Saturday, January 13, 2018
Thursday, January 11, 2018
WEEP NOT for me, my friend...
And Jesus said, "All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo,
I am with you always, to the close of the age."
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Monday, January 8, 2018
AS A PEOPLE called to do ministry in the world, we of the Church often need to stop and take stock of who we are. Therefore we need ask in this New Year what it is that we want, and where we should be headed for the upcoming days. As human beings we live and spin wheels, motivated together with others in this world. Thus as Christians we need to consider the past, be wary of the Adversary and at least make prayerful plans for the future.
You see, the New Year celebrations are many in today’s society. Our holiday season was marked with some two dozen and more religious celebrations coming from competing expressions. Where are we of the Christian church to be in this midst of present revelry? Our answer demands serious attention. This is true for yesterday, and for tomorrow’s way… even in the simplest of matters.
For example, many in our leadership were asked subtly whether we should we say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Holidays” to a salesman or casual encounter as we bought a new car, took advantage of year-end prices, or plied upcoming tax advantages for the New Year. Or as we shopped for loved ones or ourselves in the post holiday feed, for TVs, game systems, clothing, jewelry, furniture, cars and more… we needed to make certain of both our financial directions and our Christian expression. As a recent TV interview revealed, many persons celebrated the holiday time having no comprehension of why there even is a holiday season. Many people are religiously uneducated and confused! We need to be centered in our Christian expression, for on the local, national and world stage we compete for primacy with other faiths.
Many ask, “Are we Christians progressing or regressing in society? Is this a post-Christian world? Do we even care about our witness in the public square?” I offer to you that we need to take an appraisal of just who we are. We need to consider where we Christians want to go in the coming year. I ask you to make this comparison for the sake of our future. It’s much like appraising your old car to see if it does the task for which it was designed. Or should we look at taking another ride?
In my own over-the-shoulder exam, I found a rather troublesome engine knock coming from the Christian church working in the modern world. For twelve months past, we’ve looked like an ecclesial junkyard. Strewn behind us like cast away brake parts are issues that have allowed the church to act like a wheezing economy car. We've carried fewer passengers and had difficulty stopping in a straight line. I echo now the Advent cry of John the Baptist that’s been ringing in my mind. He told us to smooth the bumps in the road. He warned us to make way for the Lord… to “make his paths straight!”
Our recent history and John’s loud scriptural shout tells me that we in the church have much work to do. We need some foundational body work, and to ask for a divine welding that will hold eternal parts together. We cannot just apply the slop of errant theology puttied on like a synthetic plastic automotive body filler placed on top of a flexible bumper.
You see, those wheeling faithfully behind church steering can too easily describe our troubles... for it has been a continued time of conflict. There was not only public conflict with competing religious expressions, but amid Christianity itself there was much strife between the old traditionalists and the new progressives. For example, within the last decades, old and steady Christian mainline denominations looked for new ways to advertise… because passengers became fewer on their old church buses. Some chose to take the low road. They answered unsavory directions from sexual hotties who sat high on the seat in an ecclesial, but satanic red convertible. They joined forces with them in desperation, to not only rip out the ancient upholstery, but in the name of being accommodating of sinful persons… they sacrificed the needful words of our Lord concerning life modification. These have even lately torn out such solid driver’s seat safety belts as Baptism which should occur before a believer’s right participation in the Holy Supper!
Consequently, beneath the guise of letting down barriers to strangers and being accepting of all lifestyles and persons, these now change our music and worship experiences. Worship progressives spout that this practice is surely something that God would endorse. However, I fear that we have only opened the rear fire escape door on the Christian bus, in order to welcome many secularly-confused persons that will bail on the first corner.
Yes, some newbies have jumped ecstatically into our hallowed aisles. However, sin has now become relative. While some sins are thankfully not yet allowed; others are ignored. Issues are argumentatively side-stepped by theologians who pander and sell books customizing our old set of wheels into something more marketable. Deviance is allowed in the name of tolerance and growth, just to take up a bounteous collections, fill the ecclesial tank, and keep the old bus rolling.
In reaction, much like a person who rides as navigator in a hot Boss Mustang and has lost the instructions on a cross-country road rally... many churches quickly became divided about which road to take. Subsequently, many sick communities just sat parked… idling in place.
They cringed, keeping their heads low behind the wheel so not to be seen, hoping to be passed by. And passed by they were. These have hid gospel road signs, or painted them over by promoting socially acceptable ministries. Some have even removed the word “evangelical”, ceasing to reach out with the saving gospel message. Then they wonder why faithful worship attendance has decreased.
