Ash Wednesday 2016

IMG_2776

“God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life …”  (Genesis 2:7 KJV).  However, man fell into sin, and God cursed him saying, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  (Genesis 3:19 ESV).  We all share the same fate as the first man.  In Adam all die.

In Adam we have all been one,
One huge rebellious man;
We all have fled that evening voice
That sought us as we ran.

“God created man in his own image …”  (Genesis 1:27 ESV).  But after sin, Adam’s children were born, not in the image of God, but in the image of Adam.  (Genesis 5:3).  Adam’s son Cain murdered his brother Abel.

We fled Thee, and in losing Thee
We lost our brother too;
Each singly sought and claimed his own;
Each man his brother slew.

Jesus Christ came in our flesh.  (Hebrews 2:14).  He was our brother, but we crucified him.  Like Cain, we killed our brother.

But Thy strong love, it sought us still
And sent Thine only Son
That we might hear His Shepherd’s voice
And, hearing Him, be one.

On Ash Wednesday, Christians receive ashes on their foreheads in the shape of a cross as a visual reminder of the consequences of sin.  From the ground we were created, and to the ground we will return: “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  (Book of Common Prayer, burial).

O Thou who, when we loved Thee not,
Didst love and save us all,
Thou great Good Shepherd of mankind,
O hear us when we call.

“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”  (1 Corinthians 15:22 KJV).  The Christian Church is the Body of Christ.  As he rose from the dead and conquered sin and death, in him so shall we.

Send us Thy Spirit, teach us truth;
Thou Son, O set us free
From fancied wisdom, self-sought ways,
To make us one in Thee.

— “In Adam We Have All Been One,” LSB, 569:1-5.

Please Help Persecuted Christians in Iraq & Syria

Christians have been living in Iraq & Syria for about 2000 years.

Here are the links mentioned in the video:

Kyrie eleison.

Aquinas Quoting Augustine on Scripture Alone

“Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable.  For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors.  Hence Augustine says (Epis. ad Hieron. xix, 1): ‘Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them.  But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning.'”

— St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologia,
Part 1, Question 1, Article 8
.
Emphasis added.

Blessings for the Day

075

“Lord, give us faith to walk where You are sending,
On paths unmarked, eyes blind as to their ending;
Not knowing where we go, but that You lead us—
With grace precede us.”

— “Saints, See the Cloud of Witnesses,”
Lutheran Service Book, 667:5.

That is trusting, and trust is beautiful.

Christ gives faith to His people, and through faith He makes Her spotless, clean, radiant, beautiful.  (Revelation 21:2).

Every time I open a hymnal, I continue to be amazed at the rich tradition given to us by God through the Church in her hymns and psalms.  She has learned how to exercise her faith by holding tight to her Lord: by adopting His word as her own.  She does not need to know where He leads, only that He leads.

The Golden City of God

IMG_6661

“Jerusalem, thou city fair and high,
Would God I were in thee!
My longing heart to thee would gladly fly;
It will not stay with me.
Far over vale and mountain,
Far over field and plain,
It hastes to seek its fountain
And leave this world of pain.”

— “Jerusalem, Thou City Fair and High,”
Christian Worship, 212:1.

The golden light in the picture above was from the heavenly sunset, but the air of earth was bitter cold and biting.  It bit my fingers.

Soon after taking these pictures, and with fingers cold and hurting, I pulled my glove off to retrieve keys from pocket.  However, the wrist strap for my camera had caught the glove, causing my Canon G12 camera to go flying.  It dropped on the sidewalk, bounced on the cement, and slid through the snow.

A very nice camera damaged is not overly important, but it is a reminder of all the large and small frustrations and pain we feel in this world.  Jesus reminds us:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

— Matthew 6:19-21, NIV1984.

IMG_6660

Christ is our treasure.  It is He who prepares a place for us in the heavenly Jerusalem.  It is He who prepares us to be His heavenly Jerusalem.

