Pastor's Page

God with Us

Submitted by tmatthew on Fri, 12/15/2017 - 18:25

Years ago, I purchased a book I thought dealt with losing loved ones. Upon receiving the book, I noticed that I had not paid close enough attention to the subtitle. Inside, I read of a woman who had a tumultuous relationship with her mother, of whom the author said was manipulative, playing one child against the other, a routine that caused much hurt and damage. The author contends that her life really began after her mother’s death. Not until then was she free from despair and heartbreak.

   Damaged children do grow up and often damage others. Yet even offspring of loving parents sometimes end up as the proverbial apples that are far from their parental tree. But you’ve likely seen adults who have had difficult parents who decided in their late teens that they are going to be different with their own children. And of course, there are problems with their children also—so often because the parents have overcompensated, as in spoiling their children to offset their parents’ stinginess, or they will be permissive or overly strict as a reaction to their own upbringing.

    But beyond automatic transmissions, loose boards, and dull pencil tips, we humans cannot fix much. Someone may point to how we, individually, have been damaged. Sometimes, although rarer, we discover how we have damaged others. The latter is so much rarer because we are blinded to our own sins although we’re experts at others’ sins.

   Enter Advent, the four-week season of repentance (regret of our sins) in the light of God’s plan of salvation—He actually became Flesh to exchange His righteous for our unrighteousness. That void, that hole that is in every human heart is the result of our physical separation from God—that connection that our original human parents lost after falling for the serpent’s temptation: “…you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)

   The lie was not “knowing good and evil”. The lie was “you will be like God.” Our attempts to compensate for or fix the sins of others or our own fail because our hearts are not in the right place. There is often a self-righteous motive behind attempts to become better parents than our own. God doesn’t fix us by ridding us of our sin nature, at least not yet, but He has reconnected your life to your ultimate Creator. The Holy Spirit leads us to confess and to repent of our sins. We cannot even know God unless He draws us to Him (John 6:44).

   Every Advent, we read of the birth and ministry of John the Baptist, the last prophet of the Holy Bible whose mission it was to prepare the coming of the Lord. John called his hearers to repent, just as our Lord has. Advent points to the proper relationship with our heavenly Father by the works of the Son. The marvel of Christmas is God finding us in our hiding places, in our sinful flesh which He substituted with His before our heavenly Father. The only compensation for sins is His cross and that mission began at His birth. Your baptism, believer, in Him connects your flesh to His. What you see in that nativity scene is the beginning of your redemption. You are saved. Be at peace. Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Christian Beholding

Submitted by tmatthew on Tue, 12/05/2017 - 11:03

   Just the other day, while researching for next Sunday’s sermon, I came across a commentary on Isaiah 40:1-11. The commentary was dated “November 1983”, not exactly ancient, in my view. But right from the beginning, I came across a word I had not seen before—“ palaver”. You may know it, but I had correctly guessed its meaning from the context it was used, in this case, “light talk” or maybe “drivel” or what a memorable former teacher of mine used to call “gum-flapping”. Further reading of this now-deceased seminary professor and pastor’s comments revealed a vocabulary that heartened me and I wish was used today. We’re told by “experts” to make writing simple where everyone can understand it. But I don’t mind having to look up a word. Admitting ignorance is not as fun as bragging, but it does help us learn and also avoid buying into the delusion that we’re smart. Besides, reading from a very intelligent person who also loves the Lord is a pure joy.

  What’s even better than that is reading what was written by a man who was called directly by God to prophesy the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah did prophesy Jesus (Isaiah Chapters 7, 9, 40; 50; 53, et al) but also John the Baptist in that 40:1-11 passage: “Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might…” The word “behold” is archaic, not used today, but it denotes anything but gum-flapping or “palaver”. “Behold” means pay attention; look with great anticipation and attention.