Noted however, is that others took the higher road last year. These became like VWs crawling up a hill-climb with half the buggy’s engine cylinders wheezing. Many churches like my own, though similarly named to the classic denominations, have divided ways as new protest factions formed. Thus still breaking up like strict supporters of either hot rods or classic cars, many Christians snootily raise bloodied noses at tarnished denominational rat rods caught in the ecumenical split. I myself fell victim to these potholes. The only year-end local ministerial expressions I attended recently was a holiday dinner given by a grateful funeral home director. But I fear that even at that event my wife twisted the ecclesial wrench. She made our drinking of a favorite Lutheran holiday schnapps a moot scandal.
The Christian church has indeed become much like a hot rod running through town with open exhaust pipes. We make angry noises ushering in this New Year, that shall drive persons far away from the restful sanctuaries that we call church. Seeing this decline, we blame feckless or thin leadership. My own branch of splintered Lutheranism now pleads for greater power to the upper levels of hierarchy, trying to ease the ecclesial load on our Bishop during growth as my former denomination falters. We’ve pointed to clergy, to church councils and families... citing their past faint control as the cause. Pastors blame laypersons or hierarchy and they in turn blame pastors. We look for scapegoats. This affects families! Parents failing to get their children into church point to public schools as high school sports practice interferes with Christian catechism. Some of these controversial topics and their relevance are discussed from a Biblical aspect in a book entitled...
As more rubber from the past Black Friday consumerism now coats evil pavements beneath white and slippery snow, we may see that fewer relevant roads lead to the worship of God. We lament that too many youth now learn to drive into the world but have not been taught steering in the way of discipleship. We moan that these young people think that the characters portrayed in video games will quench our world’s impending combustion. They may believe that those on-screen illusions will dampen the heat of their personal troubles. As they cling to their cell phones, digital tablets and computer screen as adulthood approaches… many family ties unravel and our modern society crumbles. They turn off TV’s Christian evangelists, claiming each as a waste of viewing time.
Thus it is that as this New Year begins. I sit depressed… for many in the church take radically different roads, each dragging us to the soggy bottom of a mud run as we bounce on speed bumps of our own manufacturing. Raging divorce statistics, rampant abortions funded by government or church denominations, gay marriage, and the acceptance of transsexual pastors… all show us the continued way downward. Amid this turmoil, the advance of rising Muslim birth statistics and those who have become flaming liberal progressives… attempt to make we orthodox Christians ride in a religiously-blended world car. A detailed written portrait of this hideous track exists in a book that sounds our near death knell in the word... and offers a possible avenue of travel for some. See...
Amid this dreaded portrait of our recent year’s Christian church history, and the empty seats in our chariot to the heavenly realm… I ask what should we do.... those who noticed paint flaking from the Trinitarian clear-coat taken into this New Year? I ask you.., “How can we welcome the New Year's people to know Christ?”
Though it seems to be nonsense to many, I answer this last question by declaring both to you and my own congregation, “Yes, this New Year... make plans by the grace of God!” I believe that in our needing direction for modern churches, we yet retain hope to steer a straight line. We need to consider the road ahead as empowered by the Holy Spirit!
First, we need to pray, study scripture… and remember that Jesus did not give us his guiding Spirit just so that we might park in an empty church lot. We need to run full tilt and attempt this hill climb and risk taking near-suicidal runs down the religious drag strip. We need to run straight to the cross between the observer’s stands filled with violent extremists, progressives and atheists. We are called to faithfully continue in being a clarion and boisterous ministry.
Certainly know that we are called to steer into the future faithfully using the driving instructions given for the Church. We are meant to take off fancy driving gloves and grasp the scriptures tightly with both bare hands. Even if the Word of God is contested by detractors and misinterpretations, we need to read carefully and determine what is the right and traditionally orthodox way forward. Using this proper knowledge, we then shall receive a spiritual green flag to go full throttle into the New Year.
Remember! Whether we worship in large congregations or tiny house churches, we’ve been washed by the waters of Holy Baptism. Let us be reminded that we are the one true, holy and apostolic Church. By the power of the Holy Spirit we have been anointed by the oil of salvation and sent out into the world. We have been instructed to go, preach, teach, and baptize others in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. While doing so, we are joyfully called to remember that Jesus said. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Let us consider how we are called to make "God Space" for others with whom we interact on a daily basis. For your consideration and reading I refer you to engage in evangelical conversations as described. I suggest reading...
You see, at this time of the year we are reminded that God’s sacrificial love given to us through Christ should guide us. Take heart that the Creator of all things known and unknown, working from the lightest hydrogen molecules of fuel that powers most vehicles... has through Christ also woven all things into a universe that we’ve only begun to explore. And the splendor of grace is that He amid this wonder came to this place… to be with us.
