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Archive for April, 2014

Look in the Mirror

diesel in mirri

James 1: 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

26If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

We all know this. We know the hearer of whom our text speaks, the hearer, who one likens to a man, “Who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” And this man is not some neighbor of yours in the church or your opponent.  No, you are the man. When you leave your house you steal a quick look in the mirror, a fleeting glance, to see if your hat and tie are in the right place. And then you sit in the church and hear the word of God, hear the Scripture readings, hear the sermon– and the impression remains as superficial, as transitory as the impression of the quick look in the mirror before. It is hardly remembered. It doesn’t bring any deep experience, at least not a serious, deep experience that shakes ones being. It brings no joy for the gospel, which is really the source and zenith of all true joy in the world. At best it brings a feeling of uneasiness, perhaps of boredom. Perhaps it leads to an analysis of the sermon, and the pastor on the way home. But it has nothing to do with any real spiritual judgment, which according to Paul is the right and duty of the congregation, a judgment determining if what the pastor has said is really true.

Not true, we all- I willingly unite myself – have often been annoyed by the sermon without asking if the real reason for our discontentment is to actually be found in ourselves. When a hearer cannot agree with a sermon, it is not always the sermon and the preacher that are to blame. Listening to a sermon is an activity, an art that needs to be learned. To listen to and receive a sermon properly, requires a measure of Christian formation and spiritual open-mindedness that few of us posses in this day. What this formation and open-mindedness means, that I, if I may say so, have experienced most strongly among very simple people, farmers and workers and their wives in Franconian and Prussian village churches. The lack of this spiritual formation, however, leaves nothing to replace it, at the very least the thundering rhetoric and the arousal of feelings with all the means of eloquence many people expect of the preacher so that they don’t fall asleep. That we ourselves are really the deepest reason for our not hearing or our empty hearing, is no less the reason that this same incompetence of hearing also stands in opposition to the Holy Scripture. Hand on heart, beloved friends, who of us today can listen to a chapter of Romans the same as our grandparents. I fear many simple farmers in Altmuhtal or in Schwabia, in Siegerland or Minden-Ravensburg would put many learned theologians to shame on that. But how long will these people be there with us? Here, beloved congregation is the deepest distress of our church. The deepest distress is not that we can no longer have a church newsletter, but that we can no longer read our Bibles. A distress that becomes more perceptible as we see in our catholic Christians a hunger and thirst awakened in them by the long missing Biblical word, as we perhaps have not experienced for generations!  I think, we all know, what empty hearing is”.[1]

[1] Sasse, Sermon on James 1:22-27, Rogate 1941 Trans. by Bror Erickson

 

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LWML – Your On Call – (and so are the rest of you)

daffodils

Ignore the picture – it really has nothing to do with anything.  I just thought it was nice. 

One of the more interesting and endearing parts of my life has been my relationship with the LWML. The women of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League are dedicated to the task of supporting missions, and helping women to recognize not only the gifts they received because Jesus suffered on the cross and died for them, and rose again for their salvation, but also to recognize their corresponding gifts in the work that they do in their vocations in life.  The reason this is on my mind this morning is that it’s the beginning of LWML convention time. Anyone who’s had anything to do with a convention knows how busy these times are. In all the preparation and all the “busyness” of the days and weeks ahead, one little phrase keeps popping out in my correspondence with different LWML’ers  – “Pray for me”.  There is a concomitant to that as well. How often I’ve heard the phrase, “I’ll be praying for you”.
The other day when I was at the hospital visiting someone the individual said to me “you’re always on call aren’t you?” I haven’t really thought about it for quite a while but that’s true. Pastors are, or should be “on-call” 24 hours a day.  But guess what the non-Pastor portion of our congregations should be “on-call” 24 hours a day too.  Luther has an interesting portion of a sermon in which he tells his congregation in Wittenberg just that. Preaching on Matthew 28, the passage that most of us think about is being the “excommunication passage”, he tells the congregation that they are people who are called daily to speak on Christ’s behalf.

“Here Jesus is saying that he does not only want the condemnation of sin and the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins to take place in the church, but he also gives this right and freedom where two or three are gathered together, so that among them the comfort and the forgiveness of sins may be proclaimed and pronounced. He pours out his forgiveness even more richly and places the forgiveness of sins for them in every corner, so that they not only find the forgiveness of sins in the congregation but also at home in their houses, in the fields and gardens, wherever one of them comes to another in search of comfort and deliverance.  It shall be at my disposal when I am troubled and sorry, in tribulation and vulnerable, when I need something, and whatever hour and time it may be. There is not always a sermon being given publicly in the church, so when my brother or neighbor comes to me, I am to lay my troubles before my neighbor and ask for comfort. Again I should comfort others and say, “dear friend, dear brother, why don’t you lay aside your burdens. It is certainly not God’s will that you experience the suffering. God had his son die for you so that you do not sorrow but rejoice”

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It is Christ’s Ministry

show god faithThis is the kind of smarmy nonsense that gets me sometimes.  Bill board Christianity is a menace.  Here is a bit of it of Micheal Horton from “Modern Reformation”.

