Monday, January 31, 2011

Joy to the World

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! This first stanza of a very popular Christmas hymn certainly serves a person well to remember.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing.

This week here in Wichita we had several truly beautiful days preceding the return to winter weather that we are experiencing today. Christmas is observed during the winter. Yet, because of the gift of God’s Son to the world, truly it is a time of joy.

Yesterday the little birdies were singing with all their strength. It made me wonder whether perhaps they knew that it was the last day of that unseasonably warm and gentle and friendly weather. I repeated to my wife what I believed that they were telling us.

Oh, it is a beautiful day! It is a glorious day! Sing! Rejoice! Give thanks to God! It is a wonderful day. Come out with us and give thanks to God! Today is the last of these days for a while. Waste it not! Enjoy this wonderful gift from God. Rejoice in His goodness!

It made me think of the last portion of the stanza above. It also stood as a reminder that Christmas is not limited to the season of the Church year in which we specifically observe it. As the divine service blessedly reminds us in “The Gloria in Excelsis,” the announcement of the angels to the shepherds is a never ending message.

”Glory be to God on high: and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

The joy of the Christ Mass is ours every Lord’s Day, as we are fed the gift of the divinely ordained Supper of forgiveness and life and communion with God and His saints. This serves us as sustenance for every day living so that every day is a day for rejoicing in God’s goodness to us in Christ Jesus.

Earlier this week as I went to make a deposit at the credit union, one of the familiar tellers greeted me and asked how I was doing. I responded that I was surviving. “Only surviving?” she queried with puzzlement. ”Can one really be only surviving on such a beautiful day?” “The weather is not the only thing that people endure,” I gently replied. But she went on to tell me how she had the day off from school and spent time outside before coming to work and how that invigorated her. I smiled and responded, “It is an absolutely lovely day.”

That humble admission was quite powerful in its effect. For in being humbled to look beyond the things that were troubling me and robbing me of the joy of the day, my attitude was transformed. That simple admission turned me from my stubborn refusal to give thanks to God like the little birdies and to rejoice in the richness of His blessings. My spirit was revived and my heart did rejoice.

If the little birdies can see it, how much more am I able to see it, having been baptized into the Kingdom of God on earth so as to be carried to the Holy Supper where God pours out to me with the blood of Jesus the things by which true happiness and peace are mine forevermore. It is truly foolish of me to rob myself of such endless joy on account of stubbornness.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Whatever It Takes!

On the radio today I heard a person exclaim that the Lord Jesus came to the world with the attitude toward the dying that concerning their salvation He would do whatever it takes.

Is this true? Is this really the attitude that the Lord Jesus Himself demonstrated and preached? Is this what His apostles taught? Is this what is recorded in the Holy Scriptures as the way of Jesus and His Church?

“Whatever it takes!”

Is this what the Lord Jesus taught and practiced? Is this what He preached as the perspective from which He came to the earth and was born as a man? Did He declare that He would do whatever it takes to save mankind from his sinful condition, or did Jesus declare that He came to fulfill a specific plan, a plan that was declared from eternity, a plan from which He absolutely refused to deviate?

“Whatever it takes!”

This is what we hear preached by many today as the way of the Lord Jesus. Many also apply this perspective to the activities of the Church on earth, saying that the Church must do whatever it takes to reach people with the Gospel. Is this in fact what the Lord Jesus and His apostles teach?

“Whatever it takes!”

Compromise: is compromise something that Jesus was ever willing to make or do? Did Jesus ever conduct questionnaires or surveys to determine the manner in which He would conduct His ministry and the language that He would use in His preaching and teaching?

Tolerance: is tolerance of diversity in doctrine and practice and worship the way that Jesus and His apostles promote? How many views concerning the purpose and definition of Baptism do they embrace? How many kinds of faith do they define? How much diversity did St. Paul permit in Corinth? How many views concerning the Lord’s Supper does Jesus and His apostles allow?

Styles of worship: how many styles of worship did Jesus tolerate within the temple courts and in the synagogues? What convenient changes did Jesus embrace regarding those who made the offering of sacrifices easier and less bothersome? After all, this is what the merchants and money changers were doing. What did Jesus do when He encountered them in the temple areas? What did Jesus call them?

“Whatever it takes!”

From whom do we observe this mentality being promoted when we encounter it recorded in the Scriptures?

