Happy New Year 2017 A.D.

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Happy New Year and Merry Eighth Day of Christmas.

Almighty and ever-living God, You make us both to will and to do those things that are good and acceptable in Your sight.  Let Your fatherly hand ever guide us and Your Holy Spirit ever be with us to direct us in the knowledge and obedience of Your Word that we may obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

— “For divine guidance” prayer, LSB, 310.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”  (James 1:17, ESV).

The Lord’s Regard

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May you have a blessed Christmas Eve.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

— Luke 1:46-49, ESV.


*

The Magnificat, by Martin Luther

Mary confesses that the foremost work God did for her was that He regarded her, which is indeed the greatest of His works, on which all the rest depend and from which they all derive.  For where it comes to pass that God turns His face toward one to regard him, there is nothing but grace and salvation, and all gifts and works must follow.  Thus we read in Genesis 4:4, 5 that He had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering He had no regard.  Here is the origin of the many prayers in the Psalter—that God would lift up His countenance upon us, that He would not hide His countenance from us, that He would make His face shine upon us, and the like.  And that Mary herself regards this as the chief thing, she indicates by saying: “Behold, since He has regarded me, all generations will call me blessed.”

Note that she does not say men will speak all manner of good of her, praise her virtues, exalt her virginity or her humility, or sing of what she has done.  But for this one thing alone, that God regarded her, men will call her blessed.  That is to give all the glory to God as completely as it can be done.  Therefore she points to God’s regard and says: “For, behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.  That is, beginning with the time when God regarded my low estate, I shall be called blessed.”  Not she is praised thereby, but God’s grace toward her.  In fact, she is despised, and she despises herself in that she says her low estate was regarded by God.  Therefore she also mentions her blessedness before enumerating the works that God did to her, and ascribes it all to the fact that God regarded her low estate…

But for this one thing alone, that God regarded her, men will call her blessed.

Whoever, therefore, would show her the proper honor must not regard her alone and by herself, but set her in the presence of God and far beneath Him, must there strip her of all honor, and regard her low estate, as she says; he should then marvel at the exceedingly abundant grace of God, who regards, embraces, and blesses so poor and despised a mortal.  Thus regarding her, you will be moved to love and praise God for His grace, and drawn to look for all good things to Him, who does not reject but graciously regards poor and despised and lowly mortals.  Thus your heart will be strengthened in faith and love and hope.  What do you suppose would please her more than to have you come through her to God this way, and learn from her to put your hope and trust in Him, notwithstanding your despised and lowly estate, in life as well as in death?  She does not want you to come to her, but through her to God.

… who does not reject, but graciously regards poor and despised and lowly mortals.

Again, nothing would please her better than to have you turn in fear from all lofty things on which men set their hearts, seeing that even in His mother God neither found nor desired anything of high degree.  But the masters who so depict and portray the blessed Virgin that there is found in her nothing to be despised, but only great and lofty things—what are they doing but contrasting us with her instead of her with God?  Thus they make us timid and afraid and hide the Virgin’s comfortable picture, as the images are covered over in Lent.  For they deprive us of her example, from which we might take comfort; they make an exception of her and set her above all examples.  But she should be, and herself gladly would be, the foremost example of the grace of God, to incite all the world to trust in this grace and to love and praise it, so that through her the hearts of all men should be filled with such knowledge of God that they might confidently say: “O Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, what great comfort God has shown us in you, by so graciously regarding your unworthiness and low estate.  This encourages us to believe that henceforth He will not despise us poor and lowly ones, but graciously regard us also, according to your example.”

Luther’s Works, Vol. 21: “The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat.”
Concordia Publishing House, 1999, 1956, 321-322.
Emphasis in original.

Word and Water

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The light shines on the water.

The Spirit of God hovered over the waters at both creations: in the beginning (Genesis 1:2) and at Jesus’s baptism (Matthew 3:16).  God cleanses and recreates through the washing of baptism.  Simple water does not do this, but rather God’s word added to the water.  Jesus is the Word of God, and He went into the water to be baptized.

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“Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water included in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.”  Baptism “works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”  “Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark, ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’”  (Mark 16:16).

— Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.

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At the Holy Family Shrine in Nebraska a channel of water leads to the sanctuary.  This water symbolizes baptism which saves us.  In baptism, God puts his name on us, adopts us, and makes us part of his family.  We become his, and come under his protection, he brings us into his sanctuary.  Through baptism God works faith in our hearts.

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For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.  Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

— 1 Peter 3:18-22, ESV.
Emphasis added.

BoC Drawing 2016 Followup

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In recognition of the four hundred ninety-nine year anniversary of the beginnings of the Reformation, Light from Light hosted a giveaway of a copy of the Christian Book of Concord, Second Edition from Concordia Publishing House.

