Welcome

Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

2012 Texas District Results and Thoughts


The following is a bit of rambling and thoughts concerning the 2012 Convention of the Texas District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

The main election results were as follows: President, reelected, Rev. Ken Hennings; First Vice President (area D, which is our area), Rev. Ralph Hobratschk; Second Vice President (area A), Rev. Dale Snyder; Third Vice President (area B), Rev. Eloy Gonzalez; Fourth Vice President (area C), Rev. Mark Barz.

Not only do we do business, we also have someone called an essayist who leads us in a Bible Study of sorts, more like a lecture. All I can say about the essayist was that his theology left a lot to be desired and that is putting the best construction on everything.

Our Synod President,Rev. Matt Harrison presented matters in synod such as what was going on with the changes voted in at the last synodical convention. Following his presentation, unlike previous years when delegates were allowed to submit questions for the former president to answer, this year the President simply entertained questions from the floor.

Some telling points of the convention came in the form of two wonderful questions from the floor, again, questions not submitted, nor scripted but simply asked by delegates. One question asked of President Harrison had to do with the fact that he has decided to accept a call to a local congregation in order to continue to serve as a pastor, which is considered the highest calling in our church. Even President Harrison understands that he took a step down in taking the role as the President of Synod. Anyway the question was asked if he sought the call as opposed to our understanding that the office of the pastor seeks the man, not the man seeking the office. The answer our president gave was an answer of a theologian, not a pragmatist. Rev. Harrision explained from CFW Walther and Martin Luther that when a man has the gifts and abilities to serve he may offer those gifts and abilities and a congregation may call him to serve.

A second and what I think is a more telling question was asked; “When it comes to selecting people to serve in various positions in the Synod, are you giving preference to confessional pastors?” This question seems to deny that this goes on with presidents on both sides of the discussion and has only pertained to our current president, but more importantly, this question is an admission that the one asking the questions and others are not confessional, which has been the contention by many for some time.

Finally, unlike years past, the convention this year was rather calm. The reason for this calmness, in my thinking, is that the confessional Lutherans of Texas have simply decided that the battle is best taken on at the Synod level at this time rather than the district level which has been a losing proposition over the past number of years. The votes spoke the divide about 65% to 35%.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Jesus’ Calming Peace - June 24, 2012 - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 07) - Text: Mark 4:35-41


Today we continue with another day in the life of Jesus. Last week, you might remember, we were following along with Jesus as He was teaching His disciples, and us, through telling parables.  What great joy is ours to know that we too are disciples of Jesus, that is we are His children and we are being taught as He is teaching His twelve apostles and those who have gathered to hear Him teach. Last week Jesus taught us about what the Kingdom of God is like and the fact that He is the one who gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith through His means of grace; His Word, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution and His Holy Supper and the fact that as we live lives as priests in the priesthood of all believers, we are sowing seeds of faith.
 
In our text for this morning we are privileged to see Jesus in His humanity, that is we see that Jesus is truly human. As we heard last week, Jesus had been preaching all day and now at the end of the day He dismissed the crowds so they could go home. He instructed His disciples in His desire to take the boat to the other side of the lake, perhaps to go there and begin teaching in the morning to still others. And we are told that He got in the boat and as He was truly human, He was tired, and He fell sleep.
 
Jesus is truly human and He exhibits human traits. Although He could have and at another time did walk across the lake on the water, this time He rode in the boat to get to the other side of the lake. Jesus depended on His disciples to row the boat to get across the lake. And again we are told that He fell asleep on a cushion in the boat.
 
We have established the fact that Jesus is and shows Himself to be truly human. He is a human man and shows His humanness in the fact that He was tired and sleepy and that He got in a boat, depending on His disciples to row Him across to the other side of the lake. Our text continues by showing us the fact that Jesus is also truly divine, that is that He is truly God. Jesus was able to sleep because, unlike His disciples and very often unlike us, He did not have any fear of the elements of the weather.
 
After the storm arose, after the waves began pouring water into the boat, after the disciples, full of fear because of the storm, woke Jesus, Jesus got up, commanded the wind and the waves and they obeyed. The wind ceased and the waves calmed, who else has control over the wind and the waves, over the weather, except God Himself and so through His control over the wind and the waves Jesus shows His divinity, He shows Himself to be truly God.
 
In the second article of the Apostles’ Creed we confess what Jesus is demonstrating, that we believe in “Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” Jesus was truly God, truly divine, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and truly human, born of the human woman, the Virgin Mary.
 
Jesus calms the storm and then He turns to His disciples as a disciplinarian. Jesus questioned His disciples as to why they were afraid. Someone once pointed out that the explanation to the first commandment is that “we should fear, love and trust in God above all things,” which truly means that when we are afraid of something or someone else other than God, that is idolatry, at least idolatry in its finer form. So, here in our text we see the disciples committing idolatry.
 