“Whatever it takes” is not the equivalent of “everything that is required.” Jesus without question came to go the distance and to fulfill everything that is required for the salvation of sinful man. He also instituted the extraordinary means by which His salvation is to be administered. He ordained ministers to carry out this administration.

So, when it is proclaimed that “whatever it takes” is the way of the Lord and of His Church, we should stop and ask, “From whom does this proclamation originate?”

Blending versus Unity

Yesterday I had a telephone conversation that left me feeling very downhearted. I had a question regarding one of my Thrivent insurance policies, so I called to obtain an answer. After working through the automated rigamarole a sweet, bubbly voice greeted me. This lady was able to give immediate answer to my question, which was a very pleasant surprise, considering the difficulty that I usually encounter with such inquiries.

Her attitude was extremely friendly and upbeat, extreeeeemely upbeat. I asked her if she worked at this or if it was just her natural manner. She said it was her natural way, which I expected. In the conversation I asked what her faith profession is and she replied that she was Lutheran. I commented that it then is true that there are at least some Lutherans working at Thrivent. “Oh yes, there are many.” She exuberantly replied.

As is my manner in accord with my perpetual desire to learn of people and their understanding in further accord with my eternal desire to find those with whom I am in true communion, I asked what variety of Lutheran she was. She said Catholic.

But I thought that she meant catholic, and I inquired further. After a few questions she said that she did not attend a Lutheran church but she had been raised Catholic and was raising her children in the Catholic church and traditions, but that she counted herself to be a good Lutheran. I was perplexed and told her that I did not understand what that meant. At this point she began to act as though I had offended her and declined to discuss the matter any further, asking whether I had any further questions regarding my insurance policy.

The conversation ended with polite terms and I felt deeply hurt. This very sweet person did not mean to hurt me, but she did, in several ways. First I was hurt by the abrupt change in her manner toward me. She acted as though I had done her some wrong by expressing interest in her understanding and by asking for an explanation regarding this understanding. I had not challenged her in any direct way whatsoever. I only expressed my bewilderment and lack of understanding concerning what she told me. I suppose that this in itself is a challenge, even though it was not presented as such. The very fact that I questioned it with bewilderment says much more than I even intended. I suppose there is no way to avoid this, as such questioning automatically presents the reality that a very obvious and enormous difference exists in our understanding. The irreconcilability of these two understandings cannot be downplayed through pleasantries.

The fact is that by this question I identified myself as this person’s enemy. The fact that I love my enemies and pray for them does not reduce the tension that exists between us. The fact that my concern for my enemies motivates me to ask challenging questions is not received kindly in many cases. In fact, as St. Paul teaches, it actually heaps coals of fire upon the head of the other person so that anger and angry reaction is the result. It also causes feelings of condemnation to be felt, even though I myself have condemned no one.

This rejection is a cause of deep pain for me as I continue to reach out to others with the unadulterated truth of the Gospel. My desire is to be united with others in the one true faith. But this is not the desire of most people. Most people want to be blended rather than united. Most people want to exist in a blending of the various understandings of the Christian faith and traditions, with tolerance of diversity in these matters as the consensus.

This is the second cause of my feeling hurt. For I know that this blending is a lie. Such blending is not of God but of the devil and the sinful fleshly nature. It is the way of the world, where every person selfishly pursues and demands that one’s own opinion must be treated as genuine and valid. Such dealings declare that the Truth does not matter. Such dealings actually deny that the Truth even exists or that it can be known. Such dealings declare that belief in the Truth must be abandoned or at least not pressed. And so I feel deeply hurt, because I have been declared to be unacceptable and unwanted. My belief in the Truth and my insistence upon unity in the Truth and my dependency upon this belief and unity in the Truth, place me beyond any desirability by those who prefer blending to unity.

A third cause for my feeling hurt is that such dealings dishonestly steal from me my identity. Identity theft is a horrible thing to endure. It is a very traumatic violation of oneself. It steals away one’s most precious possession, one’s true identity.

