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Back to School Special: The College Edition

Submitted by tmatthew on Wed, 08/16/2017 - 07:11

   If you’re heading off (or back) to college, I hope you have a wonderful learning experience. If you’re not going to Bryan College, here in Dayton, you will likely be taught a lot of myths. For example, in my own undergraduate days, the conventional Western dogma of history went like this: After “pre-history”, we had ancient antiquity when people gathered to live in communities, but warred a lot. Next were the classical Greek and Roman cultures that had wise philosophers, cool statutes, aqueducts, and decent roads. Then the Christians came, ushering in the “Dark Ages” when people stopped thinking, bathing, and domesticated rats. Humanity was liberated by “The Enlightenment”, when the Western world regained its senses, the sun shined again, and we could resume the glories of Classicism.

   Or something like that.

   I graduated not knowing that Plato and Aristotle owned slaves, and as many as half of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire were slaves. But some inventions during the supposed “Dark Ages” include chimneys; armor; oil-based paints; eyeglasses; new building designs and technologies; and riding saddles. Cities languished as people ate better in the country because of advances in agriculture, such as the invention of the heavy plow, rotating and idling fields, fertilization for crops and better usages of wind and water power. Slavery actually declined, but its rebound coincided with the beginnings of “The Enlightenment”, along with indentured servanthood. Early Christians were among the first to teach the common folk to read (including slaves) and were the first nurses. But Christians did many wrong things too, as sinners.

   Much of the history I was taught followed a curricular mix of truths, half-truths, and myths concocted from selective sentimentalities of such self-congratulatory writers as Edward Gibbon and Voltaire. They wrote, by the way, not in Greek or Latin, but in English and French, respectively, and those languages were developed during…you guessed it, the “Dark Ages”, during which also the movable type was invented that led to printing Gibbon’s and Voltaire’s works. Using unoriginal assumptions, they attacked Christianity and pandered to the egos of unbelievers in the West, who actually saw themselves as capable of purely objective thinking, just as most unbelievers do today.

   If your college/university is rigid in similar orthodoxy, ask questions—not to argue but to observe. Ask your history professor, for example, to explain the reason for the “swift migration” of Muslims into Europe in the 700s AD, a few hundred years before the Crusades. Or ask your physics professor to identify the origin of the gasses and/or matter needed for the “Big Bang”. Don’t be naïve as I was. You should not pay tuition to be a mere stenographer in an academic gulag.

   Take your Bible with you and attend a local church that is of the Word, not of the world. The Gospel topples empires, illuminates the unenlightened, and saves the lost. Remember that unlike textbooks, nothing in the Holy Bible has ever been disproven. And be prepared, believer, to proclaim your faith, not worrying that others remain unconvinced. (1 Peter 3:15) You can’t save the world. As Jesus said, “It is finished.” Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Not Easy But At Ease

Submitted by tmatthew on Wed, 08/09/2017 - 19:14

   To be a Lutheran means that we acknowledge our sins and wickedness to God and each other, asking Him for help in our struggles against the flesh, and we are not afraid to do that because we trust in our Lord’s forgiveness, which frees us from guilt because we have been justified by our Lord because of His goodness, not our own. We are blessed to be associated with a church body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, that is faithful to the Lord, as He is revealed in Scripture. Some other church bodies are as well, but they may not be as many as we might think. In the current (August 2017) issue of The Lutheran Witness (TLW), the theme is Tough Questions, Faithful Answers. Within are no fewer than fifteen issues or questions that we Christians have or have had. The answers provided by pastors and professors are not their opinions but are from God’s Word.

   This coming Sunday’s Psalm reading (18) sweetly and confidently confesses, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge.” Because our Lord has forgiven our sins and restored our relationship with Him, we have no reason to hide from Him as we will read of Adam doing in Bible class. We still fear Him (TLW issue #12—page 20) in reverance and in awe, yet have no reason for fear of coming to Him. We rejoice that our Lord is strong, does not tolerate sin, yet became weak for our sake to save us. One of the toughest need for most Christians is to confess sins to others. That fear is a double-whammy—not fear of God but fear of people and appearing weak. That shows us how unlike Christ we are, despite our desire to see Him as simply better versions of us (TLW issue #3—page 7). Being a Christian does not lead to an easy life, but it does or should produce an easy heart—one that loves the Lord, as Paul wrote in Sunday’s Epistle reading: “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame."

Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Pastor

Theology Matters

Submitted by tmatthew on Mon, 08/07/2017 - 16:25

   Years ago, I read a blog from a person who was railing against “theology”. “We don’t need ‘theology!’”, she wrote. “All we need is Jesus!” Of course, that last sentence is a theology. All the word “theology” means is thought about God. If you’re thinking about God now, you’re a theologian. And, of course, we all need a theology, which can also be known as an understanding about the nature of God. These days, it puzzles me why so many people put so little thinking into what they believe. I say “these days” because that could have described me some decades ago, when I was a “thinking, enlightened fair-minded man”.

   Looking back I don’t think very highly of my old self. But looking within at the present me doesn’t impress me much, either. And that’s a good thing. Humility is like those old puzzles that used to be printed on the back of cereal boxes—you know, the fuzzy pictures from which you could not discern the image unless you stared at it correctly, and if your focus slightly altered one bit, the image was gone.

   The theology I hold to says that God is good and we humans are not. The Holy Bible opens with these first two verses, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” That doesn’t tell us what God was doing before His creation of the heavens and the earth, but the Bible tells us that I don’t have to know everything. The Bible also tells us that you don’t either. But the earth at that first day was dark and “void”, meaning empty, and “without form” meaning shapeless, perhaps. It was void because God did not create anything to plant or to live on it. In fact, it would be without life for two more days and even the third day had only plants which the words for them are “green things” not living.

   But God did fill the earth with living things—His most beloved creation was Man (Day Six) for whom God gave everything, including the serpent which tempted Eve to rebel against God because the very idea of being like God was as overwhelming to Eve as was disappointing Eve was apparently to Adam. All it took was to plant a doubt in the heart of Eve, Adam, and most alive today to likely eternally condemn most of them.

   Recorded in Matthew 13:42-54, Jesus tells three quick parables, the one with the newly found treasure, the most valuable pearl, and the net full of fish. We sinful humans put ourselves in those two fields and in that boat, not only hauling in the catch but deciding which ones are worth keeping. But the real hero of those parables is not someone like you and I. Only Jesus can pay such a great price for a treasure of His, which includes you and I. And only can He rescue untold millions of people from eternal damnation. He’s what we focus on. This very Biblical theology that tells of our salvation also shows us that He thought much of us. Gloria Deo—Glory to God

The Ultimate Dance

Submitted by tmatthew on Wed, 08/02/2017 - 10:54

In Luther’s day, woodcuts were often used as illustrations. Some of his made it into early copies of the Small Catechism and Bibles. The 16th century German humanist artist, Hans Holbein the Younger created a series of wood cuts he called “The Dance of Death”. The scenes depicted then-everyday activities, such as tilling the soil, nursing infants, men visiting with each other in city streets. But in every work, one of more skeleton figures would be added to the scenes, suggesting that death is always near, mocking life. Our OT reading for Sunday is from Isaiah 55, and we will include the optional extended verses in which Isaiah rhetorically asks the Judeans, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

   Recently, Concordia Publishing House released a pamphlet callled “A Simple Explanation of Christianity.” Inside, we find the Small Catechism and under the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Temptation) addresses our sinful nature and why we labor (or desire) that which does not satisfy. A Concordia Seminary professor put it more direct: “Why do we do that? Because that is all we are able to do.” Our Lutheran understanding of God’s Word is the truest explanation of Who God is and who we are and why things are the way they are. It is based on God’s Word, as the ultimate revelation of Himself to His beloved creation. Unlike today’s  boastful, Enlightenment-inspired American Protestant bodies, the “choice” is not ours, but God’s. And He has chosen you, fellow believer! He has defeated death, the devil, and paid the eternal penalty for our sins. Yes, our death will come, but very much like this present sinful life, it will be temporary—all replaced by God’s will for us to be with Him in paradise—forever more.  

Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Pastor

Back to School Special

Submitted by tmatthew on Tue, 08/01/2017 - 21:48

Parents or Grandparents, please hand this article to your school-aged children or grandchildren or read it to them. Thank you.

   Sorry to remind you, but you’re going back to school in a few weeks. The local stores broke the news first. And you’re going back to school to prepare yourself because you don’t want to have a hard life. Life is hard enough without being unprepared for any of it. If you don’t know why life is hard, I suggest that you read (or have someone read to you) Genesis, Chapters 1through 3 in the Holy Bible. After you have that lesson down, you’ll know why some young people are sent to the principal’s office for misbehavior. If you ask why you should obey school rules, the answer you’ll get from the assistant principal will be something like “you need to behave so others can learn”, or “the teacher said so”, or “if you don’t, you’ll be punished.”

  Those reasons may be true, but they’ll also likely leave you feeling empty inside. The real reason you should behave is that we are to be good to one another because God (Jesus) wants us to love others as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22: 36-39) Isn’t pleasing God Himself much more satisfying than just following some empty phrase like, “Be nice”, as if we humans are generally nice by nature? C’mon, we both know you’ve been around long enough to know better than that.

   If you find that answer also unsatisfying, there is a book that can help you. The Holy Bible won’t help you with algebra problems, but it will teach you how you can live a joyful life here and an everlasting life forever and ever (with no homework). It’s a lie from the devil that life does not come with an instruction manual. We know that some people have not been nice to you, but since we’re being honest, admit you haven’t always been nice to others, either. Always blaming others or doing unto others before they do unto you will make you an unhappy person all the days of your life. (Matthew 7: 12)

  Your science, math, and English books can help you make a living later in this life, but the Bible was written by people who literally talked and/or walked with God Himself (or knew people who had) and it tells you how the Lord has eternally saved you. That is the most important lesson anyone can ever learn—ever! (John 3:16) You can take your Bible to any school and talk about Jesus, despite the rumor that you can’t. You’ll probably learn more about Jesus (and yourself) in a church that takes the Bible seriously. Ask your parent or guardian to take you to church. Nag them if you need to and show them some Bible passages that say they should take you to church, like Matthew 19:14—no, especially Matthew 19:14. Also read Matthew 16:24-27 and maybe talk to them about heaven and hell, if they need some honest talk, too. Just tell them Jesus sent you. And don’t forget that the good news of being saved by faith in Jesus Christ is the best joybell ringer anywhere! Now study hard this year and be good for Jesus. Gloria Deo (Latin for Glory to God)

Satisfied

Submitted by tmatthew on Tue, 08/01/2017 - 21:47

Satisfaction

 

   Years ago, one weekend, near the end of the school year, a high school student went out into the woods with his friends to party and have a good time. They ended up drunk, the one boy more than the others. Unconscious, the one boy was left alone by his buddies. The boy awoke the next morning and discovered that his “friends” had urinated and defecated on him. He walked some ten miles home and put a shotgun to his head and ended his life. Upon hearing what their sons had done, the other boys’ parents made their sons go to the boys’ house to clean up the mess of blood and body from his bedroom.

   I’m not sure what the lesson was learned there. Maybe a gory scene brings some sensitivity to cruel people, I don’t know. I’m not sure the parents should not have gone along to help the boys do the cleanup. Sometimes, the proverbial apple does fall far from the tree, but from what I’ve observed in my life, not so much. If the parents are not Christians, I’m not sure how they decided that what their offspring had done was so bad. I mean, if there is no god, at least not one worthy enough to worship at least once a week and instill His Word into the minds of their children, then good and evil must be a product of the human mind. And if that is true, who is to say what their sons did was so bad?

