HS Winter Retreat

Assurance

I’d like to take a moment and talk about what is going on.  Recently, we started a 40 Day Prayer Challenge.  And I fear we may not have communicated our intentions very well.

We, the pastors and board, wished to address the proverbial elephant in the room that we as a congregational family are not where we ought to be.  There is no denying that we are struggling as a congregation: people we know are no longer here, there are only a few coming in, and we need to grow in our living together as Christ in the

George Richardson

community.  In recognizing this issue, and after much study, prayer, and thought, we decided we need to act as a congregation and begin with prayer for guidance and strength.

In other words, we are praying to become more Christlike to become better than what we currently are.  We are not praying to lose, to do things like selling property or getting rid of staff.  Rather we are praying to grow in the assurance of the Gospel and in reaching out with the hope we are given by the Holy Spirit in our victorious savior, Jesus.  And this is something we think that we all need to do: Pr. Schlote and myself, the board, and you.  We want to walk forward together – not in despair, but in hope, for our God is the God who overcame despair when He buried it in the grave.

Our prayers then are that we grow in the assurance of the Gospel; that we grow in holiness and care, guided to where each of us is needed to give hope to others; and that we may have the strength and wisdom to do so.

HS Winter Retreat

Setting the example

A question I hear regularly is, “where is the younger generation?”  The simple answer is “not in church.”  The more in depth answer is “doing a combination of what we taught them and the world encouraged them to do.”  To keep things simple, I am going to look at our part in the answer.  Unfortunately, we taught our children that church is optional (and probably without meaning to do so), that going to church is this thing we do when there isn’t something better to do.  Far too often, we have taught our children that church is important unless there is sports practice or game, you were out late the night before, homework or other school activity.  They learned the lesson well.  Everything is more important than church.  So that’s the problem.  What do we do?  My goal isn’t to beat you up but to pave a way forward.

Reprioritize – We need to leave behind the World’s priorities.  The World’s priorities are not God’s priorities.  The World if it has any regard for religious activity, sees such activity is completely optional and always a non-priority.  God’s priority, on the other hand, is to give us the good stuff through the Means of Grace that we receive in the Divine Service.  We should prioritize our life round receiving those gifts because those gifts are life and salvation.

Read together – I can’t stress having devotions together enough.  We learn by example particularly when we are kids.  As a part of reprioritizing, take time each day to read the Scriptures and the Small Catechism together.  The Congregation in Prayer sheets are a good place to start.  More importantly than the example, is the fact that the Holy Spirit works through the word to make us holy and our day holy.

Reach out – It’s not too late for our kids who have drifted away from the church and Jesus.  If your kids have drifted away there is still hope.  Love them and keep sharing God’s word.  Keep sharing how God gives us his good stuff in the Divine Service.   Remind them gently that God doesn’t view the Divine Service as optional.  And keep praying.

The above is just a basic starting point.  And I would encourage you to dig deeper.  You can get involved in Pr. Schlote’s Joining Jesus class or his First Things First gatherings.  Or you can join in my Wednesday Bible study which is livestreamed and posted on YouTube – we study books of the Bible but we also hit on these topics as God’s word brings them up.  And as you go out, know that you are in my prayers.

HS Winter Retreat

Election Day Prayer Vigil

The sanctuary will be open for prayer (it normally is by the way) on Election Day.  To help with your prayers on Election Day, we have put together a resource with Scripture readings, a meditation on our vocation of citizen, and some suggested prayers.

 


Election Day Prayer Vigil

Suggested Order of Meditation:

Daily Prayer for Individuals and Families in Lutheran Service Book pg. 295-298

 

You may read the appointed readings for the day given in the red letters and/or read one or more of the suggested readings included below.  We encourage you to allow the readings to form your prayers.

 

Suggested Readings

 

Psalm 118:5–9 (ESV)

            5       Out of my distress I called on the LORD;

      the LORD answered me and set me free.

            6       The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.

      What can man do to me?

            7       The LORD is on my side as my helper;

      I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

            8       It is better to take refuge in the LORD

      than to trust in man.

            9       It is better to take refuge in the LORD

      than to trust in princes.

 

 Romans 13:8–10 (ESV)

8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

 

 

Isaiah 9:6–7 (ESV)

             6       For to us a child is born,

      to us a son is given;

                  and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

      and his name shall be called

                  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

            7       Of the increase of his government and of peace

      there will be no end,

                  on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

      to establish it and to uphold it

                  with justice and with righteousness

      from this time forth and forevermore.

                  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

 

Psalm 46:1–11 (ESV)

            1       God is our refuge and strength,

      a very present help in trouble.

            2       Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,

      though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

            3       though its waters roar and foam,

      though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

            4       There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

      the holy habitation of the Most High.

            5       God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;

      God will help her when morning dawns.

            6       The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;

      he utters his voice, the earth melts.

            7       The LORD of hosts is with us;

      the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

            8       Come, behold the works of the LORD,

      how he has brought desolations on the earth.

            9       He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;

      he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;

      he burns the chariots with fire.

            10       “Be still, and know that I am God.

      I will be exalted among the nations,

      I will be exalted in the earth!”

            11       The LORD of hosts is with us;

      the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Psalm 47:1–9 (ESV)

            1       Clap your hands, all peoples!

      Shout to God with loud songs of joy!

            2       For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared,

      a great king over all the earth.

            3       He subdued peoples under us,

      and nations under our feet.

            4       He chose our heritage for us,

      the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah

            5       God has gone up with a shout,

      the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.

            6       Sing praises to God, sing praises!

      Sing praises to our King, sing praises!

            7       For God is the King of all the earth;

      sing praises with a psalm!

            8       God reigns over the nations;

      God sits on his holy throne.

            9       The princes of the peoples gather

      as the people of the God of Abraham.

                  For the shields of the earth belong to God;

      he is highly exalted!

Eph 5:1–14 (ESV)

5 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.

 

Psalm 1:1–6 (ESV)

The Way of the Righteous and the Wicked

1 Blessed is the man

      who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

                  nor stands in the way of sinners,

      nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

            2       but his delight is in the law of the LORD,

      and on his law he meditates day and night.

            3       He is like a tree

      planted by streams of water

                  that yields its fruit in its season,

      and its leaf does not wither.

                  In all that he does, he prospers.

            4       The wicked are not so,

      but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

            5       Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

      nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

            6       for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,

      but the way of the wicked will perish.