Those who falsely profess to be what I am steal from me my ability to be known by my identity. This steals from me the hope of others knowing me with certainly so as to be united with me. Those who say, “I am a good Lutheran,” while blending other doctrines and practices within this false claim, reduce the identity of Lutheran to nothing. Thus, when people hear the name of Lutheran, they cannot distinguish me from the ELCAite or the WELSian or the LC-MSer. And since each of these practice open communion, claiming to be united while blending with many faiths, not only many versions of the Lutheran confession but also with other religions, my identity as a confessor of the faith declared in the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is reduced to nothing, for people will count me to be one of them instead of who I am in Christ.

This hurts me deeply. Not only does it leave me as rejected by the various other so-called Lutherans, but it steals from me the identity that belongs to those who do not blend with the world but stand apart in accord with the homologia, the Same-Word of united confession.

This hurts me because my deep desire is for true unity with others in the one true faith through the Same-Word or confession of the same understanding and practice. I feel deeply hurt when I realize that I am unable to find others who share this deep desire and therefore I stand nearly alone in the world. While there surely must be others somewhere who share with me in this blessed communion, I have been able to find only a handful. And the false confession of the big groups makes it very hard to find those who are not of the blending mentality.

Few people even grasp the difference between blending and unity. As an example, I regularly use our VitaMix blender to grind and pulverize various grains and fruits into a blended drink and food source. By this action I reduce the particle size beyond what I am able to masticate (chew) so as to aid digestion and absorption of the precious nutrients. It becomes a blended mixture of the ingredients.

It does not, however, become unified. The components become mixed in a suspension, with some of the juices becoming one but with most of the components merely being reduced in size and suspended as particles in the mix. Many of these can still be separated and identified as separate components. They have not been truly united into one. This will not occur until full digestion has been accomplished and the various nutrients are absorbed and incorporated into the cells of the body.

The Church, the body of Christ is something like this, although not made up of ingredients that are digested, the members of Christ’s body are truly brought into complete union through absolute incorporation into the body. They can no longer be identified separately. They have been given a new identity. They no longer function individually. They live as one. Their life has one source. Apart from one another they are no longer functional. They think the same, speak the same, and believe the same. By this union they are now known.

This is not the way with those who are of blended communions. They do not live as one. They do not think the same or speak the same. They gather in diverse manners of worship even within the same congregation. They confess to the world to be in the same church body and in communion with the various congregations of that body, even though they do not think, speak, or worship the same throughout.

So how does this hurt me? It leaves me standing apart from those for whom I care deeply. It leaves me as counted as separatistic and schismatic when the exact opposite is true. It leaves me unable to embrace even blood relatives as true family because I will not yield to their acceptance of blending in place of unity. It leaves me to be judged falsely as unloving and uncaring and obstinate and arrogant and self-serving.

It seems that I have no choice but to accept this as how things are. This hurts. This hurts deeply.

It also motivates me to take upon myself a burden that I ought not to imagine as mine own. It is idolatrous for me to imagine that this is my burden, when Christ has already carried it. Thus I continually long for and flee to the tiny little congregation where we are gathered by the Spirit to receive the unadulterated means of grace. There this self-imposed burden along with all of my other sinful burdens are again taken up by the Lord Jesus, who in their place grants to me and all who are so gathered His peace that surpasses all understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Him. In this blessed communion it matters not whether those gathered number in the thousands or are merely two. God’s promise cannot be nullified. He does as He has promised. And so hurt is turned to peace and sorrow is turned to joy. Only the Lord has this magnificent power. Only His means can effect such transformation.

Therefore, to His means I shall continually flee and in His means I shall find rest and comfort for my weary soul. From this wondrously safe haven I shall call out to all who are willing to hear, and even to those who feel the coals burning upon their heads. How else can I respond to such incalculable gifts of grace, mercy, and peace? And so, while others may steal the outward identity, the true identity cannot be taken away or even corrupted. For that identity has been engraved in the palms of His hands and in the book of life. No one can erase what He has written.

I do not know what value my writing of such a post has for others, but for me, the hurt is assuaged through the reciting of what the God of all grace has declared and continues to declare forevermore.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Love’s Warm Radiance

Yesterday late in the day as I worked in the approach of the eventide, at about 5:00 a lady who had come home earlier and parked her car in the garage of her home came out of the front door. As I noticed her quietly traversing the sidewalk to the driveway it seemed that I felt warmth radiating from her direction. She wore a very gentle hint of a smile, not subdued but more like it was gently forming her face. Then a school bus entered the cul-de-sac and the lady livened her step toward the end of the driveway. The door to the bus opened and a small bundle was handed to the lady. It was her young son of about three years of age, sleeping quietly. The lady carried her precious bundle up the driveway to the sidewalk and into the house.

