Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

God Sent Me

September 18, 2019

Miracles come in all shapes and sizes, and in all manner of unexpected timings.

The woman who slipped into the door of our Bible study classroom this evening, for example.  She must have just come from some sort of exercise class, wearing leggings and a tight sort of spandex workout top thingy.  I’m not a fashion expert so I don’t know the terms for these things.  Age is difficult (and dangerous) to surmise with a woman, but I’d put her anywhere from 40-ish to her early 50’s.  A thick Russian accent but good English.

Wednesday night Bible studies are mostly for a small group of ladies in an addiction recovery program.  Others have come and gone but don’t last very long.  These ladies have time on their hands and a mandatory weekly Bible study requirement to fulfill.  We have another woman who has been coming recently, a nonagenarian living in the retirement housing next door to our church.

So to have a complete stranger show up saying God had sent her to my Bible study was unexpected.  She stayed, she participated.  We talked after.

From Moscow originally but I get the impression there have been more than a few stops since there.  In our local area for over a dozen years.  Christian, but dissatisfied with the Bible studies she attended in any given place.  She worships at the Mission but says she hasn’t really connected with anyone there, a situation no doubt accented by her admitted shyness.

I gave her my card and wrote down our worship time and the other weekly Bible study opportunities.  She was pleased and surprised to learn there are three separate, different Bible studies each week.  I hope she’ll come back.  She elaborated that a friend told her while she was lamenting the lack of a good Bible study in town that this church was where to go for Bible study.  I’m wondering who that friend is and how they know about us.

She exited the building about 10 seconds before me.  As I locked the door, I glanced to see where her car was.  I didn’t see either her or her car.  I peered around, up and down the long parking lot towards the sidewalk.  Maybe she walked, lived in the area close by.  Curious, and she couldn’t have gotten out of sight so quickly.

Maybe….

The idea flitted through my head briefly.  Would it be beneath God’s dignity, during a time of professional weariness, to send an outsider with a word of encouragement?  Certainly not, but to speculate on angelic visitations seemed a bit premature.  But still, where did she go?

A second later I heard a car door.  As I peered further I saw a car parked on the other side of our church van, all but invisible behind the larger vehicle.  I’d be lying if I said that a small part of me wasn’t disappointed.  But the larger part of me was grateful.  A real flesh-and-blood visitor might come back.  Might tell others.  Might…might…might.

The near future is never very certain, but the recent past of this evening was a nice reminder that miracles come in different forms and accents.

Weekly Devotion

September 18, 2019

Amos 8:4-7

We would never trample on the needy, would we? Or consider being unfair in a business transaction? We’d never intentionally shortchange somebody, or use rigged weights and balances? We never chafed at the blue laws that used to limit or ban certain types of business on Sunday mornings?

So we just step by Amos, pass on to other, more interesting readings. Certainly the Gospel lesson (Luke 16:1-15) or the Epistle reading (1 Timothy 2) grab our attention. Certainly these must be more relevant, either academically or practically?

Amos calls religious and political leaders of his day to account for their attitudes about materialism and wealth, attitudes that easily blind them to their moral failures and more importantly, to the identity of those they are defrauding as fellow children of Israel, fellow members of the covenant community of God. They have instead become means to other ends – personal profit or comfort. Amos can see these things more clearly because he is an outsider – from the southern kingdom of Judah God calls him to speak truth to power in the northern kingdom of Israel. Perhaps it is his otherness which allows God to speak against what everyone else just viewed as business as usual.

Personal piety can be very, very cold to those around us. As members of a culture and society driven almost entirely by profit and materialism, we need to be cautious not just to be honest in our dealings with others, but also sympathetic and empathetic with those in need and those displaced in the vast system of buying and selling. These are children of God! These are people Jesus suffered and died for! If they merit his precious blood, they deserve at least our concern, both in personal interactions and on their behalf in our society.

