Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 22 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Chronicles 20-24. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Chronicles 20 - We seldom think of Goliath as having relatives. But we see there is a group of warriors rather like him, apparently with some genetic abnormality. People are people, just different from one another.

1 Chronicles 21 - David’s census of Israel is evil before God because it implies the security of the people is based on their numbers, not their Lord. See how the folly of the leader has results among the people.

1 Chronicles 22 - David is not to build a temple for God but he makes every effort to smooth the way for it. May we all have many ways to set the stage for works that honor our Lord.

1 Chronicles 23-24 - The mighty army of those who have special service before God as priests and Levites are rightly numbered. See again how the author is specially interested in religious rather than political life.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lutheranism 101 Introduction

Kinnaman, Scot A. & Laura L. Lane (eds.) Lutheranism 101. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010.


This book, which I have in a Kindle version, so can’t give page numbers (grr) is a very friendly yet comprehensive introduction to the Lutheran faith. I’m thinking very seriously of using it for adult confirmation and am currently going to walk through at least some of the selections with a men’s group. There are quite a few bite-size chapters. I would have appreciated this book immensely if it had been around when I was first asking what it meant to be a Christian of the Lutheran flavor.

The introduction bears comment. It points out clearly that Lutheranism, as the fourth largest theological group in the world, takes on many different perspectives. This book will introduce current North American Lutheranism, particularly as viewed among the more “conservative” of the groups. The book does use some very specific theological terms now and then, but takes pains to use them only when they are truly the most appropriate terms and are necessary to understanding. There’s a list of common abbreviations, as well as a list of sample citations from different works. There’s a list of Bible passages that are considered key passages for interpreting various doctrines. Then there’s a summary of some of the most important texts for Christians to know, including the Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, a brief biblical discussion of Baptism, a discussion of Confession and Absolution, and of the Lord’s Supper. Those who have seen Luther’s Small Catechism recognize that these are the sections to be found in his catechism.

We next see a discussion of the different creeds of the Church, specifically the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. These summaries of Christian beliefs were formulated in antiquity to create a concise statement of essential doctrines.

Martin Luther was granted a family seal in the year 1530, which he designed himself. Because this seal is easily recognized and is rich in symbolism, we learn a good deal about Martin Luther’s concept of the Christian life from his discussion of the seal.

The Reformation was centered around three fundamental principles, which I will quote from the text. “1. Our salvation is entirely a gift of grace from God and not our own doing. 2. We receive that grace through faith and not by any works we might do. 3. The sole norm and rule of all doctrine is the Holy Scriptures.” These statements are then unpacked in brief.

The introduction says it closes with five prayers commonly used in the devotional lives of Lutherans. In fact, there are four: the beginning of the day, the end of a day, before a meal, and after a meal.

We’ll keep walking through the book. This is a good thread to have some discussion. Comments, anyone?

Bible Reading Challenge Week 22 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Chronicles 15-19. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Chronicles 15-16 - David strives to make everything pertaining to bringing the ark to Jerusalem proper. He researches the way that the ark was to be transported. He has it accompanied by people singing the praises of God. He sings his own praises to God. What kind of song of praise do we have for our Lord? Notice how David’s song emphasizes God’s character and what he has done in history. So often our songs of praise emphasize our need and how God makes us feel. May the Lord help us look to him as our standard.

1 Chronicles 17-19 - David wishes to build a house for God’s presence. Instead, God appoints him to the task of being a great ruler in a time of conflict. God promises to establish David’s house, his realm. It is from the house of David that Jesus comes, the one whom David calls “Lord.” Is David’s reign perfect? Not at all. Yet David is fulfilling the vocation which God has given him. Whether your calling is to be a father or mother, husband or wife, single person, scholar, laborer, or king, it is a calling from God to be carried out with dignity.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Justification: The Dynamics of Sin and Grace

Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. The Spirituality of the Cross St. Louis: Concordia, 2010.

In the revised and updated 2010 edition you can enjoy a summary of Christian doctrine in a warm, kind, and reasoned discussion, taking only 208 pages of easy to read type. The six chapters and few appendices lend themselves to reasoned and charitable discussion of Jesus and his work for us. We’re planning to use this book in the near future as the spine for an adult class.

Chapter 1 “Justification: The Dynamics of Sin and Grace”

Veith categorizes man’s search for meaning into three areas (following Adolph Koeberle): moralism, speculation, and mysticism. Through those means our basic hope seems to be to ascend to God, showing ourselves valuable, or demonstrating our goodness. On the contrary, Lutherans assert that we are imperfect. We will have to admit that and realize that no amount of our own moral wrangling, no intelligent planning on our part, and no special secret hidden knowledge and understanding will change the fact that we are imperfect. He spends a good deal of this chapter discussing the downfall of moralism, speculation, and mysticism, showing why each one ultimately fails us in our quest. In the Bible God has made such demands for perfection that our moral attempts will always fall short. The more we learn about our world the more we realize that we finally are unable to understand it all. Mysticism then is our only hope and we realize quite quickly that it is limited to our own capacity and also falls short of God. We are left then looking at the curse on Adam, God’s just demands upon us, and what God does through his grace. Salvation cannot be of ourselves. It must be of someone else.

This view of moralism, speculation and mysticism gives rise to some interesting patterns. Veith cites Romans 3:10-11 as denying the effectiveness of each in order. He also observes that in John 14:6 Jesus presents himself as the solution to each.

Veith wraps up the chapter talking about some of the distinctives of how Lutherans look at faith and salvation. He points out that unlike much of Protestantism, Lutherans would affirm that salvation is purchased and delivered by Jesus through means of grace and that it is realized by faith. Our faith does not save us. It is the means by which we realize that Jesus has already saved us. It is simply dependence on Jesus’ death on our behalf. In a very brief way, Veith says, we revisit that salvation in the divine service on Sunday as our forgiveness is proclaimed over us by the pastor, as we then turn to God in repentance and ask for forgiveness, and the Word of God is given to us, granting us forgiveness and life which we continue to receive by faith.

Study Questions:
1) Why are poles of Law and Gospel, sin and grace, etc. important in a Christian view of life?
2) What are some of the important “poles” of life?
3) Why is it so important to think of God’s work alone in salvation?
4) How will God keep us in the Christian faith?
5) Do you think most people would agree with this view of life and salvation? Why or why not?

Bible Reading Challenge Week 22 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Chronicles 10-14. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

The passage of time slows down considerably here with an account of Saul’s death. Notice the author of Chronicles tends to assess guilt, saying that Saul died because of his unfaithfulness. The author goes on to talk about all the mighty men and how they do their deeds because God is with them. The author is also concerned with the false gods of the people in the area.

What interest do we take in God’s priorities and those of the people around us? Do we look to the Lord as the ultimate hope of all? Do we see that he is engaged in all our acts of valor and all the acts which bring shame?

Monday, May 28, 2012

We're Back!

I hope we are back to posting more regularly on various non-biblical readings. I know those seem more popular among my readership. Hopefully in the next few months I can have some guest posts by various other people related with the crew of the Marmoset. It's about time for that teenager to write a few posts.

Tell your friends who have forgotten this blog that we're back!

The Nature of Conflict

Sande, Ken & Kevin Johnson Resolving Everyday Conflict. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011.

Chapter 1 “The Nature of Conflict: What it is and where it comes from”

Our lives are full of conflict. Sande and Johnson ask if we understand what that conflict is and where it comes from. Understanding our situation adequately gives us the tools we need to break down conflict and resolve it well. Our culture tells us that when in conflict we should look out for our own interests. The Bible tells us exactly the opposite. Look out for the interests of the other party in the conflict. This is an application of the Gospel in our situation, seeing that our Lord and Savior considered our sin as more important than himself and gave himself on our account. James 4:1-2 observes that our conflicts come from our self-centered desires. When our self-centered desires come up against someone else’s self-centered desires we have a conflict that needs to be resolved.

