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 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.

HS Winter Retreat

Why the Lord would have us go to church or how I learned to love that Every Sunday is Easter Sunday

Years ago, in an interview Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel, a professor of mine and great preacher of the Gospel,   was asked, “Why do you go to church?” To which he responded, “You are asking me the wrong question.” He went on to explain that one would get many fine sounding answers such as to be with fellow Christians, to praise God, and what not but, you wouldn’t get the right answer. Ask the wrong question and get the wrong answer, he claimed. The right question is why would the Lord want us to go to church? Now this is a good question. We know God wants us to get together. He says as much when he says “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23–25) God wants us to get together. Why? To encourage one another is the simple answer.

What does it mean though to “encourage one another”? Sadly, I think too many people see “stir up one another to love and good works” and think Law. Which, by the way, I think is rather linked to the question, “Why go to church?” and its subsequent answers. We see the words “good works” and automatically think, “Law!” We have come to think that because good works conform to the Law that their heart and root is in that Law. Flowing from the idea good works are rooted in the Law has led us to wrongly believe gathering together is about the Law. To be fair if you are refusing to gather together, you are breaking the Law – you are not honoring the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy. However, it is also true that the reason we come together is not rooted in Law, but it is instead rooted in the Gospel – the good news of Good Friday and Easter.

When we try to use the Law to encourage, we ignore God’s intended use of killing and teaching. The Law teaches us God’s will. In Lutheran circles we refer to this as the Third Use of the Law. It shows us what we ought to be doing, but it does not encourage. The Law, instead of encouraging us, actually kills us. It shows us how utterly horrid we are. No, what encourages us, is the very thing that makes us alive and that is the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel news of Jesus sacrificing himself and conquering death is our encouragement, because it wipes us clean, gives us Jesus’ perfect life and thus sets us free from the sin that binds us.

The Gospel is our encouragement. The news of Jesus taking our sins and burying them in His grave is what gives us a heart to love; because, simply put it gives us Jesus’ heart. And Jesus’ heart is capable of greater love than we can iReceptive-Meditation-Divine-Servicemagine. Here in the Gospel we can start to answer the right question. Why would the Lord have us go to church?

Our Father wants to give us the good stuff. He wants us to have Jesus.  He has given us specific gifts in order to make sure we have Jesus.  And in our hectic rat race of a world there is one place we can know that Jesus will be given to us and that is the Divine Service.   For here in the Divine Service our sins will be forgiven in Absolution, we are baptized into Jesus’ death, that the Gospel will be preached by the pastor, and we will be given Jesus in communion. So the answer to the question is that God wants us to be set free from our sins, He uses specific gifts to accomplish that freedom and we know it will be found in one specific place each week.

The Divine service completely revolves around the three Means of Grace. In other words, the service we have every Sunday morning completely centers on the three gifts God promised to use to come to us. The service revolves around Baptism in which we are united to Jesus in his life, death and resurrection. Even when we do not have an actual Baptism happening, Baptism is a part of the service. The key point in the invocation is to recall to our minds the name in which we were baptized – highpoint nuLSB divine service  Iconmber 1. We have this remembrance so that you can remember that yes, God did come down to you and give you His life. The service then moves to confession and absolution where we admit that we have not lived the new life given to us in Baptism and God then uses the voice of the pastor to remove those sins – high point number two. We then hear the word of God usually in the form of the lectionary readings of the day. God comes to us in that word, but it also sets us up for the sermon. Usually, the sermon is drawn from the readings for the day and serves to proclaim the Law and the Gospel found within those passages. So that we may know our sin for what it is and repent, and once again be spoken free as the pastor proclaims how Christ buried that sin – high point number 3. And then we gather at the table where we receive a most undeniable gift of Jesus’ body and blood – high point number 4. All of these high-points come together to do one thing – turn every Sunday into Easter. For, each Sunday now becomes for the Christian the proclamation of being resurrected in Jesus as we are united to Him. And we are set free into a newly resurrected life. And there is no more encouraging news for the soul burdened by sin to hear than your past is gone and new life is yours.