Reformation teaching affirms with the New Testament that the church is “the creation of the Word.” The Spirit gives us faith through the preaching of the Word—specifically, through hearing the gospel. That is why the growth of the church in the book of Acts is reported with the phrase, “And the word of God spread.” We live out our callings in the world not as if we were the gospel, but because of the gospel and in a way that brings those around us into the atmosphere of its blessings. It is certainly true that our hypocritical practice can repel people from hearing the gospel. If people do not hear the gospel proclaimed, however, they will not be saved. This is why the central mandate of the Great Commission is to “proclaim the gospel to everyone”: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Faith is expressed through love and good works, but it does not come from them. Peter says that we are “born again…through the living and abiding word of God….And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Pet. 1:23, 25).

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God’s Work – God’s Mission

acts 2Acts 2 – Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers

More and more it seems that there are many among us who think that preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments are one thing, and mission is something else. What seems to have happened is that for some the emphasis has shifted from God’s work – God’s mission, to our mission – our work. As Michael Horton has said “being missional often seems not only to mean the appropriate pursuit of methods of informal witness and service in addition to the official gathering of the covenant people but also to dispense with all formal elements of the public service itself.”  As I have said on these pages there are those who go off into the mission fields with no intention to plant churches.
That’s not the way it happened in the book of Acts. “Converts were immediately baptized and incorporated in the ordinary life the churches public gathering where they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers,” says Horton, and the mission and marks of the church were never separated.  (Michael Horton, “Christless Christianity”)

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Expect the Worst – Hope for the Best

romans 15Our theology and our experience of history not only permit us to expect the worst but require us to. The tendency of history like nature points itself towards cruelty and dissolution. That is precisely why there’s room and need for what the apostle Paul calls hope.  Christians need to live in hope because if we could simply expect the best, or even a steady drift towards the better then hope would be meaningless.  Romans 15: 3For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED YOU FELL ON ME.”4For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus,…

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Imbibing the Enduring Lesson of Forgiveness

persecution

We tend to think of Easter as a chance to get away from the everyday stuff of life.  The story of Easter is the stuff of life.  We have a religious and political execution.  We have social commentary all over the passion story.  Everyone from the Judas to the High Priest to Pilates wife have commentary on Jesus and who he is.  The politics of Pilate and religious leaders is really quite impressive and theologically astute because it was inspired by God – “it is better that one man die than the whole people perish” and we even have the ubiquitous news  – there was an inscription over His head in Aramaic and Latin and Greek.

I try and read as much as I can about world affairs because the news coverage in this country about other countries is abominable and because it is important to try and see things coming that effect our mission and ministry and mercy overseas. The news media in the US seem to be deliberately trying not to talk about the fact that there is a genocidal hatred of Christians going on right now that takes thousands of lives a day.  Our news is more interested in the Presidents private hoops shooting contest and the President is more interested in trying not to tell us what is actually going on with the IRS, Health Care of the lack of it, or maybe its destruction, the NSA, relations with Russia and on we go.  Right now the entire top half of the continent of Africa with few exceptions is in the middle of a great move toward Islamization.  It was said years ago that Islamists want to make all of Africa Muslim by 2015.  Due to the lack of any kind of America leadership  in the area and feckless American leadership all around Africa in the near and middle East there id going to be some real problems.  Africa was undergoing a real economic surge until recently and the idea of Islamization is really to return society to the 4th century.  In Kenya the El Shabab terrorists are active and doing things that have an impact on our mission and ministry.  In Nigeria Bokol Haram is the organization that is systematically killing Christians.  In fact the single most dangerous place in the world as of this week to be a Christian maybe Nigeria.

Anyway the idea of Easter is a chance to be taken out of the world for a few hours is a typical piece of American maudlin spirituality.  This comes from the The Daily Times of Nigeria and is about the Governor of a State in Nigeria called Kwara.  The governors name seems Muslim but I can’t find out for sure if he is a Muslim of not.  What I do know is that it might be nice for an American leader to say something like this.  I also like the idea of “imbibing the enduring lesson of forgiveness”.