   In Mark 1:1-11, we read that Jesus returned to Jerusalem for the completion of His mission, which was to die for the sins of His beloved people. There’s a behold moment in there I had never noticed before. That professor and pastor pointed out that, like everybody else on earth, he needed guidance, direction, and continued teaching. The mark of any expert and master is his long list of human references—other masters who know more than he—whom he will call up and ask to teach him and preach to him. My teacher had guides too, and this one pointed out the similarities between Jesus and His beloved Israel. Just like Israel was to return to Jerusalem in the 500s B.C. with no reason but to glorify God, Jesus returned during that first Holy Week to glorify His heavenly Father.

    Thank you, our heavenly Father, for never leaving us, Your children, alone to fend for ourselves. We would and do fail. But as we read from 2 John 3: 18ff, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”

   This is just one blessing of Advent. Christianity is for us, but it’s never about us. It’s always been about the Christ. And it always will be. We behold the only One who is greater than all. And we rejoice to be beholden to Him. Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Advent Splash

Submitted by tmatthew on Tue, 12/05/2017 - 08:07

   If you’re an avid gardener, you know that you’re about to be on the receiving end of a slew of catalogs for spring planting. When January’s cold and sometimes snowy weather arrives, it’s comforting to peruse your favorite nursery’s ornamentals, such as the early spring Lenten rose (hellebores), April’s azalea, June’s daylilies, and July’s sunflower.

I don’t garden like I once did, but I very recently received a catalog from my church body for Vacation Bible School. Looking at the front picture of a child with a toothy grin riding an inner tube down a busy stream was also comforting while thinking of the upcoming Advent season, the three or four weeks before Christmas. Advent is penitential, a period of reflection on our need for a Savior.

   The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent this year is Jesus’ “triumphant” entry into Jerusalem—traditionally the Palm Sunday reading. The crowd is waving palm branches in their hands, singing “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9) Just four days later there was no crowd of well-wishers as He is led to the cross of Calvary to pay the penalty for the sins of the world.

   Years ago, a relative of mine complained about a Christmas Eve service because the sermon did not mention the nativity scene, the baby Jesus, the swaddling clothes, the shepherds, etc. I replied with something like, “Sounds like you already know about all that. Maybe the pastor wanted you to know something new.”

   Advent is the perfect time to ask yourself questions—even the basic ones, like why did God decide to become flesh, and decide to sacrifice His Son (Himself, really, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity)? Looking at our own unworthiness is not frightening, if we really believe that we are forgiven for all sins because of what God planned for and allowed at the cross of Christ. We believers should have no fear. That VBS catalog with the happy child tubing down a creek may appear shallow and superficial, but the Christian life that is led by confidence in the victory of Christ is indeed one of joy. And the gardener’s delight in sights of new life may come from thoughts of the new life that will spring after Christ’s return.

   Advent is also a good time to ponder what it meant for God to become Flesh. More than an out-of-favorable season experience, He still humbled Himself more and more before a human creation which did not relate to Him, would rather fantasize about our own worthiness, and spend most days wondering why things are not better for us. Instead of attempting to reduce Him to a harmless child, we should relish that He is our Shepherd, not One to manipulate or ignore, but One who will lead us to everlasting life.

   The apostle Paul gave this sure message to the church at Corinth. (1 Corinthians 1:4-9) “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus... who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Gloria Deo—Glory to God

His Terms

Submitted by tmatthew on Tue, 11/21/2017 - 20:19

His Terms

   The Gospel reading for the Last Sunday of the Church Year is from Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus reports of Himself, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the peoples, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

   "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

  Yes, that was all quoted from that Scripture passage. He always says it better than any of us could. There are some who believe that Jesus was emphasizing what the Christian is to do, while others say no—Jesus is talking about loving others. Some believe that “loving others” means ignoring what some Scriptures say, especially concerning sexual sins. Some believe that there is no gospel—good news, until “economic justice” comes. Others say that the “tolerant” ones are self-serving, desiring to be admired by the world, while beleaguered with guilt they are unwilling to face or confess. The truth is that loving all others is not possible unless we love the Lord. And loving Christ is not possible if we don’t love others. But we don’t love Him or others on our terms. We love others because He first loved us and we remember that He loves others as much as He loves us and as He is revealed in His Word, until life everlasting. Gloria Deo—Glory to God

