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Archive for the ‘Bernie’s Posts’ Category

Jesus Christ My Sure Defense verse 8

I always said I would like the epitaph on my grave to be “I told you I was sick”.  I am not sure that would be approved by the final disposers of my remains but it was a thought.  I like this one.  It is funny and a bit macabre but death has been turned into a joke by Christ.

Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave
And at death no longer tremble;
He, the Lord, who came to save
Will at last His own assemble.
They will go their Lord to meet,
Treading death beneath their feet.

This was the verse that Larry Harvala used in his moving words about the death of a Saint.  The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the Law but we have the victory through Christ.  The primary and ultimate fact about Larry and Bill Sharpe and Evelyn Allensworth and you and me was established by Christ and Calvary. You, we, are forgiven, made God’s holy child for Christ’s sake. That fact is as solid as
Christ and His victory was ours.

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Jesus Christ My Sure Defense v 5

Glorified, I shall anew
With this flesh then be enshrouded;
In this body I shall view
God, my Lord, with eyes unclouded;
In this flesh I then shall see
Jesus Christ eternally.

It wasn’t long after entering school that I began to realize that there really are movements all around us that seek to change a biblical view of reality into something totally different. We have talked before about worldview warfare that seeks to either set one standard of reality, or to say that everyone creates their reality and we hope you will join us in our particular view of how the world actually works.

When I began studying to be a pastor I was stunned to learn that there were professors and books and commentaries that basically tried to convince folks that the Bible never really teaches a bodily resurrection from the dead. I did not consider myself to be much of a Bible scholar at that time and I’m not sure I am much of a Bible scholar even now but as soon as you hear a statement like that you have to ask some questions. There’s a very quick reference in one of the Gospels about the Sadducees. It is stated that the Sadducees were different because they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. If there were different because they don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead then somebody was teaching the dead rise. That statement will be turned around on you very quickly by scholars who will say that the Sadducees e believed in a strict interpretation of the first five books of Moses and there is nothing about the resurrection in them. That may be true but there are certain hints.  Of course later on  we have Job talking about “in my flesh will I see my God even if the skin worms destroy this body”. And then we have the apostle Paul who was probably one of the greatest Old testament scholars of all time who says “behold I tell you a mystery we shall not all die. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment in the twinkling of an eye at the last judgment”. The dead in Christ will be changed and raised incorruptible. In fact the resurrection of the dead is probably the most important belief that we have. Because as Paul said if Christ has not been raised from the dead our teaching is in vain, our faith is in vain and we are of all people at the most to be pitied.

This verse beautifully portrays what our resurrected body will be like. No more signing no more sorrow no more sickness no more pain.
We keep our bodies but they are glorified. We keep our bodies but they’re no longer be handicapped. We keep our bodies and they will last forever.

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Jesus Christ My Sure Defense continued

Then these eyes my Lord shall know,
My Redeemer and my Brother;
In His love my soul shall glow,–
I myself, and not another!
Then the weakness I feel here
Shall forever disappear.

The hymn stanzas are really a reiteration of the great passages from the book of Job.  Job seems to vacillate between hope and despair; faith and unbelief; self righteousness and reliance.

Job therefore is not a plaster saint and the phrase “the patience of Job” is and oxymoron. He is a picture of our life. Every believer whose faith in God falters in the midst of trials and sickness and tribulations can see themselves in this individual from so long ago.  The hymn says it well.  God lifts him when his eyes of faith grow dim; He helps him overcome his doubts; He forgives and blesses him.

Many scholars believe that the ultimate message of Job is that “that there is no just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not.”   I spite of our best efforts and noblest intentions and our deepest prayers none of us keep the First Commandment and love God with all our hearts, souls and minds.  God gives us the vision of life everlasting and true worship in everlasting life through Christ our Lord.




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Jesus Christ My Sure Defense v 4

4. I am flesh and must return
Unto dust, whence I am taken;
But by faith I now discern
That from death I shall awaken
With my Savior to abide
In His glory, at His side.

