Friday, December 31, 2010

Word of the Week for January 2010 week 1

 Word of the Week January week 1

Krippe2Image via WikipediaWho’s Lying about Christian Holidays?
I have heard “Winter Solstice” so many times this Christmas Season it makes me sick. We have artificial “Holiday” programs that avoid everything to do with Jesus Christ. How did it get this way? Why does it seem so many, even in our own local communities and schools, are so concerned about offending people who don’t live here? And why do they have to show their so-called “concern” by slamming and offending Christ and Christians?

The main Christian Holy-days that are run over today are Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Ash Wednesday, and Hallow E’en (All Saint’s Eve’). So in this series of articles for Word of the Week we are going to look into the actual history of these holidays or Holy Days. There are more Holy Days that could be listed: All Souls Day, The Annunciation, St. John’s Day, Holy Innocents, and so many, many more. But I think that we can start to understand what has happened by looking at these five holidays that have been significantly changed by the culture around us.

Let us start with “Winter Solstice” or Christmas. It is ironic that there is already enough information available to anyone who cares to discover the truth about Christmas. But the Politically Correct way we are told to understand Christmas is that the Romans celebrated the “rebirth of the sun” on December 25th. Then, Christianity (especially the Roman Catholic Church) wanted to eliminate the pagan elements and claimed that Christ was born on this same day to pervert the pagan holiday into a Christian Holy Day.

Just in this past December a scholar from Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, Australia, named Andrew McGowan wrote an article for the magazine Biblical Archaeology Review on this very topic. The article is very helpful because the author went to the original writings. So we will do the same.

Three main questions: 1) When did the Romans celebrate the winter solstice? 2) When did the earliest Christians celebrate Christmas? 3) And when was Christmas associated with the pagan holiday of the winter solstice?

Question 1) So, when did the Romans celebrate the winter solstice? It was the shortest day of the year, in our calendar, December 21 or 22. The Romans didn’t use our modern calendar. And several of the Roman emperors added months and days to their official year to honor one emperor or another. The origins of our modern calendar date several centuries after the birth of Christ.

The main point of this calendar mess is that even with the calendar reforms of Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. the winter solstice hardly ever occurred on December 25. The months were for watching the Moon. The winter solstice would occur on a different day each year because it was based on the Sun.

It is important for us to notice that none of the early Christian writers pointed to the winter solstice as an important religious date. And it is just as important to notice that those early Christian writers wrote that Christ was conceived on what is March 25th in our modern calendar. Nine months later is December 25th.

The winter solstice was not an issue for the Christians of the first four centuries in our calendar. Christ’s conception and birth was. December 25th was celebrated in the early church because it was nine months after Christ’s conception.

2) So, we have begun to answer the question: When did the earliest Christians celebrate Christmas? Scholars in the late 1800s began to confuse this question, even though Christians all around them celebrated on the days had been handed down as tradition everywhere around them. The tradition to celebrate Christmas on those days was almost one thousand nineteen hundred years old when these scholars began questioning it.

It is possible for traditions to become confused and changed. It only takes one or two generations for this to happen in a small area, like Grygla. But this tradition was spread all across Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. And the tradition was consistent. There was a difference between the Eastern Orthodox Christians and the Western Christians on which day should be emphasized. Should the Christian Church primarily celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, when His birth was announced to the people of Israel, or on January 6th when the Gentile Wise men, or Magoi, visited him. Both days are celebrated in the Eastern and the Western Church. And both days were based on the early Church figuring from Scripture that Jesus was conceived in the Spring of the year at the time of the full moon of Passover.