I wanted to call out to her and tell her how lovely it was to observe the warmth of her love. I wanted to let her know how her love radiated and what a joy it was to behold. But I kept working quietly, afraid that she could find my comment to be invasive. In today’s society people have precious little privacy and much to fear from outsiders, so in such an intimate matter I decided that it wise to be still.

After the lady had gone back into her house with her little child, another thought occurred to me. I did not know whether this child was being brought home by the school bus driver from day care or whether perhaps this person was a family member or friend who watched the child during the day, but what occurred to me was how precious little time that parents have with their children in today’s society. From early in the morning to nearly evening the children are away from home and away from the loving guidance and instruction of their parents. Parents today have very little time with their children.

This has changed our society. This has changed the way that our society functions and thinks and lives. The way of life a hundred years ago was very different.

Earlier, Sunday evening, I had mentioned to my wife the observation of how warm and cozy the kitchen is with the effects of cooking and baking filling that area. I reflected upon how in times past that the kitchen was the heart of family life, with the family gathering to the warmth and activity of the old wood stove. How differently families functioned in those days, with the kitchen and its activities as the focal point, contrasted to today, where a big screen TV is the primary place of gathering for the family. Indeed, families lived very differently then as contrasted to now.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Centurion’s Theology

From the pericopal readings for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany the Gospel reading of Matthew 8:1-13 was the text for today’s sermon. This is an extremely rich text, one which has many wonderful treasures concerning the Gospel and the Old Testament proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This text combines two accounts of miraculous healing, which direct to this wonderful proclamation of the Old Testament. Two men come to Jesus within a short period of time. Both men have a wonderful understanding of the promises of God in Christ. Amazingly, the richest understanding is expressed by one who was counted as from the outside, a Roman centurion. His expression of the right understanding of the true faith caused the Lord Jesus to marvel and to explain it more fully for the rest of us who are listening in to this man’s profession of faith.

In our usual time of discussion of the weekly pericopal texts and of the sermon, my wife asked a question of amazing depth which triggered further realization of even deeper understanding. The depth of this centurion’s understanding of the true faith is truly marvelous! Some of this is expressed in today’s sermon. It can be downloaded here.

However, the depth of the centurion’s response goes even deeper. The question that my wife asked was regarding the centurion’s statement connecting the fact that he realized that Jesus only needed to say the word in order for it to come to be, and the explanation of his understanding being based upon being a man under authority.

This man answered that his understanding was based upon being a man under authority, who also spoke with authority. He obeyed the authority to which he was subject, and those who heard his voice obeyed being subject to him. This is not amazing or cause for marveling. But the connection that he makes concerning Jesus is!

Regarding this, the centurion revealed a dual subjugation on his own part. As a centurion he was under the authority of the Roman government. But as a proselyte to the faith of the Jews he was also subject to Moses, who was also a man under authority. To whom did Moses answer?

Ah! Indeed! Moses pointed to the authority of another, one to whom all must bow the knee and confess as God and Lord. All of the faithful people of the Old Testament were under the authority of this one. But in this instance, the centurion was speaking of authority above and beyond this, for he was speaking of the authority by which the cosmos came into existence and is maintained. He was speaking of authority that even crippling and killing diseases must obey. He was speaking of the authority of the Lord God Almighty, to whom he was asking the blessing of healing for his paralyzed servant.

“Just say the word, Lord, and my servant shall be healed, for you are the one to whom all things are subject and must obey. Even this terrible sickness that is killing my dear servant must obey whatever you say. You gave your words to Moses, and he obediently proclaimed them to us. Thus I am happy to be subjected to counting myself unworthy to have you come under my roof, since I am not a descendent of Abraham and of the promise. I am very happy to be under this authority, whereby I am saved nevertheless by God’s mercy manifested as from the Jews, proclaimed to me and my household outside of the lineage of the promised Seed. It is by your words that I have been made to be a believer and a recipient of the blessing that is through Abraham and his Seed. So give the word, Lord, and my servant shall be healed.”