An interesting observation in this chapter pertains to church congregations. Sande and Johnson have often asked churches if they have conflict and been advised that the church isn’t in conflict. They then follow up with questions about gossip, backbiting, slander, and find out that there are quiet conflicts throughout the body. These need to be dealt with in order to avoid the conflict situations to grow.

What happens when we resolve conflict well? In Acts 6 the believers had a conflict about distribution of food to the poor. They reached a good solution and it improved their testimony in the community. When we are able to deal with our disagreements in a biblical manner our community sees and notices.

One point of this chapter, one which I don’t think Sande and Johnson dwell on adequately, is the difference between biblical conflict resolution and what secular conflict resolution methods tell you. Our world suggests that conflicts can be talked through and once both sides are understood the conflict will be resolved, though neither person may be pleased with the outcome. A biblical view of conflict resolution goes beyond understanding the other party’s position. It reaches to the level of each party to the conflict understanding his own selfish desires and deciding to do what is in the best interests of the other and whatever might be the best overall solution. This results in an outcome which is pleasing to all parties and which tends to prevent further conflicts. It is far different and far better.

We recall again that a truly biblical view of conflict resolution is a good testimony to our surrounding culture. Compare John 13:35 and John 17:23. As we strive for peace according to Romans 12:18 and Ephesians 4:3 we find that we no longer have to suffer with guilt for relationships which have been damaged.

This book lends itself to a good small group study format. How about some questions?
1) Are you currently involved in conflicts that you would like to resolve? Don’t tell about them, but make some notes for yourself to review later.
2) How do you tend to make conflict worse? How would it be possible to defuse a conflict situation wisely and gently?
3) What do you think of people who are in conflicts? What do you think of people who are at peace?
4) What benefits would you enjoy when living at peace with others?

Bible Reading Challenge Week 22 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Chronicles 1-9. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

In this lengthy reading we see that God is concerned about the heritage of his people. He is particularly interested in tracking the genealogy of his chosen one, the line of the Messiah. In the time after the Babylonian exile he provides a record for those who are the line of promise to identify themselves.

In the New Testament we see that all those who look to Jesus in trust are his chosen people. We are identified as the chosen ones of God because of his Son of Promise, Jesus, the Savior of the World. It is not because of who we are. It is because of whom we trust.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sermon for 5/27/12 Ezekiel 37

Sermon “Jesus, Blow the Wind of the Spirit on Us

Lord of all life, you have given your life for us. Fill us with your Spirit that we may live your life and bring your Word to all around us, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

This is one of the great holy days of the Church. Not Memorial Day, that's a civic holiday, and it isn't until tomorrow. I hope we keep that distinction clear. Tomorrow is the day we specifically remember those who have given their lives for us in military service, and it is important. Celebrate the freedom you have due to the sacrifices of others. But we want to keep it all in perspective. That's a civil holiday, and it is a good one. This day, the day of Pentecost, is one of the feasts from the Old Testament which had such importance in the year of Christ's resurrection that we kept it as a very important celebration in the Church. Our country will not be observing it. And sadly many Christian churches will not either. But this Pentecost Sunday is a very important day. It is the second most common day of the year for people to be baptized, second only to Easter Sunday. This is the day on which the Church was born by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Here and now we begin our celebration of the season of Pentecost, the time of the Church, the time of living out our lives for Christ over the next six months before Advent. Our paraments are red today, symbolic of the great power and majesty of the Holy Spirit coming to dwell in us fleshly beings, making us living witnesses of Christ. Next week they will change to green, the color of life and growth as we continue to grow in Christ.

So Pentecost is a time of life. Yet our reading features death, not even dead bodies, but dead dry bones. We confess frequently that we are dead in trespasses and sins, that we have no life in us except the life that our Lord has given to us. But I look around this room and everyone seems to be alive. Is that right? Take a look around and see. We don't seem to be dead at all. Yet if you look some more and think about it, we are surrounded by people who are dead or at least dying. Some have broken bodies, injured, ill, aging, and suffering. But look more closely. There are more serious situations here. It's more serious because even the young and strong people here are broken. We have broken dreams. At this time of year there are a lot of graduations. And we'll be wanting to celebrate our graduates, maybe they will all be together next week and we can give them congratulations all together. The speakers at commencements often talk about the hope and future that their graduates have. I heard a speaker saying that this year's crop of graduates from one institution have high hopes, one hundred percent. And that is true. They have high hopes. All of them want to succeed, to excel in life, to work in ways that matter in this world. Do you know what? All of those people are going to be disappointed. Some of their hopes will crumble. Some of their hopes will collapse. Not everything we hope for will work out. Not everything we hope for will come to pass. And we are broken. We have broken dreams, we have broken ambitions. Every last one of us is broken in some way. Yet we who have broken dreams, just like we who have broken bodies, pull ourselves up and go on with life. The grace of God is greater than our broken bodies or our broken dreams. But I want to ask us to look around the room again. There are likely some here, and you know who you are, and your friends and family might know it, some people who have had your hope broken. Your body may fail you, your dreams may have been shattered, but when your hope was in Christ you could stand. But there may be some in this very room whose hope in Christ is broken. These are the people who are indeed the dead, dry bones we read about in Ezekiel. Those whose hope is not in Christ, those who have been broken in this way are broken indeed. May the Lord have mercy upon us. We no longer see clearly, we are indeed broken people.

The really bad news here, though, is that some of us are broken but that we don't even realize it until something brings us up short. We come face to face with reality. We find out that we are broken when we run up against that brick wall that we though was a door. We find out we are broken when our world falls apart and we don't know what happened. We just look at ourselves and see that we are those dead, dry bones.

In fact, though, this is not that uncommon. We are living in a world where we are surrounded by dead, dry bones, though they look like people who are living and working. Yet without the call of the Gospel, without a hope being set on the foundation of Christ and his apostles, we have no hope. Those people all around us, and some of us as well, have been killed. We've been killed by sin in the world. We've been killed by putting too much trust in our health, in our dreams, in our earthly hopes. And we have no way to bring ourselves back to life. We are without hope.

What does our Lord do about it? What does he do in Ezekiel 37? He calls all those dead, dry bones to come to life. He calls them to himself. He calls us to himself. Our Lord and Savior calls us and all our friends, neighbors, co-workers, all the people that we meet, all the people of this world to himself. He calls us by his Word, the proclamation of the Gospel. This is why we treat the Word of God so seriously. This is why we are having the Teen Bible Institute to help the young people in our community see how the Word of God makes sense and holds up to careful examination. This is why our men's group, starting this Saturday will focus on Bible study, prayer, caring for and encouraging one another, and serving our community. This is why our Evangelism and Faith in Action committees, meeting this week, strive to find ways to make the Word of God more prominent in all we do and say. Jesus calls us by his Word, the proclamation of the Gospel.

Jesus fills his people with life by the Word. He gathers people to himself and equips them for life. This priceless Word of God is our Lord's instrument to reveal himself, dying for our sins, rising from the dead to bring us life, and continuing to give himself to us in Word and Sacrament. This is our hope. This is our life.