Around the year 200 A.D. the Church Father Hippolytus in his Commentary on Daniel 4.23.3 says:

“For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, eight days before the kalends of January [December 25th], the 4th day of the week [Wednesday], while Augustus was in his forty-second year, [2 or 3BC]”

Clement of Alexandria, who wrote 193-215 AD, in his work entitled “Stromata” writes:

“From the birth of Christ, therefore, to the death of Commodus are, in all, 194 years, 1 month, 13 days. And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Savior’s genesis, but even the day, which they say took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus on the 25th of Pachon…”

Christ’s genesis, or conception on the 25th of Pachon was in what our calendar would equate with March 25th. The celebration of Christ’s birth would be nine months later: December 25th, in our calendar.

I want to emphasize that I’m not trying to pin down which day Christ was actually born, but to point out when the earliest Christians actually celebrated the birth of Christ. I am also showing that the choice of that date had nothing to do with any pagan celebration of the winter solstice in Rome.

It was not until much much later that scholars and others would begin to claim that Christians tried to mingle the celebration of Christ’s birth with the celebration of the winter solstice.

3) So we come to the question: When was Christmas associated with the pagan holiday of the winter solstice?

In the 18th and 19th centuries some scholars found a manuscript from the 12th century in a marginal note of the writings of the Syriac biblical commentator Dionysius bar-Salibi conjectured that in ancient times the Christmas holiday was actually shifted from January 6 to December 25 so that it fell on the same date as the pagan winter solstice.

We must remember what was happening in Bible scholarship at that time. During this period many unbelieving academics were trying to show how Christianity evolved out of pagan religions. They reasoned that Christianity--as they thought of it--was the highest evolved religion. They had no written evidence; they had no material evidence. But they seized upon this marginal note of Dionysius who noticed that the dates were close together and conjectured that the dates could be related.

Dionysius did not understand why January 6th was chosen nor did he understand why December 25th was chosen. He just wrote what he thought. From that conjecture a great number of unbelieving academics have woven a fictionalized “history” of Christmas and it’s relationship to the pagan winter solstice.

Neo-paganism reared its head in the late 1960s in Europe and the United States. And the myth of the winter solstice being the source of Christmas has been preached from college professor to four generations of students trying to comply so they could earn their degrees.

Now, even listening to the local radio stations and their little segments on the “history of the holidays” one hears this fictional tripe.

But in point of fact, December 25th was chosen by the Church to celebrate Christ’s birth long before any interest in pagan Roman festivals was ever reborn. December 25th as the Birth and January 6th as the Epiphany of our Lord have been celebrated by the Christian Church since the earliest times. While there were other dates that were proposed in the early Church, by the year 350 these dates were pretty much agreed upon as the celebration dates for these feasts.

Christmas is not a pagan holiday. December 25th is not a day stolen by the Christian Church from pagans. It is the day nine months after the early Christians understood when Christ was conceived according to Scripture.
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Friday, December 10, 2010

Word of the Week for Dec 11th, 2010

Nativity sceneImage via WikipediaStill No Room...
And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths,
 and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.(Luke 2:7)

It seems that each Christmas many of us grumble about the pressure to remove Christ from the “Holidays” with just saying “season’s greetings.” 

Really, Christians should expect nothing else from the world. That doesn’t mean an individual, congregation, or community can’t go against the grain by proclaiming the birth of Christ publicly. It just means that the world hates Christ and will do whatever it can to get rid of Him or distort who He really is and what He really did.

John’s Gospel speaks of how the world received Christ:

10 He was in the world,
and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.
11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God,
to those who believe in His name:
13 who were born, not of blood,
 nor of the will of the flesh,
nor of the will of man,
but of God. 
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we beheld His glory,
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,
full of grace and truth.
” (John 1:10-14)

The world He created did not recognize Him when He came to earth. His own did not receive Him. But there are those who receive Him by faith, not by biology, not by decision, not by choice of will, but born of God through faith in Christ, “to those who believed in His name.” 

The reception for the Christ was poor. No bed, no room, no house. There was no place to welcome the King of creation. Just a dirty stable with the stink of animals and a feeding trough for a cradle. 

As soon as King Herod found out about the birth he tried to have Jesus killed. What a welcome. Christ became a fugitive from the powers of the world. 