1 Peter 2:13–17 (ESV)

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

1 Timothy 2:1–4 (ESV)

2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

 

 

Reflection on the Christian in Society

I have just said that Christians, among themselves and by and for themselves, need no law or sword, since it is neither necessary nor useful for them. Since a true Christian lives and labors on earth not for himself alone but for his neighbor, he does by the very nature of his spirit even what he himself has no need of, but is needful and useful to his neighbor. Because the sword is most beneficial and necessary for the whole world in order to preserve peace, punish sin, and restrain the wicked, the Christian submits most willingly to the rule of the sword, pays his taxes, honors those in authority, serves, helps, and does all he can to assist the governing authority, that it may continue to function and be held in honor and fear. Although he has no need of these things for himself—to him they are not essential—nevertheless, he concerns himself about what is serviceable and of benefit to others, as Paul teaches in Ephesians 5[:21–6:9].

Just as he performs all other works of love which he himself does not need—he does not visit the sick in order that he himself may be made well, or feed others because he himself needs food—so he serves the governing authority not because he needs it but for the sake of others, that they may be protected and that the wicked may not become worse. He loses nothing by this; such service in no way harms him, yet it is of great benefit to the world. If he did not so serve he would be acting not as a Christian but even contrary to love; he would also be setting a bad example to others who in like manner would not submit to authority, even though they were not Christians. In this way, the gospel would be brought into disrepute, as though it taught insurrection and produced self-willed people unwilling to benefit or serve others, when in fact it makes a Christian the servant of all. Thus, in Matthew 17[:27] Christ paid the half-shekel tax that he might not offend them, although he had no need to do so.

 

-Martin Luther

 


Suggested Prayers

For good leaders

Lord God, as I pray for all who are in authority, I thank You especially for the form of government given us in our beloved country.  Give me the grace with my fellow citizens to value the officers and magistrates of our government as those sent by You.  Instill in me that respect and honor that is due them.  Lord, endow them with wisdom for their several duties, with a spirit of sacrifice for the common welfare, with mercy and justice, with uprightness and kindliness.  Correct the evils of selfishness, greed, a vain desire for honor, or abuse of power among us as well as in the other governments of the world.  Grant that the true purposes of government may prevail, safeguarding peace and prosperity, so that we may live soberly and uprightly in Your sight and have opportunity to tell of You and Your kingdom.  These petitions I direct to You because in Jesus I know You as my Father and Lord. Amen.

Lord, Grant that we may choose trustworthy leaders, contribute to wide decisions for the general welfare, and serve You faithfully in our generation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

 

For Peaceful Life Together

Heavenly Father, God of peace and harmony, You would have Your children on earth live together in peace and quietness.  Frustrate the plans of all evil men who would stir up violence and strife, spoil the weapons of those who delight in war and bloodshed, and according to Your will, end all wars in the world.  Lead us to confess the truth of Your Word that from the lusts of our own hearts come wars and fighting among us.  Help me by Your Word and Spirit to crucify my sinful flesh and to root out the evil that would lead to strife and discord, so that to the best of my ability, I may be at peace with my neighbor.  Mercifully hear my prayer and grant us peace in our days.  In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

For Comfort in Distress

Heavenly Father, I come to Your throne of mercy bowed down and wearied by the weight of suffering and disaster visited upon our country.  I beg You to protect this nation in our hour of need. I acknowledge my trespasses before You and do not deny either my own transgressions of Your holy Law or the sins of other citizens of my homeland.  We are laden with iniquity, but You call us to Your forgiveness, salvation, hope, and life.  Turn the hearts and minds of all to You, that they might find peace through the cleansing of Jesus’ blood.  Let me not be confounded or dismayed so that I, a child of Your grace, may courageously speak to this needy world of the hope that is within me.  Make me an instrument of Your peace in a world of conflict, a witness to the power of faith in a world lost in unbelief, and a bearer of the joy that overcomes the sorrow of a fallen world.  Grant to the leaders of this nation and all the nations of the world wise counsel, calm thinking, and unselfish aims.  Amid the tumult of disaster, build Your kingdom and turn even more souls to Yourself.  Because of Your grace, we are not altogether lost but find peace and forgiveness I You.  O Lord, give me the grace to seek You, trust You and confess You, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

For Guidance In Our Vocation As Voters

Lord God, You have called us, Your servants, to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with Your most gracious favor, and further us with Your continual hope, that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in You we may glorify Your holy name and finally, by Your mercy, obtain eternal salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

 

For Blessings Upon Our Country and Neighbors

Almighty God, You have given us this good land as our heritage.  Grant that we remember Your generosity and constantly do Your will.  Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honorable way of life.  Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil course of action.  Grant that we, who came from many nations with many languages, may become a united people.  Support us in defending our liberties, and give those to whom we have entrusted the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there may be justice and peace in our land.  When times are prosperous, may our hearts be thankful, and in troubled times do not let our trust in You fail; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen

 

 

 

Prayers are from

Lutheran Service Book Concordia Publishing House: St Louis 2006

Lutheran Book of Prayer Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis 2005

question mark 4

Have Christians enabled the Rape Culture?

I am asking this question in light of the recent cases of rape involving student athletes.  My question doesn’t really have to do with the cases themselves for the most part, but that they served as a spring board for a conversation my wife and I had.

My dear wife, Julie, had been talking online with a group of her friends about the cases.  In the course of the topic it had come up about how to prevent rape.  If you Google “rape prevention” you will find some excellent hints and tips for women.  One of Julie’s friends asked, “question mark 4but what about for guys?”  When Julie first told me this I jumped to the reality of men being raped (which does happen); but, no, the question was how can guys prevent rape from happening to women.  Or in other words, they meant how not to rape.  I will admit when I first heard this my reaction was to be upset that they were treating all men as if they were rapists.  Outrage culture has made me rather sensitive and prone to seeing false accusations.  My wife was quick to say, “No, you’re a nice guy.  You were always careful to take me into account.”  Slightly mollified we were able to continue the conversation.  Yet, while I was pleased to hear my wife say she thinks “I am a nice guy.”  I still, though, did not feel like a nice guy.  And this is where I get to my question.  Have Christians enabled the Rape Culture?

I know myself.  The student athlete could have been me.  I have been in that place of being around a woman who was out of her mind drunk.  I will come back to this story later, but to put minds at ease I helped make sure she stayed safe. However, if things had been different my story could have been the student athlete’s story and it’s not because I had parents who failed to instill values and cared more about external prestige.  The reason I say it could have been me is because I learned good behavior from the school of thought of how far can I go before I sin.  This is the school of thought that says if you think it, it’s ok so long as you don’t do it.  It’s the school of thought that says you can run right up to the line and maybe put a toe across and still be a good person.  It’s the school of thought that dismisses locker-room talk as boys will be boys.  When we were taught sex-ed by the well-meaning school counselor it largely boiled down to this “how far can I go without having sex.”  Essentially, this is asking what can I get away with but still have my fun.  This is not a wise course.  In fact, in the depraved mind of sin sick people it quickly becomes “it’s not wrong if I don’t get caught.”  For most of us, it manifests itself in the snatching of a cookie from the jar when no one is looking, or speeding on the highway when the cop isn’t around.  Occasionally though, it results in a young man raping an incapacitated young woman and then running when he is caught.