Reading Ramblings – September 22, 2019

September 15, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 22, 2019

Texts: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-15; Luke 16:1-15

Context: The lectionary readings pit one of the most challenging of Jesus’ parables against a strong Old Testament defense of the poor and critique of the rich who prey on them. While the reading from Amos and the psalm are straightforward enough, everything gets complicated by the Gospel lesson. Is Jesus commending dishonesty? What is He attempting to convey? The problem can in one way be solved by where we focus – do we focus on the dishonesty of the steward or do we focus on the grace and mercy of God? There are linguistic cues between this parable and the Prodigal Son parable, which is more obviously a portrait of the great mercy and grace of God. This should guide us as we try to untangle Jesus’ words for this week!

Amos 8:4-7 – The bulk of these verses comprises paraphrasings of the sayings and actions of the dishonest. These dishonest are part of God’s people, but they are abusing their brothers and sisters in covenant community for personal gain. God’s Word to these people, which is referenced in verse 4, is finally revealed in verse 7 (and continues in the following verses). While the dishonest may feel like they’re getting away with things, God will hold them accountable in his time. In between we hear the thoughts of these wicked merchants. They lament the harvest festivals and weekly Sabbaths (the day of rest) when buying and selling is forbidden. They make no money on those days! And their goal is to make money dishonestly, by rigging the weights so that the grain they are purchasing from the poor farmers is said to weigh less than it really does – reducing the price they need to pay to the farmer. Meanwhile the weight measuring out the payment is rigged so that fewer coins appear to be worth more. The farmer is cheated on both ends of the transaction! Those reduced to poverty by such wickedness will then be forced to sell themselves into slavery or servitude, settling for the most basic of payments that barely keep them alive! Surely, God watches over all of his creation and nobody will escape his judgment when they cheat the poor (or in any other sinful act, thought, or word!).

Psalm 113 – This psalm calls God’s people to praise him and his name (v.1). His name is to be blessed forever as well as all day (vs. 2-3). Why God deserves such praise and blessing is elaborated a bit in the following verses. First of all God is above all nations and rulers, all earthly powers of any kind, and his glory overshadows even the heights of the skies and heaven itself. There is, in fact, no one who can compare to God in any respect, seated as He is on high in glory and splendor to look down on all of creation. But God is not simply transcendent (vs. 4-6), greater than any other power but infinitely removed from creation. God is immanent as well, involved in the affairs of creation. And his power is exerted on behalf of those we might be inclined to pass over or ignore as unworthy or any help, or even beyond any help. God reverses their fortunes entirely! This is why God deserve praise – He does what we can not or will not do for one another.

1 Timothy 2:1-15 – Paul returns to his instructions to Timothy in this chapter. What is it the people of God should do? This section deals with worship, what Christians do as they gather together. While the words apply to individual or family life as well, they make the most sense in the context of larger worship. The people of god are to be praying, and their prayers are to include everyone, including their rulers. They pray their rulers do a good job of ruling, providing peace for a Godly, dignified life. This is the desire God has for all rulers, as well as the desire God has for his people in terms of how they live and how they pray. Towards this end God the Father sent the Son of God to be our mediator with God the Father, and his mercy through Jesus the Christ extends to everyone, so that we can never say that someone is beyond the grace and mercy and forgiveness of God, if they turn and seek it. Men are to be praying in a Godly fashion, and women are not to let the fashion dictates of the larger culture determine what is appropriate in Christian worship. Church is not a fashion show! Far better to be noticed and admired for good works that simply the ability to purchase costly baubles. Women are permitted and even encouraged to learn, but in humility. Women should not presume to place themselves in positions of authority over men. The rationale for this goes back to Genesis 3 and the Fall. While the natural order of man and woman in harmony was disrupted by sin, there is an order in creation, one that needn’t be exploitative or unfair, but a true difference all the same so that even women who are able to teach or lead should refrain from doing so within the Church, as a witness to the glory of God in creation. Women are saved in their own created identities, not by taking on or usurping the identity or role of men.