When He began His earthly ministry at age 30 people were still trying to destroy Him. Remember Christ raising Lazarus from the dead? What a wonderful and clear fulfillment of prophecy. There could be no doubt who this Jesus of Nazareth really is. True, many were following Him.

But what was the reaction of the authorities to this miracle? John records in chapter 11:

45 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. 48 If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”
49 And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.
53 Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.

And the night He was betrayed Christ prayed the following in John 17:

“14 I have given them Your word;
and the world has hated them because they are not of the world,
 just as I am not of the world.
15 I do not pray that You should take them out of the world,
but that You should keep them from the evil one.
16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
17 Sanctify them by Your truth.
Your word is truth.
18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
19 And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”

The world hates Christ, it hates Christmas, it hates Christians. That hatred is obvious when someone desecrates a church or a Christian symbol--like the art recently displayed at the Smithsonian museum.
But that hatred of Christ and His saving word, the hatred of Christmas and the message of God’s love for the world in Christ comes in more subtle ways as well. 

The most basic is the neglect of God’s Word. “Sanctify them by the truth, Your Word is truth,” Christ prayed. It’s not just church bodies which change from the clear Word of God in obvious ways, it is also those who just don’t want to be “offensive” in this world. Those of us who would rather avoid feeling strange and like we don’t fit in. We want to fit in and get along. 

Christ doesn’t want us to fit in, He wants us to be set apart from the world by what the Bible teaches--not in a sanctimonious and self-righteous way. We are to be humble, admit our sin, and believe the forgiveness Christ has declared to us. We are to proclaim the message of the forgiveness of sins, relying on God’s promise through the Word and Sacraments and not on what the world would have us do.

Paul described Christ’s humility this way in his letter to the Philippians chapter 2:

“5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
7 but made Himself of no reputation,
taking the form of a bondservant,
and coming in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death,
 even the death of the cross.
9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him
and given Him the name which is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
of those in heaven,
and of those on earth,
and of those under the earth,
11 and that every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

Christ came as a child to serve, to teach, and to give His life in our place. That’s who we worship when we look at the manger. The manger is special and glorious not because of being part of a pretty Christmas scene. The manger is a dirty and low place, a humiliating place to put a child. The manger is glorious because of who was placed in it. That baby is the Creator, the Judge, the King of Glory. 

The stable in our nativity sets is not merely a pretty decoration, it is a reminder of the abject poverty of Christ and the world’s rejection of Him even at His birth. “There was no room for them at the inn.” They couldn’t buy out another person. The stable is glorious because of who it is that was born there that night two thousand years ago. 

And in the eyes of the Heavenly Father, all those who believe in Christ are also glorious. This is not because believers are good people or better than anyone else. Quite the opposite, it is because Christ has given them His Holy Spirit and dwells in Christians. For it is not just the world and His own that rejected Him, our own flesh rejects Him as well. But He has conquered. He has served. He has clothed all believers in His righteousness through His Word and the water of Baptism. And it is through faith in Christ in His Word alone that any have salvation.

That’s why the world hates Christmas, Christ, and Christians. That’s why the world doesn’t want the truth of Christ to be talked about in any public forum. And that’s why our own cowardly flesh shrinks away from reading the Bible every day. 

Do you want to put “Christ” back into Christmas? Read the Bible. Not just at Christmas, but every day. Confess your sins and believe in the forgiveness Christ declares to you in the Gospel. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to give faith in Christ. And giving forgiveness and faith, He also gives the resurrection. That is the real gift given to the world at Christmas. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Blessed Christmas to you all.
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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Trinity 15, Sept. 11/12, 2010 What if You are Above the Fire?

Trinity 15, Sept. 11/12, 2010
Historic Series Gospel
Matthew 6:24-36
24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.    
25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

We Pray:
Lord God, heavenly Father, we thank You for all Your benefits. that You have given us life and graciously sustained us to this day: We beseech You, do not take Your blessing from us; preserve us from covetousness, that we may serve You only, love and abide in You, and not defile ourselves by idolatrous love of wealth, but hope and trust only in Your grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

Theme: What if You are Above the Fire?

