Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Faith, The Two-Legged Dog

Pastor Jackson at Ichabod, The Glory Has Departed has this video posted from YouTube:

Faith and the family that adopted her are a very special demonstration of what love does. While a dog does not have a soul, it nevertheless responds to love. Faith does not care how she looks. Dogs don’t worry about such things. Faith does not care that she has faced many struggles and continues to press beyond what is normally expected of a dog. Faith has encountered the persistence of love from those who cared for her and rather than lying helplessly in a ball on the floor, she walks and runs, wagging her tail so strongly that she nearly unbalances herself.

In the beginning, God established that Man should be like Him, ruling the world for good, in the same way in which God Himself created and now rules over all things.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Genesis 1:26-28)

God created the world for Man and set Man over all things to dominate and to rule the world after the same manner that God Himself does. He created Man in His own image, full of goodness and love. Even after the rebellion of Adam, even after the choice to become sinful, God’s love still prevailed so that God reclaimed His fallen children and lifted them up with the promise of the ultimate display of love. He promised that salvation would come through the advent of the Son of Woman, who is God in the flesh, Jesus. With this promise, God restored love to Man once again.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:18-19)

The miracle that was worked by the love of the Stringfellow family for this doggy is a reflection of the love of God and the power that God’s love works in us and for us. How lovely to behold such a display. While sin veils the love of God in the world, still He shows us the power of His love in everyday things, even as in this special occurrence with Faith and the Stringfellow family. While such displays are not automatically evidence of the true faith in people’s lives, these displays do continually hold before us all what God intends for us to receive from Him.

As the season of Advent comes upon us again this coming Sunday, we again rejoice in the love of God manifested in the birth of His Son, who is come in order to give Himself as the restoration of God’s merciful love to the world. By His life, suffering, death, and resurrection, love is available to everyone through the pure Gospel and Sacraments. May this season of Advent serve us all the hope that is freely given and received through our Lord Jesus Christ, even as is given as a small reminder in the response of Faith to the love of the Stringfellow family.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Evangelism and the Eighth Commandment

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Depending on the method of numbering the Ten Words or Ten Commandments, this is counted as either the Eighth or the Ninth Commandment. Since the numbering is purely an arbitrary assignment by those who honor these declarations of the Lord, and not a numbering by the Lord Himself, the number does not really matter. The content, however, does matter. The intended meaning is a matter of life and death, everlasting life and death.

This is especially true because of the impact that it has upon the Church’s witness unto the Gospel. The Gospel, or the euangelion, is the good message that bears witness to the fullness of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. The Gospel is the good message that gives life to hearts that are dead in sin. The Gospel is the message that revitalizes lives that have become buried in the worries and troubles that a sin filled world piles up over all who struggle to survive in this world.

The Gospel is Good News!

The Gospel is the good news concerning the salvation that is in and through Christ Jesus.

End of story.

Sadly, this is not where we leave it. Rather than trusting in the power of the Gospel, we turn away from this power and seek to make it about what we do. Those who claim to be the most “evangelical” are usually the ones who twist the Gospel in on itself so that instead of being the good news of Jesus Christ it becomes impossible to recognize and rather resembles a heavy burden that must somehow be carried by those who should be set free from all heavy burdens.

Often, the promoters of evangelism are the worst about this horrible abuse against the saints of God. Often the promoters of evangelism are the very worst violators of the Eighth Commandment, bearing the very worst and most horrible False Witness against their neighbors, and worse, against their brethren.

Yes. Sadly, very sadly, those who promote Evangelism and Personal Witnessing are often the worst of all those who bear false witness against their neighbors.

It is common to have a preacher or another church leader or organizer lay heavy burdens upon the hearts of the saints who gather to hear the Gospel. Rather than building them up in the knowledge of the Lord and all that the Lord serves in His Holy Communion, rather than lifting burdens from those who are drowning in their sinfulness, rather than reviving those whose ears and hearts have grown weary and need to be opened again to the precious good news of forgiveness and renewal, rather than fulfilling the office of the keys they turn to the people with a message of what they must do to be good Christians and what they must do to be good witnesses.

