progression. Does beauty rest in the eye of the beholder? On the one hand, King Solomon who wrote Ecclesiastes agrees. There is nothing new under the sun. Everything we do ends up being an exercise in vanity. Who knows if we who work hard at our jobs may preceed someone who is lazy and unproductive? We wonder if our day-in-day-out labor makes any difference at all. On the other hand, as needs arise in our and others’ lives, we find ourselves longing to lend a hand. Work, our service to each other, continues to find its way into our lives. Thanks be to God! We are not left to ourselves with our own perception of time. The Lord makes benefits flow from the work of our hands. He preserves our body and life for the time He allots to each of us. Returning to our portrait analogy, God promised to make beautiful again what sin made ugly. Shortly after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in Eden, the Lord found them dressed in their futile fig leaves. After rebuking them for their disobedience, He promised, then and there, to send a Savior. The woman’s seed would crush the serpent’s head. Throughout the Old Testament, God continued to bring order to the days and years of those who took Him at His Word. Now, He calls us to look back to His promise accomplished. In the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4-7), He sent His Son to save our fallen race. He calls us to continue taking Him at His Word. He will return to judge between those who have trusted Him and those who have not. In Christ Jesus our Redeemer, all history and time is driven by God’s promised salvation. Though Holy Scripture narrated the events surrounding the people of Israel, that nation was called to be a light to the whole world. Everyone would look at how the One and Only God dealt with them and turn away from idolatry. But, Israel failed to walk according to the plan. Instead of showing the light of life, they compromised their trusting the Lord alone in favor of including idols into their worship. Instead of God’s blessing, they incurred God’s wrath and punishment, making themselves a spectacle like other nations. Amid their rebellion, God spoke through His prophets for anyone to hear and believe. That is why the Lord sent other world powers to take them captive in exile. First came the Assyrians, then Babylonians. These nations tore down the temple He called His people to build. They perverted the ceremonies He commanded. Yet, as His chosen nation was scattered, He sent His written and preached Word with them. When the land was laid to waste, after about seventy years, He worked through an emperor’s decree to bring His peopleback to their homeland. From the West, the Lord permitted time for powers like Rome and Greece to rise. Along with a revived Egyptian empire and others, they lay in wait for opportunity to seize control of the Middle East. As these nations gained power, the Jews again scattered to cities such as Alexandria, Thebes, Antioch, and even Rome. They scattered, taking the Law of the Lord with them. The world was right for the coming of God’s eternal Son. Then, after His death and resurrection, His called apostles took the Word of His promise fulfilled worldwide. The New Testament tells of the lengths to which these apostles wento telling the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ that both Jew and Gentile alike would believe. Yet, you and I wear down as our years go on. We gasp in amazement at the way advances in computers both help our independence and confuse many we hope would employ us. Despite the drive for diversity and equality in employment, we still wonder when those with disabilities will enjoy equal standing and access to mainstream society. As urban sprawl takes away the neighborhoods we once considered safe, we feel isolated and afraid to go very far to find social outlets. With our emotions drained, time may still feel as if it just marches on in chaos. I am not advocating, here, that we see ourselves in this way, portrayed by Jim Morrison of The Doors as “riders on the storm”. Yet, the reality of our fallen human emotions remains, we struggle against lethargy. The portrait remade beautiful seems disorderly and distorted in our daily lives. Nevertheless, God’s Word still comes to us with comfort amid this chaos. He has made all things beautiful in His time. Amid the doom, gloom, and decay we witness, He bids us to look up. His redemption, His promised second coming is drawing near. He is giving time for unbelievers to repent and come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Peter. 3:9) In the meantime, He sustains us through His Word and gifts. He gives us friends, relatives, and coworkers who forgive us of things we’ve said or done wrong. And, we rejoice in likewise forgiving them. Normally, the sight of blood tarnishes and appears gruesome. This is true as far as how we in our sinfulness shed blood in battle and as abortion take the lives of the innocent. Blood splattered in cases of medical malpractice puts a damper on some people’s willingness to cooperate with a system designed to save life instead of terminating it. The blood of Jesus, shed once for all the world splashes its beautiful redemption across all of human history. Christ’s death, though gory as an R=-rated crime scene, makes the portrait and reality eternal life beautiful. Our Beautiful Savior laid down His life for us to take it up again and direct our days and our deeds in His peace. The Lord promises that even the feet of those who run swift to declare His good news are beautiful (Rom. 10:15) since His Word will not return empty but will accomplish that for which He sends it. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, (1 John 1:7), even us who trust and tell that simple Gospel message in our lives. Jesus Christ will return and take us who trust in Him alone to everlasting life in heaven and consign forever all unbelievers to hell. At that time, He will show the portrait in our sight of His salvation accomplished, the portrait He now shows us through faith. He has made all things beautiful in His time and promises to preserve our body and life till He comes.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