 

 

      

Paying Attention

Submitted by tmatthew on Tue, 11/14/2017 - 11:09

   With the close of the Church Year continuing (the Church New Year—in 2017—begins December 3) the traditional readings include a Gospel reading of Jesus’ parables about the end of the Church Age, the return of Christ. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35) is an alarming text about forgiveness—the servant accepts his master’s forgiveness but does not give the same to his own servants. The unforgiving servant is condemned. Jesus ends this parable with, “So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

   The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-18) tells of servants of their master who believe that they deserve more than other workers, but the master reminds them that everyone received what they were promised. Jesus asked the appropriate question, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what is mine?” The Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:26-32) records the promises to two sons—one promised to work but did not, while the other son did not promise but did work. It is what is in the heart that matters. Promises can be mere words, certainly when coming from us.

  There is one parable that Jesus tells which has puzzled me for years. I was fortunate to be taught by very learned, godly men who warned us students against light or frivolous treatment of the Scriptures. The four Gospels do not present a permissive, opened-to-anything Savior that many “spiritual” people and religious groups present. Much of what Jesus says is harsh. Read the gospels and see just how many sayings of Jesus could have included a big, cheesy grin on His face while saying it. All of the above parables (and many more) have Jesus warning against falling asleep, not paying attention, and a lack of faith, belief, and trust in Him. And when He casts people “into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”, it won’t be a mere time-out and Jesus does not make idle threats. As one of those learned, godly men at whose feet I sat told us one day—in a non-alarmist manner: “Remember that Jesus means what He says.”

   That one parable which has puzzled me for years is the Parable of the Talents. (Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:12-27) Two servants, “after a long time” had returned to their master, double what he had entrusted to them. He said to both, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” As for the third servant, he returned the one talent with which he had been entrusted and he had buried in the ground to his master who was angry with him. That servant used this for his defense. “…I knew you to be a hard man…” Yes, into the outer darkness went this miserable man.

  Some believe that the parable deals with success and failure of spreading the gospel. But only God can bring people to faith. (John 6:44) Others take the parable to mean something aobut their own faith life—do we grow in faith in Christ? Or do we remain vulnerable—tossing to and fro as life challenges us? Must we have a cheesy savior or One who is both holy and merciful? Perhaps reading His Word and much prayer will help us know God as good, merciful, not as taskmaster. Faith which was once seed, should sprout in peace and joy—forevermore. Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Never-ending Thanks and Peace

Submitted by tmatthew on Fri, 11/10/2017 - 12:13

Here we are again, near the end of the Church Year, according to the traditional Church calendar. Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, begins the Church New Year on Sunday, December 3. November is the month when we usually focus on the end of the Church Age, when Christ returns.

   And He will be returning soon. Of course, every generation has believed it was the last before Christ appeared in the sky. Some of you have lived long enough to recall World War II, when some fifty million people perished and many in the West thought Hitler was the antichrist. The preceding generation of WWI must have thought the same about its age. Not only was it called the Great War, twice as many people died because of the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918. And had I lived (and survived) in Africa or Europe in the 700s to 900s A.D., (This was about a hundred years before the first Crusade.)  I certainly would have been looking for Christ in the air, as Christianity was almost wiped out in Africa by Muslim invasions. Spain remained predominately Muslim for some 700 years. In what honest historians call the worst genocide in history, an estimated 400 million people in India were slaughtered by Islamic invaders over the following seven centuries. All of those eras—plus many more—have brought belief that the Church Age was closing.