Jesus also questioned His disciples concerning their lack of faith. “Have you no faith?” Jesus asks, rather astonished. Personally, I am glad we have texts like this text, because I believe we must all admit that we are truly Jesus’ disciples, and truly we are very much like His first disciples, idolaters and lacking in faith. Not that this gives us any excuse to be lax in our own faith life, but certainly if the disciples struggled, I do not feel too bad when I have struggles in my own life.
 
But our text is not complete. At the end of our text we see that Jesus is also compassionate. The disciples were out in the middle of the lake, feeling threatened by a storm, being idolatrous, showing their lack of faith and Jesus saves them. He rebukes the wind and the waves and calms the troubled sea. Jesus takes care of the fear of His disciples by calming the storm and He moves to take care of their lack of faith also by calming the storm.
 
Jesus demonstrated, again, that He is God in human flesh. Jesus demonstrated once again that He is indeed the Messiah. This miracle, like many others Jesus’ performed, showed Him to be truly God in human flesh. Who else has power over nature except the very one who created nature, all things, God Himself, and yet here is Jesus, true God in human flesh and blood showing He is truly human in His getting tired and sleeping.
 
So, as we usually ask of our texts, “What does this mean?” There are some pastors, good pastors, who would suggest that this story is a story about the storms of life, in other words they would take this story as an allegory which is that parts of the story are symbolic. To allegorize this story is to suggest that the wind and the waves are the trials and temptations, the struggles we face in life. When we face the trials and temptations, the struggles in life we have a tendency to be afraid and lack faith. It is only when we call on Jesus that He comes to help us by calming the storms of life.
 
So, the allegorized version of this is a story can be summed up by saying that this story is about Jesus helping us through the storms of life. Now, there is some merit to this allegorizing of this story, because we would certainly agree that we do have struggles in our lives and when life is hard and we pray to Jesus, He helps us in those times of trouble. Actually He helps us even before we pray. But I think that allegorizing of this text leaves out too much of the heart of this text. Is the reason Jesus came to earth simply to be in our lives in order to calm the storms of our lives, or is there more to why He came to earth?
 
I believe that the fullness of this narrative is that this is a narrative about Jesus’ humanity, that is that Jesus uses this narrative to demonstrate that He is one of us, truly human. It is important that Jesus is human, that is that He is like us, even one of us. Jesus, who is truly God, and we will talk about that in a minute, was in heaven enjoying all the glory that was His in heaven, and yet, He gave up that glory in order to take on human flesh and blood, to live for us. Remember, God’s demand is that we are perfect and we cannot fulfill that demand. We are conceived and born in sin and so we can never live as He would have us to live. And in order to be our substitute, in order to trade His perfect life for our imperfect life Jesus had to be truly human.
 
This is a narrative also about Jesus divinity, that is that He is truly God. Jesus demonstrates that He is truly God with power and authority over all creation. No one has power over creation except the one who created all things and that one is Jesus. Jesus had to be truly God in order to be born in perfection and in order to raise Himself from the dead.
 
So, more than simply being a story about how we have struggles in life and we can go to Jesus and He will help us with our struggles, this is a narrative about how God loves us His creation, His creatures so much that He would become one of us, that He would struggle like us and for us. This is a story about how our God came in human flesh in order to overcome struggles for us, in our place.
 
In our Old Testament Reading from Job, the question God asks is “Who are we to question God?” especially in times of trials and struggles. And in the Epistle Reading, Paul writes to the Corinthians about the fact that God does use difficulties in life to draw us closer to Himself. We live in a cursed world, a world that is tainted by sin and so we live in expectation of trials and struggles. Yet, as we walk through this valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil, for our God, our Savior Jesus, who is truly human and truly divine, who lived for us in this world and overcame this world is with us every step of the way and He has dominion over this world in ways we cannot fathom.
 
Our response to what Jesus does and what God gives is to live lives of faith, with His help. On our own we fail, but with God all things are possible. God created us, to love us and to give to us. Because of Adam and Eve the world has been cursed and thus there is sin and evil in the world. Life brings trial and struggles. Jesus came, as God in human flesh in order to fulfill all righteousness, in order to fulfill God’s demand of perfection for us, in our place, and He did, perfectly. Jesus freely took our sins and paid the price for our sin, suffering and dying on the cross. As we celebrated a few weeks ago and as we celebrate every Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead, victorious over sin, death and the devil. Jesus showed Himself to be alive and then He ascended to the place from which He descended. He is now seated at the right hand of the Father where He is watching over us, ruling over us and interceding for us. He will return again and gather us and all the saints and after robing us with His robes of righteousness He will take us to be with Himself in heaven for eternity.
 
Until our Lord returns, or until we pass on from this world, both of which will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might imagine, we rejoice in the opportunities we have of being given all the gifts and blessings our Lord has to give even through the very means He has of giving us those gifts, that is through the means of grace and through our making regular and diligent use of those means of grace. Through the very means of God’s Word, confession and absolution, our remembering our Baptism, and our partaking of the Lord’s very body and blood in His Holy Sacrament, the Lord strengthens us in our faith as we face the trials and struggles of life. And as He is with us, we rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Prometheus, the Movie *Spoiler Alert*

Prometheus, the Greek word meaning “forethinker.” From Greek Mythology he is the being who is credited with creating humans from clay and from stealing fire for the humans. He is a titan who was sentenced to eternal torment by Zeus for his transgressions. And so, we base and build a movie on this mythology, somewhat.
 