Why would the Lord want me to go to church? Because I am a man burdened by the weight of my sin and my heavenly Father wants me to experience Easter in His gifts and set me free. He wants to give the good stuff.

HS Winter Retreat

Christ in the Old Testament

Bible scroll on gevil parchmentThis weekend, in my sermon I spoke about how Jesus is throughout the whole of Scripture.  One of the things I know from experience is that it can be hard to see Jesus in the Old Testament.  Speaking from my own experience, I needed folks to show me Jesus just like the Ethiopian needed some help (Acts 8:26-40).  So, I would like to put into your hands some good resources to help you see Jesus.

One such resource is the weekly feature on the radio show Issues, Etc. aptly named Christ in the Old Testament.  It is a podcast that you can listen to it on demand.  In the show the Issues, Etc. host Todd Wilkens and Rev. Brian Kachelmeier walk you through various portions of the Old Testament to help you see Jesus in the text.

http://issuesetc.org/search_gcse/?q=Christ%20in%20the%20Old%20Testament

HS Winter Retreat

‘Tis The Season for Really Bad Jesus Scholarship.

Every year without fail around Christmas and Easter time, poorly researched articles come out claiming all sorts of wild things about Jesus, Christmas, and the faith in general.  They come from atheist and Christian alike claiming that Christmas (and Easter) is really pagan.  Or that Jesus is a plagiarizing of various pagan gods.  It’s really kind of sad for when you have actual facts the claims do not make any sense at all so without further ado here are the facts presented in these funny and informational videos.

HS Winter Retreat

A False Identity, A New Identity

I make no bones about it, I am a huge fan of college football – particularly Texas A&M football.  Fall is my favorite time of year simply kyle fieldbecause football.  I live it.  I breathe it.  And while quite fun, it is something of a danger.  Many passionate fans can attest to this phenomenon, when the team is doing great it seems like you are walking on air and when the team losses the entire weekend is a wasteland.  I recently noticed it in myself when my Aggies went from being ranked #6 to dropping off the polls completely after a three game skid.  I who had been imbibing all things college football suddenly was now actively avoiding sports news.  It was devastating to face the dashed hopes.  The sad part is that what happens to the team does not really impact my life.  If they win, it’s their victory.  If they lose, it’s their loss.  My life doesn’t change.  And yet, you would have thought I’d lost some one dear to me over those few weeks.  And I know I am not alone.  Just the other day I was reading an article that featured Tweets from fans reacting to their teams loss.  And in their Tweets I heard myself and it got me to thinking about how much my identity is wrapped up in Texas A&M Football.

It’s kinda of silly, really, that my identity is so wrapped up in  football.  But it is true none the less, when they win, I feel like a million bucks.   And when they are out scored, I feel like hiding.  Yet, as silly as it is, it is so like us.  We wrap ourselves up in an identity based on accomplishment even when the accomplishment is not ours.  You see it in the Cubs fan’s resigned, “There is always next year…”  And you see it the celebrations of the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup.  We identify ourselves by success and accomplishments of our favorite teams.  The problem is they are all fleeting accomplishments. Even if we played on the team it would still be a fleeting for soon the next season is upon you and everybody asks what are you doing now.  And when we identify ourselves by these fleeting accomplishments we are giving ourselves a false identity.  These identities will not stand the test of time; they will all fade eventually.  We need a new identity.

In this ever changingbaptism-1 world we need an identity that will not ever fade.  And in Christ, we are given such an identity.  Paul writes “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Galatians 2:20 (ESV)(Check out Romans 6 and see how this passage is related to Baptism)  We have been given a new life in Jesus, we have been crucified with Jesus and resurrected with Jesus, and in doing so our false identities have been put to death and we have been given our real identity as Paul would also write, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”  Galatians 4:4–5 (ESV)  Jesus’ gift to you is a new identity in Him.  He has given us a greater identity than the fleeting identities we have in sports teams.  Though much like the our fleeting sports related identities we didn’t actually do anything.  Jesus did all the hard work.  It was Him on the playing field.  Yet, the gift He gives us in crucifying us with Him and resurrecting us with Him makes us the victors.  And thus we are called sons and daughters even though we never lifted a finger.