As our Lord calls his people together, as he brings us to life by the Word, he gives us the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim his great works. How many of us have been through some sort of training in evangelism? Sometimes those outlines, illustrations, and lists of Scripture proofs for various doctrines of the Church are helpful. But all too often we've been taught to evangelize people by telling them what Jesus has done for us and what he will do for the people we are talking to. How has Jesus changed my life? How has he made me more prosperous, more successful, more good looking? Really, you should have seen me before. What is it the first believers testified to in Acts chapter 2 verse 11? They didn't tell what Jesus had done to change their family relationships. Certainly Jesus working in their hearts, certainly he is helping us to live a more peaceful life, certainly he is helping us to be faithful employers and employees, there's no doubt about that. He probably hasn't helped our looks a whole lot, but we can sometimes see an air of peace in the lives of Christians. But this kind of testimony will not be lasting. What do the early Christians tell about? They tell about the wonders of God. They tell about his glory, they tell about his grace, they tell about how he is the true and righteous judge of all, they tell that he has given himself in this last day, through the person and work of Christ, to give us forgiveness, life, and salvation. The testimony is focused on God, not on us. As professor Normal Nagel used to say, “Don't tell me about yourself, tell me about your Jesus.” That is our testimony.

The Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus. He uses us to show Christ crucified for sinners, Jesus, the hope of the world, who gave himself for you and for me. And through that testimony he takes us, who were dead, dry bones, and he makes us a mighty army, bringing the Gospel to bear right where we are. How do we live out that testimony? I can't necessarily tell you how that works. But I do know that as we fill ourselves with the Word of God, as we pray that the Holy Spirit would blow upon us, as we seek to live in community with one another, and with that community centered on Jesus, he will use us to call our community to himself.

Where do we start? I'm speaking now to those who are broken, those who are realizing they are dead, dry bones. Look to our Lord in faith, as we have confessed throughout this service, as we continue with the confession of the Apostles' Creed and in the prayers of the Church. Look to the Lord. He is the one who gives us life and hope. He is the one who is actively calling us to himself right now. How do we continue? Read another chapter in the book of Acts and see how the early Christians continued. They devoted themselves to the Word of God, to fellowship, communion and prayer. They encouraged one another in Christ. May the Lord make us faithful instruments of the Holy Spirit, building one another up in Him.

Change our hearts, Lord. Blow upon us by the wind of your Holy Spirit. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 21 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is Colossians 1-4. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Colossians 1 - Jesus calls us as his people, to be changed into his image, showing good works and growing in grace. Is there room for us to change? Most certainly. Look at Jesus, presented as the perfect God who has reconciled us to himself. May our Lord do his work in us.

Colossians 2 - Jesus calls us to look to him, not to the wisdom of our world or our own religiosity. These things do not produce godliness. What is our philosophy? Christ crucified for us. It is not what our culture would dish out to us.

Colossians 3 - Verse 12-17 build the foundation for the other commands Paul makes, which are more specific to particular relationships. Do we trust in Jesus’ reconciliation of us adequately to allow his forgiveness to reign in our lives?

Colossians 4 - As we pray for one another, let us first and foremost pray that our speech may be seasoned with the Gospel.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 21 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Kings 21-25. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

2 Kings 21 - We have a dark period with Manasseh and Amon. Yet God did not depart from Judah despite the evil of their leaders. He raises up . . .

2 Kings 22-23 - Josiah, who found the Law of God and instituted all sorts of reforms. As a good king he turned the hearts of the people to the Lord, making it difficult or even impossible for the citizens to return to the idolatry they had followed all those many years. Yet after his death Judah spirals back into their old ways. They are overcome by Egypt and endure weak rulers who serve as puppets for other nations.

2 Kings 24-25 - In all the turmoil and unrest, God shows his judgment against Judah. When the puppet king tries to rebel against Babylon the nation is crushed.

We realize even in the darkest of times God preserves his remnant people. He will bring the redeemer, Jesus, from the tribe of Judah which he has graciously guarded, even through the exile. The promised line will emerge.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 21 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Kings 16-20. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant? 2 Kings 16 - See how Ahaz often does evil by taking what God has ordained and trying to improve upon it. How often do we wish to be innovative? 2 Kings 17 - There is a very strong condemnation of Israel. They were destroyed because of their sin. Destruction because of sin is a serious matter. Yet I fear we are too quick to jump to a conclusion that all evil happens to people because of their own sin individually. Here notice that the judgment falls upon the entire nation, though there were doubtless various righteous people, as there were many true prophets in the time of Ahab. God brings judgment on the entire group of people here. May the Lord have mercy. 2 Kings 18-19 - The commanders of Assyria come against righteous king Hezekiah in Judah and threaten him. Moreover they assert that God is not able to deliver Judah out of their hand. This unnerves Hezekiah. Yet God defends his own name, defeating Sennacherib and he troops of Assyria. We pray that God’s name may be hallowed. Do we realize that he is able to protect his interests? Let us never lift ourselves up against his will. 2 Kings 20 - In his illness Hezekiah seems to have given up on protecting Judah against her enemies. God promises him another fifteen years of life but Hezekiah sets the stage for the fall of Judah to Babylon. May we have grace to walk carefully, never giving away the future because of the present.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 21 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Kings 11-15. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

2 Kings 11 - See how religious and political conflicts are intertwined. We can’t truly separate the religious and the political spheres. There is one God over all. Yet the different spheres have different emphases and priorities. This whole “two kingdoms” theology is a difficult one, but one worth careful exploration.

2 Kings 12 - As corruption remains in the priesthood and in the royal line of David the country of Judah continues to decline. At times there are bright spots, but none are lasting.

2 Kings 13 - The kings continue in their spiral. Elisha calls the king of Israel to give a sign that he will trample down the Syrians, but the king is not adequately forceful. Our Lord works sometimes in ways that we don’t understand. May we be faithful to his calling whether we fully understand or not.

2 Kings 14 - We continue to see strife, both between Israel and Judah and within the kingdoms as it becomes more dangerous to serve as king. When people rule according to their selfishness we can expect trouble.

2 Kings 15 - The power shifts become frequent with king after king who is disappointing. Notice how the author tends to be quite brief about these disappointing kings.

Will someone want to spend some time telling our life stories? Or will we be passed over very briefly. May we work diligently to show love and care for our neighbors, encouraging them, adding flavor to their lives.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 21 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Kings 6-10. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

2 Kings 6 - See how God and his prophet are given credit for all the good things that happen but are also blamed for every bad thing that happens. How do we respond when we are blamed for all sorts of evil? Do we confess that the world under the curse of sin has plenty of evil to around and that we probably contributed to some of it? Do we look to our Lord in hope to deliver us from evil?

2 Kings 7 - God is able to deliver his people from an army even without the people making any military move. He uses various circumstances to protect us. Do we trust that all our daily bread, everything we need, comes from him?

2 Kings 8-10 - We have picture after picture here of two things. First, good and evil live side by side, often in the same person. We are at the same time saint and sinner. Second, we see that in the desires of their hearts people use whatever means they have to take dominion. This may involve all sorts of self-contradictory actions, bringing evil in the name of good. May the Lord who has delivered his people from sin through Jesus Christ grant us repentance and faith, as he carries our sins and presents us to him as a pure and holy offering.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sermon for 5/20/12 "Spreading the Light of the World"

Sermon “Spreading the Light of the World”

Direct, us, Lord, in all we do, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

The apostles we read about in Acts chapter 1 realized that the Christian life was not only for them. They knew that Jesus had appointed them to carry the Gospel to their generation and to equip future generations to believe, teach and confess that message given to them by Jesus. They would pass the message along. The testimony of Christ must continue to the next generation. Jesus, savior of the world, is the precious gift of God which we pass on to our children, to our children's children, and to all the rest of history until the Lord comes in the last day.

We see in our readings today that God chooses his servants in every generation. We also see that he protects and preserves his people.

