Sunday, January 24, 2010

Word of the Week for January 24, 2010

Marriage and God’s Image

Forbidden-fruitImage by ideacreamanuelaPps via Flickr
The first institution God made for His people was the institution of marriage. We are told in Genesis 1:27 that the image of God resides in the marriage of a man and a woman as God created them, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

From the time Adam and Eve fell into sin their marriage was under assault. God’s image in them was perverted. Before they fell into sin, God’s Word in Genesis 2:23–24 says: “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

As soon as Adam and Eve fell into sin they were separated from God, and there was now a wall of shame, not only between Adam and Eve, but also between them and God. Genesis 3:6–8 says, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”

From the time Adam and Eve fell into sin, marriage and the family were beset with countless troubles. Satan, people, the world itself is set against the very idea of God’s design, that the marriage of a man and woman reflects the image of God. Indeed, Satan and the world hate the image of God and will do anything to hide it, mar it, or pervert it—to change marriage into something it was not made to be.

Think of all the harm that comes upon humanity simply because people wish to have the physical pleasure God gave to husband and wife without committing themselves to anything.

What are the consequences?

Millions of fatherless or motherless children need foster homes, orphaned not by disease or death, but out of selfishness.

Millions of infants are murdered before they see the light of the sun because their parents want the pleasures God gave to marriage; but these parents despise the people conceived through this union.

Fornication is widespread. Sex has become casual in the media and in the community; and with this casual sex come diseases and abandoned children. Fornication is encouraged even among minors and euphemistically called “innocent” love, while teen pregnancy rates increase, abortions by teens increase, and the parents of these teen-agers raise their grand-children.

Incest between parents and children and between siblings is on the increase.

Pornography is available every minute of the day through every media available in the home; children are exposed to it over and over again every day. Adults and children both dress in clothing that, twenty years ago, would have been considered appropriate attire only for prostitutes.

Rape has become nearly commonplace, even the rape of children; pedophile organizations like “The North American Man/Boy Love Association” or NAMBLA are placing political pressure to legalize the sodomy of children by adults. Just as their predecessors worked to legalize sodomy. “The men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” (Romans 1:27) The same holds for women who have abandoned heterosexual marriage.

Adultery and divorce are commonplace today where they were rare and scandalous just 40 years ago. Children are torn from parents by the selfishness of those parents. They blame themselves. The National Institute of Mental Health has done surveys over the years which show that children of divorced parents and children of promiscuous single parents have a suicide rate that is 400% higher than children in homes where the mother and father are married.

As the acceptability of promiscuity has increased even the elderly have very little trouble shacking up together as long as the pastor doesn’t find out. Then they blame their friends and the pastor for interfering. As if it is not they themselves who should be ashamed!

This pattern of rejecting the divine institution of marriage has happened many times throughout history. Whether in ancient times, or as it is taking place now in our own country and churches, the Apostle Paul, in Romans chapter 1, describes how societies that reject God’s image direct themselves to another kind of hope and another kind of change, “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” (vs 22–25).

In just 50 years, one generation, we have gone from a society that holds marriage as the center of our future and honors it as God’s institution, to a society that publicly attacks heterosexual marriage at every level.

Marriage is between a man a woman, and God, AND the rest of society. It is a public vow. That is why weddings are done publicly. At the wedding ceremony the community gathered there is agreeing that the man and woman being united in wedlock will be honored and protected by the community. The marriage license is the state’s promise to honor and protect this union between a man and a woman.

The holy estate of marriage is even being attacked by many of the mainstream churches today. The largest Protestant denominations in our country teach that it is perfectly acceptable for the pastor or priest to be actively engaged in fornication or adultery. They teach that as long as a male pastor or teacher is committing fornication or adultery with another male, or a female pastor or teacher is committing fornication or adultery with another female—that somehow this makes the adultery and fornication acceptable to God.

Some readers can remember back to the ‘50s and ‘60s when some denominations began ignoring God’s Word about Closed Communion. Any who held on to that ancient and Biblical practice were called “unloving” and “intolerant.” But it is right there in the practice of Open Communion that the intimate relationship between Christ and His Church is violated, as we shall see below.