Thanks be to God for giving us our real identity.

HS Winter Retreat

In Times of Disaster

I thought I would share these words from Rev. Will Weedon.

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “The present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31). Everywhere in the pages of sacred Scripture, our God reminds us of this: that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14), that there is no certainty of a tomorrow in this fallen age for you, for your parents, for your children or grandchildren, for your community. None. “In the very midst of life death has us surrounded,” we sing, and it is simply true. And so terror randomly drops from the sky, snuffing out lives and hopes and plans and holiday weekends, tearing apart families and friends and destroying homes and property, leaving a community shaken to the core and staggering under the load it now must bear. It is, sadly, the stuff of life in an age that is dying.

Does the weight of such piled-up suffering lead to lives of fear and uncertainty? It does not need to. Because we do indeed “seek the city that is to come.” Just this past Sunday in so many of our churches the words of the Pentecost preface rang out: “For all this the whole world rejoices with exceeding joy!” And we wonder: Can the folks of Moore, Okla., dare to pray such words? Can we, considering the vast sufferings that have gripped this whole community, the horrors still waiting to be uncovered?

Yes. Yes, we can. For this is the nature of Pentecost joy. It is not grounded in this age that is passing away, falling apart, bound by death and filled with suffering. It is grounded instead in the certainty of the age that is coming, an age in which the Spirit even now comes to us as first fruits, the promise and pledge and guarantee from the Father that a lasting city is on the horizon, a city in which there will be no goodbyes.

People loved by God, such joy can fill your hearts even as tears fill your eyes and you work diligently to ease the suffering, to console the bereaved, to bury the dead. You do all this not as a people who are surprised that such suffering exists and comes to human beings. You have been forewarned in Scripture to expect such and more. But you face it knowing that death, destruction, tears and heartache will not be the end of this world. They simply will not. They are indeed “the present form” of this world.  But that form passes away.

And what will be, what the Spirit guarantees will be, is the glorious hope we hear of in Revelation: the nail-scarred hand reaching out to touch each weeping face, to wipe away the tears and to do away forever with the sin and the suffering and the death that plague us here and now, striking without warning and tearing apart those whom God created to live together.

The Spirit moves us to tend the suffering as best we may, weeping with them, and praying constantly: “Come, Lord Jesus! Come!”

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

If you are interested in helping the people of Moore, OK please follow the links below.

Lutheran Church Disaster Fund

Lutheran Church Charities Comfort Dogs – There is a team of several dogs and handlers  in Moore, OK providing crisis counseling and the Gospel hope of Christ.

HS Winter Retreat

A MEDITATION ON CHRIST’S PASSION by Martin Luther

1. Some people meditate on Christ’s passion by venting their anger on the Jews. This singing and ranting about wretched Judas satisfies them, for they are in the habit of complaining about other people, of condemning and reproaching their adversaries. That might well be a meditation on the wickedness of Judas and the Jews, but not on the sufferings of Christ.

 

2. Some point to the manifold benefits and fruits that grow from contemplating Christ’s passion. There is a saying ascribed to Albertus about this, that it is more beneficial to ponder Christ’s passion just once than to fast a whole year or to pray a psalm daily, etc. These people follow this saying blindly and therefore do not reap the fruit of Christ’s passion, for in so doing they are seeking their own advantage. They carry pictures and booklets, letters and crosses on their person. Some who travel afar do this in the belief that they thus protect themselves against water and sword, fire, and all sorts of perils. Christ’s suffering is thus used to effect in them a lack of suffering contrary to his being and nature.