Of course, this is not a singular fault. The people share in this, too. They forget the power of the Gospel and turn back to their own efforts, efforts that surely fail them and leave them without true hope. Then they seek programs and training to become better witnesses in their lives and in their associations. They torment themselves over what they consider to be lost opportunities and blundered sharing attempts.

This is sad, very sad, from both perspectives. For this is not what Christ instituted for His Church. This is not the life to which our dear Lord has called us.

Jesus speaks of knowing the truth which sets us free.

What is this truth? Jesus, Himself, is this truth. We need to know Jesus and what He has done and continues to do for us through the life of the Church. We need to be reminded continually that He is the True Witness, and that we are the ones who are to are to receive His witness.

How does this miracle occur? How do we receive Jesus and the full knowledge of Him in our lives? He tells us plainly: Baptism and the Holy Communion.

This is the witness to which we are called.

Notice that I did not say the witness that we are to give. For this is the reception of God. This is how we receive Jesus, and with Jesus the fullness of God, namely, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, with the Word of God, that is, Jesus, we receive the name of God and with His name we receive the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. In Baptism God Himself bears witness to us and to all the world that He is our God and that He claims us as His children as coheirs with Jesus.

When I was a child, I never needed to tell anyone that I was the son of Louis Otto Siems and Helen Ruth Siems. People knew. How? I lived with them and under their care. I received my life from them. I also wrote and spoke their name and address as my own. I lived in dependence upon them and in the protection of their care. Therefore people knew who I was in connection with them.

This is the witness that Christians are to bear, also. To bear means to carry in or on one’s person and body. Mary was the theotokos, the God-bearer, because God used her as the vessel through whom He came into the world. She did nothing to make this happen. It was worked through the Word of God that was spoken to her through the mouth of Gabriel, God’s specially appointed heavenly messenger or angel. Aside from not having an abortion, what did the blessed virgin do? When we say it like this, even from this perspective she did nothing. She did not abort the Son of God from her body. She simply acknowledged the will of God that had been spoken to her and carried the Son of Salvation until the time to be delivered came.

This is what the Church does as well. The Church carries the Son of God in her body. This is not something that she chooses to do. The Church is the blessed virgin through whom Jesus is carried in the world. Jesus lives in the Church. Like Mary, the Church simply lives as the theotokos, the God-bearer.

As the Theotokos, the Church bears The Witness, Jesus. As the saints gather to the pure administration of Jesus, that is, The Word and Sacraments of the Word, they are the Church, the presence of Jesus. This is why the assembling must not be forsaken, as is the practice of some. The Church or Ecclesia is the gathering of the communion of the saints. If there is no gathering, there is no Church.

But this Ecclesia is a special gathering. It is not a gathering of the kind that men promote. Rather, it is the gathering that is accomplished by the calling of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the holy Christian Church. He calls sinners to gather unto Jesus to receive what He gives through the theotokos. Namely, He gives Himself, the Word of Life. As the assembled receive Jesus into their ears they are renewed in Him in His body, the Church. Through Baptism they receive the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Communion they eat and drink the very body of this Holy Communion and drink the very blood of their salvation and life.

This is all God’s work. This is all God’s doing. This is all God’s Witness.

As St. Paul writes, “for as often as ye eat of this bread and drink of this cup ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come.”

This is the witness that we bear to the world. It is not OUR witness, except from the perspective that it is the Witness that we have received in Baptism and again and again in the Holy Communion.

This is God’s definition of Evangelism. It is pure. It is simple. It is easy. Why? Because it is His Witness, Jesus, at work reconciling the world unto Himself.

We do not need to make evangelism our work. That is why St. Paul tells Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. He did not tell the congregation under Timothy’s pastoral care to do the work of evangelists, but he told Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. Timothy served Christ to the congregation in preaching and in the Sacraments.