There are certain events in our lives that change us, each of us. These events change the way we react to things, people, ideas, information. There’s the weight of responsibility with the love of becoming married and having children. There is the loss of closely love family and friends.

Nine years ago, just after I got to work, my wife called me and told me to check the news.

What I saw changed my life permanently. At that time I worked at the Helen C. White College Undergraduate Library at the University of Wisconsin. My coworkers, David and Bruce, and I were in charge of the UW-Madison’s largest computer and multi-media labs. As soon as we saw what was going on in New York we started streaming the news to any and all the computers the students wanted to use. We switched the two multi-media theater screens to constant streaming of the news. Several thousand students came into those labs to watch.

When we hooked up the large screens we saw people jumping from the building.

It was so terrible that everyone was glued to the 200+ screens and two large screens.

There was no joy, no happiness.

A man falling, falling. It took maybe 10 seconds. But it was seared into our eyes.

We watched.

What would you do? What would I do in that situation--driven by the intense heat and vile smoke of the fire to get to any clear and breathable air?

Christ said, “30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

That was a day of trouble.

One of the audio reports that day was of Mayor Giuliani saying that the police and fire departments would do their best. They thought they could get everyone out who was below the fire.

They could do nothing for those above the fire.

According to the reports  I remember from later the fire department and police officers who gave their lives that day were able to save 98% of the people below the fire before the buildings came down.

NIST(National Institute for Standards and Technology) estimated that about 17,400 civilians were in the World Trade Center complex at the time of the attacks, while turnstile counts from the Port Authority suggest that 14,154 people were typically in the Twin Towers by 8:45 a.m.[47][48] The vast majority of people below the impact zone safely evacuated the buildings, along with 18 people who were in the impact zone in the south tower and a number above the impact zone who evidently used the one intact stairwell in the south tower.[49] At least 1,366 people died who were at or above the floors of impact in the North Tower and at least 618 in the South Tower, where evacuation had begun before the second impact.[50] Thus over 90% of the workers and visitors who died in the Towers had been at or above impact.” Wikipediea.

But there were people above the fire. If that were you, me, one of our children, our spouse, parent, or friends, what would we think? What would we wish?

Christ’s promise is that God the Father knows all we need, loves us enough to send His Son into this world to die that we might have eternal life, and will do only what is best for us and our salvation.

What if we were above the fire? What would we think about?

How did we really react that day?

Only a few of us could honestly say that if we were above the fire our first thought would be a joyful, “I’m going home today to be with my heavenly Father.” Or, “My child is going to be with Christ.”

There are some Christians who are blessed to have that steady and joyful nature. But for most of us we react like the rest of the sinners in the world.

In our sinful hearts our prayer is not for us to seek God and His righteousness. Our prayer is for ourselves, and ... our things,  and ...  for those who we love and want to be with around us.

When something life changing like this attack happens, disturbing our lives, the true nature of our sinful flesh comes out in our thoughts, and words, and sometimes in our actions. And we, as weak as we are, can only pour out our hearts with what corruption rests in them. Most of us thought the words or worse, and some of us said these or worse with the construction worker. It was not a prayer of thanksgiving for heaven, but the plight of a desperate human with the words, “Oh Shit...”

That’s what is really in our hearts. That is what our own nature and self can honestly confess. We are weak and enemies of God by nature. And by our sinful natures there is nothing good in us. Even what we consider righteousness in ourselves is as “filthy Rags” (Is. 64:4)

Now, probably some children and a few who weren’t really paying attention to what is being said here will only remember that the Pastor said this word from the pulpit. And that’s too bad. Parents, you will need to explain why the word is appropriate to describe our natural state. It is a vulgar word, but not sinful. And sometimes we are too self-righteous to bear the most appropriate words to describe our own vulgar natures.

