September 2019 Newsletter

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The Age of Discontent

It seems that discontent is such a simple state into which we human beings easily fall. The sense of entitlement and believing that our opinions are of most importance. I know I have not written for a time and, in our age, that is something that a person writing a blog should not do because it doesn’t help build an “audience.” I don’t know that what I have to say is important or not, but it is on my heart and if it helps one person in life then it is worth the words and the thoughts.

I am so tired of the level of divide we see within our country and our world. People hold opinions and when others don’t hold the same they ridicule those with whom they disagree as being “stupid” or “idiots” and we continually hear the call for temperance from one side against the other, but both continue to lambast the other. Whether it be via twitter or any other social media platform. We live in an age of righteous indignation that must be remedied in whatever method that feels right for the one who feels wronged. A group that states it’s purpose as being against fascism which is a system of control that does not allow for disagreement but oppresses those who disagree with them or puts those that are different than them in thought, beliefs, or ethnicity under an oppressive thumb but then attacks those who disagree with them, holds different beliefs then them, or does not fit into their mold of what they consider and define as just and good through violence and oppression. It is insanity and my prayer is that it stops.

It is wrong to attack people because they are different then you, period. The beauty of living in a free nation is that thoughts and opinions are allowed to be had even though they may differ and we are free to be offended as well as we are free to offend. The consequences of such action are also a part of the freedom. If, for example, people find that my words are offensive they may say so and choose not to read them. People may comment and I do not have to like what they say, but I also have the freedom to disagree. This, though, is not my main reason for writing this nor is it my goal. My prayer is that we, as Christians, seek to find points of common agreement on things of importance and things that are central to our faith. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, did not agree with all with whom he came into contact. Much of the time, he did not agree, yet he still loved them in spite of their disagreement. This is what we are called to do.

In Luther’s Small Catechism, the eighth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” is explained like this, “We should fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, lie, or gossip about our neighbors, but defend them, speak well of them, and put the most charitable construction on all that they do.” It is that last part in which I find the greatest hope. How often do we not put a charitable construction on the words of those with whom we disagree? How simple, yet how hard. Anyone that knows the history of Martin Luther would know that he often failed in this, also. Notwithstanding, the truth of the sentiment drove him and should drive us. I know that I have failed here and any one of us, if being truly honest, would find the same to be true. Yet, it does not excuse us to continue to fail.

The beauty of our faith is that when we fail, we are afforded the opportunity to confess and receive forgiveness. 1 John 1:8-9 says this,

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8–9, ESV)

I have known and know those that like to shake their heads and wag their fingers at people engaged in sin with which they disagree while justifying the sins in their own lives. I have also known and know people who like to act as if their sins are not sin and should be justified because it is their own expression of who they are meant to be. Sin is sin and we all are caught up in sin in one way or another. The only true forgiveness comes when we confess and are relieved from guilt. The relief of guilt does not justify the sin nor does it justify the perpetuation of the sin, it only relieves the burden for the last iteration of the sin. For example, if I speak a wrong work to my children or spouse in anger just because I repent and ask for forgiveness for doing so does not justify the wrong word or the anger that I held nor does it offer me forgiveness for future failings. Forgiveness is the immediate relief from the burden of the sin as I seek to restore and reconcile with the one who I hurt. If I unintentionally do something, the same is true. Forgiveness and justification are two different things and are mutually exclusive. We may be forgiven, but that does not justify the sin and if one seeks justification they are not seeking forgiveness. A righteous person is not self-righteous, but he or she is forgiven. A self-righteous person will find forgiveness to be a difficult thing to give because he or she will feel justified in his or her actions against those who have hurt them and will not truly seek to be forgiven.

I have forgiven a lot of people that have hurt me. I can not say that it is always easy and I won’t lie and say that I don’t from time to time feel the ache that is left from betrayal. The forgiveness that I feel has freed me from bitterness that comes with unforgiveness. That is the most difficult thing that I see in our age today is because of our anger at one another and the bitterness held is hidden behind a new banner of self-righteousness and justification instead of a humble banner of grace and forgiveness. People want to be justified to do what they see as fit instead of first humbly praying before God and seeking forgiveness for doing that which is not right before God. Many seek to justify themselves based on wrongs done in the past by those who felt justified in their own wrong doings based on their understanding instead of seeking reconciliation with the one true God. God does not wear a banner of blue or red. He is not as much concerned by the politics of the United States any more than any other portion of His creation because it is all His. The reality is that He truly loves all of His creation. He loved the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Some may find that strange to think about. Love is not approval. God will redeem those who He has chosen. Our calling, as followers of Christ, is not to justify, but to humble ourselves and be comforted by the promises of redemption, and proclaim the Truth revealed to us in Scripture.