As the congregation gathers to the means of grace, this is the fulfillment of what we often label as the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. If you read what Jesus says carefully, you will find that it really is this simple and easy.

So then, what about our personal witness?

Were you listening?

This IS our witness, even Jesus Christ. As we gather unto Him, we do give witness unto Him.

When this is our understanding of Evangelism, it becomes very, VERY easy and straightforward. All that we need to do is to tell people where Jesus is to be found. As we live in the freedom of the Gospel ourselves, people notice. When people ask, we simply tell what God has done for us and continues to do for us in Christ. When they ask how they can receive this for themselves, we invite them to come with us to meet Jesus. We invite them to “come and see.” As they observe the unity of the body of Christ, confessing with one mouth the great confession of the one true faith and receiving together the life of Christ’s blood, then they too may be baptized into the Holy Communion to live the life of freedom that the Truth provides.

Sharing the Gospel is not a burden. It is a joy. It is a privilege. No one who receives healing from a terrible disease finds it difficult to share with others. Perhaps the best example is the restoration of sight that some have received through medications or other treatments. No one who has suffered reduced or impaired vision or even blindness who has subsequently had that vision restored ever has any trouble telling the good news of what was done for him.

That is really the problem with how we approach evangelism. Instead of joyously telling what has been done for us, we imagine that we must do something for others. We forget that we are nothing more than witnesses unto what has already been done and what is promised by the One who has done it. We forget that this is not our work, but His. Is it any wonder that when we imagine ourselves be under the burden that only God can carry that we find ourselves struggling and totally unequal to the task?

Rather, let’s do as our Lord has commanded. Let’s gather to the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit and eat and drink the Supper of our Lord’s body and blood for our nurturing as His body and for our forgiveness and restoration in His blood. Let’s leave salvation to the Savior, and then, joyously tell others what He has done.

What do you think? Could this actually work?

He says it does. Moreover, He commands it. We don’t even have to figure it out for ourselves. This is His way. This is what He has ordained and commanded.

But this seems to be hard for us to acknowledge. So let’s hear it straight from the mouth of our Lord Jesus. In Acts 1:8, Luke records it in crystal clear language that cannot be misunderstood, yet our stubborn hearts often choose to misinterpret what Jesus says, as do many of our translations. Nevertheless, Luke accurately records the declaration of the Lord for us.

But you-all shall receive power of overcoming of the Holy Spirit over you-all, and you-all shall be My witnesses . . .

If we pay attention, we find that the Lord says exactly the opposite of what we usually take from this. We are inclined to hear this as what we are to make of ourselves and what we are to be determined to be and to do. But this is not what the Lord says.

He says that the Holy Spirit will overpower us and make witnesses of us. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit shall overpower us so that we cease to be witnesses of our own design and to recreate us as the witnesses that Jesus has placed in various locations in the world. HIS witnesses.

This is like the signs that a real estate agent places in locations that are under his authority. He puts up signs saying here is what I am doing. Then, when the property has been sold or rented, another sign indicating that the work has been accomplished is added, a little sign saying “SOLD”.

Jesus says that by the power of the Holy Spirit we will be His “SOLD” signs. Our hearts are the property that was for sale. He purchased us with His own life and blood. In Baptism He puts His “SOLD” sign upon us and sets us up for everyone to see. This is what He says of us when He says that we shall be His witnesses. We are His little signs throughout the world by which He tells the world what He has done.

So then, let’s not change this into a false witness. Let’s not change His witness to the world into our sinful and corrupt witness. Let’s not bear false witness unto our neighbor, not when we have already been made to be His witnesses, His pure and holy witnesses, washed and regenerated and renewed to eat and drink and live in His grace, mercy and peace. Let us be content, and more than content, let us Eucharist or Give Thanks as those who have been made to be His witnesses as members of His Holy Communion. Let’s let this be the Witness that the world sees and hears. Then both we and all who ask us will know what the Lord means when He says:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt 11:28-30)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Delighting in Reality

This evening I made a delightful discovery, although discovery is not truly the correct or accurate term to be used. Rather, I became very powerfully aware of the reality of my own heart and what emotions and desires dwell within. An overwhelming realization of my deep and even unfathomable delight in people surfaced from the depths of my soul so that the acknowledgment of this joy was manifested gloriously undeniably.