One by one more doctrines from God’s Word were put aside. Creation became a poetic myth as the mainstream churches accepted evolution. It became popular to deny the miracle of Christ’s virgin birth. Through the sexual revolution many of the large denominations gave up on condemning fornication and adultery, instead they allowed these people to eat and drink God’s judgement against themselves (I Cor. 11:27–29). Again, “Love” was the so-called reason. These denominations wanted to give people a false “love” and not to tell them what God’s Word says.

That’s like a physician being afraid to tell the patient a diagnosis of cancer. It might hurt his patient’s feelings, the patient might get mad and be scared. The churches reasoned in their own dark way that it is somehow more loving to not tell people about their sin, that way they won’t feel as bad or get mad at the pastors. And so through the decades the churches became sicker and sicker because they refuse to acknowledge or hear the diagnosis of sin. The diagnosis is the same as in the days of Jeremiah the prophet, “ Hear this now, O foolish people, Without understanding, Who have eyes and see not, And who have ears and hear not: Do you not fear Me?’ says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 5:21–22)

Throughout many passages in Scripture God’s Word specifically limits the pastoral ministry to males because the pastors represent Christ as Bridegroom to His bride, the congregation. In the past 30 years mainstream Christian churches have set aside these passages. They claim that these passages were culturally conditioned, and that it is unloving and intolerant of people to follow God’s Word on this matter.

Many small congregations protested, but they were assigned women pastors anyway.

If those congregations had been told at that time that within another 20 years that the same arguments would be used to promote homosexual and lesbian adulterers as pastors those congregations would have never believed the prophecy.

The reason they would not have believed it is that they had already been gradually abandoning God’s Word as the standard of truth; and they no longer thought of themselves as sinners, vulnerable to every sin described in Scripture. As Paul described above, professing to be wise, they became fools, and they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature, rather than the Creator.

So now many congregations in our area are disturbed by this further departure from God’s Word. Even in our area there are some pastors who have said that labeling as sin homosexuality, bisexuality, lesbianism, and transgenderism is unloving and intolerant.

But the purpose for which God established marriage between one man and one woman is to demonstrate how He loves his people, the Church. Before the fall into sin this relationship was immediate and apparent. Adam and Eve enjoyed the presence and love of God directly every day. But they violated that relationship with God. They thought that God’s explicit Word was not as important as their desire and intentions to be more like Him.

In their desire to become something better, more like God, they went against God’s Word and distorted His image in them.

Throughout the Scriptures, God uses marriage as the demonstration of His relationship to a fallen church. He says that leaving His Word and following other ways is the same as adultery. See especially Ezekiel, chapters 16 and 23. These are too long to quote here. But we see God saying the same thing in the first chapter of Hosea, the second verse, “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, For the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD.”

Throughout the Gospels the Son of God, Jesus Christ, refers to Himself as the Bridegroom. He refers to the Church as His bride. Read the Gospels. Look at the number of parables in which He uses the wedding as an example. He teaches over and over that He is the Bridegroom of all who believe the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in His name.

Those who do not acknowledge their sin cannot be believers. For Christ came to forgive sinners. He said very plainly in Luke 5:31–32, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

In Christ’s preaching the wedding feast is always described as the end of the world, when He shall return and call His people home. He is the Groom because He gave His life to the church and took the sin, guilt, shame, and punishment that the world deserves. He made us His own.

He shares with us the intimacy of His own body and blood in the Lord’s Supper to forgive our sins, unite us together as one body, and to unite us with Himself. The Lord’s Supper is the center of our marital relationship with Christ while we live here in this sinful world. Open Communion violates the Supper, the congregation, and our relationship with Christ just like adultery violates a marriage—whether that adultery is heterosexual or homosexual.

Men who want to become husbands have heard the following exhortation from Scripture since the first century, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. (Ephesians 5:25–28)

Husbands are to love their wives in such a way as to be willing to give their own lives to prevent their wives from falling into sin! And we all fail. Not only do we fail at that, but we lie, we leer, we lust, and we put our own desires ahead of our wives’ salvation.