Luke 16:1-15 – There are a great many interpretations of this parable, but we’ll go with the one that keeps the plain sense of Jesus’ words intact and in harmony with his overall body of teaching and of Scripture as a whole. And to do so, as usual, the focus needs to be not on the steward (you and I) but rather on the rich man/master (God). It is the grace and mercy of the rich man/master towards the steward that should be first and foremost. Rather than throwing the man into jail immediately, or kicking him out of his position immediately, the rich man/master is merciful, giving the steward time to prepare for the judgment to come – a judgment already determined in terms of guilt (wastefulness) and punishment (being fired).

It is this span of time the steward relies on to prepare himself. And he prepares himself by relying on the merciful nature of his master. By cutting the amount owed by tenant farmers to the rich man, the steward ingratiates himself to the tenants, who, not knowing he has fallen out of favor, will presume he is acting on the rich man’s behalf, and perhaps has even lobbied the rich man on their behalf. Thus not only does the steward grow in the appraisal of the debtors, so does the master. The master could of course undue what the steward has done, but instead allows in his grace and mercy the stewards shrewdness to stand.

How clever and creative we can be about our temporal affairs! How carefully we study investment plans and evaluate which mutual fund or stock or bond would be best! How we compare the interest rates on our credit cards and bank accounts! We know the ins and outs of how to be wise and prudent with worldly things. How much more ought we to be diligent – not dishonest – in preparing ourselves for eternal things! And if we are willing to lie and cheat and be dishonest with mere money, a temporal possession with an arbitrarily defined value, how unsuitable are we to handle things of real, eternal value. If only we valued eternal things so highly, and set our minds and hearts on preparing to receive them!

Weekly Devotional

September 12, 2019

September 10, 2019

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

– Luke 14:26 –

We’ve all wondered about this verse. How can the God who gave us all of these blessings, these wonderful people and our life itself call us to hate them? Doesn’t the Fourth Commandment call us to honor our fathers and mothers? Is Jesus contradicting himself as the Word of God?

The quick explanation is that these people can be idols. We can make them more important in our lives than God. We can allow them to sway us from living the way the Holy Spirit calls us to. We might even be tempted to forsake worship or study or other aspects of our lives in Christ in order to keep the peace at home or demonstrate love for these people.

Many Christians would be equally quick to say they would never let this happen. They would never let someone else come between themselves and God and become idols. All well and good and true, I think. Except I’m not sure we really think about how these people could become idols. We aren’t going to make gold or silver statues of them. We aren’t going to worship them. When we make them tea for breakfast or dinner at night, this is not the same as offering food to an idol or a false god. This is how we think idols look and act in themselves and in our lives.

I suspect differently.

Elie Wiesel in his haunting book Night describes in multiple places how his experience living through the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis destroyed his faith and trust in God. Seeing the worst mankind could do to one another, and not seeing God step in to stop, to rescue, to save (at least not in the way Wiesel thought He should) meant for Wiesel that God could not exist. Not a good, loving, trustworthy God. Faced with the blackest sinfulness in mankind, Wiesel could no longer hold on to his faith in the God of the Bible. For Wiesel, apparently, the people around him and his own life were an idol he could not let go of in order to cling to God.

We do not have to be the victims of mass genocide to sympathize with him. How many of us have watched a loved one die, sometimes in great pain, and wondered where God is in that moment? A fleeting wondering. How many of us have wondered at one point or another why God continues to sustain our life when we are more than ready to leave, to be with our departed loved ones again, to finally have peace in eternal glory? Is that idle desire idolatrous?

It could be, if we allow it to grow. If we indulge it rather than returning to the Word of God in our lives and experiences, the Word that does not promise us an easy life or a painless life, but promises the eternal presence of God in and through these things. If we are unable to maintain the clear perception that the existence of sin and the sickness and death that spring from it are part of creation for now, the reason the Son of God came into creation in the first place, to rescue us and save us. If we reject the comforting words of God in favor of our pain and bitterness and indignation. Then these loved ones can become the idols that separate us from God.

