Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Specials

I recently watched two very different Christmas specials. The first one, I am not even sure of the title. It is something like "A Shrek Christmas". I caught it about half way through, but I don't think that will make much difference to the ending.

Shrek (a large green ogre with a big green ogre family) has apparently never celebrated Christmas before. So he buys a book, something like "Christmas for Dummies". He creates a feast, gets a tree and decorates it, buys tons of gifts. But his Christmas if far from perfect. There is too much chaos and commotion. Finally Shrek has to learn the real meaning of Christmas: family and chaos.

What?! That's right, the point of Christmas, according to Shrek, is to have lots of family and lots of chaos.

Let us compare this to another Christmas program from another era.

Charlie Brown wanted to know what Christmas was all about. Was it about pageants and plays? Was it about cards and presents, Santa Claus and big, shinny, aluminum Christmas trees? Thank God Charlie Brown had a friend like Linus.

Linus plays the part of John the Baptist, and points Charlie Brown to the real focus of every holy-day. He quotes, from memory, the story of Christ’s birth from Luke 2. In probably the most beautiful moment in television history Charlie Brown learns that the meaning of Christmas is simply, plainly, wonderfully, Jesus.

May the Holy Spirit, by the power of God’s Word, keep our attention drawn to Jesus, now and always.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Being a man "after" God's heart.

We need to put to rest a little bit of confusion that seems to exist in the minds of Christian men. In First Samuel 13:14 Yahweh rejects the kingship of Saul and, through Samuel, announces that "the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart." The prophecy is thought to point to David, the next king in line.

As we read this in English we can get confused. To "be after" something, after all, means that we are seeking it, pursuing it. This, however, is not what the Hebrew text communicates. A more accurate, or at least less confusing, translation might read "the LORD has sought out a man like his own heart."

Who is like the heart of God? Is it David, the adulterous, murderous, neglectful father? That seems rather unlikely. Rather, this serves as a case in point of how the purpose of the Old Testament is to point us to Jesus Christ FIRST. Samuel probably did not know it at the time, but he was prophesying the Incarnation. Jesus is the man who is not only like the heart of God, but reveals the heart of God (John 1:18).

This helps us to see David, not as a man who continually seeks the heart of the LORD but, as a man who by faith has received the heart of God, Jesus Christ, his son, yet his Lord. All Christian men, then, can find hope in this passage. God has given us His heart. He has laid it within us at our baptism as the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus become ours. We are made to be men like the heart of God, not because of our pursuit, but because of His grace.

So David is a man after God's heart, but only because of Jesus Christ. So too all Christian men are after the heart of God because we are in Christ, molded into His image at baptism.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Open Letter

To those called to be shepherds of Christ’s flock,

Illinois has passed a law making it possible for men and women to enter into “civil unions” with any other person they choose, be they male or female. This means, of course, that a man may enter a civil union with another man. A woman may have a civil union with another woman.

There are many implications for such a law. Those implications could be ethical and moral, political, social, and spiritual. While it is tempting for pastors to address the social and political aspects of such a law, I wish to issue a call for pastors everywhere to address this as the spiritual issue that it is.

Women and men are going to come to you asking for civil unions. In the face of this request you have a responsibility as those called by God to spread His Word. To neglect that responsibility is to ignore the call of God. As homosexuals enter your office asking for civil unions in a religious setting you have a God-given opportunity to give them something they will not get anywhere else: God’s Word.

Men and women who commit homosexual acts are sinners. This is the indisputable fact presented for us in Holy Scripture (see Romans 1). It is also the fact of life for every other person on this planet. The final instruction that Jesus Christ gives to His disciples in Luke 24 and John 20 is that they should preach forgiveness and repentance, forgiving the sins of those who repent.

Whenever a sinner comes and addresses the pastor their sins need to be laid out in the open. If a homosexual couple comes asking for a civil union the pastor must address that sin with them. He should declare God’s original design for His creation, that a man should leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife (Genesis 2:24/Matthew 19:5-6). The people must be called to repent.