That is where the relationship Christ has with us as our Bridegroom is so important. Where we fail, He succeeded. Where we as husband and wife are not able on our own to endure the hardships that afflict our marriages, Christ did endure.

We don’t pray to a distant God who can’t understand our situation. The Son of God came into this world to become one of us; to live with us; to fulfill the Law of God we could not. The Son of God came as one of us to suffer the abuse, mockery and punishment that we as sinners would dish out upon Him. He came to put up with us at our worst and most adulterous natures. Most of all, He came to bear every single sin, the guilt for each sin, the shame, and the wrath of God the Father upon our sin.

Oh yes, we have a God and Savior who knows us. He knows us intimately. He is our Bridegroom. He knows every thing that we go through and every sinful thought, word, and deed we have. He knows us better than a husband can know his bride. And he cares for us intimately and deeply. We bear this special relationship to Him. The Church is His bride, won by His blood. A intimate relationship consummated with His bride in the Lord’s Supper.

This is what God’s original institution of marriage between a man and a woman was designed to teach us, to show us—the eternity for which it prepares us.

No doubt there may be some readers who will view this article as “unloving” and “intolerant;” even as “sexist” and “homophobic.” May God lead all such to repentance and eternal salvation. Those who reject these teachings of God’s Word are by that very fact rejecting Christ’s salvation from those sins. Any who stand firm in such rejection of God’s Word will face a Christless eternity.

May God lead us all to repent of our sins, to acknowledge and uphold His Word in every teaching, to learn true true love means acknowledging our sin, leading others to acknowledge sin, to honor marriage as God has instituted it, and to find forgiveness in the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Transfiguration from Laache, 1902

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Bishop Laache

Book of Family Prayer
Trans. Peer O. Stromme
Decorah, Iowa

Lutheran Publishing House

pages 606-608

Teach us, O Lord, that without the cross there can be no crown.

Matthew 17:1-9
1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” 6And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” 8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”

The Savior is given an hour of rest as preparation for his great passion; and the disciples are permitted to see his glory before witnessing his struggle in Gethsemane. On the mountain his divinity shines out through the servant form which he had assumed, and reveals that he who suffers is in the bosom of the Father; in the garden it is hid by tears and the sweat of blood, and reveals itself only in his perfect obedience.

All the disciples of Jesus follow him; but some follow him more closely than do the others, and hence are lifted up to greater heights, and thrust down to greater depths of joy and suffering. His life here below was labor and pain; but there were some bright hours in between. Last Sunday's gospel lesson, for instance, speaks of one such occasion of special joy; and he found rest daily in praying to the Father; and his soul rejoiced whenever hearts opened to receive the word of life.

In like manner his Christians also must take up the cross, and experience many sorrows; but they likewise have their hours of happiness, giving them a foretaste of the life eternal. However, as not all are able to go farther into Gethsemane, so neither are all permitted to be with the Savior on Tabor. Some may at times be so distinctly conscious of the Lord's presence and of the powers of the world to come, that if it should continue, they would no more be in the world; they are so happy that they forget all suffering; they may speak with God by the hour, and it seems to them but a moment; in their soul is a rapture beyond utterance, a union o holy fear and the delight of love, which surpasses all understanding. But this experience is not common to all believers; and therefore you must not make it the test of your own state of grace and that of others. Neither shall you ask God to give you a greater measure of such happiness than so much as he sees that you are able to bear.