The greatest illness of our country and our world is the same that we find in the time of the Judges which states repeatedly, “They did what was right in their own eyes because they had no king.” God desires to be the King of all of our lives and we are called to seek out and do His will even when it may not be in line with our own desires. This is a difficult reality, but one which can bring much peace and relief once lived out. The issues of our world are but a symptom of what has plagued humanity since the Fall. We desire to be our own god and believe what is right in our own eyes instead of what God has revealed to us as His desire. As followers of Christ, we are not called to wag our fingers or shake our heads. Nor are we called to call for the eternal punishment of those with whom we disagree. We can freely speak to the sins that we see before us, but only out of love for the other. If our hearts are guided in this love, then we may find that we can truly affect the world which we see fallen. God desires us first to be content in what He provides and seek less to be offended, but seek to be bearers of Christ and his forgiveness into a world that is sin sick and need of the one and only Savior. Let the love of our Lord Jesus Christ guide you in your love of all of his creation and be at peace. Amen.

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August 2019 Newsletter

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July 2019 Newsletter

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Mature Infants

Isaiah 6:1-13; Psalm 138:1-8; 1 Corinthians 14:12b-20; Luke 5:1-11

I remember when I was younger how embarrassing it would be to be found ignorant of something. Most people don’t like to be seen as naive yet in Pauls first epistle to the people of Corinth we find that this is exactly what Paul calls the followers of Christ to be in the twentieth verse of the fourteenth chapter, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”

I have known the laughter and the chiding of others because I didn’t catch something that was said. I wish I could say that I was innocent all along, but I have not lived a life that is like an infant to evil, as Paul states should be our desire. I will however state that God seems to have put something in my spirit that I used to fight against that sometimes will cause me not to look upon the evil or catch innuendo that will lead my thinking down paths that may not be honoring to Christ. For example, when I was in Seminary my wife and I went to downtown Minneapolis with a friend to the Christmas Parade. Now it was cold so we did not desire to stand outside so we sat inside one of the local pubs that looked out onto the street. As we were there enjoying each others company over a few beverages my wife and her friend went to the restroom and there my wife saw a woman with a tiara and another woman in the restroom made a comment on how she wished she had a tiara. My wife kindly responded, “I think all women should have a tiara!” After hearing this, the woman smiled and engaged my wife in some light conversation and then the woman ended up following my wife and her friend back to the table. While sitting at the table we had conversation with this woman and being a Seminarian the conversation led to the topic of the woman’s life and faith. Somewhere in the midst of this conversation the woman made a comment to my wife and her friend that I missed, so my wife and her friend excused themselves to the restroom. Apparently, the comment was odd and my wife and her friend excused themselves so they would not laugh at the woman. This left me and this woman talking about her life, her family, and her faith. Personally, since I had missed the inappropriate comment, I felt compassion on this woman and was seeking to bring her the Gospel and let her know the love of Christ. I heard the brokenness of the woman and heard how she had been used and abused. For me this woman was unaware of God’s desire for her and when she abruptly left with an odd comment when my wife and her friend returned, I was confused.

Now my wife and her friend chided me some after explaining to me that this woman’s comment was odd and lewd which is why they had left and then clarified the comment the woman had made to me when she left, I felt embarrassed but also a little relieved. You see, I was unaware of the advances that were being made and was seeking to bring the Gospel to a broken person. If I had known, I don’t know that I could’ve or would’ve been able to share the faith that I so love with this person. I probably would’ve been at minimum uncomfortable, but possibly offended. For me, the conversation had innocence to it that once things were clarified was removed. At the time I was an infant to the evil that was confronting me, but was mature in my thinking as it pertains to the faith. The goal, for me, was to build up the church by building another in the faith. Now I wish that I was always that oblivious because, at that time, there was really no danger for me. If the woman had made any physical advances it would have sent an alarm, but my ears and my spirit were kept from the verbal advances so I was able to proclaim Christ. Ultimately, that is what we are all called to do.