But what about the movie, Prometheus? Did you get the opening scene? According to the opening scene the evolutionary, Darwinian, Atheist, Richard Dawkins is right, as he explained to Ben Stein in the movie Expelled, the earth was seeded by aliens from another planet. Interestingly enough, whether intended or not, there were a couple of implications from the opening scene that give credence to the fact that all life on earth came from one creator; thus, there is similar DNA in all living creatures. A second implication is that all cells have been “preprogramed” with all the DNA information necessary for life. Of course, none of this explains, as Dawkins could not explain either, where the aliens came from and so we keep pushing back the origins of man. And yet, according to Dawkins, some of the characters in the movie and many other faithful believers in evolution is the fact that even though they cannot give a definitive answer for the origins they know Creationists are wrong and so mock them as being unintelligent.
 
One of the biggest problems with this movie, however, is the attempt to juxtapose science and religion. You either believe science or you believe religion. Dr. Elizabeth Shaw had that problem as well, but she was willing to search for answers. She was a scientist who believed in a Savior, thus the cross of Christ.
 
The truth is, and what science will not tell you is, that God created science and the first scientists were Christians. The “scientific” community believes there is a separation, that science and religion cannot coexist, unless religion compromises. Of course, what happens is that when religion compromises, atheism follows. As Christians, we know that true wisdom, true knowledge, indeed truth itself cannot be known apart from Christ.
 
To use an analogy to help understand the problem and perhaps the solution think about this example. When you have something that breaks, your first thought is to take it back to the manufacturer because if anyone should know how to repair what is broken it, should be the one who made it. It would be deemed unintelligent to take your broken washing machine to your barber to have him repair it. It is amazing that so-called “scientists” today even attempt to explain the world without regard for the One who created it. In other words, to use our analogy, scientists today attempt to explain the workings of the world by asking their barber.
 
If we begin with the Creator and what He tells us, just think of how many discoveries we might make. Just think of how much more we might be able to understand and explain. But I have digressed from the movie.
 
Dr. Elizabeth Shaw has made the mistake too many have made in our world today. She has failed to begin looking at the evidence and explaining it using the Word of the Creator. She has been so mislead by so much false evidence and explanations that she believes the failed human explanations rather than the sound truth of God’s Word. Fortunately we live in a world where we do not have to take the word of those who shout loud and long on television or on the internet. We can actually search and find more and better explanations of the evidence. Yes, there has been research that has found other dating methods that give the earth a young age. There are other and better explanations of the origins of the Grand Canyon (a lot of water in a short amount of time).
 
Dr. Elizabeth Shaw will continue her search, probably in a sequel. Unfortunately, if she continues to follow the road she is on, what she will find is a never-ending backing up with no explanation for where it all began. Thankfully we have the word of the One who Created it all, and we can depend on His Word.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Mystery of Faith - June 17, 2012 - Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 06) - Text: Mark 4:26-34

Lest I be accused of being remiss, (and please notice my tongue is firmly placed inside my cheek) today is the day our greeting card companies have given as Father’s Day. So, let me begin by saying, Happy Father’s Day to all our fathers who are here this morning. What a privilege and responsibility you have in being such a wonderful example to your children by being here in divine service on Father’s Day, instead of on the golf course, or the lake, or any other number of places too many men tend to be on this day, giving the witness that there are more important places to be than in divine service. As we will hear in our text for this morning, indeed, through the Word of the Lord and the means of Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit has worked faith in your heart and continues to grow that faith.
 
Perhaps you have heard stories such as stories about someone you spoke to only once. You helped him out when he was in a jam and when he ask you why you helped, you told him it was because of your faith in Jesus, because you had a personal relationship with Jesus. And the story ended with a bit of an update, such as, today the man you helped is an elder in his church. The way you treated him, what you told him had an affect on his life. Or maybe it was a story about a little boy from Sunday School. He was always the problem child. You did not know what to do with him. Time and again you got so frustrated with him. You prayed and prayed for him and even thought to yourself, “there is no hope for this child.” The little boy moved away and you lost track of him. Again at the end of the story you get this update, today, he is in college. He is studying to become a missionary. And if you asked him. He would tell you, it was because of that one Sunday School teacher who was so patient with him and told him about Jesus. Yes, these are made up stories, but I know that there are many true stories very similar to these stories. Maybe you have been a part of one. I suppose I could have made up some negative stories, you know the kind you very often read in e-mails, the ones that make you feel guilty because of some negative witness you think you may have made to someone. And unfortunately, we must all admit that at one time or another we believer our witness to be a negative witness. But I believe that Jesus is dwelling on the positive in our Gospel lesson and so that is where we will dwell. It is amazing how many lives we have the opportunity to touch each and every day, knowingly and unknowingly. And, to use the language of our text for this morning, we might say that every opportunity is an opportunity to plant the “seeds of faith.”
 