We, Christians, have adopted that question, “How far can I go before I sin?”  I hear it all the time in the form of question like “Is it a sin if I ______?”  In Bible Studies it is not unusual to have a whole series of questions that are essentially an attempt to draw a logarithmic graph coming ever closer to zero without ever crossing over zero.  And so I wonder, have we Christians enabled rape culture by adopting this line of question?  To some extent, I think we have.  Please don’t hear me saying that we have condoned rape.  We do not.  I was taught, and I know that we still teach rape is wrong.  Rather, I think we haven’t done our part to stifle rape culture by adopting worldly thinking rather than Biblical thinking.  In doing so, I think we have in a sense enabled rape culture without meaning to do so.

So, biblically thinking, how should we be thinking.  Solomon, still the wisest man ever wrote:

Proverbs 7:1–27 (ESV) My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” and call insight your intimate friend, to keep you from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words. For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness. And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.  She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait. She seizes him and kisses him, …With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him.  All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.  And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth.  Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.

Solomon uses this story teach wisdom in living life.  The seductress is the personification of foolishness and temptation.  And Solomon illustrates that when the you act foolishly you place yourself into temptation and temptation is incredibly powerful.  So, powerful in fact that we will gladly walk to our doom none the wiser.  So, Solomon’s advice is don’t even go down the road of temptation.  Rather than asking how far can I go down the road he says, don’t even turn down it.  Walk on the road to wisdom and embrace her.  Essentially, the passage is about the folly of our question “how far can I go before its wrong.”  Solomon makes it very clear the question is “which path is wise?” and the answer to the question is go down that path.

How can we apply this to the situation at hand and reverse our unintentional enabling of the rape culture?  We start asking which is the path of virtue. In other words, how can I love my neighbor.  When we read the explanations to the Ten Commandments we find that not only does Luther explain how we sin in regards to this commandment, but also how the commandment translates into the positive action of loving our neighbor and God.  Using the 5th commandment, “You shall not murder” we can see that hurting our neighbor goes against the commandment as thus is sin.  And at the same time, we can see that in 'The_Good_Samaritan'_by_David_Teniers_the_younger_after_Francesco_Bassanoaccordance with the commandment we should actually help our neighbor, defend our neighbor from harm and protect them.

We can begin to end our enabling of rape culture by teaching how to be good to my neighbor rather than how far can I go before I sin.  Essentially, we teach boys how not to be a rapist by teaching them how to love their female neighbors.  The ancient practice of chivalry was such an attempt.  And to some extent it could behoove us to adopt the idea of this code as the code good men live by.  I know it won’t be perfect, nothing we establish will.  However, it is worth pursuing an ideal that benefits our neighbor.  I said earlier that I was in a situation that if it played out different I could have been just like the swimmer from Stanford.  A female friend of mind decided to celebrate her birthday in the sadly stereotypical manner of going on a pub crawl and drinking until she is too plastered to walk straight.   Looking back, I’ll be honest, I wish I hadn’t gone a long with it.  Friends shouldn’t let friends drink in such a fashion.  I regret this part, but I don’t regret other parts.  My friend proceeded to get very drunk that night.  We stopped her when she tried proving she was sober and took her back to the dorm room that served as my group of friends communal living room.  There we spent the rest of the night holding her hair out of the toilet.  What didn’t happen was any of us taking advantage of her.  In my case, what held me back was the fact that I knew it would be wrong.  It would hurt her.  While I had been brought up with the question “how far can I go before I sin.”  I was also brought up with the idea that men protect those who can’t protect themselves.  She was in no position to protect herself, so I stuck around to make sure she was safe.

Christians, we need to emphasize in our teaching how can I love my neighbor not the idea of how far can I go before I sin.  We identify what is sin and temptation so that we can take the road that leads away from them.  And we do so not because it will save us, but because our neighbor needs us to go down that road.  Women, and men for that matter, need us to walk down the road that seeks to love our neighbor.  They need us to teach our children to be the one who sees the young lady passed out in alley and calls for help.  We need to teach our children that we sacrifice our time and our habits for the benefit for the other.  In days past a brother wouldn’t dream of letting his sister walk alone in the dark and I think we need to return to that.  We teach our sons and our daughters to follow the path of wisdom and not the path of folly and temptation.

HS Winter Retreat

Family Worship

What does family worship look like?

I thought I would share what my family does.  But before I do, I want to stress that what you are about to read is something that we grew into.   We did NOT start out this way.   It has grown over the course of several years.  So, what I hope is to give you an example of something that you can grow into using in your own family.  For those of you who are not members of OSLC-Joliet, we have kids ranging from 4-9, so it does work with the younger set.

Every evening just before bed we sit down all together.  And we follow this order of service.

  • Say Invocation – “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” making the sign of the cross
  • Sing from Sing the Faith – Luther’s Small Catechism set to music- we usually sing about 3 songs one is the newest the other two are review songs.  We have a schedule drawn up.
  • Read the account for the day from The Story Bible
  • Ask the kids the questions that accompany each account.
  • Say the prayer that accompanies the account.
  • Say the “Learn by Heart Verse” from Congregation at Prayer and Repeat twice.
  • Review older “Learn by Heart Verses”  we also have a schedule set up for reviewing the verses.
  • Say the Catechism for the week from Congregation at Prayer
  • Sing a hymn from My First Hymnal – we do try to go by the church year.
  • Prayer time – Everybody has a chance to offer different petitions and depending on if the petition is a request or thanksgiving the rest of us will respond “Lord, hear our prayer” or “We thank you, Lord.”  As a note, if you are just starting you may need to prompt your kids by asking if there is something that they are thankful for or that worries them.  And it is OK to be thankful for something we adults may think as inconsequential.  All good things should be received in thankfulness.
  • Lord’s Prayer
  • Luther’s Evening Prayer – Luther’s Small Catechism under Daily Prayers
  • Benedicamus – L: We bless the Lord F: Thanks be to God

Depending on the length of songs and how distracted the kids are a particular evening it takes about 15-20 minutes to do the whole service.  I tell you though it is worth the time and effort.  And if you are thinking “That’s great but you’re a pastor,”  it doesn’t take a pastor to do.  What it requires is patience and a willingness to grow.  I also want to note we do plan at some point to switch from using The Story Bible to using a regular Bible translation once our youngest is a little older and can follow along better.