We aren’t to be dumb about the dangers within this world, but as an infant the temptations to engage in evil is not there. An infant does not have the knowledge truly. Children, also, have a natural innocence to most evil. It is one of the greatest tragedies of our age as we see a world that tries to sexualize everything. It is why the sexual abuse of a child is so heinous because it robs a child of innocence. That innocence, as Christians, we should seek to protect for as long as possible. Ultimately, we are able to maintain that innocence or receive it anew when we turn over ourselves to Christ and seek to glorify him in every aspect of how we live our lives. Marriage is the place where we can innocently engage in the glorious gift of sexuality as husband and wife as God intended with the ultimate goal of bearing and raising children that fear, love, and trust God above all else. It is in that union that, with God in the center, that we find refuge. In Martin Luther’s On the Estate of Marriage, we can find great insight on how marriage and God’s design for it were pure and holy and, though we are fallen, we should strive to live out that union reflecting our Lord in every aspect of it. At the time of Martin Luther, he saw how marriage was supposed to be as opposed to how it was and sought to guide other Christians to live in marriage as a better union then often seen in the world of his time. Luther gave his wife Katie great respect and honor and saw her as his helpmeet. He went contrary to the age and made Katie the executor of the estate upon his passing which was honored because of the respect that the Prince had for him. Luther did not see Katie as one who was beneath him, but as God intended for marriage as a true union of two become one. In the world then and in the world today many would mock the naivety of Luther’s view. The image that is often painted in the world on marriage which also permeates the Church is the idea that marriage is an old union that places women under men and in the biblical sense makes women merely property. Now it is true that throughout the millennia since the Fall often women have been treated as such. There are Christian traditions that do put women under the thumb of men and they use portions of Scripture to justify this, but this has not been always the way and often is influenced by non-biblical cultural ideals. This is the struggle that we face since the Adam and Eve realized their nakedness. Our innocence is no longer protected because we have received the knowledge of good and evil. Unfortunately, the evil around us often parades itself as good – sexual empowerment, self-pleasure, indulgence, fake adoration, etc. It is easy to be tempted. To be mature in our thinking is to be aware of how fleeting all the things of this world truly are and to remain focused on the eternal, which is God. As Christians, we aren’t called to hate nor should we seek to be offended. I pray for more opportunities of ministry that causes me to be unaware of the temptations that surround me in order to bring to Gospel to one who is caught up and seeking to be pulled out of it. I still wonder about the woman at the pub and pray that she has found the only source of true happiness and joy. We live in a world that has turned away from the things of God and is often more like the world of Judges, doing that which they find pleasing and right since they had no king in those days. Our world does not recognize the one true King of the Universe and those of us who are followers of Christ are his ambassadors. We are called to proclaim the truth of the Word in a world that is not yet ready to hear and, like Simon Peter, there will be those that once they see Christ in us will fall to their knees confessing their brokenness and receiving the fullness of our Lord’s forgiveness and new life. Let us all be infants to evil and mature in our thinking and may Christ’s love fill you and flow from you abundantly. Amen.

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Called to Share the Faith

Called to Share the FaithOne thing that has always bothered me is gossip. I’ve never really liked people talking about me to others and for that reason I try not to talk about others in the same way. I mean, I will share the piece of positive news about friends or that tidbit of information about friends that is meant to build them up or let others know that they need prayer, but if I don’t think it would be something someone wouldn’t want shared I won’t share it. I guess that was something I was taught. It seems though that this is not common any longer. Why is it that many people find it easier to talk about someone else’s failings and less about the Gospel of Jesus Christ? What is less offensive about saying something behind someone’s back than sharing the life giving Word that is the way, the truth, and the life? It doesn’t make much sense, yet we seem to continually light fires against others with our tongues while quenching the Holy Spirit at the same time. “I don’t want to offend…” is a common way to open a sentence, but often we find after those words comes a diatribe of words that can only be offensive. I was taught if you can’t say something to someone’s face it is better to not say it at all. It is a reminder of what Scripture speaks about and James reminds us in the 3rd chapter of his letter as he speaks of the tongue like an untameable thing that can spread fire. He also reminds us of the conundrum we create when out of our mouths that are meant to praise God comes curses. I have known many “good” people that when crossed say some of the most vile things. This is what James is speaking of when he speaks of does a salt water stream produce fresh water? Many people are more offended by profanity than they are by some of the profane things that we do to each other. We are called to be different, we are called to be more. We are called to be salt and light in the world. Unlike salt water, salt itself preserves. We are called to speak words that are life giving and support one another, offering correction privately and seeking to cover another’s shame. Let your mouth spring forth fresh, life giving water that refreshes all those with whom you come into contact.