In our text for this morning Jesus tells two parables, but both parables are intended to drive home one point. The point of both parables, as Jesus Himself says, is to help us to understand, “What the kingdom of God is like.” Let me also say, we do not want to allegorize these parables, in other words we do not want to try to make everything stand for something, instead we will want to make one strong connecting point. There will be more than one connection point, but we want to find the one point that stands out. Jesus begins with, what my Bible titles as, “The Parable of the Growing Seed.” In this parable we do have several connecting points which we will mention, but we want to look for the main point. The connecting points are these: The seed is the Word of God. The ground is unbelievers. And the farmer is us. Let me say them again so that you have it: The seed is the Word of God. The ground is unbelievers. And the farmer is us.
 
In this first parable we will notice that the important parts are not the ground, nor the farmer, but the important part, the most important part is the seed. The ground does not plant the seed in itself and it does not make the seed grow. The unbeliever cannot plant seed or make the seed grow in his or her own heart. The farmer, you and I do not make the seed grow. The seed grows, “all by itself.” Yes, we do have the opportunity, even many opportunities in a day to make an impression on others. We do have the opportunity many times in a day to plant seeds of faith. As we wear the name Christian, that is, as others know that we are Christians, we do make a witness of what it means to be a Christian. Too often, I believe, we worry too much about our witness, whether we think it is a good or a bad witness and unfortunately, too often we decide it is best to make no witness at all, which is a witness in and of itself. In other words, when we decide it is best to make no witness at all, we have made a witness that our faith really is not important. Jesus’ first parable reminds us that the kingdom of God is not dependent on our good or bad witness, but it is dependent on the seed. I believe we can get some assurance from this parable in that fact we do not convert others, rather it is the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God which is the means of grace which does the work. Our concern is only to be about sowing the seed.
 
The second parable Jesus tells, in my Bible, is called, “The Parable of the Mustard Seed.” In this parable the Sower is God the Father. The seed is Jesus. And the large plant is the Kingdom of God which includes all believers. Again, let me give those to you so you are not confused:  In this parable the Sower is God the Father. The seed is Jesus. And the large plant is the Kingdom of God which includes all believers. In this parable Jesus reminds us of His humble beginning, that He was born in obscurity, in the small town of Bethlehem, in a barn. Yet, through His life, suffering, death and resurrection He saved the whole world so that His Kingdom is over all people. Jesus is the seed. He is the seed of faith which we sow and share with others.
 
What does all this mean? Remember, Jesus tells us that He is setting out to tell us what the Kingdom of God is like. So, what do these two parables tell us about the Kingdom of God and what it is like? As we put these two parables together we can make three “aha” or conclusion statements. Our first conclusion statement, our first “aha,” is that Jesus is the beginning of faith. He is the prime mover. He comes to us through His Word. He comes to us through confession and absolution. He comes to us through Holy Baptism. He comes to us through the Lord’s Supper. As we have opportunity to live lives of faith, as we have opportunity to live our lives to the Lord’s glory, as we have opportunity to share God’s love with others, as we have opportunity to tell others about Jesus, these things are important, but we must remember that it is Jesus who is the first, the prime mover. We are not the important part in the equation. Jesus is the main thing. He is the one who is the seed and He is the seed which grows in us and in others. First, then, is that Jesus is the beginning of faith.
 
Our second “aha” is that Jesus is the middle of faith. He is the one who works in us to bring us to faith, to strengthen us in faith and to keep us in faith. And again, just as He works faith in our hearts through the means of Grace, through His Word and through Holy Baptism, so He uses these same means as well as confession and absolution to give us forgiveness and His Holy Supper in order to strengthen and keep us in faith. And He is also the one who works through us so that we are able and we have the opportunity to share God’s love with others and to tell others about Jesus. Our second “aha” is that Jesus is the middle of faith.
 
Finally, our third “aha,” which should come as no surprise, is that Jesus is the end of faith. He is the one who brings all people into His kingdom. He is the one who gathers all people around His throne. He is the one who gets all the glory. And well He should. He is the one who gave up everything for us including and especially His own life. Jesus, true God, was enjoying all the glory that was His in heaven, and yet, for our sakes, He gave up that glory in order to take on human flesh and blood, in order to become one of us, one with us, one like us, except without sin. He came to do what we could not do. He came to accomplish what we could not accomplish. He came to live perfectly for us in our place, obeying all of God’s laws and commands, and then He came to take all our sins upon Himself, freely. He suffered and died that we might not have to die. He died that we might have life, eternal life. This one person, true God, true man, born humbly in a stable is the one who’s kingdom has grown to be so big that all believers are a part of His kingdom.
 
When you stop to help anyone, you are imitating Jesus. You are sharing Jesus love with them. When you stop to help anyone and you tell them about your faith you plant the seeds of faith. Certainly, you have no idea where that will lead and so it is with the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is planted as the seeds of the Word of God are spread through Word and through action. Today we express this as, Jesus works using means, the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. Through these very simple, ordinary means God works faith, gives forgiveness, strengthens and keeps in faith.
 