   Today, many Christians are looking for Christ’s reappearance. For decades now, the proverbial dark clouds have been gathering not only over the United States, but elsewhere. There have been many times and places where things were better, but other times were often much worse. For certain, the Christ is coming back for you and me within the upcoming decades at our individual deaths. Much of Scripture evokes His return. The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) is one example when our Lord exhorts us to pay attention. Five of them were prepared and five were not. The parable ends with Jesus saying, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

    Yet, Christianity is booming in Africa and parts of Asia as we recall the promise of a never-dying Church on earth. (Matthew 16:18). Many people follow false teachers who reject the Holy Bible, which was written by men who had literally walked and/or talked with God or knew others who had. None of us, fellow believers, are above falling into temptation. For now, we prepare to give thanks for His great blessings on the earth; then we will look back at the great Advent, when God became flesh to save unworthy you and me. Advent is a penitential season, when we are reminded by the Scriptures and our own sins of the need for the Savior. This joyous season is now anticipated by the colorful banners on light posts in downtown Dayton. Twinkling lights will soon begin to appear all over Rhea County. For me, the blinking and glowing lights on houses out on rural roads are the most satisfying, declaring the truth that His peace can be found anywhere on earth. Then, we recall the promised Hope which will never end. Gloria Deo—Glory to God

The Reformation Continues!

Submitted by tmatthew on Wed, 11/01/2017 - 15:33

   Last night at the Reformation Day service, we looked at how the Reformation is not a mere historical event but a must be in the life of the child of God, the Christian. What had corrupted the believer and the Church then continues to corrupt today—works oriented, some believers held up higher than others, and the temptation to make the faith all about us and the Church the object of our worship instead of the Christ.  

   Today is All Saints Day. We will observe that festival day next Sunday morning and some of you are already humming the hymn, “For All the Saints”. It’s almost a given that it will be sung on the day or observance. And as one pastor and theologian points out, the observance of the saints in the pre-Reformation period focused on what the saints had done with their lives—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. But in our First Reading for Sunday in Revelation 7, we will see the saints gathered around the throne of the Lamb. But all the doings will be done by the Lord. It is we who will be fed, clothed, etc. as we will read…

“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The “they” are you, fellow believer, and I. Thanks be to God!

Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Pastor

Happy Reformation Day 500th Anniversary!

Submitted by tmatthew on Tue, 10/31/2017 - 16:03

Happy 500th Anniversary of Reformation Day!

   One of my Homiletics (sermon writing) professors in seminary warned his students against mentioning the cross of Christ in every sermon. He said that Calvary would become a mere history lesson. At the time, I balked at that comment, but today I’m not sure what he meant. The cross of Christ can indeed become a history lesson, but so can the Reformation. Both can be seen as addressing an issue that does not plague mankind today, but of course does.

  Yes, both events occurred in the past but both still are greatly needed. The Roman Church is even more unbiblical today (!), and many churches called Protestant have become like the Roman Church, ignoring Scriptures, such as the liberal religious bodies, picking and choosing what to believe and reject. Others have become works oriented, while still others focus on worship styles—perhaps contemporary, but still highlight a particularly relaxed worship style as necessary for bringing us to Christ, as the RC claimed that the Mass did.

   I know a pastor who begins each day with coffee and reading the Bible as well as the Small Catechism. Some would think he’d have the latter down by now, especially teaching it to others many times, but the pastor not only cognitively knows that he is sinful by nature as the rest of us, but his awareness of his flesh is so apparent, he knows the Cross and the truth of Reformation are sorely and daily needed.

   Tonight, we gather to worship the Lord and give thanks for brother Martin Luther’s courageous fight to bring back God’s Word into the Church. His own journey began as a personal need to restore what had become a mere history lesson to the reality of the true kingdom that has no end!

O come, let us worship Him!