Pastors, we do no one a favor by ignoring their sin, just as a doctor does no favor by ignoring a disease. Homosexuals must be called to repentance with the same ferocity as you would call thieves, murderers, fornicators, gossips, and the lazy. How else can they repent? How else will they be called to lay down their sins and depend on Jesus Christ for forgiveness?

And that is really the kicker. Homosexuals are not hated by God. They are loved, just as all sinners are. But their sins are not ignored by God either, just as mine are not. Daily, moment by moment, I repent of my sins and receive the promised forgiveness of the cross of Jesus. Homosexuals need this repentance and forgiveness and they can receive it only from Christ through His Church.

Pastors, if you ignore the sins of homosexuality you ignore the forgiveness of sins won by the bloody death and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fulfill your calling: “reprove, rebuke, and exhort” (I Timothy 4:2) the people to repent. And give them the one thing they truly need, Jesus Christ and His forgiveness.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Baptizing, Teaching, Loving

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-22)

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

Friends in Christ,

These two verse shoot straight to the heart of the Christian message and mission. Jesus Christ has suffered, died, and risen. He has conquered death and the grave. He has set us free from the fear of sin and death.

And this is not mere philosophy. This is not book knowledge for a select few seminary professors. It is life changing, reality creating good news for each and every one of us. You are a new creation in Jesus Christ. And He has gathered you, by the power of His Holy Spirit, to gather with other Christians around His Word.

This is what we (and the New Testament) call “the Church”. Jesus Christ has called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified His whole Christian Church through the Spirit so that it may baptize, teach, and love. This is how Jesus will spread His kingdom. This is how salvation is given to the poor and oppressed.

As your pastor these three words weigh heavily on my mind. Are we doing all that we can to baptize, teach, and love? Could we do more? Do we have blind spots in our ministry to the people of Hoyleton? I cannot always see clear answers to these questions myself. I need your help.

As we look to the future, the bright future that is promised to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus, let us pray. Pray for me, that I might be diligent in my duties as pastor. Pray for our teachers and lay leaders that they would perform their callings admirably. Pray for your families, that the Spirit of God would continue to feed and strengthen their faith.

And talk. Talk to me about ideas you have. Mention them to an elder or to a teacher. Discuss amongst yourselves how we might baptize, teach, and love more people.

The love of Jesus Christ has changed us. It has filled us with His Spirit and given us new life. May He continue working in His Church through His Word and Sacraments to baptize, teach, and love His people.

The Eigth Commandment

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

Friends in Christ,

“[Love] does not rejoice with wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” (I Corinthians 13:6) The Eighth Commandment is about the truth. It is about the way we are to treat our neighbors, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, when it comes to their public reputation.

At first blush this command is set in the context of a court of law. We are not to give false testimony. We should not lie when we are “on the stand” and “under oath”. This is true, of course. If you lie in court you could send an innocent person to prison or set a guilty person free. False lawsuits cost millions of dollars and waste precious time and energy.

But Christians are called to be patrons of the truth, honest and loving in every setting. We should always speak well of our neighbor unless we have definitive proof of their wrongdoing. We are to explain their faults to them kindly, not with harsh words and accusations.

This applies especially when we have conflicts with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is tempting when someone has sinned against us to tell others about it, to spread the “good” news about how this person has wronged us. Another temptation is to sit at home and brood about it, letting our anger fester and boil. Both are wrong.

In Matthew 18:15 Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” This is the first step for a Christian. This is the way of truth. Notice that Jesus says we should confront our brother or sister to their face. We are to “go and tell him” in person. There should be no anonymous phone calls, no mysterious letters slipped under doors.

Otherwise how can a person repent? How can they receive forgiveness? If you do not personally confront your brother or sister with their sin, then you deprive them of the opportunity to repent and receive forgiveness from your lips. And that is precisely the opposite of the Christian message and mission (Luke 24:46-47).

Jesus Christ is the truth. His death and resurrection have paid the price for all human transgressions, even those of people we may not like. Sin should be confronted in truth, not with gossip or slander, not in anonymity, but with courage and love. If you are holding a grudge, it is time to let it go. It is time to forgive just as Christ has forgiven you.