Over seventy people entered.  The winner chosen at random was Abigail L.

Congratulations.

The Book of Concord should be in every Lutheran home.  If a person isn’t familiar with this book, he’ll think, ‘That old book is just for pastors.  I don’t have to preach.  After working all day, I can’t sit down and study in the evening.  If I read my morning and evening devotions, that’s enough.’  No, that is not enough!  The Lord doesn’t want us to remain children, blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine; instead of that, He wants us to grow in knowledge so that we can teach others.

Dr. C.F.W. Walther.

Click here for additional reasons why every Lutheran home should have a copy of the Christian Book of Concord.

May God bless you in the upcoming holiday / holy-day season.

All Saints Day 2016

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Happy All Saints Day!  Like the sunlight in that tree, it is the Word of God that makes the saints shine.

“I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”  (Revelation 21:2, ESV).  How does the Church dress beautifully for her husband, Christ?  She adorns herself with the words and promises of God by believing them.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

— Revelation 21:3-4, ESV.

God’s word shines in our hearts giving us light and life.

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At the entrance to High Cliff State Park this red maple stood in a sun beam between the clouds and green trees.  After parking, I walked back, waited for the sun to reappear, and shot some photos with my old Canon A550.

Recently, my Canon G12 died.  I ordered a new camera, but the new camera had to be returned because it had a dead pixel.  So my A550 has come out of retirement.  The 7.1 megapixel A550 was my first ever digital camera, and I have always had a lot of fun with it.  When it retired, the batteries were not making a good connection, but I managed to fix that issue, and now the camera seems to be working as well as ever.

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But for my old A550, this scene would have been lost.  I hope you like the pictures, and that you have a blessed All Saints Day!

Book of Concord Drawing, Reformation 2016

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Four hundred ninety-nine years ago, Martin Luther posted ninety-five theses.  Those theses sparked a discussion in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church that is still ongoing.  The first theses said:

When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

In recognition of this 499th anniversary, I would like to give away a copy of the Christian Book of Concord bonded-leather-cover Second Edition from Concordia Publishing House.  This is similar to the regular hard-cover Second Edition, except it has a bonded-leather-cover with gold trim on the page edges and comes in a gift box.  The condition is new, never used.

If you would like to enter the drawing for a free copy, just fill out the form below.  However, you must be at least 18 years old, may enter the drawing only once, and you must be a resident of the United States.

After the winner is chosen at random, all names and emails will be permanently deleted.  The deadline for entries is 12 noon on All Saints’ Day (Tuesday, November 1), 2016 A.D.

For Others

“Christ first takes possession of the conscience, and when it is right in faith toward God, then he also directs us to do work toward our neighbor…   God does not desire the Christian to live for himself.  Yea, cursed is the life that lives for self.  For all that one lives after he is a Christian, he lives for others.”

—Martin Luther,
Homily for Trinity 19, Church Postils.
Emphasis added.

Live forever.

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The life we live in this world is short.  Like the flowers of the grass, we are here today and gone tomorrow.  But the word of the Lord endures forever.  (1 Peter 1:24-25).  And we have His promise of forgiveness and life eternal.  Hold fast to His word of promise.  Live forever.  (John 11:25-26).

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Encouragement from John Chrysostom:

“Do not be downcast, or give up your zeal, or become sluggish.  Rather, press onward with more eagerness; even the apostles, when they preached, although they were scourged, stoned, and constant inmates of the prisons, not only after deliverance from dangers but also in those very dangers did they announce with greater courage the message of truth.  Paul is to be seen in prison, yes, even in chains, instructing and initiating (Acts 16:24-25) and moreover doing the very same in a court of justice (Acts 26), in shipwreck, in tempest, and in a thousand dangers (Acts 27).”

Do not be downcast … do not cease good works … never fall back!

“Imitate these saints, and do not cease good works, so long as you are able.  Although you see the devil thwarting you ten thousand times, never fall back!  You might be shipwrecked, perhaps even with your wealth.  But Paul, carrying the Word, which is far more precious than all wealth, was going to Rome and was shipwrecked.  He sustained innumerable hardships.  He indicated this when he said, ‘Because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us’ (1 Thessalonians 2:18).  God permitted it, thus revealing the more abundantly His power, and showing that the many things that the devil did, or prevented from being done, neither lessened nor interrupted the preaching of the Gospel”

— John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Statutes, 1.30
as quoted in A Year with the Church Fathers:
Meditations for Each Day of the Church Year,
2011 CPH, page 253.

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Grace is like a passing shower of rain.

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This is a passing rain storm as seen from the peak of Rib Mountain, Wisconsin.