What if we are above the fire? Or one of our kids?

Do we have that confidence that God the Father does love us so much that He did not withhold His only-begotten Son? Do we have the confidence that Christ came into this world under the Law to redeem us who were under the law by suffering the punishment of Hell in our place and giving us credit for His righteous life?

Maybe you or I don’t feel this confidence. But we have it. We have it because Christ has given us faith through His means of grace in Baptism, Word, and Sacrament. The Father has borne witness, testifying that He has saved us by His grace to us in Jesus Christ.

And that is why our Old Testament Lesson is so important, especially on this day we start our Sunday School year.

Deuteronomy 6:4-7 says: “ 4"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

Out of the 2000 or so people above the fire, there were probably some Christians. People who are our brothers and sisters in Christ who faced that time of waiting above the fire with no hope of earthly rescue. With all the emotions and fears, and all the regrets for people they would never see again in this life, all the things they left undone; they realized that they would be in heaven in a short time. Because they were normal sinful humans they probably did not have as their first thought the joy that they would be going home to Christ in a short while.

But the teaching of God’s Word; the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the faith God gave them through Word and Sacrament kept them safe for the resurrection.

This is why we teach our children. This is why we talk about and read God’s Word. This is why we gather for worship. This is why we have Sunday School and Wednesday School. It is so that we do not mourn like those who have no hope.  “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

What if you were above the fire?

Great tragedy will fall on most of us in this life. We may linger before we die, but know that we have just a little time where no one can do anything to save our earthly life. Do we fill those moments with guilt and regret over what we think we are loosing in this world?

Christ said: ““Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

He didn’t promise earthly riches, health, or peace. He promised the resurrection and eternal life and peace with God. He warned us that because of our faith in Christ, the world would hate us, persecute us, and try to destroy our faith through the deceptions of earthly comfort and physical and emotional terror.

When we first find out that we have only moments left the weakness of our flesh may cause us to think or utter the only confession our sinful flesh can make, the words of that construction worker or words like them. But Christ is greater than our flesh and has overcome our sin and doubt with His own suffering and death for them on our behalf.

God doesn’t base our salvation on what we left undone or what we hoped we could do. Salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone. And after our moment of doubt and regret the Holy Spirit builds in us the confidence of the Resurrection because Christ has implanted His Gospel in us.

We can actually say with joy, “I get to go home now!” And leave all else in this world in God’s hands.

But some will take this event to turn it inside out and use it against God by saying, “If God is so loving how could He let such a terrible thing happen?” It was not God that crashed those planes into those buildings. It was a small number sinful men who specifically hated Christianity and the prosperity that God has granted to the United States.

God did not cause Adam and Eve to sin. He did not cause these men to sin. And He certainly didn’t cause those people to die. Rather “God so loved the world that He gave His onlybegotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

God’s Word, His Law, and His Gospel are all about our sinful state and the resurrection He gives to us through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for us.

What if it was your child who was above the fire?

We teach these words diligently to our children.

We are blessed by the Father’s gracious providence to live in a country and time when we have antibiotics, surgery, medicines, and medical imaging. In our times most children outlive their parents. It wasn’t always so. Very often mothers would die young in childbirth. Many, many children would die of all kinds of disease. Plagues would cover cities and countries taking with them the young, the feeble, and be indiscriminate killers of the rest. This worldly comfort can lure us into the false idea that we are entitled to good times, good health, prosperity, and good long days.

The truth is that we deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment here--now, and also for eternity. It is by God’s gracious providence that in this life any of us have any creature comforts. We don’t deserve our home, our food, our family, our children...They all belong first to God.

So we teach these words of God diligently to our children.

We teach them, because sometimes they are caught above the fire, and there is nothing we can do in this world to rescue them. But we can have the confidence that they will be going home soon. And we can know that we will see them again in the resurrection.