How does he choose his servants? Our Lord calls them by Word and Sacrament, he nurtures them in the Church, and he lets us recognize the vocations he has given us.

Our celebration of confirmation is a little picture of that process. By baptism our Lord has called Sarah and Blake to himself. He has washed their sins. He has placed the Holy Spirit upon them. They have been claimed as Jesus' own children. And over the years they have heard the Word of God, sometimes more frequently, sometimes less frequently. Do I dare say that sometimes they have heard God's word more or less willingly? I'd better not say that for them. I'll just say it for me. If Sarah and Blake are like I am sometimes they have been eager and willing to hear and receive God's Word and sometimes they haven't been so excited about it. Yet God calls his people by his Word and Sacraments. He uses external means to bring us to himself. He uses the witness of other Christians. And he did that for each one of us in this room today. God's Word does not come to you without some external means. Even if you first heard the Gospel by reading the Bible or reading a leaflet that talked about Jesus, someone published that writing and someone put it into your hand or put it where you would find it.

God uses people as his means of spreading the Gospel through Word and Sacrament. He then nurtures his people in the Church. Now I know there are some Christians, and no doubt some of them are genuinely trusting in Jesus, who don't belong to an “organized church.” They have chosen to depart from what they call “institutional Christianity.” I actually see it fairly frequently. Maybe you do also. Remember Aunt Ralphetta? She's really a religious person. Believes in Jesus. Reads her Bible and prays all the time. But she hasn't been in a church for years. Never goes. Can't find a good church, they're all full of hypocrites and sinners. I went through a little temptation like this for a couple of years. I'm not sure my family knows it. When I was looking at Lutheran theology at first we were involved in a good solid church congregation where I was one of the leaders, an elder who was appointed for ministry in Word and Sacrament, shepherding the congregation. Yet I was finding that I couldn't endorse the theology of the parent organization wholeheartedly. This was a problem since I was on a ministry leadership board for the denomination also. I backed out of that but was still conflicted about the local church congregation. When I considered the biblical Lutheran doctrine and then looked at the Lutheran churches within driving range of our home I very nearly decided we would have to form a church or move. We finally found a congregation within driving distance, though it was a fairly long drive, where the pastor and some of the people were fairly interested in the biblical foundations of the Lutheran reformation. But how many people fall through the cracks? Do we welcome people into the Church? Do we hold seriously to what we claim to believe, teach and confess? This requires us to recommit ourselves daily to the confession of faith that we hold. Are we persuaded that God has revealed himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ and that salvation is truly and only by grace through faith? Do we believe that Jesus will nurture us together in his Church and that there is no hope for the world outside of the preservation of Word and Sacrament in that “one holy Christian and apostolic Church”? Then let us be God's instruments to nurture his believers in the Church.

As we recognize God's call in Word and Sacrament, as we nurture Christians in the Church, may the Lord grant us grace to recognize our callings. We see that happening bit by bit in our young people. Sarah and Blake chose life verses. I admit that I have to smile at that idea. It's all right, Blake and Sarah, I give you all the permission in the world to find a passage of the Bible that you think describes your life and priorities a little differently during your life. You chose well, but who knows? You have quite a few years to go yet, discovering how the Lord would use you and how he will work out his priorities in your lives. Don't limit him to one Bible passage. Let him make you grow in him. Remember that your calling is in Christ and that he works in you and through you in your many vocations, callings in life. Much of your calling right now is to be a good student, a good child to your parents, a good friend to your friends, and even to your enemies. But at some time he may call you to be a good husband, a good wife, a good employee, a good employer, someone who is faithful with all sorts of tasks. He will express his grace and mercy through your lives and vocations.

So God chooses his servants, generation after generation. He calls us, he nurtures us, he puts us to work. And as he does this he also protects his people. He preserves us. We believe he will preserve Sarah and Blake throughout their lives, just as he does for all the rest of us. Very quickly, here are four ways I see God preserving his people.

First, he guards us in the Word. One of my privileges as a pastor is to visit people who don't get out of their homes, some who are in nursing homes, sometimes in hospitals. Sometimes when I walk into a room it's to bring God's Word to someone who would otherwise have no way of hearing these precious words of hope. And do you know what? They are exactly that, words of hope and comfort. I had several opportunities in the last few weeks to walk into rooms where I could feel the discouragement and fear. Time to open the Bible and bring people what they need, the Word of God. This gift of God is precious. May the Lord protect and preserve us all by His Word. That's why I chose to give nice copies of the Bible as confirmation gifts this year. The Word of God is what we need.

Second, how does God guard us? He guards us by giving us his joy. He pours out the joy of his presence on us, giving us hope. When we lose the joy of the Lord we are crippled. We need our Lord to restore the joy of His salvation, as David prays in Psalm 51. Yet our source of joy is not in the mood of songs we sing, not in the instrumentation used in worship, not in the circumstances of life. Our joy is in the Lord, in the fact that he has carried our sins on our behalf, that we no longer are bound by sin and shame. Do you know that joy isn't quite the same as happiness or glee? It isn't always a kind of smiley, giggly thing. No, it's a lot stronger than that. It's a firm confidence that in Christ nothing can ruin us. It's a trust that all is well, no matter what happens to me today. It is a trust that the Lord will use us according to his purpose to conform us and others around us into the image of Jesus. We look to the risen Lord so our joy may be complete.

Third, how does God guard us? He uses us with his mercy. He enables us to love our neighbor as ourselves. He shows us, at least he shows me, time after time, that there are a lot of other people out there whose needs are at least as great as mine. He shows us to consider others as more important than ourselves. He gives us the mind of Christ that we read about in Philippians 2 this week, not considering authority as something important, but humbling himself and becoming the servant of all. May the Lord use us, each and every one of us, according to his mercy and grace, as his instruments of healing to our families, friends and community.

Finally, how does God guard us? He feeds us in Word and Sacrament. I know people who have isolated themselves. They watch the pastor on television or listen on the radio. They do receive the Word of God. But they only receive it through their ears, and they aren't present to ask questions and receive answers to their questions, like those who are right there in Bible class or talking with one another. But how about this? In communion you not only receive the Word of God in your ears, but you receive him in your mouth as well. Jesus gives himself as the very real bread of heaven. He promises to be present for us, bodily, in his very substance, feeding us. He gave his blood for us, for the forgiveness of sins. Are we partakers of our Lord's presence in Word and Sacrament? Do we receive from our Lord together? Do we have an eagerness to hear and receive from him? I know it is not always possible. That's why I do so much visiting of some of our people who can't get out very easily. But when we are able, do we come together to receive the Word of God as a community, to be strengthened by him? May the Lord continue to use the gathering of the saints to nurture us and build us up in him.

So, Sarah and Blake, in his mercy and grace God has chosen you. By his grace I pray that he will protect you, keeping you in the faith, just as he promised. May he do it for all of us, in the context of the local church, gathered to hear and receive from Him. You've spent about a year telling me that you wish to be confirmed as communicants in this congregation. I think we've gotten beyond the joking about how many presents people give you when you are confirmed. I think we're ready to confess the faith together. Do you think so? I'll ask the whole congregation that, and ask that if we are ready to confess this Christian faith together that we stand and do so in the words of the Nicene Creed, printed for you if you need it, in your bulletin. Let us stand together.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 20 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Kings 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

2 Kings 1 - It’s a fundamental question we should ask ourselves, as Elijah asked Ahaziah. Why do we look everywhere but to the true God when we are in distress? It only leads to despair.

2 Kings 2 - Prophetic roles are passed on by God but often using the earlier prophets as instruments. To whom do we look for guidance, leadership, and inspiration?