Nevertheless, every Christian shall experience that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, that the love of God is precious, and that his word is sweet. Every Christian is permitted to come to God in prayer, and learn that a day in the courts of the Lord is better than a thousand; and every Christian will have special seasons of joy more refreshing than the daily tenor of his life. For we at times need such a lifting up, in order that the mind may not faint under its burden, but be refreshed after struggle, and be strengthened to undergo new trials; for which reason God has also granted us our ever recurring Sunday and our festival seasons. --Peter wished to build tabernacles on Tabor; and who would not? But the Lord did not bring your up into the mountain, dear friend, to let you now make your home there with him, but to enable you to go with him through the valley of of the shadow of death without losing your faith. There is greater danger in joy than in sorrow. Yet we must taste the cup of joy, in order that our sufferings may be a benefit to us; for without an occasional sojourn on Tabor, without such seasons of joy, after the measure which each may be able to bear, we would succumb in time to trouble. Follow Jesus more closely every hour; and your joys and sorrows will become more intense, and you will be transfigured after his likeness from glory to glory.

Lord, when shall I see Thee in Thy glory, and praise The as I ought, Thou light of all the heavens and fullness of all beauty? How long shall I walk in this wilderness, ere I reach the city of Thy habitation, and see Thee as Thou art? Give me a clear spiritual eye to see Thee; and give me now and then a foretaste of Thy salvation; that I may not become weary, but may serve Thee faithfully, and patiently bear whatever of suffering Thou dost impose on me, and rejoice in the blessed hope of seeing Thee face to face. Yet, O Lord, it is not mine to say what Thou shalt do. Lead me, faithful God, according to Thine own counsel; grant that I may never desire to rid myself of Thy cross, but may ever more gladly carry it after Thee; and receive me at last into Thy glory. Amen

Lord, guide me in Thy secret way;
With such a guide I shall not stray;
Bring me into a heavenly frame,
Unite my heart to fear Thy name.

O King of nations, Lord of all,
Before Thee shall all nations fall;
And every language shall confess
Thy glorious everlastingness!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Howard Flateland Funeral Sermon

Resurrection of ChristImage via Wikipedia

Howard Flateland
Funeral Sermon
January 4, 2010

Dearly beloved in Christ, the text that we have before us today at this service in memory of Howard, but also looking forward to his resurrection comes to us from the book of Job in the Old Testament. In chapter 19 we read verses 23 to 27.

Job had several friends trying to come to him and to console him. The problem was Job became sick, and he had lost most of his family. And his friends thought that Job had committed a particular sin to bring down God's wrath upon him.

But listen to Job's confession:

23 “Oh, that my words were written!
      Oh, that they were inscribed in a book!
 24 That they were engraved on a rock
      With an iron pen and lead, forever!
 25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
      And He shall stand at last on the earth;
 26 And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
      That in my flesh I shall see God,
 27 Whom I shall see for myself,
      And my eyes shall behold, and not another. 
      How my heart yearns within me!
We just sang the hymn, only a few verses of the hymn, “I know that my Redeemer Lives!” It's an Easter hymn. And here we are in the season of Christmas, and we've just celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ into this world. Now, for many people Christmas is nothing more than a time for getting families together.

Well, all of you who know Howard and Sylvia's family know that this has been a very intense time of gathering together. Gathering together not knowing whether this day or the next day would be the last for Howard: Having hope! Seeing how well Howard was taking what was going on. His wonderful attitude through all of this tragedy. His willingness to just put his hands around his children and grandchildren, and his loving wife. To let them know that he was comforting them.

He knew that this kind of thing could happen. It's in the family's history: a massive stroke, a little while of lingering and then death.

But he faced it without fear. And it's not because it's not a scary thing. It is a scary thing. It's a scary thing for any of us to be incapacitated, to have somebody else change our pants. It's humiliating. It's embarrassing. And some of us may have too much pride. And never suffer such an indignity, and forget that God will use even these hard times.

He doesn't cause these bad things to happen. But He will use these hard times to show us where we have idols, and where we worship falsely—so that we can learn to love God and each other rightly; to drive away all the different things that clutter our lives; that we used to think are important; to learn to focus on what is important.

Because the end result of the fact that we are sinners is right here [point to the coffin holding Howard's dead body]. Our physical death.

And Howard wasn't selected out for physical punishment any more than Job was selected out for special punishment. We deserve far worse because we day-by-day rejectGod's Word and His Command. That we tread upon His grace every day.