   Maybe the parents had taken their sons to church every Sunday, taught them Scriptures, and prayed that the Lord would bring them to faith. If the boys, one, some, or all found themselves in anguish, their shame, guilt, and hurt can be delivered to the Lord, as the psalmist of 119:59 composed, “When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies…” In other words, “I turn to You, O Lord. I cannot do any good apart from you.”

   Oh, and how so true that is for you and me. Yes, it is only by the grace of God that we were not at some other place, and had done the same thing to another one of God’s creation. Recorded in Matthew 13:24-43, Jesus tells the Parable of the Weeds in the Field, where God has sown good seeds, but the devil had sown in bad seed among the good. Jesus warned His disciples not to do the sorting of good and bad themselves, because they, like us, do not know the hearts of others. And how many times every day do you and I think thoughts and mutter words so unworthy of Him who has brought us to faith?

   Fellow sinner, God has satisfied our debt to Him by the cross of Calvary. Fellow saint, that same God has brought you and me to faith in Him. The apostle Paul explained the hope of all the living, recorded in Romans 8, “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Let’s be careful out there. We know ourselves all too well. Only God can fill our hearts. Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Justice, Just Us, and Jesus

Submitted by tmatthew on Wed, 06/21/2017 - 15:36

   One of the most delightful sights for a Christian in the spring in Rhea County is all of the signs and banners announcing the times and dates for various congregations’ Vacation Bible School. The congregation I serve had its VBS a couple of weeks ago. A lot of congregations had their VBS a couple of weeks ago. Some held theirs last week, some this week, and still others in the weeks to come. Some were and are in the daytime, while others hold theirs in the evening. If you have children, there is no excuse not to send your children to a church which takes the Scriptures seriously this spring or summer. Years ago, I heard a churchgoer complain about VBS. “Oh, it’s just babysitting for parents.” Uh, no ma’am. We read the Bible and talk about who and what God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is and has done for us.

  In the traditional Church Year calendar, Pentecost “season” arrived a couple of Sundays ago. Pentecost is not actually a season, but a day when we recall the marvel of Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit was poured upon the disciples of Christ, as was promised by Jesus. Pentecost Sunday (June 4 this year) begins the non-festival half of the Church Year until late November, when the festival half begins with Advent.

   And there is much to celebrate and to share after looking back to the previous six months’ of worship! Advent is the season recalling the birth of Christ; Epiphany, the revelation of the Christ by His baptism and the visits of the Magi to the toddler Jesus. Lenten season remembers the temptation of the Christ; Holy Week, the passion of the Christ; and Easter, the resurrection of the Christ. Notice that all the seasons have everything to do with what Christ has done! Where are you and I in this collage of the works of Christ? We’re the reason for all of His works. In acts of pure injustice, God became human, remained sinless and guiltless, yet bore all of our sins, was crucified, and with His death, so our sins were destroyed. We’re guiltless before our Lord—right now! His resurrection will be shared with those gifted with faith in Him.

   This explains why, for we believers, the word “justice” may make us cringe, as that word may be one of the most abused words in our vocabulary. Outside of God’s Kingdom, as revealed in His Word, ideas of fairness, justice, love, value, community, purpose, and life become human constructions. And we believers know, (or should know) from world history as well as our own experiences that when compared with God’s written will, the “social justice warriors” definitions of justice, love, value, community, purpose, and life will end in unfairness, hate, disunity, selfishness, and death—much death. The religion of secular fundamentalism has delivered, since 1973, the sacrificial murders of some 70 million American preborn children.

   No ma’am, VBS is not babysitting. It’s more like Acts 2 Pentecost. It’s about Jesus the Christ and His love through His acts of salvation. We Christians get so much joy and pleasure being able to talk about Jesus to grinning, wiggly, joyful gifts that God bestowed on His creation. He is the source of wisdom, joy, and life. Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Fear Not

Submitted by tmatthew on Wed, 06/21/2017 - 15:33

1517 to 2017

   On or near the Pentecost in 1547 (about a year after Luther’s death), Holy Roman Emperor Charles V personally showed up at the front door of the home of a friend of Luther. The Emperor’s army of 20,000 strong had just defeated Protestant Saxony Elector Johann Frederick I and had chased and killed many “rebels” (a.k.a “Evangelicals” or Lutherans) who had gathered in the woods for a mass. The Emperor’s army had just slaughtered about 5,000 of them as they attempted to cross a river to safety.