Keep the gifts of God as that – gifts, not idols. And trust above all in the love of God through Jesus the Christ in those moments of suffering and loss, the assurance these pains are transitory. Dawn is coming.

In the Beginning

September 11, 2019

My denominational polity held it’s triennial national convention this past summer.  I studiously avoid these sorts of affairs, preferring to allow others more inclined and perhaps of a better temperament to go and represent our local congregations.  We had a brief report at one of our monthly pastor meetings from the guy who went on our behalf, and there wasn’t much to report.  At least, I don’t recall him mentioning this – our denomination has once again (first in 1932) affirmed the Genesis account of creation in Chapters 1 & 2 to mean a literal six-day creation process utilizing six 24-hour days.  This was based on Scripture’s use of evening and morning to indicate a single day.

To begin with, I lament the difficulty of even finding the full text of  resolution 5-09A.  The LC-MS web site has a variety of links, but none I’ve been able to find states the full text of the resolution.  This page describes the intent of the resolution, which is helpful. This page gives a sense of everything that happens on a day of convention, which is overwhelming but not what I’d hoped for.    Maybe somebody better informed (or with more time on their hands) can find the specific wording for me?

 

***** Edit – thanks to Doug for providing this link.  The precise wording was broadcast on Twitter during the convention, and final documentation is still pending from our Synod. *****

There was, of course, debate.

Opponents criticized the resolution for being somewhat vague, centering on the use of the word natural as an adjective for days – six of them to be precise.  If the sun (and moon) wasn’t created until the fourth day, how can we speak of 24-hour days with any certainty or preciseness?  This critique has been voiced by others critical of the LC-MS position.

I find this hostility to the resolution and the theology behind it problematic.  Yes, the sun and moon were created on the fourth day.  Does that mean that God’s use of the word day throughout the six-day creation account is incorrect?  Did He misspeak?  Did He decide it was far too complicated for Moses in 1500 BC to understand anything differently so He just said days?  Would that mean God didn’t take into account our current scientific climate and assertions about the origins of everything that directly contradict Scripture on this particular point?  Was God incapable of maintaining a consistent 24-hour cycle without the sun and moon in place yet?

I find Mike  the Geologist’s certainty to be rather fascinating.  How is  it that you “know better”?  Are you that positive that a six-day creation is “nonsense”?  You presume that current understandings or theories of human origins  are superior/more accurate/more trustworthy than the Biblical account.  Would you then argue that the resurrection is not real because everybody knows better than that now?  Is it not possible that evolutionary explanations for the universe and our planet might be flawed –  unintentionally – and subject to correction down the line?  Is there a place for that sort of humility, or should we immediately jump to mocking those who prefer to take  God’s Word in this respect just as they take God’s Word for their forgiveness and hope of life eternally in Christ?

I understand this is complicated – and awkward – discussion.  And I agree, this is not necessarily the difference between heaven and hell in and of itself.  But if you suspect God wasn’t fully accurate or truthful with us in one regard, it’s not a big leap to think He wasn’t in other regards.  Or in no regards, because He isn’t really there.

 

Book Review: A Martyr’s Faith in a Faithless World

September 9, 2019

A Martyr’s Faith in a Faithless World by Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller

I ordered this thinking it was a spin on Foxe’s Book of Martyr’s, perhaps updated a bit, or some other form of martyrology.  It is not.  There are accounts of five martyrs in the book, the most recent being the third century and the oldest being the account of St. Stephen in Acts 7.  Although it is billed as a starting theological text for the curious, it is really more of a devotional.  Around the unifying theme of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, each section begins with the account of a martyr and then contains several short devotionals or homilies.

They’re probably very good.