2 Kings 3 - Moab, Edom, Israel, and Judah - all were subject to God’s desire. The situation in chapter three could not be arranged by human hands. How do we view God? Do we realize he is alive and working in our world?

2 Kings 4-5 - God blesses people who turn to him and to Elisha for help. He is surely the God of mercy. So why do we reject him so quickly? Maybe it is because God uses means of grace which we don’t think would work. But he does this to show he is the miraculous God. Let God be God!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 20 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is Philippians 1-4. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Philippians 1 - Paul and Timothy face the same challenge all Christians do - to live in this world full of troubles is to be of service to other believers but to die in Christ is far better for each of us. May we all trust in the Lord as we remain to care for our neighbors.

Philippians 2 - Jesus emptied himself for our sakes. May we have the same mind he did. Epaphroditus is an example of a believer who lays down his life for his brothers.

Philippians 3 - Whatever our qualifications they are all as nothing in light of Jesus, who gives us his righteousness and conforms us to his death and resurrection.

Philippians 4 - We rejoice even in times of challenge and suffering. That rejoicing leads us to calm, to prayer, and peace. We can then consider all the good which our Lord gives us.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 20 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Kings 21-22. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Kings 21 - We have an example of how Ahab’s cruelty was spurred on by Jezebel. She urged him to evil. While Ahabe repented, Jezebel did not. In his mercy God suspended his penalties until Ahab’s death.

1 Kings 22 - As Israel and Judah act in alliance against syria ahab meets his end and the Syrians take the day. God’s judgment falls on the unfaithful people of Judah and Israel.

Whenever we look to government for solutions to our spiritual struggles we are disappointed. May we rather look to the civil realm for civil situations but to the Church for moral and spiritual help.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 20 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Kings 16-20. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Kings 16 - The way the kings of Israel were destroyed should have served as a warning. Yet king after king comes to a bad end. These kings die for their sins. How merciful it is that God in Christ died for the sins of all the world and applies that forgiveness to all who believe. We do not die in our sin, but Jesus, God’s own Son, does.

1 Kings 17 - We are introduced to Elijah, one of the great non-writing prophets. What parallels do we find between Elijah’s miracles and those of Jesus? Here we see provision of food as a foreshadowing of raising the son from the dead.

1 Kings 18 - God has preserved a remnant even in Samaria, the seat of power in Israel. not only is Elijah there but there are also other faithful prophets. God preserves his people where we least expect to find them. In Elijah’s confrontation of the priests of Baal God shows he is the one who is living and powerful. Do we look to the mighty and living God or do we trust in something of our own making?

1 Kings 19 - We see that Elijah is no hero. He is just a prophet. God is the hero. Without the Lord’s calling and anointing Elijah or any prophet is just like everyone else. How do we treat our pastors? They aren’t heroes. Only our Lord is the hero.

1 Kings 20 - God even uses unrighteous Israel and Ahab against Syria. What does this say about the idea that success demonstrates godliness?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 20 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Kings 11-15. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Kings 11 - Solomon’s heart is turned from God by his many alliances with wives of other religions. God promises to preserve his covenant people but will break up the kingdom. See how even this does not move Solomon to repentance. Our hearts become hardened against God very easily! May we have grace to be faithful.

1 Kings 12 - Rehoboam, son of Solomon, by his poor choices, turned ten tribes of Israel against him. From this time the kingdom is divided. The northern tribes are called Israel and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin are called Judah. Jeroboam in Israel entices the people to idolatry in a politically motivated religious move. When we desire to establish a new thing in worship we must question the wisdom of that move.

1 Kings 13 - Even in these dark times God sends his prophet to call Israel to repentance. God gives a false prophet repentance for his evil but Israel does not repent. Jeroboam’s sin will cut off Israel.

1 Kings 14 - Jeroboam never repented of his sin. his house was embroiled in strife until his death. From this point, it may be useful to keep two timelines of history, one tracking Israel and one tracking Judah, as the text follows both kingdoms. See that Judah provoked God as well.

1 Kings 15 - Watch Israel go from bad to worse as evil kings rule. Meanwhile Judah does not do much better but does have a bright spot in Asa. Do we pray for our rulers? They need it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sermon for 5/13/12 "Chosen and Appointed"

Sermon “Chosen and Appointed” John 15:16

Lord, grant that we may hear and obey your heavenly calling, living and trusting in you. This we pray in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

How many of you got to choose your parents? Does that seem like an odd question? Then here's a question for you, since it's Mother's Day. How many of you got to choose who would be your mother? It doesn't work that way, does it? We don't get to choose our parents. We can respect them or not. We can trust them or not. We can rejoice in the blessings they give us, or we can choose to grumble gainst them. But we don't get to choose who is and is not in our family. Ultimately this life isn't about what we choose. It isn't about our ability. We do what we can, but it finally isn't about us. It's much more than that.

Today, possibly the saddest day of the year in some of your lives, the day when our society celebrates mothers and motherhood, the day when some people are wrenched with pain as they remember their abusive mothers, as they see that they are without husband or children, the day when they remember those children who they miscarried or aborted, or lost for whatever reason, the day our culture rubs salt into the wounds of some of its women, this very day is a day which our Lord has appointed for me to give you a message of healing and grace. This is a day when you can receive the joy of our Lord. This is a day that is appointed for God's glory and praise. This is a day when we look beyond our situation, beyond our past, beyond our pain and suffering. It is a day for us to rise up and look to the mercy of God shown in Jesus Christ.

I want to remind you what John chapter 15 verses 16 and 17 say about our lives and all their circumstances. Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” Maybe we didn't get to choose our life, at least not much more than we got to choose our parents. We've come to this place with a lot of circumstances that have driven us here and there, to one thing or another thing. Sometimes we try to take charge of our destiny. Often when we do that we end up frustrated. Sometimes we see our circumstances ruling us, we know that's not quite right either, and we end up frustrated again. We'd like to rise above it all. We'd like to live that victorious life that the preacher on TV tells us will show God's blessing. But time and again something gets in the way. I want to remind you, and I want to remind myself, that it isn't about my choice. It's all about God's choice. It's all about what our God has done in sending His Son, Jesus, our Savior. It's all about Jesus' desire to take your sins and my sins upon himself. It's all about Jesus' love for us which goes above his love for himself. It's all about Jesus choosing to die rather than to let us die in our sin. Jesus chose us. I know it looks to those of us who are adult converts to Christ as if we chose him. Maybe then we should picture this Christian life like a sign board. You know how the signs at our church driveway have two sides. One side says one thing and the other side says another. But they go together. Here's the signboard. For those who do not believe on Jesus, the sign says, “Whoever will, come, believe, and receive life.” But do you know what the other side of the sign says? This is the side of the sign that you see by faith, by belief on Jesus. It says, “Chosen in Christ from all eternity.” Jesus chose his people. Jesus chose you. Your parents didn't get to choose you any more than you got to choose your parents. But if you are trusting in Jesus I want you to know you can have confidence. Jesus chose you. You aren't a Christian because I loved you or because your great aunt Sue loved you or because your parents prayed for you. You are a Christian because Jesus loved you. You are a Christian because Jesus chose you.

What does he then do with us? What does he do with his people he has chosen, loved, and called to himself? What's the destiny of the Christian? He has appointed us to go, to bear fruit, fruit that lasts. What is that fruit that lasts? It isn't our children. It isn't the work we are doing in our careers. It isn't that brilliant piece of legislation we persuaded our senators to pass. It isn't even the invention you've been tinkering with in your barn, you know, the one that . . . oh, I can't say or the secret might get out. That isn't the fruit that lasts. The fruit Jesus has appointed us to bear is fruit of godliness. It is the fruit of the Spirit. Recall from Galatians, all that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control. There's no law against that. And that's exactly the fruit Jesus has called us to produce. That's exactly the fruit he will produce in our lives as we live and grow in him. That's the kind of fruit that overcomes the world. Overcome evil with good! Jesus has chosen us and has appointed us to bear fruit, and that fruit is found as we follow his command to love one another.