This centurion, this Gentile, truly understood the promises of the Old Testament. He understood that all of the distinctions made under the Old Testament were all about the promise of the Savior who would be born of the Jews. Jesus is the authority by which the Old Testament was given. Jesus is the authority by which the Old Testament is filled up and completed so that the New Testament in His blood supercedes it. This man understood that the Old Testament was being completed. The Lord Jesus marveled to observe this man’s faith, and He affirmed the truth of it saying:

Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Human stick figure at ball game

I wonder how many hours of practice were required to orchestrate this 80 second precision marching maneuver.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Two Curious Comments

Last week as I stood in line at the Post Office the lady behind me asked me to examine a document that she had received in the mail. She was planning to ask the Post Office clerk, but asked me. It was a winnings claim form. She was skeptical of its legitimacy, and rightly so. The language of the document was that which is common to scams. I pointed to various terms and especially to the fact that she was being asked to send a $10.00 money order in order to receive her winnings. After all, if she has won $10,000.00 or $20,000.00, why would the award require a payment? The demand for a money order rather than a check is also a red flag. We talked some more as we left the Post Office, and examining the envelope I commented that it was from the Netherlands, a foreign country where the Post Master General and the US Post Office would have no power to investigate or prosecute mail fraud.

As we exited the Post Office, the lady made a curious comment. She said something that I was not at all expecting. She said, “You probably never thought that a black lady would be asking you this today.” As our conversation continued I did not remark on her comment, but it did strike me as peculiar. In ordinary circumstances I don’t see a person’s color. Certain mannerisms can bring to my attention a person’s ethnicity. Hearing an unfamiliar name will activate my curiosity as to a person’s ethnicity. But under normal circumstances my relations with people are not influenced by their skin color.

This does seem to say something, however, about the history of peoples and especially about the history of America and other places where sharp distinctions have been made regarding peoples of differing skin color. Moreover, the kind of comment that this lady made I have always associated with those who were inclined to have a demeaning attitude toward someone of differing color. But then, perhaps this, too, is part of America’s history, where people of certain skin color have long been treated as though they were not only different but of a lesser importance. But then again, her comment could merely be reflective of the seemingly natural tendency toward homogeneity among peoples of differing backgrounds.

As we continued conversing as we walked to our vehicles in the parking lot this lady suddenly turned and asked, “Are you a preacher?” “Yes, I am,” I responded. “Oh, it’s a good thing I talked to you, today,” she replied.

This sometimes happens when I speak with people. I find it curious that this occurs in conversations where I have said nothing that I would consider as distinctive regarding me being one placed into the pastoral office. Even without speaking specifically of the Lord or of God or of the Bible or of religion, this lady suddenly responded with the realization that I was a preacher. Other times people have used terms and phrases like, man of God, a man who is close to God, and a man full of the Holy Spirit.

I do not find such comments to be curious when in the conversations I have spoken freely regarding matters of the faith, but when no such matters have been discussed, I find myself wondering what caused the person to think of me as a pastor or as a man of God. Since it would interrupt the flow of the conversation, I don’t ask people what moved them in this direction of their thinking. Morever, it really does not matter. Nevertheless I go my way wondering.

I suppose that such realization on the part of the individual does have an impact upon our conversation. Often a heightened level of trust seems to be displayed. In this instance, we continued to converse, only we moved into more personal matters regarding her sons and some of her troubles in their relationship. Perhaps the conversation would have moved in this direction simply because she sensed that I cared. I don’t know. Yet I do find it curious that people occasionally identify me as a pastor or preacher or man of God without anything being said that I would expect to give them this indication.

I do enjoy conversing with people. I do care about people deeply. I do welcome the opportunities that arise when people choose to talk about matters that are important in their lives. So, whatever the reason, whether people simply sense in my personality and words an indication of who I am in Christ, or whether the Holy Spirit moves them in such thinking, I am glad for the opportunities that are produced.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Faith and Healing

During my daily activities talking with people is something that I commonly do. I talk with people about many subjects, but especially about matters of faith. This topic just naturally comes to the surface in our conversations.

In my conversations with people, I meet many very kindly people. Some of the people whom I meet are so amazingly sweet that I am in awe. These people are very easy to like. Their personalities are nearly irresistible.

Yet I often feel worn down by these same people. As much as I enjoy knowing them and being in their company, the differences that are expressed concerning the Bible and the faith of the Bible distresses me deeply. I generally leave these people with great sorrow and concern in my heart and soul.