Yes, I truly and inexorably delight in people. I delight in the playfulness of little children and in their nearly innocent expression of trust and joy. I delight in the blessings of marriage and family. I delight in sharing in the aspirations of those who dream of happy plans and brilliant successes. I delight in the working together in peace of those who are united in common hope.

This really is not a new awareness, nor a surprise. Yet it has been often overshadowed by dark forces. The fact that my heart and eyes and mind are open to see what others often prefer to ignore many times clouds my awareness of that in which I very deeply delight.

Yet even in the darkest times my soul is filled with thoughts of what God intends for humanity. From the rise of the sun to its setting, even unto my own bodily retirement and even in my sleeping, I bask in the light of the Gospel and ponder the proclamation of God’s grace, mercy, and peace in Christ Jesus.
So how does one proclaim such things to people who choose to pretend that the pure Gospel can be mingled with other doctrines? How does one look upon the people around him without feeling the terrible schisms in the body of Christ caused by the mingling of error and falsehood with that which cannot be mingled with such things? How does a preacher of the Gospel continue in hope and peace and joy when all around the churches are preaching and practicing as though the Gospel and the Sacraments can be compromised without being changed?

What remains for the preacher of the Gospel when such things are evident all around? What remains? The Gospel remains. For the Gospel cannot be compromised. Even as the devil could not change the Lord Jesus with his feeble temptations, neither can the Gospel be changed or muted. The Gospel truly is the power of God for salvation unto those who believe. The Gospel cannot be mingled with other doctrines. The Gospel remains pure, regardless of whatever faithless preachers and people say or do. When people mix other doctrines with the Gospel, they no longer have the Gospel, but rather the words of their own faithlessness. The Word of God does not change. It cannot be altered or adulterated. The Word of God is everlasting, even as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.

Therefore, even as Noah could work with joy in building the Ark, surrounded by unbelieving people, so also can those who hold fast to the Gospel for all their life today. The Gospel has not changed from the day it was announced to the serpent and to the woman and to Adam. The Gospel did not change for Noah, nor for Abraham, nor for Jacob, nor for Joseph, nor for Moses, nor for David, nor for Simon Peter, nor for Stephen, nor for St. Paul. No matter how many people have tried to redefine the Gospel, no matter how many times churches have failed to preach the Gospel faithfully, the Gospel never changes. Neither does the life that flows from the Gospel ever change. The Gospel and the Sacraments by which the Gospel is administered remain as they have been given. They still accomplish what God has promised to accomplish through them.

And so I do grieve to observe the abuses that are practiced in those groups claiming to be the Church. I do lament that there are many who are allowing the Gospel to be stolen away from them, and with the Gospel the true hope for life in God’s Holy Communion. Yet I do also delight in people. I delight in seeing God’s blessings in the world. Moreover, I delight in every opportunity to speak of this God of love and mercy who sent His Son to be sacrificed on behalf of all of the sinful and unbelieving world so that through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit that sinners would be declared to be saints and through the feast of the Holy Communion those regenerated children would be strengthened and preserved in the true faith unto life everlasting.

Thus, whenever I have the opportunity to share the Gospel with others, both in presenting it and in hearing it, all else loses importance for me. The time of the day and the climate and the worldly circumstances in which I live seem to fade into the distance. For in connection with the Gospel I am again free to delight in people. Such is the power of the Gospel.

This evening was truly an opportunity again for delighting in reality.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Not About Ideology

My heart is broken. Not on account of the election results. I already knew how it would go. But the coverage and statements reported truly break my heart.