When you patiently instruct and help anyone, you are imitating Jesus. You are sharing Jesus love with them. When you instruct anyone you are planting the seeds of faith. They may be little seeds, but it is seeds which make a difference. It is the seed of the Word of God which brings growth and maturity.
 
As fathers, even as mothers, indeed as parents, we are our children’s first teachers. They look at us and see how we live and they are instructed through what they see. As the old saying goes, “More is caught than taught,” in other words, our children learn more from us through our actions, how we live and move and have our being, how we make our divine service and Bible class attendance most important, than simply by telling them, or as the other saying goes, telling them to “Do as I say, not as I do.”
 
You know, we do not live in a vacuum. Everything we do has an effect or a counter effect on others, on those around us. How we live, what we do, what we say does impact those around us. Our impact could be a negative impact which could lead someone astray and for that we beg our Lord’s forgiveness. But, thanks be to God that there are many times that we have been so filled with God’s Word and His Holy Spirit, His grace, so much so that we cannot help but tell others about Jesus and share His love with them and in so doing we are planting the seeds of faith.
 
Jesus reminds us of the power of one little seed. One little seed may be all that it takes for others to become a part of God’s Kingdom. And it is not we who are bringing this about, but Jesus Himself who is that one little seed. My prayer for each one of you is that the Lord will continue to work through His Word, that He would continue to grow and mature in you so much so that you may be encouraged to share Jesus’ love and to share your faith in Jesus with others, so that the seed of Jesus might be planted, might spring up and bear abundant fruit. And that is what the Kingdom of God is like. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

In the Family - June 10, 2012 - Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 05) - Text: Mark 3:20-35


Things are not always what they seem. Several weeks ago, on Picnic Sunday you had a bulletin insert which looked like an ink blot. After staring at the four dots in the middle of the insert and then closing your eyes you could see the face of Jesus appear. There is a saying in our world that goes something like, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” We live in a world in which we understand that things are not always what they first seem to be and too often what once was perceived as good is now said to be bad and what once was perceived as bad is now said to be good. It’s a crazy, mixed-up world in which we live today, but the same can be said about the world in the time of Jesus.
 
Our text for this morning is the Gospel reading and if we look real close at our text we will notice something interesting. The texts begins with Jesus’ own family who believes He is out of His mind. It is possible that they have come to this conclusion because Jesus has become so popular, so much so that He travels around a lot and has little time to eat, and possibly, they are thinking, this is causing Him to be delusional, thinking He is God.
 
Our text moves from this accusation from His own family to the accusation by the Pharisees that Jesus is of the devil. Certainly, if the family believes Jesus is “crazy” because He thinks He is God, it naturally follows that the Pharisees would accuse Jesus of blasphemy and the greatest blasphemy comes from the devil.
 
Our text then concludes with the seeking of Jesus by His mother and brothers. Which brings us back to where our text began. In other words, Mark brackets this confrontation of Jesus by the Pharisees and their accusations with Jesus having problems with His own family believing in Him. Of course, we are looking back at these events with 20-20 hindsight and we know how things really are, that Jesus really is God in human flesh.
 
Our text concludes with Jesus answering the question concerning His family seeking Him, and in essence, our text begs the question of “who is Jesus’ family?” Jesus answers that question by stating that all those who believe in Him, “who do God’s will,” are a part of His family. As we can see, the discussion of the identity of Jesus was going on before Jesus was born, during His life on earth, and that discussion continues still today. As the world today looks at Jesus’ life there is still the question of “are things what they seem to be?”
 
The Pharisees argued that Jesus was not God and thus was blaspheming by putting Himself forward as God. They cannot, however, deny the miracles, the signs and wonders that Jesus is performing. You might remember that last week one of the Pharisees, Nicodemus recognized, from the signs, wonders and miracles Jesus performed, that He was from God, because no one could do what Jesus was doing except that He was from God. As for the rest of the Pharisees, instead of recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, they twisted what He was doing and contended that Jesus had to be a servant of the devil and that is how He can cast out demons and do the signs, wonders and miracles He is doing. Notice that at least they recognized that Jesus was doing signs, wonders and miracles.
 
The Pharisees are not unlike many religious groups, cults and sects today. They will say, or do, or try anything to discredit Jesus. If Jesus is who He says He is, that means the end of their power, fame and fortunes, thus it is imperative to discredit Him. And they attempt to discredit Him in the same way as the Pharisees and teachers of the law, attempting to explain away the evidence as being something it is not.
 
Interestingly enough, Jesus has to defend Himself and He defends Himself by pointing out the fact that a house divided cannot stand. We know the old saying, in trying to defeat an opponent, the best way to defeat an opponent is to “divide and conquer.” Jesus is simply pointing out that the argument of the Pharisees is illogical. A house divide, and in this instance, the house of the devil divided against himself, cannot stand. Even the devil is smarter than that.
  