I often even find myself questioning what I know and believe. It is very hard for me to admit that the way of salvation is as narrow as the Scriptures declare. I read it and I believe what I read, but I often challenge what I know and believe on account of the outward expressions of kindness and tenderness of people whom I meet. I deeply desire to embrace them as my brothers and sisters, and because of this I resist the acknowledgment that this is not who they are. They remain outsiders and foreigners. They are not confessing the sameness that St. Paul teaches in Ephesians 4, saying:

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

This causes me to hurt and even to ask, “Am I wrong?” But the Spirit brings to my recollection the many passages of the Scriptures that teach in accord with the narrowness that Jesus declares.

One such lady I encounter frequently when I shop at one of the local Sam’s Clubs. She is a delightful lady. I enjoy stopping and visiting with her, even though I always go away hurting. She has a radiant smile and personality. She speaks of trusting in the Lord with all of her heart. She speaks of caring for others. She speaks of receiving visions and hearing the Lord speak to her and of laying on of hands and healing people. She speaks of these as a very important part of her life and faith. In this connection I asked her what she believes concerning Baptism, and she shared what I expected to hear from her, which greatly saddened my heart.

In this most Christians share together, looking to many forms of temporal relief as their primary affirmation. I do not doubt that this sweet lady lays hands on people who are subsequently healed. I do not even challenge that this is of God, for healing is of God. But is this the faith that is of God?

Long ago I encountered an elderly couple who in the course of our visits together begged me to lay hands upon them and to pray for them. This was a number of years before I attended the seminary. They were hurting and wanted to be healed of their pain and I was sorely moved to do as they asked. But I resisted the urge, which became very strong. They pressed quite urgently, but I asked myself whether this is what the Lord would have me to do. I asked myself, what is the source of their pain? I told the couple that I did not believe that God desired such, especially without better understanding of their needs. After talking with them further I learned that they were hurting because they had been accosted by the man’s son. He occasionally beat them when they did not meet his demands. This began my addressing of their needs. We spoke concerning this abusive relationship. We spoke concerning the couple's own sins and needs for forgiveness. Eventually I did also pray for them regarding a rather broad spectrum of needs, most especially for their need to receive God’s healing in their hearts, minds, and souls, receiving His absolution and a change of life.

This is the way that the Lord Jesus did in His ministry. For healing of bodily diseases and infirmities is only temporal healing and does not treat the actual cause of our problems. While I have indeed seen God work to heal people physically through my encounters and prayers with them, this has never been the primary focus. Always the grace of God in Christ is the focus. This is what truly matters. This is the true healing that we all need to receive continually. Aches and pains and even terminal diseases are really only very small matters in our lives. Our sinfulness is the real condition from which we need to be healed. And this healing is administered through the blessed Sacraments. When this is the faith healing that is preached and practiced and sought and received, all else falls into proper perspective and loses all power over us.

Disturbing Notes

I read today at another blog some very disturbing statements. I need to ponder some of these statements more thoroughly, but what I quote below I shall comment upon now. The entire post entitled Circumcision Notes is found at CyberStones--A Lutheran Blog.

In the following portion from his post, the pastor addresses Moses’ failure to circumcise his son and applies this to parents who fail to baptize their children:

Moses wimped out. He didn't circumcise his sons. This happens, by the way, on their way to Egypt. The Lord has just told Moses that he will be the deliverer. Then this. No transition. Just stated as matter of fact: At a lodging place on the way the Lord sought to kill Moses. Zipporah knows the score. He was too wimpy to circumcise his son. So she had to do it. That failure didn't put the boy's life in danger so much as Moses' life. I use this with parents who delay the Baptism of their children. They say to me, “Surely, God isn't going to damn a baby because I didn't baptize him.” I say, “No, but He might damn you.” You have a duty to perform. Baptize your children. This also shows us once again how the mothers have to step in, Jael and Deborah-style, and do the father's duty when the father fails. What a terrible thing for Zipporah to have to do. But thanks be to God that she did. How many of us learned to prayer at our mother's skirt? I daresay it is not the exception, though it really should be.

Some of the thinking here conveyed is very good. But very disturbing statements are made as well. In particular, the statements to parents regarding failure or refusal to baptize their children disturb me greatly. This I shall address.