On the radio this morning I heard:

It’s about people. It’s not about ideology. It’s about moving our communities forward.

This sort of mindless comment is a reflection upon our society today.

“It’s not about ideology.”

Perhaps it is time for people to give some actual thought to what this says.

From the American Heritage Dictionary, here is the definition of ideology.

1. The body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class, or culture.
2. A set of doctrines or beliefs that form the basis of a political, economic, or other system.

If people mindlessly act without understanding that ideology is the body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations upon which action is being taken, to what exactly are our communities being moved forward?

Could it be that the troubles of the day are a direct result of this mindless approach?

Let’s see what things have developed. How about just a short list of changes.

1. Endless warmongering worldwide.
2. Endless increases in taxation.
3. Endless increases in national debt.
4. Endless increases in personal debt.
5. Endless demise of traditional family foundations and stability.
6. Endless attacks on the value of human life (especially for those who have no voice).
7. Endless demise of the rights and freedoms of individuals.
8. Endless increases in dependence upon welfare and other governmentally controlled assistance.
9. Endless demands for new moneys for public education.
10. Endless increases in health care costs.

The front page headline of today’s Wichita Eagle reads:


Never before in the history of this nation has such a thing been made to be the issue in a ‘victory’. Never before has one’s race been made to be the issue of the nation’s choice. Certainly racism has been practiced by individuals and groups. But never before has racism been something viewed as cause for national celebration.

Truly America has changed.

This election and its “progress” truly has been about change.

However, it has been about reflecting change rather than effecting change.

The election of Obama as the president will not change the direction of this nation and the world. Rather, his election is the reflection of the change that has been effected and appears to be irreversibly set into motion nationally and worldwide.

It is truly saddening to me to read headlines that indicate that the new ideology of this nation is an ideology based upon elevation of one’s race above others as the issue of importance.

I have never based my evaluation of a candidate upon the color of the candidate’s skin. For me, the only “race” that matters is the race that the candidate conducts in seeking office. That race should reflect the ideology that is manifested in the Declaration of Independence and the United States’ Constitution.

That really is what this current election has demonstrated. It truly is about ideology, regardless of whether or not people realize this. Americans have been inculcated with a new ideology. The entire world has been inculcated with a new ideology.

It is incomprehensible to me that people have become unable to connect their daily complaints about what is happening around them to the cause of the things about which they are complaining. Actually, I do not believe that the populace is unable, but rather unwilling to make the connection. After all, if they follow through on this, then they will find themselves confronted with the need to do more than just complain. Then they will no longer be able to make mindless statements that disconnect ideologies from the things that these ideologies produce. Then they will actually be compelled to stand on principles and to vote accordingly, rather than voting for one personality over another and rather than praising themselves as progressive when reality shows that they are digressive.

History shows this same pattern in every society that is nearing its ultimate demise.

Apparently it is our turn.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

America: A People of the Bible

Throughout my lifetime and especially throughout the recent election season, I have heard people challenge the Christian and Biblical moorings of this nation.

Here is a challenge to all who so say:

Whenever an oath is required of a citizen of this nation, upon what Book is that oath made?

From the oath required in the courtroom to the oath required of anyone assuming office in the United States of America, upon what Book has it been required?

Has not this singular Book been the foundation of truth and justice and the oath to be true from the very beginning of our nation until this very day?

Surely there has been and continues to exist much variance in the professions of faith that people make based upon their reading of this Book. Nevertheless, the Book has been the foundation for all that has been understood as good and true and noble in this nation.

Who can honestly deny this?

Today It Concludes

Today the election process concludes.

The polling station opened at 6:00 AM. We arrived at 6:15 AM and the parking lot was full!

We entered the building and there was a line. No surprise.

Then a kind lady asked pointed us to our line, which was very short. For some reason, not many S-Z people were in line at this time.

Then we were asked whether we would like to stand in the long line for the voting machines or to take the short line for paper ballots.