  In order for a person to overtake a house, the overtaker must overpower the owner. Of course, this overtaking is what Jesus has done to the devil himself. Jesus has overpowered the devil, He has overtaken Him through His death and resurrection. The eternal spiritual death penalty for our sins, the price, the cost for our sins, which the devil wants to hold against us so that we are his, the price has been paid by Jesus through His suffering and death. Thus, the devil no longer has any hold on us or power over us.
 
Finally, Jesus speaks about the unforgivable sin. The unforgivable sin is the sin against the Holy Spirit and really, Jesus is accusing the Pharisees of this sin. What is the unforgivable sin? What is the sin against the Holy Spirit? To break it down into its simplest terms, “the unforgivable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit, is dying in unbelief.” To die in unbelief is to deny the Holy Spirit because the work of the Holy Spirit is to work in us and give us faith. The Pharisees saw, first hand, the signs, wonders, and miracles Jesus’ performed. They knew their Bible through and through. If anyone should have made the connection that this was the promised Messiah, it should have been them, and yet they continued to deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, all except Nicodemus and Joseph of Aramathea, again as we noted last week. The Pharisess even went so far as to accuse Jesus of blasphemy. The truth of the matter is that it is the Pharisees who are denying Jesus, denying the Holy Spirit, and are blaspheming against God.
 
As I mentioned earlier, this “attack” by the Pharisees is bracketed by an attack by Jesus’ own family. Here we see the struggle of answering the question of “Who is this Jesus?” “Are things what they seem to be?” Mary, Jesus’ own mother, had been told about Jesus, by the angel who announced His birth, who He was and is and what He would be and do and yet the text indicates that she was still “fuzzy” on the details. Perhaps she was still pondering all these things in hear heart. I would suppose that all of us understand a little about the competition among siblings, however, what we are seeing is that Jesus’ own family, at this time, is not so much competing with Jesus as they simply did not believe Him, that He was the Messiah.
 
Speaking of families, the Pharisees and Jesus had this discussion during one of their times of confrontation. The discussion was that Jesus told them the truth would set them free and they argued that they we children of Abraham and were never slaves of anyone or anything. The Pharisees were depending on being a part of God’s kingdom simply by blood, by genetics, by DNA, by being a member of the physical family of the line of Abraham. That, however, is not the way in which we are a part of God’s family. We are members of God’s family, not by blood, at least not by our own blood, nor through genetics, but by grace, by God’s grace, through faith, which is given to us by the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace, especially Holy Scripture and Holy Baptism.
 
Jesus’ answer to the question of family was, “here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” And we only do God’s will as a result of being filled with His Holy Spirit and by the spirit moving and working in us. We are members of God’s family by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus alone, worked in us and given to us by the Holy Spirit. Yes, we are blood relatives of Jesus, but it is not our blood, but His blood which makes us blood relatives. It is because He gave His life, He shed His blood, He died that we might have life. Our Old Testament lesson for today reminds us of our sin and of God’s promise to send a Savior. God’s promise was and still is to all people. God’s promise was made first even before there was a Jew and a Gentile, while there was simply people, Adam and Eve. Jesus is the Offspring who was crushed as He died on the cross, but in being crushed, in His dying on the cross He crushed the devil so that we might have forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
 
In our Epistle lesson Paul encourages us to look to Jesus and even more, to focus our attention, not on this world, but on the world to come, on our eternal glory. Paul is writing to people who are very much like us today. Too often we have our eyes fixed, not on the world to come, but on this world and on our lives in this world and we have become oblivious to the world to come or on getting ourselves prepared for the world to come. This world is temporary. This world is fast and fleeting. Our time in this world is but a breath compared to our time in eternity. The older you get the more you realize how temporary this world and our time in this world really is. Thus it is important that we fix our eyes heavenward and that we have an urgency about sharing the good news of salvation with others, so that they too might have a part in God’s kingdom. Yes, as Paul reminds us in Ephesians, we are saved by God’s grace, through faith alone, and we are also saved to do the good works which God has for us to do. We are members of God’s family, we are priests in the priesthood of all believers. We live our lives as living sacrifices, doing the things which He would have us to do. And what He would have us do is to be excited about being a part of the family, so much so that we would want others to be a part of the family as well.
 
You are part of Jesus’ family! By God’s Grace, through faith worked in us and given to us by the Holy Spirit, we are all a part of Jesus’ family! We are His brothers and sisters, because, and by faith, we do God’s will. May the Lord continue to strengthen and keep you in faith so that you might continue to do God’s will, so that ultimately we may all together stand before the Lord’s throne and say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Two Phrases to Win Any Argument

I am amazed at foolishness of our world. Solomon was right when he said, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself ” (Proverbs 26:4). Of course we have not acquired this foolishness overnight but through the dumbing down of our education system as George Santayana stated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense, Scribner’s, 1905, page 284). And so today we have a whole generation, or two, who have no real understanding of the history of this country, what makes this country great, what makes this country distinct, and how quickly we can lose what we have had, giving up our freedom and becoming like many nations of the world who are less fortunate than we.