But I’m not very good at reading them.  It’s a default in my character, that very rarely will a devotional from someone else stir me.  I’m grateful that they exist, aware that a great many people – perhaps everyone else but me – really enjoys them and gets a lot out of them.  I don’t.

So I’m not going to evaluate this book.  The devotionals I did read (the first 4-5) were very fine.  They are theologically oriented, asking the reader to consider various theological aspects of the parable of the sower.  And it is well-grounded in Lutheran theology.   Lord knows we all need more inspiration and grounding in our lives of faith, and this may be a wonderful resource for you.

Reading Ramblings – September 15, 2019

September 8, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 15, 2019

Texts: Ezekiel 34:11-24; Psalm 119:169-176; 1 Timothy 1:(5-11)12-17; Luke 15:1-10

Context: This week’s theme seems to be that of restoring the people of God when they go astray. This does not mean going astray in terms of apostasy or denial of the faith, necessarily, but in correcting their understandings and practices when they are still people of God. Christians are prone to false understandings and practices that don’t take them outside of the faith, but are yet inappropriate or even harmful to their brothers and sisters within the faith. Ezekiel’s message is one of judgment among the sheep, who will still have one shepherd over them but some are abusing their brothers and sisters. Likewise the two starting parables in the Gospel lesson presume that the hearers are not sinners outside the people of God but are in fact the 99 sheep and the nine coins still in possession of the shepherd and the woman – both metaphors for God. Just because we have faith in Jesus does not mean there is not a continual need for pruning by the vinedresser (John 15).

Ezekiel 34:11-24 – Ezekiel has prophesied harsh words to the people of Judah (Chapter 33), to the shepherds of Judah (34:1-10), here to be understood as likely both political and religious leadership, kings, princes, priests, and prophets, and now to the people themselves. First there are reassuring words of how the Lord will regather his scattered flock no matter how far they have been taken or wandered astray. But then there are rebukes within the flock. God can and will hold accountable his people who are careless or selfish or greedy in their relationships with others of his people. Saving faith in Jesus Christ does not justify everything we do, and God expects us to take seriously the Commandments not only to love him but to love our neighbor. Only when God sends the perfect shepherd will such sinfulness cease and will true peace be possible for all of God’s people.

Psalm 119:169-176 – The psalmist cries to the Lord for wisdom and understanding. Already within the fold of faith, there is still more to learn, more guidance necessary. We meditate on the Word of God not as those who have already been perfected by it but as those who are still being shaped and pruned by it, our ways guided and adjusted continually through our lives. We may feel it enough that we are free from major sins, but the Word of God continues to shape us for perfection in eternity. We are always to give God praise that He is not content to leave us as we are, partially finished, but to continue working on and with and in and despite us until we reach perfection in the day of our Lord’s return.

1 Timothy 1:5-17 – Verses 5-12 are optional but I think they mesh well with the remainder of the readings. Paul needs Timothy to deal with a situation where there are people in the Church – Christians – who are teaching incorrect things. Timothy is to be strong in this – charging them, demanding of the that they stop these things, speculative theologies and theories that detract from the central message of Christ crucified. The point of demanding they cease such things is that they may better express love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Their current teachings undermine these things, casting doubt and division instead of building up in love. These seeming simple things – not nearly as exciting as dubious teachings and philosophies and speculations in the faith – have been the source of misguided pride as people who really don’t know what they’re talking about desire to be recognized as teachers of others. This is dangerous folly. These are not non-Christians, but they are Christians who are mistaken in their faith and must be sternly warned against it for their own good and the good of the community. The Law is necessary first and foremost to restrain the sinful and guide them in their awareness of sin and need for a Savior. The Law can never be the means by which we save ourselves or one another, even when Paul is charging Timothy to call these erroneous Christians to account by the Law of Jesus Christ.