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”  Her husband is Christ.  The new Jerusalem is where Almighty God lives with man, lives in man, and is man.  (Revelation 21:2-5, NIV1984).

“Jerusalem the golden,
With milk and honey blest—
The sight of it refreshes
The weary and oppressed.
I know not, oh, I know not
What joys await us there,
What radiancy of glory,
What bliss beyond compare.”

— “Jerusalem the Golden,” Christian Worship, 214:1.

Our “citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20, NIV1984).

“Jerusalem, my happy home,
When shall I come to thee?
When shall my sorrows have an end?
Thy joys when shall I see?”

The time is short.

"End of Day" ~ IMG_6667

The time is coming when Christ will return to earth in glory.  Until then, He gives us a taste of heaven in the Eucharist and the Communion of Saints.  In this meal we share together with new Jerusalem, Christ is with us, He is in us, and he is one of us.

“Apostles, martyrs, prophets, there
Around my Savior stand,
And soon my friends in Christ below
Will join the glorious band.

“O Christ, do thou my soul prepare
For that bright home of love
That I may see thee and adore
With all thy saints above.”

— “Jerusalem, My Happy Home,”
Christian Worship, 215:1, 4, 5.

The pictures are of St. Nicholas Church in Freedom, WI.

May God bless you in Christ.

IMG_6673

P.S.  Those white specks in the picture above are an airplane and its contrails.

God’s Strength Through Faith and Love

Christian strength comes from God though faith, and is expressed in the unity of love for other Christians.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for unity among all Christians:

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

—John 17:20-23 (NIV-1984).

Love is unity.  The three persons of the Trinity have perfect love and perfect unity.  Jesus wants also for Christians to have perfect love and perfect unity.  However, the Enemy, Satan, does not want this.  Satan attacks our faith and our unity.

I am in the process of reading an excellent book by John W. Kleinig entitled, Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today.  This book is full of not only excellent theology, but also discusses applications of that theology, in other words: works.  (Faith shows itself by what it does.  (James 2:18)).  One example is a section that discusses the unity of faith.  Says Kleinig:

In the front door attack he [Satan] tries to break into the conscience by attacking our faith in Christ; in the back door attack he attempts to gain a secret foothold by attacking our love for our fellow Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is how it works!  Satan gets another Christian to sin against us in deed or word.  It pleases Satan if a person with spiritual significance or authority, such as a parent, pastor, spouse, or leader in the Church sins against us.  Their spiritual status, their office, magnifies their offense and intensifies the damage that it does.  This is a kind of ritual abuse, the misuse of holy things against us.  After the offense has occurred, Satan gets us to brood over it, like a stuck track or a video loop, repeatedly and obsessively in our minds, with ever greater emphasis on the gravity and injustice of it.  As we process the offense and its effect on us, Satan gradually distorts our remembrance and our assessment of it.  He uses this offense to encourage us to bring our mental accusations against the offender in the court of our minds.  There he presides over the proceedings as we hold a secret trial in which we both prosecute and pass judgment on the wrongdoer.  The more we brood on the offense, the angrier we get against the offender.  We remember all the other offenses that we have suffered from that person and all the other people that have ever hurt us.  And that fuels our anger and desire for justice.  We maintain that we are in the right; we are justified in our judgment of them.  We hold the moral high ground against them.  Then before we know it, anger leads to bitterness and resentment.  This, in turn, leads to outrage, hatred, and lust for revenge.  And so we end up stewing in our own poison.  When we begin to hate those whom we should love, Satan has us where he wants us.  Once hatred sets in, he can slowly and patiently dislodge us from the Church and from Christ.

—Page 234.  Emphasis added.

God says through His apostle (1 John 3:14-15):  “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.  Anyone who does not love remains in death.  Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”

An effective lie always contains much truth.  Satan is an effective liar, so he effectively uses the truth of sin among Christians to attack us.