One of my co-workers at the UW-Madison, a woman named Rachel, got a phone call from her daughter right after the first plane hit. Rachel’s daughter was in the World Trade Center and was being evacuated. Rachel and her daughter talked, but were cut off when the first tower went down.

Cellular phone systems were routed through the towers on the WTC. Ham radio operators had to take over until the towers were up again. When they came up Rachel’s daughter called her. Rachel said, “At that moment I almost believe there is a God.”

How hard does God have to slap us across the face to show us he is there? Her child was lost! And God returned her.

In her place, God gave His onlybegotten Son. Believe in Him. He is the righteousness of God. Christ said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

9-11 is not the only day of trouble. There will be more for each of us in the future. But that day showed us something profound about our own human nature, we are filthy sinners who wish to blame God for the evil that we humans do. That day showed us the selfless sacrifice of hundreds of firemen and police officers to rescue people they didn’t know.

Is it so difficult to understand, then, that the Son of God might want to give His life to save humans? Yes it is difficult. It is impossible without faith in Christ.

The truth is that we are above the fire. All of us always have been. 

We have taken God's providential grace for granted.

Our days are numbered. Really, they are. Just because we might not know how many days we have left doesn’t mean that it is a very short time. What do we do? Live lives of regret? No! We cast our cares upon the one who gave His life for us and thank Him that we will soon be home.

We look forward to the Resurrection, the reunion of God and man bought by the God-Man Jesus Christ.

We are going home.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Word of the Week for June 29

What affects our Faith? Word and Sacrament

For the past few weeks I've been focusing on what affects our faith in Christ in a negative way. At the same time I have been driecting readers in those same articles to the Word of God and His Means of Grace.

The great enemies of the Christian faith are summarised by Dr. Martin Luther on the Sixth Petition of the Lord's Prayer in the Small Catechism:

“And lead us not into temptation.” “What does this mean?”

'God, indeed, tempts no one; but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us, nor seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them, that still we may finally overcome and gain the victory.'

A fuller description of these enemies is found in Luther's Large Catechism;

“Temptation ... is of three kinds, namely, of the flesh, of the world, and of the devil. In the flesh we dwell and carry the old Adam about our neck, who exerts himself and incites us daily to inchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, avarice and deception, to defraud our neighbor and to overcharge him, and, in short, to all manner of evil lusts which cleave to us by nature, and to which we are incited by the society, example and what we hear and see of other people, which often wound and inflame even an innocent heart.

“Next comes the world, which offends us in word and deed, and impels us to anger, and impatience. In short, there is nothing but hatred and envy, enmity, violence and wrong, unfaithfulness, vengeance, cursing, raillery, slander, pride and haughtiness, with superfluous finery, honor, fame, and power, where no one is willing to be the least, but every one desires to sit at the head and to be seen before all.

“Then comes the devil, inciting and provoking in all directions, but especially agitating matters that concern the conscience and spiritual affairs, namely, to induce us to despise and disregard both the Word and works of God, to tear us away from faith, hope, and love, and bring us into misbelief, false security, and obduracy, or, on the other hand, to despair, denial of God, blasphemy, and innumerable other shocking things. These are indeed snares and nets, yea, real fiery darts which are shot most venomously into the heart, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil.” (paragraphs 101-104)

But set in contrast are the three witnesses God has placed on the earth through which the Holy Spirit brings us forgiveness, comfort, endurance, and eternal life.

He has given us His Word, the Bible. It is to be read, preached (Mark 16:15), proclaimed in the Absolution (John 20:22-23) and relied upon. In His Word He teaches us His Law and His Gospel. The Law is that Word of God which tells us how we are to be, and what we are to do and not to do (Leviticus 19:2). The Gospel is that Word of God wich reveals the salvation Christ has won for all people (John 3:16). The shows us our sin and the wrath of God (Romans 3:20); the Gospel shows us our Savior and the grace of God in Christ (Romans 3:21-26). The Law must be preached to all people, but especially to impenitent sinners (I Timothy 1:9); the Gospel must be preached to sinners who are troubled because of thier sins (Matthew 11:28).