A good way to start is this

  • Invocation while making the sign of the cross
  • Scripture reading – possibilities are the daily Bible Reading from Congregation at Prayer or a reading from The Story Bible
  • Lord’s Prayer

From here you can grow.  And at the same time, you don’t have to follow what we do.  I am sharing what we do as an example.  You can also follow the Order of Meditation on the Congregation at Prayer.  You can use the order of Family Prayer found in the Lutheran Service Book or Treasury of Daily Prayer.  I will attest that what we are doing works.  Our kids are picking up the hymns, verses and catechism rather quickly this way and their familiarity with the Bible is becoming rather astounding for kids so young.

Links to the resources I mentioned in the post

My First Hymnal

The Story Bible

Sing the Faith and CD

Treasury of Daily Prayer

Congregation at Prayer

HS Winter Retreat

On Reading Old Books

One of the greatest things C.S. Lewis ever said is:lewis

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.

Why? Each age, each period of time has its own set of cultural blinders; things that it assumes to be true. There is a certain agreed upon common sense if you will. Take for example, in our modern day there is a common assumption that religious faith should have little to do with politics. Now I realize this may seem strange because you may be one who liked Dr. Ben Carson for president because he is a good Christian man or similarly Marco Rubio. (It does seem many of the Republican Candidates this go around touted their religious credentials.  Apologizes to you who are Democratic, I am not ignoring you, it is just that most of the people I know are Republican so I know their reasons better.) And I will agree that we should take one’s religious beliefs into account. But this is not where the issue lies. Our assumption, our blinder if you will, is found buried beneath our pick for president. It is the assumption that freedom of religion is an inalienable right. What if I were to tell you that the premise that we are free to believe what we wish is completely antithetical to Scripture? When God says things such as the First Commandment “You shall have no other gods.” or “no god but Me.” (Dt 32:39 and others) there are some pretty hefty implications. Namely that we are not free to believe as we will. We either rightly believe in the One God or we believe falsely in dead idols. Take it all in and it boils down freedom of religion is a figment of our imagination. We are required to believe in God. It took me a little while to come to grips with this premise, but we created a secular spiritual divide in ourselves without even realizing it because we adopted the assumptions of our day. It is entirely possible to operate with both premises and not realize the contradiction.  We assumed that both are true. We are bound by God’s Law to accept only one religion and that we have an inalienable right to believe as we wish.  The reality is that if God’s word is true than the second cannot be.  So, what happened I think is that we created a divide between temporal – politics – and eternal – religion – and relegated them to completely separate realms.I bring this up as an illustration not as an advocating of the over turning of the Bill of Rights (I actually really like the 1st Amendment because it leaves us free to believe rightly. Also faith is something that cannot be forced, but that is a topic for another article).  As I read Luther, I realized that even as he spoke about two kingdoms, the earthly realm – government – and the heavenly realm – church – he never saw them as separate entities.  Rather he saw them as related entities with different but overlapping responsibilities.  Over the years we lost this sense as we adopted various philosophical world views and in the end we created this cognitive dissonance without even realizing it.  We just simply assumed both were true because we had a common assumption drawn from our contemporaries who also assumed it is true.  In doing so we created a divide that doesn’t exist. I didn’t realize this until I made a concerted effort to read old books. And it all happened by accident.

Over a year ago, maybe two years ago, I can’t actually remember when I started, I began an effort to improve the quality of my preaching. As a part of that effort, I started listening to some preachers of today that I admired, but I also started reading the sermons and works of preachers of days gone by that I admired – namely Martin Luther. Adding Luther to my studies was an easy step for me. I have a nifty Bible program called Logos that also has an extensive theological library that can be added and it can link that library to the Bible. So that, when I look up a passage a second window will display related passages from Luther’s writings – particularly his lectures on the various books of the Bible. I started reading those for my sermon prep. I would read a bit here and there as I studied and slowly how I was thinking began to change. It was so subtle it wasn’t until I was talking with somebody recently that I noticed I have changed – I used to think one way but now I think in another. Reading an old book, namely Luther broke through my cultural blinders.

C.S. Lewis knew what he was talking about in his article On the Reading of Old Books. We need to be able to examine our world and our thoughts, but to do so we need to look through the eyes of others so that we can see beyond our blinders. It is going to throw you down a rabbit hole though because, to understand the old books you need to read even older books so you can understand the old book’s assumptions. That rabbit hole is worth it. Having my blinders removed brings the world into better perspective and hopefully is helping me do better as a pastor, parent, husband, and citizen. It’s helped me to recapture something that was lost. And I suspect it will continue as I read more old books.

 

Cited

On The Reading of Old Books” by C.S. Lewis

HS Winter Retreat

Tricked by the Devil

The problem with evil is that it seems so good. Evil is not like the old westerns where you could tell who the bad guy was by the color of his hat. Nor is evil like the vile demons of horror movies with looks that not even a mother could love. No, evil wears the cleverest disguise. Evil looks good. As it is written, Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 12:14). The now sainted Dr. Louis Brighton put it a little more colorfully. “Satan isn’t some little ugly fellow in a red suit with a pointy tail, he is a beautiful blond in a red negligee lying on satin sheets.” So just as Satan disguises himself, so does he disguise his evil and his messengers as Paul notes, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Co 11:14–15).

Evil isn’t dark, shadowy and scary. It’s bright, cheery and sounds good. In fact, more often than not it is simply a twisting of something that is good. Satan isn’t really all that original. He’s not good at coming up with his own material, but he excels at making twisted parodies of that which is good. For example, a way that he can snare a Christian is to trick us with the idea of doing things that please our Heavenly Father, because we naturally want to do things that please God because they are good to do and helpful to the people around us. So, Satan takes those God-pleasing actions and he twists them into something evil. Usually, Satan warps them into away to build up ourselves and turn them into a means of self-worship – just look at what happened to the church in Corinth, they twisted all sorts of God pleasing things into status symbols (1 Corinthians 14). He also likes to trick us into abandoning the mind-boggling generosity of our Father in His gracious gift giving by leading us to believe that God is somebody we have to buy off.