This may sound harsh, but it’s nothing less than what Jesus did to Paul himself. Jesus crushed Paul with the knowledge of his error and sinfulness as he sought to serve God, so that Paul might rightly receive the Son of God Jesus of Nazareth. Paul was changed wholly and completely. He wasn’t just warned about one aspect of his faith as he wants Timothy to do with these people in the church, he was shown how his entire understanding and relationship with God was flawed. Paul in humility subjected himself to this correction. He is grateful for the correction as it saved him from his error and allowed God to be honored and glorified by all who saw the change in him. So we should be grateful when we are shown the error of our ways!

Luke 15:1-10 – Presumably this passage is connected to the latter half of Luke 14, so that it is in the context of great crowds that part and allow the religious leaders of the day closer access to Jesus. But even as they listen to him, they discount his teachings because of his associations with sinful people. Surely a holy man would never allow himself to be contaminated by base sinners!

Jesus addresses these probably unvoiced criticisms head on. He has come to seek the lost, the overlooked, the forgotten, the neglected, the discarded. The implication is He did not come for those already following the Word of God (even if they are applying it improperly!). Rather, He has come for those the Pharisees and scribes have no interest in. They are secure in their own purity, and do not care whether the broken and sinful are healed and brought into the kingdom or not. So it is necessary for Jesus to do this, to extend grace and mercy where only judgment, condemnation and derision are received from the religious leadership.

We might wonder if the Pharisees are really in the Kingdom of God or not, but Jesus’ parables make it sound as though they are. They are like 99 sheep in a pasture, safe and sound and gathered together. They are like nine coins held in the nervous hand of a woman. Jesus has not come to find them, because they are already found. But He has come so that all might be included, so that the lost sheep is not left behind and so the lost coin might be found. Only when everyone who is to be in the Kingdom is safely home can there be a true and complete celebration.

Once again, the clear teaching here is that saving faith does not equate to perfect righteousness particularly towards one another. There is always the sinfulness that excludes passively if not actively, that grumbles when those we deem less deserving are given attention we think better spent on ourselves, like fat, sleek sheep who shove others aside.

Reading Ramblings – September 8, 2019

September 1, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 8, 2019

Texts: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-35

Context: American Christians have grown used to the assumption that their faith is not only accepted in their culture, it is actually the guiding moral norm for our culture. As this changes, we are continually faced with drastically different definitions of normal, many of which challenge directly clear Biblical teaching. Remaining faithful to our beliefs now may well require us to stand very awkwardly apart from our culture, refusing to condone or support what it demands us to. While this is new and different for us it has by and large been the norm for most followers of Christ over the past 2000 years, to varying degrees of intensity ranging from a mild social stigmatization to arrests and even execution. We must consider carefully and seriously our faith, ensuring that our faith is not simply a complicity with our surrounding culture that negates the substance of our faith in application and makes us essentially like everyone else. We are called to be salt and light, and this will necessarily set us apart and, sometimes, make us easy targets for persecution and abuse.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 – These verses are perhaps familiar to us, but perhaps less familiar are the first 14 verses of this chapter. If 15-20 gives us the impression that the law is something we can keep perfectly, the first 14 verses make it clear it is not. God knows full well that both the blessings and the curses of the covenant are going to come into play. God’s people will not remain faithful, but God will. Repentance will lead God’s people back home not by their own renewed obedience but by the faithful grace of God. This is the life being offered in Moses’ eloquent speech. Not a life of constant fear of the Law, but a life looking forward to the grace and goodness of God. The Law is to be taken seriously, but we will fail. God however, never fails. And so it is that God is rightly attributed as the source of life and length of days in v.20, rather than the obedience of his people.