 

3. Some feel pity for Christ, lamenting and bewailing his innocence. They are like the women who followed Christ from Jerusalem and were chided and told by Christ that it would be better to weep for themselves and their children [Luke 23:27–28]. They are the kind of people who go far afield in their meditation on the passion, making much of Christ’s farewell from Bethany and of the Virgin Mary’s anguish. but never progressing beyond that, which is why so many hours are devoted to the contemplation of Christ’s passion. Only God knows whether that is invented for the purpose of sleeping or of waking.

 

Also to this group belong those who have learned what rich fruits the holy mass offers. In their simple mindedness they think it enough simply to hear mass. In support of this several teachers are cited to us who hold that the mass is opere operati, non opere operantis, that it is effective in itself without our merit and worthiness, and that this is all that is needed. Yet the mass was not instituted for its own worthiness, but to make us worthy and to remind us of the passion of Christ. Where that is not done, we make of the mass a physical and unfruitful act, though even this is of some good. Of what help is it to you that God is God, if he is not God to you? Of what benefit is it to you that food and drink are good and wholesome in themselves if they are not healthful for you? And it is to be feared that many masses will not improve matters as long as we do not seek the right fruit in them.

 

4. They contemplate Christ’s passion aright who view it with a terror-stricken heart and a despairing conscience. This terror must be felt as you witness the stern wrath and the unchanging earnestness with which God looks upon sin and sinners, so much so that he was unwilling to release sinners even for his only and dearest Son without his payment of the severest penalty for them. Thus he says in Isaiah 53 [:8], “I have chastised him for the transgressions of my people.” If the dearest child is punished thus, what will be the fate of sinners? It must be an inexpressible and unbearable earnestness that forces such a great and infinite person to suffer and die to appease it. And if you seriously consider that it is God’s very own Son, the eternal wisdom of the Father, who suffers, you will be terrified indeed. The more you think about it, the more intensely will you be frightened.

 

5. You must get this thought through your head and not doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought this. In Acts 2 [:36–37] St. Peter frightened the Jews like a peal of thunder when he said to all of them, “You crucified him.” Consequently three thousand alarmed and terrified Jews asked the apostles on that one day, “O dear brethren, what shall we do now?” Therefore, when you see the nails piercing Christ’s hands, you can be certain that it is your work. When you behold his crown of thorns, you may rest assured that these are your evil thoughts, etc.

 

6. For every nail that pierces Christ, more than one hundred thousand should in justice pierce you, yes, they should prick you forever and ever more painfully! When Christ is tortured by nails penetrating his hands and feet, you should eternally suffer the pain they inflict and the pain of even more cruel nails, which will in truth be the lot of those who do not avail themselves of Christ’s passion. This earnest mirror, Christ, will not lie or trifle, and whatever it points out will come to pass in full measure.

 

7. St. Bernard was so terrified by this that he declared, “I regarded myself secure; I was not aware of the eternal sentence that had been passed on me in heaven until I saw that God’s only Son had compassion upon me and offered to bear this sentence for me. Alas, if the situation is that serious, I should not make light of it or feel secure.” We read that Christ commanded the women not to weep for him but for themselves and their children [Luke 23:28]. And he adds the reason for this, saying, “For if they do this to the green wood, what will happen when it is dry?” [Luke 23:31] He says as it were: From my martyrdom you can learn what it is that you really deserve and what your fate should be. Here the saying applies that the small dog is whipped to frighten the big dog. Thus the prophet said that all the generations on earth will bewail themselves over him; he does not say that they will bewail him, but that they will bewail themselves because of him. In like manner the people of whom we heard in Acts 2 [ :36–37] were so frightened that they said to the apostles, “O brethren, what shall we do?” This is also the song of the church: “I will ponder this diligently and, as a result, my soul will languish within me.”