Kleinig continues:

Hatred is spiritual suicide.  It marks the end of eternal life, the new life that we have in Christ.  Anger is seductive because it makes us feel justified in hating those who have hurt us.  We are right, and they are wrong.  We are right in hating them and taking revenge on them because they are our enemies.  The revenge that we take is subtle and hidden.  We don’t usually attack them physically or verbally, but emotionally and spiritually.  We write them off and give them the cold shoulder.  We reject them in our hearts, dissociate ourselves from them, and treat them as if they were dead for us.  That, says John, is spiritual murder.  Sadly, by cutting ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ, we cut ourselves off from Christ as well.  The upshot of that is withdrawal from the family of God and increasing isolation in the darkness of hatred.  That is a kind of spiritual suicide, for hatred opens up a secret place for Satan in our hearts.

In Ephesians 4:25-27, Paul urges Christians to learn how to use their anger constructively.  If we let the sun go down on our anger and go to sleep angry, we give the devil a “foothold” in our hearts, home, and congregation.  Through anger Satan works on us unawares at night, magnifying the offense and distorting our perception of it.  We then carry our hurt over to the new day.  The longer it lasts, the worse it gets.

This attack from behind is far more common than we realize.  It wreaks havoc in the lives of Christians and many Christian communities.  It is potent in its impact and destructive in its effects.  Yet, God does not stop Satan from using it in the lives of His people.  Like the frontal attack, it is a risky tactic because it can so easily backfire on the evil one.  In fact, God uses it to destroy our self-righteousness and to build up the Church as a community of grace, a society of forgiven and forgiving sinners.  As our anger and desire for justice expose the spiritual fallout from the bad things that others have done to us, we learn, by God’s grace, to face what has happened, seek healing from the damage that has been done, and forgive as we ourselves have been forgiven.

—Pages 235-236.  Emphasis added.

The glory that the Father gave the Son is the glory of the cross.  Jesus prayed, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  (John 17:22-23).

Benedict XVI and The Evangelion

The quotation which follows is from Jesus of Nazareth (p. 46-47) by Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI.

Both Evangelists designate Jesus’ preaching with the Greek term evangelion—but what does that actually mean?

The term has recently been translated as “good news.”  That sounds attractive, but it falls far short of the order of magnitude of what is actually meant by the word evangelion.  This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world.  The messages issued by the emperor were called in Latin evangelium, regardless of whether or not their content was particularly cheerful and pleasant.  The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a change of the world for the better.

When the Evangelists adopt this word, and it thereby becomes the generic name for their writings, what they mean to tell us is this:  What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here—a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk, but reality.  In the vocabulary of contemporary linguistic theory, we would say that the evangelium, the Gospel, is not just informative speech, but performative speech—not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform.  Mark speaks of the “Gospel of God,” the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world, but God.  And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word and deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place.  For here it is the real Lord of the world—the living God—who goes into action.

—Benedict XVI in Jesus of Nazareth
(pages 46-47).

Benedict XVI may not clearly proclaim that the power of the Gospel is in the purity of its gift of life.  Nonetheless, those words are still a powerful statement about the efficacy of God’s word.  God’s word has power.  God’s word has power in the mouths of all who speak it.  This is true no matter who they are, no matter what denomination to which they belong, and no matter what rank they hold in the Church.  God’s word never returns to Him empty.  (Isaiah 55:10-11).

One of the cornerstone teachings of the Lutheran Reformation was that God’s word alone has the power to reach people and change the sinful human heart.  And yet today, there are numerous so-called “Lutheran” pastors who believe God’s word needs their efforts.  They believe that without their methods and salesmanship God’s word will not even be heard.

According to them, “To reach people no one else is reaching, [they] must do things no one else is doing.”  According to them, instead of God’s Word reaching people and performing great miracles through us, these false teachers are the ones who reach out and perform great miracles using the word.  They are the performers, not God.  They act as if without their money, their wisdom, their entertainments, their personalities, and their speaking abilities the elect will be lost.