I recently read a devotion that takes thankfulness, which is good, and turns into a means to manipulate God for His favor which is absolutely horrible. One, we could no more manipulate God than we could suddenly learn to breathe water. Two and worse, it leaves us in a place of uncertainty. If God giving me joy is based on me being thankful, how can I be sure of being thankful enough? You can’t. The devotion at hand doesn’t even offer you some external evidence of material blessing ala Joel Osteen. I guess not being like Osteen could be a point in favor, but leaving us hanging with no way to know for sure of God’s blessing is a just as horrible place to be as his pointing us to our material blessings as evidence of God’s disposition towards us. And in fact, what the devotional does is quite contrary to what God has done. Even though God has made it clear we cannot judge our state before Him by our circumstances – He has promised that because of His faithfulness we can have assurance that He is there for us to forgive our sins – bless us – in the gifts of His Word, Baptism, and Communion (John 20:22, Romans 6:3-5, Matt 26:26-28.) The devotional, doesn’t take you there. It just leaves you hanging – “Am I blessed or not? I can’t tell.”  And so, Satan takes being thankful and sends us into a nasty tailspin of always seeking to be more thankful so that you can be blessed and then wondering if you were thankful enough because you can’t be sure. And thus, Satan tricks us away from Jesus and the assurance of the free gift and moves us towards ourselves and the work that we do leaving us in the pit of doubt or self-deception.

Sadly, what I describe above is from the incredibly popular devotional called Jesus Calling. Notice in the picture to the side, that she openly states: “in this transaction: you give me thanks …and I give you Joy.” Essentially, she is saying if you pay Him, God will give you a service as if He were the person at the counter of your local fast food joint. That’s not how it works. jesus speaksThankfulness is not an act of obedience. Thankfulness is the natural reaction of gratitude one who has received a wondrous gift that is offered freely and not from obligation. More often than not thankfulness is expressed in the equally natural result of God’s redeeming work, our new obedience. Yet, even here we do not benefit from our new obedience. And our new obedience isn’t even for God, it’s for the benefit of our neighbor. Which means, we cannot confuse it with a system of payment as is portrayed in this devotion.

When we are thankful to God we aren’t paying a bill; we are overflowing with the gifts He gave us. Take for example Psalm 89, which Mrs. Young quotes. We will look at the context immediately surrounding her quote.

                Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
                         steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
                Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,
                           who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face,
                who exult in your name all the day
                           and in your righteousness are exalted.

(Ps 89:14–16) ESV (Please note she uses the NIV which is different from all the major translations)
The way Hebrew Poetry works is that it generally uses thoughts in parallel that play off of each other usually negating or building upon one another.  That means in order to understand the verse you need to look at its paralleling thoughts. In this case verse 14 and 16. Our question is who are the blessed? Verse 16 tells us. They are the ones who have been exalted in God’s righteousness. They are righteous because as verse 14 tells us, “God’s steadfast love and faithfulness” goes before Him. The people are blessed or in a joyful state because they have been made righteous through God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. In other words, they are joyful because they have been redeemed through the gracious work of Jesus on the cross. They are not given joy because God gave rendered a service on payment the joy came first.

The other verses do not fair much better.  Ephesians 5:20 is in the midst of several exhortations on our treatment of our neighbors.  It unpacks what I pointed out earlier, that our thankfulness benefits the people around us.  It also involves proclaiming the great work that God has done in saving us – that is the heart of the Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19).   Psalm 118, is worse.  Here the Gospel is clearly overlooked.  Without going into too much technical detail, I will say the verse “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” is a bookend verse.  The last verse of 118 is the exact same words.  This a signal to the reader.  The main point is in the middle of the psalm and that central point is going to inform our understanding of the bookends.  So, our main point is going to be centered around verse 14-16 roughly speaking.

The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
15  Glad songs of salvation
are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
16  the right hand of the LORD exalts,
the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”

Once again, it becomes clear that thankfulness is a response.  Even more if you read further on you will find that this is a prophetic psalm about Jesus “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Ps 118:22).  With the way the verse is used in the devotion we are turned away from the intended meaning of Jesus towards ourselves.  We are taken away from the glorious news that God works out my salvation freely because He is gracious and delivered into the hands of a bill collector who fixes our credit rating only because we paid him something.

Mrs. Young took a part of Scripture and removed it from its context. In doing so she changed its meaning. Did she intend to change the meaning? I don’t know, I want to assume the best. However, we still must take seriously the verse means the exact opposite as the devotion would have you to believe. Sadly, such a thing is very common. And it would seem that Mrs. Young has fallen for one of Satan’s more common tricks. As Rev. Jonathan Fisk notes “One of the sneakiest tricks of the devil is to quote God’s words, but to not quite quote *all* of them.” That’s what has happened here. Part of God’s words were quoted and so it looked like what she wrote is correct, but reading God’s word in the context of the rest of His words makes it clear the words mean something different than Mrs. Young implies. The more I hear of this book, the more that I think that it is Satan’s words in his well-used disguise – a messenger of light. I really do not know Sarah Young so I will not comment on her personally, but I am pretty sure she has not been hearing Jesus as she once claimed. (you can read more about her “hearing Jesus” at 10 Serious Problems with Jesus Calling).

So what does this mean to you who have been reading Jesus Calling? Satan has taken advantage of your good desires.  You’re not the first person Satan’s tricked. In fact, welcome to the club. He’s tricked pretty much everybody including yours truly. I bought into a few of Satan’s lies myself. I can sympathize and so could a few other far more notable figure such as Peter, Paul and Martin Luther. Each of us has bought into a lie of Satan’s, more importantly the light of Jesus’ truth shined forth, breaking the lie and renewed us in the life giving Gospel of Jesus. You were looking for something good that spoke to your situation and Satan tricked you with something that appeared to do so. It is not too late for you. Now that Satan’s trick has been exposed, it’s time to admit you were tricked. Set the book aside, preferably in the recycling bin. And once again, hear Jesus’ real words of great Joy in the pronouncement of Absolution – “I forgive you of all your sins.” If learning these things about a book you held dear has shaken you up, I invite you to come and talk. I’ll commiserate with you. I’ll even offer Jesus’ words of great joy and comfort for free in Holy Absolution (That is assuming you are one of my parishioners reading this article; if not talk to your own pastor. I am sure he’d be happy to help you.) We can even explore devotionals that really do what Jesus Calling only claimed to do – give you true comfort.

 

Update – I wish to quickly address if the above is an isolated incident.  As much as one would hope that maybe she had a bad entry this is not the case.  Young does, what I address,  throughout the entire book.  For a more comprehensive review of Jesus Calling please listen to this podcast on Just and Sinner by Pr. Jordan Cooper and his wife Lisa Cooper.