But even more amazing is the argumentation of those who are so foolish. In my opinion there are two phrases very common today that a person who is losing any argument will put forth in order to say, “Aha!, I gotcha. I win the argument.” I want to expose you to these two phrases and the fallacies behind them.

The first fallacious “Aha! I gotcha!” phrase is to say, “You’re a racist.” Personally, this phrase does not work on me because I do not believe in “races.” I am a culturalist. The whole idea of races springs from the Darwinian evolutionary theory which suggests that different “races” have evolved at different rates and so some “races” are not as equal as other races. If I were a “racist,” I would not allow anyone below my evolutionary station to even speak with me. There is only one race of people, the human race. The cultures that we see in our world have come about because of God confusing the languages of the people at the Tower of Babel. When God confused the languages of the people, as they found those with similar languages, those groups moved to the various parts of the world, and they took with them certain dominant genetic information in their DNA. They also took with them Biblical stories, and as their cultures grew, they developed certain cultural proclivities and biases. Over time some culture groups either lost or denied their Christian faith and developed other religions to take their place. Thus, there are good and bad traits within any and all cultures. The bottom line, however, is that calling someone a racist shows the foolishness of the one making the accusation and their own lack of understanding from where that accusation originates. One simple way to disarm the accusation of, “You’re a racist,” is to ask the questions, “What do you mean by calling me a racist? What is a racist?”

If the first fallacious phrase does not work, then the second may be offered, “I’m offended.” We live in a society that seeks ways to be offended. We look to take offense. This seeking to take offense springs from our sinful human nature and a passive aggressive attempt at foiling our foe through deception. More often than not people are not trying to be offensive, yet anyone wanting to cease any conversation or argumentation will seek to do so through throwing down the accusation of offense. This accusation of offense is meant to disarm the so-called offender because if one is offended, then the offender, it is presumed, must immediately cease the offense and apologize for the wrong they inflicted. The whole fallacy of this is, as stated, offense is not being given so offense should not be taken. One simple way to disarm the accusation of offense is to ask, “How did I offend you? My intent is simply to offer information to persuade you to understand, believe and accept my position.”

Of course all this leads us back to the question of whether or not we should engage the fool in the first place!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

You Must Be Born Again - June 3, 2012 - Holy Trinity Sunday/First Sunday after Pentecost - Text: John 3:1-17

Today we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday. We celebrate that we worship a God who is a triune God, a God who has revealed Himself to us as three distinct persons in one Godhead. We do not worship three gods. We do not worship a god who comes to us in three forms or modes. We worship a God who is one God, yet three persons. There are many examples that a person can use to attempt to explain the trinity of God and although there are many examples and although all are limited in their explanations, all are valid for at least one point of illustration. Three such good examples are a tree, an apple and water. A tree has three parts, the roots, the trunk and the leaves, yet there are not three trees, but one tree. An apple has three parts, the seeds, the flesh, and the skin. Yet, again, there are not three apples but one. Water is H2O and it can be solid, as in ice, liquid, as in water, or gas, as in steam. Yet, there are not three waters, but one water. Now, certainly these illustrations only go so far. In reality we must confess that we do not, nor will we ever, this side of heaven, fully understand the trinity of God, but we know that our God is a triune God for He expresses Himself as a triune God and He tells us, specifically to Baptize in His triune name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
 
Our text brings us to a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews. He is identified, along with Joseph of Arimathea, as being one who did not vote for the crucifixion of Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and yet he did not go along with the rest of the Pharisees in their actions. Evidently Nicodemus recognized, from the signs and wonders, from the preaching and the miracles of Jesus, that He was not just an ordinary person, but that, perhaps, maybe, just perhaps, Jesus may be the one promised from of old. He may be the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world.
 
Nicodemus approached Jesus at night. He came at night so that he might not be seen by others and in particular by others of the Pharisees. He came at night so that he might have some one on one time with Jesus, that he might be alone with Jesus without being disturbed by others. He came to Jesus and he confessed his faith. His confession was that Jesus is a prophet and he knows this because “no one can do these signs that [He] does unless God is with him.” Nicodemus understood the signs and wonders, the miracles Jesus’ performed as signs of His divinity that He was the Messiah.
 
Nicodemus came to Jesus and was concerned and questioned Jesus about eternal life. Jesus’ answer was an answer of faith. One is not saved by physical birth, by being born a Jew, nor is one not saved by being born a Gentile. One is not saved by doing enough good works, nor by doing specific good works. One cannot save oneself, no matter by how many good works one does.
 
Jesus expands His teaching by making a distinction between physical birth and spiritual birth. As for physical birth, that which is born of flesh is flesh, in other words, we are all conceived and born in sin, that is  original sin. Not only that, we all add to our inborn sin, that is, we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. Left in our sin we are doomed to eternal spiritual death.
 
There is one solution and that is that one must be born again, and this is not a physical rebirth, but a spiritual rebirth, a being born again of water and spirit. Of course we understand that Jesus is speaking about Holy Baptism. Here Nicodemus does not understand what Jesus is saying, what He means about this being born again and so Jesus explains.
 