Jesus taught us to judge teachers by their fruit, in other words, their teachings and practices.  (Matthew 7:15-23).  The fruit of these Church Growth pastors is rotten.  Do they trust the evangelion?  Do they trust God’s Word?  No.  Their practices show that they trust themselves.

How sad when the pope is more Lutheran than these so-called “Lutheran” pastors.  Should we not feel burning shame when we see the pope speak so clearly about the efficacy of God’s word while numerous “Lutheran” pastors see God’s word as a hindrance?  Of course, those who obstinately plagiarize false teachers in their sermons not only despise His word, but they also display a seared conscience incapable of shame.  (1 Timothy 4:2).

To these so-called “Lutheran” pastors Christ crucified is not the Rock upon which the Church is built, but rather a hindering stone in the path of church growth.  “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”  (Romans 9:32-33, Acts 17:25-30).

God’s Word Is Reality

IMG_0294

God does not need paint and canvas to create a beautiful sunset.  His canvas is the sky, His paints are the colors of the rainbow, and His brush is the wind.  Likewise, God does not need to make up stories.  His word is life, His characters are actual people, and His stories are reality.

When God speaks, if His words are not already true to reality, they make reality true to themselves.  For what God says is always true:  God said, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  (Genesis 1:3).

Recently, I heard a Roman Catholic priest say in a sermon that the stories in the Bible before Moses were not historical because they contain a lot of myth.  He compared the story of Jacob wrestling with God to Greek mythology.  According to him the value of these stories is merely symbolic because they can help us to learn helpful tips for living, like the fact that Jacob was close to God.

However, the Old and New Testaments are not “cleverly invented stories” (2 Peter 1:16).  We know this because “no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.  For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  (2 Peter 1:20-21).  Because God’s word is always true, His Spirit does not inspire stories that purport to be true history, if they are not historical.  (John 17:17).

And now “we have the word of the prophets made more certain,” He is the word of truth made flesh, and His name is Jesus Christ.  (2 Peter 1:19, John 1:14).  According to Jesus, in the beginning of our history, God created two people (Adam and Eve) and they were one flesh.  (Matthew 19:4-6).  This shows that Jesus accepted Genesis as historical.  And following the lead of her Lord, the Church has also accepted the books of Moses as historical.  Calling Genesis a myth is a recent innovation.

One of the principles of sola Scriptura is that the Scriptures are clear and able to be understood.  That does not mean that the Scriptures do not contain unfathomable mysteries, but it does mean that in the Bible God has competently communicated His deep salvific truth.  (Luke 16:31).  (The more one knows about a true mystery (like the Trinity), the more fascinating and deep it becomes).

Because the Scriptures are able to be understood, and because Jesus promised to be with His Church to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20), that means that every generation of Christians since the time of Christ has been able to understand the Scriptures.  If those generations testify unanimously that they understood Genesis to be historical, then who are we to say it is myth?

Genesis was not written merely to share clever stories and spiritual truths.  It is real.  It is as real as the Lord’s Supper is the real Body and Blood of Christ.  These stories and sacraments not just symbols, but actual physical supernatural realities.  They are Christ given to us, and Christ is the truth.  (John 14:6-7).

Our God is almighty.  And an almighty God does not paint with canvas and brush and make-believe symbols, He paints with reality.

IMG_0304

Lutheran Satire Video: Baptism

“In [Noah’s Ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.  [Baptism] saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”

— 1 Peter 3:20-22, NIV1984.  Emphasis added.

The water of The Great Deluge symbolizes baptism.  Therefore, baptism cannot be merely a symbol, because symbols represent higher and deeper realities.  If The Flood was real, then how much more real is Christian baptism which the water of The Flood symbolizes?  Baptism has a heavenly and an eternal reality.

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children …”

— Acts 2:38-39, NIV1984.

Click here to view more videos by The Lutheran Satire on YouTube.