Psalm 1 – This psalm sets the tone for the entire collection of psalms to follow. It sets forth the fundamental premise which will be explored in various ways through the rest of the psalms – the Word of God is the way of life, and all other options only lead to death. The opening two verses simply state this as a reality. The Word of God is the source of blessedness. Anyone or anything that counsels otherwise is wicked by definition. The natural effects of grounding oneself in God’s Word are a depth of strength and resilience that is not affected by the ups and downs of life. This is to be contrasted with the transience and lack of substance of the wicked, who are easily dispersed on the breeze like chaff. Chaff is an integral part of the grain plant, and seems every bit as vibrant and resilient as the grain it protects – until the harvest. At that time it is only the grain that has value, while the chaff dries up and is burned as fuel. This metaphor carries through the final two verses. On the day of judgment, the righteous will be separated from the unrighteous just as grain is separated from chaff during the threshing. It would no more be possible for the wicked to remain with the righteous during judgment than it would be for the dry, brittle chaff to remain with the grain during threshing.

Philemon – What does living by the Law of God look like? It doesn’t always look like we imagine it to. We may picture it as prohibiting us from violence or sexual misconduct, we may picture it as demanding our attendance in worship and guarding our choice of expletives. But the Word of God goes far deeper than this, and penetrates the way we do and approach everything, even our approach to economics. Paul writes to return a slave to his rightful master, and asks the master to be lenient in receiving him back. Some people are angry that Paul does not demand the master free the slave. That’s our understanding of what righteousness looks like. But freeing a slave does not alter the attitude of the master’s heart towards him. It is conceivable that freeing his slave might actually be detrimental to Onesimus – leaving him without a means of supporting himself. Rather, Paul calls both Onesimus and Philemon to a deeper application of God’s Word that demands love of neighbor, overcoming and setting aside personal issues to strive for true reconciliation. As brothers and sisters in Christ we expect to share eternity together – how can we allow anything temporal to affect how we treat one another here and now? The Kingdom of God is not simply a far off thing, but something that is lived out today – imperfectly to be sure, but just as seriously as though the King were on his earthly throne visible already!

Luke 14:25-35 – Following God’s Word, incarnate in the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, is not without cost. It would be much easier at times to do things the way the world does, to allow the world’s understanding of things to guide our own thoughts and actions. Our assumption that the life of faith will be easy and lead to the same sorts of benefits as others around us who aren’t following Christ is dangerous. There may be times when in order to be faithful we need to forego some of the goals or means taken for granted by those around us. This in turn will lead to real repercussions, whether socially or financially or even legally. We need to not only keep this in mind, we need in a very real sense to expect it. It’s easy for “great crowds” to follow Jesus as though on some extended picnic. But what happens when the Roman soldiers show up? What happens when the religious authorities kick them out of the synagogues (John 9:22)? What happens when they encounter persecution from friends and family and their community for their acceptance of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16)?

What happens when the Biblical Word on human life contradicts what our society decides is right? What happens when our friends – or even family members! – quit associating with us because we’re narrow-minded or judgmental or unloving in our refusal to agree with everything society demands of us? Or what about refusing to lie or cheat in order to gain a financial advantage? What about refusing to raise our kids with the same standards of those around us? What about challenging school systems when they attempt to indoctrinate our children and grandchildren with ideas that are clearly contrary to Scripture? What about the need to forego a preferred vocational field because Christians aren’t allowed to follow their religious convictions?

Who can bear these things on their own!? How important it is to have brothers & sisters in Christ around us to encourage us in the midst of suffering and loss. Together we can encourage one another not to simply accept whatever society claims we must. Together we can help one another retain our saltiness, our distinctness from the world around us every bit as much as the Old Testament rules were intended to keep the Hebrews distinct from the surrounding cultures.

Book Review: A Lutheran Primer for Preaching

August 30, 2019

A Lutheran Primer for Preaching: A Theological and Practical Approach to Sermon Writing

by Edward O. Grimenstein

 

Over the past several years I had the honor of supervising a deacon in our area who was responsible for the majority of preaching and teaching at his small parish about 30 miles from ours.  The irony is that despite him being much older than myself, I was supervising him since I am an ordained pastor and he was a trained deacon – two different roles in our polity.  As part of a process to allow him to be ordained and continue serving his small congregation, he was assigned a rigorous reading and study schedule and I assisted him in that.  One of the books he mentioned he was reading is this one, so I decided maybe I should read it as well.  Belatedly, I have.