Without question I agree that the Lord commands and expects that parents who are members of the body of Christ through faith will bring their children to be baptized into His kingdom. I wholeheartedly agree that parents who do not bring their children to the fountain of forgiveness and life in God’s kingdom are sinning against God, against their children, and against the true faith.

However, I abhor the pastor’s response to the abhorrent and faithless acclamation of the parents. Both perspectives are truly horrible misrepresentations of what the Scriptures teach concerning our damned condition as well as God’s command regarding Baptism.

The parents display a total lack of understanding of the true faith by their resistance to having their child baptized. This is furthermore exemplified by their weak attempt at excusing themselves. “Surely, God isn't going to damn a baby because I didn't baptize him.”

This statement is so far askew that it is frightening to know that it is made by anyone professing to be Christian. But even more frightening is the fact that the pastor does not correct them and lead them into a right understanding of God’s grace. His response is one of a false application of God’s Law:

I say, “No, but He might damn you.” You have a duty to perform. Baptize your children.

This is horrible. This is not at all in keeping with the Scriptures.

First, God is not going to damn either the parents or the child on account of the child not being baptized. The child is already damned. That is the reason that the child needs to be baptized for the remission of sins. The child was conceived in sin, as David teaches in Psalm 51 and as the Scriptures teach throughout. St. Paul is very clear in teaching that all of mankind was made to be sinners through the sin of Adam. Sinners are all damned sinners. They are damned by their sinfulness. Their sin cuts them off from God and His holiness.

Moreover, the parents also are already damned. They are damned or condemned by their rejection of the clear words of Christ. These parents have rejected the clear doctrine of the Scriptures concerning their sinfulness and the sinfulness of their child, sinfulness from which both they and their child need to be saved. They both already stand condemned by their unbelief.

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:5-6)

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:16)

The parents desperately need to be taught concerning the need for Baptism and the wonderful grace, mercy, and peace of God that He promises to give through the means of grace. Both the parents and their baby need to hear this and to be made recipients of it. This is the job of the pastor. The office of the ministry is the office of making people aware of their great need and of God’s answer to their need.

The answer that this pastor says that he gives is not an answer that leads people to respond to God in faith. His response does not even teach what the true faith is. Rather, it teaches people to rely upon themselves and to coerce them into obedience to God’s commandments. This is the way of perdition.

While I imagine or at least hope that this pastor has not rightly presented the manner in which he ministers to those who come to him, this is what he says that he does. Moreover, this is not the only example of such legalism and pharisaic doctrine presented on his blog. I respond to this in the hope that at least a few will hear the great promises attached to Baptism and joyfully to respond to God’s command to receive His grace and blessings through the means that He has ordained.

This includes the second Sacrament, the one to which Baptism brings us. For the Lord Jesus states that Baptism is the means by which we are made to enter the kingdom of God (John 3). This is the same as the Old Testament Sacrament of Circumcision. It is the one time application by God of His seal of adoption and forgiveness. In this way Baptism is a one time event, even though we return to the promises of Baptism continually, confessing our sins and receiving the holy divine absolution, and also continually heeding the calling of the Holy Spirit who comes to us and takes up residence in us through Baptism (Acts 2:38; Titus 3). But the Sacrament of the Altar is ongoing. All who are baptized are incorporated into the body of Christ to be everlasting partakers of His Holy Communion, in which we partake in His Holy Supper of His body and blood. Through this God renews us again and again and again in the one true faith by which we are kept in this Holy Communion.

From this God does not cut us off. If we are cut off from His Communion, it is by our own belligerence. God decrees the judgment so that we have every opportunity to hear His call to be turned again to Him and His means of grace. But we are the ones who effect the judgment and condemnation, cutting ourselves off from Him by not continuing in His words. God never stops calling out to the world. Even to those whose hearts He hardens, such as the Pharaoh in the days of Moses, the Lord continues to send His Word through His called servants. Pharaoh and all who are like him in their rejection of the Lord as their God refuse to receive God’s grace, and so, lest they should repent in temporal matters and be further deceived and lead to others being deceived, the Lord hardens their hearts. Even this judgment is intended to serve as a call to be turned in faith to the Lord.

