Merry Christmas 2016 A.D.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

— Luke 2:6-7, KJV.

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And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

—Luke 2:10-11, KJV.

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And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.  But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

— Luke 2:18-19, KJV.

The pictures are from St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Merry Christmas!

Saint Valentine’s Day 2016

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I chose this muted picture of a purple wildflower because this year Valentine’s Day falls in Lent, and I thought the darker rich tone best fit the penitential nature of the season.

Who was Valentine?

A physician and priest living in Rome during the rule of Emperor Claudius, Valentine became one of the noted martyrs of the third century.  The commemoration of his death, which occurred in AD 270, became part of the calendar of remembrance in the Early Church of the West.  Tradition suggests that on the day of his execution for his Christian faith, Valentine left a note of encouragement for a child of his jailer written on an irregularly shaped piece of paper.  This greeting became a pattern for millions of written expressions of love and caring that now are the highlight of Valentine’s Day in many nations.

Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH, page 1209.

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O God of mercy, God of might,
In love and pity infinite,
Teach us, as ever in Thy sight,
To live our lives in Thee.

And may Thy Holy Spirit move
All those who live to live in love
Till Thou shalt greet in heaven above
All those who live in Thee.

— “O God of Mercy, God of Might,” LSB 852:1, 6.

Happy St. Valentine’s Day.

Ash Wednesday 2016

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“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.

A Lutheran Satire Thank You

Create in me a clean heart, O God
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence,
and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation,
and uphold me with Thy free spirit.
Amen.

— Offertory, LSB 192-193
(Psalm 51:10-12).

Lutheran Satire links:

May we be always grateful.

What is Lent? A Video

The above video was produced by Concordia Publishing House.  The song the children sang in the video is “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”

O sacred Head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown.
O sacred Head, what glory,
What bliss, till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered
Was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
And grant to me Thy grace.

My Shepherd, now receive me;
My Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me,
O Source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me
With words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me
To heavenly joys above.

— “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” LSB 450:1, 3-4.

The original wording of this hymn is attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

May you have a blessed Lent.

Issues, Etc. Reformation Week 2013

Issues, Etc. Reformation week 2013 is from Monday, October 21 to Friday October 25.

How many words is a picture worth?

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Here is a recent picture from my former congregation.  What does this picture say?

The baptismal font in the lower left corner shows that there was a baptism.  So this was not a concert.  The pastor was wearing red.  The liturgical color of white for Easter was being displayed.  The altar and a statue of Jesus were covered up by a big screen TV.  (Normally, in this congregation, only the unused pulpit is covered by a TV screen).  What else does the picture say?

The Facebook caption for the photo is: “Sunday Worship with Koine.”  (Built on the Rock, St. Peter Lutheran, Appleton, WI).  Koine is known for playing only hymns out of the hymnal, but the lyrics displayed on the screen say: “I pulled my coat tight, against the calling crowd.”  That doesn’t sound like a hymn, but who knows.

This picture has captured some attention on the internet.  For example, LCMS Pastor Todd Wilken (the host of Issues, Etc.) used the picture as “a general illustration of how contemporary worship distracts from the focus on the Word and Sacraments.”  (The Bare Bulb, “An Act of Aggression,” comment).  Does this picture illustrate how contemporary worship distracts from the means of grace, or does it illustrate genuine Lutherans using all their God given gifts to the best of their ability?

Blessed Ash Wednesday

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Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent.  Lent is a period of renewal involving confession, absolution, and repentance.  It takes place in Spring because our Lord died and rose again in Spring: Spring is a period of renewal and new life.

In our baptism, God drowned our sinful nature, buried it with Christ, and raised us again to new life in His resurrection.  (Romans 6).  The sacrament of Confession and Absolution stems from our sacramental death and resurrection in Baptism.  In Confession we die to sin, and in the Absolution we are raised again to new life.

As Lutheran Christians, we

keep Confession, especially because of the Absolution.  Absolution is God’s Word which, by divine authority, the Power of the Keys pronounces upon individuals.  Therefore, it would be wicked to remove private Absolution from the Church.  If anyone despises private Absolution, he does not understand what the forgiveness of sins or the Power of the Keys is.

— Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Art. XIIb, 2-4,
The Lutheran Confessions, CPH 2005, 172.

Baptism and repentance are both gifts of God.  (Acts 11:18).  In the very first of the 95 Thesis, Martin Luther wrote that when “Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  (Luther’s Works).  That means that the entire life of a Christian is a living out of our baptism.

On Ash Wednesday, many Christians use ashes to remind us of the wages of sin: death.  For we were made from dust, and to dust we will return.  (Genesis 3:19).  Our deaths bring only death forever.  On the other hand, Christ’s death brings us life eternal.  In sin and ash we fall from death to death.  But with cleansing water Christ raises us from death into His life.

In Him, He makes us clean and alive forever.

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).

Cruise Ship vs. Battleship

This is a thought provoking video from Igniter Media entitled “Cruise Ship vs. Battleship.”

HT: Pastoral Meanderings