    In recognition of the 500th anniversary throughout this year, may we all be reminded of what was at stake and still is at stake, what drove Luther and his peers to face death with such apparent courage. They could have submitted to the status quo, the traditions, and the safety and earthly security the institutions offered, but the grace of God leads His children to Him and His Kingdom on earth, to places the world calls dangerous and threatens us believers with social and economic sanctions to pressure us to conform to this fallen world. His call to us takes us to the most unpleasant place of all—our desire to live for ourselves.

   Did the Lord deliver the early Lutherans on that day in 1546? Sunday’s Gospel reading is Jesus continued counsel to the disciples He is sending (before His crucifixtion and resurrection): And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul… Yes, they ran, but did not turn and beg for mercy from evil Man. They certainly provided the example for the psalmist from our Psalm reading for Sunday (91) which assuredly predicted for the believer in Christ: You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day. They might have remembered what Jesus said to His then-disciples: So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven. Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Pastor

Corndog Reasoning

Submitted by tmatthew on Tue, 06/13/2017 - 19:26

During the lunch break at VBS at the church yesterday (Tuesday), some of us were marveling at the mysteries of God, especially Genesis 1 and part of 2 (our OT reading for next Sunday). I’ve always wondered why God allowed the serpent in the Garden as well as adding the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But in considering possible reasons, problems with the suggested explanations arise, most of which included challenging or diminishing the sovereignty of God, His foreknowledge, and His omniscience. One fellow diner said that she simply trusted the Lord, because He is good and the Scriptures contain one example after another of His faithfulness, as we had just read in that day’s Scripture reading in 2 Kings, Chapters 18 and 19.

   There are some questions for which we will never know in this life. Wondering aloud why God did this or that can be harmless, as long as the questions are not the result of suspicions of any weakness or error on the part of God. But insisting on having answers will almost always lead to providing the answers and, thus, human error. We see this in our culture today, as we witness the disasters in judgments of right and wrong by fellow citizens who believe they can discern good and evil, as if the Garden serpent’s accusations against God were spot on. This Sunday is of the Holy Trinity. We should know better that to go too far there. Luther assailed the fallacy of “human reason”—“How can we miserable poor mortals comprehed this (Holy Trinity) mystery? We do not know the how of our own speaking, laughing, sleeping, although we daily perform and experience this functions.” One of the joys of being a Lutheran is that we do not insist on having an answer to everything. Indeed, it is good to enjoy our corndogs and french fries, trusting Him because He is true, good, trustworthy, sovereign, and faithful. Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Jesus Prays for Us

Submitted by tmatthew on Thu, 06/01/2017 - 20:11

A classmate from Concordia Seminary had been a pastor in a Pentecostal church. Part of his past frustration, he told me, was that people would come to him and tell him that they believed that God wanted them to do a certain task or relay certain messages to others. The ex-charasmatic pastor would often remind some of them that our “feelings” and experiences are not trustworthy guides—and that God is certainly not the only one who “speaks” to our hearts. Pride, fear, and anger are also part of our experiences and feelings, but certainly not products of faith in Christ.  

   Luther addressed the issue of feelings and experience. He wrote “Experience is limited to what reason and the mind can grasp, that is, what we feel or recognize through our senses. [But] according to my ‘experience’, my sins are still here—contrary to the gospel of the crucified and resurrected Christ. In response to this, I must leave experience behind, fill my ears with the Word, stuff my heart with it, and hold on to the Word.”

   We are blessed this Sunday to have part of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer as our Gospel reading. Jesus prays to His heavenly Father—first for Himself, then His then-current disciples and later for future believers, just like you and me. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their (His disciple’s) word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” And He was sent and was successful—He has saved us unworthy sinners. He is what unites us!