God’s declaration of His judgment is not to condemn us, but to show us that we stand condemned and need to be converted and saved from our condemnation. This is why God has ordained and commanded Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He does not want us to be condemned, but to be made to be recipients of His loving mercy and salvation.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The New Year Began with a Surprise

The first week of the new year has been very busy and trying.

New Year’s Eve at about 11:30 pm I noticed that the water pressure was very low. “Oh no!” I thought. I knew that the old galvanized iron water pipe must have burst finally. So I checked and found water bubbling up from deep in the soil of the front yard. “Oh no!”

I turned and went back into the house and filled the sinks and a couple of small buckets with water so that we would have some for the morning. I knew that most stores would be closed the next day and that I might have trouble obtaining parts to patch the line.

Saturday, New Year’s Day, I dug the hole to find the break in the water line. The hole, the first of four that I would dig, was about 6 ft long by 2.5 ft wide by 4 ft deep. Thankfully both Ace Hardware and Lowes were open for part of the day so that I was able to purchase the PVC compression couplings that allowed me to splice the line. Our next door neighbor graciously allowed us to fill buckets from his house so that we could flush the toilet and do other immediately necessary water activities. By nightfall the patch was complete and we had water again.

Monday I called the city central inspection office to purchase the required permit. The rest of the week I dug three more holes, two the size of the first and another about half that size. I rented a trencher for the 40 or 50 feet between the holes. Sadly, this trencher trenched so narrowly that the trenching shovel was very hard to use in removing the bottom crumbs of soil. I checked to see whether any of the irrigation supply or other plumbing supply places had a tool for removing such crumbs. Of course not. I could not even find a suitable scoop that I could purchase.

So I invented one. I needed one that was about 3.5 inches wide. So I made a scoop with which I could drag the soil to the larger holes for removal with a shovel. It was even more effective than I had hoped. Dad often quoted the old saying that necessity is the mother of invention.

Such work has a period of learning connected with it. The city requires that only certain types of pipe and fittings be used. Connecting to old copper pipe/tubing deep in the ground is challenging, but someone invented a wonderful adapter called SharkBite®, that one simply shoves onto the existing pipe after cleaning it thoroughly. It bites onto it and seals the union. Wonderful product!

Of course, finding the old copper line was a challenge, not having any record of how it exited the house. That hole was actually the largest of the four, being much wider. This was also through the gate through the fence to the back yard and under a sidewalk.

This fact is the cause of my being injured. In this area we have a motion sensor light that seems to prefer to turn off at critical moments. Thursday evening was such a time. As I stepped across this large hole through the gate the light turned off, causing me to misstep and fall. Catching myself against the wall with my left arm extended I injured my shoulder quite badly. That night I was in agony all night with no position that did not feel as though my shoulder was tearing apart. Ice and hot packs and Ibuprofen seemed to be of no benefit. Relief came slowly as I pressed on for the next two days through the pain. The inspector gave his approval Friday so that the holes and trenches could be refilled. Perhaps the work actually helped with the healing. I made a tamper for my mother-in-law’s trenches a couple of years earlier. It really compacted the soil and worked my arms thoroughly.

The shoulder still hurts, but it seems to be healing so that today I can return to working in the trees. Such things continue to amaze me. How the body has been designed by God is truly something that fills me with wonder and awe. Moreover, I know that He kept my injury from being as bad as it should have been. I could have and probably should have received broken bones as well as torn ligaments. His protection far exceeds even that of which I am aware.

So, now the long needed work of replacing the water line has been completed. I was able to finish the project as the threatening snows approached, the first small flakes falling as I folded the tarps and put away the tools. Even in this I see God’s gracious activity, for the water line broke at a time when we could do without running water for a day and when I would have the next day free to make the needed repair. If I am willing to see it, God’s gracious activity is manifest in all things. Thankfully, He makes me aware, even when I often want to grumble.

This is the greatest miracle of all, that He works in the heart to convert me and preserve me as a son of the true faith. This works in me repentance from what I would be and do and think and say so that by the Holy Spirit’s tireless work, the sanctification given in my baptism is manifested in my life. What greater miracle could God work than to convert me by grace through faith so that I am saved and declared to be righteous for Christ’s sake and that this justification and sanctification are made to be manifest above and beyond what I would do according to my own reason and strength?

When the Lord brings this to my awareness, I find myself realizing that this year has begun very well for me and my house.