Think of it! In a world affected by sin, demons and present spiritual darkness, God gave us eternal Light in the knowledge that we are loved… in spite of our sin and separation. Jesus, the child born in Bethlehem long ago, is the Christ sent by God… the living Savior of all who believe. In faith spoken to you this day, therefore, I say to you as I have said in prior years… “Look up, your salvation is drawing near.”
In the Spirit of invitation, I invite you to participate in our weekly Bible Study.
Saturday, January 6, 2018
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
MADE BEFORE the years when this nation endured the strife of World War II, the car pictured here had been driven many miles. However, now restored, a close inspection of the actual vehicle could not betray that it had ever traveled a far distance. The restorative bodywork was magnificent. Clear coat paint was laid upon a royal black base. Metal flake glimmered in both depth and hues. Deep, plentiful rainbow flakes reflected green, red, gold and blues… giving the black coupe a prismatic tone. The effect was that the light seemed to traverse through all colors in the spectrum, seen if anyone was wise enough to walk around the car’s perimeter.
From my past days as an automotive teacher, when I looked at the car sitting in the sun, I thought immediately that the coating was likely a water-based, three-stage clear coat. However, in that technological scheme, even though the job is still considered complex by an amateur… the car displayed a simple message. You see, much like the reading of certain scenes in biblical scripture, the surface was beautifully kept simple. The car did not containing any distracting scallops and sculpting.
I’d come across the pictures of the car recently, when leafing through the pages of my albums. As I saw the pictures and thought of its three=stage paint, I recalled sparkling Christmas lights and further captured the image of three Wise Men. Certain parallels seemed to fit between the sparkle of this car and the biblical story. To understand what I say, just for these few moments consider the fantastic biblical record that was told about Jesus. Remember especially the story of his birth. Now let us peruse the later arrival of the so-called “Three Kings of the Orient.”
Not Grotto, But Great
First, we know from history that these men were called “magi”, which in the ancient language means “wise men”. This word befits the character of the travelers because in career they were thought of as highly educated for their day. Being learned, they dabbled in astrology and practiced other magical concerns. As the scriptures related to us from the Gospel According to Matthew…
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”
Therefore like the sparkling particles suspended in the paint job on that car that I saw, the three magi rode majestically through a desert of blackness. They sought what they had translated to be a special occurrence from readings in sky and scripture.
In those days, you see, the darkness at night was so deep that it was likely akin to the black basecoat of this beautiful car. Our gospel writer emphasized that they traveled by night so they could navigate by the stunning glimmer of stars. They followed the light of one particular, very bright star which had mysteriously appeared. While we even yet do not know what star it was on the heavenly charts that they saw, the three men had apparently agreed that its appearance was boldly prophetic. They were, so to speak… star struck! Consequently, in their dependence on astrology they were guided to Judah, a nation that lay far from their homeland.
Notice how briefly they were presented in scripture. We actually know very little about them as individuals. They were just cast mysteriously as wise men, and they came to Judah from the east. We cannot be exactly sure when they arrived. This indicates that they most likely came from Persia. Being then students of Persian science, medicine and other pursuits of knowledge, the men were considered as among some of the smartest people that the land had to offer. Being bound together in a quest for knowledge, the men traveled together in shared interest. They traveled as such for security reasons. Nestled safely in a camel caravan much like a custom car that is secured snugly in a trailer for a weekend show… the Magi plodded through the darkness toward the realm of King Herod.
We must note here that their scriptural introduction does not give their personal identities… nor say how many traveled. Oral tradition, and not scripture… eventually filled in some of these blanks. History now calls them eastern kings who possessed the names Melchior, Gaspar and Belshazzar.
Sitting up high like triple, two-barrel carburetors poised on a hotrod engine, the three kings rode camels at night. Each sought to find the person spoken of in ancient Hebrew prophecy...
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not nigh:
a star shall come forth out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise
out of Israel…
The wise men went first in courtesy to see King Herod. They asked him about the child being born, and inquired about where to find the new king. The question they posed obviously rubbed the nape of Herod like a piece of rough grit No. 100 dry sandpaper. He quickly gathered his rabbinical crew together to find out what had been predicted about the birth. I believe he feared whether the prophet’s plot written was so very thick that his throne might crack or craze like the surface on a poor lacquer paint job.
So they checked the prophecy. Herod found the the text to be meaningful, and thus sent the three Magi away to find the new king. He said that he also wanted to pay him homage. They were told to come back and let him know what they found.
Now, these instructions are somewhat like a company paint wizard who asks a hot rodder to spy for the new formula of an automotive color. However, the wise men caught onto the selfish motives. This fact becomes quite clear as we hear more about them from scripture.