I can remember many years as a child my family and I accompanied Grandpa out to the cemetery in Anderson, Indiana to the grave site of his late wife. We’d walk around to see where other relatives were buried and share few memories-along with some regrets. Since then, Grandpa and many others on both sides of my family have died. I was always fascinated by the inscriptions on the tombstones. A few had well wishes, a couple had messages, but most had Scripture quoted verbatim or a verse mentioned. Memorial Day helps us as Americans reflect on the sacrifice our brave servicemen made in defending our nation’s freedoms. More recently, fallen firemen and police officers have taken their place alongside soldiers and sailors and airmen. The events of 9-11 drew our attention to their heroism. But, why remember the dead? Well, we do so out of thanks for the gifts of freedom and family they gave us. We remember them in comforting each others’ sentiments, that those who died in the Christian faith did not take any personal grievances with them beyond death’s door. We can truly rejoice in fond memories and help each other through troublesome rgrets and lingering fears. None of these reasons, though, carry the day unless we remember Jesus Christ, trusting in Him, who is risen from the dead. (2 Tim. 2:8) He who is born of David’s human lineage (Rom. 1:3) is God everlasting (John 8:58) He is the resurrection and the life. (John 11:25) For He will raise all the dead, sending the unbelievers to hell and us who trust in Him to heaven’s eternal bliss. We know this because Jesus has kept all His other promises and fulfill all other prophecies made about Him. Through His death and resurrection, He has become our Lord and promises that we who trust in Him have eternal life now and in hereafter. (John 17:3, 1 Cor. 15:20-28) We remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead because 1. He remembers our sin no more. (Jer. 31:31-34, Ps. 130:3-4) and 2. We were buried with Him in Baptism. (Rom. 6:4) That’s when Jesus made His cross personal to each of us. Our sins are not just swept under the rug of heaven as if buried to reappear at some inconvenient moment. NO, Jesus buried them forever, in His death. He rose triumphant over them. He still remembers us as He brings our prayers of lament and for forgiveness to His and our heavenly Father. For in Baptism, our heavenly Father adopted us as His children, heirs of eternal life, coheirs with His Sole-Begotten Son, our Savior whom death could not hold back longer than He gave permission. Pastors have their vocation the ongoing call to remind us of Jesus Christ, raised from the dead. They serve us the Word in public preaching and public absolution. They put in our mouth Christ’s very body and blood just as they baptized us. That’s why Paul admonished young Timothy to teach, to suffer with the suffering, to preach the Word—remembering Jesus Christ who worked through Him. WE, in our own vocations, have a similar charge, not to go just halfway but to run the race like a well-trained athlete. God works in us to care for our neighbors, friends, and relatives that they, toom, may be built up in the Christian faith. Now, we know that some of our friends and relatives who have sat in funerals and by grave sites with us do not share our hope. Yet, what an appropriate time like Memorial Day to tell the good news of Jesus’ resurrection to them. The grave will not be the end. Rather, we long for those who are unbelieving to repent, so that their punishment may be averted and the life for which Christ died to give the whole world may be theirs as He has given it to us. May God give us the words of comfort to speak with fellow Christian and far off unbeliever alike as we approach this time of memorial. For Jesus, our One and Only Savior from sin, death, and hell lives and rules to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Many of us who write or preach and study Scripture as a major part of our daily vocation have heard it said: “Oh, you spend so much time in God’s Word, you really don’t need a regular pattern of devotions.” I respond to that assumption as, well, kindly as I can. Certainly, any time in God’s Word profits us with the Law and the Gospel the Holy Spirit plants in our hearts and minds through it. Certainly, even researching or academic study can have a devotional quality when grounded in the Word of Life. WE make a dire assumption, though, when neglecting a regular diet of daily, devotional study in God’s Word. When set on a regular pattern or daily lectionary of readings, we don’t necessarily choose the areas of Scripture that day wil bring us. Whether from PORTALS OF PRAYER, HIGHER THINGS REFLECTIONS, or another set of readings, prayers, and hymns, God’s Law and God’s Gospel come to us whether we like it or not. We don’t choose the topics a day to day devotion puts in front of us in its progress of pericopes. Still, our Lord directs such readings, hymns, and prayers for our conviction, admonition, and peace. We who write or preach and study Holy Scripture as a large of part of daily vocations come our work of rightly handling the Word of truth with clarified, purified minds—clarified and purifried by our Lord through that very Word He gives us to daily read, mark and inwardly digest. A regular progress of devotions brings us Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for us. WE have the comfort that, no matter what emotions and interactions, our daily vocation puts before us, Jesus’ directs us in His saving forgiveness of our sins. After all, the phone will interrupt our contemplations. News of a family or church member’s death may come at the most intense point of studying a difficult word in the original languages. Kids will call for Mom or Dad at a heartbeat, and our vocation as parents will supersede that of writer or pastor or composer for a time. The Holy Spirit always works through His Word, never apart from it. So, through the readings in daily devotion from Scripture, He brings to us the same Law and Gospel to which He brought us when we first opened His Word during the day. AS the hymn says, “God’s Word is our great heritage…” and He brings us to it each day.