HS Winter Retreat

Passing on the Christian Worldview: The Ten Commandments – God’s Leatherman

I can remember years ago when the Leatherman multi-tool was introduced. It was the Swiss Army knife for DIY’ers. EverythingLeatherman you could think of was included in this pair of very useful set of pliers.     I’m pretty sure you could find a set that included a kitchen sink. The Leatherman was the ultimate tool for every wannabe MacGyver – you know the 80’s TV hero who could build a nuclear reactor out of a stick of bubble gum, duct tape, a couple of paper clips and some dish soap. Soon after they came out my wife and I bought one of the smaller versions to give as Christmas presents for all the men in our families. Well, all but one. Me. I was pretty jealous of my own gift. It was at that moment I once again ran into God’s Leatherman, the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments have multiple uses. They are a curb, a mirror, and a guide. We sometimes refer to this three-fold nature as the three uses of the Law. What happens is the Holy Spirit makes use of the Laws to accomplish three things – to curb our behavior, to show us our sins, and to teach the believer God’s will. In the case of my jealousy regarding the Leatherman tools, I ran into the mirror. I didn’t break it but it sure broke me. So, what does this mean for us in forming our Worldview?

Bumper bowling

bumperHave you ever seen the bumpers they put in the bowling alleys when kids are bowling? Years ago it was a length of hollow tubing that they put out when requested. Now they have high tech risers that can be raised and lowered. Either way they serve one purpose, they keep the ball rolling down the lane so that you aren’t always missing everything. The Ten Commandments do the same sort of thing. They keep us bouncing down the lane so that life isn’t complete chaos. If you think things are bad now, imagine if the Law wasn’t throwing the brakes on our behavior. As much as the bumpers keep most bowling balls rolling down the lane there are those that land over the bumper. The same thing happens with the Law which is where the next use comes in.

Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest of all?

It’s not Snow White. She may be fairer than the evil queen, but she is still is ugly as sin in this mirror. The Law as mirror is much like the painting in the book The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. It shows us who we truly are. In the book, Dorian Gray is a fantastically handsome man who commissions a special painting of himself. The painting is bewitched so that he will always remain handsome while the painting takes on the scars of his evil. So that when Gray finally looks at the painting, he dies upon seeing how ugly he truly is. The Law as mirror does the same thing to us. It kills us by showing us who we truly are in excruciatingly accurate detail.

Guide

The Law also teaches us. It tells us what the God pleasing course of action is. Often we overlook this use because the answer isn’t flashy and sometimes it’s painful. But none the less, the Law is the epitome of God’s will for what we are to do. And so, it should be the first place we turn when considering any action or thought.

In regards to all these uses Luther’s Small Catechism is extremely helpful. Luther did a great deal of the leg work needed to fully understand the impact of each of the Ten Commandments. Essentially, Luther summarized the Sermon on the Mount in order to write the explanations for each of these commandments. He also drew from other Biblical passages, but the Sermon on the Mount already is a commentary on the Ten Commandments and so makes a great source to summarize. But at the same time there are explanations to the commandments in the Epistles (letters) and in the Old Testament and Luther does include those sources.   And not only that they were written to make it easy for us to memorize. All in all, it makes the Small Catechism a great go to source for a quick overview of the commandments and their implications. Thus making them most excellent for daily use.

Forming our thoughts

As we immerse ourselves into the commandments on a daily basis they begin to form our thoughts. What happens is now that which is written our hearts is given a voice. That voice in turn speaks up as we taken the world around us.

Now, do not mistake this idea with the Hollywood advice of “follow your heart.” Hollywood’s advice is some wishy washy mush that could just well turn out to be indigestion. Whereas the Ten Commandments are an unchanging constant. They are not subject to the whims of the moment or the tyranny of pragmatism. They are an unwavering line that speak the truth in all times and places. As part of the CrossRoad Life Recovery program, we talk about the Ten Commandments and their role in our life. One, of the things we mention in the First Step materials is that the Ten Commandments provide an objective measure by which we can test and figure out a life situation. When people build a house what do they use to measure the lumber? Do theyPotters-Clay use their individual hands? Or do they use a tape measure? They use a tape measure because it is a constant size whereas each person’s hand is a different size. If they used their hands the house would be an unmitigated disaster. This is the difference between following your heart and the Ten Commandments forming your thoughts.   Our hearts are different, worse they are not to be trusted because of the old heart who loves sin that keeps hanging around, and so following our hearts would be total anarchy. While on the other hand we have the Ten Commandments which are the same no matter who is involved.

As the Ten Commandments are forming our thoughts they will also keep us honest. The Ten Commandments let us know when we messed up. I have told this story before, there was this one guy who really wanted to do better at helping other people. So, he started watching for moments that he could be a help to someone. One day a situation straight out of romantic comedy occurred as he was walking into the grocery store a lady was coming out carrying her bags. One of the bags ripped sending canned good all over the parking lot. He helped her retrieve her things. And as he was walking away he thought “I sure hope someone saw me help her.” He tried to do right by one of the commandments and broke another. He realized what happened and admitted to his breaking the commandment. But, this illustrates what I am referring to in the commandments keeping us honest.

Guiding our actions

When something becomes ingrained in our thinking it affects our actions. For example, I had been bringing up the issue of speeding in context of the Fourth Commandment as governmental authority rests in this commandment. Speeding is a sin as it flaunts what our God given authorities have said. Now here I am, a guy with a semi controlled lead foot saying this. After a few times of bringing it up I realized, “I need to listen to my own sermon.” So, I made it a goal to drive the speed limit. Thoughts affected my actions. As Christians, this is what we want the Ten Commandments to do for us. We want them to affect our actions because these are things God wants us to do. In dealing with our old self, and his foolish love of sin and death it will take a great deal of training and a great deal of killing with the Gospel. Using my example of not speeding. I am not perfect in my attempts. There are still places where speeding is an overwhelming temptation. So, I am still in need of confessing my sin and being forgiven. I am not sure I will ever outgrow it in this area either. But at the same time, I as a Christian need to strive to do that speed limit because it is the law made by our God given authorities, but also my neighbor needs me to be safe on the road. So, even as I confess and I am set free in Jesus’ forgiveness, I am practicing the art of having a light touch on the gas pedal. Why? Because those Ten Commandments are in the back of my head saying this is the right thing to do and guiding my actions.

The Ten Commandments play an important role in the Christian’s life. They are well worth the effort to ingrain into your thought. Read them and the meanings every day (it helps us understand their full scope). Pray that God instructs you through His word of Law. And admit your failure to follow His Law. Just do not stop there. We need what comes next or we will drive ourselves into despair. What comes next is the Good News that kills the sinner and raise to life the Child of God.

HS Winter Retreat

Passing on a Christian Worldview – The Overlooked Radical Tool

The year is 1529, the Reformation is well under way.   Martin Luther and his fellow pastors and professors had been teaching and proclaiming the Gospel for nearly 12 years. Now, their influence had spread throughout Germany and other parts of the Holy Roman Empire. Yet, even as their influence spread, the reformers in Wittenberg possessed little idea of how the Gospel and Scriptures were understood amongst the priests and laity outside of the city. So, Luther and some of his fellows began visiting congregations throughout the country. What they found was incredibly distressing. For all that the unleashed Gospel had spread the people were fairly ignorant of Scripture and their worldview was still largely affected by the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church.