What is the result of this faith? What does this life as a chosen one of God give? We see that the Father will give us what we ask in Jesus' name. Yet I think we need to unpack that a little. You see, the Jesus who gave his life to deliver you from sin and death has a particular will. there are some things we ask for. We ask in the name of Jesus for those things that are according to his will. And we know when we ask for Jesus to do his will he will do it. But what is his will? What has he promised in Scripture? That's why we need to be in the Word, day after day, looking at what our Lord has revealed to us. When we know his will we can ask it boldly. And we do, when we pray that his name will be hallowed, his kingdom will come, and his will should be done on earth as it is in heaven. But what is his will? He desires to forgive repentant sinners. He desires to cleanse his people and deliver them from death. He desires to bless his people with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. He desires to prepare us as a holy people, consecrated to him, presented as a pure and perfect bride to her bridegroom. Jesus is the one who desires to call us to himself in faith, believing that he is who he said he is and that he has done what he said he would do. Jesus' will is that all should believe in him, the one and only savior from sin, death, and hell. Are we asking this in his name? Do we believe that Jesus is the one who chooses us and calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light? Do we believe that in him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in bodily form? Do we believe what we confess, that Jesus forgives our sins? Do we believe that Jesus can take the broken pieces of our lives, our backgrounds, our histories, even our families and make us bear fruit for his kingdom?

In fact, we can't do any of that. We can try a little bit. And we can gain from those efforts. One of our local church congregations is going to have a one-day marriage seminar in the next week. It may be good. I don't know. It will be good if it points people to depend on Jesus and to live at peace with one another in the context of their families. But finally we can't make ourselves worthy. We can't make the fruit of godliness. We don't choose the fruitful life any more than we choose Jesus. We don't choose Jesus any more than we choose our parents. We may accept or reject, we may delight or despise, but Jesus chose us, and he chose us to bear much fruit.

So where do we stand? Are we trusting him? Are we choosing to love him back as he has loved us? Are we ready to lay down our sin, that sin that he has already taken upon himself? Are we willing to bear much fruit, as he has appointed? Or do we wish to walk our own way, blaze our own trail, live our life as if he doesn't matter, just depending on that invention we're working on in the shop? Let us look to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the one who has laid down his life for us, showing us what true love is. Let us look to our Lord who has taken our sin and shame upon himself. Let us look to our Lord, who is the resurrection and the life. He has chosen us.

Pray with me, please. Our Lord, let us see you, the one who chose us, as the one who will lovingly guide our lives. Grant us repentance, and give us your forgiveness. Make us walk in your paths, bearing fruit for you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 19 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Kings 6-10. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Kings 6 - God affirms Solomon’s work of building a temple, but he emphasizes the more important work of living a life according to God’s commands.

1 Kings 7 - We see after all of Solomon’s work on the temple that he spends more time and effort on his own palace.

1 Kings 8 - Filling the temple and consecrating it is an elaborate state affair, full of sacrifices and reverence. It is centered on God’s work to forgive his people and to bring them to Jerusalem, both the center of state authority and the place where God has made himself accessible. See the theme of repentance and forgiveness.

1 Kings 9 - God again appears to Solomon telling him to walk before Him in integrity. The promise of God here is conditional, based on Solomon’s obedience.

1 Kings 10 - Solomon’s greatness and wisdom is known through the world. yet we see him continuing to consolidate his power, being more like the kings of whom Samuel had warned. What do we do with riches and power?

Friday, May 11, 2012

A quick note on Ephesians 4:11-12

This is one of those passages that is hotly debated, at least in the United States. Are the leaders there to do the work of the ministry or to perfect the saints so those people do the work of the ministry?

It strikes me that the apostles, prophets, etc. ARE the saints.

We all need the work of the Gospel day by day preparing us for the work of the ministry. Every last one of us gets to minister in our various vocations as our Lord equips and sustains us.

Bible Reading Challenge Week 19 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Kings 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Kings 1 - In David’s old age his son Adonijah decided to assert himself as king. David’s supporters ask that David should confirm Solomon as king.

1 Kings 2 - David charges Solomon to remain faithful to God. He also makes a number of requests that Solomon should defeat certain people who were disloyal. Though Solomon may have wanted peace and good will, he used force to assert his authority. Compare this to Jesus, who refused to assert his power at the expense of others, choosing to make peace through his death on our behalf.

1 Kings 3 - God appears to Solomon. Solomon asks for wisdom. God promises that and more.

1 Kings 4 - As Solomon grows in wisdom, wealth and power he also becomes remarkably like the kings Samuel had warned of.

1 Kings 5 - Solomon appears faithful as he sets about building the temple. Yet his motives are mixed, just like ours. Even as we grow in grace, let us guard our hearts, that we may be pleasing to God.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 19 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is Ephesians 1-6. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant? Ephesians 1 - God has lavished his love nad mercy on all who believe on Jesus. He has given us so much blessing we cannot even begin to count it all. And it is all according to God’s will, by his grace. Ephesians 2 - Salvation in Jesus has turned us around entirely - death to life, not by our works but to make us able to do the works God has appointed for us. Ephesians 3 - God’s great mystery is that he can make people of every nation partakers of all his riches in Christ. He gathers even the worst of us and uses us to show his mercy. Ephesians 4 - See all the unity statements - one body, reflecting the unity of God. We grow in Him to be one together. Ephesians 5-6 - Our response to God’s work in Christ is to walk in his grace. Theologian Gerhard Forde said this life of progressive sanctification is no more than getting used to our identity in Christ.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 19 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Samuel 21-24. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

2 Samuel 21 - The troubles of the kingdom continue to follow David. We see him worn out with warfare and strife. Our time comes and goes. We have different seasons in our life. David is leaving his active adulthood.

2 Samuel 22 - David sings praise to God, both for who he is and what he has done. Both are worthy topics for our songs and prayers.

2 Samuel 23 - We have a summary of David’s final reflections as well as a catalog of his mightiest followers. I wonder what kind of reflections we have to leave behind?

2 Samuel 24 - Our sin brings consequences on others. So may our prayers and repentance. As David considered how he could live in a manner pleasing to God, may we also have our Lord’s grace and wisdom.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Readership Up - Time Down - Forecast of Readership Decline

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I'd like to thank you for making this what I consider a well-read blog. In the past few months I've been noticing a growing international audience (I reside in the United States) including readers on five continents that I've noticed (Africa and Antarctica, where are you?). Readership has blossomed as I have posted summaries of books and chapters in books, leading me to think that there is more interest in that academic side of my work than in the purely pastoral, biblical commentary side of my work. For this I'm grateful. If I can be of help and service to anyone, I stand humbled and thankful to God.

I do know that biblical commentary resources abound and that the posts I make pertaining to the Bible Reading Challenge or lectionary readings or whatnot are not significantly different from anything which could be found anywhere. Yet I want to continue making those posts since I have some readers within my local congregation. I'm their shepherd and wish to encourage them in their Bible reading, giving them easy access to the same kind of biblical teaching that I try to provide week in and week out locally. So though those posts are not as popular as my others, I fully intend to keep them going.

Time and energy are short, though. As I write this I have about three more weeks of working double-time, both as a parish pastor and as a junior high and high school teacher. The past months have had some impact on my health and, I'm sure, on the patience of my family. Therefore, I'm planning on putting aside the posts other than the Bible reading challenge until the week of May 28, when I will be down to one job again. I reserve the right to violate that and write up a post or so, but it seems pretty unlikely at the moment.