He has given us Baptism (Matthew 28:18-20) where He takes our sin and guilt from us and places it upon Himself on the Cross (Romans 6:1-14). Baptism is also where He clothes us with His righteousness (Galatians 3:26-29). Through Baptism Christ washes away our sins (Acts 22:16; I Peter 3:21), grants us faith and pours out into us the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39; John 3:5-6; Titus 3:5-8) and cleans our consciences of the guilt of sin so we may stand before the thone of God on Judgment Day (Ephesians 5:25-26; I Peter 3:21; Mark 16:16).

And He has given us the Lord's Supper where he nourishes us with the forgiveness of sins by the same Body and Blood that were given on the cross (Matthew 26:26-29; I Corinthians 11). In the Lord's supper the real and true body and blood of Christ are given to us sinners (I Corinthians 10:16). He gives His body and blood to us to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith; as He said “given for you for the forgiveness of sins.” He unites Christians together through His body and blood (I Corinthians 10:17). The Supper is for sinners who are sorry for their sins and desire Christ's forgiveness (I Corinthians 11:17-29).

These great gifts testify here on earth to the grace of God to us in Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit comes to us through the Word, the Water, and the Blood: as St. John wrote:

“And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.” (I John 5:8)

And these gifts are the answer and cure for the attacts that come upon us through the devil, the world, and our own flesh. This is were God feeds, heals, comforts, and secures us in His grace. Word and Sacrament are where God has said He comes down to us for our good.

“For He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whome we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Word of the Week for June 22, 2010

What affects our Faith? Self-interest

It was difficult choosing the phrase “self-interest” because “selfishness, self-centered-ness, sinful nature, self-esteem, ego, the flesh” all are terms that overlap and describe various aspects of our own self-serving nature.

Of course popular society and those stongly affected by popular society don’t want to think of this as a problem. But on the night He was betrayed to be crucified, Christ said: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13) And He both suffered and died to demonstrate that love for you. But most of America and Europe would rather side with Whitney Houston when she sang “I found the greatest love of all Inside of me. The greatest love of all is easy to achieve. Learning to love yourself: It is the greatest love of all ”.

So why is it that we should go to Church? Most go to Church for Whitney Houston’s reasons: self-interest, selfishness, a self-serving desire to feel that we are better than others for some reason or another, or at least, better than we were before. In being better, perhaps, somehow God will be more pleased with us.

But self-interest is exactly the wrong reason. We do not go to Church to get things from God based on our self-interest. Professor Daniel Deutschlander rightly says:

“We do not come to church to do our own thing, anymore than we go to the emergency room in the hospital to do our own thing. We go to both places wounded, in need of help that only comes from another. We go to both places for healing, where our opinion and preference is of no consequence; only that of the healer matters.” (p. 6)

Our own sinful natures crave self-satisfaction from any experience, especially religious experience. But Christ pomises the Cross.

“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34–38)

What do we seek from worship? Is it genuine or merely counterfeit Christianity? Again, Prof. Deutshlander points out:

“We see on every hand a desire to make Christianity fun and happy-go-lucky. Some churches and their leaders go so far as to claim that God really wants Christians always to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. Others turn worship services into hours of self-discovery; the goal is to give the Christian personal fulfillment and better character. If the individual can learn to get along better with himself, then he will get along better with everyone else too, and God should be happy about that. Still others are obsessed with the notion that the true church should be successful, big, and influential in the world and national politics. Within the church, no matter what denominational label the particular church may wear, many members want to be their own bible; they want the freedom to pick and choose what doctrines to believe and what behavior to praise or blame. Their choices change with their circumstances of the moment, and woe betide any preacher who tells them on the basis of Scriptures that they are wrong and their choices damnable in theeyes of God. All of that is a theology of glory, a theology which lets man be his own god and turns the God of the Bible into a creature subject to personal whims of the moment.” (p. vi)

But the Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus Christ, did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). The Son of God “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:7–8)

Christ did not go to the cross for His own self-interest. He went to the cross for the benefit of those who hate Him by their own natures. He went to the cross for sinners. And we are those sinners. He served us! God served us!