The result of these visits is what is probably the most overlooked worldview shaping tool ever devised, the Small Catechism. Yes, the book that has been gathering dust since your days in confirmation is one of the most radical worldview shaping tools ever created.

Sadly, over the years we have created an environment that allowed us to overlook the value of the Small Catechism. It became a text book. Nothing kills a book faster than becoming a text book for a class. Because, what do you do with a textbook after you finish a class? You either put it on a shelf to never look at it again or you get rid of it. As a pastor nothing makes me sadder than to see somebody put their Small Catechism in the for sale pile. But, we did it to ourselves. I must confess, I did it myself. The catechism was just a means for getting head knowledge.small catechism

The catechism is so much more than head knowledge. Comprised mostly of Scripture the Small Catechism can be understood as almost as the Bible in miniature. In the Small Catechism we are given the basic frame work of God’s Word and the means to understand what God is telling us. What is more is that we are even given a frame work by which to live and understand our own lives. In short, these 30 some pages (as formatted by CPH’s Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation) contain the greatest tool the average person can have.

What we have been given.

A means to understand the Bible.

The six chief parts of the catechism are set up the way they are specifically. They chart out how we can understand the Word of God by using God’s Word. Most of the Small Catechism is either a direct Scripture quote or a paraphrase of the Scriptures. So, it is possible for us to read the Scripture and see how the various events, songs, and prophesies illustrate the Six Chief parts and demonstrate a fundamental principle of understanding the Bible – Scripture interprets Scripture.

The Ten Commandments

Luther placed the Ten Commandments first because the Ten Commandments identify the problem by showing us our sin. Essentially, they summarize the various statements of God’s Law in the Scriptures. I’d like to point out briefly that the explanations draw heavily on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which is essentially a commentary on the Ten Commandments.

The Apostles’ Creed

There are three main creeds that Luther could have chosen for the Small Catechism, but the Apostles’ Creed serves best because it shares the redemption story. Essentially, we can understand the Apostles’ Creed as the summary of the Redemption story. The creed confesses the Gospel truth that God is our Father and creator and how He as our loving Father restores us through the work of Jesus. Plus, the creed confesses the Scriptural promises of how God makes us His in Christ and sustains us. In doing so, the Apostles’ Creed truly is a summary of the Bible, because the entirety of Scripture revolves around the Redemption story.

The Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer is God given faith’s response to hearing the Law and the Gospel of the Redemption story. It is the prayer that asks for the very things God has promised to give – forgiveness, what we need to live, and protection from evil.

Baptism, Absolution, and Communion

These three things along with God’s word are God’s answer to the petition “deliver us from evil.” I will be treating these sections individually later but for now they are collectively God’s answer to the Lord’s Prayer. For it is by the means of Baptism, Absolution, and Communion that we are given forgiveness of sins and deliverance from Evil. They give us the very bread that we need to survive the onslaught of Satan and his minions.  They bring us out of this dead world by bringing Jesus, the Lord of Life, to us.

Table of Duties

This is the answer to the question, “What does a holy life look like?” Here you will find Scripture verses pertaining to many of the stations of life we will find ourselves in through the course of our lives. And so, it serves as the starting point for figuring out what God would have us do in our life.

All of these Six Chief parts come together into one fantastic tool that can shape our worldview and enable us to pass on the worldview.   The first step we take is memorizing it. For many of us that may mean re-memorizing it. I will suggest to ways to memorizing the Small Catechism. The first is to read one of the Six Chief parts each day. The other is this nifty little CD from Concordia Publishing House called Singing the Faith. I highly recommend Singing the Faith because music is a fantastic mnemonic device (a tool to aid memory recall).

Why memorize?

You cannot form a worldview unless it is so solidly engrained into your mind that it becomes a natural part of your thinking. And working to memorize something will do just that. When learning a new language, one of the best ways to learn is to be completely immersed in that language. People who have studied abroad have experienced this phenomenon. When we work to memorize something, and I don’t mean the cramming so many school kids do before a test, rather the intentional work designed to promote long term retention, we end up immersed in the work we are memorizing. The shear act of memorization requires regular exposure. For example, Pastor Schlote gets up every morning and does a series of stretches while reciting bible verses. Every day begins with that memory work. Another example, is in my own family we have been using the Singing The Faith CD, music gets into your head. I catch myself singing “The First commandment…What does this mean?…” while sitting in my office or driving around town. At first, it made me laugh, but then it drove home how powerful a memory tool music is. But this is what means to become immersed.  You are exposed in such a way that even when you are not actively thinking about it, it comes to mind.

So if you want to start passing on a Christian Worldview begin with the greatest most overlooked Worldview tool – the Small Catechism.  I’ll spend the next six or so entries going into each part and how they affect our worldview.

HS Winter Retreat

Keep Calm and Proclaim Law and Gospel

Last week the Supreme Court ruled to overturn laws concerning Same Sex Marriage by requiring all states to recognize the desires of those who wish to marry a person of the same gender. I know that some of my fellow Bible believing Christians view this as a huge blow. I have seen your posts and comments. I have seen emotions running from fear to anger to just plain shock. And so, I wish to offer this word of encouragement. Jesus has already overcome the world. By His death, sin, the devil, and this world have already been conquered. We are merely experiencing its death throws. And by the resurrection of Jesus, we have already been given new life and a hope in what is to come. Jesus has already gone to prepare our places so no matter what happens here we have nothing to fear. As Paul said nothing the world can bring against us can compare to the glories that await.

Brothers and sisters, if you are worried about what the Supreme Court ruling means for the church as she continues to confess the Biblical definition of marriage, turn to Scripture; join with your fellow Christians in fellowship and prayer. Find your peace at Christ’s table.   For our hope is in Jesus, not in nine judges.

Whatever you do, do not lash out.

Often, we humans turn our fear into anger and we begin to lash out. We respond with angry and sometimes vile words. I have already seen this happening with fellow Christians responding to those who favor the Supreme Court’s ruling. We need not be insulting to remain true to the confession of the Biblical faith. We can speak an unwavering truth without words we know that will hurt, words that hurt not for the truth they speak but the baggage they carry. The last thing we need is to make it easy for them to lump us together with Westboro Baptist. As I point out to the addicts I counsel, being honest doesn’t excuse being mean. We can maintain our confession that certain thoughts and activities are sins without resorting to being mean.

Instead follow the words of Rev. Matthew Harrison.