Pastor

Reformation History and Upcoming Reformation-themed events

Submitted by tmatthew on Wed, 10/25/2017 - 11:21

We’re nearing the actual date for the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of his complaints against the teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. But as we know, revolutions have backgrounds. Luther did not exactly break completely new ground, and he did have the proverbial wind at his back of the new printing press. Besides the blood of two distinct and then-relatively recent martyrs whose blood was shed for proclaiming the truth of the Holy Bible. John Wycliffe (1324-1384) and Jan [John] Hus (1369-1415) both challenged the primacy of the pope, declaring that God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures, is the utmost authority of truth of God.

   But Luther had also enjoyed other already-broken ground. Questions had already been raised about the power of the papacy. By Wycliffe’s and Hus’ time, in the 14th century, the French (or Franks) had control over the cardinals and thus the papacy. In 1305, they elected a pope who was Frank, Clement V, who decided to move the home of the papacy to Avignon, in France. For most of that century, no pope lived in Rome. Some six popes later, the Franks split and one faction elected another pope. There was then two popes. Subsequent elections continued into the 1400s, with neither side willing to compromise.

   Some of the cardinals from both sides realized that the Church could not have two heads, so they met at Pisa and elected another pope, who they thought would unite the Church. But the two other popes would not accept the new pope, so the Church had three popes! The council at Pisa also declared that the council had more authority than the pope. That council met later at Constance (the same council and place where Hus was condemned and burned at the stake).Three years after Hus’ cruel martyrdom, the council elected a new pope that the other three popes accepted. Therefore, there was much cynicism of the Church among the people by the time Luther posted his concerns. (In a twist of irony, the new pope elected in 1418 was named Martin V!)  

Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Pastor

This Friday and Saturday, October 27th and 28th, Prince of Peace will have a booth at the PumpkinFest. We will have crafts from LWML available for sale as well as brochures and pamphlets telling everyone about what we Lutherans believe and info about Prince of Peace! What a fun way to witness to others of salvation by grace through faith in Christ as He is revealed in the Holy Bible!

We will meet at the church tomorrow (Thursday, October 26) at 4:00 to pick up the supplies, the canopy, and tables to set up at the courthouse for the PumpkinFest. If you have one, please bring a lawn chair when you come to stay Friday and/or Saturday.

And thank you for bringing candy. We have plenty for Saturday night. Also...

   This Sunday evening, October 29 at 6:00 PM, all Chattanooga Circuit Missouri Synod Lutherans (and guests) are invited to attend a special Reformation 500th “Hymn Festival Celebration” at First Lutheran Church in Chattanooga, complete with singing, worshipping, and praising God! A reception will be held immediately after the service. Parking is limited so carpooling is strongly suggested!

  There will be a special Reformation Worship Service at Prince of Peace at 7 PM on Tuesday, October 31—the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation! Join in the worshipful celebration!

Prayer, Meditation, and Temptation

Submitted by tmatthew on Wed, 10/18/2017 - 13:43

   It is obvious to Christians today that a downward spiral is taking place in America and other western societies. Many people believe that we are living in the end times. Maybe we are, but reading Luther a couple of weeks ago brought up his distress over the state of marriage in his land in his day. No one was taking it seriously as an estate instituted by God, Luther observed.

   Whatever worries you and I the most, let us take comfort in knowing that you and I live in a marvelous place and time where and when the Word of God is available to us. But others are being persecuted for simply reading God’s Word. As Luther advised us to do when we are in distress over ours or our neighbors’ situations, we should engage in three practices on a daily basis—Oratio, Meditatio, and Tentatio—or Prayer, Meditation, and [recognizing] Trials or Temptations. We pray that the Holy Spirit will strengthen us to read and meditate His Word daily so when temptations to stray from Him and His will come, we will have knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to remain faithful to Him. The time is coming soon when our neighbors and authorities will demand our denial of the Christ. But God’s Word should have taken root and grown in us and we pray that the Holy Spirit leads us to return to Him in His Word. Our salvation from eternal death and the devil has freed us to live boldly for Him! A mighty fortress is our God, indeed!

Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Pastor