I expected it to be a 50-60 year old book, but was pleasantly surprised it was published in 2015.  It is intended for a small group or classroom use, with questions for both in-class and out of class discussion.  Each chapter is very short (3-4 pages) and focused on one particular topic, beginning with the more abstract, theological topics and moving to more practical ones.  Grimenstein’s writing style is very accessible and easy to understand.  His theology is thoroughly Biblical.  His purpose is to guide potential (or current) preachers into doing what preaching should be – allowing people the opportunity to believe Jesus is the Christ and, by believing, have eternal life (p.49).  Considering the many other things that preaching can easily devolve into, this is a worthy goal!  At just over 100 pages this is an easy introduction or brush-up on some of the basics of preaching as Biblical Lutherans approach this sacred task.

Overall  the book is helpful, particularly if you’ve had little to no homiletical training.  There are places where Grimenstein strives to forge theological supports for the homiletical task and falls short, such as Chapter Six as he struggles to relate tangibly the Holy Spirit’s role in homiletical work.  Of course, this is difficult! I also question his assertion on page 74 that sermon preparation should “not be work” for the preacher.  I don’t know many preachers who would agree with this statement.  There are times when things come together easily and nicely and times when they don’t.  Good preparation is of course helpful but no guarantee that when it comes down to writing the sermon it will come together easily.

This is a good resource.  He takes issue (rightly so) with the move in the last 50 years of homiletics to shy away from the Bible as the primary text for sermon writing.  Whether this is a novel concept or not for you will likely depend on your theological training as well as your view of Scripture.  If it’s the authoritative, inspired Word of God there can be no other appropriate book to base Scripture on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Devotional – August 29, 2019

August 29, 2019

I’m starting a new thing with my congregation – a weekly electronic devotional based on one of the readings of either the previous or upcoming Sunday.  This is the first one.  I trust they’ll get better :-)

Begin by reading the verses indicated below, and then continue on with the devotion.

Psalm 50:1-15

Growing up chores were a source of little enjoyment for me. By all standards expectations weren’t excessive – taking out the trash, washing up dishes (or more accurately, putting them in the dishwasher) after dinner, those sorts of things. As kids these often seem like major impositions but as adults we realize how easy we had it and how much else our parents did, and we do now!

Predictably, chores were often done hurriedly and without much attention or love. This would result in lectures about pride of work and a cheerful heart and….well, I’m sure you remember such interactions with your own parents or your own kids/grandkids! And you may also recall this resulting in slight improvements in the short-term, but not necessarily a larger-scale change of understanding.

Our relationship with God can be very similar if we begin to see his gifts to us as chores. Instead of the opportunity to gather in worship with other believers, we might feel Sunday worship to be more of an obligation, as though we’re doing God a favor with our presence. Similarly with tithing – instead of an opportunity to grow in trust of our God and to live out our belief that all we have comes from God, it’s easy to give to God grudgingly and sparingly, clutching tightly to the rest.

God does not need your worship or your money. What He wants and deserves is thanks and trust (v.15). To help show us these things He gathers us for worship each week so we might hear again how He has loved and served his people not only in the past, but you and I today as well. So that we might hear again of God’s faithfulness and look forward to the final fulfillment of his promise that our Lord Jesus will return to deliver us finally from the sin in ourselves and the world around us. He gathers us to feed us with the body and blood of his Son, that we might taste forgiveness and experience a unity with him as well as one another and all the faithful before us that strengthens us for the week ahead and changes our perspectives and feelings from the inside out.

Don’t come to church or workdays out of a feeling of obligation. Don’t tithe or sign up for clean-up duties on Sunday mornings as though you’re doing God a favor. You aren’t. But receive them as opportunities to align your hearts and minds in thankfulness and trust for who God is, what He has done, is doing now, and promises to do eternally in the future.