Arriving in Bethlehem in short order, guided by the star above, they found the child Jesus in a stable… and bowed before him…
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child (Jesus) with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Indeed they gave him precious gifts. These were presents which ranked as very wealthy, meant for someone highly-born... but were given to a child descended from lowly persons living in a cave. The pictures we see of this occasion clearly speak of the irony. I often think that for the Wise Men, this time must have been like finding an old Audi once driven by famed race driver and champion Tazio Nuvolari (1892-1953) nested snugly in some old tilting country barn.
However, likely unbeknownst to the wise men, the gifts they gave were much more than meaningful. They were like colorful flakes amid a sparkling and gorgeous black paint job. Seeking beauty, your eye often sees just the sparkle which dispels darkness. Indeed, the gift of gold to Jesus spoke volumes concerning the child’s royal richness, even though he was born in a barn and lay in a feeding manger. The gifts of incense and myrrh predicted his adult life… of his being prepared for burial like the warriors of the ancient battlefield. The infant of divine birth, would surely grow... and like Greek and Persian warriors he would be anointed and prepared as a man to face evil in battle. His task, the one given by his heavenly Father, would be to ward off death for those in his kingdom… even to the giving of his own life.
Certainly it is that we see these gifts speak to us of prophetic meanings. The child sleeping in the manger, Jesus… the Christ of God, would do as described. He would be the One who would set them free from their punishment for sin. Jesus, the Christ… was the Sent One. He did battle with evil to save us. Though crucified, that same Jesus has Risen. He was, and yet is the Word of God, and his Word speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. The Word became a two-edge sword tempered by sin-condemning Law and the clarion of the saving Gospel. Today as I write this article I am more than deeply impressed by the correlation between that car and our holiday season. The relationship glares out to me like the speckles in that paint job.
First, consider that the word “epiphany” comes from the Greek language. It means “appearance”. You see, we in western Christianity observe the festival of Epiphany after Christmas, scheduled on the sixth day of January. It is a date and time in dark winter wherein we take special note of the manifestation… that a once for all time eternity event and certain revelation of the Christ child did occur. When born, Jesus was made known to the nations through that coming of the Magi to the manger in Bethlehem.
Of second importance is that this scripture I’ve read many times in church makes the scene quite clear. The stable appears more clear than the topcoat found on that old car. You see, the story continued, in that the Magi knew that Herod held secret jealousies. They knew that in his ambitions, he wanted to destroy the child. Therefore driven by nightmares of what could happen, the magi warned his parents. Afterward the three men wheeled out of the country through the back gate. They left Bethlehem like a car show nut breezing quickly past the hot sausage vendor… in order to save room for the sweet bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist served at church.
Now some atheistic or agnostic-minded critics reading this may think that I’ve reached way too far in my automobile analogy, If so, let me further argue the point. You see, as said in scripture... both heaven and earth declare God’s glory. Jesus was revealed by a heavenly star through the observances of the Magi. He became known both in his homeland and to nations far away. I ask you then, "Is it not possible then that God may even use automobiles to give us directions toward the light of the scriptures?" Surely you must agree that God’s infinite province has no boundaries. To a believer, proof is all around us! All we need do is look at the paint he laid out.
As example, on the way home after our worship of God in church durng a past Christmas Eve, I saw a magnificent sight shining in this dismal world. Brightly poised in the sky above both old and new cars that sat in the church parking lot... was a very bright and full moon. The sight lit up the entire country landscape more so than warm flames from a biblical shepherd’s campfire. At that time, across from that moon… situated to the northwest… was a very, very bright star. So impressed was I that my prayer remains now that others saw it... and now we all consider the holiday meaning.
Does that thought make me a wise man or a foolish one? Am I a dreamer or fool? Or is it just that any person saved by the grace of Christian baptism is rightfully called to see all things as the unfolding of God’s love? We often view disasters in this same this way! I myself know that any knowledge given to me through the Holy Spirit provides for me a meaning hidden gently behind such events as the journey of the Magi.
You easily see, given this perspective I have come to believe that Jesus Christ was born long ago in Bethlehem, and he is yet Lord of lords and King of kings. Hearing the story, and believing the Truth of its revelation... is why I think that reading Holy Scripture has made me just a bit wiser than many of my peers in this modern, fast-propelled world. I now pray simply that it may also be so with others. In this task of prayer, please feel free to join me. Ask God if you can consider it so… then please look toward the stars and say... “Thanks be to God.”
Please take time to view our video, and make plans for a Merry Christmas...
May You Follow the Footsteps of the Wise