As for physical birth Jesus said that sin is born in each one of us. As for spiritual birth, each one must be born again through Holy Baptism, so that which is born of spirit is spirit, “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16a).
 
This analogy is not so hard to understand, Jesus says. The wind is unseen, and yet we see its effect. We may not see the sin with which we are born, but we see its effect. I would suggest that if you really want to see the effect of our inborn sin, put two toddlers in a room with one toy and see if they instinctively share the toy. I would suggest that rather than share the one toy they will fight over the one toy, an effect of our inborn sin. Likewise, the spirit works through Holy Baptism. We cannot see the Holy Spirit work in Baptism, but we see the result and the result is faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
 
And, even in adults, the Holy Spirit, though unseen, is seen in His work of conversion, as He works through the means of grace to work faith, strengthen faith and to keep us in faith. An unbaptized person who comes to faith through the Word of the Lord naturally has a desire to be baptized, thus we see the effect of the Holy Spirit.
 
What does this mean? This means that there is a distinction between heavenly beings and earthly beings. And further we are told that only a heavenly being can testify of heaven. In other words, no one from earth can testify concerning heaven because no one from earth has yet been to heaven, except one and that one is Jesus. Only Jesus can testify of heavenly things because only Jesus has been to heaven, for that is from where He came in order to be born as one of us and that is where He ascended following His resurrection.
 
For what purpose did Jesus descend? Jesus explains His coming to earth using what would be a familiar illustration for Nicodemus and that is the encounter of the children of Israel and the serpents in the wilderness. When Moses led the children of Israel out of bondage of slavery in Egypt it did not take too long and they began to grumble. They grumbled against Moses and against God. As a consequence and as a punishment of their grumbling, God caused serpents to come into the camp and to bite the people. The people, then, cried out in repentance to Moses and to God.
 
Moses prayed to God and God told him to make an image of the serpent and to put it on a pole. Whenever anyone was bitten by a serpent he or she could look at the serpent on the pole and they would live. The serpent was punishment for their sins. The serpent on the pole was to be looked at in an act of repentance and faith in forgiveness. Thus, in essence, the punishment of the snake and being bitten by the snake became the cure as one who was bitten looked on the bronze snake on the pole.
 
God created a perfect world and in that perfect world He created and placed a perfect man and a perfect woman into a perfect garden. The devil came and tempted the woman to be like God. The woman disobeyed God as did the man and with that disobedience, sin entered the world. The punishment for sin was death, the beginning of physical death, and unless there was a cure, the ultimate conclusion would be eternal spiritual death. God promised to send a Savior. Jesus came as the Savior. He came as one of us, one of the beings which brought sin and death into the world. He came in order to suffer the punishment for us.
 
God placed Jesus on the cross. The serpent brought death, humans brought death. The serpent on the cross was to be looked at in repentance and faith. Jesus was put on the cross to be looked at in repentance and faith. We look at Jesus and believe and we are saved. The punishment became the cure.
 
Which brings us to Jesus words, what we call “the Gospel in a nutshell,” John 3:16. The price of sin is death, physical death and ultimately left unpaid, eternal spiritual death, hell. What sin has earned, the wages of sin is death. Sin costs the shedding of blood and death. Left alone in our sins we would be condemned to eternal spiritual death. Nothing on our part can take care of our sins. There are not enough good things we could do, not that we could or would do them, that could add up to pay the price for our sins.
 
In His love God sent Jesus. Jesus is God Himself in human flesh. Jesus is the Creator taking on the flesh and blood of His creation in order to rescue His creation. God knew that we, His creation, His creatures, would not be able to save or rescue ourselves, thus, because of His great love for us, He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, true God in human flesh to pay the price for our sins, to rescue us from sin, death and the devil.
 
The price, the cost, what sin has earned, the wage of sin is eternal spiritual death. What Jesus, God in flesh did was pay that price. On the cross, God died for us, in our place. On the cross Jesus died a physical death and eternal spiritual death for us, in our place.
 
In our theology we talk about the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law shows us our sins. The Gospel shows us our Savior. The Law shows us how we sin, it tells us what we are to do and not to do. On its own all the Law can do is lead us either to think we can gain heaven through works righteousness, or it leads us to despair. The Gospel is the good news. The Gospel motivates repentance and forgiveness. The Gospel leads us to faith in Jesus who paid the price for our sins.
 
Thus, Jesus came into the world, not to condemn the world, but in order that the world though Him might be saved. Yes, to those who do not believe in Jesus they are condemned, but to all those who do believe, to all those who have faith, they are forgiven and have eternal life.
 
As we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday we celebrate what a great and loving God we worship. We celebrate that our God is one as He has revealed Himself to us. We celebrate that He is the one who created us, redeemed us, that is traded His life for ours on the cross, and sanctifies us, that is He continues to work faith in our hearts, strengthen us in faith, and keeps us in faith until Christ comes again. And when Christ comes again He will gather us with all the saints and we will stand before the Lord’s throne and say, “To God be the glory.” For Jesus’ sake. Amen.