 

8. We must give ourselves wholly to this matter, for the main benefit of Christ’s passion is that man sees into his own true self and that he be terrified and crushed by this. Unless we seek that knowledge, we do not derive much benefit from Christ’s passion. The real and true work of Christ’s passion is to make man conformable to Christ, so that man’s conscience is tormented by his sins in like measure as Christ was pitiably tormented in body and soul by our sins. This does not call for many words but for profound reflection and a great awe of sins. Take this as an illustration: a criminal is sentenced to death for the murder of the child of a prince or a king. In the meantime you go your carefree way, singing and playing, until you are cruelly arrested and convicted of having inspired the murderer. Now the whole world closes in upon you, especially since your conscience also deserts you. You should be terrified even more by the meditation on Christ’s passion. For the evildoers, the Jews, whom God has judged and driven out, were only the servants of your sin; you are actually the one who, as we said, by his sin killed and crucified God’s Son.

 

9. He who is so hardhearted and callous as not to be terrified by Christ’s passion and led to a knowledge of self, has reason to fear. For it is inevitable, whether in this life or in hell, that you will have to become conformable to Christ’s image and suffering. At the very least, you will sink into this terror in the hour of death and in purgatory and will tremble and quake and feel all that Christ suffered on the cross. Since it is horrible to lie waiting on your deathbed, you should pray God to soften your heart and let you now ponder Christ’s passion with profit to you. Unless God inspires our heart, it is impossible for us of ourselves to meditate thoroughly on Christ’s passion. No meditation or any other doctrine is granted to you that you might be boldly inspired by your own will to accomplish this. You must first seek God’s grace and ask that it be accomplished by his grace and not by your own power. That is why the people we referred to above fail to view Christ’s passion aright. They do not seek God’s help for this, but look to their own ability to devise their own means of accomplishing this. They deal with the matter in a completely human but also unfruitful way.

 

10. We say without hesitation that he who contemplates God’s sufferings for a day, an hour, yes, only a quarter of an hour, does better than to fast a whole year, pray a psalm daily, yes, better than to hear a hundred masses. This meditation changes man’s being and, almost like baptism, gives him a new birth. Here the passion of Christ performs its natural and noble work, strangling the old Adam and banishing all joy, delight, and confidence which man could derive from other creatures, even as Christ was forsaken by all, even by God.

 

11. Since this [strangling of the old Adam] does not rest with us, it happens that we occasionally pray for it, and yet do not attain it at once. Nevertheless we should neither despair nor desist. At times this happens because we do not pray for it as God conceives of it and wishes it, for it must be left free and unfettered. Then man becomes sad in his conscience and grumbles to himself about the evil in his life. It may well be that he does not know that Christ’s passion, to which he gives no thought, is effecting this in him, even as the others who do think of Christ’s passion still do not gain this knowledge of self through it. For these the passion of Christ is hidden and genuine, while for those it is only unreal and misleading. In that way God often reverses matters, so that those who do not meditate on Christ’s passion do meditate on it, and those who do not hear mass do hear it, and those who hear it do not hear it.

 

12. Until now we have sojourned in Passion Week and rightly celebrated Good Friday. Now we come to the resurrection of Christ, to the day of Easter. After man has thus become aware of his sin and is terrified in his heart, he must watch that sin does not remain in his conscience, for this would lead to sheer despair. Just as [our knowledge of] sin flowed from Christ and was acknowledged by us, so we must pour this sin back on him and free our conscience of it. Therefore beware, lest you do as those perverse people who torture their hearts with their sins and strive to do the impossible, namely, get rid of their sins by running from one good work or penance to another, or by working their way out of this by means of indulgences. Unfortunately such false confidence in penance and pilgrimages is widespread.