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We Are All But Beggars…

We Are All But BeggarsNear the end of Martin Luther’s it has been told that the last words he wrote, “We are all beggars…” An African pastor has extended these famous words, “We are just all just one beggar telling another where the food is.” These words are a poignant understanding of the Christian faith. God does not look at our name, our standing in society, the way we look, the way we are dressed, or even the amount that we give. God looks at our hearts. It is so antithetical to our world. How do we know the hearts of another? We don’t so we leave that to God. We cannot know where a person’s heart lies so we are not meant to judge. The Sunday reading from Isaiah 35:4-7a points us to the providence of God. God is the One that heals. The power of God is that which builds us up and gives us the strength to carry on. We receive even greater than that we receive sight, we receive hearing, ultimately we receive understanding.

James 2:1-10, 14-18 calls into question the eyes with which we look upon others. We see people externally, but we can not see the heart of another. This is what God sees. Often we can become caught up in the way someone dresses, that makes good decisions, and are financially successful and we often place them in places of honor. James criticizes this mentality as we should as Christians. I have known and been betrayed by those that feel that their status deserves a greater level of respect than another. I have been judged by those that saw me as “less than” they feel that they are. Jesus knew this also as we look at Mark 7:24-37. At the beginning of these verses, we read about how Jesus goes to have a secret meal. Probably invited by another and wanting to get away from the crowd and have a peaceful meal was the mindset, but a woman had a daughter that was possessed by a demon and she was seeking help. This woman heard about Jesus as a teacher and healer so she sought him out and found him. Now she comes asking. Not only was this an interruption, but she was not a Jew but she was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician to be exact. She was not someone a good Jew would want in his home much less when a special guest, a Jewish Rabbi, was in the home. The people at this dinner, it can be easily assumed, looked down upon this woman and when her request comes Jesus responds with words that could only be reflecting the feelings of those with him by comparing this woman’s request to that of a dog begging at the dinner table. I am certain that there was no guile in his statement but, being God, Jesus knew this woman’s faith and the response she would give in humility. This woman put her pride aside for the sake of her daughter and because of her faith, she received what she was seeking, the healing of her daughter.

When we look down on another we are guilty of the sin that Jesus revealed and James speaks against. We are not to think of ourselves as ones that deserve grace, but as children that are receiving grace from our Father in Heaven. He does not owe us forgiveness or grace no matter how much we do or how much we give, but he gives it to us out of His divine grace and mercy. Another aspect of James that is difficult for many is the call that seems to demand faith and works. There are many Lutherans who struggle with this and many misunderstand our Lutheran faith by thinking we are against works. That is not true. As Lutherans, we are in line with Christian thinking and know of the importance of works, but we, also, understand that no matter how much we do there is no work that can save us because that was done for us already through Jesus Christ on the Cross. Works are a natural response of faith. It is a powerful reality that we do works because that is what faith drives us to do. It doesn’t help our brother or sister in Christ that is hungry and suffering to simply offer pray, but we are called in faith to provide what we are able to provide to those in need. When we think of what James is speaking about we can look to the next portion of the reading from Mark where people bring this man who was deaf and mute and Jesus is very tactile in the healing. Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears and spits and touches the man’s tongue saying the word, “Ephaphtha,” which Scripture reveals means “Be Open.” Jesus opens this man’s ears and loosens his tongue so he can hear and can speak. The same is true for each and every one of us.

With a word our Lord opens our ears that we can hear his words and he loosens our tongues that we can proclaim His truth. That is the power and truth of the faith. We seem to often lose sight of this reality. As we are gifted with the power to hear the Word and trust what Jesus says as well as our tongues loosened to proclaim His Truth we are called to remember that we are all beggars. We come with nothing to offer but our Lord gives us everything. We do not deserve anything, but He gives abundantly. That is the power of these words. Remembering that we are nothing but beggars reminds us that we only have one Word to offer to our Lord and that is “Thanks!” Why don’t we give thanks as we should? We have forgotten and think that we are owed forgiveness. God owes us nothing. We owe God. We are, as an African Lutheran Pastor once said, “one beggar telling another beggar where the food is.” That is all we are. Humbly let us remember this and let our tongues be loosed to proclaim our God’s praise to all with whom we have the opportunity to share. When we see something that needs to be done and we cry out, “I wish someone would do something.” Remember that that someone may just be you. Be a beggar for the food that only satisfies and the waters that truly give life. We are all but beggars, that is our state and we can find that in our begging we find our place next to the king. Amen.

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