As faithful Christians, we shall continue to be obedient to just laws. We affirm the human rights of all individuals and the inherent and equal value of all people. We respect the divinely given dignity of all people, no matter their sexual preference. We recognize that, under the exacting and demanding laws of God, we are indeed sinners in thought, word and deed, just as are all (Romans 3:9ff.). We confess that the “blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all our sins” (1 John 1:7). We confess that God’s divine law of marriage and the entire Ten Commandments apply to all, and that so also the life-giving sacrifice of Christ on the cross is for all. It is a “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:22).

What does that mean?

We need to rethink our political strategy. I am the first to say the government’s job is to enforce morality. By this statement, I mean enforce the second table of the Ten Commandments which largely boils down to how we behave towards one another. However, for too long, many of us have thought we can build and maintain a “Christian” nation via our laws. We bought into a lie. We cannot have a Christian nation through laws. The Christian nation exists not in the form of earthly government, but in the Church united in the body of Christ. And, Christians only come about through the life changing work of the Gospel and the Gospel falls under the realm of the church not the realm of the government. And so, we need to rethink how we have been going about things politically speaking. Honestly speaking, we were never going to win the same sex marriage debate. Once the world learned God wasn’t about to go and open heaven’s flood gates on it, the world was going to do what the world wanted. Any attempt right now that we make to overturn the ruling is going to make us look like people trying to grab back the privilege we supposedly just lost. And in turn, make it easier to paint us as bigots. I think we can afford to take a long view right now. Other work needs to be done. We need to win the hearts of the people and it will not be easy.

 

We start by becoming a sympathetic figure. We do what we should have been doing all along. We treat people as nicely as we possibly can. Give people respect even when we do not think they deserve respect. We need to be overwhelmingly generous with our words and deeds. Centuries ago, the pagan Romans complained about how Christians were making them look bad because we were so generous. That’s a complaint we need to hear again. Think about it this way. It is easy to hate the faceless person whom you can label with an evil name. To quote the Blues Brothers, “Illinois Nazis, I hate Illinois Nazis.” Illinois Nazis are faceless. They are easy to hate, because really who likes Nazis. They are only known for getting in the way of what we want.  The same thing happens with the word “bigot.” In many ways “bigot” has become the new “Nazi.” Who likes a bigot? They are all haters. It is very easy to be labeled the bigot when you are the faceless entity who seems to be getting in the way of what people want. We cannot afford to be the faceless entity. We shouldn’t have been anyways. We should have been friend and neighbor. Therefore, we will need to do everything we can to be that friend and neighbor, without compromising our confession, so as to not be called the bigot. The bigot is easy to hate particularly in this world enthralled with the idea of reliving the Selma days. While on the other hand, the neighbor who lives next door and will give you the shirt off his back is really hard to hate. I’m not saying that being outrageously generous and kind is going to be a magic pill to turn people around. People will still be people and there will be those who scream bigot when they find out you do not support their pet sins whatever they may be. But, it is still harder to do so to someone you know personally and have experienced their generosity.

We cannot lose our confession or we will cease to be a help to our brother. We hold to the Law of God ourselves and repent of our failings while continuing to immerse ourselves in the Gospel. We will not survive if we cave in on our confession. And if that happens who will be there for our brothers and sisters when sin drives them to rock bottom and they are left with a broken life. So, we continue on confessing that which we have been given to confess – the revealed will of God given in Law and Gospel. We must hold fast just as the martyrs did in the face of Roman persecution.

We cannot lose our confession of the Law because without the Law the Gospel is empty words. We need the humbling words of God’s command. We need to see our sin for what it is. One, because we ourselves need to repent. Thus, we need to see ourselves for the broken people we are. If we compromise on the Law in the name of being liked and we only end up losing sight of who we are. And in the end we will reject the Gospel itself.  The other reason is because in seeing our own sin we will find it easier to see our neighbors as broken people in need of help.  It’s hard to feel high and mighty when the Law has chopped your legs off at your hair line.

At the same time, neither can we lose our confession of the Gospel. Without the Gospel all is lost. There is no hope and there certainly is no compassion. During these troubling times we are going to need the hope of our victorious resurrected Savior more than ever. And there are people, having been given over to their sins, who are going to need the life renewing gift of the Gospel.  And we can’t give them the Gospel if we do not have it ourselves.  If you have ever been on a plane and listened to the safety talk, you will have heard them say, “Put your mask on first then help the person next to you.”  The reason they tell you this is because if you don’t get that mask on you’re going to pass out and be no good to anybody.  Same principle applies here, if you don’t have the Gospel you have no hope to give.

 

In short, keep calm and proclaim the Law and Gospel

 

And now some questions to consider as we move forward

We may need to rethink our role in society.  There may be roles we as Christians can no longer take. This is nothing new for us Christians. A Christian could not engage in prostitution or filming pornography and remain true to the faith. Similarly, we may need to rethink taking positions where we would be involved in officiating or licensing immoral acts of any kind. We may even have to rethink being in the catering business, simply because a cake may not be worth the fight (I know there is some debate over whether or not this constitutes participation, it’s just an example). Honestly, these are thoughts we need to have regarding any job.  If you know they are going to ask you to do things that are against God’s Law, you shouldn’t take the job.

At the same time, we need to work on strengthening our sense of community as a church and limit our involvement outside the community. I am not advocating a complete withdrawal from the outside community a la the Amish. Rather, I am thinking we will need to limit how much we are influenced by the outside community. We still interact, but we treat outside worldviews with care and discernment. And so, we need to limit the outside world’s influence over our community.  The things in the outside community that are good should be acknowledged, but at the same time, we should limit the exposure our children have to the bad parts of the outside community. We may need to see to educating our children ourselves, either through parochial schools or home education. I am not sure how much longer we can safely rely on public schooling, as it is simply too prone to following the predominant culture and our kids need a better foundation before facing the false views of the world. We may also need to cut ourselves off from much of what passes for entertainment in our world, while at the same time encouraging high art amongst our more artistically inclined Christian community members. The things in the paragraph above are just possibilities, I do not have definitive answers on how our future interaction should look in detail.

In the days of Rome, our own predecessors in the faith also had to rethink their role in society. The Apostles counseled them through this process. Paul writes extensively on this idea. He encouraged slave owners to, if possible, free their brothers in Christ or, if not possible, to treat them as a free man. Christians ceased participating in things that linked them to the pagan religions such as eating meat sacrificed to idols and no longer participating in the municipal festivals to pagan deities. The ancient Christians created their own art, extended charity to the surrounding community, continued to serve in helpful vocations, and served the population as a whole. All the while, they maintained a degree of separation and accepted the consequences of the separation.

 

It is not an easy road we face. However, the One we follow down the road has already overcome it. We continue to be the church. We live, breathe and proclaim Law and Gospel.