Monday, May 21, 2012
What an opportunity we at Holy Cross had again this year! Several of us from our board for mercy and human care assisted Redeemer Lutheran in KC, MO’s inner city with serving a meal to the areas homeless and low income population. The meal follows a brief time for worship led by Pastor Zerckel from Redeemer. He’s been doing this outreach to the homeless for several years. Its my fourth year of having the privilege of knowing him and, with others from Holy Cross, helping to serve. The service to the homeless is called Soup, Supper, and Soul. Redeemer hosts this meal and worship twice a month and several areas congregations assist in providing food. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ for providing those things necessary to support our bodies and life, at whatever economic or social strata we live. Our Lord Jesus is our refuge and strength, our crucified, risen, ascended, and coming Savior from sin.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Someone once told me that we are not scared of death. We are scared of dying—or at least the process of dying. Our bodies wear down. Illnesses come more frequently. Our dependence on others heightens, which may lead to some amount of discouragement. Having watched some relatives and acquaintances die, I am struck by how each one of them handled the anticipation. My grandpa on my mom’s side of the family said he was ready for the Lord to take him several years before his earthly life ended. Others I’ve known did not have a long time to wait between the diagnosis of terminal cancer and their body’s physical breakdown. We Christians stand in a unique position. It’s okay for us to be sad at the death of a loved-one. We have apprehensions about our family’s well-being upon our death—and I am not just talking about the amount of our life insurance policy. We care about people in our lives who would struggle emotionally and spiritually were we to die. We are in a unique position because of the hope that our Lord gives us by His resurrection from the dead. Death is not going to be our end. It will lead to our heavenly dwelling, not eternal punishment. We long to be with the Lord (Phil. 1:23-24), but we also rejoice in the opportunities our Lord grants us here and now to serve others. As unique as our perspective toward death is, so the cross of Christ uniquely reassures us of everlasting life. St. Athanasius says, “If, then, it is by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ that death is trampled underfoot, it is clear that it is Christ Himself and none other Who is the Archvictor over death and has robbed it of its power. Death used to be strong and terrible, but now, since the sojourn of the Savior and the death and resurrection of His body, it is despised; and obviously it is by the very Christ Who mounted on the cross that it has been destroyed and vanquished finally.” (St. Athanasius, ON THE INCARNATION OF THE WORD, page 22) Let’s be honest. Dying is one of the realities we face when putting ourselves in some precarious—even enjoyable—positions. I am an avid traveler, often by air. One of the prayers I pray before each time the plane I’m on takes off is for the Lord’s protection and deliverance. If a mishap occurs or terrorism strikes, the likelihood of not reaching my intended destination runs high. Yet, I need not brace myself for every little bang or odd sound on board either. We who trust in Christ Jesus know that He holds our lives literally in His hands. In the event of tragedy here, He will deliver us to Himself. In the event of safe passage, He will give us enjoyment, ongoing sustenance in His Word, and opportunities to make Him known to others. AS our Lord has taken upon Himself the world’s sin and forgives personally all who trust in Him, His cross grants us joy and assurance that we are His now and in eternity.
Saturday, January 7, 2012
We who enjoy writing fiction make a curious distinction—showing vs. telling. When we show something, we not only describe a scene, we draw you into it. When we tell—not so desirable for painting a word picture—we bore you with needless info…more history than the story requires. So, if I’m showing you a manager is a real “bean counter,” I will show you a guy at his desk counting his new stack of dollar bills for the third time, filing in his Excel Spread sheet, and recounting the stack twice over again. Now, in the Divine Service the Pastor—in the stead and by the command of God—tells and shows our Lord’s blessing. After we publicly say what sinners we are, God’s mouthpiece--the rightly called and ordained pastor—tells us God’s grace. He shows us that same grace when crossing the congregation “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When the Pastor reads the lessons for a given Sunday, he reads with not much fanfare. Yet, when done with each—Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel—he declares aloud: “This is the Word of the Lord.” He shows us God’s unerring Word. We simply reply: “Thanks be to God.” When our pastor distributes Christ’s body and blood to us, He tells us that such is given for our forgiveness. He shows us this by placing the host on our tongue and pouring the cup into our mouths. For in the Divine service, God draws us into His story, His work of forgiving us our sins. We show Him nothing new. He sees our sinfulness even before we confess it. He tells us our forgiveness and shows us, time and again, His cross. The story, after all, is completed in Jesus. WE are recipients of everything He does for us. That’s why it amazes me how many versions of the Scriptures in English translate Psalm 116:12. They combine the question with its answer into a longer question. Literally, it says: “What shall I render to the Lord? All the benefits He has bestowed.” When we combine the two sentences into one question, we demand more of ourselves than we can give. We make up an answer our Lord does not speak. I cannot give or show Him anything “for all the benefits He has bestowed.” Rather, we can only return to Him in praise what He has first given, shown, us, in blessing.