The fourth verse is interesting in that it takes us to Ash Wednesday, and the imposition of ashes, and the sonorous statement that we are dust and to dust we shall return. There is a magnificent confession of Job even in the midst of what often sounds like unbelief, rings out on these words. Even though the skin worms destroyed this body yet in my flesh will I see my God who mine eyes shall behold and not another. I would submit that this is where hearing the word of God, and the mutual consolation and admonition of the Saints is absolutely important.
In times of difficulty and trials and tribulations, faith needs to be strengthened and informed by the preaching of the gospel. It needs to be reinforced by the living voice of another human being witnessing to us about God’s power and his mercy. There are times in our life where our faith will present to us a God who is what some one called  a “nefarious mixture of absence and presence”.  I don’t know where I’ve heard that statement. The nefarious mixture of absence and presence is the human situation in which we feel that when God is with us He’s punishing us, and sometimes when we  suffer God is absent. That is our human nature and our human mind and the witness of the world and the flesh and the devil going after that faith that constantly needs to be informed by the power of the Holy Spirit. When God seems to be present in punishment, or absent and ignoring our trials, we need to be pointed again to Christ who is never absent from us, and who is actively calling us to His side to be with Him forever.

Job had folks who preached to him.  He was missing a Gospel message of redemption.  Elihu comes the closest to a Gospel message and a true gift to that suffering man.

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James and John – Corrections

Jamison Hardy, a Deaconess at Udom and James Wolf.

On February 7 I wrote about Kissinger and James Wolf.  Some of you reminded me that the picture is John Wolf.  You invited him to speak and knew it was John.  I on the other hand spent several days with James Wolf at a Board meeting.  James is a force of nature and leaves an impression.

He has been on this blog before this is from March of 2012 –

I have been through Voi many times on my way to Mombassa. They have postcards of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the restaurant, but I have never seen the Mountain. They call it the ‘shy Mountain’ because it is almost always wrapped in clouds. I have flown to Mombassa and back many times and have never seen it. Shy indeed. We drove to Taita Taveta to see a proposed project 24 site and drove right along the shoulder of the Mountain and I complained the whole way because I never saw it – only clouds.

On that trip were the two District Presidents, Baneck and Fondow, Roger Weinlaeder from Project 24 and me, Al Collver the Director of Church Relations for the LCMS, Jameson Hardy from 1001 Orphans and another member of the Board of Concordia Lutheran Ministries, James Wolf. He complained about not seeing Kilimanjaro too, but James did something about it. He climbed it in January, and he climbed it with a purpose. He didn’t just climb it because it is there.

Concordia Lutheran Ministries Board Member Jim Wolf has a heart for mission work, as evidenced by his many mission trips to South Africa and Kenya over the past five years. He’s currently embarking on another visit to the country, but this time, he’s got something new on the agenda…

This time, 65-year-old Jim (a lifelong Missouri Synod Lutheran) will attempt to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain. He will start the 19,340 foot ascent on January 14, with a scheduled summit on January 20. But he’s not just climbing for himself; he has decided to make the ascent a fundraiser for a special mission project in Kenya called 1001 Orphans.

So thanks to James and John – wonderful servants of Christ – remember them in prayer.

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Jesus Christ My Sure Defense verse 3


3. Nay, too closely am I bound
Unto Him by hope forever;
Faith’s strong hand the Rock hath found,
Grasped it, and will leave it never;
Even death now cannot part
From its Lord the trusting heart.

The third verse is interesting and I have issues with it not because it’s wrong, but because the emphasis to me seems to be off. The verse mentions faith’s strong hand grasping the rock. My issue is that faith is not always that strong. When I visit with people who are sick or sorrowing and they refer to the strength of their faith it always makes me nervous. We say  in the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, “I believe that I cannot buy my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him but the Holy Spirit calls me by the gospel” etc. Faith is the hand that reaches out and receives a gift and it makes no difference if the faith is strong or weak it is what that hand is holding that is important. Luther compared a precious gemstone placed in the hands of a little baby and asked if that gemstone would be more precious if it was held in the strong hand of a lumberjack. Obviously the worth of that stone has nothing to do with who holds it. Christ is the center and object of our faith in Christ the all mighty God who died and rose again for me is grasped by the power of the Holy Spirit and is even able to save the weak.  When faith falters, and hope  seems to fail, that’s when above all things we need to look to Jesus.