When I begin posting more book review posts I plan to start with quotes and comments from two different books, both of which I've been studying but which I haven't had time to relate in writing. The first is by Gene Edward Veith, The Spirituality of the Cross, 2nd edition, ISBN 0758613032. The second is a weighty tome, by Frank C. Senn, Christian Luturgy: Catholic and Evangelical. That ISBN is 0800627261. The two books look at the vitality of historic worship, but from opposite directions. Veith considers the living and devotional nature of the liturgical life while Senn considers it from an historical standpoint, tracing where different practices emerged.

So, do you hear that sound? It's the noise my blog makes when readership plummets. Hopefully when I'm more active about posting in about three weeks I'll find a sustainable pace and it can be a blessing, especially to some of my international readers who may not have as ready access to some of these materials as I do. So come back in a while, bring your friends, and join me as I rejoice in the Lord who does all things decently, in order, and according to his own timetable!

Book Review - National Sunday Law

A. Jan Marcussen National Sunday Law. Okeene, OK: New Life Publications, 2007. This book was sent to many people in our community. Though I was ready to ignore it altogether, several people have expressed concern over the booklet so I will try to respond in brief to its claims.

A booklet of this nature is very difficult to review for several reasons. First and foremost, the writing itself seems intended to inflame. It’s difficult to find thesis statements, lucid arguments, and logical support for those arguments. However, as nearly as I can understand it, Marcussen identifies the Roman Catholic Church as the Antichrist. He asserts that the United States government is in collusion with the Roman Catholic Church to require everybody to worship on Sunday rather than from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. While Marcussen does not say that setting Sunday aside for a celebration of the day of resurrection is wrong, he does say that God's blessings only come fully to people who keep the entirety of God's Law, which he identifies as being centered on the observance of the Sabbath.

Aside from some obviously glaring problems, such as the lack of evidence that the United States government has an interest in encouragement of Christian worship on any day at all, there are numerous problems with the way Marcussen uses his sources of information. For instance, he ties the recent increase in imposing a death sentence to a law which existed in Virginia in the early 1600s which required attendance at Sunday church services, implying that there is a requirement under the current constitution that Sunday be observed as the Sabbath and that our government is likely to execute people who do not do so. Not only are death sentences in this country very rare and limited to capital crimes, the constitution of the United States was created nearly 200 years after the law cited was present in one of the colonial settlements. We are not under that jurisdiction in any way.

What concerns me more is the fact that Marcussen plays fast and loose with the Scriptures. He leaps from one location to another without considering the context of any of the texts he is using. He also makes doctrine rest on Revelation, Ezekiel, and Daniel without considering the fact that all those books were among those disputed in their acceptance as canonical writings and which theologians throughout history have considered dangerous as the "sedes doctrinae" - the "seat of doctrine" upon which one would place the foundation for interpretation of other passages. These texts are best interpreted in light of the books which were more universally accepted as canonical.

A final concern is that Marcussen asserts that he keeps the entire Law of God and therefore receives God's blessing. This flies in the face of any responsible interpretation of Romans, Galatians, or James, in which we see that not only do we all fail to keep God's Law but if we bind ourselves to the Law of God to receive God's favor we become liable to keep it all perfectly. We have departed from grace.

Marcussen's arguments are scattered, logically unsound, and do not show any regard for the whole message of Scripture, that Christ crucified for sinners is our only hope in this life and in eternity. Jesus' forgiving love is applied to us through Word and Sacraments, enabling us to be saved by grace, through faith, not by any works of our own. Teachers who suggest otherwise are dangerous. May the Lord call them to repentance so they can see the mercy of God as well.