 

13. You east your sins from yourself and onto Christ when you firmly believe that his wounds and sufferings are your sins, to be borne and paid for by him, as we read in Isaiah 53 [:6], “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” St. Peter says, “in his body has he borne our sins on the wood of the cross” [I Pet. 2:24]. St. Paul says, “God has made him a sinner for us, so that through him we would be made just” [II Cor. 5:21]. You must stake everything on these and similar verses. The more your conscience torments you, the more tenaciously must you cling to them. If you do not do that, but presume to still your conscience with your contrition and penance, you will never obtain peace of mind, but will have to despair in the end. If we allow sin to remain in our conscience and try to deal with it there, or if we look at sin in our heart, it will be much too strong for us and will live on forever. But if we behold it resting on Christ and [see it] overcome by his resurrection, and then boldly believe this, even it is dead and nullified. Sin cannot remain on Christ, since it is swallowed up by his resurrection. Now you see no wounds, no pain in him, and no sign of sin. Thus St. Paul declares that “Christ died for our sin and rose for our justification” [Rom. 4:25]. That is to say, in his suffering Christ makes our sin known and thus destroys it, but through his resurrection he justifies us and delivers us from all sin, if we believe this.

 

14. If, as was said before, you cannot believe, you must entreat God for faith. This too rests entirely in the hands of God. What we said about suffering also applies here, namely, that sometimes faith is granted openly, sometimes in secret.

 

However, you can spur yourself on to believe. First of all, you must no longer contemplate the suffering of Christ (for this has already done its work and terrified you), but pass beyond that and see his friendly heart and how this heart beats with such love for you that it impels him to bear with pain your conscience and your sin. Then your heart will be filled with love for him, and the confidence of your faith will be strengthened. Now continue and rise beyond Christ’s heart to God’s heart and you will see that Christ would not have shown this love for you if God in his eternal love had not wanted this, for Christ’s love for you is due to his obedience to God. Thus you will find the divine and kind paternal heart, and, as Christ says, you will be drawn to the Father through him. Then you will understand the words of Christ, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, etc.” [John 3:16]. We know God aright when we grasp him not in his might or wisdom (for then he proves terrifying), but in his kindness and love. Then faith and confidence are able to exist, and then man is truly born anew in God.

 

15. After your heart has thus become firm in Christ, and love, not fear of pain, has made you a foe of sin, then Christ’s passion must from that day on become a pattern for your entire life. Henceforth you will have to see his passion differently. Until now we regarded it as a sacrament which is active in us while we are passive, but now we find that we too must be active, namely, in the following. If pain or sickness afflicts you, consider how paltry this is in comparison with the thorny crown and the nails of Christ. If you are obliged to do or to refrain from doing things against your wishes, ponder how Christ was bound and captured and led hither and yon. If you are beset by pride, see how your Lord was mocked and ridiculed along with criminals. If unchastity and lust assail you, remember how ruthlessly Christ’s tender flesh was scourged, pierced, and beaten. If hatred, envy, and vindictiveness beset you, recall that Christ, who indeed had more reason to avenge himself, interceded with tears and cries for you and for all his enemies. If sadness or any adversity, physical or spiritual, distresses you, strengthen your heart and say, “Well, why should I not be willing to bear a little grief, when agonies and fears caused my Lord to sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane? He who lies abed while his master struggles in the throes of death is indeed a slothful and disgraceful servant.”

 

So then, this is how we can draw strength and encouragement from Christ against every vice and failing. That is a proper contemplation of Christ’s passion, and such are its fruits. And he who exercises himself in that way does better than to listen to every story of Christ’s passion or to read all the masses. This is not to say that masses are of no value, but they do not help us in such meditation and exercise.

 

Those who thus make Christ’s life and name a part of their own lives are true Christians. St. Paul says, “Those who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with all its desires” [Gal. 5:24]. Christ’s passion must be met not with words or forms, but with life and truth. Thus St. Paul exhorts us, “Consider him who endured such hostility from evil people against himself, so that you may be strengthened and not be weary at heart” [Heb. 12:3]. And St. Peter, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, strengthen and arm yourselves by meditating on this” [I Pet. 4:1]. However, such meditation has become rare, although the letters of St. Paul and St. Peter abound with it. We have transformed the essence into semblance and painted our meditations on Christ’s passion on walls and made them into letters.

 

 

Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 42: Luther’s works, vol. 42 : Devotional Writings I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (7–14). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.