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Jesus Christ My Sure Defense verse1

Jesus Christ, my sure defense
And my Savior, now is living!
Knowing this, my confidence
Rests upon the hope here given
Though the night of death be fraught
Still in many an anxious thought.

Luther was well aware of the appalling nature of recriminations that take place at the time of death. Even when we are gravely ill the recrimination’s begin from three of what the Bible calls our deadly enemies – the world, our own flash, and the devil. The world starts in with all the usual accusations. Why didn’t you take better care of yourself? Why didn’t you take this vitamin?  Why did you do this and not do that ? etc. etc. and on it goes. Our own flesh turns against us And our mind starts asking all the questions that we should’ve asked during our life. Why didn’t you treat someone so so-and-so better why didn’t you take better care of your parents in their old age why didn’t you apologize for all those terrible things you did, why didn’t you say I love you to this person or that person and on and on that goes? Then the devil comes at you.  You didn’t care about God when you were healthy, and now you blubber to him like a baby. In the long watches of the night when it’s quiet and no one is around that’s your conscience talking. That’s your conscience telling you all the things you didn’t do. You couldn’t be dragged into the church while you were alive and now you’re wondering if they’ll drag you into the church when you’re dead. What’s the purpose of that? What good is that going to do you when all the prayers of a lifetime can’t wash away the things that you’ve done in the last three days?
These are very real things these are the pangs of death, these are the chords of death that encompass us.
Luther was powerfully aware of these things. He told his friends that when these anxious thoughts would come to him, especially when the law and the devil accused him he would say “go ahead and accuse me. Everything you say about me is right. I have one who stronger than your accusations. I have one who took your accusations to the cross and wiped my slate clean. Say the worst you can about me, but I have one who is forgiven me and credited to my account his own perfect life and righteousness”.
This hymn verse powerfully strengthens the hope that we have because of Jesus resurrection. My catechism says that because Christ rose I know that I’ll rise to. Because Christ rose I know that his teachings are true. Because Christ rose I know that God the father accepted his sacrifice for me. This is good stuff and we need to meditate upon that not just when the night of Sickness and death comes, but every day of our lives.



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Jesus Christ My Sure Defense verse 2

2. Jesus, my Redeemer, lives;
I, too, unto life shall waken.
Endless joy my Savior gives;
Shall my courage, then, be shaken?
Shall I fear, or could the Head
Rise and leave His members dead.?

The last line of this verse is particularly poignant. Luther looked at the birth of a child from the child’s view point rather than the mothers. The head comes out first as the child is being born, then the shoulders and after that everything is easy. Once the head comes forth the rest of the body follows. Luther then uses that image in dying. Dying in Christ is being born into a new life.  Christ as the head has died and has arisen. Death cannot longer hold him, and the rest of the body is following. When we die as a member of His body we follow the head who is risen and we will rise to. In one place Luther talks about the concept of death trying to hang onto a little toe and can’t even do that.
We are members of Christ’s body Paul says. We are the body of Christ, and each one of us individually a member of it. Our head has gone before to prepare the place for us and we will follow where He is. What a grand image.

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Jesus Christ My Sure Defense

Yesterdays blog quoted a verse from a hymn but never identified that hymn.  I have been wracking my melody brain for the memory of what that hymn could be and it came to me last night just before I went to sleep.  It is a verse from the great hymn “Jesus Christ My Sure Defense”, which is played for Easter and sometimes at funerals.  It is a marvelous hymn that suffers from two problems.  First, it is for most organists, almost impossible to play at a tempo that a congregation can follow.  Please understand that I am not criticizing organists.  They do something that I cannot do and I have nothing but respect for them.  However, a hymn like this seems to force organists to play at a drawn out funeral tempo that leaves the congregation gasping for wind.  The second issue, and not to be taken lightly is that it has 8 verses, and 8 verses at that tempo will leave the church exhausted.  Many folks can’t take singing more than 4 verses in any hymn.