Sermon for 5/7/12

Sermon “Jesus Prunes Branches” Lord, conform us into your image, in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. I like growing things. Maybe you do too. Probably a lot of us enjoy seeing little plants and animals grow into big plants and animals. From the look of some of my garden spaces, you might think I concentrate on growing weeds. Well, they are interesting too, amazing survivors, and some of them are downright beautiful. But some of my emphasis on weeds has been due to an overloaded schedule, running here and there, doing this and that until it's been too long a day to think about pulling weeds and working the gardens. Our Scripture passages here have a lot to do with both of those ideas, both growing things and running here and there. In fact, they are very closely related. The early Christian church was full of activity. The disciples were going here and there, bringing the Gospel with them, talking about Jesus wherever they went. During that time something was happening to them. Not only was the Gospel spreading and growing, like those weeds do as soon as we turn our back on them, but also the believers were changing. They were growing in Christ as they saw how God works through His Word. They were being pushed outside of their normal surroundings, going to places they had never intended, meeting people they would never have planned to meet, and seeing that our Lord can work through His Word in those other people as well. This is at the heart and center of what Jesus is talking about when he says he is pruning the fruitful branches. It causes discomfort, there's no question about that. We who are fruitful, we who live out the Gospel, day after day we see Jesus coming at us with a big pair of scissors. He's trimming away the waste. But he's also simply making adjustments to us. What happens to that rose bush when you snip off a branch? Two branches grow from the place you cut. That makes it very difficult to get rid of a healthy plant. We cut it down and it grows back, bushier than before. Jesus sees us, he trims us, and we become more productive. Do we like the process of pruning? Do we like being pushed beyond our normal habits? Not at all. But like the athlete in training who knows he needs to go to the point of being tired and then continue a little farther, we see that our Savior pushes us just a little farther. He won't break us. He won't destroy us. But he's coming to trim us and change us. How does our Lord do this? I'd like to bring you three ways the Lord makes us grow in him, all from today's Scriptures. These aren't the only three ways he works in us, but they are three we can use. First, he prepares us by having us read and understand the Bible. Second, he sends us to love and care for our neighbors. Finally, he makes us depend on him. Philip was a man who knew the Scriptures. He had been appointed as a servant of the Church in Acts chapter 6. In our passage today he found himself helping a foreigner understand what the Bible said. Are we ready to take a passage of Scripture and explain it to others? It's my job, but it's your job also. I know there are people here who could explain the intricacies of their careers to me. Several people, for instance, work in industrial type settings. You could tell us all about safety shoes, the areas where you need to wear eye protection, how materials come and go, what kind of information is on the chemical safety data sheet, you could go on and on. Can you tell me from the Scripture about Christ crucified for you? Can you tell me from the Scripture how Jesus had to be completely man and completely God? Can you explain how a perfect human had to die in place of a sinful human or each sinful human would have to die on his own? It's all there in the Bible. Yet we often treat everything other than the Bible as more important. How are we going to live our Christian life knowledgeably without looking to the Word of God regularly and carefully? We need the Scripture, in large regular doses, changing our lives, changing our attitudes, changing our understanding of the world. That's why we're making as many opportunities for group Bible study as we can, not only in the children's and adult Bible classes on Sunday, but in the men's group starting in June, in teen Bible classes for this congregation and anybody else, starting soon in the evenings, in the Women of Life circles, in the after-school catechism class and Bible club, and any other time we can arrange for people to look into God's Word together. We depend on the Scripture. God changes us through His Word. As we depend on the Word of God, though, we go and help our neighbors. Are there people in this congregation who don't have what they need? Are we helping those we are aware of? What about people who need jobs, do we rejoice with those who have found jobs, like we rejoice with LouAnn, who finally gets to go to work next week? Do we go out of our way to help those who are suffering physically, mentally, emotionally? Do we show love for our neighbors in Christ? Or do we come in and present ourselves as people who need no help, who have no help to give, and who arrive, do our time in church, and then disappear as fast as we can to get on with our lives? The Bible calls us one building, one family, one body. We depend on one another. And our world is going to judge us based on our care for one another and for the rest of the world. Are we concerned about people who are suffering and dying? There are plenty of those people right here in this county, right here in this city. What are we doing? Does the love of Christ motivate us to get out of our little groups and serve our community? Can we show this as a distinctively Christian concern for our community by doing things together, as Christ's people, as the Church which is coming to love and serve our neighbors? We have two committees, Evangelism and Faith in Action, which, I confess, I have not worked with very well. Let's gang up on them. Let's try to make them so busy loving and serving our neighbors along with us that we won't know what to do. There's plenty of need. And as we read in 1 John, people can tell Christians by their love for their neighbors. What if we find that we don't have the time, resources, or talent to live this Christian life? It seems like a daunting task. Maybe you are like I am and have spent much of your adult life working sixty to eighty hours a week, much occupied with your business, your career, giving the rest of your time to your family. Maybe you find that you would like to have more involvement in the local church but don't know where it all can fit together. In all our readings today there was one underlying theme. Christians depend on Christ, the living God, their savior. We look to Jesus, who has given himself for us, who himself was consumed as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, on our account. We look to Jesus, who counted the cost, saw it would cost him his life, and that he who was perfect would have to bear the sins of the world in order to redeem us to God. And we depend on him. We depend on that redeeming love. We depend on his perfect righteousness. We depend on his grace to get the job done. Are we ready to trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to work through us, drawing our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our whole community to him? Do we realize that he can take our feeble offerings, our imperfect understanding, our commitment of a little time, a little money, and whatever else we have, and use them by the Holy Spirit to change the world? I've challenged you before to think of a few people you will pray for and minister to. I want to keep that challenge in front of us week after week. Do we know people who need Jesus? Every one of us needs Jesus' love and forgiveness. But what about those people who aren't receiving from God's word? What about those people who need someone to care for them in Christ's name? What about those people who don't depend on Christ because they have never heard of their sin and their need for a savior? Do we love them enough to be God's hand of mercy extended to our world? Do we love them enough to invite them to receive from the grace of the Lord along with us? You see, doctrine matters. If we are going to say we are Christians, and if we are going to say that we confess this historic Lutheran faith that says salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, revealed to us sufficiently in the Scripture, we need to live that out. If Jesus is the savior of the world, then we'd better be busy showing that to our world. They need Jesus, just like we do. It starts right here. It starts with confession of our sin. Maybe you've grown cold in your faith. Maybe you have never truly believed that Jesus is the savior. Maybe you've never thought about how he changes our lives from inside to out. Maybe you see those patterns of mistrust in your life, areas where you want to live your own way, not depending on Christ crucified for you. This is the time for repentance and forgiveness. It is the time to look to him in faith. It is the time to prepare ourselves to receive his body and blood, given and shed for us. It is the time to receive forgiveness, life and salvation. And it's all by grace through faith. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day that Jesus comes to you with those big pruning shears. Today is the day he takes your branches and makes them grow and flourish in him.What if we refuse? Jesus has warned us we will be cut off, cast out, dried up, and used for kindling. May it never be! Let us rather be the fruitful branches, by faith in our Lord. Rise with me, if you can, to pray. Our Lord God, you have promised in your Word that you would change us, that you would use us in this world, that you would make us fruitful in you as we depend on you. Give us grace to believe with our heart and confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God. Forgive us our sin. Make us walk in your paths, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Bible Reading Challenge Week 19 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Samuel 16-20. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant? 2 Samuel 16 - David is confronted with his sin again and again. He responds to this cursing by trusting God. It is not at all an easy time. How much more difficult was it when Jesus, who knew no sin, received cursing on our account. Yet he trusted in the Father, returning blessing for cursing. 2 Samuel 17-18 - David is decisively under attack by his own son with the armies he commands. Finally Absalom is killed. The only “safety” for David is the defeat of his own son. His world has fallen apart and he is filled with mourning. Do we see the peril of sin and its results that clearly? May we never minimize it. 2 Samuel 19-20 - After David is so humbled his supporters begin to return to him. Yet all is not well. The kingdom is tenuous. Does this happen in the church as well? It does. We remember in John 17 that Jesus prays his people may be one as he and the Father are one. May we have such grace of God.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 18 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Samuel 11-15. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant? 2 Samuel 11-12 See what happens when David sends his people out to battle and stays home? He is tempted and falls to temptation. One sin leads to another. May we have grace to flee temptation, to confess our sin, to receive God’s forgiveness, and to trust in Jesus, who gives us his perfect righteousness so we may be people after God’s own heart. 2 Samuel 13-15 - See how David’s household suffers just as Nathan said it would. Our past will stay with us, though it is forgiven in Christ. How do we respond to our past? Do we see it as something that Jesus has dealt with in his death on our behalf? Are we courageous enough to continue with life as redeemed people?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 18 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Samuel 6-10. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant? 2 Samuel 6 - Bringing the ark of God - the real presence of God - into Jerusalem was fraught with danger. How do we look at our Lord’s presence? Do we revere him? Do we rejoice before him? What if people object to true worship? Will we trust our Lord no matter what? 2 Samuel 7 - David desires to make a house for God. God responds with a promise to the house of David. We bless God out of gratitude. He blesses us because of his grace. 2 Samuel 8 - David was promised peace, yet he goes to war. Lasting peace will only come when God has conquered his enemies. He allows that enmity for a time but in the end will bring all the world to his righteous judgment. 2 Samuel 9 - David showed kindness to the offspring of Saul. How has our Lord Jesus shown kindness to the household of those who once persecuted him? By calling us to dine at his table. 2 Samuel 10 - As long as there are nations around Israel there will be wars. Our world is always in strife. Someone wants something and takes it. Israel is no exception. True peace only comes through that promised descendant of David, Jesus.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 18 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Samuel 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant? 2 Samuel 1 - David receives a story of Saul’s death which is different from the report at the close of 1 Samuel. However it happened, Saul is dead. David mourns the passing of God’s anointed, even though Saul had sought to kill him. 2 Samuel 2 - David established his kingdom in Hebron. Abner, one of Saul’s commanders elevated Saul’s son to the throne, resulting in ongoing war between David’s followers - Judah in the south and Ish-bosheth’s - Israel - in the north. 2 Samuel 3-4 - People playing politics are dangerous. How do we act when we desire our own way and pursue influence? 2 Samuel 5 - David becomes king over all Israel and Judah. Saul’s heirs are out of the picture. The kingdom takes on the trappings of central regal authority. It looks more and more like the kingdom Samuel warned of, but at least David is inquiring of the Lord.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 18 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is Galatians 1-6. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant? Galatians 1 - The Gospel is a supernatural message, given to Paul by revelation from Jesus, confirmed in Scripture and by the apostolic witness. The Gospel is not our idea, but God’s power. Galatians 2 - The controversy emerges - do Christians have to live under the law as Jews? We cannot be saved by the law. Galatians 3 - If we rely on the works of the law for salvation we claim salvation by our own work. If we do that, Jesus died for nothing and no longer saves us. We must save ourselves. Galatians 4 - The Christian life is the life of an heir of God. To depart from the faith ensnares us as slaves. Christ calls us to adoption in his kingdom, not to slavery. Galatians 5 - To be circumcised, to accept the yoke of the law, is to fall away from grace. It obligates us to the whole law. We should rather cling to freedom, the grace of Christ for us. Galatians 6 - Even as we trust only in Jesus for us, we do good works and bear one another’s burdens. This is for the good of our neighbor.