So Church should not be a place where we look for something relevant to our needs and desires. It should be a gathering around God’s Word where we confess our sin and utter inadequacy to satisfy His justice. Church should be a place where we depend upon His Word to forgive our sins in the ways He has established: through the Bible, through the Absolution, through Baptism, through the Lord’s Supper.

Many years ago a friend accused me of depending upon Christ and my religion as a Christian as a “crutch” to get me through life. I replied, “No, Christ is not a crutch. He’s the whole life support system of someone who cannot live without medical intervention. He is the operating table, the anesthesiologist, the doctor, the recovery: He is all that we need in this body and life. Because He has given us His own body and life for us, so that we will rise again at the last day to live forever with Him as He originally created us.

It is not our self-interest, but Christ’s love for us.

Prof. Deutschlander’s book is called “The Theology of the Cross” from Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2008.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Word of the Week for June 15, 2010

What affects our Faith? Media.

The Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15: “33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.”
The members of the Church at Corinth were greatly affected by society around them. Corinth was a multicultural city situated on a major trade route. People from everywhere came through the city. And they brought with them their goods, their money, their habits, and their beliefs.

The city of Corinth was as diverse and multi-cultural as any city today would want to be. They had schools, gymnasiums, sporting events, great shopping centers with goods from everywhere, theaters, temples with a wide variety of beliefs, and they had a night life that would equal modern Amsterdam or Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

Entertainment meant a great deal. Entertainment, news, religions were all tied together in commerce. And through the media of their day, the Christians at Corinth had begun to fall prey to all kinds of sin and perversions.

They had begun to look at worship as an entertainment and merely a social gathering(1 Cor. 11:17–22). They would form groups around which ever pastor seemed to please them the most with his sermons (1 Cor. 2). They looked for the latest worldly wisdom and for dramatic miraculous signs (I Cor. 1:18–25; 3:18–23). They accepted homosexuality, divorce, polygamy, fornication, incest, prostitution, and even the use of children for sexual pleasure (1 Cor 5–7). They had allowed themselves to view religions just as a way to get along with others and to improve their cash flow (1 Cor. 5–6 and 8).

They allowed themselves to be so affected by the media of their day that they had defiled the Lord’s Supper, and taught that those things which God condemns were really not so bad. After all, some of those things God condemned were fun. They could figure out how to improve their bottom line and their social standing by letting some of these commandments of God go by the wayside.

Proverbs 1:10 My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.

I suppose that some readers might think that they are smarter or wiser than the Corinthians of that day. But we are not. Just as they were, every day we also are flooded with shows, articles, movies, internet, TV, radio, and conversation that entice us to put God’s commandments aside. And all for the same reasons that the Corinthians did: personal pleasure, personal gain, and avoiding looking like a fool in front of the neighbors.

God doesn’t change. His commandments do not change. It is we who change and leave His Word to do our own thing. God does not make exceptions for us because we think that we know better in our time. If we really knew better, why do we engross ourselves with the same old sins that they did?

Looking foolish to the world is not bad, just uncomfortable for our sinful natures.

Paul wrote in I Cor. 2

 1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Instead of immersing ourselves in the media, let us immerse ourselves in the Wisdom and Knowledge of God. Proverbs 9: 10 says “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Let us abide in His Word, the Bible. And through His Word gain a heart of wisdom and salvation. Let us never underestimate the affect of the media and popular culture have upon us. But let us turn always back to the reading and teaching of His Word of Salvation as our Way, Truth, and Life.

God’s Word is our great heritage
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way,
In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant while words endure,
We keep its teachings pure
Throughout all generations.