We zoomed through. We had examined the candidates and brought our little sample ballots with our selections marked and simply sat down at our individual booths and filled in the little circles.

Then the ballots were fed through a scanner. It read the ballots in about two seconds per ballot.

Why on earth, with this available, is so much money being spent to develop voting machines?

And why did so many people choose to stand in line when they could have moved through quickly, with the added benefit of the security of a paper ballot?

Don’t know.

But soon, the voting will be complete and the votes will be counted and that will be that.

Technical Support Warning

Beware of Technical Support.

Yesterday I spent a great deal of time trying to learn why some of my E-mail messages are being lost in cyberspace. Where are they going? Why are they disappearing?

I checked my computer and the connections. No problems that I could find.

I called AT&T, my service provider. The Customer Service/Technical Support staffer could not be understood. I had to ask over and over that the information be repeated. I had to repeat very easily understood information multiple times and still the person did not understand.

This happened on more than one phone call.

Once I was transferred to a “second level” support person, who likewise spoke very poor English.

Once the person asked for my Social Security number. I refused to give it, saying there was no reason to request it. After denying to give it serveral times, finally the person continued.

Later, the support person wanted me to let him log onto my computer. I refused.

Who is this person? Where is this person? What information would he download without my knowledge?

He said that he could not help me without doing this.

I asked what it would entail.

He told me that I would have to download and install Active X software, which would give him access to my computer.

Funny. He was speaking clearly and also understood me clearly at this point.

No way!

No way in the world!

How many people have had their information stolen by such support people?

I don’t know, but I am not going to find out first hand.

When I demanded to know where this support person was located, he said that he was in San Antonio, Texas. He sounded Indian to me, but then he may have been an illegal alien from almost anywhere, hired by AT&T.

But this really is not the point.

Should I give such trust to someone I don’t know? Should I give such a person absolute and unrestricted access to my computer? Should I entrust that level of control to anyone?

Should you?

Monday, November 03, 2008

VERY Helpful Voter's Guide

Kansas voters in Sedgwick, Butler, Harvey and Sumner counties can go to 2008 Voter Guide for an interactive voter's guide. After entering your address it will list the candidates for whom you will be given opportunity to vote. Included are drop down lists with the candidates' responses on the issues.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

More than Reformation Day?


Last evening, as I drove to cut my mother-in-law’s grass, I saw someone dressed as a witch or some such thing. I was puzzled at first.

My mind had been focused on things of the nation and more importantly and absorbingly, upon the Festival of the Reformation and the blessings associated with the restoration of the preaching of the pure Gospel to the Church.

Then I saw this person celebrating Halloween.

Oh. I had forgotten.

Halloween has no place in my life, except that I do hand out candy to those who come to my door on that night.

Once upon a time this bothered me. I resisted this. But I have concluded that being kind to the little hobgoblins is far better than to turn them away from my door. The only message that this would give is one of rejection without explanation.

However, even though we purchased the candy in preparation for these costumed little beggars, it was so far from my mind on the day of the Festival of the Reformation that I had completely forgotten it.

When I arrived home I turned on the light, and in a few moments, the little costumed beggars were at the door. They continued in a modest but regular flow until about 9:00 p.m.

It is notable that the light was what signaled to them that they could come to the door. We have no Halloween decorations of any kind. Yet with the light turned on, the children came to our door.
I would love for this to be the way every day, and especially on the Lord’s Day. I would love for these little ones and their parents and guardians to know that the Light of the world dwells in our home and be drawn as beggars to partake of the safety and blessings of the Light continually. We beggars need to be gathered unto the Light together. Of course no masks or costumes are needed, even though we sinners do try to mask and disguise our sin and our beggarly appearance. Nevertheless, those who gather in the name of Jesus, have their masks and disguises stripped away as the Law drives us to our knees to cry out to the Lord to fill us with His heavenly blessings in place of our many tricks.