When it rained, it rained hard.  But when the sun shined, it shone with warmth and brilliance.  Energized by yellow sunbeams, mist rose above the splashed ground.

The Lord sends blessing and adversity.  Sometimes he curses.  (Genesis 3:17-19).  But even his curses are good.  For “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  (Romans 8:28, ESV).

I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things.

Shower, O heavens, from above,
and let the clouds rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit;
let the earth cause them both to sprout;
I the Lord have created it.

Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?

— Isaiah 45:7-9, ESV.

We are here because God gave us life.  Our very existence shows that we belong.  Do God’s clay pots have no handles?  Did he make us wrong?

Who has made man’s mouth?  Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  Is it not I, the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.

— Exodus 4:11-12, ESV.

The Lord calls to us.  Jesus is our righteousness.  (Jeremiah 23:6).  No matter what our calamity or circumstance, he has a place for us.  Because of Jesus we belong.

Fahrenheit 451: Burning Words

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Fahrenheit 451 is a book about burning words and ideas.  Instead of putting out fires, the Firemen in Fahrenheit 451 start fires, and burn books.

This book sizzles.  Its words crackle.  Listen:

It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.  With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.  With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black.  He strode in a swarm of fireflies…  While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

Montag was a Fireman.  In the beginning, his face was gripped with a fiery smile.  But through interaction with someone who contemplated life, he realized his emptiness.  In his search for meaning, he began to steal and hide the very books he was supposed to burn.

His wife told him to find distraction in something fun.  That is what everyone does.  Don’t think, just have fun.  But Montag would not this time.  He wanted to hold onto his emptiness, he wanted to find meaning.

17470674Montag held possibly the last copy of the Bible in his part of the world.  And he knew if they found it, they would burn it.

He could hear Beatty’s voice.  “Sit down, Montag.  Watch.  Delicately, like the petals of a flower.  Light the first page, light the second page.  Each becomes a black butterfly.  Beautiful, eh?  Light the third page, from the second and so on, chain-smoking, chapter by chapter, all the silly things the words mean, all the false promises, all the secondhand notions and time-worn philosophies.”  There sat Beatty, perspiring gently, the floor littered with swarms of black moths that had died in a single storm.

They would burn the Bible, one page at a time they would destroy the words and ideas.

Montag brought the last physical copy of the Bible to Faber.

Faber’s hands itched on his knees.  “May I?”

“Sorry.”  Montag gave him the book.

“It’s been a long time.  I’m not a religious man.  But it’s been a long time.”  Faber turned the pages, stopping here and there to read.  “It’s as good as I remember.  Lord, how they’ve changed it in our ‘parlors’ these days.¹  Christ is one of the ‘family’ now.²  I often wonder if God recognizes His own son the way we’ve dressed him up, or is it dressed him down?  He’s a regular peppermint stick now, all sugar-crystal and saccharine when he isn’t making veiled references to certain commercial products that every worshiper absolutely needs.”  Faber sniffed the book.  “Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land?  I loved to smell them when I was a boy.  Lord, there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them go.”  Faber turned the pages.  “Mr. Montag, you are looking at a coward.  I saw the way things were going, a long time back.  I said nothing.  I’m one of the innocents who could have spoken up and out when no one would listen to the ‘guilty,’ but I did not speak and thus became guilty myself.  And when finally they set the structure to burn the books, using the firemen, I grunted a few times and subsided, for there were no others grunting or yelling with me, by then.  Now, it’s too late.”  Faber closed the Bible.  “Well—suppose you tell me why you came here?”

“Nobody listens any more.  I can’t talk to the walls because they’re yelling at me.³  I can’t talk to my wife; she listens to the walls.³  I just want someone to hear what I have to say.  And maybe if I talk long enough, it’ll make sense.  And I want you to teach me to understand what I read.”

¹  Parlors are TV viewing rooms.  ²  The ‘family’ are the characters on the television programs.  ³  When Montag says “walls” he means the giant interactive TVs that are the walls of the parlor.

Montag’s experience reminds me of the so-called Church Growth Movement.  Within that movement, nobody listens, nobody pays attention.  The glowing giant television transfixes.  And nobody cares what it says, it just feels good.  It makes them feel like they are doing their part to grow the Church with their attractive sugar-crystal “Jesus.”

The world is that way too.  Everyone wants to feel good, and feel like they are important, and feel like they are making a difference.  So we play video games, watch TV, take drugs, go to church, or whatever we need to get that high feeling.  Meanwhile, we trample the truth.  We trample the real Jesus, a Jesus not of sugar but of human flesh and blood.

But every once in awhile, someone wakes up.  And they start to realize something is wrong, but because we live in an age where the truth has been almost completely obliterated, we cannot quite put our finger on it.