 

The Kwara State Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed has enjoined Christians and other Nigerians to use the Easter season to pray fervently for peace and continued stability in the country.

Ahmed made the call in an Easter Message signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Alhaji Abdulwahab Oba.

He stressed that it has become imperative that Nigerians should employ the potency of prayers in the quest to tackle the spate of violence, kidnapping and murder that have become rampant in the country.

The governor urged Christians to imbibe the enduring lessons of forgiveness, selflessness and perseverance that the 40 day Lenten, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that the Easter Season teaches.

“There is no better time than now for Christians in Nigeria to rededicate themselves to the service of God and work towards making the society a better place in line with the teaching of Jesus Christ,” he said.

Ahmed wished Christians in particular and Nigerians as a whole, a happy Easter celebration.

Our partner church – the Lutheran Church of Nigeria LCN started in 1936 in the rural Ibesikpo clan with the late Rev. Dr. Jonathan Udo Ekong as the pioneering father. It has grown from 16 initial congregations to 339 congregations in 38 districts. We work in 15 states of Nigeria and in a dozen different languages with our unifying language being English.  Keep them in your prayers.

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Happy Easter

happy easter

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Holy Saturday Again

jesus laid in tomb

I wrote this last year – applies again.

I found this on something called Easter Icons – “It is hard to imagine the Easter story without thinking of the resurrection, and  often we teach the Good Friday message as if it was Easter Day. The Disciples  and followers of Jesus, and his family, did not have the luxury of being able to  skip to the end of the book. Good Friday is the day where all hope is lost.  While Jesus remained alive on the cross, there was still some hope of a miracle.  But, by the end of Good Friday, Jesus is dead. All hope is lost, and it becomes clear that Jesus is not the Messiah. The Disciples look and feel like fools. The  strange and horrific events they had just experienced would still have been  fresh and vivid. Saturday would have felt decidedly unholy for the Disciples, whilst the majority of people around them, including perhaps their family, were celebrating the festivities of Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread.  They were alone and abandoned, and all hope was gone… This is the Christian  story, this is the Christian faith: Jesus dies. This is no pretence. Jesus is  laid in a tomb. This is no fairytale. Death comes and death is faced … and death  is defeated … but not on Good Friday or on the Saturday. Today we wait and contemplate the death of Jesus.”

So we have quiet Saturday.  Also known as the Easter Vigil (a name more properly applied to the Mass on Holy Saturday night), Holy Saturday has had a long and varied history. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, “in the early Church this was the only Saturday on which fasting was permitted.” Fasting is a sign of penance, but on Good Friday, Christ paid with His own Blood the debt of our sins. Thus, for many centuries, Christians regarded both Saturday and Sunday, the day of Christ’s Resurrection, as days on which fasting was forbidden.

I like it because it is a chance to catch a breath before Easter Sunday Worship

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Good Friday

baptist pointing“We need to study the passion of Christ, in order that we might remember that it happened for our good and for our eternal benefit. I must have regard for his bloody sweat, his agony, and his crucifixion and say, ‘That is my strength, my life, my joy.’ All this happened for our sakes and for our benefit. We must believe this and thank him from the bottom of our hearts. Whoever does that and views the suffering of Christ in this way is a Christian.”

Luther
Good Friday, 1533
Preached at home in the Luther Hall
House Postils 1.474
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Maundy Thursday

1 John 4 191 John 4:19  We love  because He first loved us.
Tonight we’re going to participate in remembrance of the great command the Jesus gave his disciples, that they love one another. We’re going to receive the Lord’s  Supper,  hear again the wonderful words of the prayer, that God would , “cause this heavily food to strengthen our faith in you and our fervent love towards one another.” The unifying concept is love. It has two objects in it’s expression. God another people. It’s a two in one. That’s the point the John makes over and over again in his first epistle. You can’t love God whom you haven’t seen if you hate your neighbor who you have seen. What God has joined together let not us split asunder. True brotherly love and it’s accomplishment can only come from Jesus Christ and the preaching of the cross upon which he died to forgive that sin of unbrotherly love. Hearing again about the great love of God strengthens us in faith towards God and provides the love towards one another. Love has always been the mark of true Christians. It was said of the early church “look at how they love one another”. Today, sadly< we hear about our churches “look how they can never get along”. You can excuse lovelessness. You can pretend like there’s no connection between your love of God and your love for your neighbor. You can pretend that everything is about you and Jesus. But there is a real danger here.   There is a danger of  forsaking the one who loved us so much He died for us on the cross and understanding that we love because he first loved us.  There is a missionary idea here too –

1 John 4:17  – Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.

As Jesus is so are we in the world – think about that.

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