All that aside, it is a theological marvel and a wonderful devotional exercise.  Just reading the verses is a great help and opportunity to think about our own death and be strengthened in the hope that we have in Christ.  We will be looking at this hymn for the next few days.

Since this is also a mission blog it is interesting to note that a Lutheran Missionary to India in 1717 had established 2 mission stations in Madras and Cudalore.  His name was Bartholomew Ziegenbalg.  Suffering from a lack of support and zeal for the mission from the folks that sent him into the field in first place, Ziegenbalg was probably depressed and became ill from some kind of fever.  With his friends gathered near his sick bed, he is reported to have said, “How is it so bright as if the sun were shining in my eyes?”  He asked them to sing his favorite hymn; you guessed it – “Jesus Christ my sure Defense”.  As they probably wheezed and struggled through a stentorious and plodding rendition he died.  A servant of Christ dying half way around the world from his home asked for this hymn at the end of his life.  You can read more about this in “A History of Lutheran Missions” by Preston Laury, Pilger Publishing House 1905.

Jesus Christ, my sure defense
And my Savior, now is living!
Knowing this, my confidence
Rests upon the hope here given
Though the night of death be fraught
Still in many an anxious thought.


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Thoughts on the Death of God’s Saints and Bill Sharpe

We told you about Rev. Harvala’s comments at our recent convention and the effect it had upon this observer.  I found it to be heartfelt and a wonderful expression of the Gospel. Here is the text.


Thank you for the opportunity to be at this convention. I have been able to see and talk to many of you that I have not seen for quite some time. Of course, there were many faces, familiar from previous conventions that I did not see. There is one chair in particular that is empty, not that he would have sat in any one chair for three days, that of Bill Sharpe. Bill served as Executive Director of the Board of Directors for three terms with my predecessor, a few months shy of three terms while I was District President, and after that, with other titles, and as Business Manager at the time of his death. With Bill’s military background, I often referred to him as the “XO”, the Executive Officer, somewhat reflecting the many things he did.

 Passing through Fargo one day, I stopped at the District Office. Bill wasn’t there, so I went to his house. Gail wasn’t there, nor were any of the grand-kids, so Bill and I had a chance to talk, just the two of us. We talked about life. We talked especially about our life together, our time together, in the District Office. At times, I did step on Bill’s toes in my desire to push him…to push things forward. I regret that. In studying the theme of this convention, Unity in Christ, preparing a Bible Study I led in one of our churches on Sunday, I now realize that when we are both united in Christ, we are put so close together that we are going to step on one another’s toes occasionally. Although Bill was more vulnerable, in stocking feet, literally, much of the time…spiritually his feet were shod with readiness coming from the gospel of peace. (Eph 6:15) That peace comes from sins confessed and forgiven and gone by the grace and power of God. This forgiveness comes through our readiness to confess and God’s readiness to forgive. Bill and I had that peace through our Lord Jesus Christ. We talked about death. We talked about eternal life. That was the last time I talked to Bill. When I think about Bill’s death, it makes me sad. When I think about Bill’s life, it makes me smile and sometimes laugh out loud. You know the life he lived. When I think about Bill’s eternal life, I rejoice. In the sense President Harrison reminded us, I really rejoice.

This may be the last time I see the faces of many of you. As Paul told the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, there was sadness because he said it would be the last time they would see one another. But I don’t think sadness is appropriate for us. Just as I rejoice at those I knew from previous conventions, I rejoice at all of you. Because of our unity in Christ, we also work very closely and we will step on one another’s toes, especially over those individual differences sticking out through the unity God has given. Our feet are “shod with readiness that comes from the gospel.” When we step on each other’s toes, confession and forgiveness with God’s reconciliation is the answer. For we are united in a very important work. I like to think of it in terms of the hymn verse:

Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave

And at death no longer tremble.

He, the Lord, who came to save

Will at last His own assemble;

They will go their Lord to meet

Trampling death beneath their feet.

As we continue to be united together in this wonderful work , we shouldn’t think so much about stepping on toes, but trampling death. Thank You.

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