Fahrenheit 451 continued:

Faber examined Montag’s thin, blue-jowled face.  “How did you get shaken up?  What knocked the torch out of your hands?”

“I don’t know.  We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy.  Something’s missing.  I looked around.  The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I’d burned in ten or twelve years.  So I thought books might help.”

“You’re a hopeless romantic,” said Faber.  “It would be funny if it were not serious.  It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books.  The same things could be in the ‘parlor families’ today.  The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not.  No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for! …  Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget.  There is nothing magical in them, at all.  The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.

Faber continued by saying that books like the Bible are important because they tell the truth and the whole truth, showing even the pores and dirt.

“So now do you see why books are hated and feared?  They show the pores in the face of life.  The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless.  We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam.  Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth.  Yet somehow we think we can grow, feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality.”

Finally, Faber said that not only is truth important, but just as important is the time to think and ponder.  The television and the culture tell us what to think, and they do not give us time to process what they are saying.

“If you’re not driving a hundred miles an hour, at a clip where you can’t think of anything else but the danger, then you’re playing some game or sitting in some room where you can’t argue with the four-wall televisor.  Why?  The televisor is ‘real.’  It is immediate, it has dimension.  It tells you what to think and blasts it in.  It must be right.  It seems so right.  It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn’t time to protest, ‘What nonsense!'”

The truth has time.  The truth is real.  The truth is not afraid.  The truth brings freedom.  (John 8:32).

That is why I love the liturgy.  Its words come from the Bible, and it gives us time to ponder, years even.  For a lifetime, the words sink in, and they change us because they are always with us.  Christ promised to be with us in his word, not the latest innovative creed, manipulative video, or man-centered motivational speech masquerading as a sermon.  The truth comes to us through his clear, pure word.

Through word and sacrament alone is how he comes to us.  Our fathers fought for this principle in the Reformation.  But now those who are trading God’s word of truth for mere emotionalism and pragmatism will receive a bowl of pottage for their inheritance.  (Genesis 25:29-34).

Montag asked,

“Where do we go from here?  Would books help us?”

“Only if the third necessary thing could be given us.  Number one, as I said, quality of information.  Number two: leisure to digest it.  And number three: the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two.”

Fahrenheit 451 is about burning books and ideas.  But they do not have to burn books no one reads.  Faber admitted as much.  The Firemen were just for show.  The Firemen in Fahrenheit 451 were made possible because no one knew the truth anymore anyway.

600px-Ingsoc_logo_from_1984.svgToday, we do not burn books, instead we ignore them, or “translate” them into Ingsoc.  (Coined by George Orwell, Ingsoc is English corrupted by socialism.  An example of this corruption is the attempt to erase biological gender distinctions from the English language so that we start calling men women and women men or start saying that 2+2=5).  Ingsoc makes telling the truth impossible, and hearing the truth incomprehensible.  The purpose of deconstructing our words is not just to obscure truth, but to destroy the English language, and make it incapable of communicating the truth.

Regarding the Bible, they do not have to burn a book no one reads.  And if someone does read the Bible, they try to give us gender-confused and other Ingsoc translations to obscure the truth.  Consider for example Psalm 8:4.  The NIV (2011 version) says:

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

Why does God care for human beings?  Why is God mindful of us?  The true answer is Christ, the son of man.  (Daniel 7:13-14).  Here is the English Standard Version:

what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Christ is the son of man.  (Daniel 7:13-14).  Christ alone is the man God cares for.  He is the righteous one.  Moses and the prophets wrote of Christ; but for him they had nothing to say.  (Luke 24:44).  But these “translators” have obscured Christ, so in the end, what they leave us with is a question without an answer:  Why does God care for human beings?

The most important question is not, Who are human beings?  Who are they?  The question God wants us to ask is, why does God care for the son of man?  Who is He?

George Orwell said, “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”  (Politics and the English Language).

The translators of the NIV (2011 version) did not burn the masculine and feminine gendered books, but they are burning the idea one verse and one version at a time.  As Beatty would have had Montag burn the Bible one page at time, so also the ever-changing translations would surrender the English language, and obscure Christ one idea at a time, starting with certain gender-clear passages about Jesus in the Old Testament.

Christians must wake up, and stand against the intentional destruction of our language.  Do not let them burn words, mistranslate, or obscure Christ in any part of the Bible.

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On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave to the Church the gift of tongues and the understanding of languages.  (Acts 2).  The purpose of language is not to control minds and prop up totalitarianism, but rather to communicate the truth.  The truth sets us free.  (John 8:32).  Let us hold fast to Jesus, the Word of God, and the Truth.