Even as we come through this celebration of Christmas; singing those Christmas carols; acknowledging Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of all—hurting and harming our families—thinking of only ourselves.

But Howard is now celebrating his first Christmas with our Savior. The celebration, as I mentioned last night at the visitation, the celebration is not complete right now. None of those who have gone before us, their celebration is not complete, because they wait for one thing that we all wait for. And that is Christ's coming again at the end of the world. Where He will take this body [point to Howard]. And He will make it perfect. He will raise it from the grave. And He will bring Howard before the throne of God Himself. And He will say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”

And Howard will confess that he never saw Jesus hungry, he never helped Him, he never fed Him. Because, in truth, none of us has ever done what we should for God, and Howard knows that. And He knew that.

But he was also washed in the Blood of Christ; liberated from the actual guilt of his sin. Because his Savior loved him enough to come into this world to give His life for Howard, for you; for Sylvia; for you kids. For all of us.

That's why we tie together Easter and Christmas here at this service. Because Christmas is all about the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This little child didn't come to be a cute thing to be put upon a fireplace mantle at every Christmas.

He came to die a bloody, brutal death. So that we would not have to suffer. So that we would have the resurrection.

I know that my Redeemer lives. And one day, even though worms shall eat this flesh; I will stand, I and not another, will see my Lord when He comes again. We confess with Job.

Saint Paul wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians, in chapter four:

13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Says Saint Paul.

We will miss him, because he has been such a big part of our lives. And there is nothing that is going to fill that gap. Because Howard himself will fill that gap when he is raised from the dead.

We don't have to try to stuff ourselves with activities. We don't have to try to hide the grief, to try to get rid of the grief. Because Howard himself will come back at that last day; and fill the hole that's there now.

We can remember him; both the good and the bad. We can know and we can learn from what was wrong and what was right.

And we can build on this confidence: That just as Christ has forgiven him, He also forgives us. And He enables us to forgive each other—from all of the things that have affected us through our lives: especially when we have hurt each other and sinned against each other.

So that we too, will rise again in that day; cleanse by the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. And we will live forever.


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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Word of the Week for Jan 3rd, 2010

Lucas Cranach the Elder: woodcut Law and grace...Image via Wikipedia

One of the hardest things to do is to apply God’s Word to ourselves in an honest way. It can feel extremely awkward. We often don’t know what place to look at first. There are a couple reasons for this.

First, not many people read the Bible regularly enough to know what is where. Unfamiliarity with the text itself prevents us from finding comfort. The solution to that problem is simple enough. Read the Bible, come to know the people in that book, how they lived, how they sinned, and how God redeemed them. Learn to know the Son of God who chose to become a human, to live, to serve, to suffer, to die, and to rise again. All this He did so that you can stand guiltless before the heavenly Father on the last day.

The second reason that applying the Bible to ones own life is awkward has to do with understanding God’s will in the Bible. There are some places where His demands are so insistent that it looks like no one can be saved. Then, there are other parts where God goes out of His way to overlook the wrongs someone has done. These two teachings in Scripture are commonly called Law and Gospel.

The Law of God and God’s Gospel are God’s will. Both are His Word. Both are aimed at our Salvation. And both Law and Gospel are for Christians.
But there are differences as well. They are different in the way God revealed them to humanity. God tells us that He wrote the Law not just in Scripture through Moses, but at creation He wrote the Law in our hearts. People who grow up without knowing that the Bible exists still have the Law written in their hearts, for "when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, by nature do the things in the Law, these, although not having the Law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness." (Romans 2:14–15)

But we know nothing of the Gospel by nature. The Gospel was not created in us. It was spoken to us after the fall into sin. (Genesis 3:15) The Gospel is revealed to us only by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is found written only in the pages of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. And it is to be preached because no one can discover this Gospel on their own. Paul wrote in Romans 10:14 "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?"

By our natures, we will side with the Law against the Gospel of Christ. Why? Because the Law is already written there in our hearts. The Gospel is foreign, and invader.

The Law tells us what we must do for God and neighbor. The Gospel tells us what God has done for us.

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